“Are You There God? It’s Me.” | Prayer Changes Everything

We concluded our series on Prayer at Gateway in South Austin.

We discover in the life of Daniel who faced incredibly challenging circumstances that prayer changes everything!

Work through these discussion questions and exercises with your community group or roommates or on your own.

Digging Deeper

Message Video:

Message Audio:

Message Notes from Ross Sagehorn and Eric Bryant:

Sometimes God says “yes” to the little things so we will trust him when he says “no” to the big things.

During this series our hope is that you will make prayer a priority in your life. Prayer is how we connect with God, and He is inviting us to pray throughout the day – not just in a crisis and not just when you need a parking spot and not just once a day. All of those times are better than none at all, but we are invited to connect continuously with the Creator of the Universe you created you on purpose and with a purpose.

Our Tension

The problem is we get too busy.

We associate prayer only with making requests.

We maintain a pace at work or having fun with friends or our kids’ schedules that eliminates time with for God or our church family, but what if we began to see our work, our friends, and our kids’ schedules as opportunities to bring more of heaven to earth?!

In the Lion’s Den

Today is our last day to look at prayer, and we are going back to where we started the year – in the book of Daniel. 

A quick reminder of the context – a young man, and his friends as they are taken into captivity by the invading Babylonian empire, taken from their homes, and forced into exile.

  • God helps them navigate a sensitive situation when it came to their diet.
  • He helped Daniel interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when nobody else could.
  • God brought Daniel’s friends out of the literal fire (of a furnace) when they refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue. 
  • We see some essential elements for thriving in the “jungle” of our own circumstances: integrity, faithfulness, sacrifice, humility.

And a consistent thread, or theme, starts to become clear, and we need to pay attention as we’re about to pick the story up in chapter 6. 

The theme is this: one of Deliverance.

  • And listen, I get it. For some of us that word might make us feel uncomfortable. Why? Well, for starters, and this is where I can get tripped up, the word deliverance kind of carries a heaviness, a weightiness, to it. Like, I’m not sure I want to be delivered, or experience deliverance
  • Sounds painful, or intrusive. 
  • Some of us think of ways Christians have maybe abused this word to force people to change behaviors or lifestyles.
  • If you are old enough, your mind goes back to that awful movie that convinced you to avoid camping the woods in Georgia and you get triggered every time you hear a banjo.

But as I was wrestling through my own tension here, what helped was actually looking at the root of the word deliverance. Which is what? Deliver. From which we get the word delivery

And I don’t care who you are, you love delivery. So do I! Uber Eats, Amazon packages, doesn’t matter; I love it when something I requested shows up for me. 

Which means this: When it comes to this theme of deliverance, at the core there is a desire for something good to happen that might not be so good right now. I don’t have what I ordered from Amazon, or Uber Eats, or whatever, that’s not good. It eventually shows up, that’s good. What happened in between? The delivery. The deliverance. 

And that’s all deliverance is: The moving of something from WHERE IT IS to WHERE IT NEEDS TO BE, according to God. [repeat, especially second part] 

This is what God is doing all over in the book of Daniel: 

He’s consistently moving those he cares about from where they are, which is often in the midst of a less-than-desirable situation or set of circumstances or mindset, to where they need to be, where he desires them to be. Safety, security, humility, more of his presence; all much better places. 

Which raises a question: If deliverance from the “bad” places seems to be God’s desire for us, what starts that process? What initiates the movement? Let’s pick up Daniel’s story in chapter 6 because we get some clues: 

1 It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” – Daniel 6:1-5 (NIV)

A little bit of context here. In chapter 5 we learn of Belshazzar’s defeat and the end of the Babylonians. The Medo-Persians take over, this guy named Darius becomes the first king of the new empire, but Daniel’s reputation precedes him. God continues to elevate Daniel, and people don’t like it. He still has haters. Let’s keep going, verse 6: 

6 So these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: “May King Darius live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered—in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing.  – Daniel 6:6-9 (NIV)

Darius signs his name on the dotted line and puts into effect an irrevocable law making it a crime to pray to anyone or anything else. And if you cross that line, it’s the death penalty. So what does Daniel do? Verse 10: 

10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. – Daniel 6:1-10 (NIV)

He prays. The very thing that now has the potential either to destroy his life or save it, don’t miss this, depending on which king he trusts more, is the action Daniel chooses. 

