PRS — WHAT PRAYER IS [PART 2]
by Pastor Mike Fortune
October 24, 2009
Introduction Video: BlueFish Vid: Epiphany
We can keep company with God through...
- Nature [Psalm 8:3-4; Isaiah 40:26; Matthew 5:26-30]
- Providential circumstances [Proverbs 3:5-6]
- Music [Psalm 40:3]
There are 126 pages in the book Steps to Christ, but three big ideas, or epiphanies as our video clip suggested, are behind it. Pray. Read. And Share. So as a way to help us grow in our spiritual formation that Pastor Rachel and I have been emphasizing this fall, we started a series last week called PRS. It’s all about how we become and stay Christian. If we want the Holy Spirit to help us navigate our lives, we don’t have to climb to the top of a tall tower and beg God to take an interest in us. As we learned last time, God is already with us and keenly interested in us. As God keeps telling Mack, the central character in the very thought provoking book we’re discussing on Wednesday nights called The Shack, God keeps telling him, “I’m especially fond of him. And her. And them. Just because I’m not visible, doesn’t mean our relationship has to be less real. It will be different, but perhaps even more real” [pp.118, 121]. I love that about God!
And because God feels that way, He tries a myriad of ways to communicate with us. And one of those ways is through prayer. But prayer has been misunderstood by Christians for thousands of years. We think it’s something we do to get what we want. Which turns God into a heavenly Coke machine. Where we put some church prayers or attendance in and hope to get something out. But this is not why Jesus said in 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.”
Yes, it is always okay to ask God anything. Jesus asked the Father to take this cup from me in Gethsemane. Lists in the bulletin are fine. But since God is omniscient, He already knows all our lists. Those lists are for our benefit not God’s. God tells us to ask Him stuff because He’s interested in the inevitable relationship that grows from the asking. And if that’s true, then prayer is about keeping company [Matthew 26:36] with God [Isaiah 1:18] who is already present [Psalm 139:7-10]. We talked about that last time in part one. Today, what I want to talk about are just a few ways we can keep company with God. Don’t throw away your lists and requests. But don’t limit your prayers to them either. Let’s learn to add practicing the presence of God. Because that's what prayer is.
The first way we can do that is through nature. And this is point number one. Psalm 8:3-4 (NKJV) says, “ 3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” Isn’t it easier to practice the presence of God in nature? A few weeks ago at our annual bonfire and hayride at the Case’s farm, you could look up into the sky and actually see the stars! I can’t always see them in Toledo where I live. But out there, they’re really bright!
Albert Einstein once said, “Atheists can only be half an atheist at night if he only looks up at the stars.” I remember when Joshua first saw the moon, he said, “Look, it’s broken!” Because that night it was half a moon, a crescent. There’s a great chapter in Brennan Manning’s book called The Ragamuffin Gospel. Which by the way may be the next Wednesday night discussion book. It’s one of my all time top ten books. It would make a great Christmas gift to all your friends and family members. In it, Manning notes that scientists say “If the moon were only 50,000 miles away from the earth instead of 200,000, the tides might be so enormous that all continents would be submerged in water—even the mountains would be eroded”[p. 34]. But God has everything perfectly balanced. So much so that they can create those tide charts to accurately tell how high the water will be 200 years from now. God is dependable. He can take care of the details. If you were to keep company with God in nature, that’s one thing God might say to you. Quietly. In the solitude of night. And openness of your heart. Isaiah 40:26 (NIV) says, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and call them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
If you can trust He who hung the stars and moon in the sky and controls the tides, don’t you think you can trust Him to handle your life? If not one of them is missing, why would you think you are? We are not lost. It just feels that way some times. Prayer is about listening for what God is telling us through nature. He didn’t stop talking after the world was created and the Bible was written.
Take the honey bee for example. Did you know that a honeybee scout that has found a good source of nectar does a “honey dance” to tell the other bees in the hive where it is? Dr. James Tucker in his book In His Hands tells us if the nectar is more than a hundred yards away, the scout bees do a figure-eight dance. The narrow, crossover part of the figure-eight indicates the direction with respect to the Sun. A downward run indicates the food is in the direction of the Sun. An upward run indicates the opposite. And angles in between are demonstrated by runs to the right or left. Because honeybees may travel as far as three miles to harvest nectar, the scouts have additional means to communicate distances. They vary the speed of the dance as they waggle across the figure-eight. Twenty runs a minute means the nectar is half a mile away. Twelve runs a minute means it is two miles away. Beyond two miles, there is little decrease in speed. What is God saying to us through the honeybee?
