PRAYING FOR KEEPS
For Mature Audiences Only – Exploring the Depths of Prayer
April 2, 1995
This past week a generous friend of mine took me to the Central American island of Utila. Utila is about 28 miles off the Honduran coast and Thursday a few of us found ourselves fishing in a deep channel. We were guided by a gentleman by the name of Willie. Willie told us in his Honduran accent the following words, “There is some big barracuda and shark below. You might catch one so be ready.” And we were ready.
After fishing for about an hour in this small, dilapidated, flat-bottomed boat in the swirling currents, Willie decided to ask me to assist him in pulling up the anchor rope. I walked to the bow of the boat and began to pull up the anchor rope. The anchor gets caught on a piece of coral. So Willie, being the great guide that he was, walked up to the front of the boat and joined me. He began to pull the anchor rope with me. While Willie and I were pulling, a giant wave rocked the small boat, knocked Willie into me, and I fell overboard into the indigo waters off the Honduran coast.
I was only in the water a nanosecond because I knew what lurked below. In fact, I might be one of the few people to have walked on water. Anyway, my friends in the boat had the audacity to laugh at me while I was thrashing around in the water, all the while being sure that I was attracting both sharks and barracuda. But they were kind enough and benevolent enough to assist me back into the comfort and security of the small boat.
Before I begin today’s sermon, I am going to warn you. I want to talk to you right up front about something. In today’s message we are going to travel over some dangerous and deep and dark waters. Most of you, if you are like me, will want to stay in the comfort and security of our craft, to kind of white knuckle the sides of the craft and to remain in this protective environment. However, my job today is to knock some of you overboard and to let you experience the power of deep water, dangerous prayer. I know this message is advanced for a lot of people here because some of you are still investigating the Christian life, you are still checking it out. Others here are brand new believers. I want you to listen, though, because these prayers will need to be prayed in your life one day. Maybe not today, but a couple of months down the road.
The Bible is full of dozens and dozens of deep water prayers. This morning I want to spotlight just six of these prayers and I have identified these prayers by two-word sound bites so we can all remember them and get a grip on what they are about.
The first deep water dangerous prayer: “Examine me.” Have you ever prayed that prayer? “Lord, examine me.”
This August a 50-pound dumbbell landed on the big toe of my left foot and crushed my toe in twenty different places. The bone was sticking out of the toe in four places. As I went into the emergency room the doctors examined my foot and my toe in a dimly lit room. They said, “Can we cut all the lights out and get a good look at Ed’s toe.” Do you think they said that? You know, I know it’s early, I know it is Daylight Savings Time and all of that and we have sprung forward. But the doctor didn’t do that. The doctor said, “Let’s bring in the light.” And the doctor used the brightest light possible to see the problem of my toe.
When you pray do you have enough courage to say, “God, examine me. You turn the spotlight of Your brilliant holiness and let it shine on the inner recesses of my soul to see what is keeping me from really being the man, the woman that you want me to be for this generation. God, examine me.”
A few of you might be thinking to yourselves, you know this kind of sounds familiar. This kind of sounds like a prayer that David prayed in Psalm 139. Guess what? You are right. Take your Bible and turn to the book of Psalms, Psalm 139. David prayed an “examine me” prayer. If you don’t have a Bible, hopefully your neighbor has a Bible. If not, write the references down or get a tape after the service and look them up a little bit later this afternoon.
David begins the prayer (Verses 6 and 7) by praising God for His omniscience. That means God knows everything. Then he praises God for His omnipresence. That means God is everywhere. Then skip down to Verse 13 of Psalm 139, he praises God for His omnipotence. That means God is all powerful. And after he has praised God for all of these things, he kind of changes gears and he begins to say, “God, you think personal thoughts about my life.” And David describes God’s personal thoughts about himself in Verse 17. “How precious to me are Your thoughts, oh God. How vast is the sum of them. Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.”
