Last night, I was here at the church and I was having a problem. There was a sermon but there was no introduction. I was praying about an introduction to a sermon on prayer. It just wasn't coming. And pretty late here last night as I was sitting in my office, the phone rang. I answered it in my usual way, "McDonald Road Church, this is Kent Crutcher." The man on the other end of the line, without missing a beat, proceeded to order a pizza. Something about anchovies. I wouldn't know about that. Noting my confusion, he said, "This is not Papa John's, is it?." "No, I'm sorry but you have the wrong number and I don't have any pizza tonight." "What is this place?" he asked. "This is a church." "Oh, excuse me. I'm sorry." The phone rang again. "This is Kent Crutcher at the McDonald Road Church." "Oops. I'm so sorry." It ends up that the second line of our church, which also our fax line, is only one number different than "Papa John's." I looked it up in the phone book.
I wonder if our prayers are often like that phone call. A little backwards, like my sermon title. Do we call Heaven and put in an order without even knowing who we are talking to? (See, I prayed and got my introduction.) If this is an example of your prayer life, you're discouraged with prayer, aren't you. Calling heaven; putting in an order without even realizing exactly who are we talking to. I answered the man very plainly, but he wasn't listening. He was intent upon what he was going to say. And he talked to a person and asked for something that I had no power to give. Is that how we approach God? "I want this, this and this." "I'm sorry I don't give this, this and this, because this, this and this might effect that, that, and that. And you don't know about that, that, and that. That's not going to happen. You don't know everything." Is this an example of your prayer life? Have you just considered it a necessary inconvenience? Are you still praying as you were reminded to as a child by your mother, "Head to bed now, and don't forget to say your prayers." Maybe you have been simply trying to "say your prayers" instead of praying. There's a difference. We can say our prayers or we can talk with God.
Look at Philippians 4:6. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
What is prayer? That is a subject that could take up many sermons! Maybe it would be better to begin by exploring what prayer is NOT.
* Prayer is not a magic stone that you rub when you need supernatural help.
* Prayer is not like a spare tire that you forget about for months and then hope it still works when you have an emergency. A few weeks ago, I was driving by the church on a Sunday morning and I saw that our portable sign was still in the front yard and our crusade was just over, so I decided, "I'll move that. I'll take to the back of the family center where it goes." I backed my pickup truck to it and I was starting to hitch it up when I looked at the tires on that sign. Both of them looked like pancakes. I didn't have much time to deal with it, but i really wanted to move this sign today. There's another thing happening. I'd like to get this our of the way. What am I going to do? Maybe I could run and get an air compressor, but I don't have an extension cord that long. I could do this and I could do that. And then I remembered behind the seat of my pickup truck is about a ten-year old can of "Fix-a-Flat." I bought it a long time ago, never needed it, had forgotten about it. "I wonder if that thing will work." I pulled it out and read the directions. I hooked it up to the tire, and sure enough, it worked! I hooked it up to the other one and it still worked. "Great! It still works." And I was able to move the trailer. But, do we treat God like a can of Fix-a Flat, keeping Him out of sight until needed? I've seen many people live that way. Live like the devil until they need the Lord.
Oh yes. There was something I learned back in Sabbath School. Let's pull it out and see if it works. Sometimes God is gracious for it to work, just like that can did. Sometimes He says, "Well, we need to get to know each other better.
* Prayer is not a speech or a recitation or a sermon. A mother was shocked one night. She was putting her sleepy little four-year-old girl to bed. She knelt down to say her prayers and in her sleepiness she said, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, And when he hollers let him go, eenie, meenie, miny, mo." Have our prayers become such a habit that we don't even know what we're saying? The prayer of the Pharisee was mindless rambling just like that. It had no more meaning that what that little girl said that night.
* Prayer is not talking TO God. Prayer is talking WITH God!
* Prayer is an intelligent, sincere, enjoyable conversation with God, as with a loved and respected friend.
