Mark Batterson - A Place of Prayer
Warm welcome to National Community Church. You are not here by accident. Even if it's your first time, in person, online, "Welcome Home". I hope you feel seen, heard, loved, big hug today, amen? Psalm 92:13, "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree. They will grow like the cedar of Lebanon, planted in the house of the Lord," where? "Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God". When I was in college, there was a Waffle House right off campus and they had an all-you-can-eat buffet for five bucks. We almost put 'em out of business. I'd start with the grits, bacon, egg, and cheese Texas melt, hash browns smothered and covered. Get me a waffle or two or three. Top it off with a bacon cheeseburger. Just your normal college diet, on a college budget. I love me some Waffle House. You can even say I flourished in the house of waffles. I'm praying a simple prayer as we kick off this series. I'm praying that this church would be your Waffle House. I'm praying that you would flourish as you plant yourself in the house of the Lord.
Can I prophesy over us? Some of us are languishing, spiritually, emotionally, relationally. And I get it, I have been there and done that. But please hear me, the seasons are changing. Fall turns into winter. Winter turns into spring, right? The languishing is gonna turn into flourishing. I'm gonna tell you what God is doing, this is my sixth sense. God is establishing a root system in your life. He is digging down to grow you up. And that root system during that tough time is gonna be the thing that nourishes and flourishes your life, in Jesus' name, amen. Now cedar of Lebanon is known for its longevity and resiliency. Takes 30 years for it to establish its root system, but once it does, that cedar starts growing about 15 feet per year. Its trunk, about six feet in diameter, tops out 120 feet tall, and can live to 1,000 years. Woo, but that's not even my favorite fact. Are you ready for this?
That tree releases some kind of chemical compound that repels snakes. What? What is happening? And so if you're hiking through the woods, you find you a cedar of Lebanon, because it's a safe place. You could even say it's a hiding place. And by the way, did you know that the temple in Jerusalem is built with the cedars of Lebanon? So let me put this together, "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree. They will grow like the cedar of Lebanon, planted in the house of the Lord. They will flourish in the courts of our God". And over the next seven weeks, we're gonna talk about what does it mean to be planted in this house that we call National Community Church? And here's what I know for sure, this is a house of prayer. It's a house of worship. Ah, it's a house of miracles. It's a place to belong, a place to believe, a place to find your people, and find your purpose.
So ready or not, here we go. You can meet me in the Garden of Gethsemane, Matthew 26, we'll get there in a moment. Two years ago during the pandemic, I did a two-day silent retreat. You know why? Because everybody was yelling at everybody else. I needed to declutter my head and my heart, needed a little ear cleansing. And so I'm on my way down to Lake Anna, and I do what I never do, 'cause I am always trying to set a land speed record. I'm gonna get there as fast as I can, but I stop at a Civil War battlefield, and I do a prayer walk. And it's the battlefield where the battle of the wilderness was fought. And the terrain was so overgrown, was so filled with thickets, that the two armies couldn't even see each other. And I walk up to a historical marker, and here's what one of Grant's officers said, "It was a battle fought with the ear, not the eye".
Now, now when you read something like that at the beginning of a silent retreat, that the battle's fought with the ear, see, we all want a prophetic voice. We all want people to listen to what we have to say. What I care about is a prophetic ear. An ear that is dialed in to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. And so I'm on this silent retreat, woo, and I hear that still small voice. I get a word from God, and it's so unmistakable. The still small voice of the Spirit says, in no uncertain terms, "My house will be called a house of prayer". And I felt like the Lord said, "Mark, if this church, if National Community Church is a house of prayer, if you prioritize prayer, if you organize around prayer, I'm gonna turn that house of prayer into a house of healing, a house of miracles, a house of dreams". And so that's the genesis of this message.
