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It's Not about Rules, Ritual, or Religion, Part 1

From the series Pathways to Intimacy with God

Would you like to know God like a close personal friend? Chip begins this series by explaining how it's possible for you to have a deep and intimate relationship with God.

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Message Transcript

There is something that all people, of all time, in every culture and in every generation have in common. Think of that. This something is found in the most sophisticated of cultures around the world. And yet you go into the most primitive tribe, you’ll find it there too.

It transcends all languages, all people groups, and all time periods. It is the most universal thread that connects all men and all women of all time. What is it? It’s the quest for meaning and purpose beyond our material existence.

You do any archeological dig, you discover any time period, anywhere in the world and you will find people groups of multiple languages and backgrounds, they will have one thing in common. There will be some form, some system, some attempt to say, “What is the meaning and purpose of life beyond this material existence?”

It’s the spirit of man that searches for contact and relationship with his Creator. It’s that desire in the human heart, it’s the painting of Michelangelo, of the finger of God and the finger of man coming close to touch. In the soul of every human being, in the spirit of each man and each woman that’s ever born is this desire to touch God, to know Him, to have something where there is a contact that says, “You matter. You’re important. There’s more to life than just this.”

In the words of Pascal, it’s that God shaped vacuum inside every heart that is never filled until it’s filled with a relationship with God.

In the words of Augustine, it was the restlessness of every single heart of every man, of every woman, of all time that never finds peace and never finds rest, in Augustine’s words, “Until we find our rest,” as he said, “in Thee.”

In the search for intimacy with the Almighty people have taken about three primary roads. They travel down the same three paths to seek, to touch God, to know God.

And the roads are rules, and then a way to say, “If I do this, and I keep these rules, maybe I can please Him.”  Or in most cultures in the world, “If I could keep these rules, maybe I can prevent His wrath from destroying me.”

A second road traveled is not rules but the making of rituals. And rituals are traditions or patterns that we seek to somehow bridge the mystery between the known and the unknown. To answer the questions of immortality and so we light candles, and we bow, and we pray certain times in certain days, and wear certain clothes.

And the final road is not just rules or rituals but religion. They’re manmade systems of belief to explain the unexplainable. Ways to, for men and women over time and ages in a multitude of ways to say, “Life can make sense and immortality and life after death and why I’m here,” and we develop systems of religion or thought that say, “This explains it.”

And inside these rules and rituals and religions that have, for centuries and centuries and centuries, comes Jesus. And Jesus makes the ridiculous claim, ridiculous claim, think of it when He said it, “I have come to explain the Father.” Jesus would say, “If you have seen Me you have seen the Father.”

He would say, the writer of John would say that God incarnate came in the flesh and He has explained Him. Jesus would say if you want to understand what God is like, if you want to touch Him, if you want contact, if you want to understand all the mysteries of immortality and purpose and meaning, and be connected to God, Jesus said, “I am the way, I am the truth, and the life.”

And then He proves it with miracles, and He taught like no one else, and He raised people from the dead. And all of history hinges on this time before Christ and this time of His death and His resurrection.

And it’s interesting to hear what Jesus says about rules and ritual and religion. Notice He says in Luke 11:39, “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and the dish but inside you’re full of greed and wickedness.” Translation: It’s not about rules. It’s not about external rules and keeping rules. It’s not about performance.

Notice what Jesus says in Mark 7:13. He says to them, “Thus you nullify the Word of God by your traditions that you have handed down and you do many such things.”

Translation: It’s not about ritual. It’s not about tradition. It’s not about how many times you pray, what direction you pray, how many candles you light, what kind of robes you wear, what days you do certain things. Rituals have no power to build a relationship with God.

Jesus goes on to say in Luke 16:15, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in the sight of God.” Translation: It’s not about religion, it’s not about external forms, it’s not about systems of dos and don’ts and belief systems. It’s about issues of the heart, it’s about being seen by God and being right with God.

As men go to seek God and touch Him notice what Jesus says in Matthew 6:5. He says, “And when you pray don’t be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners,” why? “to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” Translation: When you seek to touch God, warning, motive is paramount.

Religion and rules and ritual are almost always twisted in ways to serve people, to put people in positions of power and some are in and some are out, and rules and rituals and religion are used to exalt men and impress people, and they are fruitless in the real knowledge of God.

