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About this series
Cultivating a Lifestyle that Makes Room for God
We all do life in rhythms. Getting up for the day, meals, school, work, church... there are rhythms we live in. In this series, Chip introduces the idea of living in sacred rhythms. He tells us there's a specific way to arrange our lives that will cultivate practices and help us grow in intimate relationship with Jesus. Chip's son, Ryan Ingram, unpacks the specifics of how to live life in Sacred Rhythms.More from this series
Have you ever wondered: why is it that some people seem to have this direct connect with God? When we talk about prayer, doesn’t it seem like that powerful prayer or some of the things that we read about or hear about, doesn’t it just kind of feel like that’s designated for the super spiritual? Maybe the Navy SEALs of Christianity, like they get to have that, but the rest of us ordinary folk, we don’t get to experience that.
Maybe a better question for us to wrestle with is: how do you and how do I really, truly experience this personal, life-giving, intimate relationship with Jesus?
We are in a series called Sacred Rhythms. Sacred rhythms are simply spiritual practices, maybe some of you know them as spiritual disciplines, that help cultivate the very life of Christ in us. They are practices that, as you put into practice over the course of time, help form Christ in you.
Our lives are not a product of our desires, of our dreams, or even our ambitions. Our lives are a product of the very rhythms and habits we have embraced.
And so, it’s incredibly important that we wrestle with this question well. Are the rhythms of my life producing the kind of person I long to be? The kind of dad, the kind of mom, the kind of friend, the kind of man or woman you want to be? Are the rhythms of your life producing the life of Christ in you?
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is unpacking what true flourishing looks like. He starts with the Beatitudes and this reality of those who are truly blessed or flourishing in life and what it looks like. That in Christ, in Him, is life, is flourishing. That’s the reason He came.
And then He shifts His attention to these sacred rhythms that are the very mechanism by which He wants to produce and develop this flourishing in us.
If you read the gospels, what you’ll find, Jesus will say it this way. If you want to know what is in your heart, look at your words. He said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” But if you want to know what has your heart, look at your finances. And He says this practice of generosity not only releases the grip of greed, but it redirects our heart to a surrender and just saying, God, I am all Yours.
He then begins to speak about this rhythm of prayer. This rhythm of prayer that begins to lead us to the very heart of God, this relationship with Him. See, prayer has remained for many, I would, I think kind of an enigma. And so, He is going to unpack it.
In fact, it’s the only thing that the disciples asked that we have recorded of Jesus to teach them on. Not, “Teach me how to preach!” Not, “Teach us how to cast out demons and heal the sick and raise the dead.” Lord, there is something about the way You pray that I want to experience. “Teach us to pray.”
You see, prayer is just simply this: prayer is the pathway for you and I to experience intimacy with God. Prayer is the way that we begin to encounter God in this deeply personal way. Prayer is simply engaging in an ongoing conversation with your heavenly Father.
The ancients would say, “It’s keeping company with God.” It’s a conversation. Prayer, I like the way Richard Foster would say it. He would say it this way, “Simple prayer is this. Simple prayer involves ordinary people bringing ordinary concerns to a loving an compassionate Father.”
Simple prayer. You don’t have to complicate it. It’s not so complex. You don’t have to have all these things added to it. It’s just your ordinary people, not the supernatural people, not the super-spiritual, Navy SEAL people. It’s just everyday people like you and me bringing ordinary concerns. Sometimes we wrestle, like, Is this a big enough deal to bring to God? Just bring what you have to a loving and compassionate Father.
See, prayer is this pathway by which God produces intimacy, oneness, connection with Him. And as a result, prayer is powerful. Prayer changes us. Prayer changes the world around us.
I love how Oswald Chambers said it. He would say it this way. “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work. Prayer is the greater work.” Now, chances are, already my introduction, I’m done. Just so you know. That’s the end of the introduction.
Some of you are resisting everything I said because prayer feels a little bit like flossing. Right? And here’s how I answer when I go to the dentist and they ask me if I floss. “Have you been flossing?” “Not as much as I should.” And that’s kind of the problem is there is this pressure around this. Some of these expectations. And if, for some, it just feels like this necessary thing we have to do. We know it’s good for us, but it’s not life-giving, it’s not transformative, it’s not like, Wow! I can’t believe this! I’m in the presence of God! God wants to hear my voice! And when I speak to Him, He changes me and changes the world around me!
So, how do we experience that kind of prayer? How do we experience this intimacy with God? How do you have a direct connect with God, not just the super-spiritual people? How do we develop a prayer life that is actually powerful and transformative?
