So today we are coming to the end of our big prayer series called Risk. I think it has been a lot of fun. We have been really doing our best to place the tools in your hands to really grow closer and closer to God. We have spent a lot of time in this series trying to remove any and all barriers that keep that from happening. We have given you books to read, we have written out a daily prayer for you to read each day in an effort to nudge you into more and more time and conversation with God. We have tried to really challenge you in this series to step out in faith and serve others. We have talked about love…the kind of love that the Holy Spirit can pour into you where your focus would literally shift off of you and onto others. This type of love allows you to live a life with God in control and not you. A life where you can forgive those that hurt you, where you can be transparent and not compete with others but live generously. And why is that? It’s because God’s love will change you from the inside out. This is why spending time with Him is so important, because as you spend time with God you start to realize something amazing…that really becomes the key, and frankly is something most people can say, but maybe struggle more to live this one principle out. It’s just not about you. Interesting isn’t it? I mean, you came to church to find God because you needed something right? I mean something was missing…you knew it deep in your heart. You tried filling that hole in your heart in a lot of different ways and nothing was working and so we come to church because we are in deep need of Jesus and if you think about it, in those moments it’s actually all about you. Everything leading up to a life in Christ was all about you. Your feelings, your issues, your goals, your idea of success, your children and what they need…everything was about you. Now as you come to know God there is a huge shift, and I would go as far to say it this way…something miraculous happens, which is something you have seen us unpacking throughout this entire series. You begin to walk in a relationship with God. You begin to spend time with Him…not because you have to, but because you just simply want to be with Him. You begin to grow as a person and a child of God. You begin to grow in the love that the Holy Spirit is pouring into you and over time you are starting to realize something that unlocks you from the world of tired and stuck, and allows you to live bold and free. Do you know what that is? You realize that in the end, it’s just not about you. This is the secret. It’s the thing your enemy never wants you to really understand (remember at the center of sin is self-interest) and it will only begin to be part of who you are through the Holy Spirit pouring that God love, that Agape love into you allowing the biggest shift that could ever happen in any human life. You stop focusing on you, and you start focusing on God and boom…you are free. In the end you need to see this, it’s not about you. So prayer is profoundly personal, and it’s such an internal part of you and your relationship with God but that relationship pushes you to focus outward…this is so important to see, and for many of us, it’s the big step of growth that is missing in our lives. In the end we only need one thing and that is the very grace of God. When we try to fill our lives with anything but God’s grace, well it’s just never enough. Now I’m not saying you can’t get by in life…but running to anything, depending on other things, going anywhere looking for life and energy and strength other than to the loving arms of God, will never lead to the kind of life we all desire. And this is exactly what I want you to see today. The only thing that will ever be enough is God’s grace. The heart of this message comes from Paul telling us what Jesus explained to him…this is all you need.
2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” NIV
We lean on God’s grace. This is all we need. His grace is enough. This is very clearly the theme Jesus had as he teaches us how to pray. He is trying to knock us out of our self-focus and onto God focus knowing that it’s only as we focus on God that we can truly have the freedom we search for.
Matthew 6:1-6 “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. 2 “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure — ‘playactors’ I call them — treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. 3 When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. 4 Just do it — quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. 5 “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? 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 Jesus is talking about the most personal part of our time with God our prayer life and what does He say? It’s not about you. Everything points outward and away from self and onto God and what He does! This is the big shift that so many of us are missing…in the end we only need one thing God’s grace, and it’s enough.
So why do a prayer series and call it Risk? Has that crossed your mind at all? How many of you really saw a prayer series moving us outward in love and serving rather than moving things inward into my heart and what I need to do. Interesting right? Well let’s start with this, why do a prayer series built around taking risk and stepping out in faith? It’s because when you take risk and step out in faith you have to depend on God. Think about it, what and who you depend on will make a huge difference in your life and often time from the comfort of your daily life we take the mentality that we are doing just fine in life and we don’t really need to depend on anything but ourselves. But God has such bigger plans for us, plans that won’t unfold in our lives if we are sitting comfortably around inside our church walls. So when you put yourself out there in faith, when you get out of the boat and into the waves and begin to serve, you will need to lean on something. I will go this far, whether you are taking the big faith steps or not, right now in your life whether you are a Christian, or not there is something in your life that you are depending on, and here’s what is really interesting…if it’s not God at some point it will fail you. Solomon say this…
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. NIV
So what do you lean on in life? This is a very important question, in fact it may be The Question. I think for many of us we lean on things like our success, our feelings, people, and our own strength to get by in life…and you know for the most part with no risk, sitting in a comfortable spot trying your best to keep life in control, you may be able to get by this way. You can muscle through life this way right? But in many ways spiritually this looks more like surviving, than fully living…and remember Jesus didn’t come to this Earth to die for your sins for you to just get by but to LIVE!
