So if you have been here through the first few weeks of our “Risk” series you are starting to see just how important a relationship with God really is.  That love that’s found in that relationship becomes the fuel that allows us to care enough for others to help them find God just like we are finding God and at the very center of your relationship with God is prayer.  Communicating with your Heavenly Father, talking to Him and listening to Him and just being in a close, loving, living relationship with Him…that is where your prayer life really forms…it’s in the time spent with your friend Jesus.  Here’s what is really interesting though, for a lot of us prayer is difficult.  It seems weird or clunky to pray and for a lot of us it’s really easy to tune me out on a Sunday morning when I start really talking about prayer for lots of different reasons.  Maybe it’s because you don’t get it, or you don’t think you are at the proper spiritual level to pray, or you just don’t think God listens to you the way he listens to others, whatever the reason it’s clunky.  I think many of us want to pray but we just aren’t for whatever reason.  I think for a lot of us we are often looking for a manual on how to pray.  I have been thinking about this a lot, because for me prayer is something that is interwoven into me and I can struggle to really help you in your prayer life, because prayer life is all about relationship.  Deep, meaningful, loving, open-hearted, honest, sometimes gut wrenching relationship.  It’s something that should be part of you.  In many ways this is why we have been giving you a prayer each day, to help build that habit of praying daily so that you can find a rhythm and get in that daily habit of talking with you Heavenly Father consistently.  I know it’s a struggle for a lot of us and I think the challenge has everything to do with the relationship I just described.  It’s real.  And as people we don’t always want to do “the real thing.”  In my own time with God I have been walking through the book of Acts and I read something this week that really touched my heart, because I think it describes so many of us.  It’s a time when Paul is on trial, and he is brought before a man named Felix.  Felix is the Governor and really sits as the judge in a court where the Jews are trying to prosecute Paul basically for spreading Christianity, which is something they called “The Way” back in the day.  But what really caught my eye was this, Felix is intrigued by Paul and has him brought to hang out with him and his family and talk…and I want you to see what happens…

Acts 24:24 A few days later Felix and his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish, sent for Paul and listened to him talk about a life of believing in Jesus Christ. 25 As Paul continued to insist on right relations with God and his people, about a life of moral discipline and the coming Judgment, Felix felt things getting a little too close for comfort and dismissed him. “That’s enough for today. I’ll call you back when it’s convenient.” MSG

So check this out…Felix and his wife are intrigued by what Paul has to say.  It touched something deep inside them and what happens?  Felix pulls back and I love the way that is worded.  “I will call you back when it’s convenient.”  Wow!  But you know what, that is a very common response to God, to relationship with Him, to a real walk with God.  I think we are on to something here…as people say they are struggling with prayer, it’s often because they are not willing to take the “risk” of allowing God into their hearts in a real way.  When it starts to get too real we often pull back because it’s too close for comfort and just like Felix we will pull God back out when we need Him!  Then we wonder why prayer is hard or not working.  It’s because we struggle to risk opening up our hearts to something more, to something real!  I can tell you for me, it is a challenge for me to open myself up to people.  I’m learning this about myself more and more.  Yes I like to be alone and I gain energy that way, but it is also easier to not let anyone in, because when you do let someone in you run the risk of being hurt.  Being around the church most of my life didn’t help me here, it keeps my defenses pretty high.  And when you let someone in and they do hurt you, it makes it harder to let the next person or anyone else in doesn’t it?  Think about this, maybe for you the biggest risk is opening your heart up to a real, deep, open-hearted, honest and true relationship with God.  One that goes to the very heart of who you are.

I took another risk this recently.  I got on Facebook!  So did Ken and let’s just say that we are learning together.  Getting on Facebook has been great in some ways because it really is helping us get our message out there, but it has also really touched on this same chord for me.  It’s interesting what all gets posted.  There really isn’t a lot of original content, not many people really putting themselves out there in a personal way.  So far (I’m speaking in generalities) I’ve seen a lot of cute animals snuggling and wrestling, lots of meme’s about one thing or the other, and a lot of people very passionate about who should or shouldn’t be in government.  Lots of sharing someone else’s thoughts, lots of funny things, not a lot of originality or personal stuff.  When I see that, I see the thing that explains to me why prayer is tough for us.  How many of us really understand what it means or looks like to truly immerse ourselves into a pure relationship with anybody let alone God?  I’m not trying to tell you not to laugh at the funny things on Facebook, but it does say something.  It’s fun, it’s happy, and really it keeps things on the surface, in a lot of ways there is comfort in that, it’s easy on the brain and we never have to get to that spot where Felix was with Paul, where it gets to close for comfort.  So this is where we go today.  I want to walk you into how to pray, knowing that for some of us, this may be the riskiest thing you do, because it means you have to let God into the real parts of you, rather than keeping Him at arms-reach with a cute kitty cat video or a funny meme.  Today we are going to talk about prayer.  But we again needed to start by looking at true relationship because there just isn’t one without the other.

