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About this series
When We Pray
Developing Intimacy with God
If you are like most Christians, praying is often a confusing, mis-prioritized, and forgotten part of our faith journey. But in this series, guest teacher Ryan Ingram will guide us to a healthier, more beneficial view of prayer. He will debunk common misbeliefs about talking to God, how to practice stillness, and what we are to do when our prayers seemingly go unanswered. If you genuinely want to strengthen your prayer life, this teaching will help!More from this series
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging, there’s a river whose stream [makes] glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall. God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
We are in a series called When We Pray. Not if we pray. Not, “Ah, you should pray.” But when we pray, because the natural human instinct is prayer. In some form, in some way at some time everybody prays. Everybody has some inkling or longing for something bigger than themselves to intervene and help or to be connected to.
Just as communication is the foundation for every relationship, like, that’s how you grow in intimacy, prayer is the pathway to intimacy with God. How do we move from prayer being this mysterious or this duty or this thing that you feel like you ought to do to this delight, this life-giving, soul-shaping communion, connection with your heavenly Father?
Dane Ortlund, there’s this incredible quote in his book Deeper, writes this, “The deepest destiny of your life is to descend ever deeper with quiet yet ever-increasing intensity into the endless love of God.”
I mean, have you thought about that? I don’t know what you think about your destiny right now. “I’m going to manifest it.” Okay. Like, what is your destiny? And it’s like, “My destiny is to get straight As. My destiny is to get into the right college. My destiny is to meet and marry the right person. My destiny is to be upwardly mobile. My destiny,” I don’t know what you would say that “D” word is right there for your life, but the deepest destiny, the heart’s longing, like, what you have been searching for and hungering for is something beyond what you can tangibly see and grasp, to descend ever deeper with a quiet yet ever-increasing intensity into the endless love of God.”
How do we do that when life is chaotic? How do we do that when life is busy and full?
You know, one of the interesting things about the world, the way our world is designed, is the problem is it’s, is it’s designed so that we don’t pay attention to that which really matters.
Isn’t it true that our eyes get caught off and our lives get consumed with things that when you look back on life, you’re going, like, “Why was I so focused on that?” I’ll give you an example.
So, Ella was born; I was smarter then. And then my son was born and when he was born, it was a Sunday. It was February 18th, it was a Sunday, 2007. He was born early in the morning. And I felt this intense pressure that I had to show up, I was a youth pastor, Sunday evening to pastor this little community of high schoolers.
So, friends, can I tell you one of my regrets in life is I left my wife in the hospital with our newborn baby boy to go be, you know, lead a high school group, which by the way, fifteen years later I don’t have a clue what I said then let alone do they have a clue what I said then.
See, the problem with our world, even in the spiritual realm, is we – and we can spiritualize and say we give our attention to things that don’t matter. And it’s not saying that, like, showing up for ministry doesn’t matter. It definitely matters, but we don’t give our attention to the things in front of us that matter, that matter significantly. How do we give our attention to that which deeply and profoundly matters? How do we live in such a space that we are attentive, not caught up with the pace. Not caught up with somehow…
See, the reason I had to show up there is I had to be a success. It wasn’t for people to meet with God. How do we pay attention to that which matters?
Psalm 46. It’s the context for the eight words that we are going to dive into. I pray that these words are guiding words. I hope, my hope is that honestly this would be, feel like this divine invitation that out of it you wouldn’t walk out feeling like, Oh, I got to do all this stuff. Like, you would walk out going, like, Oh, someone gave me permission. Someone gave me permission.
What I wish somebody did, because I didn’t know it as a young pastor in that moment, I wish my boss would have said, “Hey, it’s a Sunday. Don’t worry about it. Don’t show up. You need to be with your wife. This is me saying I’m giving you permission.” Oh, no, it’s not me, it’s God’s Word saying, “I’m giving you permission.” The eight words, these eight words are powerful, these eight words are transforming, these eight words, my goodness, they bring in peace in the midst of confusion, in the midst of anxiety and anxious thoughts. They bring in hope and life.
Eight simple words. “Be still and know that I am God.”
It’s as simple as that. It’s as difficult as that. Be still and know that I am God. Like, imagine what would happen in your life if you felt the permission to be still and redirect your attention and then recognize He is God. He’s in control, He’s got it taken care of, He’s not fretting or concerned. He’s sovereign and in control.
Just imagine. Like, the anxiety that would just drip out of your body if we had this practice in our community of being still and knowing that He is God. Well, what does that look like? I just want to take the minutes that we have together and just unpack these eight words.
You’re like, you thought you were going to get an eight-word sermon. No. You’ve got eight words but then there will be more words behind the sermon there. Let’s just break this down. “Be still.” Dallas Willard said, “Hurry is the great enemy of the soul.” “Be still.”
What does it mean to be still? The word means to put an end to a state or activity, to sink down deep, to relax into, to drop or to let go, especially of the hands. Think about this, this verse. Imagine, imagine the permission, because I think when we hear “be still” it’s like, it’s like God reprimanding a child. “Be still.”
And certainly there is a little bit of that. “Be still.” But how different is it. “Hey, relax into.” You ever shown up at, like, one of those spas? I do it, like, once a year with my wife, but that’s it. I’m not a spa guy. And they’ve got this peaceful music and they say, “Just relax.”
