DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Filtering by Category: prayer

Why We Pray (Matthew 7:7-11)

Maybe you can relate to a scene in a novel. Annie Dillard describes a church service in her book Holy the Firm:

The minister is a Congregationalist and wears a white shirt. The man knows God. Once, in the middle of the long pastoral prayer of intercession for the whole world for the gift of wisdom to its leaders, for hope and mercy to the grieving and pained, succor to the oppressed, and God's grace to all in the middle of this he stopped and burst out, "Lord, we bring you these same petitions every week." After a shocked pause, he continued reading the prayer. Because of this, I like him very much.

Almost every week, somebody climbs the stairs, stands behind this pulpit, and prays. Most every week, they pray pretty much the same things. Have you ever wondered why we take time on Sundays to pray as a congregation?

The verses we've just read actually tell us why we bother to pray. I found four reasons why we should pray in just a few short verses, so let's go:

1. He invites us to pray

A new president is taking office in a couple of days. If you had tried to call the president-elect five years ago, you probably could have reached him with a bit of persistence. If you try calling him this Wednesday, you're out of luck. Access to the most powerful leader in the world is granted to only a few, and you're probably not one of them.

A Norway teen once dialed a secret phone number for the White House. He said, "I just wanted to talk to him--have a chat, invite him to Iceland, and see what he'd say." He pretended to be the president of Iceland. He was surprised when his initial call didn't pass through a switchboard, but went directly to a higher office to be screened by various security officials. He was asked a series of personal questions in an attempt to verify his identification. He never made it through to the president and was later taken from his home for questioning by local police. No charges were filed.

You may not be able to get through to the president, but someone infinitely more powerful invites you to talk to him. Three times in this passage, Jesus - who is God himself - invites us to pray, commands us to pray. He repeats it so we get it: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7).

What's surprising is that God, who is infinitely powerful, who lacks nothing, and is surrounded by angels, and who enjoys perfect fellowship within the Godhead, actually invites us to talk to him. We pray because God invites us to.

Secondly:

2. He makes promises to us if we pray

Verses 7 and 8 say:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.

That's the second reason why we pray. Not only does God invite us to pray; he makes promises to those who pray. Including the end of verse 11, Jesus makes seven promises in this passage. God answers when we pray.

I know that we read these verses and have lots of questions about unanswered prayer. It's a legitimate issue, and deserves its own sermon. But we should never lose sight of the amazing fact that God does answer prayer. He answers everyday requests: prayer for him to provide, prayer for guidance and wisdom. He also answers extraordinary requests. I can think of three times that God has healed someone in my family in a miraculous way in response to prayer. We pray first because God invites us to, and second, because he makes promises to us if we pray.

3. Because he is available to all of us all the time

My wife lost her credit card on Christmas Eve. She left it at Sobeys. She eventually found it, and they had it there safe in an envelope waiting for her. Even though she still had an open account, that account wasn't any good to her as long as she didn't have her credit card.

There are lots of things that are only available some of the time, but God is always available. Notice how Jesus described three levels of how prayer can feel to us. Sometimes it's asking: God seems present, and all we have to do is ask. Sometimes prayer is like seeking: we actually have to go looking for God, because he doesn't seem present. Sometimes God seems even further away, like someone who's locked behind a closed door. In that case, we go knocking. But Jesus says God is actually available to us in all three cases. No matter how far away God is, he's available to us - when we just have to ask, when we have to go looking for him, even when it seems we're knocking on a closed door.

Then notice what he says in verse 8: "For everyone who asks receives." I read stories sometimes of people who excel in prayer, and they intimidate me. I am not a prayer warrior like some people. But God doesn't play favorites in prayer. "Everyone who asks receives." God is available to all the time, not just to some of us but to all of us all the time.

4. Because he is inclined to answer

What is your father like? It's a tough question because there are all kinds of fathers. Every Saturday my dad used to take my sister and me out shopping. It would be tons of fun. He would buy us stuff and play with us. I have really good memories. But other times would not be as good. One time I must have ticked him off, because he dropped me at home early, and I remember waiting in the garage while it rained until someone came home and could let me into the house.

Many of us have good fathers, but nobody here has a perfect father. Jesus says as much in these verses: our fathers, no matter how good they are, aren't perfect. But most of them are inclined to do good things for their children. It's just part of being a dad; you want to look after your kids. But Jesus says that God is our Father, except he is a Father who never lets us down. He is always looking out for what is best for us. He is incredibly interested in the welfare of his children. He is inclined to give good gifts to his children. "Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance ... it is laying hold of his highest willingness" (Archbishop Richard Trench).

When Jesus says that God is our Father, he also reminds us of who we are: children who are dependent on him. When you're a child, you never try to be self-sufficient. You accept that your father has everything that you need. That's exactly our position with God. We need him. And he is more than willing to meet our need as we come to him.

It's here that we see the real shift in our relationship with God. When you begin to see God as your Father, you understand all that Jesus said. You know you've been invited. You hear his promises. You know he's available and inclined to answer you. But you notice that it starts to be less about what you can get from God, and more about the sheer delight of relationship with the One who offers all of this to you. We move from prayer being about getting things from God, to prayer being about seeing his worth and beauty, and marveling that he wants to spend time with us.

