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About this series
God's Wisdom for Building Great Relationships
Relationships can be tough. Everyone has expectations of how relationships should work. Whether it's our behaviors, words, spending habits, how to raise children, or views of God - these factors affect how we interact with others. In this series, Chip explores eight essential life lessons that will help you build GREAT relationships that last!More from this series
I want to give you the fifth principle, at least, of all the things I have learned over the years about making relationships work is this: knowing God as He is is the prerequisite for loving others as they are.
Knowing not what you think God is like, but actually knowing, encountering God as He really is is the prerequisite to loving other people as they are. In fact, there’s a couple principles built in that if you think about it. And what you realize is, Well, wait a second. That means the premise is the goal is actually to love people as they are.
You mean I’m not supposed to fix them first? You mean the goal is not to get everybody lined up and acting and behaving in ways that make me happy and make my life work? That I’m actually just supposed to be an instrument and I love them as they are. That doesn’t mean I approve of their behavior. That doesn’t mean I always like it. It doesn’t mean I just say that attitude doesn’t matter.
But I am going to love them exactly the way God loves me. See, it’s the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance. When God wanted to fix the human race after the coup, He didn’t come in and try and put external restraints. Let’s see, I’ll make them do this and I’ll make them do that and this happens.
Romans [12:2] says, “It is the kindness of the Lord.” It is the goodness of the Lord. It’s God’s grace, His unconditional love that sometimes brings consequences to behavior, but the motivation, ever, when you see God for who He is is a heart of acceptance, a heart of love, a heart of goodness, a heart of desire to bring people to Himself so they can enjoy the highest and the best and the deepest relationship possible.
And believe it or not, bringing about change in a relationship is not about fixing people. It’s learning how to love them as they are. And see, you know what? Some of the behaviors might look the same as a parent and you provide some consequences. But it’s a lot different being inwardly angry at one of your kids and sick and tired of that behavior and I’m going to fix them and if they do that, I’m going to do this. And we are going to get this straightened out.
Or punishing a mate because of their lack of attention or a lack of responsiveness. It’s a lot different than saying, “I really love this person and that behavior, that attitude, I need to address, but I am going to address it with tenderness around this person’s heart. And what I want them to feel and know down deep in their soul, even when I have to have love that is not very pleasant for them to experience, I want them to know that I am for them and that I care about them and I want to pass on this unconditional grace and goodness and acceptance that God has given to me.
But see, as we learned last time, you can’t impart what you don’t possess. And so, knowing God as He is is the prerequisite to loving others as they are and when you love others as they are, the way God loves you, can I tell you something amazing? Repentance occurs. You know what the literal meaning of the word repentance? Metanoia – change of the mind.
It means people have a change of mind. They think differently about God after that, they think differently about you, they think differently about themselves.
The disciples had a big problem with seeing God for who He is. We all do, but every culture has false views of God that send people down religious trails that often are not like God at all. And as you study the New Testament and you walk in the sandals of those disciples and you observe how they think about Jesus and the questions they ask, it’s interesting, I can only find one thing they ever asked Jesus to teach them in the New Testament. It’s how to pray.
You would think they would say, “Lord, would You teach us how to preach?” Or, “Could You teach us how to bring fire down from the sky?” Or, “We want to be hotshots and everything.” “Lord, teach us to pray.” Why? They grew up in a religious system as little Jewish boys in the synagogue where they knew reams and reams by memory of the Old Testament. They grew up in a system where a very high official would wear ornate robes and have all these passages and would go on the street corner and say word after word after word of long prayers, citing multiple passages, and they thought that was spiritual.
And then they walked around with Jesus and when He was praying it was like it was a real person and it wasn’t like He was trying to twist God’s arm to get God to do something and there wasn’t an ought-to or a got-to but when they were around Jesus, there was a sense of life and intimacy and He is experiencing something that we have never seen before. And so in Luke chapter 11, they actually, as you get the idea from the text, they are listening to Him finishing up His prayers and then one of them raises his hand and says, “Lord, would You teach us to pray?”