Like, it’s an invitation, it’s not a command. It’s a moment of pause to relax into. What would it look like if you just began to relax into the presence of God.
Imagine how your day would shift and change and the pace and maybe your heart rate if you said today, “I just want to relax into Your presence before I head off into my day. And normally what I do is rush off into my day and I just kind of try to invite You into my rushing.”
Like, busyness. It’s a badge of honor. “How are you doing?” “Busy.” And if you don’t answer that way, it’s code in here that you’re a slacker and that you’re no good, right? Like, “I’m fantastic.” “Oh, I’m just refreshed.” Like, you can’t say refreshed, you know? Right? Like, no, you can’t be refreshed. You’re doing life wrong! Right? I mean, that’s how we think.
You know, it’s interesting, John Ortberg in his book Soul Keeping writes this, “Being busy is an outward condition, a condition of the body. It occurs when we have many things to do. Busyness is inevitable in modern culture. If you’re alive today in North America, you are a busy person.” Hello. And, by the way it feels like it’s more busy than it was before, yeah? This is the only amen I got was on that.
“Being hurried,” listen to this, “is an inner condition, a condition of the soul. It means to be so preoccupied with myself and my life that I’m unable to be fully present with God, with myself, and with other people. I’m unable to occupy the present moment. Busyness,” listen, “migrates to hurry when we let it squeeze God out of our lives. I cannot live in the kingdom of God with a hurried soul. I cannot rest in God with a hurried soul.”
Be still – hurry is the enemy of soul. Relax into the presence of God. And here’s what is fascinating. Psalm 23, I always found this curious. You know, it’s talking about God being our shepherd. And you know one of the lines that always is intriguing to me is it says, “The Lord is our shepherd; I shall not want.” And then notice what it says next. “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
Like, there’s something about this internal striving of the human condition that we need help to do this. It was true three thousand years ago and it’s true today. And a shepherd with his sheep knows that he has to actually, at times, make the sheep enjoy and relax and take a break.
It’s like when my kids were really little and they are tired and some of you parents know this. And you’re like, “Hey, you’re tired.” “I’m not tired! No, I’m fine!” “Well, you’re actually miserable. Let’s be real. This is miserable to be around.”
But a parent sees their child and sees the state that they are in and the child cannot see the state that they are in. They don’t get it, they don’t know it. “I’m not tired! No!” That’s how a child responds. And they are responding, “No!” out of their tiredness. You’re tired and you don’t know it.
And you have a God with a great invitation that says - what? “Be still.” And there are times where He says, “I’m going to make you lie down because I love you.” It’s in green pastures and you need to rest. And I know our culture says, “Bigger, better, next. Bigger, better, next. Hurry, hurry, hurry.” And it will crush your soul. “Be still and know that I am God.”
It goes on. “Be still,” hurry is the great enemy of the soul. And then, “…and know.”
There’s something you need to know. And it’s literally, I love Brother Lawrence and he’s got this little book called Practicing the Presence of God. He’s a monk from a long time ago. And he had this thought that he could practice the presence of God anywhere at any time.
And so, you know, it wasn’t just when they had their daily prayers and when they were in the monastery. He was a dishwasher at the monastery. And he was like, “I can practice the presence of God.” And so, he began to practice the presence of God of really knowing His presence. And as he was washing dishes, as he was going about his day, and he just began to write simple thoughts that he had as he was practicing the presence of God. This word “to know” means to notice, to be cognizant or aware of, of fact or specific piece of information, to be aware of or to understand or recognize, to observe or to see with our eyes, to perceive, to know by way of experience.
I need to be still so that I can know by way of experience that You are God. Stillness is part of the pathway to knowing God is God, by the way. To turn your mind to something, to care for, to see about, observe.
William Barry writes this, “Whether we are aware of it or not, at every moment of our existence, we are encountering God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is trying to catch our attention, trying to draw us into a reciprocal conscious relationship.”
“Be still, cease striving, relax into and know.” Like, shift your attention, shift your perspective, shift your eyes. I don’t know what the anxious thought of your day, in fact, I like the way John Ortberg talks about it. He calls it the troubling thoughts. We all have these troubling thoughts that are consuming us, that rob us of peace and produce anxiety.
The way he says it is simply a way of thinking that does not take God into account. What is that troubling thought that is robbing your peace that you begin to focus on, you look at, that you know, you know it by way of experience, you know it by way of focus, you know it because it has your attention? And whatever has your attention, not only is it what you gravitate towards, it begins to shape you.
And He says, “Be still.” Identify that troubling thought. It might be your marriage, it might your work, it might be the economy. You might have just checked your 401k because you’re on the verge of retirement and then, oh, what in the world just happened? I don’t know if I can retire right now. What is happening? Am I ever going to be able to retire?
And we begin to go down that path without God. That’s the problem. It’s not the thought, it’s what that thought does is you begin to think that thought and go down that path as if God does not exist. And when you do that, it sucks you down into a spiral of anxious activity and it crushes the soul.
“Be still and know.” Which means I have to shift my attention and it’s a practice. It’s a practice. It’s something I just need to begin to put into practice of shifting my attention to knowing who God is.