We don't only have access to God. We have relationship with God. God isn't just open to hearing from us. God gave up his own Son to make it possible. We never have to wonder if God is interested in hearing from us. As the apostle Paul said, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)

I mentioned the preacher who prayed for the same things every week. It probably seems like a waste of time to some. But maybe he knows that God has invited him. Maybe he knows that God has made promises to those who pray. Maybe he knows God is available, all the time, to everyone. But most of all, maybe he knows that God is inclined to answer. Maybe he's discovered that prayer isn't only about getting things from God, but it's about the sheer joy of relationship with him.

That's why we pray.

A Prayer to Know (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Joshua Bell is one of the world's greatest violinists. He's won a Grammy Award for a violin concerto. Last year he won the Avery Fisher Prize, given once every few years to classical instrumentalists for outstanding achievement. His instrument is a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin, which is the finest instrument, worth over four million dollars. People pay hundreds of dollars to hear him play. A magazine said that his playing "does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live." One composer says that "he plays like a god."

But in January 2007, Bell took part in an unusual experiment. He donned a baseball cap, pulled out his Stradivarius, and played incognito as a busker at a subway station in Washington, D.C. Over a thousand people walked by. Only one person recognized him; few even stopped to listen. For his 45-minute experiment, Bell collected $32.17, excluding the $20 he got from the person who recognized him. Some people gave him pennies. Despite being one of the world's greatest violinists playing one of the most valuable instruments in existence, people passed him by. They didn't realize the value and beauty of what was right before them.

The apostle Paul is writing to an ordinary church, and to pretty much everybody, it looks ordinary, commonplace. There was nothing especially noticeable about this group of people. It would be easy to walk by them and give them a glance, and move on.

But the apostle Paul does something for them, and he does the same for us. He writes to them and addresses them "God's holy people...the faithful in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 1:1). And then he begins to explain just what has been going on among them. They are participants, Paul says, in the great cosmic drama of the Triune God that has been going on before the world began. They have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. They've been chosen, adopted, ransomed, forgiven, included in Christ, and sealed with the Spirit. It would take a lifetime to unpack all the spiritual blessings that they have received. Joshua Bell is a great violinist, but Paul says that this little church in Ephesus has an identity that is greater than that of any living person. Joshua Bell has a $4 million Stradivarius, but Paul says that they have spiritual blessings that are priceless. And Paul says to this church, "You need to know; you need to really understand, who you are and what you have, because it will transform everything."

So today I want to turn to you and ask for your prayers. Specifically, I want to ask you that you pray for our church. I know how difficult prayer can be. I also know that when we pray, it's easy to focus on our circumstances: our jobs, our health, and other practical needs. But Paul says that, along with these things, we need to pray something much bigger.

So let's look at his prayer, and specifically three things that I would like to ask you to pray for Richview.

1. Thank God for our faith and love

Paul writes, "For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all his people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers."

Can I be honest? When we pray for Richview, it's very easy to begin somewhere else besides with thanksgiving. Have you ever made a list of things you can complain about in a church? There are people you don't especially appreciate, music that falls flat, preaching that bores, frustrations that keep coming up, hopes that are never realized. I sometimes look at the glossy brochures and websites that churches put out. Every face is smiling; the kids gaze adoringly at their parents; the music team always rocks, the pastor always delivers the goods, and everyone is blissful. But we all know the reality. People are messy, and there are lots of reasons, in any church, to grumble.

But Paul looks at them and reminds them of what he's already said: "For this reason..." For this reason takes us back to what he's already written. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3). They are part of God's great plan, the cosmic drama that is the main storyline of this world. They're not just a group of random people; they are chosen by God, and participants in what he is doing.

For this reason, Paul says, he thanks God. Notice that there are two things he's heard about them that he mentions: their faith and their love. I have to tell you that both of these are things that I find in abundance here at Richview. In fact, they're true of every person who is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. We believe and we love. We are drawn to Christ in trust, and rely not on our own performance but on what he has done for us. That is our hope; that where we place our faith. And we love. We are not in community with each other because we are the type of people who are naturally drawn to each other. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he was thanking God that their love was proof that God was breaking down the ancestral barriers between Jew and Gentile. Our love is evidence of the power of the Gospel to break down barriers between those of us who are different races, ages, and economic classes.

So thank God. I know it's easy to begin elsewhere, but begin with thanking God for what you see at Richview. Every time you see someone who is trusting Christ and not themselves, thank God. Every time you see one person loving another who otherwise would have nothing to do with each other, thank God. We - I include myself - need to spend a lot more time thanking God for what he is doing among us. There is plenty of evidence of his work.

But then Paul specifically prays for two things on behalf of the church, and these are the two things I'd like you to pray for as well.

2. Pray that we will know God better

There are two types of relationships we can have. One is transactional. I went to Tim Hortons yesterday. When I go to order and the cashier smiles at me and asks how she can help me, I understand that she doesn't really want to have a relationship with me. I don't say, "What I can really use is some help with a decision I've been trying to make. Do you have some time?" She's going to look at me and say, "What type of donut do you want, buddy?" That's a transactional relationship. She's not really interested in me; she just wants to give me something (a product) in exchange for something else (money).

Religion is all about transactions. One creation myth from an ancient religion says, "Verily, savage-man will I create. He shall be charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease." There's nothing personal about this at all. The god exist for themselves, and we exist to serve them so that they can be at ease. You can tell if you are trapped in religion if you view your relationship with God as a series of transactions; you do this to make them happy; God or gods do this in return. That's not relationship at all; that is transactional. It's as personal as the relationship that I have with the cashier at Tim Hortons.

