Spiritual Habits - The Art of Prayer - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Spiritual Habits - The Art of Prayer

Habits.  We all have them.  At some point in our life we did something and then kept doing it.  Habits have a life of their own.  They are kind of like breathing.  You do habits without thinking.  It’s part of your daily ritual.  You wake up, you brush your teeth, you put on deodorant.  Sometimes too much – sometimes not enough!  And you go on with your day.

Habits are a good thing – except when they are not!  I recently saw a list of bad habits that someone had compiled.  The usual suspects were on there – smoking, swearing, alcohol abuse.  But then there were some others that ranked right up there – watching reality tv, stress shopping, too much social media, video games, eating chocolate (not quite sure why that’s bad!) and ketchup.  You might be able to add a few more.

There are also good habits.  Habits that help us stay healthy – eating right, exercising, spending dedicating quality time with family members.  During these next five weeks, we will focus on spiritual habits, things that we can and should do to develop our spiritual capacity and our relationship with God.  While there are numerous ones we could look at, we are going to examine these five: prayer, fasting, evangelism, worship, and service.  Our goal is not to get stuck in a routine that forgets the vital purposes of each of these habits, but to learn to make these habits as common and as important as breathing.  When we as a people, when I as a person, begin to operate in these five areas as a matter of habit, we will find ourselves flowing in the center of God’s will, accomplishing his purposes, living a life without regrets.
When Jesus walked and talked with the people in the countryside, his neighbors, co-workers, clients, business owners, friends – he had the chance to observe their daily habits.  It was common for people in the Jewish religious tradition to pray.  But life was hard, conditions were brutal, and just as today, prayer could easily become a perfunctory ritual that one did.  It denoted status, at times it even demeaned others.  That was not the intent of prayer, at all! – Ever!  Growing weary of his observations, Jesus called his followers over and gave a prayer model, which we find in our text today.  This teaching became known as the Lord’s prayer.  In reality- it’s our prayer.  It teaches us how to pray. There is power in reciting it, but there is greater power in understanding how this prayer model is intended to place us in right relationship with our Creator as we call upon his holy name for salvation.
Please stand with me as you are able as we pray together the Lord’s Prayer, as recorded in Matthew 6:9-13.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.     10 Your kingdom come,  your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. – AMEN

We could spend several weeks or months, unpacking everything that is contained within this passage, but today, we will only look at the first 2 verses.  This sets the stage for what we do.  The concepts contained in these two verses teach us what our attitude towards God should be in prayer.  This is the one aspect of prayer that we often forget.  We usually jump straight to the next few verses.
It’s a whole lot easier to pray for the give me this, give me that.  I want this, I want that.  Keep me safe, protect me.  And those are good prayers, valid prayers.  But if that is all there is, then we don’t really know what prayer is all about.  That’s no different from a prayer to a pagan god, a request to the mall Santa, or a text message to your spouse to pick you up something from the store.  Absolutely, the scripture says to make your requests be known to God.  But before you make them known to God, you better know God.  If you look back a couple verses to get the context of the teaching here, that was the problem Jesus had with the people who were making a show of their fancy prayers.  They were more worried about getting others to know how important they were instead of getting to know God.
Who do you think I’ll have an easier time getting a $100 bill from?  Asking a friend of mine that knows what I need or walking up to a stranger I meet at the amusement park.  Simple, right?  We understand that part intuitively, but then we throw out all the windows when it comes to God.  For some reason, we often think that God owes us because we got ourselves in a mess. God doesn’t owe us a thing.  We have no leverage over God.  So, why pray?  Because prayer puts us in a position to see God for who he is and what He wants to do and how you and I can be a part of it.  Prayer is a vital spiritual habit.

