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Friendship With Our Maker

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Prayer – A Love Affair




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Praying God’s Way

Matthew 6:1-2

Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

Could you please take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 6:1-2, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

So those two verses are important for us here at prayer times and, “In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” So just look at that last verse which I agree brings problems to all of us, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” But I think we should take those words honestly and simply.

I’ve always felt there’s something not quite right, really still I’m not sure what it is but there’s something not quite right in Saturday after Saturday saying, “Lord, help Dan to know that you are with him and help him to remember that you are there and you are enabling him to see what he needs to see in all the workers heart.” You know how that would go on, I don’t need to elaborate. But I’ve always felt – I know what we mean and I know what I mean but I’ve always felt there’s something not quite right about it.

And I’m sure it has echoed in the back of my mind what I learned at Sunday school that your Father knows what you need before you ask him. And I’ve thought you know it’s a bit like dinging into his head. Here Jesus says clearly, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” and yet you kind of think, “Well yeah, but I’m not going to have anything to say then. I mean, it’s going to be very quite prayer time if I just accept that.” And yet I’ve still felt there’s something not right, there’s something not intelligent about it, there’s something just not right.

Please, I’m not absolutely clear of the answer myself but I have felt often when I would pray that way or when you would pray that way that there is something we’re not really dealing with what God says there you know. Jesus says, “Look your Father knows what you have before you ask him,” and so you ask him and we ask him. And then I’ve felt we compounded the problem because it says in the previous verse, “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” And then I think we’re often saying the same words over, and over, and over again, you know. And Saturday after Sunday, indeed you might say day, after day, after day we’re saying the same words over again.

And sometimes you even think yourself, “Well, I ought to say them because kind of if I say them God

will know that I’m concerned.” And so we hesitate to say, “We will add to the worth of our prayers.” We hesitate to say, “We will pile up our petitions before God so that he can’t ignore them.” But there’s a little of that in our minds. We think, “Well yes, but if I keep on asking he’s bound to realize how serious I am,” as if you know he could realize before we asked. And so we keep on maybe Saturday after Saturday, Sunday after Sunday, Tuesday after Tuesday, Friday after Friday, saying the same things.

And of course I think you know yourselves where it becomes ridiculous is where you find yourself or you suddenly are conscious of somebody else giving God details about what he should do, you know, as if he might not know and you wanted to outline the thing completely before him. All of that I think bring some question into your mind if you’re at all reflective and if you try to take scripture seriously, you feel there must be something better than this. And yet, we carry on doing it and we continue to encourage each other because we’re not quite clear why or what else you should do.

I would just remind you of the reality that we shared last Saturday, it’s the reality in Psalms 139:16, though as you know from the verses we just erased on the white board it occurs in all those other places that you probably took down or know about. Psalms 139:16, “Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” So, “Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” So every day that we have had and every day that lies before us, God has already formed it for us. So it’s all settled out.

Yes, it is true that we have a free will but somehow you know he has that lined up. Yes, we turn that way, that way, that way, but we never go outside that you know. Somehow in his miraculous way he’s arranged our free wills, we may vary but inside this there is the counsel of God’s will and he works everything according to that counsel. [Ephesians 1:11] He does it so that our life is planned for us and that means he has foreseen all the difficulties that we face, all the problems that we face, and he has solved them.

There is a resting in that contentment that is the heart of true prayer. There’s a resting, there is a deep resting in that contentment that enables God to beget true prayer within us. Now, I think I speak better than I know there because I can’t explain that completely but there is a deep resting in that truth that God has planned our life and he has dealt with it all in Jesus, and he has reconciled it all to himself, and it is a known way. There is a deep resting in the contentment of that that enables true prayer to come from us.

In other words, true prayer comes from absolute confidence that God has everything answered and dealt with in Jesus and that in a sense nothing more needs to be done. And from that there issues true prayer. And true prayer starts with one person, that person you’ll find clearly indicated in Romans 8:34. “Who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?” True prayer begins with our Savior who is at the right hand of God interceding for us.

And that’s really the only prayer that is real and that has any meaning in it, the prayer that Jesus is praying now at the right hand of his Father. The only prayer that is worthwhile in us is the prayer that he prays within us. We abide in him and he abides in us and in us he wants to pray the prayer that he prays at his Father’s right hand. In other words, prayer is really, so that you remember it vividly, prayer is really Joe with his cool sunglasses on and standing on the ironing

board. Do you remember that? Catching the wave, the surfer catching the wave — we catch the wave. We catch the wave — the heartbeat of Christ. We drop a stone into the pond there in the middle and then the ripples ripple out and we out here catch a ripple, and somebody else catches a ripple. That’s what prayer is.

So prayer comes from a great contentment, a life that is content and at rest. It cannot come from a life that is discontented, or is worried, or is anxious. It cannot come from a heart that is trying to do great things for the Lord, and Lord help me to do great things for you. It cannot come from that. The heart of the eternal is wonderfully kind and the heart of the eternal is utterly at peace. The heart of Christ is utterly at peace because all has been done, the battle is over, the victory has been won, all the lives have been reconciled, all the complex circumstances at Bosnia and Herzegovina, all the complex circumstances of our own lives have been reconciled in Jesus and brought together and culminated in him and he is now at the right hand of his Father and he intercedes there for us in the only way that is right and proper and real. And we catch the wave of that prayer.