But there's another type of relationship we have. If Charlene smiles at me and says, "How can I help you," I don't say, "I'll have an extra large coffee, a toasted bagel, and a Boston Cream donut please" and then hand her some money. I don't do that, at least, if I value my life! Charlene and I don't have a transactional relationship; we have a personal one. If she says, "How can I help you?" I can say, "Can we really talk about this? I need your advice." It's not about getting from each other; it's about truly knowing and growing in a relationship together.

Paul says in verse 17 that it is this second type of relationship - a personal one - that we enjoy with God. God, the creator of the universe, the sustainer of all things, knows us, has brought us into relationship with him, and wants us to know him better. Look at what Paul writes: "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better" (Ephesians 1:17). He implies that we already know God, but prays that we will, with the help of the Spirit, know him better.

Now listen: he doesn't pray that we will know more about God, although knowing more about God is important. He doesn't pray that we would obey God more, although obeying God is important. He prays that we will know God. As one person put it: "Knowing him and knowing about him are quite different."

You see, in a transactional relationship, what really matters is what you can extract from the other person. If you can bargain and get even more from them, all the better. But in a true relationships, the relationship is its own reward. Paul says that we have this personal relationship with God, and the point is not what we can get from that relationship. The point of the relationship is God himself. He is more valuable than even his gifts. And our chief end is that we would know him better, glorify him more, and enjoy him forever.

By the way, it's important that we see how this can take place. There is a means, and it is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. This is one reason why we need to pray that God will grant us this prayer. It's not just a matter of reading theology, although theology is good. We need the Spirit to reveal more of God to us so that we can know him better.

The God of this universe doesn't just want stuff from you. He wants you to know him: to deal with him as he opens up with you; to engage your mind, will, and emotions in dealing with him; to relate to him, to us together. I heard the story of a woman who saw God as caring only that she lived a good life. God was impersonal, some ethereal force who demanded obedience. She came to understand that the God revealed in Scripture is a God who walked with Adam in the garden, whose very nature is love, who knows us and wants us to know him.

So Paul prays, and I invite you to pray, that beyond everything else that we will know him better. "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better." Please pray that we as a church will know and become increasingly delighted in a deeply personal, not a transactional, relationship with God.

3. Pray that we will grow in our knowledge of God's saving plan

Like the commuters who passed by the violinist without realizing what was right in front of them, it's possible for us to breeze by what God's plan is without really taking it in. It's why Paul prays, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know..." (Ephesians 1:18). The prayer is that we will really understand and see the light of God's salvation in three areas. He wants us to know three specific truths.

The first: "the hope to which he has called you." Think back to a time in which you were counting down to a future event. I talked to a friend at the beginning of the summer and asked when he was going on vacation. He said, "Hold on a second" and looked at his computer. He had placed a countdown timer on his computer with the exact number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds until his vacation. His expectation of what was going to be his in the future sustained him while he waited.

The Ephesians really had no reason to be hopeful. They were a small minority, vastly outnumbered by those who didn't believe. Every odd was against them.

But Paul prays that they would see the hope that they have: the sure and certain expectation of a new heaven and a new earth. Our hope is rooted in the past - God called us to this hope; it was his purpose from eternity. But it is something we look forward to. Paul says, "I pray that the eyes of your heart are opened so you see, really see, the hope you have."

I asked someone recently, "What keeps you from getting discouraged?" He replied: "Prayer and meditation brings joy. God is on his throne — everything is going to be fine in the end. The new heavens and new earth are coming, in which 'everything sad is going to come untrue.'" This hope, if we have it, will get us through anything.

Here's the second truth Paul wants us to really grasp: "the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people." Read that again. I guarantee you won't get this the first time you read this. You probably think that this is talking about the inheritance that God will give to you. But look at it again. This is God's inheritance. This is what God is going to receive? And what is it: "his people." Paul says, "I really pray that you understand that you are God's treasured possession, and that you will be his completely on the last day." You need to understand the value that God places on you, not because you are intrinsically worthy, but because you are Christ's.

Imagine taking part in a gift exchange. You pull a name out of a hat and it's Bill Gates. What do you get him? I mean, what can't Bill Gates buy for himself? What does he need? The Star of India? The Mona Lisa maybe?

What does God want that he doesn't have? Amazingly, the answer is that we, his people, are his glorious inheritance. God places extraordinary value on us. God looks at us and says, "I've always wanted one of these." Paul prays that we would really understand the hope we have, and the extraordinary value that God places on us as his people.

Finally: "and his incomparably great power for us who believe." You'll notice that Paul spends the most time unpacking what this means in verses 19 to 23:

That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

We have the call of God, which is in the past. We have the hope, and the reality that we are God's inheritance, for the future. But what about now? Paul says we have power. The resources that you have to live are amazing. Paul prays that the Ephesians will know his incomparably great power: the same power that raised Christ from the dead, and the same power that has enthroned him over all people, and the same power that has placed him as head over all things for the benefit of the church. There is no power that can stand against his. This power is working on our behalf, right now in the present, and Paul prays that we would know it.

These aren't fresh blessings. Paul prays that God would open our eyes to see what we already have, and to grasp the significance of it. He prays that we would know the fullness of all that we have been given. How would our lives be different if we really knew this to the bottom of our toes?

There are lots of things we think we need, but Paul says, you don't really need anything more than what you have. Christ and what you have in him is sufficient. In fact, to attempt to add to Christ is to take away from him. We don't really need anything more. We just need to realize what we already have.

