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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
Welcome, if you’re new, my name is Ryan. We are thrilled to have you join us today and today we are kicking of a series as you have heard called When We Pray. Why don’t you go ahead and say that to your neighbor? “When we pray.” Now say it with conviction to your other neighbor. “When we pray.” Notice that it isn’t “if” we pray. It’s like, “Yeah, maybe if you’re going to pray, maybe…” Or should you pray? Like this heaping guilt. Well, you should. You ought to. But when we pray.
Did you know that seventy-one percent of Americans report to praying regularly? This is a little wild. Twenty percent of agnostic and atheists say they pray daily. I know, right? I’m like, I’m way…I’m so confused at this moment. 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. Like, that prayer changes things and that’s why even people who wouldn’t believe in prayer or God would even say, “No, no, I’m sending you good juju.” Juju, okay, thoughts too, or whatever. Yeah. Good vibes.
Because there’s something about it, we just find that there’s something other beyond us that we long to pray. And, yet, prayer doesn’t have, for most of us, it often, it often still remains mysterious, doesn’t it?
It’s like, okay, does God really hear me? I mean, of all the billions of people on this planet, did He hear my one voice? Like, doesn’t it feel like sometimes when you pray, like, you’re just praying and you’re lifting your voice, and it just rises to the ceiling, and it hits it?
There is the deep, intrinsic desire of the human heart upon which only the very presence of God will satisfy. And how do you pray in such a way where you experience the presence and power of God? How do we pray in a way that develops this life-giving, soul-shaping relationship with our heavenly Father?
Not duty, not ought, not a list of rules, a checklist. Like, “Hello, I got it done. I woke up this morning, check, done, moved on.” And you’re like it’s just this rote activity. I do it because somebody told me to, but it has no impact into my life. You ever been there? Me too. How do you pray in a way that develops this life-giving – not soul-sucking – life-giving. It’s soul-shaping. It’s what you’re designed for, this relationship with your heavenly Father.
And it just gets deeper and it gets richer and it gets more beautiful. And there are things about who God is that you go, like, I never would have imagined and now I’m experiencing this life-giving, soul-shaping relationship. By the way, you were designed, you were created for a life-giving, soul-shaping relationship with your heavenly Father.
And prayer, well, it’s the pathway to experiencing intimacy with God. It’s the pathway upon which we experience intimacy with God. And so, today we are going to talk about the basics of prayer.
Today we want to get back to, like, how do we get to the foundation and the starting point together?
I like how Tim Keller talks about prayer. He says, “Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change – the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things He has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.”
How do we learn to pray that way? Well, you know that the disciples, the only thing they asked Jesus, at least that we have recorded, to teach them. They said, “Jesus, would You teach us something?”
And they didn’t say, “Jesus, teach us how to do all those miracles. Those are fantastic. That’s amazing.” Right? They didn’t say, “Jesus, that walking on water is pretty awesome. Can we do that?”
They said, “Jesus, would You teach us to pray?” See, there’s something about the way Jesus prayed that was radically different than the way everyone else prayed that was so intimate and engaging and soul-shaping that they said, “I want what You have and the way You talk to God is the way I want to talk to God. I want that. Would You teach us that?”
And in the Sermon on the Mount, which is Jesus’ incredible, it’s one of the greatest sermons ever – the greatest sermon ever – you know the lion’s share of the sermon Jesus is talking about prayer and life in the kingdom of God and this relationship with your heavenly Father.
And in it, He begins to explain the basics of prayer, of this foundation, of how do we do this? How do we engage in this ongoing, love relationship with our heavenly Father?
If you’ve got your Bibles, would you open up to Matthew chapter 6, verse 5. Matthew 6, verse 5. And Jesus says this, “And when you pray,” again, not if you pray, but when you pray, “do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask them.”
Alright, here’s what I want to do with our time. I want to first declutter prayer. Jesus is going to tell us, actually, a couple ways not to pray. He is going to say, “Don’t do this.” And you just saw a couple of those in here. And then give us some really practical steps to begin developing intimacy through prayer with God. What are some real practical ways that we can take steps today? Alright.
So, decluttering prayer. Where does Jesus say, “Hey, let’s drop the baggage off that we have with prayer.” The first is prayer is not a performance. It is not a performance. He says, “When you pray, do not be like” – who? The hypocrites! Who are the hypocrites?
The Pharisees. Now, the Pharisees were the religious elite. In fact, they began with very good intentions, by the way, back in the day, to draw Israel into a purity and right relationship with God. They set up all these lists of rules to make sure they didn’t blow any of the other rules. So, they had rule on top of rule on top of rule. And they heaped them on other people, but they didn’t live them themselves, hence hypocrites. And He says, “Don’t pray like the hypocrites.”
