Welcome to the seventh week of our series called This Is How We Roll. We are officially past the halfway mark of this huge, 13-week series. And God is blowing my mind with everything He has already done in this series.
The series is exactly what the title suggests. We are talking about how we roll as followers of Jesus. Who has God called us to be? What has He called us to do? How do we roll as people and as a church that follows Jesus?
Tonight as this series moves on, we’re going to talk about one of the most important parts of following Jesus. We pray.
Now, some of you immediately feel guilty. You think that this message is going to make you feel guilty because you don’t think you pray enough. Or you don’t feel like you pray correctly. When you try to pray, it’s all “ums” and “uhs,” so to be honest, it’s just not something you do very often.
This message is going to turn all of that upside down. I’m going to give you some hope tonight. I’m going to show you some things in Scripture about prayer that you may have never thought about before. It’s going to be awesome.
So as we get ready to talk about prayer, I think we should pray for God to speak to us tonight.
Anybody ever feel like that when you pray? A lot of people feel like they’ve really got to flower things up when they pray. You’ve got to fold your hands the right way. You’ve got to use words like, “thee” and “thou” and “thy.” You’ve got to sound very pious and very religious. You probably don’t talk to anybody else that way, but that’s how you’ve got to talk to God.
But Jesus paints a very different picture of prayer for us. Look at what He said in Matthew 6, starting in verse 5. Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they 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.” (Matthew 6:5-8, NIV)
The effectiveness of your prayer isn’t found in stringing together the right religious words. It’s not found in babbling on and on and on. You don’t have to have a degree in theology to pray. You don’t have to speak King James English to pray.
And here’s why…the most common title for God in the Bible is “Father.” Jesus Himself said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” That’s how God is described more than any other way in Scripture. He is our Father.
And I know for some of us, that’s a tough concept because we didn’t have a good relationship with our earthly father. Maybe you didn’t have a good dad. Maybe you didn’t even have a dad around, because he left you.
As tough as this is, you can’t judge your Heavenly Father by your earthly father. God is your perfect Father. And you are His child that He loves more than anything.
So do you know what prayer really is? It’s a child speaking to their loving Father. And it’s a loving Father speaking to His child.
That’s prayer. And when you see it like that, you immediately start to see that you don’t have to try to impress God when you pray. And you definitely don’t have to impress other people when you pray. Prayer is simply communicating with your Father.
If I were to ask everybody in this room a few questions, I bet I know how they would be answered.
If I asked, “How many of you feel like you don’t pray enough?” I bet a lot of hands would go up.
If I asked, “How many of you feel like your prayers aren’t what they should be?” I bet a lot of hands would go up.
If I asked, “Does all of this make you feel like a loser Christian?” I bet a lot of us would say, “Yes.”
Here’s what I want us all to understand tonight…prayer was never meant to be a source of guilt and frustration. It’s meant to be a source of joy and peace and hope!
God doesn’t deal in guilt. That voice that tells you, “You’re not good enough. You can’t even pray the right way. You’re such a loser,” is not God’s voice. God doesn’t roll that way.
You don’t have to have the picture-perfect prayer life to be a follower of Jesus. Honestly, the way we have defined a “picture-perfect prayer life” is not the way God defines it in Scripture.
So let’s chase after some hope today. What does prayer look like in the life of someone who wants to follow Jesus closer and closer everyday?
Tonight we’re going to talk about a couple of principles that can really set us free to experience the power of prayer in our lives.
Here’s the first one: pray out of your mess. If you really want to learn to pray, you’ve got to accept that you will be praying out of your mess…a lot. Life is messy. We are all very, very imperfect. And messy, imperfect people will pray messy, imperfect prayers. If we don’t pray out of our mess, we’ll never pray.
In the book of Acts, Luke tells us about a man named Stephen. Stephen was a bold guy who was preaching about Jesus to whoever would listen. That profoundly ticked off the Jewish religious leaders, so they arrested him and made him appear before the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish ruling council.
Stephen took that opportunity to preach a powerful message about Jesus, and that’s when they sentenced him to death by stoning.
Here’s how Luke describes it in Acts 7. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59-60, NIV)
Stephen was being executed, even though he had done nothing wrong. Things had gotten really, REALLY messed up.