Then David does the gear shift change that a lot of prophets do, a lot of Biblical hitters do this. He changes gears in Verse 19 and he says, “If only you would slay the wicked, oh God, away from me, you bloodthirsty men. They speak of you with evil intent. Your adversaries misuse your name.” David is saying, God look at the people around me, God. They are rebelling, they are shaking their little fists in Your face, it makes me sick. These people hate you and they don’t really know who they are hating. They don’t know who they are turning their backs on. They don’t know how much you love them, God. It makes me sick.
I am sure you have done that before, haven’t you? You have pointed your finger at someone disobeying God in a flagrant way. And you think, “How could they? Those people make me so angry, I cannot believe they are involved in that activity or they are doing this or that.” Something, though, happens to David. As David is pointing his finger at other people he begins to say, “God, yeah, I am kind of putting the spotlight on them, but how about turning the spotlight on me.” And for the second time in this Psalm, David says the following words beginning in Verse 23, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”
David said, “Yeah God, they are rebelling against You, they are sinning against You, but You take the spotlight and turn it onto my life.” You see, most of us pray like this: “Oh, there is God’s spotlight. Well, I don’t really want God to examine me, and I’ll hide over here in the shadows. Maybe behind this spiritual tree here. And I will pray like this: (moving behind a tree prop on the stage) “God, examine me. Lord, examine me. Know my heart. Test my anxious thoughts, God. I want to be real before you. Oh, it is too bright over there. No, I will just stay right here.”
Today, I want you to muster up the courage to pray an “examine me” prayer. There is no telling what God’s light will expose—something that could be keeping you from being the person that God wants you to be for this generation. Examine me.
The second deep water prayer:“Break me.” Break me. If you prayed the first prayer—“God expose whatever it is that is keeping me from you”—then you have got to pray the second prayer, “Break me. Break me.”
What has its hooks in you? What behavioral pattern needs to be broken? Again, what is it that God has exposed and what does He need to do to deal with it and to take care of it and to cut it out of your life?
There was a lady caught in adultery one day and the religious leaders dragged her in front of Jesus, and slammed her into the dirt. And they said, “Jesus, condemn her.” And Jesus rebuked the religious leaders and picked the lady up. She repented of her sins; she turned from her iniquities. She got to know Christ personally. And Jesus said these words as she left the scene, “Go, and sin no more.” He said “Break those destructive, sin-driven behavioral patterns because they are destroying your life and other lives.”
Once you become a Christian you have to develop some new patterns. You do and I do. We also have to break some old patterns and Jesus taught the woman caught in the middle of adultery how to do that.
One afternoon Jesus had a power lunch with an extortioner. His name was Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was ripping his own people off, making hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. After this power lunch, Zacchaeus emerged and he made this announcement from his porch, “I am changing the way I manage money. I am giving my money back to those I have abused. I am beginning to really get serious with God.” Zacchaeus, because he came in contact with Jesus, broke that behavioral pattern that was ruining his life.
It is tough to pray a “break me” prayer. Sometimes God breaks us mercifully, other times when He breaks us, it hurts. What is it, though, that needs to be broken? What is keeping you from the abundant life? What is it? Could it be lust? Could it be your anger, your temper? Could it be selfishness? Could it be materialism? I don’t know what it is. As God exposes it, as He examines you, then your next prayer should be “God, break me.” Do you have the courage to pray a “break me” prayer?
There is a third prayer, a third deep water prayer: “Test me.” “Test me.” God never tempts, but He does test. And God’s tests always bring out the best. I like to remember it that way. Test me. James 1:2 & 4. The half brother of Jesus writes, “You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature”—are you ready for that? That is the title of today’s message, “For Mature Audiences Only”—“so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”
When God tests us—I am not talking about tempting because God does not tempt—when God tests us, He tests us to build character, to build those qualities that can never be built if God did not test.
David said it again in Psalm 139:23, “Test me and know my anxious thoughts.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t like tests. Do you? When I was in school I didn’t say, “Oh, boy, today is test day. Today is an exam. I can’t wait to take it.” It’s not very fun. If we had our way we would never allow God to test us.