See, in the hands of king Darius, prayer is a death sentence. 

But in the hands of God, prayer is the only remaining lifeline. 

Now it’s just a matter of who he trusts more. And Daniel chooses to trust God, just like he’d done before. Why? Because up to this point in his story Daniel has come to this rock-solid conclusion: Prayer changes everything. And Daniel’s willing to bet his life on it. 

So Daniel prays, and the other advisors sell him out. And they do it super passive-aggressively! They’re like, “Hey, King Darius, didn’t you just sign a law that said nobody could pray to any god or man except you? And that if anybody did you’d throw him to the lions? Didn’t you say that?” 

And Darius knows what he did, so he says back, “Yep, I did in fact sign that law.” 

To which the advisors respond, “Right, right…so Daniel broke your law. He’s been praying, like a lot.” 

And Darius knows he’s trapped. Go back and read the rest of this on your own; it actually says Darius spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how he might save Daniel from his own law, but his hands are tied. For the sake of his own credibility as king he has no choice but to enforce his law and throw Daniel in a pit with the lions. 

The last thing Daniel hears from his king, the king he wisely chose not to put his trust in, by the way, is this, “May your God save you…” because I (Darius) can’t. It’s all up to your God.    

And here’s the crazy part. Because of Renaissance paintings and modern interpretations, we can tend to think Daniel is some young, Crossfit-type who prayed, sure, but who could have also deadlifted those lions. But the truth is, when we look at the timeline, Daniel is in his 70s/80s here. They threw him in there with no phone, no Medicare, nothing. Verse 19: 

19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?”

21 Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.”

23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. 

Daniel 6:19-23 (NIV)

Darius is so blown away by what happens that he actually goes on to issue a new decree that everyone within his kingdom acknowledge the power and sovereignty of Daniel’s God. This is a total reversal of his earlier law! Now Darius says, “Praise Daniel’s God!” 

“For He is the living God, and He endures forever; His kingdom will never be destroyed, and His dominion has no end. 27 He rescues and delivers; He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth, for He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” Daniel 6:26-27 (HCSB)

See, if deliverance is God’s moving something from where it is to where it needs to be, prayer is the fuel, prayer is the catalyst. 

  • Prayer initiates movement
  • Prayer initiates deliverance
  • Prayer initiates freedom

Why? Because there is a God behind your prayers who is unstoppable, he is proven; there is a God behind your prayers who is for you

His desire is to move you from where you are to someplace better

  • Prayer is not something we have to do in order to stay on God’s good side. 
  • Prayer is something we get to do as we tap into a strength and a wisdom beyond ourselves. 
  • Put very simply: Prayer changes everything. [slow here, land every word] It does! 

But here’s an intrusive question: How many of us pray like we believe that’s true? 

Prayer Myths

And listen, I get it. This is where some of you start to have imaginary conversations with me in your head. “Eric, I want to believe that. I do. But I’ve prayed before; when it came to the most important parts of my life, with the most important people, in the situations most out of my control, I prayed that God would do something. And as far as I can tell, nothing’s changed.” 

So, I want to look at a few myths surrounding prayer (that I’ve bought into, maybe you’ll be able to relate) and also look at how Daniel’s story might offer us some wisdom when it comes to a better approach. You ready?  

Myth #1: Prayer is transactional. 

As in, “God, if you will ‘fill in the blank,’ then I will ‘fill in the blank.’” 

“God, if you will make me taller, or skinnier, or add a few zeros to my paycheck, or open up this door for me at work, or heal this relationship, or heal that person, or heal me, God, then I will finally start going to church more, or start tithing, or reading my Bible more…” 

And here’s the thing, you might mean it! You might genuinely intend to do everything you offer God in return for his holding up his end of the deal. At least until you no longer need his help. 

So, if prayer was only transactional, why would God hold up his end of the deal knowing that we’d eventually quit on him once things actually got better and we no longer needed his help? That’s the definition of a bad deal! 

