PRAYING FOR KEEPS
Vertical Reality – How to be Transparent Before God
March 12, 1995
“Hi, how are you doing? My name is Ed Young. And your name is? It’s really nice to meet you. Do you have any children? Two kids! Wonderful. My wife and I have four children. And what do you do for a living here in the Dallas area? An attorney, oh, isn’t that something. I am a pastor. No, really, I promise you, I’m a minister at a church in Irving called The Fellowship of Las Colinas. Well, it’s nice talking to you and I’m sure I’ll see you around. Bye.”
What I just demonstrated for you is a typical conversation, in a typical fashion, on a typical day, in the typical life of Ed Young. And I am sure that that conversation can be mirrored in your life. Most of our conversations are surface level conversations. Rarely do we break through the surface and talk about the real deep issues of life. Surface level conversation.
Our prayer life, our conversations with God pretty much go along the same lines. It is surface stuff. We put on our little floaties and grip the side of the pool where our feet can touch the bottom. But our Heavenly Father says, “Come on out here in the depths. Learn how to really pray. I want to teach you how to really swim deep with Me.” And we say, “No, God, I will just stay here.” It is sad to say, but a large block of people rarely break through the surface and go deep in their conversations with God.
Today I am in the second part of a series on prayer. We call it “Praying For Keeps.” And I want to talk to you about something called vertical reality, how to be transparent before God. And I am going to promise you something. If you apply and understand three simple terms I am going to share with you about prayer, you will walk out the doors of this Arts Center a changed person and you will understand what it truly means to have community and fellowship with God. The Bible says from Genesis to Revelations that we matter to God and we matter so much to Him that He desires to talk to us and He wants the conversation to go both ways.
Here is the first word. It is a biggie. It is important. REFLECT. Reflect. If I am going to truly seek the heart and the mind of God, if I am going to learn how to pray, if I am going to know how to talk to Him, I’ve got to reflect. Last week I shared with you the concept of writing out your prayers. For this message to have its full impact and meaning in your life, please pick up a tape from last week’s message. Listen to it because each session in this series is built upon the prior session. I gave you the PRAY method. P stands for praise, R stands for repent, A stands for ask and Y stands for yield. I told you to write out your prayers because it focuses your thoughts. You are thinking about what you are doing. You are formulating everything you are writing. Also it strengthens your faith. As you write out your prayers, you can look back and see how God has answered your prayers and you build a faith portfolio.
What I am going to challenge you to do today is, before you begin the
PRAY method, before you begin to write out your prayers to God, I want you to write above the PRAY acrostic the word REFLECT. The first word you should write every day as you begin your time with God is reflect. Reflect. Reflect.
I have lived in a lot of places during my life. I first lived in Canton, NC, a tiny mill village outside of Asheville in the beautiful Smokey Mountains, it was a wonderful place to live and to grow up. The town loved their football team. The high school football team was called the Pisca Bears. In Greenville, SC, the city loved the Ferman Paladins. In Columbia, SC, they were behind the University of South Carolina Fighting Game Cocks. In Tallahassee, FL, where I went to school, of course, the Floridians loved the Florida State Seminoles. I moved to Houston, TX, and take a wild guess what the people in Houston loved to talk about. Love ya blue, the Oilers. And I moved to Dallas, Texas, and people here are into the Cowboys. And when I am talking about into the Cowboys I have never seen a city in my life love a team like Dallas loves the Cowboys. It is fanatical. It is like a religion.
My favorite part of the Cowboy season is not the games. Do you hear that? My favorite part of a Cowboy year is not watching the games, it is something called the post game analysis. The post game analysis. The post game analysis makes me laugh. You have newspapers, you have television and radio reporters, you have armchair quarterbacks who critique the game which was played about 24 hours before and saying, “Troy should have done this,” “Michael should have done that,” “Switzer blew it on that call”. And they critique and they analyze and they analyze and critique and it is pretty specific stuff. Do you ever listen to any of these call-in talk shows? Those sport shows? I love those things. I about wrecked the car a couple of times laughing so hard. I think that stuff is great but no one critiques the Cowboys and their games like the players and their coaches do. You talk about being hard on the team, they are hard on each other. Butch Davis used to attend our church until he took the head coaching job at the University of Miami. And one afternoon I was talking to Butch in my office and I asked him what he had been doing. He said, “Ed, for the last ten hours I have been watching film.” He named the opponent. He said, “We dissect player, we dissect the play, we know every formation, the formula, you name it, we do it and we grade each other and critique and reflect. It is called the post game analysis.”