And all they know is the forms. They were taught all these religious forms. And they said, “The Pharisees, they have religious forms. There’s a prayer you say in the morning, there’s a prayer you say in the evening. There’s this kind of prayer for this situation.” And you wrote and memorized those. “And John the Baptist, he taught his guys some forms. So, Jesus, will You give us a formula? Will You tell us what are the right words to say and how to say it?”
You pick up the story in Luke 11. Why don’t you open your Bibles there if you’re not there already. And in verse 1 says, “Then it came about while He was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.’”
And so Jesus, understanding their mindset, what you’re going to see is He will give them a formula. And it’s the right formula. It’s the right pattern of prayer. And He doesn’t say just even, “Pray this way.” He says, “Say these words.” So, here’s the formula.
But what He is going to do after He gives them the formula, what we call The Lord’s Prayer, is then He is going to give them a negative example and then the truth of how to really pray and why, and then He is going to give them a positive example and He’s going to take the negative example and the positive example, sandwiched in between this command about how to relate to God, but all He is really going to share is: the problem is not with your form. The problem is not how long you pray. The problem isn’t so much the actual words.
He is going to teach them: your problem is you don’t see the Father for what He is like. You think the Father is hard to please, you think God is angry with you most of the time, you think His arms are crossed and toe-tapping and He has a boney finger saying, “Yeah! Hey, you should have been praying longer and why are you here now? And why are you asking for this? Because last week you did that.”
And what Jesus is going to teach them is the problem in their prayers is not a formula. He is going to teach them they need to see the Father completely differently and I would suggest that the way the disciples loved people as they were was because they learned to see the Father as He is.
Let’s pick up the formula. I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because you have heard it many times. But let’s just, the overview. So, He says to them, “When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be Thy name.’” But He turns the tables already. Wait a second, “Father?” It’s the Aramaic word Abba. It’s the word of a two or three-year-old boy who would tug on his daddy’s robe to say, “Will you pick me up?” Abba – intimacy.
Their view of God was He is transcendent, He is powerful, He is the God who split the Red Sea. But they missed His intimacy. And the first thing Jesus says is, When you see Him, He’s an available, loving, Abba Father. And the balance is: “…and holy is His name.” He is the God who filled the temple of Isaiah: “Holy, holy, holy.” But He is transcendent but He is approachable and intimate like your own dad.
Then He goes on to say to them, “Thy kingdom come,” and then in another gospel, “Your will be done.” When you pray, come to God knowing He is an intimate Father and come with great reverence and then get His agenda on the table first before you get yours. God, I want Your will to get done. I want Your rulership and the way You want life to occur in the world that I am in.
And then make sure you pray for your specific needs. It’s not bad or unspiritual. “Give us this day our daily bread.” God, I’ve got needs. I’ve got material needs, I’ve got relational needs, I’ve got financial needs, I’ve got work needs. He says, “You bring those to Him.”
And then notice He says: but understanding there is this relationship as you bring your needs between your relationship with others and your relationship with the Father. So, He goes on to say, “And forgive us our sins as we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”
Don’t think that you can have this little silo of disconnected relationship with God as you have hate and unforgiveness in your heart toward others. That’s why intimate praying with the Father is always a cleansing experience. It always forces us to do a little evaluation of: where is my heart with other people? Because I’ve got to get this right before God says we can make that right.
And then He says it’s a hostile world. It’s a fallen world. There is an enemy. And this enemy wants to literally destroy your soul and destroy your marriage and destroy your life. And so, ask specifically. “Lead us not into temptation.” And as the other gospel writers will say, “…but deliver us from evil.” And literally it’s: from the evil one, “…for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory.”
And so, He tells them: come to God. It’s intimate and yet He’s holy. Get His agenda on the table. Ask specifically for your needs. Then deal with any relational issues of unforgiveness so you can appropriate that. Ask for His protection and then now notice what He does. He just, He tells a story. “Lord, teach us to pray.” Story – negative example. Truth – positive example.
