LARGER THAN LIFE
January 21, 2007
Prayer is interesting isn’t it? People pray. All sorts of people talk to God. Some see prayer as kind of a rabbit’s foot type situation. Maybe you see prayer as your lucky charm; you cover all your bases then you say, “Okay, now I’ll even pray.” And you pray before the big task or the big deal or when you board an airplane. And you do the microwave prayers and you want to get everything square with God before you undertake the pressure packed decision in your life.
Others here maybe are disappointed with prayer. You’re saying, “You know Ed, I wanted something a long time ago and I prayed and prayed and prayed. And God did not give me what I wanted. So I just don’t pray that much. Now and then I might throw one up to heaven, but not that much.”
Others here would say, “Ed, I am a prayer warrior. I love prayer. I have these deep connections, these times with God. I journal my prayers and I have this thriving relationship with Jesus. And it’s a privilege that I have to talk to God in prayer.”
I was 21 when I became a pastor. I was ordained into the ministry. I worked at a large church in another city, and my first assignment was to give the Morning Prayer during the 11:00 service. That was a big thing. This church was more traditional than ours. It had a lot of pews, the giant throne chairs, the pipe organ, and they said, “Ed, you’ve got to bring your A-Game when you give the Morning Prayer. You’ve got to pray for this city, you’ve got to pray for the nation, our world. You’ve got to be on!” They were telling me, “We would suggest to you, Ed that you write out your prayer.”
So I researched prayer and read all these cool prayer books. I had this prayer written out, and it was laminated on my Bible. Because when you gave the Morning Prayer, again, the sentence structure, the order of the prayer had to be just perfect. And then you always lead the congregation in the Lord’s Prayer. So I had that written out too, typed out on my Bible.
And then they told me, “Okay, we’ll all be sitting in the throne chairs and your key is when the organ begins to play softly, one of the pastors will look at you and give you a nod. When they give you that nod, that holy nod, that’s your time to pray.”
And that’s what they did. The organ played softly and I was sitting on the edge of a throne chair. I looked and was waiting for the nod, and there it was.
So I gathered my thoughts and made my way up to the pulpit. It was my first public pastoral responsibility. I was a preacher’s kid, and I was thinking, “Okay, I’ve got to do well. I’ve got to do put my best ministerial foot forward. I’ve got to have my voice sounding right. The words have to be right—the ‘thees’ and the ‘thous.’ And it’s going to be a high, priestly prayer. I’m going to use all the Christianese and the language of Zion.”
And so I began to read the prayer. And man, the prayer was going great. I could tell people were into it. There were like, “Oh, he’s a chip off the old block. This is great man.”
Oh yeah, I could just feel it, you know? And then I finished my prayer and I segued from my prayer into the Lord’s Prayer. And during the prayer I said, “Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying, would you repeat after me, ‘Our father…’”
And thousands repeated after me, “Our father…”
It felt really good. “Who art in heaven…”
“Who art in heaven…”
And I was thinking, “I’m doing it! This is great! I’m spurring the horse to the barn. I’m almost done.”
“Hallowed be thy name…”
“Hallowed be thy name…”
And then I just froze. I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t even read. I totally choked! It was horrendous! People began to stumble. And I just said, “For thine is the kingdom of glory, uh….amen.” And I closed my Bible.
And people then began to laugh like, “Ha, ha! He’ll never make it.”
I walked off the platform and found some open seat on the front pew and I sat down. And for some reason my mother was sitting on the front row, which she never does, and she leaned over to me while everyone was laughing and she said, “Ed, your voice sounded real good.”
Only a mother could find something good in that terrible, terrible prayer.
You know Jesus talked about the type of prayer like I prayed. He did, he talked about it in Matthew chapter 6. If Tiger Woods walked in here and said, “Hey, I want to teach you guys about playing golf.” Every man and woman, boy and girl who’s into the great game of golf would lean in. “It’s Tiger!”