Finally, Jesus says in Matthew 6, “And when you pray don’t keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think,” or, “they believe that they’ll be heard because of their many words.” Warning number two: Human performance is a vain attempt to touch the Creator.

Jesus would say communion with God is not about rules, communion with God is not about rituals, communion with God is not about manmade religions. So then the question is, Jesus, how do we commune with God? How do you touch the invisible? How do you know your Creator? How can you know and be known and this mystery of life, and life after death and, “Why am I here?” and “What’s my purpose?” and “How can I touch God?” Jesus, please explain. And so, Jesus does.

He made outrageous claims and the people that were closest to Him could spot anything that was false, His disciples. They ate with Him, they traveled with Him. Early in the morning, late at night. They saw Him under pressure, they saw Him when He was tired. They watched Him speak, they watched Him pray, they watched Him do miracles but there was something that He did that attracted them more than all else.

It’s when He communed with the Father. When He modeled for them how they indeed could touch God. And so, notice in Luke chapter 11 after observing Jesus’ deep communion with the Father, the disciples make a request. Notice how it opens up.

“On one day,” verse 1, “Jesus was praying in a certain place.” You get the idea that He’s praying, and the disciples are close enough to hear, and it’s almost as if they’re here, and they’re waiting, and He’s praying. And they’ve watched this happen multitudes of times. There are times where they said, “Go ahead,” and He went up to pray.

There are times when they’ve prayed, as a regular practice, in the garden. There are other times when He said, “You two, you come with Me and we’ll pray.” There are times when they went in a room, and He would pray, and do a miracle.

This time He’s praying, and as He’s praying the disciples are watching, and they can ask Him anything. But there’s something about the way He talks with the Father. There’s something about the reality of His relationship that He’s modeling, that causes a request to be formed in their mind and their heart.

And as He was praying, when He was finished one of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples to pray.”

“You have something. We see it. It’s authentic. It’s real. There’s power. There’s presence. There’s a reality. You don’t have the outward forms.

You break all the rules. But You’re in touch with God. All the things we’ve dreamed, and heard of, and wanted to see. There’s an attraction about You, there’s an authenticity about You, there’s a purity about You, there’s a power about You and it doesn’t come from You. You have this practice of talking with God in such a way, we want to know. John the Baptist, he has a formula he taught his disciples. When we were young boys, we grew up, and the rabbi, every rabbi had a formula, he taught his special prayers to his disciples. We want to know what to pray.”

They’re not asking, “Teach us to pray in general.” They’re not saying, “We want to learn about prayer.” They’re literally saying, “Teach us what to say. We want to pray prayers like You pray. John has a formula, the Pharisees have a formula, we want one.”

In verses 2 to 4 Jesus condescends to their request and He is going to provide them with an approved pattern. There is a system, there are formulas, there are things that should be prayed and are more important, and notice Jesus gives it to them.

“And He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:’” He’s not just giving a general thought about prayer. He’s saying, “When you come before God, one thing that you can actually say when you come before God is this:” and He’s going to teach them some very important, not only theology but some truth about God.

He says, “Pray this: Father, hollowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread, forgive our sins for we are also forgiving everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.”

The first word would have startled them. The word for Father is “Abba.” It’s in Aramaic. It’s what small, little children say as a term of affection and request to ask one of their parents a question, or to be picked up as a small child and be brought into his arms.

The Jews by this time have a very transcendent view of God. He’s Almighty, He’s powerful. They have multiple rules and all these things that you can and cannot do. They have a written tradition and an oral tradition. And men are overwhelmed with the load and the pains of the Law.

Jesus would say, “You put heavy weights on men; you’re blind guides.” They’re filled with religion, they’re filled with ritual, they’re filled with rules but there’s no reality.

And Jesus cuts through it and says, “The very first thing you say: Abba.” You come to God as a Father. He’s accessible, He’s personal, He’s warm, He’s available, He loves you.

And then as you go through the prayer, He says, “Recognize His holiness and His reverence.” And then pray first about God’s agenda and then pray specifically about your needs and then make sure you address the issues of forgiveness not only what you need from God but what you’re giving to others. And finally, pray for spiritual protection.

The purpose of this message is not to do an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, as it’s called. But what I want you to see is that He gives them an approved pattern. He says, “This is a good pattern to pray.” And it begins with their view of who He is.

