“Are You There God? It’s Me…” – “Spam Likely”

We continued our 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.

Prayer is meant to be persistent, because persistent prayer is powerful!

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

Gateway South Austin Video:

Gateway South Austin Audio:

Message Notes:

Me – “How do I struggle with this?”

When I was in college, I was really trying to understand what it meant to follow Jesus and grow in my faith. I had heard people describing their relationship with God as their Heavenly Father, but at the time I had a strained relationship with my dad. I heard people refer to Jesus as closer than a brother, but at that time in my life, my brother and I were more like rivals. And I would hear people describe their relationship with God as having a best friend. I wanted to experience this but I didn’t understand it really.

I had friends who talked about their amazing times of prayer with God, and I wanted that but didn’t fully understand what that meant. It seemed like prayer was the pathway to a close relationship with God, but I struggled with prayer. I would get distracted or fall asleep or forget to do it.  I had started to like reading the Bible and had even started memorizing verses, but I could not seem to get into any real rhythm praying.

I decided I was going to go to the church near campus where I was helping with the teenagers and stay up all night praying. I was determined to connect with God, to have a supernatural experience, and to have a story to share with my friends.

The night came and I took some snacks, some drinks, my Bible, a pen, and a journal with me. I was thinking of it like a sleepover with God. I was hoping He would reveal to me my future. Maybe He would make it clear who I should marry or where I should live after college.

I prayed outloud for a few minutes and then decided to read some of the prayers in a book in the Bible called Ephesians. I was sitting on the floor reading, and I don’t remember how far I read. All I know is that I woke up with my face on my Bible around 10am the next morning! I had slept through the entire night! Not only had I slept through the entire night, I slept for like 11 hours – more than I usually ever slept!

I was so disappointed in myself and so frustrated. I started praying outloud again knowing that I needed to get up and leave because I had something to do on the calendar. After I begged God to forgive me and shared my frustration with God for failing to do what I had wanted to do, I had this thought I think was a thought from God: “You don’t need to hit a home run every once in a while. Start hitting singles every day.”

For those of you unfamiliar with baseball, it used to be America’s Sport back when I was a kid. The home run was the best play in baseball, but some of the hitters who hit the most home runs also tended to strike out more than the others because they were always swinging for the fences. The teams who had players who were consistently getting on bases actually had a better chance of winning.

As I shared last week, prayer has always been hard for me, but I have come up with some adaptations that have really helped. I like to write out my prayers in my journal. What’s nice about this is being able to go back and see how God has answered some of my prayers. In fact, I have been doing this for so long, I have forgotten more miraculous answers to prayer than I remember! In looking at my journals, I have found so many things that really scared me or concerned me or worried me which kept coming up in my journal being resolved in ways better than I could have imagined.

I also love prayer walking with my headphones on. Once again this keeps me awake, and if I am talking outloud with my headphones on while walking around my neighborhood, people just think I am on the phone instead of crazy.

Finally, another adaptation I have made since those days is praying with people throughout the day. Whether it be my wife on one of our walks or with my kids whenever they are concerned or worried about something or in a conversation with a friend or times set aside to pray with others.

We –  “How do we all struggle with this?” 

What about you? How would you describe your prayer life? Are you consistent? Do you only go to God in an emergency? Have you given up on prayer? Do you feel like you are talking to the wall? Or have you experienced the peace that comes with God’s presence and guidance?

I would venture to say most of us, if not all of us, would describe our prayer life like this- “it could be better.” 

“Nearly 30 percent of Americans pray for over 5 minutes daily, 32 percent say grace daily, and 21 percent of Americans meditate daily. Among those who pray, the typical prayer lasts around a minute or two for nearly 40 percent of Americans and a little over 5 percent of Americans pray for half an hour or more whenever they pray.”

the Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion (a survey taken in 2021)

Which of these statistics describe you?

By the way, prayer doesn’t only have to be verbal, we can connect to God through our thoughts throughout the day. 

Some of us ghost-follow God, it is like we are watching his Instagram feed, we might even like his content, however, we don’t engage in a relationship with Him in the way that our soul needs. What He offers is all the content we need!

It’s like we go to Him once a week (which is better than not at all) or twice a week (once on Sunday and once in our Gateway group which is better) or once a day including several days a week on our own (which is much much better, but still we have access to God at all times and any time! But prayer is constant engagement. It’s asking the Holy Spirit to give you the right words to say in the middle of that tough conversation at work. It’s praying the prayers of the Bible over your children. It’s even as silly as asking God for a parking spot to open. It’s constant interaction. For some of us we need to remove the box of  formality and religion we have relegated prayer too.

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.

