Is God's design for prayer that it be restricted to the pious and the eloquent, and above all to those who have their lives all "together"? Todd challenges some commonly held notions about when and how to pray, and walks us through some questions we can ask God in the context of prayer that He is always ready to answer.
A God-Sized Dream, a Servant's Heart and a Warrior's Passion: The Pursuit of a Heroic and Humble Life
The Grateful Heart: A Real Simple Way to Avoid Being Seduced
The Gift of Community: An Artery of Grace that Must Never Get Clogged
Serving all Men without Shorting any Truth: The Gift of Relevance
A Passion for Prayer: It's Not What You Think
The Gift of Authenticity: The Freedom to Show Our Scars
The Gift of Grace: Believe it, Receive it, Respond to it, and Pass it On
We Must Work it Out: Learning to Deal with Conflict
A Love for Those Who do not Love God: Commitment to the Uncommitted
God's Authoritative Word: A Product That Can't be Beat
Living a Life of Full Devotion to Christ: Out of the "Limbo Line" and into the Party
I don't know what you think about when you think about prayer, but I have to tell you. My entire exposure to prayer as a kid growing up was around a table. For me, prayer was this. "God is great, God is good, and we thank him for his food. By his hand, we must be fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen." That was it. That was the only time I ever prayed as a kid growing up with a family.
I thought prayer was something you did in a moment when you were formalizing or beginning some sort of activity in order to make sure God doesn't curse the activity or make you sick. I thought it was something you had to speak in a specific language, usually in my family, something that rhymed and was easy to remember. But it really had no intimacy, no authenticity to it, but all we knew is we bowed our heads, and we did this every time before we started.
It was such a dumbed-down, perverted view of prayer that it stuck with me for a long time. Later, I was around some other folks who I was so impressed with their prayers and the incredible beauty and intellect that was around their prayer, so I thought that's what prayer was. When you prayed, you prayed in a way that sounded really smart, and you spoke very fluidly and fluently and people were like, "Wow. What a great guy, and obviously a godly person because he prayed so well and so long.
I can remember other times when I was around other forms of prayer, and all these things stuck with me in a way that really, really distorted my understanding of what God wants within the idea of prayer. We're in the middle of a little series called Gifts I'd Give My Children, and one of the gifts I'd love to give my kids, and one of the gifts I want people who I'm sharing life with to have is the right understanding of prayer because prayer is so central to everything about our life.
Let me just tell you what prayer should not be. It's what so many of us have this image of and this picture of. I almost called it a Mary Poppins form of prayer because in that movie, when those kids were told their father is coming home, they were quickly buttoned up and put together, and they were run downstairs. They stood there, and the dad walked in, almost like some type of military review. He looked at them, and they said, "Hello, father." They talked in incredibly proper language and had this short discourse interaction. Then they were dismissed and could go on being children again.
I thought, "Maybe that's what God wants. There are times I have to stand before him and act just right and button my life up and get it all together and have the right words until he dismisses me, and I can go with my life again." I just thought, "Oh, man, Lord. I know there has to be more than that." I am desperate for my kids to not have that understanding of what communication and prayer with God is really supposed to be about.
I think a lot of times, we think about the prayers about going through some long list. If we're really devoted to God, we don't just pray over meals, we have a prayer calendar, and we mow through that calendar. If you love anybody or care about anybody or if you care about lost folks or you care anybody the 10/40 window, then you are working your way through that prayer calendar. That's what spiritual men do.
I go, "There has to be more to this idea of prayer than just working our way through a list." What is the deal with prayer? I want to tell you, I am absolutely zealous. It's a gift. If I could give you a right understanding of prayer, I would give it to you. I want to spend my morning today helping enlarge your view of prayer and grow you in your understanding of what prayer is for, what it should look like, and how it ought to be a vital part of every aspect of your life.
Let me just tell you that if you forget everything else I say, what I really want you to walk with today and have a good understanding of is the idea that prayer is not so much an expected activity as it is also a relationship. I'll really say this. It's an expected activity within a constant relationship. I want to just start with my friends who are out there who maybe don't pray a lot.