But look at the way Luke describes it to us. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed…”
Stoning was an incredibly brutal, painful way to die. To die by stoning meant to have your skull crushed with huge rocks. It’s an ugly, barbaric method of execution.
And that’s what was happening to Stephen, simply because he wouldn’t quit preaching about Jesus.
And when you really understand what was happening, it makes these words all the more incredible. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed…”
Stephen prayed out of his mess. If you’re being stoned to death, I think it’s safe to say that life has gotten really messed up. But he prayed out of that mess.
And that can really change the way you and I view prayer. If you want to revolutionize the way you pray, start with giving yourself permission to pray out of your mess.
Sometimes life hurts. Life gets all screwed up. Life gets messy. And it’s in those moments when we need to pray the most that we often pray the least.
Because we’ve got this picture of prayer as a neat, tidy, religious, pious thing. You’ve got to read your Bible. Listen to a quiet worship song or two to really get in the zone. Get on your knees. Then, and only then, does your prayer really count.
Maybe the reason we have so many phony, plastic Christians today is because we’ve bought into the lie of phony, plastic prayer.
If we don’t learn to pray out of our pain, we’ll never really pray. If we don’t learn to be okay praying out of our mess, we’ll never experience the power of prayer. If we believe that God only listens to perfect prayers that come out of a perfect life, then we’re all in big trouble.
We need to completely change our view of prayer. Prayer is a conversation with our Heavenly Father, which means we are free to be honest with Him. We are free to be real with Him.
God sees our mess. Our Heavenly Father knows our pain. And He desperately wants to meet us there.
Jesus told a great story in Luke 18. Here’s the way Luke describes it for us, starting in verse 9. “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else [in other words, phony, plastic, religious legalists], Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, NIV)
God didn’t honor the religious, legalistic, arrogant, plastic prayer from the Pharisee. The Pharisee did the right things. He said the right words. But there was no humility. There was no authenticity.
On the other hand, there was a tax collector. Tax collectors in this time period were well-known for being conmen and swindlers. They were crooks, and everyone knew it.
But this tax collector prayed a prayer that God honored and answered. He beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“God, I’m so jacked up. I’m such a mess. God, can you ever forgive a screw up like me?”
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t neat and tidy. It wasn’t religious and pious. But it was honest. It was authentic. It was real. And God heard. And God responded.
We need to take prayer out of this pretty, religious package that we’ve put it in and we need to put it back where it belongs. In real life. Authentic prayer is gritty and messy. It isn’t eloquent or scripted. It’s raw. It’s honest. It’s desperate. It’s real.
And since we’re talking about being real, let me be very honest with you. My prayers are messy. Inconsistent. Broken. And sometimes non-existent. I go through seasons where I just don’t pray very much at all. And when I do pray, it’s nothing that would be worth writing down. It’s very inconsistent and very broken. And sometimes I just don’t even know what to pray.
You ever been there? You don’t even know how to start praying. You have no clue what to pray. You feel guilty. You feel like a horrible, horrible Christian.
Let me throw you a lifeline. Listen to what Paul wrote in Romans 8. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27, NIV)
There is an amazing truth in this passage. Paul is telling us that the power of our prayers is not based on our ability to pray. Think about that. The power of our prayers is not based on our ability to pray.
You know why? Because the Holy Spirit is praying for us! The Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf.
When life roughs you up so much that you don’t even know how to pray, the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes and prays for you.
That means that the power of your prayer isn’t based on you. The power of your prayer isn’t based on your ability to pray. It isn’t based on your ability to find just the right words. It isn’t based on your ability to pray long enough or pray often enough.
It’s not about your ability. It’s about your availability.
If you make yourself available to God…if you quit trying to hide behind religious pretense and platitudes…but instead, if you make yourself authentically and honestly available to God, that’s when you’ll learn how to pray. And in the moments where you have no idea what to pray or how to pray, Paul said that God searches our heart. God knows what is in our heart even if we can’t make the words come out of our mouth. And He loves us enough to listen to the Holy Spirit as He prays on our behalf.
Are you feeling the freedom here tonight, because this is awesome! The pressure is completely off of us. There is no pressure to create this perfect life so we can pray perfect prayers. Just the opposite. God listens to the prayers of people who are messy and inconsistent and broken. You know why? Because messy, inconsistent, broken people are the only kind of people that exist.