Do you ever do a kind of post game analysis in your life? God encourages you to do so, inspired by His word, II Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves.” Test your faith. I challenge you again, folks, prior to your PRAY session with God, reflect on yesterday. Go through yesterday’s events and summarize the decisions you made, the people you met with, some good things you did, maybe some bad things that you did. Maybe some things that you didn’t do. And as you write out in a brief paragraph and you summarize and reflect on yesterday’s events, it will help you face the future. Because most of us live unexamined lives, and a life unexamined is a life not worth living. And if you don’t examine your life, if you don’t reflect, you will keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again. Reflect. It is the first word in prayer. Begin to do it over the next seven days and you watch and see what the Lord does through this “transformational” concept. This will be a test.
The second word, and this is a biggie here, is the word POUR. It is the word pour. We have got to learn how to pour as we pray. “Ed, what in the world are you talking about, pour?” Let me explain. Years and years ago the children of Israel were having a difficult time obeying God, which I know seems hard for some of us to grasp. Right? I say that, of course, tongue in cheek. The priests were corrupt, the merchants, you’re talking about terrible, the leaders of the nation, they were clueless. Israel was like a giant ship heading toward a reef. They had no idea they were heading toward the reef and in just a couple of moments they were going to crash, from God’s viewpoint. However, the people, they didn’t have any idea of the situation.
So God tapped Jeremiah, the prophet of God, on the shoulder and He said, “Jeremiah, hey man, I want you to go to the leaders, the merchants, the priests and you warn them that if they don’t change their ways, if they don’t do a spiritual 180, judgment will fall.” And Jeremiah does it. He talks to them, he preaches to them and the leaders, the city council so to speak, they say, “Jeremiah, get out of here, you’re nuts. Bug off.”
Jeremiah goes back to God. “God, did I kind of miss the signal there?” God said, “Jeremiah, do it again.” So Jeremiah goes back, gives them another message. Destruction is coming, God loves you, He wants you to go another way with Him.” “Jeremiah, beat it, we are tired of you, your hair is too long, your beard is not trimmed. Leave us alone.”
Jeremiah goes back to God. “God, what is the deal?” And God tells Jeremiah to do something odd. A lot of the leadings that God gives you and me are countercultural. They are unique. Kind of like a salmon swimming upstream. God says, “Jeremiah, I want you to walk down to a potter’s house and watch the potter spinning a hunk of clay on the potter’s wheel.” And I am reading between the lines here, but if Jeremiah was like you and me, he probably went “What? I took art in junior high, God.” He obeys God, goes to the potter’s house. And here is this potter spinning a vessel on a wheel. All of a sudden the clay spoils in the process and the potter takes the clay, mashes it up. God says, “Jeremiah, the potter, that is Me, the vessel, that is the children of Israel. If they don’t change their ways I am going to mash them up like the potter mashed the clay up and I am going to start over with them. Jeremiah, give them this message.” Jeremiah runs back, gives them the mash message, and you see mash messages weren’t very popular back then, they aren’t very popular today, and the leaders were not into it.
Jeremiah goes back to God. “God, what is the situation here? And God says, “Now Jeremiah I want you to do a illustrative sermon. You go downtown, buy a brand new vase and take the vase, hold it over your head in front of the leaders and do an atomic drop, I am taking about the vase to the dirt and shatter it into a million pieces in front of all of those people.” Jeremiah does this. He says, “Hey, leaders, merchants, priests this is going to be you if you don’t change.” Whoom. The leaders, priests and merchants had had enough. They do the Real Cops thing and they handcuff God’s man, drag him to the city gate, put him in locks and chains and they give Jeremiah a twelve hour torture session, curse him, spit on him, abuse him.
