We are currently going through a sermon series at The Avenue Church entitled Sword and the Trowel, which is a reference to Nehemiah 4:15-17. Just as the first sermon in the series was designed to do, it has created a space for our congregation to ponder and consider the multiple facets of prayer. For myself, the sermon has challenged me to dig into how prayer shapes our communion with God, what we believe it is supposed to accomplish, and why I don’t always pray as ought to.
Thinking about prayer has ushered me into not just merely praying more. Instead, it has directed my attention towards how dependence upon Christ produces something more than a choir list type of prayer life: it creates childlike delight upon being in the presence of the Father. Anyone can do something regularly and still remain unchanged. That’s why religion, though it’s not a dirty concept or unnecessary in practice, has the potential to trap us into juggling a double life of presenting ourselves perfect publicly while being neglectful privately. Committed spiritual discipline can only be unfeigned insofar as our delight in Christ radiates in our lives.
Orion Berridge says, “Without worshipful prayer, we pray in a self-centered manner. Worship in prayer produces God-centered prayer.” There’s the old saying ’you are what you eat.’ As disciple of Christ ‘you are what you pray.’ If your hearts greatest desire is to acquire the “finer” things in life, that will be the trajectory of the desires you present before God in prayer. If the appetite of your life is to walk down a smooth and painless road that has no resistance, your prayers will become self-centered. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus tells us “For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of the following beliefs:
“A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
“God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
“The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
“God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
“Good people go to heaven when they die.”
Just so we are tracking on the same terrain, this is what most American’s believe about God. Even those who would regard themselves as Christians. In fact, 65% of people in the U.S. believe that as long as you believe in a God or are religious, you will inherit eternal life.
So what does this have to do with prayer? Everything.
Our prayers must be confident. When we lack confidence in the will of God and His Word, we will lack surety in what we should be praying, how we should be praying, and who we should be worshiping. Lack of confidence in the sufficiency of the sovereign and holy Christ makes a great recipe for a moralistic, genie-like, half-pint god who grants our every wish. Our most natural disposition is to be self-reliant, and where there is self-reliance, there is an overabundance of self-confidence. Does that mean that there is actually a such thing has placing too much confidence in my own self and my own desires? That’s exactly what I’m saying.
We refer to those self-glorifying desires as idols. They sneak swiftly into our prayer life just as quickly as a home starts collecting dust. And why do places and things collect dust? Because we stop paying attention to them. We begin to place value on things that are nickel-and-dime and only receive the applause of mere men. We build a god––a mountainous one compiled of our own wants, business, and luxuries. We actually buy into the false notion that the golden calf is enough for us.
The Contentment We Long For
J. I. Packer tells us, “There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have energy to serve him, boldness to share him, and contentment in him.”
Our longing for contentment in how we handle prayer can only be found in the pure presence of God, where the fullness of joy and pleasure is found (Psalm 16:11). Jesus reminds us that He is the bread of life (John 6:35), the One from whom we receive holy refreshment. Even in the midst of affliction, God promises to feed us an everlasting provision if we will withdraw ourselves from our convenience driven consuming, and seek Him and His marvelous provision He has for His people (Psalm 22:26). Our Father we will give us true peace if we feast upon His finest wheat (Psalm 147:14).
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