Prayer and Intimacy ~ 20180107 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
01/07 Prayer and Intimacy; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180107_prayer-intimacy.mp3
The new year is a great time to reflect, to regroup, to reorganize, re-prioritize, re-orient. To get back to the basics. What is most important? What matters? What do I need to be about?
Take a deep breath. Rest. Relax. Jesus says:
We need to learn from Jesus what is most important. What were we made for? And that will not be burdensome. Jesus offers us the rest our souls desperately need.
Made For Relationship
So what is most important? What were we made for? If we go back to creation, we see that we were meant to be fruitful. Our first parents were placed in a garden 'to work it and keep it' (Gen.2:15). But that's not all. We were made to experience God's blessing. We were made to walk with the LORD God in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen.3:8). We were made for relationship. We were made for communion. We were made to enjoy God together.
We destroyed this good relationship when we rebelled against God. We forfeited God's blessing. We were expelled from his garden, from his presence.
But God intended to make a way for us to return to him, to once again enjoy him and experience his blessing. In the Exodus, God promises:
Knowing God, being with God, God with us. Belonging. Relationship. Identity. Communion. We were made for this.
The Nearness of God
This is what distinguished the people of Israel.
The nearness of God, whenever we call upon him. This set Israel apart from every other nation. The LORD our God is near to us whenever we call upon him. What a privileged people, to have instant access to almighty God!
And when do we call on him? When we are in trouble, when we have sinned, when we have disobeyed, when we are in need, whenever we call upon him, he is near to us. In 1 Kings 8, Solomon prayed for the people:
Throughout this prayer is the understanding that we are sinners, and that when we sin (for there is no one who does not sin) and when we turn and call out to God, that he will hear and forgive, for he is a forgiving God.
God created us for relationship with him, and he is eager for relationship with us. He wants us to draw near.
Notice to whom God is near. He is near to the brokenhearted. He is near to the crushed in spirit. He is near to all who call on him, to those who are aware of their need and call out to him. For God to be near to us, we need to know something of ourselves. We need to know that we are weak and poor and foolish and helpless and needy and blind and broken. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted.
Why Jesus Came
This is why Jesus came!
Jesus came for the broken, Jesus came for the captives, Jesus came for the poor. Jesus came to rescue sinners. Jesus came to bring the Lord's favor, to bring God's grace to those who don't deserve it.
Jesus came to be with us, God with us. Jesus came that by his death he would bring us near. Jesus came so that God could forgive.
Jesus came to restore the broken fellowship, to bring us in to relationship, in to communion with God.
Jesus invites us to:
Jesus invites us to abide. Jesus invites us to connect with him, to enjoy relationship with him. It is only in him that we become fruitful as we were created to be.
How to Commune:
So take a deap breath. Find rest for your soul. We were created for relationship. We were designed to enjoy God. We were made to commune with him.
What does that look like? It begins at the cross. Apart from Jesus, there is no relationship. 'No one comes to the Father except through me' (Jn.14:6). Because Jesus paid my price, my sin is taken away, and he clothes me in his perfect righteousness, so that I can draw near to God. Enjoying the benefits of the gospel is the foundation of the relationship, and throughout the relationship we are meant to savor the benefits of the gospel.
Within this gospel relationship, there are aspects that look a lot like other relationships. In a relationship you get to know the other person. You spend time together. You do life together. You listen to each other's stories. Stories teach us about our loved ones. We all have stories. We open ourselves up. We reveal who we are through our stories. God has stories too. He opens himself up to us through his stories, he reveals himself to us. That is why the bible is called 'revelation.' In it God opens himself up to us, tells us his stories. Shares his heart. So take time. Sit at his feet. Listen to his stories. Get to know him. Interact with him.
Yes, I'm talking about bible reading. But guard yourself from just reading without interacting with him. Any good story pulls you in, engages your emotions, makes you feel like you are part of the story. The bible is the best story, the true story, and you are in the story. It's not about you, but you are a part of the story. You are in it.
We find out about ourselves when we listen well. You see, we are in his stories. We learn our own history, our brokenness, our need, and how ridiculously much he loves us. What he climbed through to get to us, to rescue us. What it cost him. In our deadness how much we resisted him. How inclined we are to wander even still.
Read. Read your bible to listen to God, to get to know him. Read spontaneously, but read systematically. Feel free to jump around, but also discipline yourself to not miss anything. Listen to all of what God has to say to you. Read broadly to get the big picture, but also dig in. Study. Use tools. Pay attention to details. Take time. Listen. Take a deep breath, be quiet, and let him speak to you.
And respond. If my wife opened her heart to me, shared her story, trying to communicate with me, and all she got back was an occasional 'uhuh' (not that that would ever happen!) and then I walked away, (hypothetically of course) that would not help the relationship. She wants me to engage. To care. To respond. Not necessarily to offer my advice to fix the problem or to avoid it in the future, but to participate in the conversation.
