Thrive Part 5

Hotline to Heaven

I seriously can’t believe we are already in the fifth and final Sunday of January. For the past four weeks, we have been talking about what it really means to thrive in this life. If you remember, to thrive means to be successful, to be prosperous, and to flourish. If we are going to thrive in this life, last week, maybe we realized that we need to redefine success and prosperity when we determine what it means to flourish. For believers in Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior, financial prosperity and success in achieving material goals should not be our first measure when we think of what it means to flourish. Many early believers were persecuted, beaten, hounded and killed for their faith; yet I would say they thrived in a manner few in the 21st century truly do.

On January 1st, I asked us as a congregation to make a resolution to take it SLOW this year. That we would resolve to Serve, Love, Obey, and Worship to thrive in our faith in Jesus and impact our community and our world for Christ. We’ve talked about four ways, four phrases that help guide us when it comes to living in a right relationship with God and our fellows here on earth. To have faith, do good, show love, and do the next right thing. Then for the last two weeks, we talked about how confession and repentance open the doors for the flow of the Spirit to flow through us and out into the world. We don’t want to quench or grieve the Spirit but instead open up the flood gates of heaven showing love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, contentment, and joy, and restoring our brothers and sisters in gentleness and humility by bringing one another into closer fellowship with our God.

This morning, going to start talking again about our Hotline to Heaven, PRAYER!

I said before, second to our salvation, the most important part of our relationship with God is our prayer life… From the beginning of time, God has been trying to commune with his creation. He takes great join from being able to have a relationship with us. So much so, he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, to die as an atoning sacrifice to cover our multitude of sins with his Son’s righteousness. Added to that, he gives us his indwelling Holy Spirit so that he can be in the closest possible fellowship with us, living within us… Yet, we commonly neglect talking with, fellowshipping with, communing with our Father in heaven.

I’ll remind you of Commissioner Gordon’s red bat phone in his office in Gotham city. Whenever there was a big problem, Gordon would ring up Batman and Robin to come and save the day.

We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Paul tells us,

Romans 8:26-27 NET

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.

This issue is so important, in CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Uncle Screwtape writes this to his nephew, the young tempter, Wormwood…

“Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself, we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so.  The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.  Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by their own wills.  When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them instead start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing.  When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave.  When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven.  Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling…”

Jesus taught on this subject himself in a very famous passage of Scripture. And, yet, we still missed the point… He said, Matthew 6:5-8 NET

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.  When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

In the following verses, come what we know as the “Lord’s Prayer”, which is meant to be a template for how to pray that he gave to his disciples, but in our humanity, we turned it into another thing to mindlessly recite… he just finished telling us not to do that, not ‘babbling repetitiously’. He was trying to give us a pattern for how to start a conversation with God.

Last year, I gave these two patterns that you can use to pray that follow Jesus’s example to his disciples…

PRAY – Praise Repent Ask and Yield

ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication

God wants a relationship with us. He is not a celestial vending machine we plug our prayer quarters into and make our selections of what we want. He is not a genie in a bottle waiting for us to rub the prayer lamp to grant our next wish. He is a heavenly Father with a deep desire for a relationship with his kids. He wants us to pick up the phone and call him frequently. He does want to meet our needs, but what Father only wants a call from their kids only when they want something???

If we turn to Exodus 20 we find the Ten Commandments. The first ten of 613 dos and don’ts given to the nation of Israel that would define them as a people set apart by God for God himself. A people he has called to look and act completely different from an other society on earth. A people that were supposed to draw other nations into a relationship with God by demonstrating his glorious power through them. This is also the beginning of the Law of Moses that Jesus came to fulfill. And in Exodus 20:7 we find the 3rd Commandment which you may have heard,

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

That is the King James Version. Most people have since interpreted that to mean something along the lines of don’t say “GD” or curse in some other way. But that is not truly the intent of the command. The New Living Translation captures the intent a little better, it says

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

The heart of this commandment, while we shouldn’t misuse his name in our casual speech, frustration or anger, goes way deeper than something as superficial as that… In ancient times, to take someone’s name or use someone’s name, was to use that person’s power and authority for yourself. In our modern world, we would consider it identity theft. And when it comes to the identity, power, and authority of God; to misuse his name is to insert or pass off something as his will and ways when he would have nothing to do with it.

There was a woman in a Bible study who kept asking for an unspoken prayer request. My friend, being a discerning individual, would only pray for God’s will to be done, and not agree with her in prayer not knowing what he was praying for. He came to find out, she was praying that a man she was lusting after would leave his wife and family to be with her. That is taking God’s name in vain. Another instance I heard about more recently was a man who was struggling in his marriage who met a younger woman. He claimed God put her in his life after praying, for him to have an affair because she made him feel better about himself. God doesn’t endorse or approve of adultery in any instance, he was taking God’s authority and misusing it.

There is a very popular song on Christian radio right now that is one of those scattergun prayers, a very well-meaning woman singing a beautiful song with a terrible sense of theology and application fuel by misunderstanding and poor teaching. And have you ever watched a prayer or healing service where the preacher, pastor, whomever rattles off every possible ailment, illness, discontentedness, financial problem, on and on without praying directly for any one particular person or purpose? That is not God’s purpose in prayer. That is a whole lot of taking God’s power and authority upon yourself and misusing his name. What happens to people’s faith when that behavior is going on and they aren’t getting the results they are looking for?

Even in the life of Paul, he tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s thorn wasn’t removed. Whatever problem, temptation, or torment Paul was experiencing; he didn’t give in to it. But instead, God’s strength and power were perfected in Paul’s weakness. When the going gets tough, God will strengthen us in his will to get going. But sometimes, the going gets tough because it isn’t God’s will and we get going leaving God behind.

When God answers a prayer, an answer to prayer from God through the power of God in the will of God will never violate or contradict the will of God as expressed through the word of God that was written through the power of the Spirit of God.

There are many purposes and practices associated with prayer and next week we will look at more of them. One such purpose Paul tells us is the cure for anxiety is prayer… Philippians 4:6-7 NET

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

James the brother of Jesus, who was know as James the camel kneed, because his knees were so callused from constant prayer tells us, James 5:16 NET

So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.

The point is, if we want to thrive, if we want to have a vibrant and fulfilling faith, and have a true relationship with our heavenly Father through his Son, Jesus, we need to be deeply in touch with him in prayer through the Holy Spirit that is right here, in us, all the time! When we pray, we also need to take time to listen, he will answer, through intuition, through other people, through signs, through his Word, through peace that surpasses all understanding, through healing, through all sorts of other ways, if we are praying according to his will. And, as Romans 8:26-27 says, the Spirit will express his will in prayer through us in ways we can not express for ourselves, and he knows all our needs… we just need to pray!

It all begins with our prayer of confession and repentance, turning our lives over to the care of God through the sacrifice of Jesus… that prayer can enter us into or restore our fellowship with our Creator and our Father.

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