“Are You There God? It’s Me…” – “Who Dis?”

We kicked off a new series at Gateway Church in Austin on prayer.

Whether or not you believe in prayer and whether or not you feel like you know how to pray, during this series, you will discover the power of and the path to connecting with God which can bring comfort, hope, and healing.

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own or get together with your group, spiritual running partners, or family to talk through what you are learning.

Digging Deeper

Video:

Audio:

Message Notes from Kenny Green and Eric Bryant:

If we’re honest a lot of us can resonate with the lyrics of that song. Whether it rings true of our past or present relationship with God. We can often feel like, “I WANT to talk to God, but I don’t know where to start. Or I want to talk to God but you don’t know what I’ve done, what I’ve been through, or the mess I’m currently in.”

Too many people turn to drugs for relief from life‘s pressures, and those same methods can be deadly! Instead, God invites us into something real and life-giving like prayer.

Today we hope you hear clearly that there’s a God and his name is Jesus, and you have his ear. No matter what your life looks like in the past or present, you can communicate with the one who created you.

ME

Sabbatical in 2018. No internet for 5 weeks. 

I was pretending it was 1992 – no texting, no cell phone, no emails, no internet. Before the summer I had printed out maps so I could drive around with paper maps on my trip to Wisconsin and to Washington D.C..  That was tough and probably more dangerous than driving around looking at a map on my phone!

I also tried to only watch television when my wife wanted to watch – which I discovered is not very often.

But it was so hard to get off the internet. My goal was 6 weeks offline.

At first, I was cheating. I would check my email once a day. Now, I felt good about myself because I wasn’t on my phone all day. I was just getting back to inbox zero with only about 3 to 5 minutes online. It was after a week or so of cheating like this that I received this email from Sulinda.

Now, I have to be honest. I did not immediately respond. I was enraged! I mean the word “respectfully” does not go along with “I will change your email password”? She cannot do that!

I had to work through the 12 steps several times before I was ready to respond. When I responded later, I said: “Thank you.” She was right. I was missing the opportunity to be completely offline which was a gift I was squandering!

Without touching the phone, I could pray. I could think. I could observe. I could reflect.

So many times I would be in an airport terminal or at the store or at the movies, and I would be the only one not looking at my phone!

No phone meant I was thinking about the phone, the news, trades in the NBA, Facebook, and on and on. 

Did you know that on average, we grab our cell phone 80 times per day. That’s once every 12 minutes!

“The heaviest smartphone users click, tap or swipe on their phone 5,427 times a day, according to researcher Dscout. That’s the top 10 percent of phone users, so one would expect it to be excessive. However, the rest of us still touch the addictive things 2,617 times a day on average. No small number.”

It was hard but one of the hardest parts was something I didn’t expect.  

SILENCE (production note: just a black screen with white letters)

… after more 20 years of full time ministry where I’ve had a pager and then a mobile phone which added more and more games and distractions all-of-a-sudden it’s just me alone with my thoughts. (or at least so I thought)

I don’t know if I’d ever really understood what people meant when they’d say, “the silence was deafening” …but now it made sense. 

The external silence gave an amplifier to the voices inside my head.

No phone led to moments where I felt anxious. I found my mind wandering towards dark thoughts. 

I began to realize that often I had been using my phone to stay on the superficial level of life so as not to let my mind go so dark.

The voices of guilt & shame, of anger & regret, of condemnation & self-hatred… and most of all, fear of the future… all coming at me in rapid fire. It was deafening.

I don’t know if I realized how that phone that I had kept on to be accessible for other people’s emergencies had become my go to in the silence. I could always check my email, answer a text, read the news, play a game, or even call someone.

… but then I experienced a voice that seemed to silence all the others… 

I’m here, you’re not alone… I always have been… and I’ll never leave you.

I’m not ashamed of you… I love you… and I still have an amazing plan for your life”

It wasn’t so much an audible voice, as it was something coming from deep inside me… and yet it wasn’t me at-all.  At that time in my life, the voices in my head were always anxious, insecure  and chaotic. This was a voice of peace and confidence.