So do you pray for Richview? I hope you do. We need it. But what do you pray for? Please just don't pray for our circumstances. Please pray for something far more important. Thank him for his work among us. Every time you see faith or love, that is evidence of God's work among us. Thank him for it. And please pray. Don't just pray the normal types of prayers we pray. Pray that we will know God better. Pray that we will understand our hope, our value, and the power that's available to us in jesus.

Pray that we won't be like subway commuters walking by a $4 million Stradivarius and a world-class violinist. Pray that we'll understand what we have in Jesus.

How to Pray (Luke 10:38-11:13)

Today we're going to be talking about how to pray. Next Sunday we want to pray together about our community, but before praying we should spend some time asking how to pray.

Here's what I would love to be able to tell you. I would love to tell you that prayer is easy. I would love to get up here and tell you that anybody can pray, and we don't need to spend time asking how, but it's not true. If I told you that I'd be setting you up for failure and discouragement.

In a way, prayer is easy. Somebody's said that it's impossible for a Christian to pray poorly, just like it's impossible for a child to draw a picture that mom or dad won't like. God always delights when his children come to him. The fact that we don't know what to say or how to say it doesn't matter. Prayer is so easy a new Christian can do it without instruction, and children can probably pray better than adults. So, in a way, prayer is easy.

But prayer is also hard, much harder than people think, and if you don't know this then you're setting yourself up for failure and discouragement. We all know this by experience. Over a hundred years ago, a man named Samuel Chadwick captured this tension about prayer being both easy and hard at the same time:

Prayer is full of apparent contradictions. It is so simple that a child can pray, and it is so profound that the wisest cannot explain its mystery. It is so easy that those who have no strength can pray, and it is so strenuous that it taxes every resource of energy, intelligence, and power. It is so natural that it need not be taught, and it is so far beyond nature that it cannot be learned in the school of this world's wisdom. Prayer is a world in itself, and no one aspect of life's similes can explain it.

I heard one preacher say that it's much easier to preach for thirty minutes than to pray for thirty minutes. He admitted that he's preached some bad sermons. He's rambled, he's lost his place. But never have they been so bad that he forgot that he was preaching. But he's been on his knees many times before the king of the universe and he's forgotten that he's praying. He said, "Try and focus on the loving king of the universe for thirty minutes and you will find out how weak you are" (Tim Keller). John Newton, the hymn writer who wrote Amazing Grace, said that praying is so hard that sometimes the buzzing of a fly in the room is an overmatch for his strength. Prayer is incredibly hard, and it's important that we recognize this so we're not surprised.

If prayer is hard, we need to learn how to pray. One time, the disciples of Jesus once asked him this very question. They came and said, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). Jesus answered, and we're going to look at some of what he said. There's more to learn, but if you only learned what Jesus said here, you'd have enough for a lifetime of prayer.

He teaches us to pray like it matters, to pray relationally, and to pray audaciously. Let's look together at each of these, beginning at the end of Luke 10 and the first part of Luke 11.

1. Pray like it matters

You wouldn't expect to learn about prayer at a dinner party, but that's exactly where we start in learning how to pray. The story is about a dinner party in which Jesus is the guest at the home of Mary and Martha, who are good friends with Jesus. They're facing the same challenges that we all face when we have guests over for dinner: getting the house clean in time, getting all the dishes ready at the same time, and looking relaxed while this is all going on. It's not easy. We've had dinner parties that have gone well; we've actually had one in which we had to extinguish a fire in the oven and stand outside while the smoke cleared while we thought about what else we could have for dinner that didn't have fire extinguisher chemicals on it. You know the stress of pulling a dinner party together.

In this party, things kind of spilled over because the one sister, Mary, didn't pull her weight. The other sister, Martha, finally lost it and came out to complain to Jesus, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" She had a point. Dinners don't cook themselves.

Not only that, but she was breaking social convention by sitting with Jesus. Back then men met in the public room. Women worked in the kitchen, and if the work was done there they retired to the other private quarters. Men and women never mixed together in that day inside; they never sat together in the living room or the public rooms together. They certainly never sat at the feet of a rabbi and learn as a disciple, because this would imply that you were hoping to become a rabbi yourself one day. It wasn't seen as being sexist or about superiority or inferiority; it was just how people thought it was appropriate for the two sexes to mingle in that day.

So you would expect Jesus to agree with Martha and send Mary to help out and go where she should have been along. But Jesus says instead in verses 41-42:

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Let's look at what Jesus wasn't saying. Jesus wasn't saying that spending time with him is better than serving. For centuries people have piled on Martha as if she's the villain, and praised Mary. But Jesus never condemns Martha for her work in the kitchen. Think how much trouble we'd be in if we didn't have people like Martha. Our church would have to shut down if we all stopped being like Martha.

Right before this incident, Luke records the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of sacrificial service. At the end of the parable Jesus says, "Go and do likewise!" So obviously Jesus isn't putting down what he just commanded. The problem isn't that serving Jesus is bad.

We need Martha, but the problem is if we're only like Martha and we're never like Mary. The problem is that we think that what Martha does is important and it's work, but what Mary does isn't as important and should only happen when you're done working. We think that when we're like Martha we're doing something, and when we're like Mary we're not getting anything done.

One of the reasons that I love this story is because of its layers. At first glance, it's about valuing our time with Jesus. There's a whole other layer here though. Mary completely broke conventions by sitting and listening to Jesus. You just don't do that if you're a woman in Mary's day.

