We continued our series on prayer at Gateway Church in Austin.
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. In the midst of your deepest pain, biggest regret, and hardest loss, you can still talk to God.
Consider working through the discussion questions and Bible study with your roommates, family, or community group.
Message Notes from Ricky Echeona and Eric Bryant:
And it has surely hit all of us at some point or another, for many of us more times than we would ever want.
So what do we do when it feels like God lets us down? Like our prayers didn’t work?
I mean we hear all the time pray, pray, pray, talk to God, but for what if He didn’t care enough to answer me.
Have you been there? Are you there right now?
How can I go to God when I’m so angry with Him right now? It feels like he’s the object of my ire and he’s the last person I want to talk to. When things fall apart, how do you even begin to put the pieces together? When life delivers a punch to your gut and kicks you in the face while you’re down, and all you desperately want is to remember what air tastes like, how do you fathom even getting back on your feet?
Whatever you are carrying today that feels like a 500lb barbell to your soul, we want you to know this today about prayer- We can trust God with our deepest pain and brokenness, because He is with us. This isn’t Bible fairy dust that makes the pain go away.
See prayer is not something we do; prayer is someone we are with- Jesus.
There are seven signs in John’s Gospel he shows us that puts the final seal of divinity and power in the hands of Jesus. In the Bible 7 is a number of completion and wholeness, so John purposefully curates these 7 miracles to say something about the nature of Jesus and to say, “He IS who He said He IS, and you can trust Him.”
The first of the seven signs was a wedding, and this 7th one was at a funeral.
On one hand the pinnacle of social celebration, a wedding.
On the other hand, the depth of human despair, death.
And we are given intuitive insight that Jesus is Lord over both.
That in celebration and in suffering He is present. He is with us.
When I was 19 years old my great Uncle Henry was sick. Now my uncle Henry was the most gregarious and fun kind of uncle you could have, but he was also intimidating. He had been in the military, and he had both arms covered in tattoos before they were common or cool. He was also bald before it was common and cool. Plus he was raising dozens and dozens and dozens of pigeons that were all in his backyard that had been in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds. Most intimidating of all, I heard him along with my grandparents and other great aunts and uncles play cards together. They were passionate about their card games! There would be all sorts of yelling and swearing and card-throwing, and that was from my grandma and her sisters!
I was really trying to follow God, so I was spending time praying and reading my Bible every day. And I was praying for my Uncle Henry. And everytime I prayed for him, I would think about how I should write him a letter telling him how much I loved him and how grateful I was for having him in my life. I also wanted to share with him about facing death with faith rather than fear, so I wrote to him how he could ask God for forgiveness and because of what Jesus did on the cross, he could know he is forgiven. He doesn’t have to fear death, but he could know that death brings us into the presence of a holy and loving God because Jesus made a way for us.
I had planned to go see him with the rest of the family Easter weekend and ask him if he had a chance to read the letter, but once again I kept feeling this prompting to go see him sooner. I drove from Waco to San Antonio to see him, his wife Lillie, and my grandparents who I called Dema and Papa. They were all waiting for me at his house.
I went into his house, and he was sitting in his recliner. Once he noticed it was me walking towards him, he grabbed the letter he had kept on a table next to the recliner and held it up. With tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, he said: “I did what you encouraged me to do in your letter. I prayed! I asked God to forgive me.”
To see Uncle Henry so happy and so tearful was overwhelming! Aunt Lillie, Dema, and I all started crying, and Papa disappeared out of the living room.
A few weeks later when the entire family came for Easter, our Uncle Henry was in the hospital and no longer responsive. Not long after that, he passed away. Had I not written that letter and not come early, I would have missed that beautiful moment.
My aunt Lillie asked me to speak at the memorial service. Honestly, it was one of the most difficult things I ever tried to do. Miraculously, I was able to bring some hope and comfort and make it through the service. Since then I was able to help at the services for almost all of my great aunts and uncles that loved playing cards along with other family members.
Here’s the honest truth. We all face loss. Our life comes and goes so quickly. God is the One that helps us through this life and welcomes us into the next life if we choose to be with Him.