Here’s a helpful way to discern God’s voice…

God’s voice is consistent with His character. If He is asking me to do something, it is something that is selfless and requires courage. 

The hardest thing for me to understand, in that moment, wasn’t that God was real or that he would speak to someone (I grew up in church, so that wasn’t weird to me)… what I couldn’t  understand was why He was speaking to me.

God, why would you speak to me?

And it seemed to happen over and over and over!

Each day, my primary ways for spending time with God included reading the Scriptures and praying by journaling.

Before reading the Bible, I pray: “God, show me who you are and who you want me to be.”

I have been journaling since I was 15. I started journaling because I was forgetting what was happening. It was more of a day to day report, but it has turned into a way to stay focused when praying. My mind doesn’t wander as much when I am writing.

Wrote the following in my journal about a particular dark thought I had which was the fear of losing my family:

“Forgive me for my superstitious tendency to fear giving You my family for fear of losing them. Forgive me for assuming closeness to You only comes through suffering. Instead may I pursue You with intensity and intentionality because I want you and not because I need You (though I do).”

Then I started reading Psalm 144, and it was exactly what I needed!

11 Rescue me, and save me from the grasp of these enemies who speak only lies and don’t have truth in their deeds. 12 May our sons be like healthy plants as they grow and mature, and may our daughters be like the corner pillars that decorate a palace. 13 May our storehouses be full with abundant supplies of every crop, and may the flocks of our fields multiply into thousands and tens of thousands! 14 May our cattle be strong and productive, without miscarriage, without loss, and may there be no riots or protests in our streets! 15 Happy are the people for whom all this is true; happy are the people whose God is the Eternal! – Psalm 144:11-15

This happened several times during my trip. I would journal about something bothering me and then I would read the Scriptures, and it was exactly what I needed.

Now, I spent a lot more time in the Scriptures than I normally do. Instead of just a few verses, I took the time to read several chapters. In doing so, I created the space to hear more directly from God about what I was needing. It was like a treasure hunt every day to discover what God had for me!

WE

In a really honest moment together, I’d bet that we all deal with that question sometimes. We see our lives through our own broken lenses… our failures, our fears, our addictions… 

  • all the times we’ve said, “I’m never gonna do that again”but did.
  • every time we promised, “I’m gonna change”but didn’t

God, why would you speak to me?

For others, we have painful places in our lives that have been a struggle… Infertility, struggling in your marriage, wanting to be married, hoping for some kind of healing for you or someone you love but the suffering continues.

Or in a broader sense, we look around and continue to see so much injustice and violence in our world…

And if we’re really honest, we wonder why God hasn’t intervened or maybe even blame Him for what’s happening, and so we think…

God, why should I speak to you?   Why pray? What’s the point?

Like you, I’ve walked along the road of my own life and I’ve experienced the many twists and turns along that very broken road… 

amazing mountain-top moments – and seasons of utter darkness… 

and just like you, there are these questions that I’ve repeatedly dealt with in different seasons of my life.

  • (Trusting God) What if I have questions and doubts about God… and what if I’m struggling with trusting Him? 

What’s the point of praying when I’m not even sure I trust God?

  • (Trusting Myself) What about all the times I’ve failed God before… not to mention all of the times I will surely fail Him again? 

Would God really want to hear from me?

I believe that this is the tension that we all live in, to some degree, but that’s what’s so beautiful about being part of a community like ours… that wherever you are on your journey with God… misfits like me… everyone with questions… with doubts and skepticism… everyone who believes in God and anyone who isn’t sure yet… we all have different connotations when we hear the word prayer

  • For some it seems silly, the thought of petitioning some invisible force. 
  • For others it seems dogmatic, like something we have to do in order to appease a disgruntled God. 

The truth is prayer is so much more than the boxes we have confined it to.  

It’s an invitation into 2-way communication with the God of the universe. 

Through prayer there’s an adventurous relationship we can step into.

Here’s our hope that you get from today if nothing else:

Prayer is simply communicating with a loving God who desires to speak to you and loves to hear from you.  

