So we have been rolling along through this big summer series where we have been looking at Jesus’ famous teaching, “The Sermon on the Mount.” This is such a big deal for us as disciples of Christ, to listen to Jesus teach us how to actually live as His disciples and then actually to go and apply these words to our lives. I think we would all agree that living out these words of Jesus is challenging, but I think we would also agree that if we could actually live out this teaching, it would be absolutely life changing. This life that Jesus lays out for us may be opposite to how we think or would act or react as human beings but it is simply a better way to live. See our biggest prayer for this series, was that we could not just come in and out of here all summer long and hear what Jesus said, but that it would actually become living and active in our lives. This is the goal. That we can take Jesus’ teaching and apply it right into who we are as people here on this Earth…so that as we interact with people at work, in our community, and in our families we would begin to respond to life and relationships as Jesus would say a disciple of His should respond. All through this series I have just kept thinking about how big this would be and how different life would be if we could simply live out this teaching.
You know, I have always been amazed at how clear Jesus taught, it isn’t super complicated or hard to understand…I guess that is why He says things like this…
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” NIV
So yeah that “yoke” is easy to understand but it can be challenging to live out at times too. But as we have sat and soaked in these couple of chapters here in Matthew I think Jesus is crystal clear in how we should and can live out our lives as a true disciple of Christ…but here’s the thing. We don’t see a lot of people actually living this way do we? Doesn’t that seem odd to you? Has that stuck out to anyone else as we have moved through Matthew 5 and 6? There was so many good things to learn and apply to our lives and it isn’t really unclear or complicated. It also has always been there in our Bibles right? It wasn’t a recent add on or anything! These foundational words to live by aren’t hiding, but right there for us to learn from and live out! In it we can learn our purpose as disciples (the salt of the Earth the light of the world.) We can learn how to respond to life (both the good times and the bad, think back to the beatitudes and when we should count ourselves blessed?) We’ve been taught how to relate to people, this includes the people in our lives that aren’t all that easy to love. We have learned the importance of being real, and not being that fake Christian but literally how to be the same person in all aspects of our lives whether we are at church, work, or even at home behind closed doors as Jesus warned us in the early goings of Matthew 6. We have learned practical things, and have been guided on such things as Jesus literally teaching us how to pray, how to view our money and material things, and even how not to have fear about what tomorrow might bring. It’s all there for us, and it’s beautiful isn’t it? The spiritual truths in these first two chapters of the sermon are right there for us to learn from in Scripture which is awesome and such a gift. On top of that, if you think about it there aren’t too many Christians out there that haven’t heard teachings on this stuff before. But we really don’t see too many people actually living this stuff out do we? Well I think we really need to start today by talking about why that is before we step into today’s teaching. So I want to start by asking you this question?
When was the last time that you spent real time with God? Now let me add something to that, not because you had to spend time with Him, or because it was your good Christian thing to do, but because you wanted to simply be in the presence of your Heavenly Father. Why would I start with this question? I am starting today with this particular question because it is the key to you actually living differently…the literal key to you living out Jesus’ teaching is actually as simple as spending real and genuine time in the presence of your Heavenly Father each day. This is what is lacking for so many Christian’s today. We know what the words say in Scripture. We can quote verses. We can post good Christian things on our social media. We can even serve in our local church, but the reason we aren’t seeing people’s lives change…the reason we aren’t seeing people live out the life that Jesus calls us into is becoming more and more clear to me. It’s because we simply aren’t engaging God, we aren’t spending real time with Him which would allow us to experience the shift that must happen for us to truly be transformed. The key to us being able to live out this life of a disciple is found in something Jesus said earlier in the series which leads us to a huge shift in focus, which in turn leads us to life change…here’s the key.
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
This is it. This is the key to living differently. Spending real time with God, where you can just be yourself and be with Him. When you spend this type of time with God something amazing happens. The focus shifts from you to God and you begin to sense His grace. It’s this shift that must take place in your life where the focus shifts from you to God…without it God’s word stays information and not a road map to action in your life. You want to know why we don’t see too many Christian’s actually living out this life of a disciple that Jesus sat on the hill and told us, His disciples to live out? It’s because they aren’t spending time with God and because of that they never experience the shift. The focus stays on them and God’s word stays information. It stays in their brains and never makes it to their hearts and into their lives. Even if they spend time with God or serve it’s for the wrong reasons and they miss out on so much that can come as the focus shifts off of them and onto God allowing them to sense His grace. So can I ask you something? When is the last time you spent real time with God?