I’ll stop right here. Jeremiah was developing a problem with God. Jeremiah was getting angry with God. Could you believe that? Jeremiah had these feelings boiling in his spirit. “Boy, I cannot believe it. I obeyed God. I am called the prophet of God. There is a book in the Bible named after me. I went to the potter’s house, I even bought that expensive vase and slammed it in front of the leaders. What in the world, God?” What is Jeremiah going to do with all of those feelings? What is this man of God really going to do now?
What are you going to do when that routine physical turns into your worst nightmare? What are you going to do when the girl you have been dating for a year and a half writes you the Dear John letter? What are you going to do, parents, when you have been praying for protection and suddenly your child is injured in a freak accident? What are you going to do when the corporation restructures and they restructure you out of a job? What are you going to do when the foundations of your faith are weakening and you feel the roof caving in, what are you going to do?
Most of us, most of us, spin on our heels, thumb our noses at God and say, “God, I have had enough with You, in fact, I don’t believe You anyway, I will never darken the doors of the church for the rest of my life, it is over spiritually for me. See You later.” Others, who have been “burned” by God, relate to God for the rest of their lives in a guarded fashion. “Hey, You kind of deceived me once, God, no more. I am a smart guy. I was born at night, but not last night, God.” Still others react by putting on a fake face, a hallelujah anyhow attitude. “Well, praise God, a tragedy has happened, my faith is weakened but, hey, it’s not really weakened with me, no, no, no. Praise God. Hallelujah. Let’s just praise the Lord.” And a three year old can see through that deception. A three year old can see you have done a poor job of putting on the makeup.
Very few of us do what Jeremiah did. Jeremiah, in this situation, put up a TP. Jeremiah, a prophet of God, put up a TP. A transparent prayer. Not a party line prayer, not a bedtime, mealtime, now I lay me down to sleep, God is great, God is good type prayer. He prayed an authentic prayer to God.
Take your Bibles and turn to the book of Jeremiah. If you don’t have your Bible maybe someone next to you will have one. Jeremiah 20:7. And I want to share with you this prayer. Because Jeremiah was not afraid to give God a messy prayer. He was not afraid to pour out his heart to God. “Oh, Lord, You deceived me and I was deceived. You overpowered me and prevailed.” In the modern day vernacular Jeremiah was saying God you are ripping me off, man. Jeremiah 20:10, the last part. “All my friends are waiting for me to slip.” Does that sound familiar? Have you ever been in a situation where you feel like your friends are vultures just waiting for you to drop and to die and they are just going to pounce on you? Verse 13. He changes from this to praising God. One moment, Jeremiah is upset, pouring his heart out to God, now in verse 13 he changes gears and says, “Sing to the Lord. Give praise to the Lord. He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” And he changes gears again in verse 14. “Cursed be the day I was born. May the day my mother bore me not be blessed.” You might want to note something right here. Jeremiah was so sure of God’s character, he was so confident of God’s love that he risked praying a transparent prayer. He knew God could handle his honesty. Have you ever poured your heart out to God? Have you ever prayed a transparent prayer? If you are like me, for a large majority of your Christian life you were kind of afraid to do that. You are afraid if you don’t pray a theologically and spiritually correct prayer God will say, “Leave My presence.” Pick up the word of God and do a study on the prayer life of men and women who followed the Lord and you will see people who knew how to pray transparent prayers. That is why the Psalmist said this in Psalm 62:8, “Pour out your hearts to God.” It doesn’t say to edit or to sanitize your prayers. Pour out your hearts to God. Jesus, when He was dying on the cross for our sins, told the Father these words, “God, Father, why have You forsaken Me? Why have You turned Your back on Me?” The precious Son of God. “Why, Lord?”
