Good morning, welcome to our brand-new series at Christ’s Community Church called “Pray.” I’m so glad that you’re here with us today and I wonder how many of you would admit that your prayer life could use a jump start. You know, it’s like you love Jesus, you love his church, you love his Word, but you just know that you could pray better.
Any of you here this morning ever feel inadequate in prayer? Any of you ever feel guilty for not praying enough? Anybody that could pray better?
Okay, so this morning we’re aligning ourselves with God’s will and we’re positioning ourselves to do better as we tackle the topic of prayer. And I believe this series is critical as we approach our Lord’s Passion Week and celebrate the Resurrection, because a foundational understanding of prayer is crucial to understanding God, to grasping the mystery of prayer, and beginning to boldly pray dangerous prayers. You know prayers like Jesus prayed, "Not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36). Prayers like the apostles prayed, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). To pray over the dead “Get up” and they would rise to their feet (Acts 9:40-41). And to pray “for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). We want to pray prayers like that don’t we?
And I’ll tell you, in Bible college one of my favorite courses was a course on prayer, and in that class there was a book called “Every prayer and petition in the Bible” by Larry Richards and it was in that class that my own prayer life exploded with intimacy with God. I learned the power of journaling, writing down my prayers, and it was through this course that I began to develop prayer principles based upon God’s promises that have become part of my life. And it was in this book that I examined some of the most ancient prayers ever recorded by some of the most powerful men of God in human history, as it explored in great detail the petitions, the complaints, the confessions, and the blessings as they were expressed to God.
And so as we begin this series today I want to first consider why more people don’t pray. And honestly, I believe in a large way it’s the fault of the church by instilling in the people of God the notion that we can only pray if we pray with these high and lofty prayers. So then as we pray we begin to question ourselves, you know is it okay to pray for this, am I praying the right way, and you know is this even legal? Can I ask for that?
And so a lot of good people really lack confidence to pray. And because of our misconceptions many of us go through life truly believing in God, but not really having a prayer life that would be evidence of our relationship with God. You know we try to pray, but immediately doubts creep in, we get distracted, because we are praying what you could call ADD prayers. It’s that prayer that as soon as you start praying, you start to get a little bit of momentum going, and you remember you forgot to do this or you forgot to get that and your mind is off in a million other directions. It’s that ADD prayer.
Or maybe you question how God could even care about the little things that are bothering you. You know he’s the God of the universe, all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present and that problem that you’re facing just seems to somehow pale in comparison to the enormity of the tasks at hand. And really you question bringing these things to God because you’re not even sure your prayers will really make a difference. And if he already knows anyway why do we need to pray and maybe it won’t even make a difference like the last time. You know, why bother God?
Yet prayer is important. It’s important enough that Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. And it’s important enough that time and time again we are encouraged to pray like in Hebrews chapter 4, verse 16.
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
But what exactly is prayer? Well, we’re going to look at a couple verses in Psalm chapter 5 that helps to break it down. And we’re going to look at a couple passages of Scripture that will help us, number one to understand that prayer is simply talking to God, and number two that like any conversation that we have, every conversation doesn’t look the same. Our prayer is just that, it’s our prayer, and when we can grasp that, we suddenly find the freedom to pray that’s ours in Christ. So let’s look at Psalm chapter 5 verse one as we begin.
Psalms 5:1-3, “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”
David prays, “God don’t just listen to my words but listen to my sighing. Not just what I’m saying but what I am expressing through my body language, the groans and the grunts. All of that. It’s all communication toward God, like when my wife Dana and I are talking and maybe she gives a sigh of frustration. Or maybe I’m holding her in my arms, massaging her neck, and she gives a content sigh. It’s the same thing as when we pray, talking with God, if we give a sigh of frustration, of contentment, or whatever. And we can be that way with God, because there’s that intimacy there, because this isn’t just a God we’ve heard about, but this is a God we’re in relationship with, a God who’s our King and our Lord.