And that’s the all important thing. In other words, the important thing to the Father is that you know his heart, that you know his heart and understand his heart, and feel with him, feel with him. So arrangements have been made for Christmas day, or for the play that we’re going to see, or the outing we’re going to have and then if you keep asking me, “What’s going to happen Pastor? What are we going to do? What are we going to do? What are we going to do? Could we do this or could we do that?” I know you know nothing about my love for you, you know nothing about what I’ve arranged, you know – don’t you know that all that is settled?

So it’s only insult to God to keep on, “Well, could you do this? Could you do that? Could you do this?” He says, “My children, it’s all done. It’s all done. I want you to rejoice in that. I want you to enjoy the wonder, and the peace of that that is not only in my heart but that was done so that it would be in your heart. I want you to enjoy that. I want you to enjoy that.” So there is a place sometimes the Savior will prompt us to thank God for something that he has done but it’s not that game we used to play with the man’s doctrine of praise, you mean power through praise. You know, where we thought, “Oh if we thank God that he has done it then that’s a real prayer then he’ll answer that prayer.” It’s dreadful. It’s dreadful.

It’s manipulation of the most wretched insulting kind to the Supreme Being of the whole universe. It’s not that kind of thing. It is a joy, a contentment that wells up within you that is just enjoyment. And yet it is not just choosing whatever you want to thank God for, it is the Savior that brings that within you. Now, I venture to say if you’re not content enough or at peace enough with him for him to beget in you a true prayer from his own heart, I venture to say we’re heaping up phrases and we’re just filling – in fact, often – sometimes it can be worse than filling the air with noise. We can often by our noise be distracting others from something they actually might be getting from Jesus’ heart.

Now I understand absolutely with you that whether it’s the things, some of which are true I’m sure and some of which are untrue, whether it’s the things that are reported in the Renewal Magazine about people roaring and crying and rolling on the floor, and I’m sure some of that may be right, but whether it’s that or whether it’s us with our ideas of what a good prayer meeting is, or what a lively prayer meeting is you can see all those things have nothing to do with prayer. Nothing at all, they’re just noise; they’re just filling the air with wind.

Prayer only comes from one heart and that’s from Christ. And Christ’s heart prays to his Father in the light of the fact that all has already been done and all is accomplished. So if you say to me, “Then probably a lot of prayer would be kind of really praise, or thanks, or just rest?” Yeah, I would suspect it is. I’m hesitant to say because the last thing we want is to set up a set of laws where we kind of tick off okay Thomas’ prayer was okay, that had the right words in there. Marty said, “Help Dan to do something,” so that’s wrong.

Well then that’s a killer, you know, then we all clam up and get paralyzed with fear and self conscious and preoccupation with ourselves rather than with God which is the whole point of coming together. But as far as I can see, prayer is something that comes from the Savior’s own heart to our heart. It first exists within our heart and then we express it. But, it comes from within it has nothing to do with what Christians ought to do or how we ought to pray, or what this prayer meeting needs to really liven it up. It has nothing to do with all that stuff. All that is just idle worship and is just waste of time and worse than that is a dreadful insult to our Father.

So if you say to me, “What do you think the heart of prayer is?” I suspect the heart of the prayer is our Father’s heart. I suspect that the heart of prayer, the heart of prayer is a delight that comes to him as we come into this parallax, we call it in a camera, you know where if you have one of those things on your camera where it tells you whether you’re exactly in focus, the parallax the two images come together, I suspect that is what it’s like. That prayer is really two hearts coming together, your heart and God’s heart and it’s there that the peace, and joy, and harmony that he longs for is felt and that prayer is mostly that. Prayer is mostly a love affair. It’s mostly a love conversation with our dear Father through Jesus. I would rather say it’s Jesus in a love conversation with his Father in our name. That’s what it is. It’s Jesus loving his Father in our name and that’s the heart of it.

Now I am sure there are more and more and greater and greater depths to it, but I think there’s enough there to rescue us from just light verbal prayers that obviously are telling God things he doesn’t need to know. And then you may sit here you know, particularly if we just begin to move in this direction, at the beginning you may sit there and think, “Well, I haven’t a thing to say.” Maybe you shouldn’t have a thing to say. Maybe it’s right, maybe we’re too self righteous to say, “Well, I know I’m a good prayer and now this makes it impossible for me to.” Well, maybe you’re not a good prayer. Maybe it’s time to be still and know that I am God.

I agree with you, there’s a silence of death and there’s a silence of worship. You can’t do much can you? I mean, you can’t sit there and decide this is the sounds of death so we whoop it up with a song, or this is sounds of death so I better pray, or why aren’t some of the others praying. I mean, if it’s the sounds of death it’s the sounds of death. Let’s accept it, let’s face it and let’s start there. Presumably God can show us how to get up from the grave eventually.

But I do think there’s no sense in bringing superficial band-aids to the situation. If there is a great gaping wound there is only one who can heal it and that is Jesus himself. It does seem to me that we should think about those things. I’m not asking you to accept it all, I’m asking you to think about it, to consider these things, and to consider it in the light of scripture and most of all I think to see our lives are already solved and reconciled by God. That all is done. That’s all done.

And it’s from your faith and confidence in that that prayer issues. Prayer cannot issue from a heart that has not really come into rest about itself. Prayer, true prayer, comes from a contented

heart that is at peace. So probably one of the early things is to settle, “Lord, you mean you really have solved all the things in my life and it is all really settled, and all this has been reconciled and worked according to the counsel of your will? And I’m on track and you have me right in your sights and you have me ready to come through the gates into your home? Is that reality, Lord?” And then when you rest in that then out of that the Savior who is within those gates is able to pray through us. Let us pray.