Craig Groeschel - When You've Given Up on Prayer
Today I wanna talk to you about prayer and I'm gonna ask you a question and before I ask the question, I want you to think about it and then answer. The question is this, how many of you believe in the power of prayer? You believe that God hears your prayers, you believe that prayer can be effective, how many of you believe in the power of prayer, But you would say, honestly, you probably don't pray as often as you should? Would you raise your hands? You can type that in the chat. I probably should pray more if you'd like to. Or another question would be this, maybe you believe in the power of prayer and maybe you even try to pray, but you often feel that your prayers aren't that effective? How many would be honest enough to say that might be you?
We're in a message series called A Better Way. And we're looking at the way that Jesus lived, not just the truth that He taught, which is so important, but also the way that Jesus lived. And if there was a constant in the life of Jesus, no matter what happened, no matter how crazy life was, no matter what the disciples were doing, no matter what the Roman government was doing, no matter what the rumors were, if there was any constant in His life is that Jesus constantly sought the Father in prayer. He prioritized the presence of God in prayer and did it ever work? His life and prayer empowered Him to overcome every temptation of the evil one. He was able to be faithful to God, completely obedient. He healed people. He showed love to those who are unloving back to Him. When I look at His life and see how He lived, I wanna live like He lived and love like He loved.
And so, if I want what Jesus had, I should probably pray like Jesus prayed. And yet so many of us don't. Why do you think that is? Why do you think we struggle to pray consistently or to pray effectively? Based on my experience as a pastor, I see three reasons that are very common and you might see yourself in these reasons. One of the reasons is that we lack focus, we lack focus. We wanna pray, like you'll hear a message on praying and you're like I'm gonna pray. It's pretty amazing, I have this time with God and you start, and then you get distracted. I understand this, like my ADD kicks in and my mind wanders to anything, but God. It's crazy I'm thinking about what I need to do and take out the trash and where I'm gonna go and what I haven't done in my mind. Well, or sometimes I just get bored. Am I allowed to say that? Like you spiritual people could get back there and judge me, I'm talking to the real people today. Like sometimes it gets boring. Like you pray a long time, it's really boring.
I mean, as a kid, I used to fall asleep when I was praying and I just knew God was mad at me going like, "You didn't sign off, there was no amen. You're going to hell where the worm never dies is weeping and gnashing of teeth". Sometimes you just lack focus. Another reason many of us don't pray consistently, is that we lack confidence. We just don't really know how to do it. It's especially intimidating when you're around someone who does. Anybody have someone like that in their life? They're almost like if there was such thing as a professional prayer, they would get paid, they get sponsored by like prayer.com or whatever, because their prayers are so powerful. They're like prayer warriors, you're like a fair junior high kid or whatever. When they pray, they like they're quoting scriptures and they know exactly where they are. They're like "Lamentations 3:20", you're like "Lamentation is book in the Bible, I'm not even sure". They're like calling on the names of God, like Jehovah Nissi and Jehovah Rapha and you're trying like Jehovah Nissan Maxima maximize us for the glory of God. They ask you to pray and you just eat like, whoa, you freak out. You're like, God bless this meat. Now let's eat in Jesus' name. You don't really know how.
Some people they lack focus, some people lack confidence, some of us lack faith, we lack the faith. We're not sure that God will do it. Or we might believe that God can do it, but it doesn't seem like He's gonna do it for me. We wonder, does He hear my prayers? Does He care? And sometimes we can make a pretty strong argument that He really doesn't care or hear my prayers because we tried and I prayed so hard and believed He was gonna answer, and He didn't do what I asked Him to do. You probably have your own version of that story. As a kid, you prayed for your parents' marriage to work and you believed, and then they divorced. You prayed for your grandma to be healed, and she wasn't. You pleaded with God to help you overcome that repetitive sin just take that away, take it away, take it away and He never took it away. And so you conclude, well, prayer might work for other people, but it doesn't work for me. And that's why the title of today's message is when you've given up on prayer. And let's all go before God together in prayer.