And so David prays, he’s sighing, and now he waits because he knows that God is going to do something. He’s waiting in expectation, he doesn’t know what God is going to do, it may not be exactly what he asked, it may be something totally different and something better, but he trusts God because he knows his heart and his character. And we can come to God in the same way, but recognizing that we all come, we all approach in different ways. You know, for you prayer may not be kneeling down beside the bed. Some of you might like to sing your prayers to God and there are others of you who probably shouldn’t. Some of you might like to write out your prayers to God or maybe you just pray during the routine tasks of your day. Maybe when you’re hurting you might just go to God and pour out your emotions toward him, shouting or crying with him. You see, we can be so connected to God, so intimate with God, that we just do life together with him in prayer. You see, prayer is so simple. It’s just talking with God; if you’ll allow yourself to break out of your preconceived ideas of what prayer should be.
Today I want to show you from the Scriptures four ways to talk to God as we lay the foundation for this series. And so first I want to talk to you about how we are going to talk to God, because we have a lot of false ideas of what prayer is. You know, if we sit down to eat and we’re going to pray over our meal, "O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying…” for this meal (Neh. 1:5-6). We thank you for this pizza, “that we may give thanks to your holy name, that we may glory in your praise” (1 Chro. 16:35). Forever and ever, amen.” And you see, as wonderful as all that is, we don’t have to put on our prayer voice and talk to him any different than we would talk to anybody else.
So number one, we pray with authenticity. We don’t need to put on a show for God in prayer, because I don’t think he’s really going to be impressed anyway. You know, it’s like if one of my kids came up to me and said, “Great and glorious father of our household, we beseech the…” And I’d be like, “Huh!” right? But my children come up to me, Jeremy may take my hand, Olivia may climb onto my lap, and with authenticity they say, “I love you dad.” They may hug me and ask me to help them. Olivia may ask me to play dolls with her. And God as our Heavenly Father wants us to talk to him with authenticity, not with a show of our great vocabulary and some false pretense of pompousness, but just to be real and honest with him.
As we read the Scriptures, we find time and time again when people are so honest with God it’s almost scary. You know, you wonder how God is going to respond, but the reality is that God is secure enough to handle it. It’s you and I that often respond to people in the wrong way because of our flesh. But God is love and God is Spirit and he would actually prefer our authenticity.
Like one day in Egypt long ago, Moses was upset with God, because he’d been obeying God, he’d been doing what God told him to do, and things hadn’t gotten better. As a matter of fact they had actually gotten worse. We can read about this in Exodus chapter 5, verses 22 and 23, when Moses cried out to the Lord in prayer,
"O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (Exodus 5:22-23).
You see, Moses just speaks to God honestly and you can hear the sarcasm, you can hear the confusion, and you can hear his doubt, but God is not offended. He wants us to pray honestly and with authenticity. We can pray when we don’t understand, when we’re confused, when we don’t even know how to pray, and we’re concerned. You just pray with authenticity, because the only time God criticized people’s prayers was when they were unauthentic.
Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 6:5-7,
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:5-7).
Jesus calls them hypocrites, because they’re more concerned about what people think of their prayers than what God thinks of their prayers. And so he tells us, to pray privately, not to keep on babbling with many words, but just to be real with God and talk to him like we would an intimate friend. If you would like to see your prayer life improve just talk to God like a friend, be real, and your prayer life will blossom.
The second thing, number two, is that we should talk to God about everything. You know we have this tendency to want to handle the little things ourselves and only bother God with the big stuff. But the reality is that it’s all little stuff as far as God is concerned, and if we won’t let God help us with the little things, how can we trust him to help us with the big things?
As I read the writings of the apostle Paul, I realized that I don’t pray enough, because no matter what problem you may be facing, whatever situation you encounter, you not only have permission, but you have a command to make a request to God. Listen to what Paul says to us in Philippians chapter 4, verse 6,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Now that’s quite a privilege isn’t it? Over and over we are told to pray, to ask, and to present your requests to God. Peter tells us, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Don’t worry, just ask God for help. 20 times in the New Testament we’re commanded to ask God. James even tells us in chapter 4,
“You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2).