If Peyton Manning walked out and said, “Okay, I want to show you guys how to throw a foot ball,” every frustrated All-American here would look to him. You know, all guys are frustrated All-Americans. Guys think, “I could play in the NFL. If I hadn’t hurt my knee I’d be in the NFL.” No you wouldn’t. But you tell your girlfriend or your wife that. But we would all lean in and we would want to watch Peyton Manning demonstrate how to throw a ball. That would be phenomenal wouldn’t it?
What if Mariah Carrey walked up and said I want to talk to you about singing. We’d be like, “Whoa. Mariah Carrey is here singing. This is great!” And everyone who likes music, and especially parents who have these dreams about their kid becoming some mega superstar singer, would be like, “That’s Mariah Carrey.”
Well, there was something about the way Jesus prayed that snapped the heads of the disciples. The disciples were good Jewish boys. They’d heard the prayers; they knew the score. Yet, the way Jesus prayed was so unique, so different, so attractive, that one day they said, “Jesus, teach us to pray.”
So Jesus began to talk about prayer in Matthew 6. And he slammed prayers like I prayed that day.
Matthew 6:5, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
Jesus said, “I can see right through the hype of the hypocrites.” What’s their reward? To be seen by men. That’s it? That’s it. To be seen by men. Wow, that’s something else.
When I prayed that prayer, my first prayer, that Morning Prayer, I wasn’t really thinking about God. I was thinking about others. I was wondering, “How do I sound, how do I look before others? I want to be seen by men.” And I got my reward didn’t I? Ha ha! In full.
Why do you pray? Jesus was driving at the motivation, because in this chapter, Matthew 6, we’ve been talking about it for the last several weeks, Jesus said, “When you pray…” He also says, “When you fast…” A lot of us are on a fast. We’ve redirected our food source heavenward. And he talks about, “When you give”. Three foundations of a follower of Christ—when you pray, when you fast, when you give. Not if, but when.
When we build our lives on those spiritual disciples, great things will occur. We will receive, Jesus said, an incredible reward—knowing that we’re living right in the middle of the will of God; knowing we’re in the sweet spot of God’s success; knowing that we’re on the receiving end of the tangible and intangible favor of God. That’s what Jesus wants.
And this whole thing is about our motives. Why do we give? Why do we pray? Why do we fast? Why, why, why, why, why… Motives.
Well, you’re probably thinking, I never come to God with totally pure motives! Wait a minute, Ed, you’re telling me that Jesus is telling me that I should come to him with pure motives? No. He’s not doing that, because we can never come to God with pure motives on this side of the grave. It’s impossible. Never! But just do this with me… Ahhhh… Isn’t that a relief?
I’ve heard some people teach on prayer and I’m thinking, “I could never pray, because I don’t have pure motives all the time when I pray!”
How many parents do we have? The parents are like, “Wow I can barely lift my arms up because I’m so tired. My kids are about to wear me out!” Parenting is challenging, it’s fun, and it’s an adventure. But here’s something that’s interesting about parenting. As a father, I love for my kids to ask me for things, ask me advice or just ask me stuff. Don’t you? As a mom, dad, single parent, whatever, you love it! And kids can come up with some outlandish stuff can’t they? I can see right through them. “Oh look, she’s being so selfish; yet, she’s generous on one end. But also look at the motives. It’s selfish. That’s funny.”
You know what Jerry Seinfeld says? Seinfeld says that when a kid is between one to eleven, they live by two words: get candy. Get candy, get candy, get candy, get candy. That’s pretty much their existence. Sometimes my kids ask me for candy. Sometimes I say, “Yeah, here’s some candy.” Other times I say, “No.” Other times I say, “Wait.” Yet, our children come to us with these different motives. I don’t want them not to come to me; I want them to come to me with mixed motives and all.
Well, take that unconditional love that we have for our kids and multiply that exponentially and eternally and then you’ve got just a touch of the mind and the beauty of God. Because God says, “Bring all of your stuff to me! Warts and all, mixed motives and all. Your generosity, selfishness.”
Yeah, you can say, “Get candy, get candy, I want candy.” But God is not the candy man. Many times he gives us candy. Many times he says no. Sometimes he’s silent! Yet, we have a need to come to God. So don’t say, “Well, let me get my life all cleaned up and cleared up and then I can pray,” or, “Let me have this nice prayer memorized and written out and laminated.”