God – “What does the Bible say about this?”

The disciples of Jesus would see Jesus disappear for hours and come back seemingly refreshed and ready to move the mission forward. Jesus would often withdraw to pray.

Curious about what he was doing, they asked him to help them. We can read the story in Luke 11.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

“When you pray, say:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 

your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

3 Give us each day our daily bread.

4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

And lead us not into temptation. – Luke 11:1-4

Some of you may have grown up where you quoted this in church and perhaps it has lost its meaning. Some of you have may have grown up where this prayer was used almost like a form of punishment (“say 100 ‘Our Fathers’ to be forgiven”). 

Instead, we need to see this prayer from Jesus as a guide to remember to pray for what we need and share with Him what we want, and trust everything to Him.

Let’s walk through this so that we know how to pray according to Jesus.

“Our Father…” – God is personal and loving. 

“Hallowed or Holy is your name…” -There is no one like him in Heaven or on Earth. 

“Your kingdom come…” – Jesus’ primary message was that the Kingdom of Heaven is here! Our most effective prayers are when we pray the heart of God, according to His Word and His will. He wants us to bring more of heaven to earth everywhere we go!

“Our daily bread…” – not weekly bread, but a fresh everyday dependence on Him, like Israel had in the wilderness. “

“Forgive us” – remind us of our need for God and of our need to be in right relationship with other people. This is part of what makes followers of Jesus different from the rest of the world!

“Lead us not into temptation’ – an acknowledgement that we need God’s help out of temptation. He always has a way out. When we give into temptation we hurt ourselves, those we love, and we do not represent God well.

Too often we pray the Lord’s Prayer Backwards

We pray something like 

“God save me, deliver me!”

“Oh, ya…forgive me Lord..

By the way…I need some provision…some “daily bread”…I’ve got these bills!

May your Kingdom Come

And….Your Great God…thanks

The Lord’s Prayer was in the news this week. The pilot of the new Artemis crew is Victor Glover, and he said the following: “When Jesus was teaching the disciples to pray, he used that very specific prayer that we all know, ‘Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name …’ So, listen, I am a messenger of his kingdom; his will be done.”

And he went to ask people to pray for the crew and their families as they take on this mission.

Think of all things that have to go right. Artemis 2 is scheduled to do a flyby – traveling more than 200,000 miles to loop around the moon, going about 4,600 miles to the far side before gravity catches them, pulls them around, and points them back to Earth for the return journey.

One space journalist said, “Their job is to break in a new transportation system and come home to tell everyone all about it.” This is true, but “breaking it in” involves testing whether a craft that has never flown with people in it can sustain life.

I found it remarkable that this pilot who’s at the top of his profession, the 1% of the 1%, he’ll be the first Black astronaut to orbit the moon, and in this article he talks about the importance of prayer. If we’re honest it’s “easy” to pray when life has beat us up and we are down on our luck. We cry out to God in desperation, in those times like you need a miracle to just survive! And don’t get me wrong those prayers are valid, necessary, and important. But do you still pray after you get the thing you prayed for? Because when you’re at the bottom and can only look up, it feels like God is your only hope.

But God desires for us to ALWAYS come to him. Whether our career is on a rocket trajectory or we’re stuck in “Houston we have a problem” mode. Can i tell you this- you need God, and thus need to pray, as much on your BEST day, as you do on your WORST day. Jesus told his disciples, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Meaning sure you can do a lot of important things, maybe even good things, but apart from me you’ll never do any GOD things. Things that last. Things that bring Heaven on Earth. Prayer is the oxygen our spiritual lungs need.

“The Lord’s Prayer is really the community’s prayer. What stands out in the prayer is its spirit of submission and dependence. It envisions a community that walks with God and looks to him for everything from food to forgiveness….

The communal emphasis is seen even at the prayer’s start, Father. In fact, even in introducing the prayer as a call to the Father, Jesus does it with a pronoun reminiscent of the Southern U.S. idiom “you all”: when you [plural] pray, say . . . As disciples come before the Father, they are to affirm their unity and share a sense of family. This communal character laid a solid groundwork for the liturgical use of the Lord’s Prayer. The communal perspective reflected in the prayer is difficult to appreciate today in a highly individualized society. But community before God, even sharing the same goals in intercession, is a major part of discipleship.”

From IVP Commentary:

-IVP Commentary

After Jesus teaches them how to pray, he shares a story:

“5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” – Luke 11:5-8

Jesus invites us to pray with shameless audacity! What a beautiful thought!

Prayer is meant to be persistent, because persistent prayer is powerful!

Is God just trying to test us to see if we really mean it? Why doesn’t He just answer us the first time? Why do we need to be persistent?