If you wish to pray, that is, if you wish to talk with God as with a friend, you will have to see that God IS your friend. The way that we talk to others varies according to what we think of the people with whom we are talking. Have you noticed that? We don't talk to each other the same way every time. We talk differently depending on who it is or what the circumstances are or how we feel about that person at that moment. My wife often knows who I talking with on the phone by my mannerisms and how I speak. A few years ago, a lady used to call me on a daily basis several times a day, to complain about one thing or another. My wife could tell by the way I rolled my eyes who had just called. I'm sorry. Sometimes you lose patience. She'd see my eyes roll up in my head and she knew it was going to be one of those long conversations. I seriously considered getting "call waiting" or "caller ID." That's what it is, so I wouldn't have to answer. I said, "No. The lord wants me there." She also knows when I'm talking with my brother. It's totally different. I'm excited to hear from him and have a great time talking with him. She rolls her eyes, "Oh boy, here's another long conversation."
If you think of God as being like a stuffy old "saint," your prayers will reflect that. You will speak to Him as such. If you think of God as a dictator who sets up impossible demands and is condemning if you don't meet those demands, your prayers will reflect that.
I had a lady in a church one time that had ben seriously abused by her father as a child. Her father was also her pastor. And for years when she talked to God, she that image in her mind as to who that was. She related with God as she related with her father. How do you relate with God? Your prayers will reflect how you feel about Him. Do you roll your eyes when you think of prayer or do get excited about talking with someone you know and love?
So, how does one come to know and love God? Through two things: Bible study and prayer. It takes both. Bible study without prayer leads to legalism. Oh, we're learning the words. We're learning the rules, but the Master of it all is not in the heart. On the other hand, prayer without Bible study is shallow because we don't know who we're talking to. The Bible has much to say about who we are praying to. Prayer often defines what the Bible says and how it is to be interpreted. That's how we understand the Scripture: through prayer and through the Holy Spirit. They go hand-in-hand. To get to know God and to love God we need to both study about Him and pray with Him, speak with Him. You got to know your spouse. Did you just read about him/her in the local paper to find out what they were like? Or did you go talk with them? Or did you just talk with them and not listen to what anybody else had to say about them? I hope that you did research both ways before you married them. Find out all you can about that person. Any way you can. That's the way with god. We need to find out all we can any way we can about Him in order for that relationship to last.
Without the Bible, how would we know that God is Love? I John 4:7,8 says, Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Without the Scripture, how would we know that? Now, when we come to God in prayer, we can come with the assurance ahead of time that He loves us! I don't have to come to Him wondering if He loves me. We also know that He wants us to come to Him in prayer because of Jeremiah 29:12,13 (God's Word) which says, You will come and pray to me and I will hear you. When you look for me, you will find me. When you wholeheartedly seek me, I will let you find me, declares the Lord. He's not hiding from us. He wants us to find Him. He wants us to seek Him and to find out who He is.
We also know from the Bible that we are praying to a God of power. Psalm 62:11,12 says, One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard; that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. A gentle Giant. We can also find that God desires to share that strength with us in Isaiah 40:29-31 which says, He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. God's power is for us. He gives us His power.
Not only is the God that we pray to loving and powerful, He knows us better than we know ourselves. Psalm 139:1-4 says, O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. Wow! What amazes me is that God knows all of my ways and God still loves me, and God is still willing to give me His power. How many of our earthly friends who knew all of our thought would still be our friends? I'm glad I don't know everybody's thoughts. I'd go crawl in a hole somewhere. But God knows everything about us, He knows how many hairs are left on my pillow this morning. And He still loves me! And that's Who we're praying to, the greatest friend there is. Somebody that knows all about you and still loves you.
Not only does God love you, He likes you. There's a difference, you know. He likes to be with us. He enjoys our conversation.
Even though God knows all about us, He still, like a true friend, never leaves us. Psalm 139:7-10 says, Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I Go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your hand will hold me fast. It doesn't matter where we go, whether we're running from Nineveh, or what we're doing. God is there. He's not like that serpent that leaves its babies. He never leaves us. What a friend!