So how do we pray?  That’s a question that Jesus answers.  And he begins by wanting us to focus on the Unfathomable God choosing to descent from heaven and engage with us personally in our daily lives.  Jesus defines prayer as·1) Talking to the one who cares deeply about you and has the capacity to provide anything, anytime. – Our Father, In Heaven.
Jesus addresses the God of the universe, the Creator, the one made every living thing, not with a formal dignified title, even though God is worthy of those – but with a relational word signifying closeness.  He and the father are one, yet different persons.  Jesus, in his incarnate self, had a specific mission and goal to achieve in the plan of redemptive salvation.  In his mortal, human condition, he expressed his prayer in the closest relational terms that you and I could understand.  Abba.  Daddy, Papa.  The one from whom I originate from.  The one who gave me life.  The one who cares for me.
This is an example of what a true father is.  Unfortunately, in our fallen, broken world, too many fathers have absconded from their responsibilities, and neglected the God-given task of raising their children with a Christ-centered moral compass, in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  Too many sons and daughters have felt the rage, abuse, insecurities, and abandonment of their broken fathers, without ever feeling, seeing, or experiencing the unconditional love that should be there.
The message here is two-fold.  First, if you do not have a father, or if your father has not loved you like you should have been loved, then the heavenly father will give you a spirit of adoption and will become your daddy.  Second, if you have been the father who has not loved your children in the way that they should have been, He can serve as the model to restore you into becoming the father you ought to be and can be again.  When we come to prayer in the right position, God reshapes the hearts of children to fathers and fathers to their children.
I enjoy watching young fathers at the carnival.  I often see them doting over their first-born child.  An 18-month-old can point to a large stuffed animal and giggle, and suddenly the father is carrying home a 6 -foot stuffed teddy bear.  It’s only after the child’s nursery looks like a zoo menagerie, that dads get the clue that maybe their kid doesn’t need all that stuff!  Great fathers want to not only supply the needs of their children, but also their fun wants as well.  When my daughters ask me for something, I would like to get them it.  But there are times when I can’t.  I don’t have the money, the resources, the capacity to give them everything they want.  There are times, hen all I have to give them is my love.  Our heavenly father gives us his love.  He cares for us.  He supplies us with our needs.  But our Father doesn’t have the limitations that I do.  He has something I do not have.  Capacity.  What makes Him better than me in the fatherhood department is this:  he has both the care and the capacity to provide for his children.  Anytime, Anytime.  When I’m asked to give my kid a car – I only have the capacity to give a Matchbox car.  He has the capacity to give much more!  I’m not saying God is going to be raining down cars!    What I’m saying is this – God can give you everything that you really truly need, exactly when you need it.  Not a moment before, not a moment after.  Don’t forget – He’s got this!