John 17:3 says it this way: “Now this is eternal life, that you may know God and Jesus who He sent.”
In our series on prayer, I hope it hasn’t gotten lost that prayer is personal, because prayer is a person (Jesus).
Every week we’ve seen prayer is not a message in a bottle hoping it crosses the ocean of distance between us and God.
Prayer is a God who has already drawn close to us, and says “I’m here; talk with me, walk with me.”
No matter what season of life we are in whether celebrating or suffering God is WITH us.
Throughout today we are going to wrestle with how do I pray, how do i talk to God when He’s let me down, when he didn’t show up when I needed Him. How do I give God my pain, my hurt, my loss, my grief. The Bible calls this process Lament, a passionate expression of grief and sorrow. But Biblical Lament also moves from sorrow to praise. So let’s read together.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” – John 11:1-3 (NIV)
We see immediately, their request from Jesus. And there’s a nugget there in how we come to God. Notice they don’t send this long essay to Jesus. They don’t list out Lazarus’ resume or appeal to how good Lazarus has been. They don’t say, “You know Jesus your boy Laz has a 802 credit score, he was only in 1 fight in his life and He lost, he volunteered at church every week. Jesus he watched the 11:15am kids and you know they ratchet.” They don’t appeal to Lazarus’ history, they appeal to God’s LOVE.
They say, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When we speak to God we can speak courageously as the children that He loves.
Hebrews 4:16 puts it this way, 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
We don’t have to come to God with flowery language, or pitch your voice down so he takes you seriously.
If you follow Jesus, you are a son, you are a daughter. YOU ARE THE ONE HE LOVES!
We don’t appeal from our goodness, we speak to who He IS– LOVE.
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” – John 11:4-7
Jesus says this sickness will not end in death. But we know Lazarus dies.
If I’m the disciples or Mary or Martha later on, I’m replaying those words in my head, but you promised he would not die!! But we know God is a man of His word and if He said it it will come to pass.
Oftentimes it’s our version of his promise that gets skewed. Verse 5 says, because Jesus loved them he waits.
How can those two phrases sound like oil and water? He waits?!
Can I tell you one of the hardest things about prayer, harder than a “yes” or a “no” from God depending on what you are asking for; is when God says “wait.”
What you do when you are in the waiting room of life, and it’s been months, years, decades, and your name hasn’t been called?
Even harder than a “wait” is when you feel He says nothing at all.
You’ve been there, when it feels like your prayers go no higher than the ceiling.
I’ve heard a pastor say:
“Everyone wants to see a miracle, but none of us will ever want to sign up for a situation that necessitates a miracle.”
God will hear our prayers. God loves when we speak to Him. God will hear our prayers and expectations, but he is God and he answers our prayers in ways that we don’t always understand or agree with. And I know what some of you are thinking, “Here we go, the old ‘God works in mysterious ways’ cop out answer.” I get it. It feels like a lazy response, if you don’t have the longevity of walking with Jesus to see it become a reality.
But many of us have. And I’ll encourage you with this, “If God met all of our expectations, He would never have a chance to exceed them.”
Let’s pick up the story once Jesus arrives.
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. – John 11:17-21
Pause right there. Martha comes in hot.
But it clues us into what lament looks like, what prayer looks like, from here on out I will use those two words interchangeably.
She says, “If you had been here..”
Prayer is coming to God honestly with our hurts, heartbreaks, disappointments, and loss.
- “God there was no reason why I lost that job, why would you take that from me”
- “I’ve done everything you asked and my parents still got that divorce.”
- “How could you take them from us like that?”
- “Why did I suffer that abuse? Why would you allow that to happen to me?”
When we lament we aren’t hurting God’s feelings. He’s a big boy he can handle it.
We are actually trusting him with the things that far too often end up defining us for the worse- our pain.
He knows what we don’t, and that is that that pain unchecked will morph and multiply into something so septic to our soul.
You don’t have to run to another bottle, or run to your dealer for that loud pack, or run to the bed of another person.
You can run to him.
Broken, messy, honest.