You know you are going to find this hard to believe but every year I get older. Hard to believe right? Every year my children hit a different life stage that seems to bring new challenges to my day, every day. Every year I get a little more sore and tired physically and every year life seems to remind me a little bit more of what I can’t do that maybe I once could do, in one area of my life or another. I’m not able to just pull myself through life like I used to and can I tell you something, for me, recognizing what I just said and embracing that has led me to a truth in my life that is changing everything for me and it’s this. I NEED GOD IN MY LIFE EACH AND EVERYDAY. On top of that, I’m seeing it so clearly…my joy, my peace, my freedom, my strength is all tied directly to my closeness to God each day…or not. And as we have worked through this study this has become the realization that I’m most confident in, without spending time with God I can’t live this life of a disciple out. Without spending time with God, the focus stays on me and I will never stand in what Jesus is inviting me into which would be a true tragedy. Without the shift in focus that comes from spending time with God, all of Jesus’ crystal clear teaching just stays some really positive information for my brain that just stays words that we tell people but unfortunately we just can’t live them out. We must spend time with God or these types of teachings will never penetrate our own lives enough to become part of who we are which is the opposite of the goal of our spiritual lives right? We want this to be real and to be leading towards life change.
So why don’t we see Christian’s truly living this stuff out? Because we aren’t spending the time necessary with God to allow this shift to take place in our lives. We can look the part of good Christian’s and not necessarily ever be doing the most important and foundational things that lead to this true life of a disciple that Jesus is teaching here in this sermon. I know, I know we are way too busy to slow down and do this, between all the kid’s schedules and our own, but this is it. It will always come back to the shift. This is the key to everything Jesus has asked of us so far in this teaching. Think about it, when I’ve experienced this shift in focus from me to God I would respond to life differently, even when I’m not getting exactly what I want or when things in life aren’t unfolding exactly as I have planned. Frankly if you have been on this planet any length of time you are probably realizing that tough times will hit your life from time to time right? If I’ve experience the shift I can love others differently, I would look at my material possessions and my money very differently if God is my focus over myself…I wouldn’t view what may or may not happen tomorrow the same if my focus is my God and not on me. The key to all of this is staying close to God. Spending time with Him which allows the focus to shift off of us and onto Him which allows us to begin to sense His grace. When that happens you will live a very different life.
I mean think about what Ken talked to you about last week, he did such a great job of getting into the whole culture of today, talking about don’t judge me, but think about it. Would you really judge others, or look down your nose at someone who isn’t at your amazing level of spiritual maturity if you were fully focused on God and centering on His grace? No you wouldn’t judge. You would live a very different life, making very different decisions, with very different priorities, but it won’t happen without spending time with God. In my own personal life I can tell you that my joy, and my heart condition is tied directly to my closeness with God…so is yours.
So today we are continuing this series picking up in Matthew 7 where Ken left off last week. Where Jesus seems to loop back into talking about prayer again. This time He is talking about praying effective prayers which is why once again it is so important for us to start by talking about your time with God today. Our study today is found in here in Matthew 7.
Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! NIV
So we started with the idea of spending time with God. I think that is so important as we start to talk about praying effectively here, because as I center on God and as the shift in focus starts to happen in my life I begin grasping just how big God is, and just how small I am. I get to this place in life where my faith can grow because I’m grasping that this God of the Universe is not only on my side but walking through life with me. I make different decisions, and my faith grows because God is with me in this life…and we start to realize that this is the same God who Jesus would later say this about…
Mark 11:22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” NIV
So the God who can literally remove all barriers from my life, the God who literally can chuck mountains into the sea, this is the God I’m walking through life with. That is an incredible way to move through life, with that type of protection and strength on our side. As I spend time with Him, and allow the focus to shift off of me and onto Him I begin to understand that I’m walking with God who is that big and that strong and has it all in His hands, and He is with me clearing things out ahead of me. This is a different way to think, live, and move through life. But here’s the thing, it’s rare to see people spending the time with God necessary to pray, to listen, to feel God’s love and to allow the shift to focus off of us and onto Him and I truly see that as the most tragic thing around good church people today. We ask Jesus into our hearts, we do the church thing, but we are missing out on the key to life, to joy, to faith…and it all is as simple as spending true and real time with Him where the focus shifts away from us and onto Him. I hope you are hearing me today, as we jump into this teaching on effective prayer…there is so much available to you and I in this life…but none of it comes to life without us spending time with God. It just won’t. If we are experiencing Him and spending time with Him and if we believe…God can literally chuck mountains into the sea out ahead of us. Which makes no sense at all to our human eyes, but makes a ton of sense after the shift takes place in our lives.