By the way, often Judaism teaching, he would do that – they would couch two things and in the middle was the core truth. Let’s pick up the story. He goes on to say to them, “Suppose one of you have a friend and you go out to him at midnight and you say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves;’” the idea: three loaves of bread, “‘for a friend of mine has come to me on a journey and I have nothing to set before him.’ And from inside the house, he shall answer and say, ‘Do not bother me. The door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.’”
Very common situation and historically and culturally you need to understand, when someone would come from out of town, hospitality is not like we think of it today. Like, I’d really like to put you up for the night, but we are really busy and the kids are already in bed and maybe there’s a Motel 6 or something you could get. Sorry.
No, no, no, no, no. There was an absolute obligation in this culture – when someone came to stay with you, you had to provide for them. So, this is not like there’s a plan B. This is like, I’ve got a problem. I need to put these people up, but I don’t have any food.
And so, he goes to a friend and he says, “Hey, will you give me three loaves?” And the friend goes, “Hey, I’m in bed. Forget it.” Notice how then Jesus develops the story. “I tell you, even though,” verse 8, “he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”
Will you underline the word persistence in your Bible? Literally, the word is shamelessness or without shame. It’s used in multiple places in the New Testament and has the idea without shame or boldness and it can be, mean persistence. Or it can mean, just literally, without shame, which I think I’ll explain in a minute, is the very clear meaning of this text.
Before we dig in, let’s jump to, then, what is he going to say? “I tell you, he won’t get up because of it, because of your shamelessness.” And then verse 9, “And I say to you,” here’s the application, “ask and you will receive; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives:” here is what prayer is all about, “and he who seeks finds; and the one who knocks it will be opened.”
This is really simple, guys. You ask, you’re going to receive. You seek, you’re going to find. You knock, it will be opened. This is just clear-cut. Then notice He tells another story. He goes on to say, “Now, suppose one of your fathers is asked by his son for a fish. He will not give him a snake instead of the fish, will he? Or if he asks for an egg, he won’t give him a scorpion, will he?”
And then here’s the clincher: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!”
Now, you’re saying to yourself maybe, Chip, where are you getting this that they have a wrong view of God? I remember the very first pastorate I was in, I was there maybe nine months, a year, year and a half at the most. I didn’t know this fellow very well. I came in from out of town and we had this really old car and we really upgraded to this little, tiny Subaru wagon that I could get all my kids in.
And I came in out of town, and it’s when it starts to rain and it hasn’t rained for a long time – the oil from the pavement and the dust. And it is just like ice like this. And so, I’m coming out of Dallas and there’s one of those big loops and that is going to send me on the freeway toward my house.
And everyone is careful. It’s really slick. And so, everyone is going twelve, fifteen miles an hour. And then in front of me there’s this bus that just starts swimming around like this and hits it into a car. And it was like being in a movie in slow motion. It’s coming, it’s coming, so I hit the brake a little bit and that doesn’t work. So, he hits me and I go into the guardrail, then I’m spinning around in my car like this. I felt like I was – and, boom, boom. I’m glad I was going ten, twelve, fifteen miles an hour.
And so, pretty soon, you look around and there are all these cars all messed up and it’s, like, two in the morning. Well, I can’t call Theresa, one, she doesn’t have a car because we had one car. And number two, I’ve got three kids and they are small. And I don’t know many people in this church. Who am I going to ask?
And so, I thought, Well, who is the person? Are you ready? Think of you, if this was you, who is the person that you could call at two thirty in the morning that would not get angry, right? And so, I called a man named A.C. And I was meeting with him every, I think, Wednesday or Thursday morning and we would memorize some verses together and keep each other accountable.
And my sense was that he really cared about me. But there’s one thing to meet with a person and have a little Bible study and be casual friends. And I didn’t have any family in town. And it’s different to wake someone up at two thirty in the morning and say, “Hey, excuse me, could you get up out of bed, drive about forty miles, help me get a tow truck, and solve my life’s problems?”
