Many years ago I found myself in my car on my daily commute from Dana Point, California to Irvine. I had done this drive many times before, in fact, for over a year. I had moved from Long Beach to live with my brother-in-law and sister for a change of scenery, and frankly, spiritual renewal. The past few years had been hard on my soul and I knew that my old life in Long Beach (while not bad in and of itself) was not going to help me get back on track, so at the advice of my family, I moved. My job had offered me a transfer and so it was done.
I don’t remember my prayer life when I moved, I don’t remember how I felt, to what degree I was close or not close to God, all I knew is that I was in bad shape and hanging on by the faith of what I imagine the Apostles had when they declared to Jesus, “we have nowhere else to go…who else has the words of life like you do!”
And so, on my drive to work that morning, as I was praying, I noticed myself looking at the passenger seat of my car and wondering why I’d be having a conversation with someone in my car when there was no one there. It was then that I felt a smile come across my face. God was with me in that car, as odd as that might seem and for many months I had been, on that commute, with Him and didn’t even realize it.
Then the past few months all came flooding back; Sometimes we would listen to music and just sing together, other times we would be silent, just driving and listening to the road and watching the traffic go by, but other times, like this time, we would be having a conversation. Man to man, father and son, creator to creation. As I write these words, even now, I long to have that kind of relationship back with my father. How far have I come, yet how far away I still am. Even in the new movement, in the Kingdom restored, I feel so far.
Can I pose a question to you? It might be a bit rude to ask this but let’s chat for a moment. Have you ever talked with God versus talked to God? You know there is a difference, right? Just one simple word; to versus with, can have a profound impact on the outcome of our times with God. Over the past few years, while my prayer life and connectedness to God have gotten much better than they have been in the past, I find myself stuck in a rut of the same process and program in my prayers.
I’ve heard plenty of helpful prayer programs and acrostics (A.C.T.S. anyone?) to help aid in my times with God, but all of those seem to still be me talking toGod not withGod. What’s the difference you may ask? Well, here is the difference with me.
“Dear God, let me tell you about all my problems, all the challenges I have today and this week, all the troubles that are in my life. Now that you know all that (which, funny enough, he already knows), let me tell you all the ways that I want you to deal with these problems (since I already know what needs to happen). Thank you for listening and for doing what I’ve asked you to do. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Now if I am feeling a bit more spiritual, I might add something like this: “God, please do what I’ve asked you to do, and do it now please. Otherwise, if it’s not your will for it to happen now (seriously, why is it not your will!), then give me the patience to endure the endless suffering of your silence until you do come through.”
Now yes, for the sake of making my point I am being a bit more dramatic than I would normally be in my prayers to the creator of the universe (or am I?), but you understand what I’m driving at.
For the record, there is nothing wrong with telling God our problems and asking him to intervene, or even telling him what we think ought to be done. We were given a mind, and a heart and the Scriptures to discern what is right and wrong and what to do, but the bigger question that I have to ask myself is:
Are we giving God a chance to talk back?
When we “puke” on God, giving him an info dump and just keep babbling on about things, are we not acting like those who Jesus himself spoke against in Matthew 6:7-8?
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for the think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
It was in this vein of conversation that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. In contrast to the religious and the pagans alike, we are not to pray like others, we are to pray like Jesus! But what does that look like?
Well, again I go back to the statement I made earlier: It’s about talking with God verses talking to God. At its core, talking to God is a dialog with all the standard components of a great sales pitch. While the other is a relationship, a conversation. God is not after information, he is after intimacy and which do you think will build that more?
Over the next few minutes, I want to walk through what I have learned, and am learning about what it looks like to talk with God versus what I normally do, and it all begins with an understanding of who we are. Let’s look at our key text for today. Turn to Luke 11:1-4:
1One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’ ”
Identity Leads to Intimacy
The way that Jesus opened up his prayer was altogether different than the disciples had heard before. These men knew how to pray. A casual reading of this passage would lead one to believe that these men had no clue how to pray, however in Jewish culture, men especially, went to school up to our equivalent of junior high where they were taught the scriptures and memorized books of the Bible, and were taught in the various prayers of their heritage. So, what was so different about the way that Jesus prayed that caught the disciple’s attention that they would ask, as if to say “Hey, we know nothing, will you teach us how to pray like you do?”
The difference was right up front, “Father.” Jesus prayed to God, Yahweh, the God of Angel Armies, as his father! When we pray with our identity in mind, it leads to intimacy! We are his sons and daughters, he is our father.
