potter and clayToday we are going to be talking about prayer.  I think at one level or another everyone has at the very least heard of prayer.  Some of us maybe pray regularly.  Some of us really don’t think of praying too much until we find ourselves either in a bad spot, or really, really wanting something.  You know what I mean…the big promotion is up for grabs at work, the new home has just hit the market, someone you love is sick and in need of healing.  Or even bigger things like if your favorite football team could just win the big game so no one will make fun of you at work tomorrow.  Some of us, maybe have heard prayers at church or have seen prayer in the movies but have never really prayed on our own.  Where ever you are at in your own “prayer” life, I am willing to bet that you have an idea of what prayer is.  When most people think of prayer they think of us talking to God.  Maybe asking for things we need, or just trying to engage God in some way, and that is part of prayer, but what if I told you that prayer was about a lot more than you talking to God?  What if I told you that you have a God in heaven who loves you and wants to know you…I mean really know you, and He wants you to know Him?  I mean really know Him, and prayer is a huge way for you and I to draw close to God.  For many people prayer is about my wants, my needs, and my issues, but God is up to so much more than just making sure you get the red Ferrari, or making sure that your child makes the basketball team.  What if prayer is more about God than it is about us?  What if God is up to something greater than we realize?  You see in many ways that is what this whole series is about.  He is “The Potter” and we are “The Clay” and He is shaping and molding us each and every day of our lives.  So let’s just start right there for now, that prayer is about more than you and I talking to God and that God may be up to more than we realize.  God wants a closeness to us and He wants us to know Him, and prayer is a huge way for us to do just that.  The problem is we have taken the intimacy out of prayer and blocked it by focusing on ourselves, what we need to do, and what we need from God…which is the opposite of what Jesus told us prayer, the focus should shift off of us and onto God, not the other way around!

Matthew 6:6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.  (MSG)

So last week Ken opened up this series by asking us a very important question that I think really hit home for all of us; “What is shaping and molding us?”  He talked about how as a people we have learned to muscle through life without God, which is an interesting concept for a people created by God to be in relationship with Him.  When this starts to happen we seem to try to make sense of things the best we can.  I mean we aren’t engaging God, we aren’t reading scripture, we aren’t praying…so we have no way of understanding truly unconditional love, or what a truly unconditional relationship and pure love that God has for us would look like…and we make it into what makes sense to us.  We make a list of things we should do, and things we shouldn’t do.  Then if we do all the “do’s”, and don’t do all the “don’t do’s” we feel that we are well on our way.  We take this amazing, pure loving relationship that God wants to have and well…we human it all up!  We feel the need to understand something that we don’t understand so we decide it is all about our good behaviors.  So, if I believe in God, and (fill in the blank here…do good stuff, read the bible, go to church, etc) then we will get a happy life.  It becomes a formula that makes sense in my human brain:

               A (Believe in God) + B (Do Good Things) = C (God gives me happiness)

So basically, if I’m just a good person, you know believe in God and do good things, God will be happy with me and life will be great!  Listen being a good person is a great thing, but it is only the beginning!  God is up to so much more than we realize.  But with the focus on ourselves we have no concept of His amazing love, and grace.  He is shaping us, and molding us as a potter shapes and molds the clay.

What if I told you that God wants to be in an intimate relationship with you?

When you hear me make that statement how does it make you feel?  Do you believe it?  Could it be true or do you think God has much more important things to do than to hang out with you?  Let me tell you something…nothing is more important to God than you!  You are his child, and He loves you in ways that I’m not sure we can fully comprehend.

What if I told you that God actually wants to spend time with you?

So how does that hit your heart?  The God of the Universe wants to hang out with you.  He wants to spend time with you, He wants to know you.  Do you think He is too busy?  You know God can be everywhere at once right?  That means time isn’t an issue for Him!  He is beyond time.  Which means He has all the time in the world to hang out with you.  The question then becomes can you find the time to hang out with Him, or are you too busy?  He is up to something greater, but if your work schedule, the kids sports schedules, and all your important things get in the way…well that’s on you.  The God of the Universe wants to spend time with me…sorry I can’t do that God, too much going on!

What if I told you that you can walk in an intimate relationship and hold actual conversations with God?

