At Gateway Church in Austin, we continue our series, WHY PRAY?
Many people talk about prayer—this idea of talking to God, but for some it can be an elusive practice. What is prayer truly meant to look like? What is its purpose? If we begin to seek answers concerning what prayer is all about and what it can lead to in our lives, what might we find?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE I SHARED:
HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE BY JOHN BURKE:
How do you pray? Last week we looked at Jesus’ Model Prayer—sometimes called the Our Father prayer—Jesus shows us by Why Pray and gives an Outline of How to Pray—go listen if you missed that, but this week we want to go deeper into How to Pray.
Today, I want to stretch you to try new ways of praying. Because at the root, prayer is simply connecting with God, talking, listening, being with the Lover of our Souls—the One who Created us in love and for His love.
- Prayer is how we connect with the God of the Universe.
- Prayer is a great privilege.
Prayer also takes practice, it’s like a spiritual muscle. You don’t use it you, lose it. The less you pray, the more awkward it feels. The more you pray, the more you grow strong in prayer.
Today, I want to stretch you to try new ways of praying, ways that will help you gain clarity again in the muddy waters of life.
Know any body builders? From my understanding (not my experience), body builders like to change up their routine every so often because your muscles get used to being stretched in only one way, so you don’t build strength as easily unless you stretch or test them in new ways.
So prayer is a spiritual muscle that needs to be stretched in new ways as well to really grow.
Contemplative Listening Prayer.
If you read the Bible, it’s very clear throughout all the prophets that God speaks, but we must learn to listen—
But God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams…He whispers in their ear. Job 33:14-16
God says through Jeremiah: To whom can I give warning? Who will listen when I speak? Their ears are closed, and they cannot hear. They scorn the word of the Lord. They don’t want to listen at all. Jeremiah 6:10
All the prophets say a similar thing—we must learn to have spiritual ears that hear and spiritual eyes that see, or we will not hear, not see. Jesus often said,
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Mark 4:9
“Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” Mark 8:18
What God clearly revealed to those willing to seek Him is that He does speak, He does guide, but we must learn to listen with spiritual ears that hear. But what does that mean? Was God mercifully warning us, but we were just too busy or self-consumed to really listen?
Making time to get quiet, pray, listen, ask, seek, must be part of our lives if we want to hear. I’ve since seen, God doesn’t force us to seek Him, make Him a priority, or learn to listen, why?
Well, because what He wants most is our hearts, and that requires our attention, and booming commands don’t get us to listen…a whisper does. A whisper makes us lean in and pay attention, it’s intimate conversation.”
That’s what God wants us to learn in prayer—to listen deeply.
We connect with God through faith. With a booming voice, no faith is required.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6
Faith—seeking God, trusting God—that’s Success in God’s eyes and these were the eternally successful.
See communication is just me trying to get my thoughts into your mind.
I’m a finite, limited human, so have to use my voice, a microphone, speakers, your ears, I bet less than ½ of this thought reaches your mind—you probably dismiss another 1/2.
I wish I could just put all my thoughts directly in your mind, that would be more direct. You might mistake my thoughts for your thoughts, you could ignore my thoughts, but you’d have them in your mind. I can’t directly put my thoughts in your thoughts, but God can! That’s God’s whisper.
No one ever explained to me God’s whisper, but I started to learn through Listening Prayer.
What is Listening Prayer? Well, you learn to listen by having a willing heart of faith, if you’re willing to act, God will speak. If you’re heart is hard or unwilling, God will wait. The key to Listening Prayer is the posture of your heart. Jesus said this to his disciples in contrast to some Religious but hard-hearted Pharisees:
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused…Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” Matthew 13:14-16
So how do you practice Listening Prayer?
Take time in the morning or when you can find that quiet, uninterrupted, non-busy space, for me before all the demands and to do’s of the day start screaming.
If you use your phone as your alarm, try to avoid the trap of starting your day checking your likes on Instagram or Facebook and try avoiding the news. It will be there later. Try starting your day and ending your day with prayer.