Now, as Americans, now dare I say as men and women who are growing up in society today, the term Father has a lot of different meanings, and if we are honest, most of them are not good! Sure some of us grew up with amazing fathers, but that is not the story for the majority of people living these days. Our relationship, or lack thereof, with our physical father has had a great impact on our relationship with our heavenly father! This is where we start! We have to change the way we think about fatherhood and see God as our father and dig into the scriptures to find out how he thinks, how he works and the kind of father he is.
Check out what Jesus goes on to say in Luke 11:9-13:
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.10For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
That last verse (vs. 13) in Matthew’s version (7:11) says this:
“…how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Many of our fathers here on earth gave us good gifts. Christmas, birthdays, that fun vacation, that amazing fishing trip, etc. Jesus takes those into perspective and says, “How much more…” the gifts of our Father in heaven will be if we only ask him. He is longing to hear what we want, what we need. But he is longing even more for a relationship with us.
So I ask again, do we give our Father a holy info dump? Or are we actively seeking a relationship, a real intimacy with him? Do we apply good communication skills in our relationship with God just like we would in our marriage, our dating relationship or a discipling relationship? God deserves that and we need it!
The funny thing is that God will wait. He will wait for us to talk, and talk, and talk. He will wait patiently and will let us say our piece and then when we are ready to listen, he will speak. The scripture say that his kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). He does not want to interrupt us because he loves us and will wait for us to stop and listen. Our father longs to speak to us, family, it’s time we stop talking and listen.
Follow the Fruit
So, as we spend more time in conversation with our Father; talking with him rather than just talking to him, we are confronted with a question. Whenever I have talked about this idea in discipling or have taught on it before the question usually comes up:
How do I hear the voice of God?
This is a great question, and it is the right question. While I’m not able to dive into this topic at length here, I will give some direction and pray that it is enough to get you pointed in the right direction.
First, God has given us his Word. The Holy Scriptures, the Bible. This by far is the primary way that we hear from God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says;
16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The Bible, all scripture, Old and New Testament has been breathed out, literally spoken by God. We can trust it, we can follow its guidance and obey it with all clarity and confidence.
2 Peter 1:20-21 says: 20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
We can trust the Word of God, the Scriptures are reliable and truthful. They are our primary source of direction and the primary way we hear the voice of God! But there is another voice that we can listen to. The voice of the Holy Spirit inside of us. It’s called our conscience.
The New Testament is full of examples of Paul relying on his conscience to keep him on the right path. Whether it be helping him stay clear on his purpose in dealing with the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 8 & 10) or in his writings to Timothy he teaches the young Evangelist that he must lead a life with a clear conscience and beware of those who have “seared their conscience” and in so doing have hardened their ability to hear the voice of God.
I realize that to some this might seem like some “strange teaching” but put it to the test. How many of us, at just the right time remember a scripture, or remember to get advice or heed the advice we already have gotten when we are unsure or are praying about a challenge we are having. This is the Holy Spirit speaking to us through that “still small voice.” Paul, in Romans 9:1 speaks of his conscience being confirmed by the Holy Spirit. This is God’s voice to us.
The next question that comes up is: “How can I trust my conscience?” I mean, how do I know it’s not just my own voice, or worse, the voice of the Devil? And these are great questions. Jesus gives some great direction in this area in Matthew 7:15-20:
15“Watch out for false prophets [a false voice]. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
How do we recognize God’s voice versus our own voice (what we want in our flesh), or worse yet, the voice of the Evil One? We follow the fruit. Here is what this looks like practically:
If your “conscience” tells you to go and sleep with that girl in your world history class, you can safely say that it is not the voice of God speaking to you because the Bible is pretty clear about what to do with those desires! The bible is pretty clear in a lot of cases of what is right and wrong and we must follow no matter what our feelings!
On the other hand, should you take that new job offer that you received yesterday? Well, the Bible isn’t speaking directly to that scenario so you have some options. First, pray about it and then listen. Where does your spirit lean? Then get advice from wise council about it.
I remember when I was commuting for almost 2 hours from my home in San Mateo, to Richmond, California, all the way on the other side of the Bay and an opportunity came for me to move to a similar role that was just 15 minutes from my home. Seems like a no brainer right? Wrong! It was a tough decision as the company I was with wanted to promote me to a high level position in the organization and were promising me some great perks. I was torn! So, I prayed, sought council and got some great advice. Weighted out the pros and cons, prayed all the more and my family prayed. I ended up following the advice, though it was not comfortable for me, and it turned out to be the best decision that I have made from a financial, family and personal happiness perspective that I have made in a while.