Matthew 26:36, "Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, 'Sit here while I go over there to pray.'" So just to set the scene, Jesus has just celebrated the Passover with his disciples. And after that Last Supper, they crossed the Kidron Valley, they climbed the Mount of Olives. And Gethsemane literally means olive press. This is where olive oil was harvested, but not for Olive Garden. This was sacred olive oil, that was used to anoint the kings of Israel. So Jesus goes to the garden to pray, and having been there, I think I know why. It's an amazing view, check this out. Isn't this where you would wanna pray? It's almost like just praying over the city, and you know, some of these buildings weren't there, okay. Modern view, but what a place to pray. Question at the beginning of this message, 'cause, frankly, like the message, don't like the message, that's not the issue.
Is this message gonna take our prayer life to the next level? So I just have a question, when and where do you pray? When and where do you pray? Now, fun, this weekend to welcome back my former EA, Jill Wyman in the house, welcome home, Jill. Jill, Jill, you set up thousands of appointments for me. And I can only imagine, like you know, you reaching out to someone and saying, "Hey hey, when can you meet"? And the person said, "Whenever, whenever". "Where can you meet"? "Wherever, where". Appreciate the flexibility, that meeting ain't never gonna happen. You need a when and a where. And the same is true of prayer, Like you gotta schedule it, you gotta turn it into a habit. It's gotta become a rhythm and a ritual in your life.
And so as I read the gospels, it seems to me like Jesus prayed very early in the morning, and very late at night, have you noticed this? Would sometimes even pull all nighters. Now I'm not saying he didn't pray during the day, sure he did. But I wonder if start of the day, end of the day are our best opportunities to begin to cultivate a more consistent prayer life? And then notice where he prayed. Okay, he liked climbing mountains, walking beaches, and withdrawing to the wilderness. This is my observation from the gospels. He loved going to places that just felt like these are places where I can pray. What I'm getting at is I do think that there is a geography to spirituality that we often overlook.
And so here's a little tip, I love praying in places where God has done miracles. That's why for so many years, I would get up on top of Ebenezers, and I would walk and pray on that rooftop, 'cause it was hard not to believe God for the next miracle. I get five bars, that's 5G up there. So when and where do we pray? I think where you pray is not insignificant, but I don't wanna give the impression that you have to climb a mountain, okay, or walk a beach. It doesn't have to be something exotic. In fact, please listen to what I'm about to say, 'cause some of you're gonna be challenged to do exactly what I'm about to say. I just believe that when you kneel next to a bed, in the morning or at night, you have now turned it into an altar. What if we just did a little bit more of that, amen?
Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles, founders of Methodism, 17 kids I think, lived in a tiny home. Where are you gonna go to pray? She would sit in her rocking chair, put a blanket over herself, and that was her prayer closet. See, where there's a will, there's a way, but there has to be a where. During COVID, mm, bad decision, I let my gym membership lapse, mm. Mm, you know what I discovered? I need a place to go work out, or I don't work out. It's crazy, when I go to the gym, I flip a switch, it's time to sweat, come on, no pain, no gain, bring it. In the same sense, I think we, we need a place that flips a switch, where we cast our cares upon God, where we let go and let God, a place where this is where we pray.
Now we pray without ceasing. Anywhere, everywhere, that you are a house of prayer. But we also need places where we go. And so on that note, excited to announce two things. Are you ready? And this, you can put these on your to-do list. One, we are going to launch our House of Prayer on September eight, we'll gather on Thursday night, 7:14 pm. Come on, if we're gonna give it up, let's give it up. Check out this, I love this graphic, because I think prayer is how we turn the city upside down. This, to me, is Acts 17:26. Listen, prayer is the difference between the best you can do and the best God can do. Prayer is the difference between making things, letting things happen and making things happen. Prayer is the difference between you fighting for God and God fighting for you. Prayers is the way we write history before it happens.
And so The House of Prayer, it's gonna set the table, set the tone, set the pace, and you don't wanna miss this Thursday, because two, we're gonna consecrate an upper room. For the first time in the history of this church, we're gonna have a designated place, a designated space where all we do is pray. Why? 'Cause the last time I checked, all it takes is 120 people in an upper room who are willing to pray the price, and God is gonna pour out his Spirit and birth something. His kingdom's gonna come, his will's gonna be done. And so Thursday night, we're gonna pen some prayers on the floor. We've done this at Ebenezers, we've done this at The Miracle Theater. We're gonna put a wood floor over it, but those 100 years from now, someone's gonna pull out those floors and say, "Look at these prayers". They're gonna say, "Look at what the Lord has done". And so we'll start September 13 with a prayer rhythm.