Here I'm talking about prayer. Respond to God. Engage. Enjoy the relationship. Commune. Interact. Express your affection. Open your heart to him. Tell him your story. Tell him your struggles. Ask for his help. Remember, he is for you. If you ever doubt that, just look at the cross. Remind yourself the lengths he went to pursue you, to enter in to relationship with you.
Diagnosing Common Problems in Prayer
I think a lot of Christians struggle with prayer. Many are dissatisfied with their prayer life. I want to take a minute to diagnose two of the more common problems we have with prayer and offer some pracitcal suggestions that may help. I offer this not as someone who has arrived, but as a fellow traveler longing for greater intimacy with God.
Genie in a Lamp
Sometimes I hear people saying that prayer doesn't work, or God doesn't listen to my prayers. What they often mean is that they have asked for something and they haven't received it. We'll call this the 'genie in a lamp' problem. We think if we rub the lamp the right way, the genie pops out and is obligated to grant us our every wish. Maybe we didn't rub the lamp the right way. Or maybe there isn't a genie in there after all. This is rooted in a mistaken view of God and a faulty view of prayer. God is not our servant, there to do our bidding. And prayer is not a magic trick to get what we want. As we've outlined today, God is pursuing intimacy with us, and bible reading and prayer are means to commune with him. Prayer is not meant mainly to get what we want, but to deepen in relationship.
Jesus does make some absolutely staggering promises to us about prayer. He says in John 14
Whatever you ask. Ask me anything in my name and I will do it. But note the condition. We must ask in his name. This does not mean tacking 'in Jesus' name, amen' to the end of our prayers. Asking in the name of Jesus is asking according to the heart and purposes of Jesus, asking what Jesus would ask for. Notice also the goal; 'that the Father may be glorified in the Son.' Jesus' heart is to bring glory to his Father, and the Father glorifies Jesus. Asking in Jesus' name means above all seeking his glory. 1 John 5:14 connects this to asking 'anything according to his will.' So Jesus promises to do whatever we ask when we ask according to his purposes.
In John 15:7 he says 'ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.' But again, this is not a blanket promise, but a conditional one. If. If you abide in me and my words abide in you.
Answered prayer is contingent on abiding in Jesus, and having his words abide in us. This is what it means to ask according to his will, or to ask in Jesus' name. To have our hearts and minds so saturated in God's words, our desires so shaped by his truth, that what we ask is what we know Jesus would ask for, what would glorify him most. As we abide in him, as we begin to enjoy him, to know him, what we want most is to please him. You see the connection here between bible reading and prayer. These are not two discrete activities, as if I begin with a time of prayer, and then I move into reading. No, this asking and abiding and his word is all intertwined. I am abiding, connecting relationally with Jesus. His word is permeating my being, shaping my thinking, and my asking naturally flows out of this abiding relationship. More on this in a minute.
Another problem we see in prayer I'll call vain repetition. Have you ever sat down and began to pray and said 'Father, thank you for this food...' but then it dawns on you (or maybe it doesn't) that you are not at the table and you're not giving thanks for a meal? Don Whitney says “When we pray, we tend to say the same old things about the same old things. Sooner or later that kind of prayer is boring.” [https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/reignite-your-prayer-life]. We are creatures of habit, and our prayers tend to fall into ruts. If you know someone well, and have listened to him pray several times, you could almost write out the script of what he's going to say. Don's solution to this is simple but revolutionary. He says 'Pray the Bible.' Here again we see these two things coming together and becoming one; reading and praying. Listening to God and speaking with God. He says 'slowly read a a passage of Scripture and pray about all that comes to mind as you read.' Now this is not the only way to pray, but it is a good way to pray. If you do this, you can be confident that you are praying in the will of God, and you will begin to learn what it means to abide in Jesus and have his words abide in you.
I want to close today by doing this with just one verse, also out of John 15, verse 16. Jesus says:
O Lord, what an amazing truth, that you chose me. You chose me! I do not understand why, but you picked me! You wanted me. Even when I didn't want you, you wanted me, and you pursued me. Thank you.
You have plans for me. You have given me purpose; my life has meaning. I have been appointed by the King of kings!
You make me fruitful for you, useful to you? I confess that I don't feel adequate or competent, but this is your word, your commission, and I believe you.
I want to matter, to leave a legacy, to make something permanent. Lord, you make my life matter? You can make something I do last for eternity? Lord, I want to bear fruit, good fruit for you, fruit like love and joy and peace. Work this in me I pray.
Jesus, help me learn what it means to ask in you name. Instill in me your heart, your desires. I may only approach the Father because of what you, Jesus accomplished on the cross. Lord, I owe everything to you. Create new desires in me, so that what I most long for is what will bring you the maximum glory, in my own life, in my family, in our church, in our community, in the world.
In Jesus Name, Amen.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org