I think that we have to break just as many conventions today to slow down and sit at Jesus' feet. They're not conventions about gender. They're conventions about productivity and busyness and getting things done. In a culture that says that you're not worth anything if you're accomplishing something, it takes courage to stop and to think that sitting at the feet of Jesus accomplishes something. It accomplishes more than we could ever think, and yet it looks like we're getting nothing done.

A pastor friend of mine e-mailed me this week. I was telling him about what we're doing in praying before we act, and he wrote this:

I spend Wednesday mornings in prayer these days, convicted that I am the worst offender for running ahead of God, or maybe not running at all even when He calls. I have a growing sense of desperation that all my busyness is fruitless if God is not the Author of it, and a growing sense of desperation for God to come down and really do something. Maybe we could pray together after our luncheons.

Just a few ideas. It is now 8:45 and I need to get to prayer.

When I read that e-mail, I realized how much of Martha I have in me. I also have to admit that this cartoon came into my mind [a woman interrupts a pastor in prayer - "Oh good...you're not busy!"]

cartoon

To spend a morning each week in prayer seems like such a luxury, so passive, that it's foreign to us - even to pastors. It illustrates how prayer-less we've become.

Then I read a commentator, who talked about serving as an elder at his church. The elders made a commitment to be leaders of prayer at that church. They meet every Tuesday morning from 6:30 to 8:00 to pray for the needs of the church. He calculated that they spend three times the amount of time together praying or getting prepared to pray as they do tackling issues directly. They spend most of their time praying, only about a quarter of the time doing. But even then there's a twist. "Even the way I have put this is misleading, " he says, "for when we pray, we are doing the work of leadership for the church. Before activity can be meaningful and done with sensitivity, it should be bathed in prayer. I suspect that many of us could use a little more Mary and a little less Martha in our lives."

Oswald Chambers wrote:

The job of every Christian is to pray. Plain and simple. Yet we want to do more than simply pray. We want to do something important for God; we want to be someone important to Him. We want to build; we want to mobilize; we want to show our strength and exert our influence. Prayer seems like such a small thing to do - next to nothing at all in fact...Most of us would rather spend our time doing something that will get immediate results...

Prayer is our business, our only business. Prayer is our holy occupation. Plain and simple.

The first how-to on how to pray hardly seems like a how-to at all. It's to pray like it matters, because it does. You are never more effective, never more productive, then when you spend time in prayer. Again, Oswald Chambers wrote, "We use prayer as a last resort; Jesus wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there's nothing else we can do; Jesus wants us to pray before we do anything at all."

Next week we're going to pray this way, believing that praying for our community is just as important as serving our community. I'm going to invite Dave Cook to come and pray that God would teach our church the importance of prayer - to go against the grain of culture and pray like it really matters, because it does.

2. Pray relationally

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, Jesus gave them a version of what we usually call The Lord's Prayer. I'm a little intimidated to look at the Lord's prayer as just part of a sermon, because there's so much here. We could spend weeks on this. I tried to think of what Luke's version teaches us. We obviously can't explore everything, but I think there is something here that we need to focus on.

I don't think it's the wording. You'll notice as you read Luke 11:2-4 that it's different than the version that you normally pray, which we get from Matthew 6. This was a different occasion, and Jesus gave the same prayer but in not exactly the same words. The content, the framework of this prayer is what we should be praying, but it goes beyond the exact words.

You know what I think we learn most of all from this prayer? That it's relational.

Jesus begins by teaching us to pray, "Father." Jesus was the first person to ever address God this way, and he teaches us to do the same. In other words, the whole basis of prayer is our relationship to God as adopted children. We come to him not as King, although he is our King. We come to him not as Creator, even though he is our Creator. Jesus says that we come to him based on the relationship that Christ made possible through the cross. It's the relationship that matters.

Like all good relationships, we begin focusing on the other. When you have a healthy relationship, it's because you are focused on the other first. Being self-centered doesn't work for relationships. This is even more so when the other person in the relationship is God. So Jesus teaches us to pray, "Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." When we focus on ourselves, we get disoriented. In the book of Job, Job is complaining - understandably so - because his life is such a mess. God revealed himself, and nothing else changed, but that was enough. Job was transformed because he focused on God, even though his circumstances hadn't changed. So Jesus teaches us to focus on God first in our relationship.

Then we give him the ordinary details of our lives. We talk to him about our lives. "Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation." This is just talking to him about everything that is part of our lives. The key is relationship.

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. He could have answered by giving them a lecture about proper prayer techniques and approaches. Instead, he tells them to pray relationally. The relationship is the point. How do we pray? We pray by focusing not on techniques or approaches. We pray by reestablishing our relationship with God and talking to him on the basis that we are adopted children, and we can give him every part of our lives.

George MacDonald wrote that prayer gives us what we need most, and the thing we need most isn't what he think we need. The thing that we need most is God himself. Prayer brings us into communion with God - "a talking with God, a coming-to-one with Him, which is the sole end of prayer." The relationship is the point.

Next week we'll be tempted to pray according to techniques or to impress God or others. Jesus says not to do this. Simply come and pray as a child would come to his father and talk about life. Jon McMurray is going to come and pray now that we will learn how to pray with God relationally.

3. Pray audaciously

There's one more lesson that I want to look at. Jesus teaches us to recognize the importance of prayer and then to pray relationally. But then he invites us to pray in a way that's going to seem strange to us. It's going to seem like this is exactly the wrong way to pray, but Jesus tells us to do it.