The truth is God can’t heal what we don’t reveal.
Prayer is coming to God honestly with our hurts, heartbreaks, disappointments, and loss.
22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” – John 11:22
That’s the kind of faith I want.
That’s the kind of prayer life I want.
God this isn’t what I want, in fact it’s the opposite.
“But even now…” in the middle of my pain, in the middle of my grief, when I’m treading this ocean of tears, EVEN NOW may your will be done.
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” – John 11:23-27
Martha in her honesty is invited into a deeper revelation of Jesus that she otherwise would not have had.
Prayer/Lament is God reminding us of who He is.
In this conversation with Jesus, this prayer if you will, her honestly opening up.
She steps into the character, nature, and power of God.
Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
I get goosebumps just reading it.
He asks “Do you believe this?” and she replies “Yes, I believe you are the Messiah…”
The miracle wasn’t just that Lazarus would be resurrected, but it was a revelation of who Jesus was, is, and will always be- the Savior who came for us.
The real miracle was salvation from eternal separation from God.
The reality that death no longer wins.
The miracles that we are praying for are good and we should pray for them, they point us to the reality that God is in control and we are not.
We should pray for more of Heaven on Earth.
But can I tell you, God would have still been God, even if he had let Lazarus stay in that tomb.
He is still Lord whether he shows up the way we want or not.
And when we pray we are reminded of who He really is; Alpha and Omega; the first and the last; the beginning and the end; the one who was, is, and is to come; firstborn from among the dead; the One whose name is Faithful and True. This is our God!
Spoiler alert: Lazarus would eventually die a second time…so we know that it was bigger than just him being raised from the dead that day in Bethany.
Jay Pathak put it this way, “Everyone you know that has been healed is going die.”
I hope that brings you comfort [tongue in cheek lol]. But it’s true!
So since that is true maybe it is not the miracles that we live for but rather a deeper relationship with God even in the midst of our deepest sorrow.
Did you know Jesus didn’t heal everyone around him?
I mean there’s a moment he’s surrounded by maybe hundreds of people with diseases and ailments at the pool of Bethesda and he heals one guy. One man, who was lame for 38 years. And he later goes up to that guy and says hey you need to live more wisely, because there’s a fate much worse than not being able to walk. And that is why I came.
The real miracle is a transformed life, a transformed eternity when we choose to follow Jesus.
It’s why Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14, because of Jesus’ resurrection we grieve differently. We have hope. He says we don’t grieve like the rest of the world, because we know this isn’t it. So come suffering, joy, pain, loss, and even death my God is NOT FINISHED!
Prayer/Lament is God reminding us of who He is
Mary finally comes out and a lot of those in mourning come out with her, and she echoes some of the same things Martha says
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. – John 11:33-35
These verses give us insight on the emotions and the humanity of Jesus, it says He was deeply moved, and Jesus wept.
It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. In fact if you grew up in church as a kid like me, this was my go to. Teacher said whoever can share a memory verse will get their snack first, and I would go “Jesus wept” give me the Capri Sun lady.
The shortest verse in the Bible is probably the one that so beautifully connects us to the heart of God.
It weaves his divinity with our humanity.
His wholeness with our brokenness.
And he sees the condition of Mary and Martha, their family, their friends, and it breaks his heart.
Even though he knows he’s about to raise Lazarus. He stops and mourns.
Lamenting is mourning
You go, that’s obvious. But hearing me lamenting and praying as a Christian doesn’t mean drown your emotions with Christianese and trite sayings. It is pouring out your sorrow.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “Stop all that crying, don’t you know who I am? I’m about to do a miracle here.”
This is intense sobbing, uncontrollable grief.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. -Romans 12:15
What has happened to us as a society, especially talking to those of us who follow Jesus, where we have stopped mourning and started simply banging the drums of politics and stances. Somewhere along the way we have lost the heart of God for a broken world. Carlos Whittaker says, “Don’t stand on issues, walk with people.”
- Jesus weeps when a gunman kills children in an elementary school, he doesn’t say, “Well the real problem is…” He weeps, and so should we.