“Sam now I get what you were saying there about God loving me, and wanting to hang with me…but I can’t walk with God!  That is reserved for prophets, and maybe Pastors and Priests, not for ordinary people like me!”  Well this is one we talk about all the time here at MRC…there are no amazing levels of holiness. (Although there are people out there that would love for you to think they are at a spiritual level of holiness that you and I can’t reach)  There is only us people, regardless of the titles in front of our names trying to do life with God or without Him and here’s the deal.  One of those ways of doing life comes with life to the full, you know joy, freedom, energy…literal life!  The other is a life of muscling through life without God, carrying the thousand pound back that Ken talked about last week.  I don’t know about you but one definitely sounds like more fun than the other.  Yes, God wants you to experience joy, fun, and life is that a new thought for you today it could be, because most people make Christianity about giving up all the fun right…not entering into life to the full!

So today as we talk about prayer I wanted to stay away from talking about the practical parts of prayer and fundamentally how you should do it, and help you with something much, much more important than whether you kneel or stand, than whether your eyes are closed or open, or what clothes you wear to do it, or whether you pray with thee’s and thou’s or whatever.  I want to talk to you today about walking in an intimate relationship with God, engaging into a conversation with Him, and drawing closer and closer to God each day.  He created you for a relationship with Him, and He wants you to know Him!

The reality is that walking through this life without God is exhausting, and we want you to engage that very life to the full that Jesus told you that He came to give you.  What’s interesting is that you can’t have life without God and we can’t find God without engaging into a relationship with Him!  Jesus really helps us by describing his relationship with us in John 10…check this out…

John 10:1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  NIV

So Jesus describes his relationship with us this way, he is the Shepherd and we are the sheep.  He calls out to us by name and leads us.  He literally says that he is going out ahead of us and we follow him because the sheep KNOW his voice.  Wow!  So if you think this through, Jesus is saying this is about much, much more than being a good person, or doing good things.   This is much bigger than the formula we spoke of earlier.

A (Believe in God) + B (Do Good Things) = C (God gives me happiness)

So it’s interesting, just like you and I have a hard time understanding this idea that it has less to do with us and more to do with God and entering into a truly intimate relationship with God, the people with Jesus didn’t understand what he was saying either, so he tries again…

John 10:6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. 7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  NIV

So this is such a key chunk of scripture, which ends with the verse that we use all the time here at MRC…Jesus literally came to give us life, and life to the full.  The reality is that this “life to the full” doesn’t come in a formula, and it certainly doesn’t come through our work and our efforts.  Jesus is literally saying that it takes more than believing in God and doing good things to experience life to the full.  It takes a couple of things:

  1. We must stay close to Him.
  2. We must listen to and know His voice.
  3. We must let Him lead.

God wants to engage into a truly intimate, close relationship with you.  I think for many people this fact gets lost.  We want the formula.  We want to know what we need to do for God and we want to know how hard we must work to achieve a life that would make him happy.  When all the while, God through his son Jesus took care of all the “work.”  He doesn’t want you exhausting yourself in good behaviors, he simply wants to love on you.  He wants you to experience life and life to the full, which by the way is way better than happiness.

Could this really be true?  Could God really want to engage into a friendship with some random person in Dillsburg, Pa?  I mean does God really care if I have a good time at my in-laws house this holiday season, or whether or not my job is going well?  It would seem that God has much bigger things to worry about than little old me right?  I want you to know something God, truly does care.  The God of the Universe loves you.  He wants to know you and wants you to know Him.  Listen to me, He doesn’t want to know some fake version of you that you polish up and show people at church on Sunday…He loves all of you.  Your good stuff, and your bad stuff.  God knows you.  Do you get that?  He knows all of you, and He is madly in love with you.  He cares and wants to engage you.  God knows you intimately…all of you.  Check this out:

Psalms 139:1 GOD, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. 2 I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. 3 You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. 4 You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. 5 I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too — your reassuring presence, coming and going. 6 This is too much, too wonderful — I can’t take it all in! 7 Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit?  To be out of your sight? 8 If I climb to the sky, you’re there!  If I go underground, you’re there! 9 If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, 10 You’d find me in a minute — you’re already there waiting! 11 Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!  At night I’m immersed in the light!” 12 It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you. 13 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. 14 I thank you, High God — you’re breathtaking!  Body and soul, I am marvelously made!  I worship in adoration — what a creation! 15 You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; you know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. 16 Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day. 17 Your thoughts — how rare, how beautiful!  God, I’ll never comprehend them! 18 I couldn’t even begin to count them — any more than I could count the sand of the sea.  Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!  (MSG)

How incredible is it to know that God knows us this well.  That we are known by the God of the Universe to this level?  This shouldn’t cause you to feel shame or guilt for not being perfect.  (You weren’t created to be perfect!)  This should cause you to feel inspiration, and worship that God cares this much about you.  He knit you together in your mother’s womb…that He literally lays out the days of our life for us, and desires to walk through life with us!  That is absolutely an awesome thought!