“The value of persistent prayer is not that God will hear us, but that we will finally hear God.”

– William McGill

God is a Father who constantly wants you pulling on His pant leg. God loves it when you blow up His inbox. To Him it’s not spam! Our prayers don’t end up in the spam folder!

We don’t bother or annoy Him, he doesn’t leave us on Read. He longs to hear from us everyday. 

He doesn’t block the call. He doesn’t screen your messages. He wants to hear everything.  

The idea is not that God is trying to get us to beg him for what we want, but trust Him for what we need which may not be exactly what we think.

There’s an old saying attributed to Augustine in the year 427 that we should “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.” As someone who has struggled with being a workaholic and not as dependent on God as I truly need to be, I prefer to reverse it:

“Pray as if everything depends on you, and work as if everything depends on God.”

– Gateway version of Augustine’s quote from A.D. 427

This means that prayer has to be urgent: God has to do something dramatic if everything depends on me. It also puts our work in the right perspective: if it depends on God, we can let it go. We can work hard but leave the outcome up to him.

And God desires us to come to Him not just in emergencies and not just once a day, but throughout the day.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. 11 Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. – 1 Chronicles 16:10-11

God wants to answer our prayers.

9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” – Luke 11:9-13

Remember, He is a Father who wants to give good gifts to His kids, and He knows what is best for us!

“God always answers your prayers in precisely the way you want them to be answered if you knew everything he knew.” – Timothy Keller

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. – 1 John 5:14-15: 14  

He hears us when we go to Him.

Prayer is not telling Him what to do but aligning our heart with His heart for us.

David’s Psalms – open and honest, venting, angry, anxious, and “yet I will still praise you no matter what.”

You – “What should you do about this?” 

Come up with a plan that works for you and start! 

And then hit singles every day. No need to hit a home run every once in a while. Just try to be consistent. 

Start the day with the Lord’s Prayer 

Use the outline Jesus gives us to stay in tune with God’s heart for our lives.

Meditate on the Lord’s Prayer

Biblical Meditation – which means contemplating or thinking about a passage of Scripture. The Hebrew word “meditation” means “to chew.” You are chewing on a passage.You are thinking about what the author must have meant and thinking about all the angles of the passage and even thinking and praying about how to apply the passage to our lives.

Instead of emptying your mind, biblical meditation is about filling your mind with what is Pure, Praiseworthy, Lovely, Admirable, Noble, True, Excellent, and Right. This is an acronym rearranging what we find in Philippians 4:8. So you are filling your mind like you would put a seed in a PLANTER. To remember this just think of what you sow or plant is what you reap. In other words, what you think about affects how you feel, how you think, how you act, and how you live.

A friend of mine in my online men’s group started listening to the Gospel of John on the Bible App called YouVersion at half speed whenever he woke up in the middle of the night. It was his way to really let the Word of God saturate His heart and mind.

Memorize the Lord’s Prayer – Start with the Lord’s Prayer and you could always memorize other prayers like the ones in Ephesians 1 or Ephesians 3. Consider other written prayers of lament or praise or the Serenity Prayer. Sometimes these prayers can help you refocus or know how to get started.

One of the advantages of biblical meditation and memorizing prayers is God often uses His Word to speak to us. You are adding more of God’s vocabulary to your heart and mind so that when a phrase or verse or prayer from the Bible comes to mind, you can know that is one of the ways God whispers to us what He wants for us.

Pray with others. The Gatewaychurch.com/diggingdeeper 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. If you aren’t in a Gateway group then try this with your roommates or your family or join a group! Some groups focus on Healing, some on Belonging, Some on Serving, and some on Growing. Indicate your interest on the Connect Card and/or at the Connect Spot.

In fact, one of the things I love about Gateway is that when you join a group that Serves on Sunday at our campus, you’ll exercise your prayer muscle. You’ll meet others serving and hear their needs and have opportunities to pray together each Sunday. (if you have a story of a group that’s starting their serving in prayer  on your campus, insert here). You can join a Serve Group today by just going to the lobby and look for the sign that says “Serve with Us.”

We – “How can we all live this out together?”

What if we became people in tune with Jesus and what He wants for our lives? What if we were able to experience God’s presence, His peace, and His guidance?

You know what would happen? We would bring more of heaven to earth at work, in our neighborhood, in our home, in Austin! God would use us in part as the answer to our own prayers!

We would live at peace with others because we are able to forgive others and ask for forgiveness.

I want to invite you to do something a bit different with us today. Let’s stand together and say outloud the Lord’ Prayer together. 

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us today our daily bread. 
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ – Matthew 6:9-13

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