I really want you to see something really special about what Jesus says here because what I see is not only Him telling us what to do, but Jesus literally promising us what can happen if we do. So Jesus says this when it comes to our prayer lives…
Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” NIV
So Jesus says something really important here. Hey, if you want something from God…ASK FOR IT! Can I just tell you that if there was one thing I’d like to have figured out a lot sooner when it comes to my prayer life, this is it. I would have been much more specific in what I was asking for. Again this is the same God who can chuck mountains in to the see right? So if He is that big, as big as Jesus says He is then maybe we should ask for what we want. I mean, He already knows what you are thinking and what you truly need, so talk to Him about it! Do you want energy in your day? Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Are you struggling with someone in your family or at your work? Are you asking God to do anything about it? Are you asking God every morning for it? Do you want to live each day with the power of the Holy Spirit flowing in and out of you? Then you should be asking for it. Do you want your heart protected, your attitude up, your home to be a home full of peace? Are you asking God to put these things in your life? What challenges are there in your life? Are you praying about those things? Are you getting up each day and praying very deliberately for the day you are about to have…or are you waking up late, slugging down coffee in a morning daze as you stumble out the door to go head first into another day? Jesus tells us to ask, to seek, and to knock. So what is it that you are asking for? Jesus says that we should ask, we should seek, and we should knock. These are three commands of Jesus when it comes to prayer…but if you notice it doesn’t end there. Jesus raises the bar a bit doesn’t He, He didn’t just say ask, seek, knock…no He said this…
Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” NIV
So there is a pretty big promise behind those three commands isn’t there? This can lead to a little tension I think too. Jesus says Ask and what? It will be given. Seek and what? You will find. Knock and what? The door will be open to you…and then he doubles down on that promise in verse 8!
Matthew 7:8 “For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” NIV
So I think there can be a little tension here right? Can’t you start to think, ok Sam, I get that Jesus said faith can move mountains, and all of that…but do you honestly expect me to believe that God can give me what I ask for? Well a couple of things. First I will tell you that I believe the God of the Universe can do whatever He wants whenever He wants however He wants. So if He wants to chuck a mountain in to the see…yes, I think He can absolutely do that. If He wants to give you something He absolutely can do that. But I also think there is a point to Him being God and the fact that He knows what is best for us much better than we do, as we see in verse 11. But I think we can see the point of what Jesus is saying well in the Message Version.
Matthew 7:7 “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. 8 This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. MSG
I love that wording, be direct. Ask God for what you need. I often think we can get so caught up in the extra or the things that we want, that we forget to be grateful for Him providing enough for us…or what we need. I think it’s easy to forget how awesome it is that God provides for us all that we need…and He knows better than we do what that is! You know what though, what I just said is very hard to accept if I’m not spending the time with God needed to allow the shift of focus from me to God in my life.
So as we leave here today I do have a couple of questions for you that I want you leave you with and the first one is this?
Are you spending time with God? This is the key to everything. Listen, I’m not talking about squeaking in a minute or two in the margins of your life…I’m talking about real time, where you can rest in His presence and allow the time need for the shift in focus to take place. I’m telling you the key to living out life and life to the full is found in spending time with God…and allowing the shift in focus to take place. As your focus leaves you and shifts to God you see life different. You make different decisions. You live the true life of a disciple but it doesn’t come any other way. If you are not spending time with God please start. Take out your calendar today and find some time in the morning, or at lunch, or in the evening to engage your Heavenly Father. Spend time quieting your heart. Spend time reading scripture. Spend time praying and listening to God. Over time the focus shifts off of you and onto Him and that is when things get fun.
What are you praying for? So this may sound simple but what is it specifically that you are asking for? Be specific, and intentional about this. So what exactly is it that you are asking for in your life? Be direct with God, He already knows what you need!
Who are you praying for? Prayer is so powerful. Jesus tells us to knock and keep knocking and the door will be opened. Who is it that you are praying for? Who is it that you know needs the love of Jesus? We know from earlier in this teaching that we are to be the salt of the Earth and the light of the world. We learned today that God answers our prayers. He will open doors for us…so let me ask you. Who is it that you know of that you are actively praying for? You know for years ago, Ken would hand out these paper dolls, and we would write names on them of our friends and family who needed to know Christ and we would post those dolls with the names somewhere we could see them often. It was a great reminder to pray and to continue to pray for people we loved and cared about who needed to know Jesus in a real way and do you know what is really cool? Some of you people sitting in the audience today were once a name on someone’s paper doll. Someone prayed for you, and you ended up finding Jesus through those prayers. Who is it for you?
These are such important questions for you today. Are you spending time with God or not? As I thought about jumping into a talk on praying this way, and the idea of praying effectively it just kept bringing me back to how much we need to be walking through life with God. We must be spending time with Him. If we aren’t we simply won’t live as the disciple that Jesus asked us to be, and frankly none of this will really make sense.
Everything changes when you spend time with God. Are you praying, and if so what are you asking for and who are you praying for?
Be deliberate. Be intentional. Don’t give up. Ask and keep asking. Seek and keep seeking. Knock and keep knocking. If you are struggling to grasp or believe that we can take Jesus at His word that we can actually believe that if we ask God for things we need, that He will give it to us, if we seek God will reveal it to us, and if we knock that God will open doors for us…can I tell you something…that probably means you haven’t yet experienced the shift that changes the game for you…the shift that takes the focus off of you and onto God…and that only happens when you spend real, pure, and loving time with God.