GOD

So, as we jump into this new series…

 I want to explore a little piece of this amazing story of God and a guy named Abram… and I want to see what we can learn about God’s character and about trusting Him… and I want to see if maybe you and I can find our place in this story as well.

First thing we need is a little context… 

The history of God and Abram’s relationship begins back, pretty close to the beginning of the Bible in the book of Genesis. 

20 second recap- Adam and Eve disobey God and sin and brokenness pollute God’s good world but still he provides hope for humanity. 

Genesis 6 there’s the flood to cleanse the world from this cosmic and human rebellion. 

Genesis 11 there’s the Tower of Babel moment where humanity is trying to invoke God to do their bidding like a genie in a bottle and God scatters them and changes their languages. 

So we see a pattern here, with each rebellion whether by spiritual forces or humans, God starts over. So when he calls Abram, it’s a blank slate. 

There’s possibly no knowledge of Yahweh (the Hebrew God), so Abram didn’t grow up in church or have any familiarity with God. 

But God calls him anyway.

And I hope that comforts you today. God is always in the business of starting over, even when you least expect it.

We meet Abram in Gen11 and don’t really know much about him.

We learn a little bit about his family of origin… 

He’s in Ur that would later most likely be Babylon. We can infer he’s probably following other gods of his family and culture. 

We know that Abram has a wife named Sarai who was barren… so they had no children. 

Then Gen12 begins with these words…

Genesis 12:1-4

The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him;  Genesis 12:1-4

God came to Abram in his native country, (Ur… later known as Babylon) and He tells him to go… 

I want you to leave everything that is familiar to you… and I want you go to a land that I’ll reveal to you later”… 

and the reason I’ve called you to leave your country is because I am going to give you offspring… 

enough to make a great nation.

But not only that… out of your descendants will come one through whom,

all the peoples of the world will be blessed.

Now we have to understand… Abram has no familiarity with Yahweh.

He basically looks at the caller ID… sees “unknown” …decides to pick up and rather than hang up, He listens. Not only that, he obeys.

Rather than what Ricky did to me when I was coming back from my sabbatical in 2018. 

I texted him with something urgent just before I returned, and he responded with “Who dis?”

Abram is living in a time and culture where they worship many gods… 

that’s all Abram has ever known and yet there’s something so compelling about Yahweh’s voice…

that Abram is moved to leave everything and follow him.

Sometimes we think this was a voice from the sky, but God would meet Abram in the form of a person (theophany) speaking to him face-to-face (Genesis 12:7)

Prayer invites us into this kind of relationship.

This is so important for us to understand. When we pray or take time in the silence to hear from God we are not whispering in the wind and hoping that God gets the message. As our friend Tara Browder says, “Prayer isn’t leaving a voicemail on God’s answering machine.”

For anyone under 25, God doesn’t leave you on READ or screen your call. NO! 

When you pray the God of the universe pulls up a chair because He loves to hear from his son, from his daughter. 

He meets with you face to face, even though you can’t see him. 

He’s in that passenger seat, he’s at that kitchen table, he’s at that doctor’s appointment, he’s at the school. He’s with you.

Now, as the story keeps moving forward some real tension and frustration are building because, although God has made these promises to Abram… year after year after year is passing… but Abram still doesn’t have any kids.

Genesis 15:1-3

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’

But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’ 

Do you ever find yourself having conversations with God where you’re like,

Look God, I don’t know if you’ve noticed what’s going on… or if you’re aware of the gravity of this situation…

That’s pretty much what’s happening here.

Abram’s like, “God I still don’t have any kids… you promised to make me a great nation but if I died today, some dude I’m not even related to would get all my stuff ”.

Genesis 15:4-6

Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.’ He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. 

There’s a couple really important things going on here…

1st we’re told that… 

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. 

It doesn’t say he believed “in” God… but that he believed Him.

Abram trusted God 

Remember friends, it’s very possible… and far too common for people to believe in God but to put absolutely no faith… or no trust in Him.

Abram trusted in the promises of God… and he ended up basing his entire life around those promises.

But I also want you to see, Abram had questions and doubts 

Some of y’all are like, “wait, which one is it… did he trust God or did he have doubts?