If you’ve got your Bibles, would you open them up to Matthew chapter 6, verse 5. We pick it up. And what Jesus is going to do, He is going to accomplish two things that set up that conversation. First, He wants to declutter prayer. We bring extra baggage to prayer, don’t we? And He wants to help us understand: here’s what it really is. Don’t add all this extra stuff to it. Take the pressure off.
And then He is going to lay the foundation for developing this intimate, life-giving love relationship with your heavenly Father. Listen to what Jesus says. He says this, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing on the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret, He will reward you,” or, “recognize you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask them.”
Two things we want to accomplish in our time. First, let’s declutter prayer. Let’s take some of the pressure off of it, and then let’s talk about: how do you develop this intimacy with God through prayer?
Decluttering prayer – the first things Jesus tells us here is a couple things that prayer is not. And we add this to our prayer life, or the pressure, or the expectation. And the first thing He is going to tell us is prayer is not a performance. It’s not a performance that somehow you have to have the perfect prayer, say the perfect words, try to impress others or God.
You notice what He said there, right? He said, “And when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites.” Who are the hypocrites? Well, they are the Pharisees. They are the religious elite. They are the ones trying to impress everyone with how godly and how spiritual they are.
“Do not pray like them” – why? “because they love standing in the synagogues,” the place of worship, and on the street corners to be seen by others.”
In the Jewish culture, a devout Jewish man had a couple rhythms to his life. First, they would quote the Shema two times a day, right when they got up at the beginning of the day and at the end. The Shema. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
And then they would have three designated times to pray. And there was a rhythm and even written out prayers that they would quote during this time and what a Pharisee would do is they would make sure that during those designated times of prayer, they were in a public place.
Because not everybody did this three times a day, just the really devout Jews. The religious, the right ones did. And so, they would go and make sure they’re on a street corner so everyone could see them stopping to be with God while they are hurrying about their day. “Look at me! Look how great I am! Look how awesome I am! Look at how godly I am.”
And Jesus is decluttering, stripping the baggage away and saying prayer, fundamentally, is not a performance. See, religion is about performing. Relationship is about presence. See, you are invited into a relationship. God doesn’t want your performance, He wants you. Being present with Him.
See, I don’t have to perform for God so He will respond to me. You don’t have to pray the right prayers. There is no perfect prayer. We tend to do this, don’t we? We hear someone else pray and we compare ourselves and think, “Well, I can’t pray like them. Wow, they are so good at praying.” Isn’t that a funny thing that we say?
It’s like, no! This is just an intimate, love relationship between your heavenly Father. It’s a conversation. We are just talking relationship and presence. God’s just going, I want to be with you. I want to hear from you. I want to know you. I’m not – I don’t really know what to say. Say what’s on your mind. Tell Me about your day. You can even just be quiet.
Isn’t it amazing how some of your best friends you can just be quiet and be great? Because just to be together is so wonderful.
Years and years ago, I was a worship leader and this is kind of how we begin to do stuff in the Christian life and we’ve got to be so careful. At the time, there was some really great worship bands and people leading worship. They happened to all be from the UK, from Britain.
And what was so cool was like when you hear their worship and when we begin to compare, like, you hear them and Matt Redman, “Thank You Lord God, today!” And then when you speak to God in a British accent, it’s just cooler. And I’m sure God has to hear them better than me.
I was leading worship and it subtly began to creep in to my leading of worship as I began to mimic them. And some guy came up afterwards like, “Man, that was so great. Thank you so much for leading us in worship. By the way, where are you from?” And this was in Chicago at the time and I was like, “From Santa Cruz?” And he was like, “Oh, I thought you were from Australia!” Prayer is not a performance to compare with other people. Bring you. Bring yourself as yourself, not someone else.
And then He is going to say this, “It’s not just not a performance, prayer is not a secret formula. Have you ever felt that? Like, I just have to have this secret code, password. Like if you just say the right thing in the right way, then God will work, then God will move, then maybe He will hear me.
Notice what He says. He says this. He says, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling.” That word literally means heaping up empty words. “Do not keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
In the Greek and Roman worship, the length and repetition was a sign of evoking the gods to move on their behalf. And so, Greek and Roman worship, what they would do is they would have very long, very loud repetitious words hoping to move their god on their behalf. And He is saying, “Don’t lean that way!” There’s no code word. There’s no: man, if you just say the right things in the right order. There is no time limit.
I remember, oh my goodness. When I was really trying to get serious about prayer, I thought if you were really serious about prayer, you prayed thirty minutes a day. And so, I set a timer thirty minutes. It was hell on earth. Longest thirty minutes of my life. It’s not about finding the right words. It’s not a secret formula. It’s a relationship you’re invited into.
