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About this series
When We Pray
Developing Intimacy with God
If you are like most Christians, praying is often a confusing, mis-prioritized, and forgotten part of our faith journey. But in this series, guest teacher Ryan Ingram will guide us to a healthier, more beneficial view of prayer. He will debunk common misbeliefs about talking to God, how to practice stillness, and what we are to do when our prayers seemingly go unanswered. If you genuinely want to strengthen your prayer life, this teaching will help!More from this series
Did you know that seventy-one percent of Americans report to praying regularly? Twenty percent of agnostic and atheists say they pray daily. Why? Because there’s something hardwired in you and me, this instinctual desire to connect and something beyond us that we are just designed for.
There’s something in us that knows that prayer is powerful, even though we don’t know how it works. There is the deep, intrinsic desire of the human heart upon which only the very presence of God will satisfy. How do we pray in a way that develops this life-giving, soul-shaping relationship with our heavenly Father?
I like how C.S. Lewis said it. He said, “Bring to God what is in you, not what ought to be in you.” And if you ever read through the psalms, you realize David just brought before God what was in him. And God met him there. You don’t have to somehow measure up. Just bring to God who you are.
Religion is all about performance. Relationship is all about presence. It’s all about presence. See, prayer is not a performance, it’s about presence. It’s about keeping company with God.
Then we go on to see prayer is not a secret formula. He goes on and says, “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans.” And so, you have these two different pictures in the ancient day of prayer. You had the Pharisees and how they prayed and then you had the pagans and the temple worship of all the gods and goddesses.
They would pray long, repetitious, loud. And the longer and the louder and the more ecstatic that they became, they thought their god would actually hear them and respond. And if they were in real need, they would begin to cut themselves and do all sorts of things just to [invoke] the gods to respond.
Jesus says, “Prayer is not a performance and it’s not a secret formula.” There aren’t these, like, magic words that if you use them all of a sudden, like, oh! God’s like, “Oh, yes!” Genie in the bottle. “Yes, here I come. I’ll come do that.”
There’s not a length that is a proper length. I remember when I was, like, in my twenties I was wanting to really learn how to prayer. And someone said, “You should pray thirty minutes a day.” That’s not bad. “Keeps the devil away!” I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s true.”
And so, I tried it. But I couldn’t do it. I run and I enjoy running, but I can run about three to five miles. If I tried to go run a marathon right now, I’d be dead. That’s a lot of the ways it is with us with prayer too is we kind of have, like, spiritual greed. I want to get all the way here. I’m like, “No, you’re right here at the five-minute range, not the thirty-minute range. And there’s no shame on that.” Short prayers or long prayers. It’s not like the longer it is the more impactful it is.
Decluttering prayer – it’s not a performance, it’s not a secret formula.
Okay, so how do I develop intimacy with God in prayer? How do I take some of these steps?
The very first step is we need to view prayer as necessary, not just a nice idea. It’s the pathway, it’s the pathway to experiencing intimacy with God.
And Jesus, God Himself in flesh. Notice this. Like, even when His life got busy, especially when His life got busy, He carved out time for prayer. Because He knew it was necessary.
Notice this, Luke 5:15 says, “Yet the news about Him spread all the more so crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed [of] their sickness. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray.” Jesus gave a special time to prayer when life was unusually busy.
See, we’ve got to begin viewing prayer not just as a nice idea but necessary.
And then how we approach God. You approach your heavenly Father who loves you. Let me ask you, who do you pray to when you pray? I mean, like, what picture comes to your mind? I think for many of us, the picture might be of a God that is down on you. It might be of someone who is withholding. That, like, you know, when you finally get your act right, then I’ll actually give you something good. A God with crossed arms, toe tapped, just waiting for you to blow it.
Did you notice that Jesus said, “Pray to your,” help me out, “Father.” Your Father who sees. Think about that. The God of the universe, Jesus invites you to call Father, and He sees you. He sees what you’re walking through. You are seen. You’re not overlooked, you’re not unseen, you’re not invisible. You’re not just hoping somebody will notice you. And I know that for some is how you are walking through life. But your Father sees you and He knows what you need, even before you ask Him.
We take this for granted often in our day. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish idea of God, and especially the name of God was so sacred, so holy, you wouldn’t even utter it. And for Jesus to then call God His Father was scandalous to them. And He said, “When you have God as your Father, what that means is you have access – the way a daughter or son has access to a father. You have authority because you carry the family name. You don’t come begging, you don’t come hoping, you don’t come wishing. You come to a Father.”
In fact, a little bit later on, Jesus would say this in the Sermon on the Mount, because I think our tension then with Father, and isn’t it true that, like, we have earthly fathers and many have had earthly fathers who have let us down, who have hurt us, who have wounded us, who have been absent, or abusive. And our picture of God is just, gets wrapped up into that brokenness.
And I love how Jesus then paints our heavenly Father. Notice what He says. He says, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread will give him a stone? Not many of you, if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake.” Most of us wouldn’t and the ones that would should go to jail. It’s a true story. “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,” if we as human parents, broken, and most of us know how to give good gifts to our kids, notice this, “how much more?”