We ask God that in your presence, to the teaching of your word and the power of the Holy Spirit, that you would draw us into an intimate, ongoing relationship with you. Living the way that Jesus lived, an ongoing fellowship and dependence on you. God teach us to pray, give us a heart to pray, help us to live in an attitude of prayer, so we can live and love the way Jesus loves. We pray this with faith believing you're gonna hear our prayer in Jesus' name. And everybody said. Amen. Amen, amen.
To understand what prayer is. What I wanna do is I wanna start with what prayer is not. Is that okay? What is prayer not? A lot of times we have a misperception of what prayer is and so, I wanna tell you very clearly what prayer is not. Prayer is not a formal presentation. It can be, but it doesn't have to be. You don't have to like be in something like ministers robe or kneel down by a bed or approach God with fancy language. Like we beseech thee father to be with us and then use King James language or whatever. It's not a formal presentation before God. Prayer is also not giving God your wishlist. He's not some kind of like cosmic Coke machine or a magic genie, that if you rub him just right and say the prayer the right way, he's gotta do exactly what you want him to do, the spiritual vending machine. Prayer is also not a spiritual negotiation, where you tell God what you won't do anymore, if He'll just do what you ask Him to do. God, I'll never cuss again, if you'll just whatever. I'll never do this again God, if you'll just answer my prayer. It's not a spiritual negotiation and it's not a performance to like win the favor of God. And it's not a show to impress people.
Prayer is not a lot of things that we think it is. In fact, when we look at the way that Jesus lived and just see how He interacted with God, what we discover about the way He lived is this, that prayer isn't just an action you do, but prayer is a way that you live. When we look at the way that Jesus lived, we see prayer isn't just a momentary action where you fold your hands and kneel on your knees and say something and close it out with amen. It can be that, but it's so much more than just an action that you occasionally do, it's more of a way that you live. In fact, when you look at the way that Jesus lived, He prioritized the presence of God in prayer. You can read again and again that He would leave the crowd and He would go off to pray. He would go off alone to seek the Father in prayer. He would get up early in the morning to pray. He would pray late at night. He would go off alone to the lake to pray. He would go up to the mountain side to pray. He was always disconnecting from those around to fully connect to God.
In fact, when you look at how Jesus prayed in the gospels, when you look at when He prayed in the gospel, it's fascinating to see exactly when and how Jesus prayed. When did He pray? According to the gospels, we see a long list of when Jesus prayed. He prayed at his baptism. He prayed in the morning before heading to Galilee. He prayed after healing people. He prayed the night before choosing His disciples. Don't worry, I'm not gonna go through all of them. There's way too many, I'll pick a couple more. He prayed for little children. He prayed for Himself, His disciples. He prayed right after being nailed to the cross. He prayed while dying on the cross. He prayed all throughout the day. Prayer wasn't something that He occasionally did, prayer was a part of the way that Jesus lived. And those are just the incidents that four guys decided to write down. Think about all the other times during the normal course of His life, that Jesus prioritized the presence of God in prayer. How did He pray? It wasn't something that He did, it was simply a way that He lived.
Now, I would imagine that a lot of you might say, or think the things that many other people have said or thought, you might think like, "Yeah, I'd like to pray, but I don't really have time to pray. I mean, there's way too much going on and I gotta be productive, I gotta get stuff done". And I always say that whenever you think, I don't have time to pray, I would tell myself, you don't have time not to pray, you really don't. There may be nothing more productive, than the time that you spend seeking the heart of God and inviting His power, His presence, His strength to be with you. Because I don't know about you, but man, it's tough out there. I mean, it's brutal out there. It's almost impossible to walk into the world and be full of joy and peace with all the chaos, to be an effective witness when you just see the division everywhere that you go and the tension, and the relational stress, and the financial pressure, and the temptation, and all the complicated decisions that you have to make.