How do you pour out your hearts to God? I want us to apply this stuff. It is great to see from the life of Jeremiah how he poured his heart out to God. But how do I do it? Well let me finish the story. I don’t want to leave Jeremiah hanging out here. Jeremiah, after he prayed this brutally honest prayer to God, then he saw the situation from God’s perspective. God said, “Jeremiah, now you do my stuff again.” And Jeremiah came out of this situation a brand new person and a person with a deeper faith, a closer walk with God. That still leaves us, though, with this burning question. How do I pour my heart out to God?
There is a group of the Psalms called the laments. And the laments are painfully honest prayers. I want to turn to one and dissect one briefly to show you three principles on how to pour out your heart to God. Take your Bibles and turn to the book of Psalms. Psalm 13.
In verses 1-4 the Bible says the first thing we are to do as we pour our hearts out to God, we are to recount our pain. Listen to David talking here. Psalm 13:1 “How long, oh Lord, will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” And he goes on and on praying that transparent prayer. It is so tempting, isn’t it, to kind of to cover it up. It is so tempting not to reveal your feelings. You will hear me say this time and time again. Revealing your feeling is the beginning of healing. Recount your pain.
Secondly, look in verse 5. Recall God’s character. Then David recalled the character of God. “But I trust in Your unfailing love. My heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me.”
The third way to pray that transparent prayer is to resolve to trust God. I am pouring my pain out to God, I am trusting in God’s character and then I resolve to trust Him completely for the rest of my life.
This past Wednesday night God hit me right between the eyes on this subject. Talk about authentic prayers. After our Wednesday evening service, the elders of the church and a couple of other people had a healing service. I am not talking about a televangelist “Be Healed” type service. I am talking about a service from a biblical perspective. We have a lady in our church who came to the pastoral staff. She has cancer. The doctors say it does not look good. And she wanted us to pray for her. So being obedient to the scriptures we got together in my office and we anointed her with oil which symbolizes the Holy Spirit of God and then we laid hands on her head and prayed that God would heal. Let me say this, up front. God still heals. He didn’t quit healing at the first century. God does not, though, heal everyone. Jesus didn’t heal everyone. But, we prayed for healing here in a biblical fashion. She had a couple of close friends in the room, and one of these friends asked if he could join the elders in praying for her. And we said, “Sure, go right ahead.” You could feel the power of God right in the room. This man was baptized in our church two weeks ago. And he put his hands on her head and he prayed one of the most beautiful, transparent prayers I have ever heard articulated in my life. You’re talking about pouring his heart out to God. That is what I am talking about. Pouring your heart out in a transparent prayer.
That is the second “transformational” word. The first is reflect. The second one is pour. So we are tracking now. You see we do the REFLECT thing, we go to the PRAY method, we are POURing our hearts out to God. And after the Y, after you have yielded yourself to God, your prayers have not been concluded yet. Because now I will go to the third “transformational” word and this word is the word LISTEN. Listen. I draw a giant ear at the bottom of my prayer sheet, at the bottom of my prayer notebook, and say, “God, now it is time for me to listen to You.” To listen. For too many years my prayers have kind of gone like this. “God, give me this, bless me here, cover me here, heal me here. See You later, God. Thank you very much.” And I feel like God is going to say, “But, Ed, Ed, Ed…” How do you like hanging around a person with whom you can never get a word in edgewise? As I have said earlier, prayer is a two-way conversation. We want to talk to God, we desire to talk to Him. He desires to talk to you and to me. God’s most favorite voice to hear is your voice, is my voice. And the most favorite voice that we hear should be the voice of God.