Some people sometimes say, "I can't pray until I get my life together. Why would God want to hear from me? I'm an idiot." Or, "I've been running as far from God as fast as I can for a long time, so why would I want to talk to him now?" I would just say you might want to talk to him now because you're finally coming to the end of yourself. You're seeing the way that seems so right to you is not the right way, and you might want to start to consult a God who is screaming that he is good, he is screaming that he is a God who is desperate to know you, his child, and he wants you to have the benefit of a relationship with him.
Let me encourage you with this. I want you to know there is never a wrong place or a wrong time to start praying. You don't have to work your way through some extended period of obedience before you can start praying. You don't believe me, let me give you an example from Scripture. Jonah 2:1. This is what it says.
"Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish…" I'm like, "Well, I guess stinkin' so." If you've never prayed before, about the time your disobedience and rebellion, you're swallowed by a whale, don't go, "Do you know what, God? I'm going to get out of here, and I'm going to get my life together, and then I'm going to begin to consult you. Once I impress you with my life." No, I think I'd go to it right then.
Some of you might be here this morning, and you feel like you're in the belly of a fish. You've been swallowed by a whale of trouble, a whale of disturbance, a problem that you can't figure your way out of. That's a fine time to begin praying. When you pray, don't worry about something elegant. Don't worry about sounding real fluent or pretty. Just get to the point.
Let me give you an example of a good prayer in Scripture. It comes from Matthew 14:28-30, and it comes from a time when this guy was really trying to follow Christ in this moment. He said, "Lord if it's you, command me to come to you on the water. Let me walk in a way that's not natural. If you're telling me you're out there, and I can come, I'm going to come."
So Jesus said, "Come." Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. In other words, in a way that he never experienced before because he was beginning to move towards God, he could do something he could never do.
But then he got his eyes off of Christ, just like maybe some of you who are here this morning. Your eyes are off of Christ. Many people who have a love for Jesus. You're here this morning, and your eyes have been off of Christ in a way you've been handling a relationship, the way you've been managing your life, the way you've been making choices.
So the natural result of your eyes being off of a loving God who cares to have an intimate relationship with you is starting to overwhelm you, and you're starting to sink in despair. Then I wouldn't worry about having just the perfect words. I would adopt a prayer like Peter. Let's look at it again.
Where he says, "But seeing the wind, he became frightened [and the circumstances all around him] , and beginning to sink…" In other words, his eyes were off of God, and because of that, he was being swallowed up in the natural circumstances of the moment. So he cried out. "O Father, omnipotent Creator of heaven and earth, who is Lord of all things, who is sovereign over the land and the sea of which right now I am walking and beginning to sink. I approach you, Father, with a great deal of humility and…"
No, you're about 12 feet under before you get through with your introduction. What your Father is looking for in that moment is, do you know who you are? Do you know who he is? Do you understand the state at which you're living in, and just acknowledge it? "Help. Lord, save me." There is never a wrong time or a wrong place to start saying, "God, I am screwing this up," or "God, I'm swallowed by a fish," or, "God, I have my eyes off of you," or, "God, I don't know what to do."
Let me just tell you. What prayer is going to God and saying, "I need more of who you are," and that is why I am desperate for my kids to have an understanding of what real prayer is. Let me say it to you this way. Prayer is not only what grace provides… And grace does provide prayer. God is a God of relationship. He is not some deity who is up there watching us like some military captain making sure our shoes are spit-shined and in good enough shape that when he inspects us, he approves us.
God has revealed himself in this way, among other things. "I am love."God is love. Now, love is God because God is so much more than love, but one of the characteristics of God is God is love. Because he's love, he cannot keep what is good only to himself, because love doesn't seek its own. Love gives. Love shares. Love sacrifices.
God created so that he could share his goodness. Those who he created, he said, "I'm going to put you in a place that is so outstanding that all who see it will go, "I don't know anything about you, but whoever made you loves you because look at the world that you're in." You might go, "Wait a minute. Look at the world I'm in. Do you know anything about my world, Wagner?" I go, "That's not the world I'm talking about right here. The world I'm talking about here is the world that God initially created that has become incredibly corrupted."
Why? Because we stopped praying. We stopped living in dependence on God, saying, "Lord, save me. You are my life." God says, "I am life. I'm not looking to rip you off. I'm looking to set you free." But there's someone who came along who hates God who hates you. He knows because God loves you, the way to hurt God (he didn't care anything about you) is to get after you.
