Thursday, March 29, 2007

Two-Way Prayer

(These, like usual, are my unedited notes from my talk on 3/25/07.)

I want to start with a story that I think you’ll like…

Well-known Broadway producer Jed Harris once became convinced he was losing his hearing. He visited a specialist, who pulled out a gold watch and asked "Can you hear this ticking?" "Of course," Harris replied. The specialist walked to the door and asked the question again. Harris concentrated and said, "Yes, I can hear it clearly." Then the doctor walked into the next room and repeated the question a third time. A third time Harris said he could hear the ticking. "Mr. Harris," the doctor concluded, "there is nothing wrong with your hearing. You just don't listen."

When many people think of conversation they focus on the, “What am I going to say?” part. They forget that for conversation to be real and meaningful it has to be a two-way thing.

You have to listen as much, if not more than you, speak! To have a meaningful conversation you have to also focus on the “How can I really listen to them?” part.

Professional golfer Tommy Bolt was playing in Los Angeles and had a caddy with a reputation of constant chatter. Before they teed off, Bolt told him, "Don't say a word to me. And if I ask you something, just answer yes or no." During the round, Bolt found the ball next to a tree, where he had to hit under a branch, over a lake and onto the green. He got down on his knees and looked through the trees and sized up the shot.

"What do you think?" he asked the caddy. "Five-iron?"
"No, Mr. Bolt," the caddy said.
"What do you mean, not a five-iron?" Bolt snorted.
"Watch this shot."
The caddy rolled his eyes. "No-o-o, Mr. Bolt."

But Bolt hit it and the ball stopped about two feet from the hole. He turned to his caddy, handed him the five-iron and said, "Now what do you think about that? You can talk now." "Mr. Bolt," the caddy said, "that wasn't your ball."

When people only focus on themselves and what they have to say, then they miss out on a major part of the conversation!

When you change the focus and begin to focus on listening more it changes everything! When you really start listening people will want to talk to you, because being heard is what we all crave!

Jim Reapsome, Homemade.
Teenage prostitutes, during interviews in a San Francisco study, were asked: "Is there anything you needed most and couldn't get?" Their response, invariably preceded by sadness and tears was unanimous: "What I needed most was someone to listen to me. Someone who cared enough to listen to me."

Listening is the missing ingredient to meaningful conversations and powerful relationships.

But you know what? This concept doesn’t just apply to conversation. This same concept applies to prayer! Most people think of prayer as one-way. I ask. I get. They focus on the, “What am I going to say to God?” part.

But that’s only a small portion of what prayer is! Prayer is a conversation with God. What’s a conversation? It’s two-way! When pray we need to not just be in a talking-mode, but we need to also be in a listening-mode!

Listening is the missing ingredient to meaningful prayer and a powerful relationship with God.

C.S. Lewis said, “The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”

When we don’t pray we miss out on some things.

James 4:2-3 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

Did you hear what James said? There are some things we don’t have in our lives because we don’t ask God for them!

That’s a big deal, but what I really want us to realize today is that we also miss out on getting direction from God when we don’t pray. That’s even more important!

Like I told you guys a couple Sundays ago, I’ve been really feeling like God is calling me and us as a church, to pray more. I came across two stories from God’s word that have really been making me think about how much we miss out from hearing from God when we don’t take time to pray.

I want you to see these stories today. The first one is in Acts 9:3-19.

Saul, before he became a Christ follower and was later called Paul, was eager to destroy the Lord's followers. He went to the high priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus.

He asked their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

He had no mercy about this and people were afraid of him! But he didn’t know that his life was about to be changed forever on his road trip to Damascus, on his way to capture these Christ-followers.

Listen to what its says in Acts 9:3-6…
As he was nearing Damascus on this mission, a brilliant light from heaven suddenly beamed down upon him! 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?"

5"Who are you, sir?" Saul asked. And the voice replied, "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do."

Anybody notice something about what Jesus said that shows his connection to the church?

