Sometimes I Preach

I don’t often post about religion or politics. Mainly because that’s not what I feel my blog is for. I just don’t want my personal blog space to be a focal point for religious and political disagreement. I want it to be a neutral ground that everyone can play in.

Today, however, I figured I’d post the sermon message I just preached. Why? Because I think whether you agree with my religious views or not, when I preach, I try to be transparent about who I am. Don’t think of it as me preaching to you, but rather me explaining myself and my beliefs. Also — a warning, while I’m not vicious, I do disagree with the Catholic church on some issues, and I mention it here. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Prayer

Terry read from Romans 12 a little bit ago, but I want to read it again, adding a few verses around it. Please turn there, and follow along with me.

Romans 12: 9-13 — 9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

My bible has little section headings in the chapters, and this section is titled, “Behave Like a Christian.” And it’s full of good stuff! Granted, that’s not a surprise, but I was just amazed at how awesome and important this list is. There’s like 14 sermons right here! I hope you brought a sandwich…

No, I’m just teasing. I’m going to focus on prayer. The thing about prayer, is that’s it’s one of the hardest things to explain to a non-believer. Our God is all-knowing, amen? Our God knows the future, amen? Our God knows the desires and cries of our heart better than we know it ourselves, amen? SO WHY ON EARTH DO WE PRAY?!?!? If anything, people without a relationship with God should be the ones praying! And that’s the key. We have a relationship with God. We have a relationship with GOD. It’s that relationship that gives us the privilege of communicating with him. God picked me. ME. He picked ME! Yes, he picked you too, but it feels a little more awesome when you say ME! Say it with me. GOD PICKED ME!

So really quickly, I want to talk about the “why” should we pray. I hope you’re sitting there thinking BECAUSE I CAN! But some of you are more analytical than that. Probably those same people that asked why they should eat broccoli as a child. You know broccoli, that green wonder-vegetable that has been linked to preventing cancer, has been shown to fend off sickness, grow strong muscles, and reduce heart disease. Why eat broccoli? BECAUSE WE CAN! But some people want more. So really quickly I want to talk about the why:

1) Because God said so. I gotta say, if God says to do it, we really shouldn’t need any more reason. Romans 12:12 says it, we just read it together. Acts 6:4, the apostles say, “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Paul says to ALL of us in Colossians 4:2, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving;”, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Paul goes so far as to say, “Pray without ceasing.” We’re supposed to pray, and we know it because God tells us over and over. Which, makes sense. Because we’re his children. Those of you know with children know that saying something once isn’t usually enough. So we know we should pray because God tells us we should pray. But there’s more.

2) We pray because prayer changes things.

James 4:2 — You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

John 14:13 — And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

I know some of you are ready to lynch me, thinking I’m suggesting that by praying we somehow change the will of God. Or that if we pray enough, we’ll change God’s mind. No, of course not. But James 4:2 is pretty plain, we do not have because we do not ask. Of course those things we ask for must align with the will of God, but he doesn’t say “you don’t get what you want because it doesn’t align with my will”, he says, “you do not have because you do not ask.”

God is giving us the opportunity to affect the universe by praying to him. I won’t spend the bulk of my time discussing how that works, or what it looks like in practice. But know this, your prayers are not empty words. God tells us to ask him and he will act. I believe him.

3) Because the sovereign God of the universe sent his only son to die on a cross so we could have a relationship with him. He chose us as the people he wants to speak with by passing his holy word unto us through the inspired word of men. Because of the atoning blood of Christ we can be heard by a loving and sacrificing Lord. Why do we pray? I’ll reiterate, because we can.

I could stop there, and we’d all revel in our opportunity and responsibility to pray. We’d leave here excited at the command, and honored by the privilege. But that’s not what I wanted to come here an speak to you about. I want you to be excited about prayer, so we can talk about another 3 letter word. “How.”