You might Pray like we talked about last week, for Alignment with God’s heart and will, talking over all that’s on your mind or heart, nothing’s out of bounds, even sin, worries, needs, requests. But then do this to grow in Listening Prayer:
- Surrender your will…get yourself in a posture of willingess to do His Will, no matter what. Be brutally honest, but decide, if God speaks am I willing to listen to obey? If so, then you’re ready. See, if we’re unwilling in some area, You’re putting your fingers in your spiritual ears, and you won’t hear anything. Willingess to obey unstops our spiritual ears.
- Set a watch to bee in 10-15 minutes, close your eyes, commit your thoughts to God and say “Lord speak, I’m willing and listening.” Then for 10 minutes, be silent, just relax and let His thoughts come to you, don’t try, don’t make stuff up, just listen quietly
One of the most important things I’ve shared about hearing God is discerning God’s thoughts from my thoughts and from the dark thoughts we all have. Gods thought’s are generally selfless, require faith or courage, and are always consistent with His character as we find in the Scriptures.
As we saw in the Get a New God Series, God is
The God of compassion and mercy! He is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. He lavishes unfailing love to a thousand generations. He forgives iniquity, rebellion, and sin and brings justice to the guilty.” Exodus 34:6-7
Now, when your thoughts start racing off, and they will—here’s how to focus. Meditate on a verse of scripture.
Let me just say, meditation is a Biblical practice that’s been lost. It’s not where you empty your mind completely and let anything come in. Instead it is about filling your mind with God’s Word.
There is a benefit to quieting and focusing your mind so you can hear from God. The Hebrew word, Hagah, often translated Meditate occurs 25 times in scripture. It conveys the idea to focus, say in your mind, turn over and over, contemplate—it’s quieting and focusing your mind:.
“When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches…” Psalm 63:6 NASB
“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night…” Joshua 1:8 NIV
“I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:12.
I find it helpful when my mind’s racing, to take one aspect of God’s character, or a promise of scripture, or something He’s done and use it to focus and quiet my mind to listen.
Sometimes I speak the name of Jesus, sometimes I turn a verse of scripture over and over in my mind “Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest” or “Peace be still” or I may say the words of Samuel.
In 1 Samuel 3, young Samuel thinks Eli the priest is calling him—after 3 times, finally Eli realizes, it’s the Lord. So he says, go lay quietly and say:
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:9
Dr. JP Moreland, a theology/philosophy professor who struggled with anxiety and talked about how 15 minutes a day meditating like I just described helped decrease his anxiety immensely.
So quiet or focus, Then listen, and when the watch beeps after 10-15 minutes, write down repeated or strong thoughts or clarifying thoughts that came to mind. Be willing to act on them, and you’ll see yourself grow in hearing from God. But you won’t know if you don’t act in faith.
So don’t push those thoughts away.
Then if you want to take listening up a notch practice:
Abiding Prayer – In Soul Revolution, I write about how this is the single most important thing we can learn to do. It’s what Paul meant when he said:
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17-29
Pray continually, giving thanks always—sounds laborious doesn’t it? But it’s just the opposite. It’s incredibly freeing.
One time Jesus and probably 20 of his closest followers were at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Martha was busy trying to get food on the table—she was doing a good thing, serving Jesus, but She got all frustrated, stressed and bitter because she was working hard for Jesus, and her sister wasn’t. Jesus said to Martha,
Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary. Luke 10:41-42
And Mary has chosen it. If only one thing is necessary—what is it?
Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening…Luke 10:39
See, the way we love God is by listening and responding — being obedient.
