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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 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?
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 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.