Does God still speak to people? Yes. Does God still heal? Yes. God spoke to Adam and Eve. He spoke to Abraham. He spoke to Moses. He spoke to Jonah. He spoke to Isaiah. He spoke to Jeremiah. He spoke to Jesus. He spoke to Peter, Paul and John and I am not talking about the Beatles. God speaks to individuals. How does God speak? I have never heard an audible voice. I never have. But I have heard God speaking to my spirit to such a degree that it has prompted me to write down some things. And He wants to do the same thing in your life. God speaks to us through His word, through the Bible. We have God’s words written down for us. And oftentimes while we are praying and listening to God, He will bring a scripture verse to mind. God also speaks to us through relationships. And God also speaks to us through His Holy Spirit. But I am going to tell you something. God will never give you a word, God will never give me a word that is contrary to the book. One time a man came up to me and said, “You know, God has told me to continue living with this girl.” And I say, “Sir, you don’t have to pray about that or think about that. I can guarantee you that God did not tell you that because He said time and time and time again that sex is reserved for the marital bed.” Some things you don’t even need to pray about. They are no-brainers, no prayers, they are right here written for us. God speaks. He really does.
How does God speak? And how can I hear God’s voice? I am going to give you a couple of suggestions. As you draw that giant ear at the bottom of your prayer journal, you need to say these words to God and I would write these words down. “God, I am your servant and I am waiting for the Holy Spirit to speak to me.” “ God, I am your servant, I am your child and I am waiting for the Holy Spirit to speak to me.” We have got to have the discipline of stillness. Read the life of Christ. You’re talking about busy. You’re taking about having people press in on you day after day after day. Jesus, though, had to draw away and be still before God. Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” What is the condition? Be still. And when we are still, then we will know God. And for some of us, just to sit still for three minutes, whoa, that’s tough. That is hard to do. God, though, will deposit some great stuff in your spirit when you draw away to that private place and you say “God, I want to hear from You.”
I kind of break up my questions to God. I say, “God, what do You want to say to me in my relationships?” And I pause. “God, what do You want to say to me in my vocation, which is the church?” “God, what do You want to say to me about my future? “God, what is the next character step You want me to work on in my life? And you watch and see what happens.
I want to share with you a couple of things that God has been telling me about my life. I am not going to get too specific here, but I will read to you what He has been telling me to show you how dynamic this is. This is my prayer journal. It has fishing lures on it. My wife got that for me. Fishing is a biblical sport, I hope you know that, don’t you? I have written the PRAY method down and at the end I drew an ear. And here is something He has told me. I had said, “God speak to me about relationships”. What God has been showing me, specifically in regard to my marriage, is to be a servant to my wife. I have this tendency to be self-centered in my marriage, I have this tendency to put my needs above my wife’s needs. I have a tendency not to really listen to her like I should. And God has been saying, “Ed, servanthood. Servanthood.” If you want to be great, be a servant.
As far as the church, which is my vocation, God has been leading me to focus more and more on missions here and to help the needy. And a verse came to my mind over the last two days while I was listening to God. Jesus said, “If you have done it to the least of me, Ed, you have done it unto Me.” He has also been encouraging me to encourage you to really be a part of what our church is about. To encourage you as we take the most important step in the history of our church which is to build the building, as we start this great process. We are not trying to be the biggest church, or this church, or that church, but God’s church, a unique church, biblically driven and Holy Spirit focused.
Regarding my character, God has been instructing me to put as much time into those areas that people don’t see as those areas that people see. Those are the things in your pastor’s life about which God has been speaking. Most of us though, we don’t want to hear God’s voice and I will give you a couple of reasons and then I will wind it down.
There are two reasons. First of all, we don’t hear God’s voice because we never get involved in being still and being quiet and letting God speak. We are so busy. We are moving. We are jiving. We are dancing. We are doing all that stuff and we are never still before God. God wants to speak but we have so much chatter and clatter going on, we never get down to it. Secondly, sometimes we hear the voice of God but we just don’t respond to it. God might tell you, “Apologize to that person.” “Hey, God, wait a minute.” God might say, “Give financially to your local church.” “Well, wait a minute, God.” God might say, “Write this person a thank you note, encourage that individual.” “Well, God, no.” Two reasons why most of us miss it.
Again, if you want to become a part of the greatest adventure you have ever been on in your life, begin to pray. Begin to pray. Begin to pray. And do like Jeremiah did. Don’t be shy about it. Say, “God, from this day forward, every day I’m going to put up to You a TP.” A TP.