When Daniel was faced with yet another decree that put his life in danger, he could have pleaded with God to, “…make this all go away and I’ll give you more of my time and attention!” But that’s not what he prays. Look at verse 10 again: 

10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. – Daniel 6:10 (NIV)

Question: What is he thanking God for?? 

And here’s the answer: It’s not his circumstances. 

It’s not, “Gee, thanks for another set of impossible trials to overcome, God. That’s exactly what I wanted!” 

No, the only answer can be that Daniel understands this: Prayer is not transactional, it’s relational. It’s about a conversational relationship with the God of the universe, whose desire is to see us from where we are to where we need to be. And if that’s true, Daniel knows that the best response is to thank God, not for the circumstances, but for the fact that he’s the kind of God who will be with Daniel in the midst of the circumstances, no matter what. He’s proven that. 

“So, God, thank you for being in the impossible trials with me.” 

That describes a relational kind of prayer. 

Myth #2: Prayer works on my time. 

Write this down: No it doesn’t. I wish it did sometimes! I mean, wouldn’t it be great if, once you said, “Amen,” you could open your eyes and immediately see your prayer working? And here’s the thing, I believe that God can answer, or respond to, our prayers however he wants to, which may sometimes involve a quick, or even immediate, response. I’ve seen him respond that way! If that’s what he wants to do, great! He can do it. The danger is in my assuming he will. That’s prayer working on my time, not God’s. 

Go back to Daniel’s story and trace the timeline of events, and you’ll see that God’s response to Daniel’s prayers probably wasn’t the response, or timing, Daniel would have voted for! 

Like, “Hey God, next time can we skip the whole lions in a cave thing?” 

The response wasn’t on Daniel’s time! 

And I wonder, do you realize that because prayer doesn’t work on your time, what if God, because he’s in control, might be asking you to consider a much bigger picture? 

What if your waiting on God finally forces you to see beyond what you think you need? 

In another part of the book of Daniel, chapter 10, when we find Daniel fasting and praying for three weeks in response to a vision from God, we learn that there were actually much bigger spiritual forces at play in response to Daniel’s prayers. We learn this when a literal angel shows up and says this to Daniel:  

12 “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia.” – Daniel 10:12-13 (NIV)

The minute Daniel started praying was when God heard him and set a response in motion. But there were bigger forces at play. Isn’t it fascinating that this angel was held up the exact amount of time Daniel had been waiting? 

The point being this: God hears you. Don’t assume that he doesn’t based on what you do, or do not, see. The absence of any sort of certainty in those situations is an opportunity to lean further into your faith and assurance that God will make a way for you, not to abandon ship. 

Corrie Ten Boom, who was a Holocaust survivor whose family is credited with saving nearly 800 Jewish lives during World War II, put it this way: 

When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer. (Corrie Ten Boom). 

Here’s a thought that might upset some of you, but there’s freedom in it if we’re willing to just work through it: You do not get to decide the best way, or right way, or right timing, for God to respond to your prayer! 

The decision you get to make is whether or not you trust him. Which leads to Myth #3. 

Myth #3: Prayer depends on our words more than on God’s character. 

Here’s how we know this is a myth: We don’t actually know what Daniel prayed! 

Other than giving thanks to God for who he is, like we talked about, we have no idea what Daniel might have said or asked for. 

And I think that’s important, here’s why: 

The only conclusion we can draw from the story is twofold; Daniel prayed, and God moved. That’s it! 

Sure, there were some pretty important things that happened in between, like some lions, and a cave. 

But the ultimate reality is this: We don’t know exactly what Daniel prayed, and in many ways it doesn’t even matter because the outcome depended way less on Daniel’s words (what he said) and way more on the character of God (that he’s faithful, and always with you, and for you). 

And again, we can look to another part of the book of Daniel, this time chapter 9, for evidence of this: 

18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Daniel 9:18 (NIV)

“God, our prayers, our requests of you are not because of our own righteousness!” 

There’s nothing we really bring to the table other than the request itself and the hope, the assurance, that because of who God is, he would have “great mercy” in our direction. 