I don't know about you, but I need God's presence. I need His power, I need His grace. I don't just need it for a few minutes in prayer. I need it in the way that I live. And so as a disciple of Jesus, what I know is that I live in the world, but I'm not of the world. So to be completely effective in this world, I have to disconnect from this world. There are times when I have to disconnect from everything that does not last in order to connect to the one who does last. I have to disconnect from everything that is temporary, to connect to the one who is eternal. I have to disconnect from all the temptations to gratify myself, to connect to the one who brings glory to Himself. Prayer, isn't just a momentary action, it is that, but it's so much more. When you look at the way that Jesus lived, prayer wasn't just something that He did, it was the way that He interacted with God, in every moment of every day.
In fact, I wanna read to you what I would call a devotional translation of Matthew's gospel, Matthew chapter six. This is from The Message translation, which is not a literal translation, but it is meaningful. Eugene Peterson translates it this way the words of Jesus, Jesus said essentially, "Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place". Find a place to pray. Do you have a prayer place? Do you have a place of prayer? It might be a prayer chair, that's pretty cool. It might be a prayer porch swing. Amy's place of prayer is right by the bed or in a chair in the living room, it's her place of prayer. Find a secluded place.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking, you got three kids under six, pray in the bathroom. Lock the door, go in there and lock the door, shut the door, pray you got about four minutes before they find you and they're coming, but you got four minutes and they're just saying, where are you? And their fingers are gonna come under the door, you're gonna see them. Find a secluded place to pray Jesus says, "So that you won't be tempted, I like this, to role-play before God. Just be there, I like this. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can imagine". And here's, what's gonna happen, "The focus will shift from you to God and you'll begin to sense His grace". What do you do? Find a secluded place. Jesus got alone to pray.
I would encourage you, to make it a daily priority to get alone and to block out the noise. Eliminate the distractions. Put your phone aside for a few minutes. Don't check Instagram. I promise you whatever they post it, it'll still be there and it'll still be mostly meaningless. Don't check your texts, whatever conspiracy videos someone sent you, there'll be another one coming tomorrow, just put it aside and spend a few moments with God. Disconnect from this world to connect to the Lord of hosts. Why do you need to do that? Because intimacy is never accidental. You never just like accidentally become close to God. Like people say, "Well, I'm not close to God. I'm not close to God". You just don't wanna fall into it. Like I've just been busy and worried and stressed and dealing with mean people and I'm so close to God, it doesn't happen that way.
There's no relationship that's gonna happen without intimate and focus time. There is no way I could be close to Amy, if we never talk to each other or never had time alone. You can't be close to a friend, if you don't spend time alone. There's a place that you pray and just be still. I'll illustrate it this way, you may not know this, but when I was a kid, I was actually a magician, like for real, a professional magician, 13 years old, 14 years, I could still probably do your birthday party for $50. That's true, I used to do magic shows I know it's cheesy and I've cast that demon out of my life. So when I was a kid, I had multiple doves. We raised doves for magic shows and I had one little rabbit.
And so, I know more about doves than most people would know. And here's what I know about doves, I'll illustrate it this way. Whenever Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, it's one of the most meaningful texts to me, a voice from heaven spoke, and it was God the Father, and He publicly declared His love for His Son. and said, "This is my son whom I love. I want everybody to know I'm proud of him, with him I'm well pleased". And heaven opened up and a dove descended, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon Jesus. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Well, if you didn't raise doves, you might know that a dove will never land on something, unless it's still. A dove doesn't land on a moving train, you could probably figure that out. If you wanna experience the presence of the Holy Spirit, sometimes you just have to find a secluded place and be still before God. You may say, "But what do I pray about"? And the answer is really, really easy. Pray about whatever you care about. Whatever's on your mind, whatever's on your heart, whatever you're excited about, whatever questions you have, whatever you're burdened about, pray about it.
Paul said it this way in Philippians 4:6 he said, "Don't worry about anything; instead". Say it with me, "Pray about everything". If it's on your mind, it's on God's heart. Talk to Him like He's a close friend because He is. If you have questions, ask Him. If you're mad at him or hurting, tell Him. I promise you He can handle it. Pour out your heart to God, talk to Him intimately. It's not just an act, it is a friendship, it is a love relationship. Why is it that so many of us still struggle to pray? I would say in many ways, it's because we tend to try to compartmentalize our lives. How many of you grew up eating TV dinners? Raise your hands. Did you know they're still around? I thought we got rid of it, it actually is still around. And TV dinners are a lot like the way people live.