1) Scripted

I have to admit, I grew up going to a Catholic school. I went to Catholic mass, took Catholic communion, and confessed my sins to a Catholic priest. At which point, I received my “penance”, or “punishment.” Prayer. That’s right, in order to repay my sins (don’t get me started on why Christ’s death on the cross wasn’t sufficient for my sins, my issues with the Catholic church is another topic altogether), I had to pray to God. Doesn’t that seem a little backwards from what we just learned about “why” we pray to God? Yeah. Anyway, my point is that for me, planned, scripted, or formatted prayer leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Then I got to thinking, one of the “punishment” prayers I was forced to repeat over and over (depending on how bad I confessed to being) was the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. So if Jesus himself taught us to pray in this way, it can’t be bad, right? Well, if we go back to the concept of a relationship, and consider that as the church we are called the bride of Christ in Revelation 21:9-10, think about some of the most important things you’ve ever said to your spouse, if you’re married. Last week, there was a beautiful wedding here. Many of you were here when Kelly and Mark were married, and I think it’s fair to say it was one of the most important conversations they will ever have with each other. And it was fully scripted. In fact, Pastor Josh told them what to say, and they just repeated it. Yet, saying “I Do” is one of the most important and memorable things you ever say to your spouse! So scripted and formed prayers are not a bad thing. In fact, when we pray prayers from the Bible, it helps draw us closer to God himself. They are the very words he has given us. Josh may have told Mark and Kelly what to say at their wedding, but God himself has given us prayers and scripture that we can pray to him. The same is true with prayers we write down, practice, or even sing. Just as a couple can write their own vows, and it can be immensely meaningful even though it was planned and memorized, we can pray to our Lord with learned, memorized, or written prayers. By praying in this way, we show respect to God. We show reverence in our carefully thought out words. We show commitment to him in our memorization. We show that the relationship we have with him is important to us.

Like most aspects of the Christian life, however, leaning too hard to one side is dangerous. While I would argue the idea of prayer as punishment is absurd, what’s even worse about the Catholic penance I received is that I was forced to repeat the same prayers over and over. In vain. Let me repeat that: I used the words of God over and over in vain. If you say “Our Father who art in Heaven” over and over in vain — you’re breaking the third commandment given to us in Exodus 20:7. Isn’t it a little scary that we can go from reverent and loving prayer to taking the Lord’s name in vain so easily? That’s where the other type of prayer comes in. With my propensity to push against my Catholic background, I admit I tend to pray in this manner more of that in a formed or scripted one. That’s wrong on my behalf, but only in balance. It is right to pray to God in unformed ways as well.

2) Free Form

Let’s go back to the marriage example. Marriage only works when two people communicate. If I only talked to Donna in pre-scripted, memorized conversations, our relationship would suffer. Think about it for a minute:

Dear Donna, who did the dishes. Thank you for your duties. My socks are clean, our kids are fed, both weekdays and on the weekends. I’m sorry I left my underwear in the kitchen, and I forgive you for washing my coffee cup just as it was starting to form a protective layer of dried coffee on the bottom. Please make my lunch so that I might eat it at noon. I am what I am, A-man.

No, if that were how our communication went, I would fully expect Donna to smite me. Possibly with that loaf of daily bread. While we’ve talked about scripted and memorized prayers to be important, it’s just as important to have personal conversations with God. Remember, this is the God that sent his son to die so that we might have the ability to commune with him. I think he deserves that from us, don’t you? Let’s look at the bible for some guidance here:

Psalms 88
O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. 2 May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. Selah

I’m pretty sure this isn’t a prayer David learned as a child. In fact, I’d wager it’s not a prayer he hopes to repeat very often! David is pouring out his heart to God, much the same way I pour my heart out to Donna. I’m fairly certain the only person here that has ever seen me cry is my wife. I have a relationship with her that surpasses the relationship I have with any of you. How much more-so should my relationship with God be?

Praying like this is hard. It’s the sort of prayer we ask people to do “on the spot.” And when we do that, the prayers we tend to pray sound mechanical, or rehearsed. Think about it, there are some people you hear pray that you think, “Wow. That person can really pray.” Let me suggest that perhaps those people are good at public speaking. They might be good at praying too, it’s not that an eloquent speaker can’t be good at prayer — but as listeners, we have no way of knowing if that eloquent speaker is also opening their heart to God. But God knows. In fact, God knows even when we’re unable to speak, much less speak eloquently! Turn to Romans 8:26:

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us[a] with groanings which cannot be uttered.