What that Enemy did is he came to steal the freedom and the fullness that God created you to live in. To kill your hope and to destroy your life as you knew it, and to take you out of that intimacy and fullness of a relationship with God, and to rip you out of that paradise of being in perfect relationship with a perfect Father.
He said, "Don't listen to God. Listen to yourself. Listen to your flesh. Consult what seems right to you. There's life outside of God." So we left God. We went our own way. We stopped listening to God and consulting with God. We tried to find life on our own; therefore, God says, "Will you go ahead and get some of what you got? You can have all you want if you don't want me, but you're going to not just be free to make choices. You're going to be a person who will reap what they sow."
I tell my kids all the time, "You are free to choose what you want to choose, but you're not free to choose your consequences. If you want to leave life, if you want to leave wisdom, if you want to leave truth, then you're going to have to, proverbially, sleep in the bed that you make." One of the reasons, by the way, people don't pray is because God is sometimes so incredibly patient and gracious with us when we leave him.
Some of you guys might be out there, and you're saying, "I've been thumbing my nose at God for a long time, and there's no whale of despair that's swallowed me. I've had my eyes off Jesus for a long time, and I don't feel like I'm sinking. In fact, I'm walking on air, much less water."
The Indians (I don't mean the Native American Indian, I mean the Asian Indian) have a great saying for this. I'll give you a biblical verse to support this idea. The expression among Asian Indians is this. "He who rides a tiger must prepare to dismount." What that means is this. I'm sure you're having a big-time with your legs wrapped around those stripes, and you're spurring and whipping him.
You're saying, "Look at me. No one's ever ridden a tiger like this. I'm some kind of athlete. I'm some kind of stud." I want to go, "You know what, stud, that is impressive. But sooner or later, I have a hunch that saddle is going to loosen, and your legs are going to tire, and you're coming off that tiger. Just prepare yourself for that."
Some of you guys are like the individual who jumped off the top of the 150-story building, and you mock the laws of gravity that are in place in this world. You, in fact, mock those of us who are staying as far away as we can from certain death. You might even see some of us on the way down. You're on the 148th floor, and you go, "I've never had an adrenaline rush like this in my life. Fool. This is where life is."
You might say the same thing on the 140th floor. You might say the same thing on the 100th floor. You might say the same thing on the tenth floor as you go down, but sooner or later, the reality of your choice is going to catch up with you. Some of you guys have jumped off of higher buildings. I don't know why you haven't hit yet, but I will tell you, there are laws.
There's a verse that supports all of this. It says in Ecclesiastes 8:11 if you don't want to pray, you don't want to consult God, you don't want to listen to him, you don't want to be in communication with him? Fine. "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil."
In other words, because you can ride a tiger for sometimes longer than the world thinks you can ride a tiger, you don't ever concern yourself with the dismount, but there will be a day. Let me just say this as I get ready to start about this. There is never a wrong place or time to start praying, but this is a fact. There is going to be a place and a time where if you have not yet started praying, it won't matter if you do. What do I mean by that?
Well, certainly, in an ultimate way, Scripture says it's appointed for man to die once, and after this comes judgment. Psalm 32 says this. "Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him."** Let me unpack that a little bit more. In Proverbs 1, watch this.
"How long, O naive ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, and fools hate knowledge? Turn to my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. Because I called, and you refused; I stretched out my hand, and no one paid attention; and you neglected all my counsel, and did not want my reproof; I will even laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes…" It goes on to say,
*"When your dread comes like a storm, and your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come on you. Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me, because they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD. *
"They would not accept my counsel, they spurned all my reproof. So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, and be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naive shall kill them, and the complacency of fools shall destroy them. But [in contrast to those who don't have any context of a relationship with God] he who listens to me shall live securely, and shall be at ease from the dread of evil."
Let me just tell you, God loves you. He wants relationship with you, and grace is what makes prayer a possibility. We have left God and gone our own way. We have left the world he intended us to live in. We have ruined Paradise, but grace has pursued us and made it possible for us to come back. This is what it says in Hebrews 4:16.
"Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." The "therefore" is because we have a High Priest who has made a perfect sacrifice to appease a perfect God so that God is still holy and just and yet altogether able to provide kindness because he has made a perfect sacrifice that allows us to come back into relationship with the one who is the giver of life.
He said, "Come. I want you to know me. I want you to have a relationship with me." Prayer is possible because of grace, but it's also what a person who understands grace embraces. This is why I want my kids to understand prayer. If my kids are not praying kids. If we're not a praying church, then we're people who don't really think it's much of a privilege to talk to God, who don't think a real relationship with God is that big of a deal.
Again, prayer is an expected activity within a constant relationship. Somebody who said, "I don't really care if I talk to God. Talking to God is not that big of a deal. I'm fine without him," has not understood the nature of God and the incredible privilege of being brought back into relationship with God.
Watch what it says in Romans 8. This is what God wants you to understand about the relationship and the privilege you've been given. "So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh…" We no longer have to do what we think is right. We don't have to live according to what we say is right.
It says, " … for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." In other words, don't go the right way according to your own understanding. Listen to the loving Father who has called you back in relationship with him. This is key. "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'"
That word Abba is an onomatopoeia in Hebrew. What's an onomatopoeia?It's a word that is in intimate expression that says what it sounds like. Some of the first words kids learn in the English language are Dada, Mama, Abba. It's the earliest way of expression for a young one who realizes, "There's somebody out there who cares for me, who provides for me, who protects me. Without them, I have nothing. I'm dead. Completely unable to provide for myself." Abba, Dada. An expression of relationship and love.
What he says is you have that kind of Daddy, but he's also your Father. You need to understand a father is somebody to be respected, somebody who is thinking on a whole different level than you're thinking. I want to tell you something. I am desperate for my kids to understand my heart for them. I can help them. I will always be more anxious to share and speak into my kids' life, then my kids will ever be to seek the wisdom that I have to offer them. But, man, do I want to share with them all that is good.
If you think there's a gap (there is) between my 7-year-old, my 14-year-old, and my 40-something-year-old self (there's a significant gap there), there is an infinitely greater gap between my 40-something-year-old self and God. He's saying, "Hey, Todd. You have to remember. I'm trying to help you. You think you have it figured out after 40 years, after 50 years, 60 years? Unless you love like this child, you don't get it."
My Father is saying, "I have brought you near by grace. I have given you a spirit of adoption. My grace has made it possible for you to have relationship with me. The way you deal with that relationship is what suggests that you understand how desperately you need the gift of life from me."
Watch what it says in the Scripture here. This little section of Scripture is one of the reasons again that I want my kids, I want us, to be praying people. I'm going to really define prayer for you in a way that maybe you haven't seen it before. It's not just the prayer list. It's not just the formal activity before a meal or a meeting or in a meeting. It is an expected activity within a constant relationship. I want to show you how all these gifts tie together.
What did I say the first gift was? A deep devotion for Christ. Why? Because God is the author and giver of life. He is the good one. He has plans for you to give you a future and a hope. Plans for welfare and not calamity. I want you to be in relationship with that one. I want you to know his Word because his Word is how you live with the benefit of his wisdom in your life.
I want you to know how to work through conflict so you can deal with the conflict that's in your life. Get the log out of your eye. You've left this God who is the author and giver of life so you can come to him. I want you to learn authentically. God is ready to handle your pain. He doesn't want you to act like all is well and then go back up to your room and cuss him because he's a lousy Dad. Tell him how you feel?
Is this world overwhelming you? Have you been swallowed by a whale that is no fault of your own? Tell him. He can handle that. Just watch this. Psalm 13. This is David. I love this prayer of David. He comes at God, and he says, " How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day?"
"You've left me here, God, with nothing. St. Teresa of Avila, who's known as a saint from the sixteenth century, was one time traveling along. She'd done a lot to revive some of the spirituality of her country of Spain during the Dark Ages. She was driving along, and her carriage got stuck in the mud. This saint got out, and she kicked the carriage wheels and said, "God, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you don't have very many."