So as we allow God into our lives over time something beautiful happens.  It’s relationship.  This is something God invites us into…we are made in His image and are made to walk through life with God.  As we walk with God we find that He himself actually teaches us how to pray.  He opens up our hearts and minds to Him, to new ideas, and most importantly to the things that matter to Him.  Now this is so important, we walk in this relationship with Him in good times and in bad times.  We find Him there as we celebrate the victories of life, and we find Him there consoling us in our losses.  It’s this relationship with God that opens up our lives in ways that we never dreamed possible…but again it will take you risking letting Him in there and not keeping Him at arms-length…with the funny cat video.

So today we are really going to ask some questions about prayer and we are going to let the Bible answer them for us.  Questions like who is supposed to pray?  Where should I pray?  Who do we pray for?  And how should we pray?  These are great questions as we learn how to pray, and there is a great place in scripture that really answers of all it.  It’s found in Paul’s first letter to his buddy Timothy.

1 Timothy 2:1 The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. 2 Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. 3 This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. 4 He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we’ve learned: 5 that there’s one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us — Jesus, 6 who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out. 7 This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth. 8 Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want mostly is for men to pray — not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God. MSG

So let’s start looking at some of our questions today starting with this one.  Who does Paul say should pray?  Does he say that only the Pastor should pray?  Or was it the Priests, or the spiritual elite?  No, and this is very clear, Paul says that everyone should pray.  Prayer is not for a select few, it is for all of us!  Remember Jesus tore down all the barriers that used to keep you from talking with God in a personal way.  You are supposed to pray!  God listens to all of us who pray because He loves us!  Remember this is His deepest desire, to walk in loving relationship with all of us!  We are his children.  Remember how much God loves us?

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  NIV

This is why God took human form as Jesus!  He wants all of us to be saved and Paul see’s prayer as a huge part of God’s master plan to redeem this world through Jesus.  So who is supposed to pray?  All of us are to pray, all of us can pray, and all of us should pray.  Why because God loved us enough to send Jesus to ensure that you could walk in that close, intimate relationship with God.  God wants to hear from all of us.

Paul also talks about who we should pray for?  Now this could get a little touchy, which prior to Facebook I may not have understood the passion some of you have for government and people in authority over us but check this out.  Paul says we are to pray for our leaders.  Our government officials and those in authority over us.  I know, I know some of you think that is easier if a Republican is in office rather than if a Democrat was in office, but Paul would say you need to pray for your leaders regardless.

2 Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation.

I want you to think about this, Paul is encouraging Christians there to pray for those in authority over them at the height of the Roman Empire ruling them.  The Roman’s ran the show and lorded over them…this is oppressive.  This is a king flexing his muscles and taking over Dillsburg, and forcing us to live the life that king wants us to live for him…and Paul is saying that we should pray for that king!  He is encouraging the Christians to pray for the King of the Roman Empire who took everything from them.

Paul doesn’t hesitate to urge all Christians to pray for the government leaders where they live.  Think about this, isn’t it interesting that Paul so freely can move through the Roman Empire advancing God’s kingdom.  Do you think that is coincidental?  Social unrest damages God’s people but if you think about it, it also could have blocked Paul from engaging the mission God had placed him on!  So right now some of you are still caught up on me saying we should pray for government and heard me use words like Republican and Democrat and can’t get past it…and haven’t heard anything I have said since.  Here’s the bigger point that I need you to see.  Paul is showing us again through his words, and his actions moving through a kingly dictatorship (the Roman Empire, the world conquerors) where the Jews aren’t free, that prayer works!  Do you hear me?  So who should pray?  We all should pray?  Who should we pray for, Paul says we should pray for leaders, officials, and all with authority over us, he also tells us that we should pray for everyone.