John 10:10 …I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV
So many Christians aren’t living out this life to the full thing. We are just getting by, and if we were honest, we aren’t even getting by all that well a lot of the time. Our lives and our emotions and our energy is a roller coaster with good moments and bad moments. If we have enough good moments it was a decent week, enough bad moments and it was a terrible week. But most of the time we feel like the emotional tank is on “E” and I would like to show you why. It has everything to do with what or who we depend on. So many of us aren’t leaning on God, we aren’t understanding just how desperately we need God in our lives and because of that we depend on the wrong things…and a couple of weird games can get played that keep you from moving forward in life with that whole life to the full thing Jesus said we can have. Remember what Jesus said to Paul…my grace is enough. I want to look at three games with you today that come from me depending on the things of this world over God’s grace.
“The But I Feel Better Game” So this in many ways is a very common way for people to muscle up and get through life. It’s even harder to see and break out of because it feels good. It’s pretty close to right…and the person will always walk away feeling emotionally better! Here’s what happens. The person who plays this game doesn’t focus on spending time with God. They don’t focus on centering their life on the things of God. They don’t wake up each day and deliberately and intentional guard their hearts and pray to their Heavenly Father. They just plow through life and when I say plow through life I mean, they keep pushing through life in their own strength. As they do more and more weight is being placed on their shoulders. Life keeps happening and instead of running to God to find strength we run to people, our friends, or our Pastor, or a Counselor when things get to be too much for us to pull through on our own. If it’s not people it’s vacation, or another small group, or a self-help book. Maybe a big glass of wine will get it done. But whatever it is we run to that person place or thing instead of God. So we go there and empty our emotional bucket on those people and we walk away feeling really good! Or we run to the small group study, or the vacation and what happens? We may actually feel better for a little while! This is a great, yet very temporary way to feel better, the issue is that in another week or two we are going to need to dump it again. This is a big time mask for what is really going on. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t have people in our lives to talk to, that isn’t it at all. It’s great to have people in your life that you can talk to, it’s awesome to have a Pastor there to help equip us for ministry…but we must take this stuff to God. He is where we go to find strength, courage, and life to the full. Anything other than God will just never get it done, that happier emotion will never sustain you and it will always leave you wanting more. You will always need another session, another meeting, another small group to get you through the next moments of your life. Yes you feel better in the moment but you aren’t allowing God to do what only He can do in your life. This one is so challenging because we feel so good after we dump our emotions but if we are really honest, we aren’t living that life to the full thing out…we are just getting by. Do you see the game? I have no time for God, but I have time to spend talking to everyone but God about my issues. I have time for anything but Him, yet I feel ok after dumping my emotions on someone. I feel light enough to push into the next day but I wonder why every few weeks I am back to square one…it’s the difference between temporary fixes and an eternal and everlasting life in Christ…I can almost hear this same thought in the heart of the prophet Isaiah here…
Isaiah 40:28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. NIV
Going to temporary things or people rather than an everlasting God is the difference between tired and stuck and soaring on wings like eagles. One of those is a lot more fun than the other. The secret is found in knowing how dependent you are on God, without this understanding you can stay in the time loop of needing to emotional bucket dumping and pushing through life week to week and day to day. If you play this game it will never be enough, it will always leave you wanting more. Remember what is enough? Jesus says it’s His grace that is enough…this is where true strength comes from.
“I’m Going to Church Game” I think for a lot of us even here at church today we would say we lean on God but we don’t spend time with Him. And we can justify that by coming to church on a Sunday morning. But if we were honest we aren’t allowing Him to redeem the deepest parts of our hearts. We don’t lean on Him in faith. Now we come to church on Sunday. We may even serve in church, and give some money here and there, so things are looking pretty good and we can leave church each week feeling pretty good about ourselves. But the week is long and tough, and full of hurts and by Friday…we feel so beat up again. This roller coaster goes up every Sunday, but man is it down by Friday. Now church is an awesome thing, and we do draw strength from community which is great. But a Sunday event can’t be your relationship with God. Now I know we can justify it when we look at our buddies and what they don’t do on a Sunday morning right? “I mean hey, most of my friends aren’t getting up early on a Sunday morning and showing up at church…so I’m better off than them right?” Well this again makes me think of Isaiah who will always direct us to what matters…
Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. NIV
Earlier we hear God say this…
Isaiah 1:13-14 “Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings — meetings, meetings, meetings — I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. (MSG)
So what’s going on here, because if God’s not into me doing the church thing I can think of a lot of things that I could be doing with my time other than this! Well, God actually is into the church thing but He is addressing the game. These people are so close. They are doing a lot of things right. But in the end they aren’t living differently. There is no repentance. There is no life change, they are just walking through religious rituals. Listen we don’t draw strength from showing up at church. Now we are stronger because of our church community but in the end we must be depending fully on God. Anything else is just a weird game. Yes you are going to church, but going to church without living out a God life is really empty and there actually are probably better things you can be doing with your time! Going to church and leaning on religious rituals will never be enough. Remember what Jesus told Paul is enough? It’s His grace and only His grace that is sufficient, everything and anything else will leave you needing more.