I'm going, "Amen, sister." Don't get out of there and go, "Father, we come to you right now. We thank you that you are the author of rain and you are the producer of mud. This is a good thing that we are here in this mud together. We thank thee, Father." No, kicking it go, "Lord, this stinks. I'm on my way to go serve your people, and I'm stuck in the mud," but go on like David did and tell him authentically how you feel, but let him speak to you.
I'm okay with my kids saying, "This is a raw deal. Every other dad in this community says it's okay for their sons and daughters to go to this place, to watch this thing, to ingest these things. I'm not happy with you." I say, "Great. I understand that. I can remember saying the exact same thing."
Some of you might say, "I never had to say that because I was around parents who let me do all that stuff. Let me show you some things. Come inside that heart. Let me show you some scars. I didn't have somebody who's saying to you those things to me. But I love you. Do I understand that frustrates you?
Do you understand this doesn't make sense to you as a 14-year-old? Absolutely. But I love you, and I'm not backing off what is good and what is right. So even if you can't get your arms around what I know that you don't know, I'm going to ask you to be obedient. You can lie, you can deceive, you can cheat, you can go, but you're going to ride that tiger." Authenticity. God wants it.
I was talking to a friend this week, and I said, "Let me tell you something. There are things that God does that I don't get. I would rather trust a God who appears untrustworthy who I know is good than I would run to something that looks or feels trustworthy that I'm not really sure about its character and nature.
All I can tell you is sometimes my Father in heaven puts me in some puddles, he swallows me up in some whales that I don't go, 'How can this be good?' All I know is that he is good. I would rather keep trusting in him than running towards my own coping strategies, my own tendencies, my own systems of dealing with problems that I'm not really sure aren't going to lead to greater pain even though they feel good in the moment, but I'm not sure about the character or nature of those choices.
I know the character and nature of my Dad. Boy, he sure throws me into some things that I don't wish to be thrown into. I just know he's good, and I'd rather trust something that appears untrustworthy that I know is good than the opposite." Here's the deal. Why do I want my kids to be passionate about prayer? Because prayer is evidence we believe God's Word. Prayer is evidence that you know that you're not innately good, that there's a humility on your life.
I love it when my kids come to me and they say something to me along the lines of this. They say, "Dad, what do you think?" I love it when my kids come to me and say, "Dad, what would you do? How do you suggest I handle this?" I go, "Oh man, I love that question, and God loves it too." But when we don't go and ask that question, it suggests that we don't really believe that God is good, we don't believe his Word.
This is what it says in Jeremiah 17. People who don't pray don't believe this. "Thus says the LORD, 'Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength…'" That's why it says in the wisest book from the lips of the wisest man who ever lived, "Don't lean on your own understanding. Trust the Lord with all your heart." Cursed is the man who trusts in his flesh, who turns away from the Lord…
"For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes…"
"I don't know why this whale swallowed me. I just know who is Lord of the whale. So I'm just going to go, 'God, help me.'" I love what one man said, "We should not pray for tasks that equal our strength. We should pray for strength that is sufficient for the task that God gives us." What God is after is a person who's saying, "Don't turn from me to your own way."
Prayer, that constant relationship where you flesh it out and ask what the Lord wants for you and from you, is a sign of your humility that you get your arms around the goodness of God. Prayer is a sense that you understand what Jesus meant when he said in John 15, "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."
I want my kids to mean it when they sing songs that say, "I'm lost without you. I'm desperate for you," because God says he's opposed to people who think they can get along without him. That's what got us in trouble in the first place. We've said, "I don't need grace. I don't need a relationship with God. So I don't appeal to him, and I don't agree with his Word that my flesh is going to lead to a bad place. So I will go my own way." Whoa, whoa.
So what is prayer supposed to be like? Here's what the Lord says. Jesus is so practical, he goes, "That's a great question. Let me help you." At one point, Christ is with his disciples early on in his ministry. In fact, in Matthew 6:5-13, he says, "Let me just cover a few things with you. In the future, they're going to make some movies (Christmas Vacation, Talladega Nights, Meet the Parents), and there are going to be people in there who model what prayer is supposed to be like.
You're going have folks who invent this thing called religion. They're going to impress you with certain external activities. They're going to tell you, 'This is how you impress me.' That's not the picture." He says, "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men."