A lot of us grew up in traditions that taught us, trusting God means moving forward without questioning. 

The Scriptures invite us into something very different…

See friend, I believe trusting God means moving forward with our questions and with our doubts… it means moving forward without having all the answers and without having all the information.

The opposite of faith is not doubt… the opposite of faith is sight.

… and so with all of his questions and doubts, Abram believed God.

He trusted Him… and God credited to him as righteousness.

If you keep following Abram’s story, everything came to pass just as God said it would.

God changes Abram’s name to Abraham (father of many) and is given a son named Isaac who had Jacob… and out of them grew a great nation with a land of their own… and through their descendants… centuries later… a man was born… through whom all the peoples of the world will be blessed… and His name was Jesus.

Just like Abraham, Prayer invites us into a life of adventures and it sustains us in peace. 

See prayer invites us into the reality God has before us. 

A reality beyond our doubts, beyond what we can see, and beyond what we deem possible.  Abraham is thinking “just give me a son” and God is thinking every nation and generation for all of human History. 

You and I get stuck thinking our words may not be working because we’re simply looking for X to happen and God is thinking  X to the 100th power. But we will never see what he sees without stepping into the adventure and beauty that is prayer. And again,

Prayer is simply communicating with a loving God who desires to speak to you and loves to hear from you.

YOU

Here’s what’s so interesting to me…

  • People often highlight the faith and courage of Abraham to get up and leave everything behind in response to God’s voice.
  • You might think very highly of the disciples… these fishermen who dropped their nets, the tax collector who left a slimy but very lucrative career… these men & women who encountered Jesus and responded by dropping everything to follow Him.
  • Some of you might even be inspired by my story or the stories of others in our community who’ve left very broken lives behind and said “Yes” to Jesus… and our lives have been completely transformed.

… and I think highlighting those people & their stories is great!  

I love living in community where we can inspire each other.

I love that we often see our reflections in the lives of Bible characters who’ve done amazing things and have amazing stories.

But the hero of all these stories is God.

See you can read the stories of Abraham, and the disciples… 

I can share my story with you and I would love to hear yours…

but prayer is hearing from God and God hearing from you.

When you pray, you’re in conversation with the Hero of all our stories.

Don’t miss that!

No matter who you are… God wants to speak to you and He wants to hear from you.

Jeremiah 29:12-13

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

He desires to speak into your life… even if your life feels a lot like that opening song.

Jeremiah 33:2-3

“This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’

There is something so compelling about the voice of God…

It’s not an anxious voice of a telemarketer trying to sell you or scam you… it’s the voice of peace trying to TRANSFORM you.

WE

Just like Abraham, Prayer invites us to “come as we are” into a life of adventures… 

and in-the-midst of our questions and doubts it sustains us in peace.

Let’s be honest, prayer for everyone can feel weird and overwhelming.

o   Most of us if asked don’t have the prayer life we desire to.

o   If this is new for you… it can feel like “where do I start?

o   For ALL of us at times we get stuck in the guilt of “I have to”, but payer is an “I get to!”…

Maybe you don’t know where to start. And you’re wondering “do I pray to the Universe… 

do I pray to these crystals, to the saints?” You can start by praying to the God of the Bible, to JESUS.

John 10:27

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Here’s a simple structure you can use, this is just a tool, not a religious prescription. 

It’s one of hundreds of ways to pray, and it’s the acronym A.C.T.S prayer slide

Imagine if we put this into practice each day, how different would our day look?

How different would our world look?

When you take intentional time with God, he directs you into an intentional way of living. And just so you know the digging deeper is going to have a new section where as a church we are going to pray together so that in all of our groups we can learn how to pray and practice prayer together.

See this isn’t wishful thinking. 

This isn’t manifesting and speaking it into existince so the universe can give you your every wish. 

Prayer is aligning your heart with God’s heart. 

It’s knowing my dad always has time for me. 

My dad wants to hear about my ups and downs. 

My dad loves me and always has my best interest at heart.

It’s living knowing the maker of heaven and earth, the creator of time and space is always speaking and he’s always listening to me. And what happens is we begin to live with more of his character in our daily lives. More of his peace, patience, goodness, self-control, love, etc. 