- Jesus weeps when another teenager falls to hopelessness and decides to take their own life.
- Jesus wept when you were abused
- He weeps at the injustice and effects of racism
Jesus weeps and so should we.
You know what mourning does?
It keeps your heart soft to the brokenness and hurting people around you. We so badly want to self-protect and not feel, and what happens is our hearts get hardened and cold and we begin dying on the hills of politics, platforms, and issues.
But prayer is mourning, and it keeps us reliant on the goodness of God. knowing that the day is coming at the end of human history where God will make everything right
Revelation 21:3-4 says, 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
Knowing that this day is coming doesn’t minimize our pain or our lament. But it does mean we know one day everything wrong will be made right. And until then you and I through Jesus can bring more of Heaven on Earth.
Jesus says take me to the tomb. They say Jesus it’s been days there’s gonna be an odor by now. He tells them “didn’t I tell you ‘d see the glory of God”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
He’s saying this for you and me, we can be sure that God always hears.
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Lamenting prayer is trusting God’s track record and His character
- Jesus came through and Lazarus burst out like the Thriller video but the thing that kept this from being a parlor trick or a flash-in-the-pan mojo miracle, was Easter. The Resurrection
- The reason you can trust him with your emotions and hurt is because he already won. He overcame our suffering by entering into it and defeating it by the cross and resurrection.
Some of you know our friend Mike Papale has been fighting cancer.
Mike and Kaye have been a part of Gateway for a number of years as a volunteer, a leader, and eventually joined our staff, unpaid because he worked for the IRS.
He jokes “If Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, there’s hope for me.”
Mike was an army ranger in the special forces. Later in the DEA. He’s seen a lot of life and a lot of death, but it hasn’t made any of this any easier.
His wife Kaye and daughter Oona (16) and two boys Sammy (18) and Lucca (16) are hurting, pray for them. Grateful we as a church family have been able to be close to them in what looks like the final days. It has been hard. And listen we have prayed for physical healing and continue to pray for that. But we align our will with the heart of God, and have seen his goodness and mercy in all of this.
Last week we asked him if we could record him. Mike has a heart and a passion to teach God’s Word, and before he got sick I was working with him to do that. It never materialized in the way he wanted but I wanted to give my friend a gift of speaking to all of you, as his earthly life winds down and the horizon of eternal glory comes closer. Hear the words, the faith, the hope, of a man who did not ask for this but who’s faith has never been stronger.
It has been so hard watching Mike and Kaye in this battle, but their moments of faith have been so inspiring.
As hard as it is to say goodbye to someone, it is a gift to be able to do so. It’s still painful when I think about losing my aunt Barbara, my uncle Dale, and my Dad in the last few years, but I am grateful that God gave me the chance to have them in my life, and the chance to say goodbye.
A Tool for Prayer
We’ve done this throughout the message but I want to give you another tool in your prayer life, how to lament with God. You can take a picture if that’s helpful but we also want to let you know this is in this week’s digging deeper. Thankful to our Grow Team for this resource. If you or your family is suffering a loss, do this together:
- Stage 1 – Direct our discussion to God: He is the one who hears and wants to respond.
- Stage 2 – Describe our pain/ doubt/ fear: Don’t hold back God can handle it. Like a parent asking their child what is wrong when they are mad or sad, God wants to hear from us.
- Stage 3 – Depend on God: this is where a prayer of lament shifts from complaint to us reminding ourselves of the good news that God has made a way for us to be whole, healed, perfect one day through Jesus life, death and resurrection. In this part of prayer we ask for God’s comfort, perspective, and help knowing he will respond NOW & has made a day where all wrongs will be made right for us in the future.
- Stage 4 – Dwell on God’s faithfulness and Character: No matter our circumstances we can know a God who is good, kind, and love. His character is true and we can lean into Him when our lives are hard. Our hope can be secure because he is secure.
Imagine what it would look like if we truly mourned with God and with each other. We would not feel alone and suffer in silence. We could care for one another and bear each other’s burdens. We would see the goodness of God in our past, present, and future.
We can trust God with our deepest pain and brokenness, because He is with us.