Sometimes God tests us through a blessing. Let me illustrate. Over the past fifteen years of ministry I have seen single adults and I have seen couples barely getting by financially, living month-to-month. They are faithful with their treasures, faithful with their talent and faithful with their time when they are barely getting by. “We love you, God. You are our God. You are our Lord. We want to serve You, whatever happens.” And suddenly God tests them by blessing them, maybe a financial windfall, maybe an opportunity.
In most circumstances, it is sad to say, the people just kind of leave church. Oh, they come about once a month, definitely on Christmas Eve and Easter. But God has tested them to see if their faith is really real and they say, “Ah, I am going to buy the lake house or the boat or I’m going to get involved in this situation on the weekends because I am self-sufficient now. I can forge my own future.” A test—Beeeep—This is a test, from God’s emergency broadcasting system. This is only a test, not a temptation.
God also tests you in difficult circumstances. He doesn’t cause those difficulties to happen, but we live in a fallen world, a sin-infested world. He is going to see how I react, how you react, what I do, what you do, when no one is looking. Test me. This third deep water prayer.
There is a fourth deep water prayer, if you are keeping score: “Guide me.” Have you ever prayed the “guide me” prayer? David prayed it. He said, “Lord, lead me. Lord, guide me.”
This past week in the jungles of Honduras, a gentleman by the name of Albert was taking us through a dense area. He talked about six different snakes and all these wild creatures and things. And he said, “Follow me, Ed.” And I followed Albert. I wasn’t sure where Albert was going. I had confidence, though, because he had grown up on the island, he had lived in the jungles for years and years and years. He knew what to do. He knew which path to take.
And as I followed Albert with some other guys, he took us to a spot through the jungle which was one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen in my life. I didn’t say, “Well, Albert, you stay in the background and let me lead through the jungle.” I followed him. I let him guide.
Do you really let God guide you and lead you in your life? A “guide me” prayer is a dangerous prayer. But I am going to tell you something, it is more dangerous not to pray a “guide me” prayer than it is to pray a “guide me” prayer.
I prayed my first “guide me” prayer in college, before my junior year. I said, “God, guide me.” I felt a leading from God that He was taking me out of sports. I was involved in sports for at least the first 20 years of my life. It was all I thought about, all I did. For some reason, though, I felt God leading me away from this and I said “God, you guide me.” And God spoke to me, not in an audible voice, but He spoke to my spirit and said, “Ed, I want you to go into the ministry.”
I was on a full scholarship; everything was paid for. It would have been easy for me to stay at Florida State University, to marry Lisa. We could have lived rent free for two years. The academics weren’t very tough because I was an athlete. I want to be honest with you.
So, one day, I couldn’t believe I was doing it, I walked into our coach’s office and I said, “Coach Williams, God is leading me into the ministry and I don’t really understand it, but I am going to give up my scholarship.” And believe me, he didn’t start crying. It was almost like, “Yes, all right. Then we have another scholarship to give away to a good player!”
But anyway, I went back to Houston and enrolled in a Christian university, finished up, went to seminary, began working. And I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. But just think about it. If I hadn’t had the courage to pray the “guide me” prayer in college, I would have missed really learning how to study, I would have missed seminary, I would have missed a lot of relationships that I got involved in.
I prayed, though, another “guide me” prayer five years ago. I felt God leading me into the ministry to pastor my own church and I had talked to a number of churches across the country. Many churches had large memberships and big budgets and all that stuff, and I thought God surely would lead me there. It never worked out though. “God, you guide me. God, you lead me.”
I met a couple of people from a brand new mission church in Irving, Texas. I had told everyone, all my friends, that I would never go to Dallas/Fort Worth to pastor there. The Metroplex is full of seminaries and televangelists. It has many, many Baptist, Methodists and Bible churches. I said, “That’s not for me. God, You send me to Las Vegas, You send me to L.A., You send me to Canada. I want to go to a place where there are not very many Christians. I want to go to a place where there are not very many churches, God.”