Do you ever go out and see a couple who look like they've been married for years sitting at a restaurant? There's something about some of them. They don't talk. They sit there at dinner, and you get the impression that they've said everything there is to say to each other. Their relationship is stale. It's become dull over the years. What Jesus says here helps us avoid ever having this type of relationship with God.

There's a word that Jesus used in verse 8 that's hard to translate. Some translate it persistence, audacity, impudence, tenacity, or shamelessness. It's a word that describes someone who overlooks what's proper or possible and is almost insolent and reckless. It's about persisting in the face of all that seems reasonable, and refusing to take a denial. It's a combination of being bold and shameless. And Jesus says that this is the way that we should pray. Why would he say this?

Jesus tells us a story of someone who acted with shameless persistence in a real life situation. Late at night, a friend arrives at his house. The laws of hospitality dictated that if somebody arrived needing food and shelter, you were under obligation to provide it. But he didn't have bread, and there's no 24-hour Sobeys, so he bangs on his neighbor's door. On the other side of that door is a family that sleeps side by side on the floor, like we do when we go tent camping.

Jesus poses the dilemma. If you were in that spot, would you wake up your neighbor and his whole family? If you do, what if your neighbor refuses? Do you keep on knocking? If so, Jesus says, that neighbor will get up and give you what you need - not out of friendship but to get rid of you. In other words, because you are shamelessly bold, audacious, shameless in what you ask for.

Jesus says that this is exactly how we should pray - boldly banging on the door. God isn't like the sleepy friend; Jesus actually says that he's ready to answer prayer. It's not that God is like the sleepy neighbor; we're supposed to be like the shamelessly bold guy knocking at the door. N.T. Wright says:

[Jesus] is encouraging a kind of holy boldness, a sharp knocking on the door, an insistent asking, a search that refuses to give up. That's what our prayer should be like. This isn't just a routine or formal praying, going through the motions as a daily or weekly task. There is a battle going on, a fight with the powers of darkness, and those who have glimpsed the light are called to struggle in prayer...

God desires prayer that is bold, even shameless, in coming to him. When you read the prayers of the Bible, they're bold. They argue with God.

Alexander the Great supposedly had a leading general whose daughter was getting married. Alexander the Great said that he'd be happy to contribute to the wedding. He said that he knew it would be expensive, so just ask for something.

The general wrote out out a request for an enormous sum, a ridiculous sum. When Alexander's treasurer saw it, he brought it to Alexander and said, "I'm sure you're going to be cutting this man's head off now for what he's done. The audacity of asking for something like this! Who does he think you are?"

Alexander said, "Give it to him. By such an outlandish request, he shows that he believes that I am both rich and generous." He was flattered by it.

John Newton wrote a hymn with these words: "Thou art coming to a king; large petitions with thee bring; for his grace and power are such, none can never ask too much."

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:

I commend to you the reading of biographies of men who have been used by God in the church throughout the centuries, especially in revival. And you will find this same holy boldness, this argumentation, this reasoning, this putting the case to God, pleading his own promises. Oh, that is the whole secret of prayer, I sometimes think. Thomas Goodwin uses a wonderful term. He says, "Sue him for it, sue him for it." Do not leave him alone. Pester him, as it were, with his own promises. Quote the Scripture to him. And, you know, God delights to hear us doing it, as a father likes to see this element in his own child who has obviously been listening to what his father has been saying.

Samuel Chadwick said, "There are blessings of the kingdom that are only yielded to the violence of the vehement soul." One of the most prolific writers on prayer (E.M. Bounds) says that "Prayer in its highest form...assumes the attitude of a wrestler with God." Someone else (William Wink) says, "Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It's more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monologues of the church."

So let's pray, and let's not be polite about it. Let's sue God for his promises. Let's grab hold and refuse to let go. I'm going to invite Charlene to come and pray that God would teach us how to pray.

These are the three lessons Jesus teaches us on how to pray. There's lots more that we could say, but if you just do these three things - recognize the importance of prayer, pray relationally, and pray audaciously - it will be enough to keep you going for years. It's certainly going to be enough to keep us going next week.

But most of all, pray. Philip Yancey observes that when he travels, he notes that Christians in developing countries spend less time pondering the effectiveness of prayer, and more time actually praying. We rely on talent and resources to solve our immediate problems, and insurance polices and RRSPs to secure the future. They pray.

We need to know a few things to get praying, but most of all we just need to pray. If you know that prayer is hard, that we are to pray relationally and audaciously and like it really matters, then you know enough. So let's pray individually this week, and in groups. And I'm looking forward to praying with all of you next Sunday morning. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened" (Luke 11:9-10).

Why Pray? (Psalm 131)

I'm both excited and a little scared about these next couple of weeks.

Earlier this year, our church board met to talk about our priorities for the coming year. A funny thing happened when we got to talking about serving our community. We really have all kinds of ideas about what we could be doing to serve our community, but instead of picking one and running with it, the board's taken a different direction. They've suggested that we hold a church-wide time of prayer to ask for God's direction. In other words, we'd like to ask God to direct us as we serve our community. We want to pray before we act.

This isn't a way to avoid having to choose to do something. Prayer isn't an excuse for inaction. I think it's a realization, though, of how much we need God. We don't just need him to direct us to what he wants us to do. We also need him to prepare us for what he wants to do through us.

It's always important to pray before we go out and do something, even though our natural inclination is to skip the prayer and go out there and do something. Jesus prayed before the major events of his life. The early church prayed and waited on God between the Ascension and Pentecost. The church that we encounter in Scripture is a praying church. Throughout church history, major movements of God among his people always seem to be tied to people crying out to God in prayer. Someone has studied all the great revivals and concluded, "Every spiritual awakening of significance from the beginning of Acts to the powerful Welsh revival early in [last] century had its roots in prayer."