Now, in the ancient Jewish day, a devout Jewish man, he would first wake up in the morning and quote the great Shema, “Here O Israel is the Lord your God, and the Lord is one.” And then he would quote that in the evening and then there would be three specific times throughout the day that they would pray. And often they would be praying, you know, very scripted out or written prayers back to God.
Now, a Pharisee would be in full garb, very ornately dressed to show the sign of their kind of piety and who they were. And during those times of prayer, they would make sure they were in a very public place, because, by the way, not everybody prayed three times a day and life was busy and full and there’s lots of people going about their day and work and all these sort of things.
And so, they would stand on the street corner, “Oh Lord,” you know? And they would pray out loud so everyone would see them. And Jesus is saying, “Don’t be like that. Don’t be like that.” Prayer is not a performance. It’s not a performance for other people like when you’re praying out loud in a group. It’s not somehow that other people think you’re more spiritual.
But I think more often today for us it’s we are trying to perform for God, isn’t it? Like, I’m somehow trying to perform for You and if I kind of use churchy words or maybe even I change my voice when I pray. You know? Like, maybe You’ll hear me. Like I’m somehow performing this dance and, God, if You like it then maybe You’ll respond to me.
Think about this. 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 being. It’s about keeping company with God. Being in His presence and enjoying Him and Him enjoying you.
I like how C.S. Lewis said it. He said, “Bring to God what is in you, not what ought to be in you.” Like, I think some of the ways we perform is like we bring what should be in us, like, “This is the way I should pray or what I think God wants to hear from me.” And if you ever read through the psalms, you realize David just brought before God what was in him. And God met him there. Where you just bring to Him what’s in you. You don’t have to somehow measure up. Just bring to God who you are. Prayer is not a performance.
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.
I remember my fifth grade Sunday school teacher. Yes, fifth grade Sunday school teacher, like, ruined prayer for me. It’s kind of a strong statement, but it’s true. So, here we go. No, he really did. And he was a well-intended, wonderful Pharisee. He really was. It means good-hearted and it was so dogmatic.
And I remember, he asked me and I was the preacher’s son, he asked me to pray. And I get up there to pray and I just say, “Amen,” and he said, “Ryan!” in front of everybody, “you have to say, ‘In Jesus’ name, amen.’ And you have to close your eyes. And you have to fold your hands.” And, I mean, he was dogmatic. And every time then I came in there and I’m like, “In Jesus’ name, amen.”
As if it’s this magical incantation and if we say it, somehow God will respond. By the way, you can pray with your eyes open, or your eyes closed. God still hears you. I pray with my eyes open because of my fifth grade Sunday school teacher. Seriously.
Those words are powerful if we understand what they mean, “In Jesus’ name, amen.” But a lot of times we just tag them onto the end.
See, “In Jesus’ name,” Jesus actually called us to pray in His name. He didn’t mean just tag, “In Jesus’ name” at the end. You don’t have to say, “In Jesus’ name,” for it to be in Jesus’ name. Let me explain.
That my prayer aligns with Your character, who You are and Your will, what You want to be done. That is what it means to be in the name of Jesus. And when we say, “In the name of Jesus” is what I’m saying is what I prayed was in alignment with Your character and with Your will.
It's in His name, His character. And then “amen” – let it be so is what the amen says. Let it be so. May it come about. I have prayed this prayer and I have thought about it. It’s in [alignment] with Your character, Your will, and who You are. Let it be so.
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. A lot of us, I think, when we think about prayer is the same way I think about flossing. It’s a nice idea. Now, for all you haters, I’m forty-one. I have never had a cavity. It actually bugs my wife because we’ll go the dentist, and every time, I do it tongue in cheek. “What did they say?” I’m like, “Teeth are perfect.” I don’t floss. But when I go to the dentist they ask, “How often do you floss?” And my answer is the closest thing to lying but not lying. “Not as often as I should.” Which is true.
And that’s kind of how we think about prayer. When it comes up, and even this conversation, there’s like a little bit of a wave of guilt that comes over us, because it’s like, “Oh, I know I should. Not as often as I should.”
The first step into really beginning to develop prayer and this intimate relationship is we begin to shift. Oh, no, it’s necessary. It’s not just a nice idea. Did you know Jesus said, “When you pray, when you pray, when you pray,” not “if” you pray? That this is, again, 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.
I just wonder what would happen and change in your life, because what happens is when life gets unusually busy, prayer is way off the table, right? It is for me, so if we understood, Oh, I have a good, loving, heavenly Father who knows all things, who is all-powerful, who understands my day, who has already seen what is going to happen in my day, wants to prepare me, wants to speak to me, encourage me, equip me. And if I stop and I meet with Him, He may just want to move in my life to prepare me and use me for the day ahead.
See, we’ve got to begin viewing prayer as necessary, not just a nice idea.