1 The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know.

So Paul shows us something very important.  We are to pray…all of us.  God wants to talk to all of us.  He wants to know us.  This is the relationship He desires with us but here’s what’s really interesting to me, God isn’t always in the forefront of our minds is he?  I mean, let’s be really honest here.  God just isn’t a focal point in a lot of our lives.  Can I ask you something?  Whether you are a devout disciple of Jesus or just someone who shows up at church once in a while…or someone who claims to not believe in God at all, there is a time when you have God focus.  So when does God make it to the front of all our thoughts?  It’s in the difficult times of life isn’t it?  I have always said that the most God focused buildings in America today are not our churches, it’s our hospitals.  Think about how many of us really remember God when things are going well.  Now picture how much more God focus you have when laying in a hospital bed, or when you have a loved one in there, hurting.  I will take it a step further.  Think about how many people that you know, who want no part of God.  They may even loudly proclaim that they don’t believe in God at all, and then a massive earthquake, or some terrible natural disaster hits an area of the world…who are they mad at?  The God they say doesn’t exist.  I’m not sure you can blame the God you don’t believe exists for things…but let’s keep going here.  Amazing how much God focus there is in the difficult times isn’t there?  Listen, we all have an instinct to pray and look for God in the hard moments of our lives.  That is ok!  In moments of crisis you are very aware of how little control you have, and it does bring God central in your thinking, and that is ok!  Pray in those moments!  Regardless of the motivation, pray!  It is ok to pray in the tough times.  Those prayers are us literally admitting how much we need God, and just how little control we have over our circumstances.  So those difficult moments, they help us focus on God.  It’s us even for just a moment admitting that we need help from beyond ourselves.  I have had many people struggle with this idea that they only focus on God in the challenging portions of life, listen I don’t think there is anything wrong with seeing that…but don’t feel bad about it.  God’s love is so pure and He knows you so well, so don’t worry about those tough times bringing a major God focus to you.

Listen, it’s more than ok to pray in the tough times but for us Christian’s prayer IS so much more than that!  It’s God inviting us into that beautiful relationship we keep bringing up.  It’s more than just when you need something from Him, it’s not a distant I hope God handles my latest issue thing, it’s a closeness, a conversation with your deepest and closest friend.  This is relationship with God who is ALWAYS there!  He is beyond time, and place.  He is always with you.  So this leads to another question people ask about prayer.  When and where should I pray to God who is always with me?  We should pray anywhere and everywhere and we should always pray.

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Be cheerful no matter what; 17 pray all the time; 18 thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. MSG

Paul tells us to pray all the time.  When he was talking with Timothy he was saying we should pray anywhere and everywhere!  You don’t need a specific spot to pray.  It is cool to have them, but you can pray to the God who is everywhere, anywhere!  He is always ready and willing to listen to His children.

So at times it’s difficult to walk someone through the fundamentals of how to pray, because they want to know when to pray and where they should be to pray, and who they should pray for, and I try to lead people more towards intimacy and closeness.  How you pray and what your friendship with God will look like is going to be different than mine.  But you have to be willing to take the “Risk” to let him in…because He took the risk of including you in His plan of redemption!  It’s almost like we make it harder than it has to be, because we aren’t willing to accept the fact that there are no barriers between us and God.  In some ways maybe the barriers were comforting because we didn’t have to let Him into the depths of who we are!  We could just keep him looking at cute pet videos, and memes that someone else created, rather than seeing who we really are.  But here’s the thing, because of Jesus and all He did for you and for me on the cross, there literally are no barriers to God.  The divider is gone because Jesus took all our sin away.  Let’s think on this for a moment.  God loves us enough to come to us.  God walked with us, and talked with us, and lived with us!  Jesus coming revealed God to us.  God insisted that we see Him, and through Jesus we do!  Amazing isn’t it?  So through Jesus we know what God is like, and we also can have that personal relationship with Him!  So when we pray we are not praying to some far off higher power but to a very present help!  Check this out!