But notice, after He gives them the approved pattern, there’s a question behind the question. When they said, “Teach us what to say when we pray,” it was more than that. It was, “We want to be connected to God the Father the way that You’re connected to God the Father. And so, we want to,” they thought it was a formula. “Give us a formula.”

So, He says, “Okay, you need a formula? Here’s a formula.” But then He’s going to say, but the question behind the question is you really want to know how to touch the Invisible. The real question is, “How do you touch the heart of God?”

The real question is, “What’s the path where you can come before God and experience God the Father the way I experience God the Father?”

And so, to do that He not only gives them a formula, but He now gives them the secret to communion with the Father that transcends any pattern, or any form, and He gives them what I would like to call an astounding parable.

Notice what picks up in verse 5, “Then He said to them, ‘Okay, I’ve given you the pattern,’ then he said to them,” notice the first word, “suppose.” It’s hypothetical. He’s making it up. He says, “Suppose one of you has a friend and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine is on a journey, has come to me and I have nothing to set before him.’”

Would you circle the phrase, “I have nothing,” we’ll come back to it later. “‘I have nothing to set before him.’ Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me, the door is already locked, my children are in bed with me, I can’t get up, and I can’t give you anything.’ And Jesus says, ‘I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is a friend yet because of the man’s boldness,’” put a little box around the word “boldness,” “‘he will get up and give him as much as he needs.’”  If you’re in the King James Version it says, “persistence” or “perseverance,” doesn’t it? The word here for “boldness,” or “persistence,” or “perseverance,” the word can mean either one. The literal meaning of that word is “without shame.” Coming before someone without shame.

And so, Jesus says, “Okay, I gave you the formula now let’s dig deeper. Suppose one of you has a friend.” And, by the way, you have to get into the culture, or it makes no sense. Most of us are thinking, “You know, someone stops over at eleven thirty at night and I don’t have any food in the house, you know, big deal, I say, let’s go to bed and we’ll get breakfast tomorrow at Denny’s. You know, don’t worry about it.”

But in this culture, hospitality is at premium. It is an utter disgrace, it is shameful to not be able to offer a guest, someone traveling, food and shelter. It is an absolute disgrace, so this is a big problem. In our modern ears it doesn’t seem like a big deal. In that day, this is a big problem. So much so that he would go to a friend. But the question is: what kind of friend could you go to at midnight?

I mean, you’re not going to knock on a neighbor’s door that you don’t have much of a relationship with. I mean, it’s kind of like the people in your life and mine, there’s not many houses where I can go over to someone’s house, walk over to the refrigerator without asking them, open the door, look inside, say, “You know what? I think I’d like a glass of orange juice.” Get myself an orange juice and say, “Boy, you know, I’m kind of hungry too.” You know what? Here’s the cupboard, here’s the crackers, put them on a plate, and come in and sit down on the living room and say, “Hey, how’s it going?”

How many people are in your world that you can do that with? Not too many. But what does it tell you about the relationship when you have people where you can go in their refrigerator? It means that there’s an openness, there’s a friendship, there’s an accessibility.

And what Jesus is saying is, the only kind of person you would ever go to their house, is where there was a level of accessibility and the level of friendship because you would never knock on the door at midnight of someone you didn’t really know.

This is someone you’re expecting to come through for you. And He basically says, you know, they’re not going to come through for you because they’re your friend. They’re going to come through because you came without shame. You said the relationship matters so much I wouldn’t come, or I wouldn’t call.

Anybody here received a call about two in the morning of someone who has a flat tire or has an emergency and says, “Can you help me?” And they think you’re a lot closer friends than you think you are with them. Have you ever had this happen to you?

But you, it’s real sincere on the other end of the phone. And you feel this weird twinge and the weird twinge is, “It is two o’clock in the morning and I do not want to be getting a wrecker for you, I want to be back in bed.” But the other part of the twinge is, “You know something? I felt pretty good about this person but I had no idea, the fact that they would feel this free to call me means I must have a very special relationship with them that they would feel that sense of freedom or lack of shame or boldness.”

And Jesus is going to make the point that this friend is going to respond not just because you’re a friend but he’s going to respond because you viewed him and the relationship with the kind of esteem that you would come without shame.

Jesus now moves on, He’s going to say there’s a point to this parable. And what He’s going to say now is He’s going to summarize the message of the parable and the message of this parable in verses 9 and 10 is very unusual.