So, it's very important that we spend this time in prayer as we ask for God's direction and help as we serve our community.

Two weeks from today, in our morning service on April 29, we're going to devote almost our entire morning service to prayer. This sounds scary, but I'm looking forward to it. You're not going to be put on the spot and be made to pray aloud. We'll do it in such a way that everybody can participate. Somebody's said that prayer is one of the few things that everybody can do, and we're going to practice this in a couple of weeks. So I'm excited. I think this is going to be an important moment for our church.

But let's be honest. It's also a bit scary. If I'm completely honest, I feel like I'm just a beginner when it comes to prayer. I feel like I'm in prayer kindergarten, and I really wish I was in prayer graduate school.

Very few of us feel like we're praying the way we should. A Christian book publisher conducted a website poll and discovered that only 3% of respondents felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer. We know that prayer is important, but many of us experience it not as a pleasure, but as a burden. Pastors and non-pastors alike rank prayer as high in importance - and also high in frustration.

For lots of us, prayer is a source of guilt. One of the books I read to prepare for today said, "Rather than being the source of feelings of joy and victory that it is intended to be, for most of us prayer triggers a sense of guilt and defeat!" (Stanley J. Grenz, Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom)

We don't even really understand prayer. A student at Princeton asked, "What is there left in the world for original dissertation research?" Supposedly, Albert Einstein replied, "Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer." Whatever we know about prayer, we have all kinds of unanswered questions.

The late British pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way: "Of all the activities in which the Christian engages, and which are part of the Christian life, there is surely none which causes so much perplexity, and raises so many problems, as the activity which we call prayer."

So prayer is a great opportunity - but it's also scary for a lot of us. It's something that we're not doing as well as we would like.

I want to ask one simple question today: why pray? Next week, I want to ask a second question: how do we pray? Then, the week after, we're going to actually come together to pray.

But this morning I want to simply ask: why pray?

We need to eliminate the wrong answers first. We don't pray to tell God something he doesn't already know. Jesus taught us, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8).

We also don't pray to give God advice. If God took advice from us, we'd all be in a heap of trouble. God already knows everything we're going to tell him, and he certainly doesn't need help from us in taking care of the world.

We do understand that prayer does something. James 5:16 tells us, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." We don't understand how this works, but it is one of the reasons that we pray.

We also pray because of the possibility that prayer changes us, although we're not really clear how that works.

This morning, though, I'd like to suggest one of the most important reasons why we pray. It's probably not something that we think about often, but this is huge. But I'm convinced it's one of the most important reasons why we must pray. It's a huge potential blind spot for all of us, and prayer is exactly what we need if we are going to avoid this danger which will literally wreck our lives if we don't deal with it.

I'd like to look at one of the shortest chapters in the Bible. It's attributed to King David, the king by which all other kings were measured in Israel, and was likely used by pilgrims as they came to Jerusalem to worship. This psalm is only three verses long, but it's packed with meaning. Charles Spurgeon wrote that it's "one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn."

This psalm puts its fingers on one of our greatest problems, and it also tells us why we need to pray. Please open your Bibles and read it with me. It's Psalm 131.

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed myself and quieted my ambitions. I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

I think this psalm is almost like getting a diagnosis from the doctor of what's wrong with us. It identifies one of our greatest problems, but it also tells us how we can move from how we normally operate to a more appropriate way.

Let's look at what this psalm says about the way we normally operate, about how prayer helps to move us to how we should operate, and then what this means for our church.

The way we normally operate

A group of senior corporate executives were picked. The criteria was that they had to have a net worth of $1 million or more not including their primary residence. They were asked what what they credited for their current financial status. Listen to what they said:

Hard Work — 99%
Intelligence and good sense — 97%
Higher-than-average I.Q. — 83%
Being the best in every situation — 62%
Luck — 32%

Do you notice anything about this list? What do the top four have in common? They're about the qualities and accomplishments of the senior executive - what they had accomplished themselves. They only identified one factor that they couldn't attribute to their own personal qualities, and that's blind luck. Success comes from being good and from being lucky. This is the way that we normally operate.

Eugene Peterson writes in every culture, Christians face a stumbling block that's put before them, but it's decorated as a monument and we don't even realize it's there. In other words, he says that we have a huge blind spot, and in our society, this is it: ambition. And, I would add to this, self-reliance. "Our culture encourages and rewards ambition without qualification," he writes. "We are surrounded by a way of life in which...everyone wants to get more. To be on top, no matter what it is the top of, is admired."

What's wrong with this? Peterson writes:

There is nothing recent about the temptation. It is the oldest sin in the book, the one that got Adam thrown out of the garden and Lucifer tossed out of heaven. What is fairly new about it is the general admiration and approval that it receives...

What is described in Scripture as the basic sin, the taking of things into your own hands, being your own god, grabbing what there is while you can get it, is now described as basic wisdom: improve yourself by whatever means you are able; get ahead regardless of the price, take care of me first. For a limited time it works. But at the end the devil has his due.

Don't get him wrong. He's not saying that we should coast through life and settle for mediocrity. But in this psalm, David puts his finger on a very real danger that we face: of becoming self-reliant and proud, forgetting who's God and who's not. We'll try to run our own lives and take on a role that really belongs to God.