He even helps us express ourselves when we can’t. The Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf, and expresses those things we are unable to verbalize. Brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you to take advantage of the blessing we’ve been given. We have the ear of the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the universe. Talk to him. Cry out to him. And when you can’t think of words to speak, let the Holy Spirit intercede so that you can pour your heart out to the Lord that cares, no matter what your situation. If there’s one thing I hope you leave with today, it’s a desire to speak with God. And that leads us to my third “How” point.

3) Listen.

I keep going back to the marriage metaphor, because it works so well. If you’re not married, the same is true for a parental relationship. We often like to complain. We often like to talk about ourselves. We even like to ask for advice. Very seldom, however, do we listen to what we’re told.

All too often, we’re the same way with God. It’s like that joke about the Christian on the roof of the house during the flooding in New Orleans. He’s on his roof, praying and praying for God to save him. A guy on a rowboat goes by and offers to take him to safety, but the Christian says, “No, thank you, but God will save me.” A little while later, a group of people on an island of inner tubes floats by and asks him to join them. Again he refuses, insisting the Lord will save him. Finally, after days on the roof, a helicopter flies down and drops a rope to save him. He refuses for a third time, insisting God will help him. That evening the roof on his house collapses, and the man drowns. Upon reaching heaven he asks God why he didn’t save him. God of course replies, “I sent a boat, 12 inner tubes, and a helicopter — what more did you expect!??!”

Now granted it’s not just like that in our prayer life, but it is easy for us to ignore God’s response to us. It’s easy to read the Bible, but never really listen. The bible tells us itself that it’s useful:

2 Timothy 3:16 — All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

Yet we often forget to look in God’s revealed word for an answer to our prayers. If you want to know someone, you get to know them. The same is true with God. He hears us through prayers, and we hear him through his inspired words to us. One of my favorite lessons to teach the youth group is “How to read your Bible.” If I get an opportunity to speak again, perhaps that will be what I focus on up here. For now, just know that the main part of “how to read your Bible” is that you actually read your bible. Get to know God. Talk to him. Listen to his word. Take advantage of the relationship he allows us to have. I gotta say, knowing *about* God is one thing. Knowing him personally is quite another.

So let’s go back over what we talked about. First off, why pray?

1) Because God commands us to.
2) Because prayer makes things happen.
3) BECAUSE WE CAN!

And then how do we pray?

1) Scripted and practiced prayer.
2) Free form, and inaudible prayer.
3) By listening — ie, reading his word.

Let’s close in prayer…

6 Comments

  1. xaethos says:

    Shawn, as a fellow geek and guy-brought-up-in-catholic-surroundings, let me say this: you rule. I’ve said it before, but you’ve earned reading it again. 😛

    And my sincere thanks, also. This arrives to me in a very appropriate moment.

  2. Chris Smart says:

    Hi Shawn,

    A great way to start my week, thanks 🙂

    -c

  3. Mike Knisely says:

    Hey, Shawn. Glad to know another geeky brother in Christ.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Mike
    @charon79m

  4. Dorothy says:

    Thank you, Shawn, preach on!

    In our morning service today the speaker had a great suggestion for those desiring to pray more and worry less. He said next time, instead of fretting about something in a particular, take that worry and turn it into a prayer. Talk to God about your concerns, let Him know your heart. Soon the burden of that worry will be lifted and you’ll have succeeded in increasing your prayer life and lightening the load. Sounds like a plan to me!

  5. Jim In Charleston SC says:

    Finally got around to reading this post. Thank you. I also am a “recovering Catholic.” Parochrial schools K thru 12 and never really learned how to pray until well into my adulthood. Hope things have changed since my time there so that others will learn the joy of talking to My God.

    This text would be a good beginning to a Prayer 101.

  6. Thomas says:

    wow. many thanks for that.

    i am struggling to start praying at all.

    your honest, warm words coming from ur heart helped me.

    thank u shawn.

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