People who just do things publicly to look religious are not people who get prayer. Prayer is not a public activity. It is a constant overflow of a personal relationship. "Truly I say to you [people who impress you with religiosity] , they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."
In other words, don't be somebody who supposes that because you do things publicly that that's going to somehow really impress God. He goes onto say this in terms of how you talk with him. "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do…" There's this mindset.
If you keep saying the same thing again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again, a certain number of "Hail Marys" or a certain number of, "Our Fathers" or a certain number of any sort of creed or any sort of ask that is repetitious that you will be heard because of your many and often eloquent words… He says, "So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him."
God is saying, " Get to it and trust me. Know that my grace has made it possible for you to approach me. I want you to come to me. I am your Abba." After the service, I usually hang out up here and talk to folks as long as they want to talk to me. One of my daughters usually likes to come up and stand with me, and sometimes just learn the way I interact with people and how I try and encourage them and speak into their life in a way that I think Christ would have us speak into their life or just to meet them and to get to know their story and be encouraged by who they are. I love doing that. I stay here every week until no one wants to talk to me.
My daughter sometimes comes up and hangs out. It breaks my heart if my daughter thinks that she has to get in line. Last week I was talking to some folks, and then I was talking to another person, and then I was talking to another person who she had observed had come up after her. I started talking to that third or fourth person, and my daughter goes, "Hey!"
I go, "Hey, what?" She goes, "I'm in line here." I go, "Since when do you have to wait in line? You're my daughter." We've talked about this. Don't be rude and interrupt and say, 'Excuse, that's my dad,' and step in front of them and interrupt, but she just puts her hand on me. When I have an opportunity, I'll say, "Excuse me a second. Yeah, sweetie. What do you need?"
That's who you are in relationship to God. Just put your hand on him. Say, "God, I need to talk." He'll say, "Go, fire away." I don't need to wait. God doesn't have a line, and because of who you are, you can become boldly before that throne and talk to him. Now, watch this. What Jesus says is, "This, then, is how you should pray."
What's so amazing about this is what did Jesus just get through saying? When you pray, don't be like these folks who say the same thing again and again. Pray then in this way. What we've done is we've taken these next words, and we've kept praying them the same way. Let me just tell you this about the Lord's Prayer.
Is it wrong to pray the Lord's Prayer the way Jesus modeled it for us? No, it's not wrong. But if you think there's certain power in those words over just doing what those words represent, you're missing his point. This is a model for how to pray. It's not the prayer that is to be repeatedly modeled in saying the same words. Watch this. "When you pray, pray like this."
"Our Father…" That word Father there is Abba, the one who I have intimacy with, love with, and relationship with, whose name is hallowed. In other words, remember that this your Daddy, and you can come to him, but he is nothing like you. He is separate. The word holy in Scripture means separate or apart. This one who you have the privilege to walk right up to and right before him because of what Christ has done, he is nothing like you.
You're not there to negotiate with him. You are there to say, "I want you, Dad, to tell me what you would do in this situation. Dad, I want you to tell me what you think. Dad, I want you to tell me how I can live in this world with all the context of the struggles that it is and the whale that just swallowed me wisely. You are nothing like me. I don't want to do what seems right to me. I want to know what you, perfect Father, think."
When you pray, come boldly because of the love relationship, but remember the one you go to loves you deeply, but is nothing like you. He is totally set apart from who you are. Then he says this. " Your kingdom come. Your will be done…" Jesus says, "Go with the mindset that you know that what he would do in heaven is what you need to do on earth."
In other words, I love what one guy said. He said before you pray "thy kingdom come," you have to say, "Lord, my kingdom is done. I'm coming to you because it's not about me. I am a child looking to you for consult and direction." This is not about me. You must increase. The wisdom of my Father must increase in my life.
The wisdom of Todd has to decrease so that when I live my life in this way, people will go, "Who are you?" I'd go, "I am the son of the King." They say, "Well, you have a good Dad because he has taught you well how to live." That's exactly God's idea. How do you do that? How do I handle the situation? How do I handle this temptation? How do I handle this world? How do I handle this moment?
Seek his face. Be frozen until you say, "Hey Daddy, who's nothing like me. What would you do here? I want your will to be done right now." So it's a constant relationship. See what he says? And then he goes on. He says, "Give us this day our daily bread."