Well, I called him and I could hear in his voice, obviously a bit groggy. But he got up, he came, helped me get a tow truck, we drove back together, and that man actually became not only a mentor and a father figure for the last thirty years.
Here’s what I want you to see what Jesus was saying. Jesus was saying – when I called him, I believed, I was shameless, I believed he would actually help me. Do you see? I believed he was a good man, I believed he cared about me and would be so generous that I would not get, “Hey, Chip, I’m glad you’re the new pastor, but it’s two thirty in the morning, I hope you have someone who is a better friend than me. Goodnight.”
In fact, can I flip it on you? Can you think of someone, you don’t have to come up with a name, but someone who is an acquaintance? Maybe someone at work, you just met them at church, and you have a casual relationship, you have exchanged phone numbers, and they seem to be drawn to you and you don’t really understand why. And you have tried to be kind, but in your heart of hearts, you’re like an acquaintance, right? Nice guy.
It's two thirty in the morning and you get a call. And they say your name. And you go, “Who is this?” And they tell you their name and you’re thinking, you’re trying to get a picture, Oh, oh, yeah. Okay, this is this guy.
And they begin to say, “I’m in this jam and my car is broken down. I don’t have AAA, I know it’s about thirty-five miles outside of Atlanta. Is there any way that you could come and help me?” See, they are shameless. And what you realize is, in your heart of hearts, at least for me at times, I’ve had those experiences where I think we are pretty good friends, but I don’t think we are this good of friends. You understand what I’m saying?
But then your option, it’s sincere, so you’re going to say, “You know what? I am not a very good person. You obviously would only call someone,” who would you call at two thirty in the morning? You’re not going to open the phone book and go, “Hmmm.” You’re going to call someone that you believe that is good, who is kind, who would respond, and wants to help you.
And so, when you get that call at two thirty in the morning, your reaction is, “Whoa, I didn’t realize he thought this much of me. I’m not this good of a person, I’m really not that kind, and so I really can’t come.” Is that what you’re going to do? What are you going to do?
You’re going to go, Wow, this person must really think I’m a lot better Christian than I am, because I don’t really want to go. Right?
Do you see what Jesus is teaching the disciples? The man will get up out of bed because the only person you would call in the middle of the night is someone that your view of them is they are kind and they are good and they are generous. And so, he is shameless. Of course I would ask this man because this is the kind of man he is.
And what He is trying to teach the disciples is: it’s not how long you pray, it’s not all the different words you use. If when you and could see God as kind and generous and easy to please and not condemning – when you come in your crisis and your need, you won’t get a God whose arms are folded.
Their view of prayer was: Let’s see now, I’ve seen the Pharisees do it. If you do it for forty-five minutes and then take a break and then another forty-five minutes. And if you say these certain words over and over and over and over, maybe somehow, someday I can twist God’s arm because He doesn’t really care about me. And I can get Him to answer my prayer. A total performance, works orientation and a completely warped view of God.
And the reason I believe they asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” because I think when they would overhear Jesus, they would – they wouldn’t see performance. They would see someone who is coming to a heavenly Father that, whenever there was crisis or need or pain, Jesus went to the safest place in the world. Jesus went where He knew He was accepted a hundred percent of the time. Jesus went to someone who had unlimited resources, who was not hard to please, He didn’t have to work to earn or gain or merit His favor. He was a God of lovingkindness and grace, regardless of where we have been and what we have done.
That is why He had that intimate prayer life. And when the disciples say, “Teach us to pray,” instead of – look how many verses – how many verses, how many actual words does He use in this text to teach them to pray? What, thirty-five? Maybe forty-five? And how much time does He spend explaining, “Suppose a man…” and then, “Ask, seek, knock,” of course! You just ask.
When you ask someone who loves you, who is kind, who is generous, who wants to help you, you just ask, well, you’re going to receive. Well, you’re not sure what to do? Well, you just seek and you ask this kind of God, well, you’re going to find.