He’s going to say, “God is not like that, by His command.” Often in Jewish teaching you want to make a truth and so you have a negative example, and this is a negative example in the parable.

And then He’s going to give a positive example, and then He’s going to end with a principle. But what He’s going to say here is there’s a reluctant friend who doesn’t really want to get up out of bed. But even a reluctant friend for something real serious like hospitality will get out of bed, not because of your friendship but – why?  Because you come without shame, you so esteem him of the kind of person that he is and the relationship that you have.

And now Jesus is going to use a positive example and His point is going to be: God never sleeps, God is not like the reluctant friend. In fact, God is exceedingly ready and desires to bless. That’s a negative example and kind of the a priori logic, if you will, that if a friend who is reluctant and really wouldn’t want to get up, will actually do it when you come boldly, how much more then would a God who loves you and cares for you, who never sleeps, is not only not reluctant but exceedingly ready, on the edge of His chair, longing to bless His children?

Then notice what He says in verse 9 and 10, “So I say to you,” command, “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks receives and he who seeks finds and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

See, it’s the application of the positive teaching. Jesus’ logic very simply is if a reluctant friend will respond to your admission of desperation and need for help, because you boldly asked for help, how much more will your heavenly Father, who loves you and longs to help you, respond favorably when you boldly ask, and seek, and knock?

In fact, the negative example leads to Him making the same point through a very positive example and now notice, verse 11 through 13, He reveals what I’d like to call the Path of Communion with God through this one enduring principle.

He gave the negative one now He says to them, “Okay, which one of you, if your son asked for a fish will give him a snake instead?” And the grammar here is very clear. The answer, the assumption is no one. I mean no dad in his right mind, if your boy comes to you and says, “Hey, could I have some fish?” And you say, “Bah, here’s a snake.” No.

Or He plays it out again. “Or if he asked for an egg will he give him a scorpion?” Assumed answer: absolutely not. “If then you,” notice the logic, He’s building His case, the pattern, the parable, the application, second parable, principle. “If then you, 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?”

See, Jesus’ point is the path of deep communion with the Father is not about performance, it’s not about keeping rules. It’s not about saying the right words at the right time with the right emphasis, “Oh God…” It’s not having all your life completely in order so that you’ve never messed up and, “Oh, have I measured up, God? Have I measured up? Will You answer my prayer now?”

It’s not about approaching a God that if you get the right words, at the right time, and say it just right, and you’ve kept all the rules, and done all the rituals, that maybe, just maybe, you can twist the arm of God - because He really doesn’t want to bless you, He really doesn’t want to, if you do everything just right, you could twist the arm of God, and He’ll give you what you want.

See, that was the thinking of the day. Candidly, that’s the thinking of most of us. See, most of us, when we think about communion with God we think, you know what? How long are you supposed to pray? What kind of words are you supposed to say? Should you quote verses when you pray or not quote verses when you pray? Where should you pray? Does God listen more if you’re flat on your face or if you’re on your knees or sitting?

Is it okay to pray with your eyes open? Can I pray in the car? Can I pray when I walk? What’s exactly the right way to pray? Now, if I write down the prayers does that give them more power?

And we have a million ways to talk about, “I want to be close to God. Well, I guess I need to do this. If I mess up, I guess I need to do these two things to make up for it. I need to tell Him I’m really sorry. I’ve got to figure out a way to try and get God on my team. If only God would bless me. If only God would help me. I know He helps other people that are more holy, and more kind, and more caring, and more loving, and more pure than me, but how could I get God to get on my team?” That’s the attitude.

And what Jesus is teaching is that it’s not the right words or spiritual techniques or rituals. It’s not about twisting God’s arm, it’s not praying for long periods of time. It’s not living a perfect life. It’s about understanding who God really is.

See, most of our focus on communing with God is all about us, and what we do, or what we don’t do. And the entire teaching, it’s the classic teaching in all the New Testament on communion with the Father.

And the teaching, the negative parable, the positive parable, and the principle make one singular point. It’s about seeing who God really is.

Instead of seeing a God who is hard to please, a God who forces you to perform, a God whose arm you have to twist, He is a God who is eager to bless. He is a God that loves you. He is a God that’s concerned. He’s a God who is warm and receptive. He is a God that no amount of measurement, or performance, or technique mean anything to Him. He sees through all that and He looks right into your heart and He is a God who says, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will refresh you.”