Jesus further defines that Prayer is 2) asking God to keep His end of the bargain, when acknowledging you have broken yours.
After establishing that God is all powerful and can do anything because he loves and cares about us, Jesus turns to the next aspect of our positioning in prayer – the recognition of our humility and station.  Too often we confuse boldness with arrogance.  We have misapplied Hebrews 4:16, which reminds us to come boldly before the throne.  The ESV translates it better – “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Let’s put that into a real situation, a scenario which the Hebrew people knew – the story of Esther.  If you recall, Esther did not enter into Kings Xerxes presence with arrogance.  She knew full well that with one nod of the King’s head, she could easily lose hers!  She was so nervous about appearing before him, she tried to find any other way to accomplish the task, but Mordecai convinced her this was the only path forward.  She walked into that throne room, not confident in her own actions, but confident that this was the only place hope could be found.  Our position before God as we come to prayer should not be of arrogance insisting that God bend to our demands; instead it should be one of humility comforted by the knowledge that God is where our help comes from.  The 121st psalmist had it correct, when from a humble position on the ground, he writes, “I will life my eyes to the hills… my help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Why are we on the ground, in a position of humility?  Because we have broken our promises.  We have messed up.  We can not enter into the presence of the King, until we are made holy.  That is what this whole second phrase is all about.  Hallowed be your name.  In other words, God, you are set apart and sanctified.  God you are holy, and I am not.  God you have kept your promises, while I have broken mine.  Every single covenant that God has made with humankind, we have managed to shatter and destroy.  But there is something that we can be thankful for.  Very thankful.  Because our loving father had the foreknowledge that we would probably mess things up, he put in a warranty.  The promise was not guaranteed by our actions, but by his.
If I went to Target or Walmart, and brought back a glass baking dish, with my receipt within the certain day window, they would give me a refund or store credit.  That’s what good customer service does.  Now, if I went to the counter with my same glass baking dish and told the clerk it was broken, and then proceeded to take the perfectly good dish and shatter it on the floor, the only thing I might get is a police escort to the big house.
This simple phrase, hallowed be they name, is a reminder that we should all be headed to the big house, because our choices have shattered the beautiful hand crafted, unique designs that God made each one of us.  This verse hearkens back to Ezekiel 36:22-23 where God states “It is not for your sake that I am about to act – but for the sake of my holy name which you have profaned.  Through you, I will vindicate my holiness”
When we pray, we allow God to illuminate his holiness through our shattered and broken lives.  It is not by our fervent prayers that the hand of God is moved.  The apostle James makes it clear – it is through the prayers of a righteous man.  Who here is righteous?  None of us our own our own accounts, none of us are on our merits.  We are righteous, we are sanctified, we are made holy, only because he made us that way, called us by His name, and has stamped and sealed us through the cross.
In the next petition which puts us into the right position of prayer, Jesus reminds us that prayer is 3) Accepting the fact that God is executing a plan and a purpose in your eternal best interests.  Your Kingdom come.  Your will be done.
Our prayers are not to be prayed in selfish interests.  They are conduits to activate the wishes of the Creator.  When Adam and Eve rebelled and chose to worship the serpent instead of God, this world fell into spiritual darkness.  God provided them a way of escape, a plan of salvation, and placed a prayer on their lips – that the principalities and powers of this present world would someday be removed.  That a new heavens and new earth would replace this old one.  That the death and destruction, war and famine, hate and brokenness would be transformed into life and growth, peace and fullness, love and restoration.  The Kingdom of God is where the lion and the lamb can rest together.  Where swords are beaten into plowshares.  Where pain, poverty, and pity exist no more.  That is the kingdom goal.  That is the possibility and plan that Jesus ushered into the world through his crucifixion and resurrection.  That is what the conviction of the Holy spirit upon our conscience in this present age strives to complete.  We are living in the Kingdom now, but not yet complete.  Let us pray in the rest of his Kingdom, let us pray for His return.
That prayer upon our lips is why we can adopt a submissive posture.  Lord, your will be done.
When my teacher tells me to write a 5-page paper, double spaced, 12-point font, Times New Roman, with 1-inch margins – I don’t argue.  I do it.  Could I write the same exact words, with the same points and phrases using poster board paper and big bold-faced print?  Sure, I could.  But I won’t get a good grade – because that’s not what she asked me to do!  If I want to succeed, I follow the instructions.
One of my teachers in middle school, handed out the unit test.  At the top of the paper was printed in Big, Black Bold letters.  Read the entire test both sides, two times, thoroughly before completing any answer.  Most of us, including me, glanced at it, and then started answering the questions.  A few, following the instructions, saw at the bottom of the 2nd page, this simple statement.  “To get a perfect grade on this test, just put your name at top and turn it in now.”  The people read the instructions and followed them, not only got the reward of a great test score, they had the rest of the class period to do whatever they wanted.  It’s a simple principle.  Follow God’s instructions the first time, not only will you succeed, but you will have plenty of time for the other items God created in your personality to do.
God knows exactly what is in your best interests.  Not just for eternity but now as well. 
So, this is what I want us to remember today.  This is the motto I want for our church.  This is what will give us life, not just for today, or next year, but the next decades.

A praying people is a powerful people
— with unlimited potential
When we pray these first few lines of the Lords prayer and take them to heart.  When we reshape our attitude towards what prayer is and what it can accomplish, when we realize that prayer is merely aligning us alongside and within God’s perfect plans, then we will become an unstoppable force.
Young sailors quickly learn that fighting the wind is useless.  All it does is tire you out, exasperate you, and cause you not to get very fair.  Great sailors, however, discover that by adjusting the sales, and harnessing the energy of the wind, they can chart a course and accomplish their mission.  The Holy Spirit is blowing a new wave of his power.  When we pray, we rely on that wind to accomplish what God purposes in our lives.
What happens to the sailboat where there is no wind?  An equatorial region of the Atlantic is known for this.  It’s called the doldrums.  Sailors never wanted to be stuck in the doldrums.  There is no activity, no movement.  The air and current are stagnant.  Prayer takes us out of the doldrums.  Prayer moves us a way from a place of inaction to a place of action.
E.M. Bounds, a prominent American Methodist pastor from the late 1800’s wrote extensively on the power of prayer.  Here is one phrase that is true today.

When faith ceases to pray, it ceases to live.”
We cannot afford to stop living.  We are called to grow stronger, we are called to advance.  In order to do that, we must take serious inventory of our spiritual status.  How am I approaching prayer?  Is my heart right?  Am I humble in prayer?  Do I believe in the power of prayer?  Let us take the charge to the Thessalonians seriously!  Pray without ceasing!  Pray like your life depends on it.  Because it does!