But this isn’t a 10 minute thing—it’s needed constantly. So on the way to Gethsemane, Jesus picks up a branch, “look, you are like this branch, and I’m like the vine. A branch doesn’t work real hard to produce fruit, all it has to do is stay connected to the vine and fruit grows naturally.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
You can do…Nothing! But what Jesus is saying is that you can keep yourself incredibly busy “do-gooding” even Christian “do-gooding”, and miss the whole point of your existence—to live life out of continual conversation with God who wants to teach to truly love others his will and ways—this Abiding, constant-connection prayer is actually the One and Only thing we must do. It’s what Jesus as the perfect human was doing:
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19
We stay connected to the Source—the Trunk or Vine–Then God changes us from the inside out so that love, joy, peace, patience—the fruit of God’s Spirit grow naturally from within, and God does His work through us as we listen and respond in radical obedience.
But You must practice this Abiding Prayer—a state of learning to stay connected to God, talking over everything, your work, your home-life, your temptations, your every interaction—asking
- “God what do you want me to see, hear, do? Give me wisdom and guidance this moment.
- You’re conversing, listening and responding to promptings all throughout the day— what you find is Life goes so much better.
- You start to see that God really is with you to help you, in everything, and you get to see God at work much more clearly through your day.
But this is NOT natural to us. That’s why we’ve done the 60:60 experiment found in Soul Revolution—because our natural habit is ignore God’s presence and guidance most of the day. If you download the Soul Revolution 60:60 free App, every 60 minutes for 60 days, it will ring or ding or sing and a verse will pop up reminding you how to stay connected. It’s interrupting our habit of ignoring God, and reorienting our hourly moments to remember to communicate with Him, listening and responding, all throughout the day.
One more stretching form of Prayer of Solitude and Silence – Dallas Willard, the former head of the Department of Philosophy at USC, also one of the wisest, most Godly Christians of the last century said, “Solitude and Silence are the most important spiritual practices for our noisy, busy generation. It’s a form of prayer where you learn to BE instead of just DO.”
Jesus began his ministry with 40 days of Solitude, silence and fasting. It was that critical for him to be prepared for what God the Father would do through him. He taught His disciples the same:
“Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to [the twelve apostles], ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” Mark 6:31-32
Why do this? It solidifies your Identity in God, not in people or performance. Paul said,
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19
Solitude and Silence press us deep into experiencing this prayer – which notice, has nothing to do with Doing, but only Being—rooted and established in Love, able to grasp just how loved you are As Is, without doing, performing, getting it perfect—
Solitude and silence force us to wrestle with how wide, long, high, and deep God’s love for you is, so that you can be filled up with all the fullness of God. God’s heart toward us is so much kinder than we are toward ourselves often–we drive ourselves like taskmasters, yet God wants to give our souls rest.
As Dallas says:
“Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. You will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways.”
Silence also brings Sabbath [rest] to you. It completes solitude, for without it you cannot be alone…
You will discover incredibly good things.
- One is that you have a soul. Another, that God is near and the universe is brimming with goodness.
- Another, that others aren’t as bad as you often think.
- But don’t try to discover these, or you won’t. You’ll just be busy and find more of your own doings.
- The cure for too-much-to-do is solitude and silence, for there you find you are safely more than what you do. And the cure of loneliness is solitude and silence, for there you discover in how many ways you are never alone.” – Dallas Willard
On our survey, 40% of you said Anxiety and anxious thoughts constantly plague you. I’m convinced—that’s why we need the Prayer of Solitude and Silence. It’s where God started to cure my anxious thoughts and worrisome ways.
What is it? It’s going somewhere enjoyable, beautiful, or comfortable and cozy—to just Be with God and your thoughts. Sound terrifying?—yep—it did for me too. You know why? Because there’s stuff God wants to clear up, clarify, bring healing and peace into, but He can’t while we keep so busy and stirred up. We have to let the bottle of our lives sit long enough, undisturbed, for the silt and muddiness of life to settle out where God can bring Clarity to “Who we are” and what we “should or should not do.”
Stretch your prayer muscle, pray daily if never done that.
If you have, try one of these. Try Listening Prayer daily, or do the 60:60 Soul Revolution experiment in Abiding Prayer, or take 3 hours for Solitude and Silence.
In all this remember God’s promise: “Draw near to me, and I’ll draw near to you.”
That’s the point.