It’s not our words, or our “rightness,” or our “goodness” that cause God to move. It’s in his nature to move. 

It’s his character, it’s out of his desire for us. And for many of us this has the potential to be incredibly freeing! As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone tell me, “I’m really just not that comfortable with praying out loud in front of others.” 

And I get it, I remember feeling the same way as I got to know God, but I want to look back and say (and in some cases I have), 

“Well, it’s a really good thing praying doesn’t depend on how good you make it sound.” 

It’s about who God is, and that he would want to listen and respond in the first place.” 

It’s about his character. 

A Promise

I’ll go back to something I said earlier. Because if these are the myths when it comes to prayer (and I’m sure there are more), here’s the truth we have to hold in front of us: Prayer changes everything. 

And what if the question for us shifted from, “Do we believe that’s true?” to, “What could change in your life if it was?”  

Our tension is that prayer has gotten a bad rap in our culture. To some, politicians offering thoughts and prayers rather than solutions can be seen as passive or even offensive.

Tragically another mass shooting took place yesterday. It is so commonplace, we cannot even keep up with them all. Whether you are watching on a left-leaning channel or right-leaning channel, those reporting the news quickly offer solutions along party lines. We need gun control! Or we don’t need gun control, we need more support for mental health.

Tragedies like this and the division that seems to have crept into our society – not just in politics but in churches, work places, and families all shows that in addition to political solutions, we do need a spiritual solution.

Here’s what I have discovered about a relationship with God and with prayer. Oftentimes God does miraculous things when we are willing to make sacrifices. 

In other words, when we share our hearts with God oftentimes he shows us the next steps to take in order to find the solution or create the solution we need.

Remember Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God wants to use us to be the answer to our own prayers. As we pray for the victims, the perpetrators, their families, for the police officers, the authorities, the politicians, we may feel led to reach out. We may feel called to become a police officer or run for office. Praying for those involved will not only increase our empathy for those who are hurting, but it will posture our heart towards our next move to bring more of heaven to earth – especially when there are so many more glimpses of hell on earth.

Here’s what is amazing. As you jump into Gateway, you need to know you are part of the solution to what ails our nation. As you serve, heal, belong, and give, you are creating the space for people to find community, to find healing, to find hope, to find the God who loves them and reorients them from a life that could be destructive towards one that is life-giving.

We have no idea how many marriages this church has helped rescue! And those healthy marriages help our kids grow up with an understanding on how to work through struggles and issues in a healthy way. Tonight, by the way, is our workshop and date night called Maximizing Marriage! It is not too late to sign up!

We have no idea how many teenagers we have helped find hope and life that is meaningful instead of falling into hopelessness and a life of self-destruction or even destructive towards others. By the way, today is the last day to sign up for Summer Camp! Only a few more weeks remain to sign up as a family for the Trip to Nicaragua!

All of these opportunities you can find at the connect spot.

We have no idea how many college students or young adults have found their God-given purpose and their identity in Christ.

We have no idea how many people have found healing through Restore. Just this past Monday night after Kimo Lai shared a powerful and inspiring message, I had this thought: we are bringing more of heaven to earth! What if all 40-50 of us in that room became untriggerable? Nothing could trigger us! We could rise above the chaos and stress and conflict of life and know how to navigate life with grace and truth!

In a recent article from the Wall Street Journal called “America Pulls Back From Values That Once Defined It” – the clear solution our nation needs is a spiritual awakening!

The Church is God’s solution to the problems in our world!

We are the Body of Christ! We are His hands and His feet! 

We bring hope and love and peace and joy and patience and faithfulness and kindness and gentleness and self-control!

And over the years I have had opportunities to leave Gateway South, and I have continued to turn them down because what we have here is really special.

Sadly, it is rare in our world to be in a church where people can come as they are regardless of their ethnicity, their sexuality, their spiritual background, their doubts, their struggles, whether conservative or progressive, whether anarchist or socialist, whether unsure of God or in love with Jesus or anywhere in between!

And we are going to always point towards Jesus!

Come as you are, but you don’t have to stay as you are!

Because the more we follow Jesus, the more He changes us!

And I am so excited about the future!

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