“The Well, I’m A Success Game.” So one of the things we have learned through this whole series is that we get to play a role in God’s bigger plan! What a big thought, that as we come to know God and spend time with Him what matters to Him will matter to us! So we start to engage the mission of Christ, we begin to love and serve people and we do our best to point people to Jesus and it’s an awesome and inspiring thing to be a part of…but for some we can look at all that “we” are doing and forget that God is actually doing the work, not us. We aren’t doing it, God is. We are simply a means through which God can do his saving work! There are a lot of good men and women who get caught up in their own ministry, or success (this can be in ministry or in the business world, or wherever) and can come to a tragic conclusion that we are doing something amazing…when everything we know and believe is that everything that happens is because of God’s amazing love for us. It’s a tough one, but many people can get really caught up in themselves and forget just how much they need God in all of it. Frankly it happens pretty easily, because even other people can often be looking for strength in a person, rather than where they should find it…which can feed the ego, but if you do find any strength leaning on someone else, or from someone leaning on you, it’s very temporary…and that becomes a very slippery slope for many. The tragedy in this game is we lose sight of the source of our strength, we end up creating disciples of ourselves instead of disciples of Jesus…not good. This has me really thinking about a story in the Old Testament, where Moses is leading the people through the desert towards the Promised Land. Now I have to say I don’t know how Moses put up with those people, they complained constantly. They at times wanted to just go back to slavery. There was ALWAYS something wrong in their eyes and Moses just kept doing his thing. Well we pick this story up at a time when there is yet another problem…this time they have no water. The people are complaining AGAIN so Moses does what Moses always did…he turns to God.
Numbers 20:2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” 6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” NIV
Moses goes to God and God as always comes through for these complaining and bitter people through Moses. He is very clear, he says speak to the rock before their eyes and you will have your water.
Numbers 20:9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” NIV
You know this is a really difficult thing and I never really understood why God came down so hard on Moses here. First of all, he is just so frustrated with everyone that he isn’t thinking straight. In his anger he doesn’t speak to the rock, he hits it twice with his staff and the water flows. I mean couldn’t God overlook this one boo-boo for Moses here? Well here’s why what Moses did was so wrong that he was punished so harshly that he could never enter the Promised Land. We must always be crystal clear on one thing, there is a big time difference between what we do and what God does and can do. If we are trusting our own strength and not leaning out on God in full dependence the results will always be tragic. We must understand just how much we need God in all things. Moses in his frustration here, blurred that line and it cost him the chance to lead the people all the way into the Promise Land. Listen every success we have comes from God. We have to realize that we are totally dependent on God and his Spirit. All glory and honor are God’s not ours. So everything in us has to point to Him, because the truth is He is responsible for all of it anyway right? This game of look at all I have, look at all I have done is a complete lie. It again is a temporary way to feel ok about yourself but true fulfillment is found in God alone. If God is the creator of all things and is right now allowing you to breathe air in his creation…can I really look at anything I’m doing and think it’s all me? Are you catching where I’m drifting to today? In any of these games that we looked at today there is a common theme. All of these things can make you feel good in a moment, but none of those good feelings last and they always leave you wanting more. So what do we do? Where we true strength is found? Well, Paul showed us…
2 Corinthians 12:7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. NIV
So Paul is addressing people who are get caught up in the games of religion and through that amazing text is letting them and all of us know where our true strength comes from…God and God alone through the amazing love and grace of Jesus. Remember Ken last week telling us not to avoid hardship? Well what does the thorn in Paul’s flesh do? It helps him remember just how much he needs God…the adversity was a gift…helping him lean of God for strength even as his star power grew. Jesus himself told Paul that, “in the end all you need is me. My grace is sufficient it’s more than enough.”
I think for so many of us the biggest blocker in our spiritual journey is us. We don’t see a life filled with God’s love pouring in and pouring out of us and it’s because we are working really hard at all we need to do, to be a success, to be a good Christian, to follow all the rules. In all of it we just aren’t willing to lean fully on God. You are depending on you, you are still focused on you, and while I agree this is probably where your Christian journey began as you grow in Jesus there eventually needs to be a shift in your focus and your thinking where the center of the story changes from you to God. As that happens the entire world unlocks for you in a new way as you finally grow into the understanding that this life…it’s just not about you.
So what happens from this Risk series? A series on Prayer that literally led us to a life of loving God, which leads us to a life of loving others. Think about it, prayer is so inwardly personal yet prayer leads us to living outward rather than inward. So where do we go from here? Do we keep playing the silly religious games? Do we keep living tired, frustrated lives, with moments of feel good where we are dumping our emotions here and there on others rather than running to God? Do we keep showing up at church on Sunday and doing the weird religious ritual without it leading to real life change? Do we look at all the good we are doing, and all that we think we are accomplishing and find our strength there, in our success or our accumulation of stuff? All of these games have one thing in coming, you get to stay in control. You get to stay strong in your own eyes, but if we are honest I think we could all admit, something is still missing in that life. It’s so close to right. It does leave you with temporary moments of feel good, but if we are honest it’s not that life to the full thing we all crave. In the end there is only one place to go for strength, one place to go for life to the full. It’s found in Jesus. His grace is enough and his strength is made perfect in our dependence on Him. In the end, it’s just not about you.