In Matthew 6:26-30, Jesus says, “26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
Of course we can keep company with God on Sabbaths. But don’t assume God won’t be speaking to you through nature every day of the week! The more likely scenario is that we aren’t paying attention on any other day of the week. God didn’t stop speaking. We stopped listening. So start listening. Keep company with God. Last week, Jackie and the kids and I did this by going Geocaching. Have you guys ever heard of that? I hadn’t until last week. But Jackie had. And we all really enjoyed it. Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment. There are 927,257 active geocaches around the world and after typing some coordinates in our GPS, we found two more hidden at Wildwood Metro Park. I’ve got some pics about this. Maybe we should do some of this at our church retreat coming up December 11-13. So bring a little notebook to write down the things you find and what you hear God saying to you through them. Jesus said, “Consider these things.” This is point number one.
But there’s other ways God keeps speaking to us. The next one is through providential circumstances. Proverbs 3:6 (NKJV) says, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Skeptics describe what I’m telling you next coincidences. But through the eyes of faith in an active God who is very fond of us and is continuing to reveal Himself to us, I see them as ways he’s still keeping company with me!
A few years ago, the car door handle in our ten year old Chevy Beretta literally broke off in my hand as I was opening the door. So I flexed first in case anyone was watching [just joking], then I walked around the car and entered through the passenger side. And continued doing that for a few days until I had time to go to the dealer and get it fixed. Well, when I did, they said it was attached to another part of the door that costs hundreds of dollars to fix. Money I didn’t have. Thankfully, it was summer so I just rolled the window down and climbed in and out of the window for a few more days like Bo and Luke Duke on the Dukes of Hazzard. But after a while, even that got old so I started praying that God would intervene.
Shortly thereafter, a friend saw me slide across the hood of my car before crawling through the open car window [just joking, about he hood] and suggested I go to a junkyard for a new part. Which I hadn’t thought of since I assumed junk yards had junk in them. But not true! Not only can you get gently used parts there, often from the very same vehicle you have, but you can also order original manufactured parts. And that’s what the owner of this recommended junk yard did for me. Total cost? $35. I didn’t need to buy a whole new door. Just a brand new GM door handle. Every time I got into that car after that, I thought of and thanked God. Who is keeping company with me. Was that a coincidence? Or a providential circumstance?
But you know, providential circumstances can’t be contained within the pages of a syrupy-sweet Guidepost magazine or a children’s devotional with a Disney ending. As Jackie and I learned just this week, God is keeping company with us and silently speaking back to us [if that makes sense] even when things don’t go our way. Most of you know Jackie is a pediatric home health care nurse. She loves babies. And I’m glad her job allows her to hold as many of them as she wants without us actually having any more!
On Tuesday, she was in a client’s home doing her job in broad daylight at 11:30am when someone broke into her car, smashing her window and side door with a crowbar, to steal her purse. Which she had hidden underneath the dashboard. Unfortunately, the thief saw it or guessed well enough and found it and we spent the better part of that day canceling credit cards and talking to our insurance company and getting a rental car. What could God be telling us through this?
Maybe God is saying you’re exactly where you need to be because the people all around you obviously need God. Or they wouldn’t be breaking God’s laws and mans to provide for their own needs. Maybe God is saying, “I steered you into the home before this dangerous person with a crowbar came cruising down the street looking for trouble.” I don’t’ know. What I do know is that, after the initial frustration and anger subsides, it is possible to choose to see God keeping company with you even in uncomfortable situations. Isn’t that what Daniel’s three friends told Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:16-18? There it says, “16Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’”
You see, we can choose to believe God is fond of us. And interested in revealing Himself to us and even saving us from dangerous situations. But we don’t have to. We must choose to. And even if He doesn’t because we live in a broken and messed up world, in the meantime we can still choose to live by faith. Like God told Mack in The Shack, “Just because I’m not visible, doesn’t mean our relationship has to be less real. It will be different, but perhaps even more real.” It’s not the same kind of relationship the disciples shared with Jesus, but according to Jesus, it can be just as real. We know this is true because Jesus said in John 17:26, “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
We can keep company with God through nature. Point number one. Providential circumstances. Good or bad. Point number two. And a third way God speaks to us if we will listen is through music. That’s not a surprise to Janica or Arden or Glendon or anybody leading music from week to week. But it was a huge epiphany to John Bunyan’s church in the 1600s. Because until the 17th century people had sung only the psalms and paraphrases of Scripture. Hymns introduced secular poetry into the church. And they were convinced that was evil. Even if the poetry overtly talked about God! Apparently, they weren’t aware that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible writers to add at least 4 pieces of secular poetry straight into the Bible. There are probably more, but scholars agree at least these four places in Scripture were based on then well known secular poems or songs. They are John 1:1-18, Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20; and 1 Timothy 3:16.