And just like a best friend or a spouse who you both take bits of each other’s personality- all of a sudden the longer and deeper we communicate with God the more of his character we take on, the more of his personality shines through our own, the more of his love for us and for others can’t help but break through. 

Prayer is simply communicating with a loving God who desires to speak to you and loves to hear from you. 

Let me give you another personal example.

This supernatural communication between me and God continued throughout my sabbatical. I would write a prayer and find the answer in the Bible.

As a parent I worry about my kids as we all tend to do. I wrote about some of my fears and concerns, and then I read this passage from Isaiah which really encouraged me – even as I saw God’s promise to work in their lives – to move them from the desert to fruitful.

So it will be until God pours out the Spirit from up above, and the land comes alive again—desert to fertile field, fertile field to forest. 16 Then justice and truth will settle in the desert places, and righteousness will infuse the fertile land. 17 Then righteousness will yield peace, and the quiet and confidence that attend righteousness will be present forever. 18 My people’s homes and hometowns will be filled with peace; they’ll relax, safe and secure. – Isaiah 32:15-18

Isn’t that amazing!? A home filled with peace! 

Now, the word “relax” is like a threat in my family. Even since the days of ancient Scotland, Bryants are not known for being able to relax! Yet God was calling me to learn to do just that.

A couple of weeks later, my prayer from June 24th was answered on my trip to Washington, D.C..

I was driving to D.C. from Richmond, Virginia after visiting some friends. I was driving with a huge water bottle so by the time I got to D.C., I was desperate to find the coffee shop I was looking for called Ebenezer’s. Unfortunately, I had not printed any maps to Ebenezer’s so I kept driving around town looking forward and then asking people for help finding it. Finally, I found it, but it was closed and not open until 8am!

Now, I was desperate. I was facing a bladder emergency! I looked on my map and saw I was very close to Gallaudet University, one of the largest universities for the deaf community in the world. It is also the school where several of my friends from our Gateway South Deaf Network graduated. I drove onto campus to see it and to find a bathroom! Even though there were two baseball teams up early warming up on the baseball field, I could not find a bathroom!

I went to the campus police station hoping someone would be there and could direct me. An officer came to the door and I explained my situation. It was then I realized that he was deaf. Then it quickly dawned on me! I had learned some ASL! So in my broken ASL, I told him I needed to go to the bathroom so he led me into the police station and to the bathroom. It was such a relief that it was as if I had learned enough ASL just for that moment!

As I was driving away, I felt prompted by God to go up the hill rather than exit the campus. At the top of the hill, I prayed asking God to speak to me. My first thought from God was the following:

“You have been unable to hear and unable to see to what I have for you.”


Ouch!

I asked for forgiveness and asked for help being more intentional about listening to what He has for me and seeing what He has for me.

As I drove away from the top of the hill, I felt prompted to go to the right rather than to the left, which was the same direction I had come up the hill. Just a few minutes later, I slammed on my brakes!

There to my right was the Kellogg Conference Center and Hotel! I had a map to find that later because that was the hotel priceline.com had put me in for my four days in D.C.! I had found my hotel without using a map but by following God’s promptings.

It was not lost on me that to make the point further, I was staying on the campus of a deaf university and the next day I lost my glasses.

Even still, I want to be willing to listen to God and respond, to see what He has and obey.

God was showing me the way, I just wasn’t listening!

Here’s the thing: many of us were raised in a religious environment. Religion tends to perpetuate the idea of doing good things to get God to love us. It makes us lean into the idea of a human doing.

Before you ever did a thing for God, He did everything for you!

He created you on purpose and with a purpose.

He came to walk among us. Living a perfect life, teaching with authority, driving away evil, healing illnesses, ultimately Jesus willingly gave His life taken on Himself all the evil of humanity, yet death and sin could not defeat Him as He rose from the dead!

We are loved and because of His love, out of gratitude we live a new life. We do the good that He has created us to do!

So as we go in this last song would you be so bold as to pray whatever is on your heart, and pray with confidence knowing that God hears you and He is working in you and on your behalf.

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