He is the God who says, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation.” He is the God who longs to bless His children, who came to the planet and left all of the glory of heaven, and all the angels, and all of the acclaim, and took on human flesh to walk for thirty or so years, to live a perfect life, and then die upon a cross and be raised from the dead, to let you know, “This is what the Father is like.”

You want to know how the Father feels about people who have blown it? This is what He did to the woman who was caught in adultery, “Go, and sin no more.” You want to hear how the Father feels about people who fake it, and are religious on the exterior and are hypocrites? Just listen to the harsh words of Jesus toward the Pharisees.

If you want to know what the Father’s heart is like about people who have loss and discouragement and they’ve lost their only son or their only daughter? He’s filled with compassion, and He’s moved within, and He touches people, and He heals people, and He raises the from the dead, and He feeds them, and He loves them, and He says, “I care.”

And Jesus says the path of communion with the Father is not so much about doing, or performing, or rituals, or techniques. It’s about understanding this one true and abiding principle. And the one true and abiding principle is the God of the “How Much More?”

He’s, “How much more then… your Father?” The God who longs to bless, who loves unconditionally, who hears and wants to give exceedingly, abundantly more. The God that is honored, are you ready for this? He’s honored when we really believe and perceive Him for who He is.

That He is good, and generous, and kind, and loving, and available, and willing, and open, and receptive, and concerned, and then based on that truth, we come.

I spent a lot of years with my performance mentality and my Marine upbringing, if you will, in the Christian life. And the first few years I was a Christian I was around a group that, with great intentions, kind of said, “You know, we’re the Marines of the Christian world. We’re going to be the few, the proud, the Marines. We’re going to be disciplined.”

And so, I got up, after rejecting this for about a year and a half, I finally caved in and decided every morning I’m going to get up and meet with God. And then I had a very long list that grew, and grew, and grew – it was my prayer list and I found a janitor’s closet and every day I spent a half hour to an hour, an hour and fifteen minutes in prayer.

And I prayed through every name and every person. And I found that, you know what? You can become a Pharisee in the twenty-first century. And I memorized hundreds of verses. And you know what? I went for a year, two, three – I never missed a day praying.

I can remember coming in from a basketball game where we played far away and I got in about two thirty in the morning. And I just wanted to fall into bed, nope, can’t fall into bed. I’ve got a list to pray through and I went to the janitor’s closet. In mindless mumbling, “Help Bob, help Fred, help this, help that.” And I just went through it.

And no matter how long I prayed I always thought, “What if I left somebody out and what if there’s one person I was supposed to pray for?” And if I prayed this long, well maybe you’re supposed to pray this long. And if I prayed this long, well maybe you’re supposed to pray this long. And how deep do you pray? And how do you know when to stop praying? And is God ever pleased?

And I had a God, in my mind, who was impossible to please. No matter what you did He raised the bar. And no matter what you did He raised the bar. And guess what, I didn’t like to pray. I didn’t want to, who wants to pray to a God like that? But you pray to a God like that because you’re afraid of what might happen if you don’t.

And you know there’s Christians that really don’t experience communion with God? But their prayer life and their attempts at touching their Creator is really revolving around all kind of rules, written and unwritten. Some from your family, some from your background, some from your teaching.

And other Christians, really, it’s all about rituals. You know, I feel okay but if I don’t go to church on this day or, some other people, you know, you’ve got to pray a certain direction so many times a day. And other people, I’ve got to wear certain colors of certain robes, of certain times, and light so many candles, and say so many repetitious words, so many different times, so many people… I mean, there are rituals, and rules, and religions, and all of it revolves around one fundamental thing and they miss the path. The path is knowing what God is really like. And prayer, if you will, is very simply keeping company with God.

If you really believed that God was for you, if you believed that every moment of every day He was on the edge of the throne of all of heaven, and looking down, and you’re just sleeping, and He’s waiting for your eyes to open, and the very first thoughts on your mind and your heart, He would like is, “I want to bless you today. I’m for you today. I’d love to talk.

I know what’s coming up today. I know where the challenges are coming. I’d like to give you a few tips. You know what? About three o’clock this afternoon you’re going to have a really difficult meeting and tell you what I’d like to do is I’d like to put My arm around you.