But it wasn’t just hymns that were controversial to the church. So was the organ on which they were played! Steve Miller in his book The Contemporary Christian Music Debate sums up the attitude toward the organ with this plea from Carlstadt, “Relegate organs, trumpets, and flutes to the theater. Better one heartfelt prayer than a thousand cantatas of the Psalms. The lascivious notes of the organ awaken thoughts of the world [p.28].”
So we must be careful what we make an issue of. What we accept today our ancestors fought over in the past. Bottom line: Instruments are simply tools in the hands of God or the devil. They can lift you up. Encourage you. And draw you closer to God. Or they can beat you down. Discourage you. And pull you farther from God. Philippians 4:8 says something like, “Whatsoever is true, pure, and praiseworthy, think on such things.” So these are the principles I use to determine whether music is Godly or not. I got them from Dr. Ed Christian, former editor of the Adventist Theological Society in his book Joyful Noise published by Review & Herald in 2003. If you haven’t read that book but promise you will, I’ll give you a copy afer church.
And on your way out today, I’ll also have a CD for you if you’re interested in listening to some of my fave Jesus songs. On my iPod and on my blog, there’s a continually growing playlist of songs that remind me about Jesus. One of my faves is the Hallelujah Chorus by Handel. Michelle told me The Messiah is playing on Sunday December 6 @ 2pm at the Peristyle in the Toledo Museum of Art. That’s the song that King George II stood for when he first heard it and why audiences to this day stand in concert halls around the world when the song is played. Music made that big of an impression on the king.
And it makes just as big an impression on me. Jackie is working December 6, so I may have to go without her! Anybody here think that’s a good idea? Guess we’ll see! But that overtly Christian music quoting Scriptures from the Bible could speak to me the same way they spoke to King George II is not the epiphany here. The big surprise to me was the God uses supposedly secular music to say the same things! I know this is true because one day I was driving home from work months after September 11, 2001 and the awful events that transpired that day. Before the iPod came along, I had to actually hit the “scan” button on my radio as I was driving and wait to hear a song I wanted to hear. Well, one day as I was driving, I heard one I liked but didn’t recognize. So I hit scan so it would stop searching and settled in listening to the rest. At the time I didn’t know that Bruce Springsteen wrote it for the firefighters who risked and subsequently lost their lives rushing into the burning buildings to save the people trapped in the stairwells. All I could think of is how Jesus rushed to this earth to save me! The song so moved me that I had to pull the car over and wipe the tears from eyes. And as I sat there on the side of the road with cars buzzing by me, I had an epiphany. God just used Bruce Springsteen’s music to speak to me! He told me, “I”m so very fond of you. I love you like crazy. I would rather die than spend eternity without you.”
So on your way out of church today, if you want it, Shawn’s got some CD’s of some of my fave Jesus songs off my ever growing playlist. Many of them are overtly Christian. But some of them are not. And one of them is that song by Bruce Springsteen called “Into the Fire.” I hope you enjoy listening to my fave Jesus songs. And I hope it will inspire you to make your own. I’d love to listen to the music that moves you. And reminds you of God. Because We can keep company with God through nature [Psalm 8:3-4; Isaiah 40:26; Matthew 5:26-30]. Providential circumstances [Proverbs 3:5-6]. And yes, even through music. Psalm 40:3 says it this way: “ 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.”
I wish I had time to tell you the three other ways I keep company with God. There are at least six I use all the time. But I’ll save those for another time. So keep your lists. Ask and keep asking God for everything according to His will be done. But also start practicing the presence of God. Because He really is very fond of you! The epiphany is not that God is still talking to us. The epiphany is sometimes, we actually stop to listen! If we do, we will learn to enjoy many sweet hours of prayer.