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It's Not about Rules, Ritual, or Religion, Part 2

From the series Pathways to Intimacy with God

In this message, Chip reveals how to overcome a warped view of God and begin experiencing a relationship with your Creator that you never thought possible.

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Message Transcript

Verse 11 through 13, He reveals what I’d like to call the Path of Communion with God through this one enduring 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?” 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.