Psalms 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. NIV

How awesome is that!  He is with us in it!  Which leads us to another question that can come up in prayer?  How do you pray?  Well you pray how you are comfortable, and how you can connect best to God, but one of the things you hear often around MRC is us praying “In the name of Jesus” we do this because Jesus is our access to God!  We pray to our Heavenly Father through the Son, with the help of the Holy Spirit!  There you see all three aspects of the Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in relationship with us!  We pray in the name of Jesus because Jesus is our access.  He is fully God, and was fully man.  He has been where we are and knows how we feel.  Are you seeing it?  Relationship, intimacy, love…I feel like lately I find myself back in 1 John in almost every talk and here I am again, check out this relationship of love, us with our Heavenly Father…

1 John 3:1  What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it — we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to. 2 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him — and in seeing him, become like him. MSG

Do you get the closeness?  I really started this talk by talking about how I think this intimacy can be a challenge for some of us.  Maybe most of us really.  It’s challenging to just be ourselves…but here’s the thing about any relationship you are in, at the very core of that relationship is trust.  Think about it…its trust that allows you to drop your guard and let someone into your heart.  It’s trust that allows us to stay open to each other and not play games with each other.  Inside that relationship there is transparency, honesty, and humility amongst other things.  These things are very important.  You know Jesus gives us an awesome example of this in our Bible, as we watch two men pray.  Check this story out…

Luke 18:9  He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: 10 “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. 11 The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. 12 I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ 13 “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'” 14 Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” MSG

So look at this story, I love this.  The Pharisee’s prayer amazes me!  He’s like “God, I sure am glad I’m not like that guy, over there!” WOW!  What was he doing there?  He was presenting himself to God the way he wanted God to see him!  He isn’t putting his full self out there, he is sharing the view of himself he wants God to have!  Which is pretty amazing, since he is praying to the Almighty God of the Universe who knows everything about us!  Now check out the tax collector!  He just comes to God as the man that he is…there is no faking it here.  He knows who he is, and just shares that with God.  He isn’t trying to look better than he was, he is completely transparent with God…and what does Jesus say?

14 Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God.  

The very love and life of God flows into the tax collector.  He receives forgiveness and a new life because He was able to let God in, he was just simply himself before God.  The Pharisee put up a barrier between him and God…he couldn’t simply be himself and he misses out on all the tax collector receives!  God knows you, but He loves you enough to want you to let Him into your life. There is a really special painting of Jesus called “The Light of the World” by William Hunt.  That painting really comes to mind, it is of Jesus standing at the door and knocking…which really is inspired from Jesus’ words in Revelation…

Revelation 3:20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. NIV

I want you seeing it as we leave this service today.

First question, he is God, why is He knocking?  If he wanted to he could just come in.  Second question about the painting, there is no door knob on this side of the door, it’s on the inside…where we are!   God loves you enough to want you to let Him in.  He knows if you don’t do it, things will always stay at arms-length between you.  It is a clear message.  Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart, it’s up to us to respond.  Let’s be honest though, it is tough to be open and honest in relationship with God, or anybody really.  Trust is a challenge, especially with all the hurts and pain we all experience in life.  But Jesus shares this story here to help us see something really important.  We have to let our guard down and be ourselves with Him.  We have to trust God enough to allow Him in…he can’t fully work through you if you keep him at arm’s reach.

I will tell you having grown up around church, and watching people come and go in my own life, this is hard for me.  I also acknowledge that I have made a lot of mistakes in relationships along the way and if I’m not careful I can very easily not let anyone into my life…it’s a big challenge for me to walk into a relationship that I can assume will someday end badly.  It’s hard to trust and in a lot of ways it’s easier to just not let people in our lives right?  It’s just easier to keep things shallow and on the surface.  It’s easier to keep things fuzzy and indirect.  It’s fun to get on Facebook and share the funny videos and memes.  It sure is easier than letting people in.  If God has told me one thing this year, it’s how much I need people, and Him in my life.  But it’s my job to open the door…not His.

You know, there is just something about opening that door that seems unnerving at times doesn’t it?  What is that?  Why is truth, and depth, and intimacy scary?  Well this is exactly why a Prayer series needed to be named “Risk” because for some of us the biggest risk we will take is to drop our defenses, open the door, and let God in, in a brand new, and real way.  I want you to understand something it does feel like a risk.  But in the end reward will far outweigh that risky feeling of stepping out of the boat, and allowing God into your life in a new, and real way.  What is the reward for the risk?  It’s relationship.  It’s you walking through life with the God of the Universe by your side each and every day.