Jesus told Saul that he was persecuting HIM! He didn’t say, “You’re persecuting my followers. He said, “You’re persecuting me!” Alright let’s keep going…

7The men with Saul stood speechless with surprise, for they heard the sound of someone's voice, but they saw no one! 8As Saul picked himself up off the ground, he found that he was blind. 9So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days. And all that time he went without food and water.

Now listen to what happens next…

10Now there was a believer F43 in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord!" he replied.

11The Lord said, "Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you arrive, ask for Saul of Tarsus. He is praying to me right now. 12I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him so that he can see again."

Do you know what I like about this part where God tells Ananias where Paul is? It gives us a glimpse of God’s knowledge of us. It shows that God knows where you’re at right now in your life.

He knows where you are figuratively (what you’re going through) and in reality (he knows your address!)
God understands what’s happening in your life and where to find you.

But besides that, think about what God just told poor, old, innocent Ananias! God just told him, “Hey, Ananias I want you to go pray and lay hands on the guy who’s been trying to throw all my followers like you in prison.” How would you feel if God told you to go do that? Probably the same way Ananias felt! Listen to his response…

13"But Lord," exclaimed Ananias, "I've heard about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14And we hear that he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest every believer in Damascus."

15But the Lord said, "Go and do what I say. For Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16And I will show him how much he must suffer for me."

17So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may get your sight back and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18Instantly something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19Afterward he ate some food and was strengthened.

Can you imagine how different things would’ve been if Paul didn’t hear from Jesus that day on the road to Damascus?

Can you imagine what would’ve happened if Ananias wouldn’t have heard God and actually did what God told him?

When we don’t take time to pray and hear from God WE miss out, and OTHERS miss out, on important things that could change our lives for ever!

We’ve got to take time to pray. We’ve got to learn to “listen” more when we pray!

In, “Our Daily Bread”, December 29, 1993 issue it told a story about a prisoner in a Soviet prison camp named Ivan, “Ivan endured all the horrors of a Soviet prison camp. One day he is praying with his eyes closed when a fellow prisoner notices him and says with ridicule, "Prayers won't help you get out of here any faster." Opening his eyes, Ivan answers, "I do not pray to get out of prison but to do the will of God."

When we don’t take time for “two-way” prayer we miss out on knowing God’s will and direction for us. We miss out on knowing what he wants us to do!

Prayer helps us to discover God’s will and to surrender ourselves to it.

E. Stanley Jones in
Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome, said this… “Prayer is surrender--surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boathook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.”

There’s another amazing example of this in a story in the next chapter in Acts 10.

1In Caesarea there lived a Roman army officer named Cornelius, who was a captain of the Italian Regiment. 2He was a devout man who feared the God of Israel, as did his entire household. He gave generously to charity and was a man who regularly prayed to God. (Did you catch that?) 3One afternoon about three o'clock, he had a vision in which he saw an angel of God coming toward him. "Cornelius!" the angel said.

4Cornelius stared at him in terror. "What is it, sir?" he asked the angel. And the angel replied, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have not gone unnoticed by God! 5Now send some men down to Joppa to find a man named Simon Peter. 6He is staying with Simon, a leatherworker who lives near the shore. Ask him to come and visit you."

Let’s pause the story for a second, cause I don’t want you to miss this…

Don’t ever think your prayers or your actions are useless! What this angel just told Cornelius is something that should remind us that God pays attention to our words and actions! (Did you also again notice God knew someone’s current address?) Alright, let’s get back to the story…

7As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. 8He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.

Alright now watch what happens the next day…

Peter Visits Cornelius

9The next day as Cornelius's messengers were nearing the city, Peter went up to the flat roof to pray. (Did you catch what Peter took time to do, like Cornelius did?) It was about noon, 10and he was hungry. But while lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw the sky open, and something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners. 12In the sheet were all sorts of animals, reptiles, and birds. 13Then a voice said to him, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat them."

14"Never, Lord," Peter declared. "I have never in all my life eaten anything forbidden by our Jewish laws. F48 "

15The voice spoke again, "If God says something is acceptable, don't say it isn't." F49 16The same vision was repeated three times. Then the sheet was pulled up again to heaven.