We need to understand that if there’s something that matters to us, it matters to our Heavenly Father. Paul says, in everything, the big things, the little things, and the in-between things, talk to God about it. And there are hundreds of prayers recorded in the Bible that illustrate the variety of concerns that people took to God. But here are just a few to make this point: Zechariah prayed for a son, Solomon prayed for wisdom, Moses prayed for water, Gideon prayed for a sign, Abraham’s servant prayed for favor, David prayed for forgiveness, and Elijah prayed that it wouldn’t rain. And so as we look through the Bible we see all these different kinds of things that mattered to God because it mattered to His kids. The Bible says pray about everything. Whatever matters to you talk to God about it.
Number three, we talk to God continually. This has transformed my prayer life because I can’t pray long with my ADD prayers. I may pray for 30 seconds, maybe two minutes or five minutes, and then I’m gone. You know, I’m scheduling appointments, ordering parts, calling so-and-so, moving this, doing this or that, but God’s will is that we would pray continually. 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 16-18, tells us this,
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
So what I’ve learned to do is to live each moment with an awareness of the presence of God and instead of beating myself up for not praying for long periods of time, just to pray often throughout the day. So in the morning I’ll pray, but then I’ll read the Bible, I’ll pray, and I’ll read the Bible some more. I’ll write, I’ll pray, and on and on throughout the day I pray and pray and pray. As I talk to one of the kids I’ll pray, as I walk to the office I’ll pray, as I walk outside I’ll pray, as I scroll through Facebook I’ll pray, as I go to this meeting I’ll pray, and so each day is an ongoing continual conversation with God.
For some of you, this may be just what you needed to hear, because prayer doesn’t have to be just in the morning, or evening, or over a meal, but it’s an awareness of the presence of God throughout the day. It’s a continual conversation and maybe depending on what you’re going through, it may be a persistent prayer like the widow in Luke chapter 18. Jesus told his disciples this parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up, saying, that there was a widow in a certain town who kept coming to the judge pleading for justice and he finally gives in saying, “So she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming.”
And then Jesus said, chapter 18 verse 7, "Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice and quickly" (Luke 18:7-8).
So Jesus tells us to pray continually, to pray until God does something, until God changes our circumstances, or until God changes us. And so we pray until something happens with a continual prayer just like Hannah prayed. She was praying for a son and in 1 Samuel chapter 1, verse 12, Eli the priest saw her, “As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard.”
“She kept on praying!” And so as you’re feeding the kids breakfast, as you’re driving to work, as you’re exercising, as you’re going to that meeting, you keep on praying, because prayer is just talking to God with authenticity, about everything that matters, as you walk day in and day out with a continual awareness of the presence of God.
And number four as we close, we pray with expectation. David prays, he’s sighing, he lays his requests before God and waits in expectation. He doesn’t know what God is going to say or what God is going to do, but he knows that God is going to do something. And we can come to God in the same way praying with expectation, talking to God, and waiting for his response. We listen intently, because God not only wants to hear us, but he wants us to hear him. Because if there’s not two-way communication it’s not much of a relationship is it? But how is God going to speak to you? A loud voice booming around the earth? Maybe like he does in Revelation chapter 14, verse 7, he may, but he often doesn’t!
When God spoke to the prophet Elijah, a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, but the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord wasn’t in the fire. He did however reveal himself and chapter 19 in verse 12 tells us,
“…after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:12-13).
After the fire came a gentle whisper and that’s how God spoke. This morning, God may speak to you through his gentle whisper. He may speak to you when you’re in prayer, when you open his word, he may speak to you through other people. God may speak to you through your circumstances. When you have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear what he’s saying and to see what he’s doing, God may speak to you audibly. God may speak to you through the voice of the Spirit if you’ll listen.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
February 28, 2016