David writes in verse 1, "My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me." The Message paraphrases this verse, "God, I'm not trying to rule the roost, I don't want to be king of the mountain. I haven't meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans."

Here is the condition that David diagnoses: our tendency towards self-reliance and pride. We have this tendency to think that we are in control, that we can aspire to great things. Some interpreters think that the "great matters" and "things too wonderful for me" that David talks about are the things that are the mighty works of God. In other words, we start to take on God's role and control our own worlds. The flip side is that we slowly edge God out of our lives and take over his role. We forget how much we need God - that God is God and we're not.

Here's the thing: we don't even realize that this is wrong. The real danger is what somebody's said: "Humility is the obverse side of confidence in God, whereas pride is the obverse side of confidence in self" (John Baillie). In other words, we have a choice. We can be self-confident and self-reliant and in control of our lives - but then we remove ourselves from God's blessing, because "God opposes the proud" (James 4:6). Or we can place our confidence in God and receive the grace that God gives to the humble. We normally live the first way - full of self-confidence and pride. Prayer moves us to the second way of living, in which we trust in God alone.

This could be the greatest reason why we pray. Prayer moves us from self-reliance to prayerful dependence on God. Prayer is, in large part, the struggle to admit that we are not self-sufficient. E.M. Bounds wrote:

Prayer is the language of a [person] burdened with a sense of need. It is the voice of a beggar, conscious of his poverty, asking of another the thing that he needs...Not to pray is not only to declare that there is nothing needed, but to admit a non-realization of that need.

Jim Cymbala puts it this way: "When we don't pray, it's primarily because we don't sense our need for God." The power of God won't get released in our lives until we give up being in control.

Where prayer moves us

Here's where prayer moves us: Prayer moves us from self-reliance to prayerful dependance on God. David gives us a beautiful picture of who we are when we come to God as we ought. In verse 2, he writes, "But I have calmed myself and quieted my ambitions. I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content." Peterson writes:

I will not try to run my own life or the lives of others; that is God's business. I will not pretend to invent the meaning of the universe; I will accept what God has shown its meaning to be. I will not noisily strut about demanding that I be treated as the center of my family or my neighborhood or my work, but seek to discover where I fit and what I am good at. The soul, clamorously crying out for attention and arrogantly parading its importance, is calmed and quieted so it can be itself, truly.

In other words, prayer moves us not to inaction but something far better: childlike trust. "Faith is an area where growing up means we must become more like a child" (Colleen Townsend Evans). The picture that David gives us is of a child who is too old to want to nurse, too young to be completely independent - just that right age when the child loves resting at his mother's side, happy just to be with her. It's a picture of us desiring God for himself, not for what he can give us. We no longer rest in ourselves or try to direct our own paths. Instead, we rest in God and trust him to direct our paths.

What an amazing way to live. Instead of trying to run our own lives, we become willing to be led, to be taught, and also to be blessed. We give up all the pressures of trying to run our own lives and let God run them instead. Prayer moves us to acknowledge our deep need of God, and acknowledging that need is exactly what "taps into and releases God's resources" (Stanley Grenz).

I think I've mentioned to you that last year, I was putting myself under a lot of pressure to make things happen at Richview. It got frustrating, because I have a role to play, but I have no business trying to take on what only God can do. At one point, I realized that my heart was proud, my eyes were haughty, that I was taking on things too wonderful for myself. God began to teach me how to move to quiet, prayerful dependence on him to do what only he can do. In other words, he began to teach me to pray again.

Spurgeon wasn't kidding when he said that this is one of the shortest psalms to read, and one of the longest psalms to learn. We all need to learn - and re-learn - what only prayer can teach us: to stop trying to run things ourselves, and instead trust God to do what only he can do, which leads us into quiet confidence and rest in him.

What this means for all of us

Remember what Jim Cymbala said: "When we don't pray, it's primarily because we don't sense our need for God." This morning, I'm going to invite you to quit being God. There's stuff in your life that you're carrying in your own strength, that you're trying to manage yourself. You haven't prayed about it. Today I'm inviting you to move that over and to come to God as a weaned child. I invite you to turn over the running of your life and the universe to God, who can do it a lot better than you can, and instead to draw into God's presence and enjoy a relationship with him. I'm going to invite you to move from self-reliance to prayerful dependence on God.

But this isn't just a message for us individually. David ends the psalm in verse 3 with this: "Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore." David is saying that if this is good enough for us individually, it's good enough for the whole nation. If a person can give up self-reliance and move to prayerful dependence on God, a church can also move from self-reliance to prayerful dependence on God and contentment in him. "If you remain in me and I in you," Jesus said, "you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Let's commit to being a church that thinks we have to rely on our own strength and strategies, and instead become a church that taps into God's powers and to learn the contentment and joy of resting in him.

So would you stand with me and let me pray for you.

Lord, I pray for these people whom you know and you love.

I pray that you would help them to give up the pride that seems to be our natural default. Give us eyes to see that you are God and that we're not. Help us resign this morning from thinking that we have to have all the answers, that we are responsible for running the universe. This morning we hand in our resignation notice. We're going to stop pretending that we're a god, and instead we're going to let God be God in our lives.

We come to you, individually and as a church, as children, content just to be with you. We need you, not for what you can do for us. More than anything, we just need you.

Teach us the contentment of quieting our souls and relying on your strength, and not our own. May we learn through prayer what it means to move from self-reliance to prayerful dependance on God. Why pray? Because we need to move from self-reliance to prayerful dependence on God. Teach us this, we pray. In Jesus' name, Amen.