What do you do? What do you say? What do you pray when you get that nod? When it’s your time to pray, what do you do? Don’t be like the hypocrite; don’t be like I was years ago and just pray for men. You do that, you’ll get your reward. And that’s just to be seen by men. Whoop-di-do. God says there’s a bigger reward. We can live in the sweet spot of his success.
Well, Jesus continues in Matthew 6:6. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
We have a lot of people here who are in real estate. In fact, between services I was signing some books and talked to a friend of mine who has been a part of Fellowship Church for a long time who is in real estate. And I asked him, “Are you in commercial or residential?” He said, “I’m in everything.”
Well, he would tell you this. What’s the most important thing in real estate? Location, location, location. That’s what Jesus was saying. Don’t skip over that verse, because that verse, Matthew 6:6 can revolutionize every life here.
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
I’ve been married for 25 years. Sometimes Lisa and I will have on-the-go conversations on cell phones: “Hey, where are you? Okay. Yeah, we’re dropping the kids off and we’ll meet there at this restaurant and take them to basketball practice and… Well, I’ve got to fly here and do this conference, and we have this publishing deadline and…”
And if we’ve not careful, our marriage can end up just as an on-the-go type thing. We just communicate; we don’t connect. Maybe you understand what I’m talking about, those of you who are married. Some of the singles are going, “Oh no, when I get marred I will never….” Yes you will. Yes you will.
We discovered, though, that if we go through a long period of time where we are just communicating and not connecting, we can be next to each other, we can be close to one another, yet there’s not this connectedness. There’s this wall. Why? Because we’re just in casual conversation on the cell phone or different kinds of phones just talking. So what do we do? Well, we go into a private place, shut the door and communicate. We connect. You have vulnerability, you have intimacy. That is the real foundation and the real stuff of our marriage. You cannot build a marriage on surface communication. You cannot build a relationship with Jesus Christ on surface, on on-the-go conversation. It’s got to be closed door conversation. Not every prayer, but regularly. I would say at least five out of seven days a week we have to go into a room, close the door and talk to God.
Do you do that? Where is that place? Where is that location, location, location? It doesn’t have to be in a literal room where you close the door. It could be. That’s a good idea. Jesus didn’t always do that. Many times Jesus was in the wilderness or he would climb a mountain or he would go out in to the woods. So where’s that place? It could be your bedroom. A friend of mine prays in his closet. He just goes into his closet. He just closes the door. You could sit on the swing set in your backyard. It could be in a park. Where’s that place?
You might think, “Oh Ed, that place is so casual, it’s so mundane.” But that place can become holy ground.
I was in Starbucks, before the fast, and I was with a friend of mine. And I said, “You see that table right there?” And there was a little table, one of those typical Starbucks tables; you know the round table with the light colored wood with the little chairs. I said, “That table means a lot to me. I wish I could buy that table.”
He said “What? That table is ugly!”
I said “But it means a lot to me.”
He said, “What do you mean.”
And I told him, “Well, for years I would get up really early before the sun would come up, go to this Starbucks, pray, journal, read the word. And I wrote no telling how many sermons on that table in that Starbucks. That area is like holy ground (or holy grounds) to me.”
Where is that place for you? Where is that location, location, location? One time Moses was in Midian on the back side of the desert. I mean, you’ve got a bunch of snakes and spiders and cactus. And he had this burning bush experience, and God began to talk to him. And do you know what God said? He said, “Moses, take off your shoes. You’re standing on holy ground.”
Where is that holy ground for you? Where is that location, location, location for you? The location matters because the God of the universe wants to talk with you and me every single day.
“Well okay, Ed, you’ve kind of told me what Jesus said about my motivation; why do I pray. You’ve kind of talked about where I should pray. Well, what do I say? What do I say in this room with the doors closed?”
Matthew 6:7-8, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
“Well that’s it! That’s why I don’t pray, Ed! God already knows, so why do I pray? I mean, Jesus answered the question for me, I’m not going to pray!”