Now, this Wednesday we kick off Upper Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. It's a digital gathering, and we are all around the world, literally. So fun, we gather in that Upper Zoom Wednesday morning 7:14 AM. But we're gonna add Upper Room, Upper Room on Tuesday and Thursday, 7:14 AM. And then it's gonna be open during office hours, a place where if you just wanna pray or meditate, or just enjoy the Lord's presence. By the way, "Pastor Mark? What's up with 7:14"? It's a reminder of the promise that we are praying 2 Chronicles 7:14, "That if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven, I will heal their land, and I will forgive their sin". And so we're gonna keep praying at 7:14 AM, PM, and in between, amen. All right, let me double back to Gethsemane, Luke 22:41 says, "Jesus withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed".
Now big picture, there are lots of different ways to pray. There is personal prayer, and corporate prayer. There is listening prayer, which is more contemplative and conversational. And then there is contending prayer, where we just start circling the promises of God. We stand in the gap and intercede for others. There are spoken prayers, there are written prayers. Highly recommend a prayer journal. And then sometimes we'll use prayer cards. We'll even use prayer candles. And then there are prayer postures, and this is where you gotta figure out kind of your mojo. I love to pace and pray. Get my steps in. And I'm less distracted, I don't know why, but I'm less distracted, so I love to pace and pray. Oh, but I love to kneel and pray, because I feel like I have a greater leverage point, because I am humbling and, because listen to me, body posture impacts heart posture. Like, in Judaism, there are different kind, there are standing prayers. There are bowing prayers, there are swaying prayers.
If you've ever been to the Western Wall, you know what I'm talking about. Body posture is not insignificant, and so just as geography and spirituality, right, are interconnected, I think physicality and spirituality are interconnected. Let me push that envelope, Philippians 2:12, "Continue to work out". Continue to what? Yeah, all right, you like that, don't you? You do a little bit of training. You did a little bit of training with me. "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling".
Now make no mistake, we are saved by grace, not by works. That said, you need to work out your salvation the way you work out your body. Now I'm training for a bike century, Justin's here, worked me out for about two, three hours this week on the bike, on that Washington Old Dominion Trail. Got a great workout in. And I did a bike century last year, but this one is in Colorado in four weeks. Yeah, yeah, yeah, and so the elevation is over 5,000 feet, and the altitude gain is more than 4,000 feet. And I didn't know this when I signed up for the race. I found this out, like, a couple of weeks ago, I doubled down, I am working out. I am working out, and it got harder yesterday, 'cause someone stole my bike. They needed it.
True story, all right, more on that in a minute. Luke 22:44, "Being in agony, Jesus prayed more earnestly". We could have talked about so many moments, the Lord's Prayer, right? The prayers that he prayed for people, that were, but this is, I kind of think of this as the last prayer. Yeah, he prayed on the cross. But I mean he knows, he knows he's about to be betrayed, and arrested, and flogged, and crucified within hours. You feel him pressing in, and praying through: Oh Father, Father, help me, help me. "He prays earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood, falling to the ground". All of us pray through our unique personality and history. Some of us more emotional, some of us more intellectual, kind of that Myers-Briggs comes into. Some of us, maybe more introverted, more extroverted. Some of us NIV, some of us KJV prayers, right? We all, we all, and this is okay, let God be as original with others as he was with you.
Oh, but church, when was the last time we prayed with this kind of intensity? When was the last time we broke a sweat praying? Oh God, there's another dimension, there's another level for me. There's greater intimacy, and there's greater authority available to me. I'm gonna press in and pray through. And so if you're taking notes, jot this down. Prayer is a muscle. It involves muscle memory. No shortcuts, no cheat codes. You have not because you ask not. This is complicated theology, but God won't answer 100% of the prayers that you don't pray. You have not because you ask not. Greatest tragedy in life are the prayers that go unanswered, 'cause they go unasked. I'm tired of playing games, I'm tired of playing defense. I'm tired of playing God. I'm tired of playing the victim. When I don't pray, I get passive aggressive. When I don't pray, I get reactive.