What if, in your mind, when you approach your heavenly Father, you understood that you approach the God of the how-much-more, not the God holding out on you. The God who says, “I have how much more.” If you think, as the best version of an earthly parent that you could come up with, God is how much more. He is your perfect heavenly Father. How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who love Him?
See how that changes? When you approach that God, think about this, when you pray, you come. As wholly accepted. You don’t have to earn it, you don’t have to try to get it, you don’t have to somehow eke your way. You are fully loved. Nothing you can do will ever change that reality. You are cherished – daughter, son – of a good and loving heavenly Father, think about this, who delights to hear your voice and loves to give you good gifts. That’s who you approach.
And so, how do we develop intimacy with God? We begin to understand it’s necessary not just a nice idea. Approach our heavenly Father who loves us.
And then we have to set aside a specific time and a sacred space. Notice Jesus said, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
Set aside a specific time and a sacred place. Jesus modeled this. He had a time and place. Mark 1:35 says, “Very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, went off to a solitary place where He prayed.”
Set aside a specific time. I have it on the calendar. And then a sacred space. Your sacred space can be your couch, it can be your bed. And then set aside a time. You might be a morning person or you might be an evening person.
Well, Jesus was a morning person, so – no, I’m just kidding. You don’t have to be a morning person. But I think sometimes we think a certain time is a better time, don’t we? And sometimes pastors like me go because we are often cerebral and generally early risers and journalers and, like, Oh, should I journal? I don’t know. I like to. If it’s helpful, wonderful. If not, don’t. Freedom. But you have a specific time.
If you’re a morning person, maybe it’s at lunch, maybe it’s in the evening where you set aside a specific time to be with Him.
What time are you going to do it? Write it down. Set it on your calendar. I like how Eugene Peterson said it, “I can be active and pray, I can work and pray, but I cannot be busy and pray. I cannot be inwardly rushed, distracted, or dispersed in order to pray. I have to be paying more attention to God than what people are saying to me, more attention to God than to my clamoring ego. Usually for that to happen there must be a deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day, a disciplined detachment from the insatiable self.”
And I’ve got to give you a word of warning at the beginning: this will be a little bit challenging. In fact, I love how Tim Keller said it in his book on prayer, because I want to highlight that this is going to be a process and a practice as you step into it. It’s not going to be like, Oh, this is amazing right at the beginning. It might be a little awkward and challenging.
He wrote, “Most contemporary people base their inner life on their outward circumstances. Their inner peace is based on other people’s valuation of them and on their social status, prosperity, and performance. If we give priority to the outer life, our inner life will be dark and scary. We will not know what to do with solitude, we will be deeply uncomfortable with self-examination, and we’ll have an increasingly short attention span for any kind of reflection.” And so, it’s going to be a process.
Developing intimacy with God: view prayer as necessary, we approach our perfect heavenly Father who loves us, set aside a specific time, a sacred place.
And then finally, pray. Pray. You’ve just got to pray. You can read about prayer, you can come listen to sermons about prayer, you can find the best podcast on prayer and yet you will not develop intimacy with God until you start praying.
See, part of the process is just beginning that conversation, beginning that relationship, and starting to get to know God and developing that. And that just begins with a consistency.
And so, I like how Richard Foster says it as we take steps forward. He says, “The same way a small child cannot draw a bad picture, so a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer.” Take the pressure off; just start. Take the pressure off and just start and begin to learn how to pray
And so, here’s how I want to close our time. Jesus, the disciples asked Him, “Teach us how to pray,” and He gave them the Lord’s Prayer. And this is what comes directly next in the text on the Sermon on the Mount. And I just want to take a moment and lead us in prayer. Not just talk about prayer but lead us in prayer. Would you take a breath, keep your eyes open or closed.
Jesus says, “This then is how you should pray,” and begin first with worship, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name,” literally hallowed means “let Your name be sacred to me.” I don’t want to pull You down into my world. I always want to keep You in Your proper place. And worship is ascribing proper worth to the greatness of who God is.
Would you just begin by thanking God? Thank Him for what He has done, where He is working, who He is. The next movement, one of surrender. “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Your will be done in my marriage, in my singleness, in my finances, in my workplace, in my thought life, as it is in heaven.” And begin to surrender those areas where you go, You know, I want Your kingdom and not my kingdom.
And then Jesus moves to requests, “Give us this day our daily bread.” What do you need today? Isn’t it amazing that God invites us? He longs to hear our requests. He tells us to ask, to seek, to knock. What do you need today?
What are the concerns of your heart? The worries? Bring those to Him.
And then confession. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Some of you walked in with shame and baggage that He does not want you to live in. “There is therefore no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.” Where you confess it and you say, God, would You forgive me? And you leave it at the cross and you walk out free.
And then Jesus closes with protection. Have you ever noticed that when you take a step towards God, it seems like all hell breaks loose?
Maybe that habit that you had kind of under control, it raises its head. Maybe a relationship just begins to go south. Pray protection as you take this journey. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” God, would You protect me from me? My natural bent away from You. And would You protect me from the enemy who wants to entice and pull me away from You?
“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever, Amen.”