Start praying out of your mess, and you’ll discover a God who doesn’t run from our mess. Instead, your mess is exactly where He’ll meet you.
Now, let’s go back to the story of Stephen, because there’s one other thing I want us to see that will completely change the way we pray.
“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59-60, NIV)
While they were stoning, Stephen prayed for Jesus to receive his spirit. In other words, Stephen knew he was about to die, so he prayed, “Jesus, here I come!”
But then, he prayed one more time. And it wasn’t a prayer for himself. He prayed for the people who were stoning him to death. He prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
And that brings out the other principle that can really revolutionize the way we pray: Pray beyond yourself.
Let’s be honest…for a lot of us, if we do pray, it’s usually a pretty self-centered deal. We pray about things that affect us. We pray for things to go well for us. We pray all about us.
And you should pray for yourself. You absolutely should. But you can never pray ONLY for yourself.
But we may be tempted to think, “Well, my life is just so crazy right now. If things ever calm down and start going right again, I’ll pray for other people. But right now, I’ve got to focus on me.”
Stephen didn’t wait for everything to be good with him before he prayed for others. The guy was in the process of being stoned to death! That’s about as bad as it gets! And even in the middle of that pain and that mess, Stephen prayed for other people.
If things are really bad right now…if life just isn’t going the way you planned and you’re confused and broken and hurting…you know one of the best things you can do? Pray for somebody else.
It sounds counterintuitive…it sounds flat out backwards…but it’s the truth. One of the best things you can do when life gets rough is to pray for somebody else.
One of the most incredible examples of this that I’ve ever seen was a guy named Richard. Richard lived life at breakneck speed. He worked way too much. He didn’t see his family much. He never darkened the door of his church because his work schedule never allowed it. Don’t get me wrong…he wasn’t a bad guy. Richard was a good man, but he lived with the gas pedal to the floor all the time…until he was confronted with the word “cancer.”
A scan revealed that Richard had brain cancer, and while they tried to treat it, nothing helped. This cancer would eventually claim Richard’s life, and everyone knew it.
But the amazing thing was what happened in Richard’s life. Richard almost immediately started living his life for others. Richard visited shut-ins. Richard called people who were ill. Richard prayed with people. He wasn’t on a church staff, but Richard became one of the best pastors that I’ve ever seen. And Richard lived with more joy than ever before.
On the surface, it made no sense. But when Richard was diagnosed with cancer, he poured his life into ministering to others. He devoted himself to serving others. To praying with and praying for others. And the end result was that he had a huge impact on the lives of a ton of other people, and it completely changed HIS life in the process.
That’s what happens when we start praying beyond ourselves. It reminds us all of this simple truth. Life is not about me.
The quickest way to be miserable is to make your life all about you. The most surefire way to feel overwhelmed and hopeless is to focus your life around everything that isn’t going right with you.
But the fastest route to joy is to reorient your life around others. To serve. To give. To be generous. To pray for others.
And that’s how we roll here at Connect. We pray. Our passion is to be a praying church. A church that is filled with people who pray with raw authenticity. We’ve got no time for hypocritical, plastic prayers. We are real people who pray real prayers.
And we are a church of people who are committed to praying beyond ourselves.
We are a praying church. We are a church filled with broken, messy, inconsistent people who pray broken, messy, inconsistent prayers. But that’s okay, because those are exactly the kinds of prayers that God hears and God answers.
And the reason is because Jesus covers our every inconsistency and inadequacy. Jesus forgives our every sin. It’s okay that we’re not perfect because Jesus was perfect for us.
That’s the freedom that comes from the gospel, the good news of Jesus. It takes the pressure completely off of us. There is no pressure to perform because it’s all about Jesus’ performance, not ours.
There is no pressure to measure up because Jesus measures up for us.
There is no pressure to be good enough because Jesus was good enough for us.
Jesus lived the perfect life that we couldn’t live, and then He died the death we should have died. And that sets us free. We don’t live under condemnation. We don’t live in a prison of guilt. We live in the freedom of grace.
Because of Jesus, we are reconciled to God. Because of Jesus, the wall that separated us from God has been demolished. We can pray. We can know that we are loved. We are forgiven. We are free.