I'm on my bike this week and God speaks in strange and mysterious ways. It's weird, when I exercise, and I realize the neurological impact of beta waves, alpha waves, theta waves, the different, I understand all of that. But there's something about I get on a wavelength when I exercise, that my hearing is a little bit better. And so I'm on my bike and I feel like the Holy Spirit says point blank to me, it's hard for me to say, I feel like the Holy Spirit says, "Stop complaining and start leading". Come on, come on. Whew, all right, Lord, all right. In the same vein, stop complaining. Stop mansplaining. Couldn't resist. And start praying. We complain about 1,000 things that we could be praying about.
I love it when we start doing prayer sets in our Upper Room, part of what I love about it is we're gonna learn to pray in a more strategic way. We're gonna pray about mental health. We're gonna pray freedom from addiction. We're gonna pray for spheres of influence. We're gonna pray for the peace and prosperity of our city. And God is going to take our prayer lives, through House of Prayer, through Upper Room, into a dimension, we're just not gonna complain, we're gonna pray it through. When we work, we work. When we pray, God works. We have a core value, pray like it depends on God, and work like it depends on you. What I'm getting at is this, call me a simpleton, I think prayer is our greatest responsibility and highest privilege. One of two things is true, either we're talking to an imaginary friend who doesn't exist and we're wasting our time, or we are talking to the almighty Creator of the heavens and the Earth. And his authority is ours when we operate in the will of God, and there is no higher leverage point, there is no greater return on investment. So I'm placing my bets on the latter.
Now let me make it personal, you have a prayer anointing. In fact, if you're taking, just jot that down, you have a prayer anointing. What did we just say? You pray through a unique personality, unique history. And here's where I would say wherever you have victory, you have authority. That your testimony is someone else's prophecy. I love praying for healing, why? Because I had asthma for 40 years. I don't have it anymore. July 2nd, 2016, I pray a bold prayer. I have not touched an inhalers from that day to this day. Most unbelievable miracle in my life, and so I'm gonna, I've experienced too many miracles not to believe God for the next one. I've experienced too many answers to prayer not to believe God for the next one.
Listen, every prayer has to pass a twofold litmus test, will of God, glory of God. It's not about us giving God our Amazon wishlist. Prayer is not outlining your agenda for God. Prayer is getting into the Word of God, the presence of God, and saying, "Oh God, what is your agenda for me"? It's our campus pastors, during that intention series, "Oh God, where are you at work"? And how can I be part of it? Yeah, and prayer sets us up for that. Mm, prayer is a muscle, and then two, can I suggest prayer is a language. You don't pick up a language overnight, do you? I don't. Love the story about a little girl praying before bed one night. "Dear God, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z, amen". Grandpa walks in, "Sweetie, why are you praying the alphabet"? Said, "Grandpa, I wasn't sure what to say, so I decided to let God put the letters together for me".
Can I level the playing field? Probably more than half the time, I don't know what to say. I don't know what to pray. My batting average is no better than anybody else, and if we're being honest someday, we're gonna thank God for the prayers he didn't answer as much as the ones he did. It's not about the right combination of the 26 letters of the English alphabet, that you know, bam, oh, you said the right words. No, no, no. God hears our hearts more than our words. Now here's the amazing thing, you have a unique voice print. I discovered, I looked up this week, 'cause I love our dog. She's so sweet, she's so sweet, that's my dog voice. Did you know dogs have a unique nose print? That made my week. Bring it back in, bring it back in, Pastor Mark. You have a unique voice print. Your sound waves are unlike anybody who has ever lived, and there's a God who knows your voice. But he also knows your cry. And he knows your tears.