So at the bottom you have your mystery meat. We don't know what it is. It could be anything, could be chicken, could be turkey, we don't know what it is. Then you got your mashed potatoes and then you got your peas that are good for smashing. And at the top, God only knows what that is. It looks like the dog ate the mystery meat and vomited back. We don't know, but I'm sorry it's... Come on guys just act all holy, wherever you are. We tend to treat our lives a little bit like this. We compartmentalize it. We tend to think, well, here's my work life here. And then there's my professional life here. And then there's my friendship life over here. And then there's my church life. And we think they don't touch, they don't cross over. What I want you to understand is that God does not wanna be a part of your life. He doesn't wanna be a part of your five minutes of prayer in the morning and then say, "Good luck, have a good day. See you same time, same place tomorrow. Hope everything goes okay today".
You don't wanna be a part of your life, He is your life. He is every part of what matters in your life. And He promises you that He will never leave you and He will never forsake you. Since He's always with you, prayer isn't just an action you do, it's a way that you live. When you look at the way Jesus lived, He practiced the presence and priority of prayer. He had uninterrupted time and fellowship with His Father. He was always praying. In fact, I'm gonna show you a verse. If you're looking for a memory verse, a good short one is Jesus wept. There's another real good short one, but honestly this is one that I hated for years because it induces extreme prayer guilt. I've always felt guilty, I don't pray enough, I don't pray good enough. And this one used to induce guilt until I really understood what it meant. And I'll show it to you in three different versions.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 the NLT says, "Never stop praying". Would you say that loud say, never stop praying. Type that in the chat say it again, never stop praying. The NIV say, say it aloud with me it says what? It says, "Pray continually". And the King James Version says this, "Pray without ceasing". This used to make me feel guilty because I thought I can't pray five minutes straight without being distracted. And you want me to go like pray without ceasing, pray continually, never stop praying. I can hardly pray at all. And then it started to dawn on me, as I look at the way that Jesus prayed, it wasn't an action, it was just... It was a way of life. It was an ongoing awareness that God never leaves you and He never forsakes you. He's with you. And so you can talk to him anywhere anytime. You don't have to break away and kneel down and fold your hands, you can just talk to Him when you drive, and talk to Him at work, and talk to him when that person's getting up in your nerves and just ask God to give you grace for that person, and talk to him when you're about to lose your temper at your kids, and talk to him when you're running late to church and you're about to lose your witness when you're running late to church, and talk to him when you forget something and when you can't find your keys, and when you're worried about somebody, just talk to Him like He's your friend because He is, because He is.
So, prayer is getting alone with God, do that. Find your place of prayer. But it's so much more than that. Prayer is living in God's presence. Prayer is experiencing God's grace. Prayer is hearing His whisper throughout the day. It's enjoying His power. It's experiencing His peace. Prayer isn't just getting God to do what we want, but prayer is aligning our will to His, it's delighting in the Lord as He changes your heart and gives you the desires of your heart aligning you. When you pray, when you're walking with God, when you're in the spirit, when you're aware of His presence, He'll both convict you of your sin in a very loving way. And He'll comfort you in the middle of your trials because He's with you and He's always loving you. When you're walking in a spirit of prayer, you sense His direction. You notice Him guiding you. You hear His promptings to reach out to someone. Your heart starts to hurt over what breaks His heart and your heart starts to rejoice over what brings Him joy. It's not an action that you do, it's a way that you live. Ongoing presence of God, prioritizing the presence of God in prayer.
I love this message so much because I always felt like a prayer failure. I mean, you wanna talk about guilty life. I'm a pastor and people are always like, let's have a prayer meeting, let's not. You guys like you squeeze your hands too hard. Pray long prayers. Amy's always like, let's pray. I'm like, let's pray but have like warm-up prayers, takes like seven minutes just like breathing, like waiting on God, like God's going start woman, start. And I'm just guilty for thinking that, like I've always felt like a prayer failure. And now I just have learned to kind of pray without ceasing. Like to never stop praying. It's not like I'm praying every moment, but when I need God He's there. And I'm more aware that He's always there, than I ever had been before.