17Peter was very perplexed. What could the vision mean? Just then the men sent by Cornelius found the house and stood outside at the gate. 18They asked if this was the place where Simon Peter was staying. 19Meanwhile, as Peter was puzzling over the vision, the Holy Spirit said to him, "Three men have come looking for you. 20Go down and go with them without hesitation. All is well, for I have sent them."

21So Peter went down and said, "I'm the man you are looking for. Why have you come?"

22They said, "We were sent by Cornelius, a Roman officer. He is a devout man who fears the God of Israel and is well respected by all the Jews. A holy angel instructed him to send for you so you can go to his house and give him a message." 23So Peter invited the men to be his guests for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some other believers F50 from Joppa.

24They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for him and had called together his relatives and close friends to meet Peter. 25As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell to the floor before him in worship. 26But Peter pulled him up and said, "Stand up! I'm a human being like you!" 27So Cornelius got up, and they talked together and went inside where the others were assembled.

28Peter told them, "You know it is against the Jewish laws for me to come into a Gentile home like this. But God has shown me that I should never think of anyone as impure. 29So I came as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me."

30Cornelius told Peter the story of what happened when he was praying and how God told him to send for Peter. Then he said, “Now here we are, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you."

The Gentiles Hear the Good News

34Then Peter replied, "I see very clearly that God doesn't show partiality. 35In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36I'm sure you have heard about the Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37You know what happened all through Judea, beginning in Galilee after John the Baptist began preaching. 38And no doubt you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, for God was with him.

39"And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Israel and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by crucifying him, 40but God raised him to life three days later…”

Peter tells them the rest of the story and how Jesus is the one the prophets foretold about. And as he’s finishing something amazing happens

The Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit

44Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who had heard the message. 45The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles, too. 46And there could be no doubt about it, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter asked, 47"Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?" 48So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

This was a life changing experience for Cornelius and his friends and family. But it also was a life changing experience for Peter, because he and the other Disciples didn’t really understand that Jesus’ death and resurrection was for the world, not just for the Jews. When he saw them speak in tongues like they did, which was the sign that they were baptized in the Holy Spirit, he knew God accepted everyone through Jesus.

  • What would’ve happened if Cornelius didn’t take time that day to have “two-way” prayer with God? Would Cornelius’ and his friends and family ever have become Christ-followers if he didn’t? How long would it have taken this to happen?

  • What would’ve happened if Peter didn’t take time that day to have “two-way” prayer with God? Would he ever have known that Jesus died for the world, not just the Jews? How long would it have taken him to realize this?

When we don’t take time regularly for “two-way” prayer, then we miss out on things God wants to give us and do in our lives. But, we also miss out on something more important – we miss out on knowing God’s will and hearing from God.

Ps. 46:10 says "Be still, and know that I am God…”

William Barclay in “Prodigals and Those Who Love” gives us 3 things we need to always remember when we pray…

When we pray, remember:

1. The love of God that wants the best for us.
2. The wisdom of God that knows what is best for us.
3. The power of God that can accomplish it.

Every great believer who God has ever done amazing things in and through has known how important “two-prayer” is!

Martin Luther said, “If I should neglect prayer but a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.”

John Bunyon said, “Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer."

If we want God to do amazing things in and through our lives we have to spend more time in “two-way” prayer. It takes silence. It takes regular practice. It takes seeing how important it is and making time for it in our busy lives!

How does God speak to us? (Ask people)

1. Through his word.

2. Through others.

3. Through situations.

4. Through that still small voice.

5. Through dreams and visions. (Speaking in front of a large crowd before Bethany. Did it when we rapped.)

We need to always test what we feel God’s telling us through any of these other ways with his Word. God will never contradict or go against what he says in his word!

Listening is the missing ingredient to meaningful prayer and a powerful relationship with God! I want to encourage you to spend time this week talking and listening to God!

He might already be trying to speak to you about something you just haven’t stopped to listen or notice what he’s saying!

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Great message! I often wake up and ask the Lord, "what one thing do you want to tell me today?" Usually when I close my mouth, He opens His!