“Wednesday of this week you’re going to get some very, very bad news. Someone you love is going to be in an auto accident and I’d like to give you some truth and some promises to hang on to, because otherwise it could really shake you. I love you, I’m for you. All I want you to do is come. You don’t have to perform, it’s not about rules, it’s not about how long, it’s not saying the right words, it’s not impressing anyone. I see your heart, I want to be with you, I want to bless you, I want to love you, I want to wrap My arms around you, I want to prepare you and protect you.”

When you see God for who He is, prayer becomes a joy. Does it mean there aren’t times where you have to pull your mind in from wandering? Of course. Does it mean you won’t have to exert some will power and discipline yourself and move through some of the flesh? Of course.

But by and large, more and more, I have learned that God so longs to just simply bless and have me in His presence, and when I’m there it is out of His goodness that He convicts me of sin. When I’m there it is out of His goodness and generosity that He brings things to my mind that I need to correct.  Because every relationship out of kilter, what’s it going to do? It’s going to bring destruction to me and pain to them.

You see, the path of communion with God is not about what you do, how long you do it, where you do it. It’s all about knowing who He is. We make prayer all about us. How do we do it? What do we say? Are these the right words? How long did we do it? Did we go through all of our lists?  All those can be effective tools, or all of them can be ways to deter you from the very point. It’s keeping company with God. You are related to the God of the “How Much More?”

Every one of us that are parents, and those of you that aren’t even parents, I mean, if you had a child and they ask you for something are you going to give a snake or…? No! What’s your heavenly Father…? Your heavenly Father longs to bless you.

Now that doesn’t mean you’re going to, you know, get a Lexus tomorrow and the second house and everything goes your way and you’re going to get into Harvard. It means He wants to give you the highest, the best, the deepest, the richest of things that last forever, that will fulfill and satisfy your heart like no thing, no accomplishment, no amount of money, no relationship, nothing on this earth.

He wants to love you, and bless you, and reveal Himself to you, and have you be a son or a daughter who feels so affirmed, and significant, and loved, and valued just for who you are, that you go through life in ways that other people never understand.  Is that the God that you pray to? If you believed, see, we honor God the most when we believe what He said about Himself, and then respond accordingly. That’s why Jesus said without faith it’s impossible to please Him.

He didn’t say without keeping rules it’s impossible to please Him. He didn’t say without doing all the rituals it’s impossible to please Him. He didn’t say without being religious it’s impossible to please Him. He said, “Without faith.” Faith is believing what God has said about Himself.

It’s trusting His promises to the point of acting on what is true. The Lord Almighty is with me. The Lord my God is with me. He is mighty to save. He will quiet me with His love. He will rejoice over me with singing. And to think that my day is starting and I haven’t seen anybody and I haven’t filled out my to-do list, I haven’t made any phone calls, but I’ve just thought, “The God of all the universe, He’s my God and He’s with me and He’s more powerful to deliver.” That’s what the word “save” means, to deliver from any situation, any conflict, any pressure – whether it’s mine, or with another person, or any circumstance, He is mighty to save. And when I get uptight He is waiting. He is waiting at any moment, at any time, the Spirit of God dwelling in me, He wants to quiet me with His love.

And when He thinks of me with all my ups and all my downs, and all my struggles, and all my three steps forward and two steps backwards, and my mixed motives, and the things that come out of my mouth that I wish I wouldn’t, and when I lose my temper, and when I get frustrated in traffic, He still rejoices over me with singing because I’m the object of His affection, because I am His son, purchased by the blood of Christ.

And my relationship isn’t based on my performance. Of course He’s moving and transforming me, and making me, little by little, more and more like His Son but He loves me. Not if I do something, and not because I did anything. And so I pray a prayer of affirmation.

For me the second is prayers of adoration. I didn’t used to do much of this. I used to spend most of my time praying… I was a Marine, right? “Take the hill. Lord, take care of this. Lord, what about this? Okay, Lord, bring that person to Christ, Lord.” And I would just go in, you know, “Okay, take the hill.”

And I’ve learned that God delights for me to adore Him, and to enjoy Him, and I gave you a passage for me, Psalm 103. It says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul. Bless the Lord. All that is within me. Forget not one of His benefits. He is the one who heals all of your diseases. He’s the one who renews your youth like the eagle. He is the one who delivers you from your enemies. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me.”

And often I just, I’ve encouraged you here, prayer of adoration, bless the Lord, O my soul. And then in each phrase where it says, “Who has delivered you from,” just pause and say, “Holy Spirit, would you bring to mind where You’ve delivered me? Thank You, thank You, thank You.”