In fact, it was Max Lucado who talked about something, I think you might find helpful. He talked about giving God your thoughts. And he talks about four different types of thoughts. Max Lucado says, you should give God your waking thoughts. Meaning when you wake up in the day, you say, "Good morning God. This is the day that you made. I'm gonna be glad and rejoice in it. God I'd love for you to direct my steps today. God help me to see needs, help me to speak words of life, words of encouragement. God convict me of anything that may be out of line. God, I'm devoting my whole day to you". Give God your waking thoughts. And then he teaches us, also give God your waiting thoughts, whatever you're waiting on. You're praying for the salvation of a loved one. You're praying for a miracle. You're praying for provision. You're praying for a breakthrough, whatever it is you're waiting on, just take that before God and spend some time with Him. Give Him your waking thoughts, give Him your waiting thoughts. Then throughout the day, give Him your whispering talks. Because you may not wanna shout your prayers in the middle of the office.
You probably don't wanna bind up a demon in Jesus' name. You might, but you probably don't wanna do that out loud. They're gonna... They won't like you. But there are times when you will like God help me deal with this difficult situation and you just whispered to God. Would you give me wisdom God. Hey, would you help me do a good job on this presentation. God, would you give me the words to say during this difficult conversation. God, would you help me connect with my 16 year old. God, would you help me welcome and love my husband when he comes home from a difficult day. God, would you help me to be a voice of encouragement to someone that I love. And you whisper your thoughts. And then you start with the waking thoughts and you give Him your waiting thoughts, and you give them your whispering thoughts, and then at the end of the day, you give them your waning thoughts. At the end of the day, you look back and you say, "God, here's where I saw you today. And here's where I experienced you today. And here's what I'm thankful that you did today. And here's what I'm incredibly thankful for today".
And then whatever burden you have before you go to bed, you just give it to God. You cast your cares upon Him because He cares so much for you. And so you say, "God, I'm giving you this, I trust you to handle it, I'm going to sleep right now. And tomorrow the first thing I'm gonna do, is give you my waking thoughts". Because prayer isn't just something that you do, prayer is a way that you live. When you look at the way that Jesus lived, He just prioritized the presence of God. So, if you feel like prayer guilt, be set free, be free. Just be aware that God is with you right now. He's always with you. He's always loving you. He never leaves you, He's never will never forsake you. So what you do? You find a place and you pray and then just never stopped praying. You just don't stop, you just always aware at any moment, He's just a prayer away, just like texting a friend, just like call it calling a loved one. You're talking to Jesus, you're talking to Jesus.
"This is the confidence that we have," 1 John five. "In approaching God in prayer. That if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us, he hears our prayers. And if we know that he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have what we asked about him". The apostle Paul from a prison wrote, "Don't be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God". And as you pray, as you enjoy His presence, as you walk in His spirit, "The peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus".
You just don't stop praying, you don't stop praying. You're walking in the spirit. You're living in His love. You're aware of His goodness. You're experiencing His grace. When you're weak, His strength makes you perfect. When you're tempted, His power will help you overcome. When you're discouraged, He's the lifter of your head. He brings joy in the morning. So you bring Him your waking thoughts, and you bring in your waiting thoughts. And you don't grow weary in doing good for you'll reap a harvest at the proper time, if you do not give up. And you give him your whispering thoughts, because you may not hear Him in the thunder or the lightning, but you often hear God in the whispers.
And then you give Him your waning thoughts at the end of the day. And you cast all of your cares upon Him because He cares for you and you recognize that prayer is not just something that you do, it's a way that you live. And suddenly as you're walking in the presence of God, you're aware He's comforting me. He's convicting me. He's strengthening me. He's loving me. He's prompting me. He's guiding me. And suddenly you wake up. And you're not just believing the truth that Jesus taught, but you're also living the way that Jesus lived and that honors God and makes a difference in this world.