The reality is that God created us to be in relationship with Him.  God wants us to know Him, and He wants to hang out with us.  So in any good relationship we are in we are both talking and sharing and listening to what our friend has to say right?  Do you realize that God wants to talk to you too?  Is this possible?  Well it absolutely is and He absolutely does talk to us:

Remember what Jesus said in John 10?

John 10:2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice…(skipping to vs )14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. NIV

Jesus literally says that we hear His voice!  If you notice He doesn’t say that certain people will hear His voice.  He doesn’t say that the spiritually elite will hear His voice and share it with you.  He says that we are all to be one flock with one shepherd.  We can all hear from God.

This is God’s desire for you and I.  That we know Him.  That we enter into a real relationship with Him, and that relationship requires communication, just like any good relationship!  Which leads me to the question of the day.

What is blocking you from hearing God’s voice?

This is a very important question.  What is keeping you from hanging out with God, you know that God that knows you and wants you to know Him?  What is blocking you from Him?  We need to identify it.

Is it busyness and clutter that blocks you from hearing from God?  For many of us we are so busy that we can’t even think straight, let alone hear from God.  Are you willing to carve out time and space to engage God?  Jesus says that we need to get to a quiet place, and over time the focus shifts from us to God.  Let me tell you that can’t happen while you multitask your way through a life of chaos and clutter.  Can you slow down?  Would you be willing to slow down?  Ask yourself today if you are too busy to engage God in a real way, and do something about it!

Do you do all the talking when you pray?  For many of us our prayer life is us talking, and talking, and talking.  We do all the talking and God is to do all the listening.  Prayer is as much about listening as it is about talking…sometimes we can be our own blocker from hearing God’s voice because we are so busy doing all talking, that we forget to listen.

Do you only go to God when you need something?  So for many people going to God in prayer really is the equivalent of sitting on Santa’s lap before Christmas, or rubbing the magic lamp and hoping to get as much as possible out of it!  God desires a relationship with you.  He wants to be close to you!  Try to put yourself in His shoes for a moment.  How much do you enjoy having that person in your life that only comes to you when they need something from you?  It’s draining isn’t it?  It’s not fun to be in relationship with someone who mooches off of you all the time is it?  No, God doesn’t want to be your genie…He wants to love on you!

Maybe what is blocking a truly intimate relationship with God for you is that you don’t get Christianity.  I’m not trying to be offensive here, but what is Christianity to you?  Is it about what you do and how you do it?  You do realize that is the opposite of what we believe right?  Christianity is the celebration of the fact that you and I don’t add up…that on our own strength we fail…but through Jesus giving His life up for us, all the hard work has been done for us.  You see if prayer is just another one of those good behaviors to put into your formula that us people have made to find happiness it will completely block you from true intimacy with God.

So it really comes down to this.  Prayer is about drawing close to God and not just talking to Him but also hearing from Him.  We were created to be in an intimate relationship with God.

Is Jesus your Good Shepherd?  Are you staying close to Him?  Are you hearing His voice?  Are you letting Him lead your life?

I want you to think about this, we have a shepherd guiding us, leading us, caring for us.  That means that you don’t have to make life happen on your own.  That means no more muscling through life carrying these crazy heavy backpacks that Ken was talking about last week!  We can just relax and allow life to happen because we have a Shepherd, who loves us and desires intimacy with us!  Our job is to relax and follow.  I know that is harder for some people to do than others…I get it.  I can hear it now…well Sam this is easy for you because of your personality.  I’m a detailed person and I need to know exactly what is going on before I would follow anyone!  I hear you.  Let me know how it works out for you trying to figure God out!  The reality is that you may never clearly know exactly what or why some things happen in your life.  But here is what we do know.  God is always up to something bigger than just giving us happiness for today.  He is in the business of transforming us into the people we are destined to be!

Romans 8:29 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. 30 After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.  (MSG)

God is shaping and molding us just as a potter does with clay.  God knows you and He wants you to know Him.  He doesn’t just want you to know about Him…He wants you to truly know Him.

This isn’t about a formula for you and I to try to find happiness.  It’s not A + B = C. This is about engaging into a truly loving, life giving relationship, as we walk through each day with God.  Prayer needs to be less about those behaviors that make so much sense to us, and more about you and I finding that closeness with God that we were created for all along.

Follow the Good Shepherd…Draw near to Jesus.  Listen to his voice, and allow Him to lead your life!