“Who heals all your diseases.” “Would You just bring to mind, you know, times in the ICU with the kids or where I was at with this and what I prayed about that? Lord, thank You.”

And just go through a time, in an unhurried way, where you adore God, where you take the truth of Psalm 103 and this is the God who longs to bless, and you offer them back in just an unhurried… not trying to accomplish anything, and you sit in His presence and I do it even with a cup of coffee. And I ponder over people, and times of blessing and deliverance, and I focus on enjoying God’s presence. God – we are made in His image – and God is the only being in all the universe who we could say wonderful, good things about Him, forever and ever, and ever, and ever, and we would fall infinitely short of what is true.

He is the center of the universe, and you get realigned in your focus, and realigned in your emotions, and realigned in what matters when you get your focus off of you and your day, and your needs and your stuff, and your agenda and get it on to who He is and what He’s done.

The third way I’ve learned this path is prayers of renewal and cleansing. And later on in Psalm 103, after He talks about the blessing, then I love this, it says, “He’s compassionate and gracious,” verse 8, “slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. He’ll not always strive with us nor keeps His anger forever nor reward us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is His loving-kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west so far He’s removed our transgressions from us.”

And then I love this, “Just as a Father,” I can identify with this, “has compassion on his children so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” And then look at verse 14, “For He Himself knows our frame and He’s mindful that we’re but dust.”  We cover ourselves over with such shame. You think God’s really surprised when you blow it? I mean, do you really think it’s like, “Oh Gabriel! I can’t believe Ingram did that today!” Michael’s going, “I can!” Does God excuse our sin? No.

But, you know, we get, we put up such walls, we spend an inordinate amount of energy hiding from God, and not being honest, and playing games, and the only one we’re fooling is us.  He’s all-knowing. He’s all-powerful. He’s all-wise. And so, prayers of renewal and cleansing, deliberately pray back to God, verse by verse, 8 through 14. And then thank Him and dwell on the completeness of the forgiveness.

And as He brings something to mind, “Oh boy, I lost my temper,” or, you know, “That wasn’t appropriate in that meeting,” or, “Instead of giving my wife a compliment, boy, I was sharp with my tongue.”

Say, “Lord, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You’ve been so good. But I thank You that as far as the east is from the west, that’s how far You’ve taken away my sin. Thank You that You understand. Thank You that, just like a father and I understand when my kids blow it, that’s how You feel about me.”

See, if you do not have a right view of God, you’ll never share communion with God. You will play games and you’ll play games that make up rules and if you don’t like other people’s rules, you’ll make up your own. But I got news, you can’t even keep your own.

And if rules don’t work then you’ll come up with little rituals, and if I do this so often, and if I do this now, and I do this now, and I do this at this right time, and I pray so many minutes, and I read two chapters, and I put a little check mark over here, and I always come to church, and I do this, and do this, and do that.”

And you know what? It’s just yet another game. All those things, as a means, done to honor and glorify God out of relationship, can be extremely meaningful and very helpful. But left to themselves, they have absolutely no power.

And we become religious people. And the most dangerous people, the most dangerous people in the New Testament are religious people. The people farthest from God in the New Testament are religious people. People who discover and make up ways to appear righteous in men’s sight but whose hearts are far from Him.

The final way for me is prayers of asking. And I encourage you to read Luke 11:1 through 13 a couple times and then when, before you ask, put this picture in your mind: This good, generous, kind, warm, receptive, non-reluctant, absolutely on my team, ready to bless me, how much more, better than I could ever dream or expect – that’s who I’m coming to, so, this is what I’d like.

He always wants to do how-much-more. Why? So everything is better for us? No. So we get a higher, clearer, more genuine view of Him.

What would happen if you believed the God of the Bible is the God of the How Much More? And that He was for you, and that He loved you, and that instead of what you ought to say, or how long you say it, or what body position you’re in, or whether you do it at morning, noon, or night, or what you read or don’t read.

If your heart began to be attuned, that He would just love to be with you. And He’s not down on you. And He wants to bless you. And then the forms, and the patterns, and the discipline, will flow out of your heart’s desire to know Him as He is, and enjoy Him, and then you express your love, by what? Obeying Him. Because He’s the God of all goodness… of the How Much More.