So Father, we're just talking to you, just like a friend talks to a friend. And God I'm asking you to draw your children close to you, just to talk to you, to find a secluded place, to make you a priority, but not to stop there, to continue in an ongoing relationship, knowing God you're always with us. You'll always care. You're not just a prayer away, you are with us even now. So, because you're with us God, help us to reach out, to experience you, to love you, to worship you and to share your goodness with others.
Today as you're in an attitude of prayer, because guess what? You can be really intimate with God in prayer. Doesn't matter what your old prayer life was, what you know now, you can just talk to God where you are. If you'd like to be even more aware of the presence of God, more prayerful as you go, I'm gonna ask you to lift up your hands right now. Just lift them up, lift them up, lift them up. You can type it in the chat. I wanna be more aware of God's presence. Just type that in the chat. And I'm gonna give you a moment just where you are just to tell God in your own way, just talk to Him. Just praying.
And God we believe that you hear our prayers. And as we pray according to your will, your will shall be accomplished on earth, as it is in heaven. So, thank you that you've heard the hearts, the cries of your children, and they'll see you more clearly, experience you more powerfully, in all that they do. Not just in a moment of prayer, but in a lifestyle of prayer.
And as you keep praying today, some of you it's time for you to pray, the most important prayer that you'll have prayed up until this moment in your life. You might like me, feel maybe unworthy at times. Would God really hear my prayers after what I've done? Does He love me? Does He care? Will He really move on my behalf? You might have all sorts of spiritual doubts and a lot of them might be because of your own past or even your own present. Could He love me after what I've done? Could He even love me with what I'm doing right now, what goes on in my heart, with my own secret thoughts, with my own doubts, with my own insecurity, with my own darkness? And what I want you to know is that God loves you. He loves you right now, and there's nothing you can do to cause Him to love you more. And there isn't a thing you could do to earn more of His love, He just loves you. And what He wants more than anything, is this just as you turn to Him and you draw near to Him, what He's gonna do is He's gonna draw near to you, like you've never experienced before.
You might become aware of your shortcomings, your sinfulness. And lemme just tell you, that's a good thing because you're aware of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. And the reality is that all of us have sinned. Every single one of us, we've disobeyed God. The good news is, God still loves us. And while we were sinning, He sent Jesus, the sinless son of God, the lamb of God who was slain, who was sacrificed in our place, died and was buried, but He didn't stay dead. On the third day, God raised Him from the dead. And the reason God raised Him from the dead is because God defeated death, hell, victory, and the grave. And now anyone who prays to God, the name of Jesus, that Jesus is Lord, He's the king. He's your savior, God hears that prayer. And it's amazing, but He forgives all your sin, all the darkness, all the sin, all the shame, He forgives it. Your past is gone and you become new. You're not a better version of you, you're new. The old is gone, the new has come.
There are those who you today watching somewhere. You're watching because God is loving you in this moment. And you're one prayer away from coming a follower of Jesus. If you need His grace, you need His love, I'm just gonna invite you to step away from whatever was and step toward Jesus, invite Him to forgive you, to change you and just tell Him you wanna follow Him. When you do, God will hear your prayer. He'll forgive your sin and He'll make you brand new. Today those who say yes, I wanna know Him, I'm gonna call out to Him in prayer. Today, I step away from my old life, I want His forgiveness, I want His new life. I choose to surrender my life to His son, Jesus.
That's your prayer, would you lift your hands high right now? Just all of our churches. As we have hands going up all of our churches, would you all celebrate and welcome those today that are being born into His family. Those of you watching online, you can just type it into the chat, I am surrendering my life to Jesus. Just type that right now and we're gonna pray together. And then we're gonna rejoice that God has heard your prayer and you're becoming new. Would you pray aloud pray:
Heavenly Father save me, change me. Jesus be first in my life. My Lord, my Savior, and my friend. Lead me. Guide me. Empower me with your Holy Spirit. Help me to know you, and to walk with you, and to serve you, and experience you, and show you in all that I do. My life is not my own. I surrender it, all of it to you. Thank you for new life. I give you all of mine. In Jesus name I pray.
And God has heard your prayer and He's made you new. Somebody welcome those into the family of God.