Start with just simply very sincere, short, direct conversation with God. See, what happens with both of these, what we unconsciously do is in our prayer instead of approaching God as this loving heavenly Father, we’re going to talk about that in a second, we are somehow trying to control God. Get Him to do what I want Him to do. Like this secret formula is this genie in the bottle, this Santa Clause reality of: if I do this, if I get this, then somehow then God, You have to do this for me.
And by the way, if you want to pray and have it be powerful, we first have to stop trying to control God or make Him do what we want and we simply invite Him to change us. And when you have that honest conversation, it’s powerful.
I think a few things, how we do this secret formula world, one is just repeated words. Have you ever noticed this? And if you do this, no – there is literally no shame. We’re just talking about this. We are learning about this together, right? But think about the way you pray and would you have that same language in a normal conversation?
Because that’s all prayer is is a conversation with your heavenly Father. And sometimes we bring in lofty words as if that’s going to – “Lord God,” we change our voice, “Lord God,” right? And then we just say, I don’t, “Lord God, Lord God, Lord God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God. You know? It’s like, just God. He knows He’s God. I’m pretty sure He’s not confused on who you’re addressing. But we can have this repeated phrase over and over and over where you just go, “No, I’m just having a conversation.” God, whoo. It’s been a tough day today. It has been hard. I’ve – that meeting didn’t go the way I planned. I just need Your strength. The end.
Sometimes the secret formula is we just have mindless prayers. We do this before lunch or dinner or something like that. You’re eating Taco Bell and you’re asking God to bless it. He can’t. Sorry. That is the silliest. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t…
But you’re sitting down to eat junk food, “Lord, bless this food to our body,” He’s like, “No! No, I will not bless that to your body. That is an abomin…” Okay.
And it doesn’t mean, here’s what I mean by this, it doesn’t mean you can’t pray the same thing over and over again. Or even pray written prayers. I think those are powerful. It’s to make sure that we are thoughtful in our prayers.
I’ll give you an example from me. With my kids, in our bedtime routine, I often pray with them and I have a cadence, part of that prayer is something I pray every, single night. Lord, would You give us good dreams, help us see good things in our mind, and a few things like that. But it’s so easy to move from the meaning of that to just being mindlessly praying.
And I know I’m really tired when I begin to pray my bedtime prayer at the dinner table. Sitting around, Lord, would You give us good dreams and help us to see…oh, wait a second. And it’s so easy to drift there as if just saying some words is what is going to happen.
I do want to explain maybe some words that as we pray, you have never known what they mean. And for some, they can shift and turn into this secret formula, right? And for many, you have heard this: “In the name of Jesus, amen.”
And you will hear it. I will say it a lot of times as we close out our prayer. And that’s not this code word. And for some, you’re like, “Is this the code word that you say that then God hears?” It’s not.
Let me explain it. We are actually called by Jesus to pray in His name. It doesn’t mean that we just add, “In the name of Jesus” at the end of our prayers, though you can do that and that’s certainly good and we do that from time to remind ourselves of the content of our prayer.
Praying in the name of Jesus is this: any – the name of a person is signified their character and their will. And so, when you pray in the name of Jesus, you are saying, “I’m praying in accordance with the character of Jesus and the will of Jesus.” So, when I say, “In the name of Jesus and I get done with this prayer, I’m saying, Lord, everything that I just said, my prayer is that I long for it to be in the character of Your Son, in accordance to His will. Isn’t that amazing? All of a sudden, that meant so much more.
And we say, “amen” at the end and we don’t know what that means. It just means, “Let it be so.” Like, Let it be so, God, what was just prayed. According to Your will. Let it be so. We invite You to have Your way. Let it be so.
And so, for us to really grow and develop intimacy, first, we have to declutter. It’s not a performance. It’s not these secret code words or secret formulas. So, how then do we develop this intimate, life-giving direct connect with God?
There are a few things here in the text we see. The first is you have to view prayer as necessary, not just a nice idea. You have to view and look at prayer as necessary to life, not just a nice idea.
Three different times you’ll notice, He said in verse 5, “When you pray.” Then in verse 6, “When you pray.” Verse 7, “When you pray.” He didn’t say, “If you pray.” There is this connection and relationship like, “When you pray.” Like this is an expected rhythm of a follower of Jesus.
We see it even in the life of Jesus. Fully God, fully Man, walking this planet. The way Jesus lived out His life is a model for us as followers to live out our lives.