But I found myself one November morning praying on a hill in the Metroplex saying the words, “God, guide me.” And God spoke to my heart again and He said, “Ed, I want you here. I want you as a part of the Fellowship of Las Colinas.” And just think. If I hadn’t prayed the “guide me” prayer I would have missed all of you, and I would have missed this great church. And this has been the greatest adventure of my life. You see what I am talking about? Just think what God wants to do through an ordinary you, through an ordinary me, if we pray a guide me prayer.
There is a fifth prayer. It is two words: “Use me.” Not abuse me. Don’t confuse abuse me with use me. “Use me.” When you pray a “use me” prayer, you pray a prayer like David prayed in Psalm 139. You say, “God, here are my talents. God, here are my abilities, my achievements. Here is everything, my creativity, it all comes from you, God, I’m putting it here, You use me, God.”
Believe me, God is scanning the planet looking for a Christian who is throwing up a “use me” prayer and when you throw up a “use me” prayer, even though you are imperfect, even sin-infested, God will link you up with another person that needs what you have to offer with your gifts.
Have you ever prayed a “use me” prayer? Have you ever been used by God? There is nothing like it. I have lived a blessed life. I have traveled all over the world. I have done some amazing things considering my age. I don’t know why. God has just blessed me in that way. And all of the adventures that I go on, from Central America to going here, to going there, meeting this person, meeting that person, are fine and good. But after a while that kind of gets old. It kind of gets stale. It kind of gets worn out. And I say, “Well, been there, done that. Now what.” What else is there? What is the next adventure? And you go on another one. You know how that is.
But I want to tell you something. When God uses me even in just a little fashion, there is nothing like it. It never gets old. It never gets stale. It never, ever gets boring. But a lot of you have never been used by God because you have never prayed a “use me” prayer.
I want to share with you something that happened in my life years ago and it is still happening over this “use me” prayer. And in today’s message I just wanted to share with you what God’s been doing. I share this out of humility and to show you what God can do if someone throws up the “use me” prayer.
When I was 17 years of age I remember praying, “God, use me in whatever You want to.” And one afternoon I was looking through a yearbook that a friend of mine had, and I saw a little picture of a guy, and for some reason, I remembered his name. I do not have a photographic memory at all. The way I memorize my sermons is to prepare mind map charts in color, with my major points highlighted. I definitely don’t have a photographic memory. Anyway, I see this guy’s picture and I remembered his name. Ten years go by. I still remember the guy’s name for some reason.
Of course, it was God. I had gone to school, transferred to seminary. I was in the ministry, had gotten married, had a child. One day I was talking to a friend of mine who was playing in a flag football league. He said, “You know, there was a guy out there who was kind of big. His name was Phil…”, and I remembered the picture I had looked at ten years previously, and interrupted, “You mean, Phil Elders?” And the guy said, “Yeah.” And I thought, wow that’s kind of strange.
Over the ensuing weeks I got to know Phil Elders and found out he was someone who was not a Christian. I found out that he was a successful young man, but someone who was away from what God wanted him to do. His wife had a drinking problem and they were off the charts as far as someone who had a yearning for the Lord and for spiritual things.
One night I was with Phil playing basketball. And again, I talked about it earlier, if you have a bent, if you have a talent, if you have something you love, God will oftentimes link you up with someone with like abilities, like gifts. And after I played with him I felt a leading from God to confront him about his eternity. And I said, “Phil, if you were to die tonight, man, are you sure you would go to heaven?” And this guy—6’5”, 220 pounds, bench presses 330 pounds—said, “Ed, I don’t know.” And tears were streaming down his face and he just gave his heart to the Lord.