And if you knock and you’re not sure about this or that, He’ll always open the door. You see, until you know God as He really is, it’s impossible to love others as they are. Because we have this idea that God really is very hard to please, that He is really down on us most of the time, and we think God is trying to fix us like we are trying to fix everybody else. And the Scripture says it is the kindness of God that leads to change. It’s His graciousness.
And just in case they didn’t get it, He goes, Okay, okay, look guys. How many of you, as human fathers, your eight-year-old runs up to you, your nine-year-old little girl runs up to you, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy! Oh, Daddy! Yes, could I have a piece of bread?” And you say, “Yes, just a minute. I have it in a bag.” And you take the bag and inside the bag you, “Ahhhh!” There’s a snake! Ahhh!
Or, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy! Could I have an egg? I’m so hungry. Oh, I haven’t eaten in a long time.” “Yes, yes, yes.” And you have a little bowl with a lid on it and you go, “Yeah, here’s the egg.” Agh, it’s a scorpion!
Do you understand His logic? He says, “You, being evil fathers would never, ever consider doing that to any of your kids,” and then in your Bible, will you circle this phrase? How much more? How much more?
If an earthly father, with all of our struggles and all of our sin and all of our bad days would never do that to his earthly child, how much more will your heavenly Father come to you and meet you where you are and give you what you need when you come honestly?
I get to talk to lots of pastors and church leaders and then lots of us Christians that, if I bring up the subject of: how is your prayer life? You can almost, you can almost feel the dynamic in the room change. Anybody! I don’t know anybody who feels like, “Hey, how is your prayer life?” “I’m doing great, man. It’s awesome. I spend hours and hours, it’s great intimacy, God answers about ninety-four point three percent of my prayers. Love to pray. Everything is going great.”
When I talk to pastors, “How is your prayer life?” “Well, I know it’s not what it needs to be and I know this and I know that.”
And when I talk to Christians, it’s like, “Well, it’s really hard and my mind wanders and I have tried to write a few things down but mostly, praise God for Atlanta traffic, I get scared and I pray then. And when my kids are ICU, I pray then. And when I lose my job or I need some money, I pray then. Otherwise, I’m just hoping the Big Man Upstairs, whoever that is, is going to be kind of nice to me and…”
You see, your prayer life always reveals your level of genuine dependency. And instead of feeling guilty about it, what you need to do is redefine who it is you’re talking to, and I think redefine prayer. I used to feel guilty all the time about my prayer life.
Some guy came to me and said, “How long should you pray? Well, just name a number.” Fifteen minutes. Well, what if it’s supposed to be sixteen? Well, it’s a half hour. What if it’s supposed to be forty-two minutes? Well, what if it’s supposed to be an hour? You totally miss the point. That’s all performance orientation.
Can I give you a good definition of prayer? “Keeping company with God.” That’s what prayer is. It’s keeping company with God. And the key to a life of seeing God and knowing Him for who He really is just like with any other relationship. You have to get to know Him and enjoy Him. And when you think of prayer as ought to and got to and feel bad when I don’t and I bet I have a flat tire and, let’s see, I prayed and read my Bible this morning. It’s going to be a good. Oh! I didn’t pray, I bet this is going to happen, that’s going to happen. That is a warped view of God.
That’s a performance, non-grace orientation. Jesus talked to the Father because He was the most refreshing, safe, good, kind, wonderful, willing to help in the middle of the night in any crisis of any being in the universe and He is teaching His disciples, “Get a right view of My Father.” He is not down on you.
Can I tell you, God is not hard to please. His desires for you are grand, but His understanding is vast. He is mindful that you are men and women of flesh. His arms aren’t crossed, His toe is not tapping, it’s not like you’re really, down deep, this bad, guilty person and: You need to shape up and when you shape up, then I’ll do good things for you. Doesn’t that sound like someone trying to fix someone? Isn’t that a lot how we treat others? And I don’t know about you, but if I’m trying to fix someone, which I did for many years in my marriage and she is trying to fix me, there’s a lot of unhealthy conflict in that, isn’t there?