And so, we see from Jesus in Luke chapter 5:16 – 15 and 16, He says this. On one of His big, busy days. “Yet the news about Him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sickness.” Now, notice Jesus’ rhythm. “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
If you want to develop intimacy with God, if you want to have a prayer life that is powerful, like when people would get next to you and go, “I want to ask her, I want to ask him to pray, because when they pray, stuff happens.” Fundamentally, your view of prayer has to shift to where you go. It is necessary to life, not just a nice idea.
Prayer is my first response, not my last resort. I love how Corrie Ten Boom said it. She said, “Is prayer the steering wheel of your life or the spare tire?” You go, Okay, God, that issue at work. Instead of me trying to figure it out, I’m going to bring it to You. The relational strife, future of my kids, that sin issue. I’m just going to bring it to you. This is necessary. I can’t go.
See, prayer is to our spiritual life what breathing is for us. And by the way, just as communication is the pathway to intimacy in any relationship, prayer is the pathway to intimacy with God. We would never go, “You know what? I have this amazing, intimate relationship.” How much do you talk to them? “Never. I only call them when I have a need.”
And we have to realize, okay, this is a pattern where we’re going, Okay, God, I just want to meet with You. I want to hear from You. But how we view God and understand Him is so important.
See, we first have to view prayer as necessary, not a nice idea. And then we approach our heavenly Father who loves you.
Let me ask you this: when you pray, who do you pray to? Like, what picture comes to mind? Who are you praying to? You notice that Jesus said, three different times He says, “Pray to your Father, your Father who sees, and your Father who knows.”
We take this for granted. In their day, this was scandalous to call God as Father. You didn’t address God as Father. You addressed God as high, exalted, holy. And that is who He is. And Jesus says, “But when you pray, there is a relational connection that He is your perfect heavenly Father.” And so, you can come with a different access than other people.
Because who you approach determines how you approach someone, right? Like, if I’m approaching a stranger, it determines how I’m going to approach. If I’m approaching a friend, if I’m approaching a good and loving heavenly Father. Who are you approaching? And you are invited in, I am invited in to have a conversation with your perfect heavenly Father, did you notice that? “…who sees you.”
See, for some, when you pray, you pray to an impersonal deity that you have to appease. “Who knows what you need.” For some, when you pray, you pray – you come with this: God is wanting to withhold from you and so you’re like, I just have to somehow get from God.
And I get it. I get it. We all have different images when we think of Father pop up based on our own earthly fathers. And God is a perfect heavenly Father who loves you, who knows you.
In this moment right now, I don’t know if you have been walking around feeling unseen, feeling forgotten, feeling leftover, feeling looked over, maybe passed over on your job and God says, I see you. I see you! It hasn’t gone past My view. I am watching on you with an attentive look and care as a father does of a little child. I see you and I know you. And I know your need. And I’m so attentive to it.
Nobody understands me! God does. Bring to Him what is in you. See, when you pray, you come as a completely accepted, fully loved, cherished daughter or son of a good and loving heavenly Father who delights to hear your voice and give you good gifts.
Did you know that? Did you? Can I just paint a picture for you, because I just don’t think we get it and I just want us to get it. And we’re on the edge of getting it, you know what I mean? We’re just right there, but we’re not quite there. And if we run past this point, you’re going to miss it.
The God of the universe, high and holy, He spoke and all things came into existence. He is the Creator. He is the One who the Jewish people, they didn’t want to utter His name because it was so sacred. And we are invited in into the very presence of God, into the glory of glory, the holiness of holiness and instead of trembling, He says you come as a son. And so all that the Lord has, all that God has is yours. You are adopted, redeemed. And every blessing of God is yours. And you get to show up, not as a beggar but as a son and as a daughter. So you don’t show up lacking confidence. You show up fully confident.
This has been one of those areas that I have really been trying to learn and grow in my own life over a sabbatical. I just had a friend talk to me about this, and it’s just an area of shifting my identity as a servant to a son.
It’s easy to be the servant sometimes. And when I pray, this is the way I pray. I have a journal and it’s helpful for me to write it out. And some of you are like, “I hate journals.” Great, don’t journal. It’s just helpful for me.
And I used to start it out, “Good morning, my King.” Because my identity is in serving You. Because You are the King of the universe. And I don’t ever want to lose that. And shifting my identity as a son, for you as a daughter.
I start out, “Good morning.” That’s right. I greet God every morning. I just say, “Good morning. Hey, I want to welcome You with the morning. I’m up and You’re present with me. Good morning! Hey!”
And now I write, “My heavenly Father.” Because I just want to remind myself who I am approaching and that I don’t approach from a deficit or that He’s down on me. I don’t approach because I’m somehow trying to eek and get His approval. I am a son. I am approved. And I am coming as one beloved, the object of His affection and He delights to give His kids good gifts so I’m going to ask!