Because God loves us, gives His power to us, knows us, and is always with us, He wants us to be like Him Holy. That's a scary thought to me. Holy? He wants me to be set apart, special? I know myself, not as well as God know me, and I know that I am far from holy. But God looks at me and says, "I want you to be holy." Leviticus 11:45 says, I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. Now, look, who was He talking to? He was talking to those wretched Israelites just out of Egypt. If He thought they could be holy, maybe there's a chance for us. "Therefore be holy because I am holy."
So, if you see that God has an intense, personal love for you, if you sense that He knows your weaknesses and understands your difficulties, if you accept that His command to be holy is also a promise of the power to make you holy, if you see that God will never forsake you, then you will be able to pray with the enthusiasm of David when in Psalm 84:2 he states, "My whole being cries out with joy to the living God!" Do we long for that?
I know of a pastor once who was known to pull stunts on his congregation. I'm not so bold, so I'll tell you about his. He had a deaconess pop some popcorn near the air intake to the sanctuary while he was preaching. And a flood of the popcorn aroma filled the house of the Lord like incense just before lunch time. Everybody was very fidgety. The children were unruly. Nothing stirs the senses of most people like the smell of freshly popped popcorn with butter on it. He preached on as if nothing had happened. And then the deaconess came up on the platform and set the bowl of popcorn there. And while he continued to preach, he began to munch. And a deacon came out of this door with a pitcher of lemonade and poured him a glass. He took a sip and said, "Ah!" The congregations was ready to kill him. That's why I'm not doing that, okay? His point was never forgotten. "Have you ever hungered and thirsted after righteousness this much?" What a question. Do we have the desire to hunger after God's presence, to hunger after Him to be in our hearts making us holy like that? As much as we do a simple thing like popcorn?
Now, maybe we can understand better what Paul is saying about prayer to the Philippian church. Look again a Philippians 4:4-8. "Rejoice (Oh what a good word that is. It rolls off the tongue, doesn't it.), Rejoice in the Lord always (How often? That means some of the time, right? No, that means always, okay?), Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (What have we been talking about? The Lord never leaves us.). The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about (some things. Oh, all things. Sorry.) do not be anxious about anything, but in everything (This is a very dramatic statement.), by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving (how thankful are we sometimes? A man had to go on a business luncheon and circumstances dictated that he needed to take his toddler son with him. Day-care was closed. Wife was on a trip. And he was stuck with his little boy and was dreading it because his little boy did not know how to hold his tongue. And they sat down at this business luncheon with an associate. And the associate got his meal and put his fork on it and the boys said, "Aren't you going to pray?" And the father's face starts turning red like a "Oh, dear! What's coming next?" And man said, "I don't usually." And the little boy said, "You're just like my dog. He just digs right in.") By prayer and thanksgiving. We need to be thankful even for the scrap on our plate.), present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, (the peace of God that is beyond our imagination) will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
There's a peace that passes understanding that is guarding our thought and it's guarding our emotions because we have that peace. That is what is so attractive to a non-Christian. It should be. That no matter what happened to a Christian, whether it's happy or sad, tragic or joyful, that that person is always at peace, when it's incomprehensible that that person can be at peace. They're at peace because they know that no matter what they have requested God is in charge. God is going to handle it in the best way divinely possible. That brings peace of mind. The situation is not mine, it's God's. My son taught me that a few weeks ago. Our house had been ransacked and robbed. Windows broken, things destroyed, and I was very afraid how my children would react. My little boy said, "It's all God's stuff anyway, isn't it?" That boy needs to be the pastor, not me. He's right. There was a peace after he said that; I had a peace that passed understanding, like "You're right!" "If God want His stuff trashed, it's His business. I wish He could get somebody else to clean it up."
Guard your heart and your mind with Christ Jesus. That's where that "holy" part comes in, by the way. "Be holy." God will guard us if we are in prayer with Him.