And Jesus teaches us, I think, two major, major practices. The first practice is this: bring all your needs to the how-much-more Father who loves you. I don’t feel guilty about my prayer life anymore. I have come to believe that there is an all-knowing, all-powerful, gracious, kind God that no matter where I’m at and what I have done and how much I am struggling and how adverse the situation is, I can come and I’ve got to come a certain way, we’ll learn in a minute, but when I come, real and honest and not playing games, He always is the how-much-more God.
How much more will your heavenly Father meet you and talk with you and listen to you and help you and put His arm around you and comfort you and encourage you? But there is a way that you have to come. We come to God not only with all our needs, but come to God in desperate dependency. The other little phrase I would have you underline, Jesus did not make up these stories just out of the blue, right? He’s making a point.
Which of you, coming to a friend, legitimate need, and he is already in bed, and you shamelessly believe he is good enough that he is going to answer, you come and you say, “I have nothing.” You have had those times praying, haven’t you? You’re in ICU and they don’t know if your kid is going to make it or not.
I have nothing. This marriage has fallen apart and there is anger and there is, and you’re sitting in a pool of tears and wondering…
You just find out that the layoffs are final and you don’t have a job and you don’t have a future and remember how you pray then? Oh God. Flowing tears. God, God, help me. What am I going to do? I can’t solve this! Are you ready? I can’t fix this! God, please help me.
And I would suggest that if we had the time and a microphone, we could go around this room at the windows in your life when you were just totally bankrupt, I have nothing, and we could tell the most amazing stories of how God showed up in supernatural ways in ICUs and biopsy reports that were this way and went that way, and people that have lost people that you love, and you thought to yourself, I cannot go on. I will never live again. And that was five years ago, and you have seen how God has healed your life.
You see, principle for relationships: knowing God as He is is a prerequisite to loving others as they are. And that means that you get a new view of God. Could I just tell you, He is not down on you. He’d just love to talk to you. And, yeah, there’s a basic format about how to do it.
If your mind wanders, just like if you were talking to a great friend or your mate or one of your kids and your mind wanders and they said, “Hey, Dad, Dad?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah? Oh, I’m sorry.” And you would just talk, wouldn’t you?
I have been out of town quite a bit and Friday I just had a great afternoon with Theresa and then we went out on a date. It was a really nice little Italian restaurant and had the little candle lights and the music in the background and then we took a walk around all these places and if I would have missed that date, I would have not thought, Oh boy, well, I should have done that with Theresa.
You know why I went on that date? I just love her. I like to hang out with her. I didn’t feel like, Oh, I’ve been gone two weeks, now, I need to shore up this part of the relationship, I need to fix her, make sure everything is okay.
I just said, “Babe, man, can we just hang out together?” And we had a deep talk and a long walk and a great meal and it was just like, if I would have missed that, I would have not felt like she was down on me. I would have felt like I missed out on something very precious.
And when you begin to see God as a good God and a kind God and a gracious God and a loving God, who wants to keep company with you, and if you would come and stop, we all do it, the posturing and trying to cut a deal like, Well, God, if I do this, this, and this, will You do that? And over here, if You would do this, then I will, I really need this new job.
We kind of play the game of air-traffic-spiritual-controllers and we are the air traffic controller and there’s this God that we can tap in if we just get those dials just right. And then we say, Okay, God, over at two o’clock I’ve got a son going left, going south. What I need is supernatural grace missiles. Bing! Shoot them over here.
And, God, over here I need a new job and this needs…and I’m trying to work it. Oh! And then it happens one time, doesn’t happen the other and you think, Well, maybe I need to hold my mouth just right. Or, I read verses last time before I prayed. Maybe that’s the key.
And we play all these games. And Jesus said to His disciples, Hey, guys, you come to the how-much-more God, when you are absolutely bankrupt and you say, “I’ve got nothing and I can’t fix it and I am desperate for You.” And when you ask, you’ll receive. And when you seek, you will find. And when you knock, the door will be opened.
Knowing God as He is is the prerequisite to loving others as they are.