But wait a minute. Prayer is not about getting what you want; it’s about coming to place where you want what God wants. Prayer is not about asking; prayer is about alignment. Prayer is not changing God’s mind; it’s God changing our mind. Prayer is hungering and thirsting for the will of God.
Well, how do you start praying? You start praying! Just start talking. Just talk to God. “God, I am sick and tired of my neighbor. This guy makes me sick! Lord, this woman has been saying stuff about me and I’m just beside myself. God, I need your help in this decision; I don’t know which way to turn. I’m vacillating back and forth and I’m on the seas of doubt here and I’m having some real questions about your word and about your plan for my life. God…”
“Ed, you mean you can talk to God like that? You mean you can express your anger to him, your joy, to him, your doubts to him?”
Yes! He’s big enough for all of it. “Come to me,” God says, “warts and all. Come to me, mixed motives and all. Come to me, bags and all.”
God wants it. He’s concerned about what you would call the mundane stuff of your life. I’ve heard some teachers on prayer say that when you pray, you need to get to the point where you talk to God about God. I understand that. We do need to talk to God about God. We need to acknowledge that God is holy and just. But we never leave those self-centered prayers. Most of the prayers in the Bible are self centered prayers. I, I, I,… me, me, me, … my, my, my… Just read them.
And if we’re just careful, and if we just in prayer talk to God about God, we one day will conclude, “Well, I guess my stuff doesn’t really matter. My struggles don’t really matter. That task doesn’t really matter. This game doesn’t really matter. This real estate deal doesn’t really matter. This client doesn’t really matter. That temptation doesn’t really matter. I just talk to God about God.”
God says, “Yeah, do that. But your stuff matters, too.”
Well, is that in the Bible? One day, do you know what Moses said? Moses said, “God, my people are wearing me out! They’re stiff necked, they’re rebellious.” And he just went off about the people he was leading. Moses!
Elisha, not Elijah, was bald. One day 42 kids were making fun of his bald head. He said, “God, you curse those kids! Bring some bears, and have those bears maul these kids!” Elisha said that. How crazy is that?!
The Psalmist said this one day; “God, I hate my enemies, and I hope that even their kids are killed.” The Psalmist! That’s from the Bible!
Well then, later on, you have Moses saying, “Lord, forgive my people; blot out our transgressions.”
You have Elisha walking up to a woman who was dealing with infertility and Elisha said, “I prophesy over you that you will have a child.”
You have the Psalmist saying, “I meditate on your word day and night. Oh, God, how I love your law!”
Man, that gives me hope, that gives me confidence, that gives me assurance. How do you start praying? You start praying. What do you say when someone gives you the nod? It’s time to pray. Pray, talk to God. But make sure you draw away and have those conversations with him.
I want to encourage you to buy a journal. I love to write my prayers out before God. You can see how God is answering your prayer, how God is dealing with you. I’ve got prayer journals that go all the way back to when I was in college. And just the other day I was looking at one and it was very interesting to look at my prayer requests when I was in college compared to now. That’s just cool to be able to do that and to see what God has done. Make sure you read his word. Feed on his word. And listen to him, just listen to him. Talk to him and you will not believe the rewards that will accrue in your life.
If I could bring prayer warriors up here right now in Fellowship Church; if I could bring the prayer warriors in the house up here, they would say, “The rewards I have from living in the sweet spot of God’s success, from being on the receiving end of the tangible and intangible favor of God, from being in the will of God have just been phenomenal!”
And the church is to be a house of prayer. We have people in a prayer room right now praying for this service. We pray for people who are sick, people who are questioning things, and people who are going through tough times. All the time we need to pray. Public prayer is cool. It’s fine to pray publicly. However, how about that closet prayer? We can’t just live our lives with on-the-go conversation. We’ve go to have those closed door prayers with Jesus.
I would love to diesel through to this next part, because next week is the second part of this message. Next time is really the second half of what I’ve said. Because in this next part, next week, Jesus is going to tell us specifically how to pray. He’s going to give us an outline of what we should think about when we’re behind closed doors, when we’re in that special place. I’ll be right here teaching God’s word, God willing, and I want you to be right where you are, God willing, next time. But here is my question: what do you say when someone gives you the nod and it’s time to pray?