I had a friend a number of years ago, older than I, and he told me about his up- bringing in an Adventist home. He said, "We weren't allowed to go to movies." "Oh." Well, that didn't sound too unusual to me. That was not something that I had participated in either. But I think his up-bringing was a little different than mine. His made him rebellious about it. He said, "When I got old enough to question my father, I said, "Why don't we go to movies?" His answer was, "We just don't. End of discussion." And when he got old enough, he just did. That answer is not good enough anymore. The answer comes in the next verse. And I share this verse with everybody I do a Bible study with so that those of you that I have baptized forgive me, we're going through it again. Philippians 4:8, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. It's simple. It's all in one verse. All of our standards of entertainment are right there. With the rules that we've had in the past, it's caused people to do things like, "Well, we don't go to movies, but we rent them and bring them to our house. That's okay." No! It's this principle: is what you're allowing into your brain cells noble and pure and right and lovely? Does it match that principle? Ask yourself that. Don't say, "Well, we have this rule and this rule and this rule." Know why. And if what you're thinking of doing can match up with that go do it.
Think on such things and then we will become holy as God is holy.
I spoke with a man this week who is searching. He's really searching. He wants peace that passes understanding in his life. I know where he can get it. I'm trying to share it with him. He's wanting stability. I know where he can get it. He's wanting meaning. I know where it is. But, he's slowly allowing it in and he told me this week, "I have a collection at my house of over two hundred movies." I was watching one of them and he had previously told me, "I don't think God cares about me. I don't think He's working in my life." But he told me, "I was watching one of those movies. It was one of my favorite ones. I've seen it several times, but you know, I never really noticed before exactly how many times God's name was misused in that movie. I had never noticed!" I said, "God is working with you." Things that were commonplace before become uncommon and make us uncomfortable. He's well on his walk with Jesus, I believe.
Jesus transforms our hearts and these thing of the theater or whatever, will no longer hold an attraction to us. When we have this kind of relationship with God, we will not speak with Him as if He was the pizza delivery boy, put in a request and hang up. He is not a telephone answering machine that does not converse with you. Hanging up at the end of a prayer is an insult to God. Keep the line open and free all day long! Don't let the enemy ever break the connection. You don't need the call waiting feature for there is no call more important than His! You wouldn't hang up on your spouse would you? Not more than once anyway! Many times when you hang up upon God before we know what the answer is. We expect a certain thing and don't see that He has done something that's even better.
A missionary in Mongolia many years ago was invited to come to the local hospital to treat wounded soldiers. The doctors were all gone to the battle fields. "We need help." He couldn't refuse. He knew how to do a little first aid. He treated a couple patients and then there was one with a broken leg. He had not idea of anatomy. He didn't know how to set a bone. He didn't know what the bones looked like. He prayed, "Lord help me. Send a doctor to set this bone." And right then at the end of his prayer he was interrupted by several beggars asking for money and he gave them little bits and kindly gave them words of encouragement. But one beggar didn't leave. He took a look at that beggar and he saw that that man had not eaten in a long time. He was a living skeleton. And the idea came. He said, "Sir can I examine you?" And he looked at that living skeleton and he knew what a femur was, and how to set it. God answers prayers in strange ways. If we would only not hang up on Him and keep listening.
Those of you who have been married a good number of years communicate differently than you did a first. You know each other better. You have a greater knowledge of that persons character and a deeper love for that special one. Knowing and fulfilling each other's wishes comes more and more naturally. Just like a marriage, your relationship with God depends upon constant and growing communication with Him. Then we will become more and more holy naturally through association with Him.
The Person who was closest to God ever needed prayer to make it in this world. Jesus had a wonderful prayer life. Prayer lifted Jesus continually closer to the Father. Prayer does not bring God down to us. Prayer brings us up to Him.
Hymn of Praise: #88, I Sing the Mighty Power of God Scripture: Philippians 4:4-7 Hymn of Response: #456, My Lord and I
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last updated 6/8/2000 by Bob Beckett.