If you broke this out, there are six things that Jesus bullet points out in this little prayer. Of the six, five of them had to do with spiritual things. One you could make a case has to do with material provision. That's 83 percent had to do with our heart, and 17 percent had to do with things that we need. What's the percentage of your prayer life look like?
But Jesus says, "When you ask, ask him for what you need in that moment. Don't ask him to give you Wednesday's meal today." By the way, that's why worry is so crazy because you're anxious about what God is going to give you on Wednesday today. He says, "Today has enough trouble of its own. Each day will take care of itself. Just seek me today."
So he says, " Give us this day our daily bread."What do you need right now? God, right now, I need provision to get through this moment. Tomorrow, I'm going to come back at you with something else, I am sure, but today I need to love, I need grace, I need strength to persevere through this temptation, this trial.
"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Jesus says, "When you come, both materially and immaterially, you remember the forgiveness that you have received so you can eagerly extend that forgiveness to others. Jesus says, "When you pray, pray this way. Come lead boldly because of relationship and love. Remember, I'm nothing like you.
Remind yourself continually that it'll better for you when my will is done in your life the way that I do my will every day because I'm perfect and good. Ask for my provision for you in this moment, and part of my provision for you will be to love the way you have been loved. So extend to others what you have freely been given and learn to be a person who, having received grace, is ready to eagerly extend it to others."
Then he closes by just saying this. He says, "Then pray that in any moment, God would speak to you in such a way that you will not be led into following your own flesh, led into the way of the world, the way of the Enemy. Pray that you would not be led into temptation but delivered from evil. Remind yourself that your Father is good. Remind him that all life can be found and all glory can be found in him forever so you will always seek his face."
That's what Jesus is saying. Just remind yourself who your Father is. Remind him that without him, you're in a world of hurt, and stay there until he leads you where you should go. Here's the deal. Prayer is an expected activity within a constant relationship. It is not something you go to do. It is a way you live. It's the air you breathe.
There are times that you might be caught up in what we would call formal prayer, but what I want you to get your arms around is that prayer is more correctly understood as a constant abiding with Christ. You never stop praying. You acknowledge continually that he is your God, and you will go where he goes and live as he wants you to live. So prayer is communication with God, and we need to improve as communicators.
Who are the best communicators? The folks who listen. Too many of us have a mindset that I have to talk to God. Prayer is more about God getting his will done on earth than it is about our will getting done in heaven. So tonight, when we gather, we'll share with him about some of the whales that are around us, but he already knows about the whales.
We're going to say, "Lord, what we want to know is what you want us to do now that we've either thrown ourselves overboard or we have been swept overboard by things outside of our control. How should we live? It won't surprise you, Father, that we would like for this whale to spit us up. But if it keeps us inside, give us the strength to glorify you in these jaws. What do you want us to do? How would you suggest we handle this?"
James 1:19-21 says this. "This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." What does that mean? Are you angry about your life circumstances? So angry, you go, "I don't like what's going on here. I'm going to go here. I go, therefore, and respond this way. This seems right to me"?
The Scripture says, "Don't be filled with anger." In other words, don't be controlled with your anger, but listen to God. Be slow to tell God that because of the circumstances in your life, you're going to do what you want to do. But watch. Let's read these Scriptures together. "Therefore, putting aside all filthiness…" Everything which is not of the righteousness and character of God. "…and all that remains of wickedness…" But, instead of doing what you think is right, "…in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls."
"Receive the word implanted and protected by God which profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training and righteousness, so you might be adequately equipped for every good work." This is prayer. Why do I want my kids to be passionate about prayer? Because prayer is a constant sense that if I turn to my own way, it's going to lead to death.
Cursed is the man who walks in the way in the wicked, who stands in the path of sinners, who sits in the seat of scoffers, but how blessed is the man whose " … delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates [prayerfully, constantly in relationship] day and night." Can I give you a great tip on prayer? If you have an audience with God, don't waste your time by telling him what you need. He already knows. Spend your time listening to him speak.