This kind of lifestyle takes time. You can’t rush Gods voice and you can’t assume that the first words to pop into your head are the right ones. If you follow the outcome of the voice that you hear, does it lead to righteousness, does it lead you closer to God and his people? If so, and it is confirmed by the Scriptures and wise council then head in that direction. If not, run away!
I think it was the Reformation leader Martin Luther who was quoted as saying, “There is one voice that I have learned to hear above all others.” This is a pattern of behavior that I have cultivated over the past 19 years as a Disciple and has not been easy. It takes work to listen to the voice of God even when you want to do what you want to do. It takes trust, yes, even trust in man! But as I listen to the Scriptures, as I trust the men and women that God has placed in my life and trust that He wants to give me good gifts, I follow the fruit and it has not lead me astray yet.
Brothers and sisters, this is what it looks like to have a conversation with God. This is what it looks like to speak to then listen to God. But we have to listen hard. We have to shut down the noise of the world, we have to quite our souls long enough for him to get a word in! We need to stop talking long enough to not just take a breath to begin our next sentence, but to stop and truly listen to the voice of our Father!
Praying with Eyes Open
My kids are 7 and 8 years old now and we have prayed with them since they were born. They have grown up in a Christian home and prayer has been an important part of the Schram family life (although honestly, because of this study I’ve become convicted that it has not been as central as I thought it was). Many of you who have kids, or who have grown up in Christian homes know that you teach your kids to pray by having them fold their hands, bow their heads and close their eyes, right? When my kids pray and they keep their eyes open, I typically get a little sharp with them and tell them to close their eyes. What’s with this close your eyes thing?
Personally, I do not close my eyes when I go on my prayer walks, or pray in the car with my eyes closed while I’m on my way to work, or on my way to an important meeting, yet this is so central to how I teach my kids to pray.
Now, I realize that it is a sign of respect, a sign of reverence, but the way that I put such a priority on it, it might as well be a sin if they pray with their eyes open. I wonder if many of us are doing the same thing.
Sure, we pray with our eyes open, but do we really? Paul in Ephesians 1:18-19:
18I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Sometimes we can pray but still not see because we are not looking with the eyes of our hearts. I find another interesting phrase that Jesus taught his disciples to pray in what we read earlier. Let’s take a look at it again in Luke 11:2:
“…your kingdom come,”
In Matthews’s version it says in chapter 6:10:
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
We are to pray for God’s Kingdom to come! Now, we know the Kingdom study, we know that the Kingdom is already here, however, Matthew clarifies what Jesus means by “Your Kingdom come.” And the meaning is; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!
We pray for this, we pray for it when we pray for our special missions goals to be blown out, we pray for this when we pray for someone who is studying the Bible to be baptized, we pray for this when our father has cancer and we pray for them to be healed, we pray for this whenever we pray for something that God would want! God’s will to be done on earth…as it is in Heaven.
Do you realize that there is no lag in God asking something to be done and it being done in heaven? It’s just done. He is the father, he is the king, and he is God and is just obeyed! But if we look around us, even today, do we see his will on earth being done?
What would it look like if at the snap of my fingers (**Snap**), everyone on earth started doing what the Bible said? It would be heaven on earth wouldn’t it?
Many times in our lives we can pray this prayer with our eyes shut and in our busyness and in our hurriedness, not see all that God is doing in, through and around us. Are we praying with our eyes shut, or with our eyes open?
There is a wonderful song that the denominational world sings, and the chorus goes:
“Open the eyes of my heart Lord, open the eyes of my heart, I want to see you, I want to see you.”
Let us not be like the men and women of this world who, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 4:4:
4The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Let us pray with our eyes open! We need to pray “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to see you!” I want to see all that you are doing.
Jesus said in John 4:35
35Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
Jesus says, “Open your eyes!!” and see the harvest! When we look at the world, do we see it the way that Jesus sees it, in need of the Gospel? Do we see what God is doing in the hearts of the men and women that we walk by every day? The men and women we interact with at the coffee shop? The meeting at work? The playground with their kids?
We need to have our eyes opened by God so we can see what he is doing in our own lives, and the lives of others.
Family, lets pray talk with our father in heaven! Let’s listen to his voice, and ask that he open our eyes so that when we pray, we can see all the good gifts he is giving and all the good he is doing in sending us to this lost world!