It was an amazing thing because Phil accepted Jesus Christ and he went home; and through his ministry, his wife accepted Jesus Christ and she was delivered from alcohol instantaneously. Her parents, who were involved in a cult, both accepted Christ. Phil’s brother and his sister both accepted Christ. And now, Phil is teaching a Bible study class, discipling young believers in the faith. And it thrills my heart.
Am I some great super-spiritual Billy Graham evangelist? No. No. No. I just mustered up enough courage to say, “God, use me.” God did it. When I shared the gospel with him, I stuttered, I stammered, I didn’t know what to say. God did it, though. There is nothing, nothing like it.
A few weeks ago, Phil wrote me a letter that I want to share with you. He said this,
Ed, I want to write to you to encourage you. I just finished my morning quiet time and study and thought I would write to encourage you. I know there are times when we fight against all odds to win something that can’t be seen. I know that these victories seem unimportant at times. They seem as if they don’t make a difference. I also know that it is very seldom that we are allowed to see the fruits of our labor. I also know that when God opens our eyes and let’s us see how we have done a good thing for His kingdom, it makes our struggles worthwhile. So I am writing you, Ed, to let you see a little bit of what God has done with your efforts in my life.
I want you to be encouraged when dark hours come and when time erodes the memories of your victories. I could speak to you of how God has blessed my marriage, my career, my family or how He has carried us through a devastating 1994. (Recently Phil lost his child.) But I want to tell you of the things I most value which are not seen easily. These are my deepest treasures. These treasures may only be seen by the few that are chosen. My treasures are on the other side. (He is talking about heaven, of course.)
My first treasure is that day when I will be there chest to chest with my son, Christian. The hope of that bright day can lighten almost any darkness the world throws my way. I know I should probably say my first treasure will be seeing my Savior, but it seems the closest thing I have experienced to that was a journey that Christian carried me on.
My second treasure will be to see all that are cheering for me. The ones that are cheering for me to continue in this dark world, cheering for me to press on and to share a work that began in 1988 – a work that you were used in to ensure that I would reach the other side.
Thanks. And I love you. Phil
I hope you took that letter in the right spirit because Phil Elder’s life was radically changed by just a person praying a “use me” prayer. Do you have that courage?
There is a sixth prayer that I want to mention and this prayer sums it up: “Stretch me.” Do you want to pray that prayer today, “Stretch me”?
There was a guy who was a religious leader who came to Jesus at night. His entire life, he had accepted the party line. Just what everyone told him. And he though the way to get to heaven was by keeping a bunch of religious laws and jumping through all these hoops and things. And this man, his name was Nicodemus, slithered through the shadows and met Jesus one evening because he heard that Jesus preached a different way to get to heaven. He heard that Jesus preached a way that was unlike the way he had grown up believing.
He asked Jesus, “Stretch my spiritual understanding.” And Jesus said, “You must be born again. You must be born again. In fact, Nicodemus, if you had not come to me and asked me to stretch your understanding, you would have missed heaven.”
And to be direct this morning, I wonder, every week when I stand on this stage, how many of you are going to miss heaven. I don’t say that to scare you, to freak you out. I really wonder how many of you are going to miss heaven because a lot of you have grown up just accepting the party line, accepting the way to get to heaven is by keeping all of these rules and rituals and regulations.
That is not the way. The way is a person. The way is coming to the point in your life where you say, “Jesus, stretch my spiritual understanding. I want to ask you to come into my life, to take control. I want to be born again into the family of God.” That is how you become a Christian.
Some of you here who are seeking the Christian life, you need to pray a “stretch me” prayer. Others who are Christians need to say, “God stretch me in my marriage.” “Stretch me in my career.” “Stretch me in my management of finances.” “Stretch me in my courage.” “Stretch me in my vision.”
This is deep water stuff and it is my prayer that as I, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have knocked you overboard, that you stay in those shark and barracuda infested waters and that you begin to dive down deep. I am not talking about snorkeling now, skimming the surface, I am talking about scuba. And as you pray those scuba-like, dangerous, deep water prayers, you better hold on to your seats because you will not believe the ride that God has in store for you.