While I often live in relationship with God as often as I can… "…pray at all times in the Spirit…" it says in Ephesians 6:18. "…pray without ceasing…" it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…" it says in Colossians 3:16. Those are all verses that talk about the constant activity of meditating and walking in the Spirit with Christ.
But there are times in formal prayer… Guess what I'm doing in formal prayer more than speaking? I'm listening. So I have to pull away from interacting with the world to a quiet place, and I ask God questions like these. "God, what specific habits, attitudes, and actions in my life are inconsistent with your will for me. So I need to confess the sinful. Speak to me, Dad. Where I have I gotten off your way and into mine?"
When I ask him that, very rarely is it silent. I've never heard the audible voice, but boy, have I been impressed. Just like when my kids come to me and say, "Hey Dad, where in my life do you think I can sharpen myself and become more of the man or the woman that I should be as a fifth-grader, as a freshman?" Friends come to me. "Where do you see me, Todd, needing to grow?"
I go, "Let me think about that," and because I'm in relationship with them, sometimes I'll say just this. "You've been doing awesome. I'm so proud of you, to be your friend, and to share life with you." Sometimes I say, "Here's a deal that I see in your life that maybe you can sharpen that I think would further honor Christ and bring blessing to you."
Secondly, I ask this question. I say, "Who do I need to apologize to, reconcile with, or forgive? God, where have I been hurt that I don't want to give somebody or who have I hurt that I need to be sensitive enough to go to them and say, "I think I need to ask your forgiveness?" Thirdly, I'll say something like this. "What's the next thing I need to go, God?" This is my prayer. When I'm alone, these are the things I'm doing. I'm not working through a list, except I'm saying, "Speak to me, God."
"What's the next thing I need to do to develop my character?" I like to say it this way. "What's the kryptonite in my life? Where are the walls of protection that you intend for me to maintain in disrepair and, therefore, in need of being rebuilt?" I might ask God this in the same little context when I say what's the next thing.
"What educational areas do I need to grow in to improve my effectiveness for you? What book of the Bible, Lord, do I need to spend some time in? What section of theology? What aspect of who you are, do I need to better understand? What doctrine do I need to be able to better explain to others, or what rational defense of the faith do I need to sharpen myself or refresh myself in?"
I might say this too. I ask God these questions alone, with nobody else around, undistracted, with a pen in my hand and a book open. "Lord, what's the next step for me in ministry? How can I be more creative in serving you with my life? What gifts, resources, passions do I need to unleash in ministry that I have been using selfishly?"
Wouldn't you love it for your kid to come to you? I want to tell you this about your Father. He is always going to be more anxious to reveal to you his will than you ever will to seek it. Just like the Wagner children to their dad. He is waiting for you to ask that question. He knows the plans he has for you. So you ask him.
Fifthly, I sometimes say this. "Who in my life do I need to be mentoring and developing and challenging who I'm not currently doing that with, or who do I need to develop differently so I can serve them better?" In other words, help me be a good dad. What does Ally need that I'm not giving her? What does Kirby? What does Coop?" Write down my list. "Of my friends who have decided to share life with me, how can I serve them? What am I doing that I need to do better?"
That's when I get away for formal prayer is just being quiet more than it's mowing through a list. When I'm not mowing through a list, when I'm asking God for things, guess what I'm asking God for? I'm going to give a chance here for about four or five minutes to get an idea. When I speak to God about what I want, this is what I ask for.
Very quickly, I'll sometimes say, "I want this puddle to leave me. That doesn't surprise you, God. It may not leave me; therefore, what I really want to know is how do I live in his puddle until you dry it up and get me out of it?" So just watch. We're going to take about four minutes here, and I'm going to show you things that I think that I think God wants you to ask of him continually. Not things to ask that you listen, but these are things to tell God.
Why? This is what this kind of request of prayer is. It is meditating on God's will for your life. So just be still. Pray over these things for three or four minutes. Then we're going to close with a song that expresses why we pray this way. Be still.
What's the best gift you've ever received? What present is so special that you'll never forget the moment or the person who shared it with you?In this series, Todd Wagner overviews 11 gifts that the Lord desires for us to have. This collection of gifts forms the foundation that any pastor would want for a church and any parent would want for their child. In short, these gifts represent 11 non-negotiables in a life that is committed to full devotion to Christ.