And for some, the reality is the lack of power in our lives is a result of the prayerlessness of our lives. He said, “Ask and you will receive. You have not because you ask not.” Come as a son and a daughter.
First, we have to view prayer as necessary, not just a nice idea. Developing intimacy with God. And then we approach our heavenly Father who loves you. Third, you see in the text, we have to set aside a specific time and a sacred space.
“But when you pray,” notice He said, “go into your room, close the door, pray to your Father who is unseen, then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
We live hurried, busy, rushed lives. Would you set aside a specific time, just like you would with a good friend. Maybe with your spouse or even with your kids. There’s something powerful about a designated time. And, again, it doesn’t have to be a lot of time. Go, I’m brand new to this. I’m going to just learn on this. I am going to set aside five minutes a day. I’m going to set aside ten minutes a day where, God, You have my attention and my focus. Not my phone. Not my emails. Not Instagram. Yeah, not Instagram. I said it, okay?
Set aside a specific time where you can’t be distracted. And a sacred space. So, with the time, it can be early. I’m an early riser. But some of you are like, “Every time I hear a preacher talk about it, it’s always early! I fall asleep when it’s early.” That’s great. Do it late! Do it midday! Just set aside a time. Did you notice Jesus had a set aside time? Mark 1:35, “Very early in the morning,” and that’s where preachers go, “Well, Jesus did it early, you should do it early.” Well, come on. “While it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place where He prayed.” Specific time and place. Now, by the way, if you have young kids, your rhythm is changed. And you’ve just got to address that. There is a season where, man, my sacred space is going to be that one minute after they fall asleep and before I fall asleep. That’s okay. Freedom. Freedom.
But would you set aside a time and place? It might be your couch. It might be your car. It might be going on a walk or a run. It might be at a coffee shop. I don’t know where and it doesn’t matter where, but is there a place where you can engage your heavenly Father in a conversation without the clamoring of the world around you, where He can have your attention and your focus, just for even a few minutes? I love what Eugene Peterson says, “I can be active and pray; I can work and pray; but I cannot be busy and pray. I cannot be inwardly rushed, distracted, or dispersed. In order to pray I have to be paying more attention to God than what people are saying to me; to God than my clamoring ego.”
If we want to develop this life-giving, intimate, personal relationship with Jesus, we’ve got to view it as necessary. We’ve got to then realize who we are approaching, that we are coming to our heavenly Father. We have to set aside some and place. But the reality is you do not learn how to pray from a sermon or reading a book. We learn how to pray by – what? Praying. Just pray! Just pray. Richard Foster says it this way; I love it. He says, “The same way a small child cannot draw a bad picture, so a child of God cannot offer bad prayers.”
For some, that has been the hesitancy in your own soul. It’s like, “It’s not right! I don’t know how to do it!” Just pray and you’ll grow.
C.S. Lewis would say it this way, “Bring to God what is in you, not what ought to be in you.” Just bring to Him what is in you. And just go, Okay, for the next twenty-one days, I want to get into the rhythm of praying.
And that’s what I want to close with, actually. Is just for us to pray. Not to talk about it, but to do it.
I just want to lead us through a time, maybe for some for the first time you have had a conversation with your heavenly Father. I want to go through a little bit of an exercise and you can do this at home and anywhere along the way, but I call it “palms down and palms up.”
Get comfortable, take a breath. And we think about our posture. You can be in any posture and pray, but some are helpful reminders to us. And so, we just want to take some postures that will be symbolic and meaningful. Take a breath. If you’re comfortable, just close your eyes. And with your palms, if you would place them palms down just on your knees, this is simply a symbol or symbolic of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. I don’t know what you walked in with. But would you take a moment as you talk to your heavenly Father and bring Him the concerns on your heart? Maybe it’s the concern that you want to give God your anxiety or anger. Maybe there is hurt or pain that you walked in with. Take a moment. Give God the concerns.
If you would turn your hands palms up, after giving God your concerns, this is a desire for God to receive from Him. You may say, Lord, I’d like to receive divine love for that person that is really hard to love. I want to receive Your peace. I want to receive Your patience in this area, or, Your joy.
Just have your palms open to say the symbol of God, I want to receive from You what You have for me. Talk to your heavenly Father.
After turning over your concerns and asking God to fill and receive from Him, would you just take the next moment and just be silent before Him? See, prayer is a conversation. There is talking and then there is listening. Don’t ask for anything. Just allow God, your heavenly Father, to be with you. Enjoy the silence.