There are moments that I pray in the Spirit, 'cause I don't know the words to pray. And I remember this moment after my father-in-law passed, and I found myself just sighing all the time. It's a physiological response to grief, or to stress. I think the body knows that when you don't know what to say, then I read Psalm 5:1, "Consider my sighing, O Lord". I realize I don't have to put it into words. There's a God who loves you so much, he considers your sighing. Aren't you grateful for that? Would you give yourself a little grace? Listen, learning a language is not easy, but I am just, if we're gonna be a house of prayer, we gotta learn new languages. We're gonna have to push ourselves and stretch ourselves.
And so here's one little tip when you don't know what to say, don't know what to pray, pray the Bible. Bible wasn't meant to be read, it was meant to be prayed. I'll try to make this quick, oh man, I don't have time. August of 1996, I'm reading Joshua 1:3, God says to Joshua, "I give you everywhere you set your foot, just as I promised Moses". And the Spirit of God quickens me. I pray a perimeter around Capitol Hill. Just to put that in context, we have 13 people in church the weekend before that. I'm like, "God, I don't know, is this even gonna work"? 26 years later, we own half a dozen properties right on that prayer circle. You can't tell me that's coincidence, that's Providence. I wasn't even praying for property, but God has blessings in categories we can't conceive of.
See, I didn't even know it, but I was praying Matthew 18:18, "Whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in heaven". I was putting prayer contracts on things, I didn't even know it. There is a God who can answer your prayer way beyond your ability to enunciate it. And he's a good God, who loves you, and knows what's on your heart before you even put it into words. Matthew 26:40, "Then he returned to his disciples, found them sleeping, 'Couldn't you keep watch with me for one hour,' he asked Peter? 'Watch and pray, so that you don't fall into temptation. Spirit is willing, but flesh is weak.'" Word watch, gregorio in Greek, refers to an acute awareness of what's happening around you. It's a throwback to the Old Testament watchman, who would sit on the wall, and they would see first, they would see further. They were the first line of defense. They were the eyes of the city. They were the ears of the city.
Can I suggest, and I say this with all humility and gravity, that God has called us to be a church filled with watchmen and watchwomen on the wall? It is no coincidence that God gives us a city block at the original gateway to the nation's Capital. So we're gonna stand in the gap. We're gonna fight our battles on our knees. We're gonna dream big, pray hard, and think long. We're gonna see God move in ways that are way beyond national, National Community Church. 'Cause the last time, I think God said, "Ask of me, and I will give you the"? Yeah, can we dream bigger? And here's what I found, the more you pray, the bigger you dream, and the bigger you dream, the more you have to pray. So it's this virtuous cycle. Oh man, I don't even have time to talk about the reticular activating system. But God wants to sanctify it, along with your basal ganglia, and your medial ventral prefrontal cortex, and your amygdala. Prayer is the way God sanctifies our neuroanatomy.
I spent a lot of time yesterday praying for whoever stole my bike. 'Cause I got worked up. I got mad like 17 times, and I did drive around, looking to make a citizen's arrest. I mean there is hardly a day where I don't need to process some emotion in prayer. Oh God, I give you what I'm feeling right now, the grief is too much for me to bear. The fear, the anxiety, the anger, the pride, the lust, oh God. Give it to you. May God sanctify, 1 Timothy 4:5, "Everything God create is good. Nothing is to be rejected, if it's received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the Word of God, and by prayer". Two things have a consecrating effect, the Word of God, that's why I have a daily Bible reading plan, "Consecrate me, God, with your Word". And prayer has a consecrating effect, and you see it right here, last verse, 42, "Went away a second time, pray, 'My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken, unless I drink it, may your will be done.'" Then he prays it a third time.
See, we pray these ASAP prayers, As Soon As Possible. God's calling us to pray ALAT, As Long As it Takes. We need to pray through to the breakthrough. And notice what it is, see, we think prayers about changing others. Listen, prayer changes things, no doubt about it. One of my most common prayers is for favor, I pray Luke 2:52, "May you grow in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and with man". I've been in situations where no way, no earthly way, but the favor of God. But listen, sometimes the circumstances we're asking God to change are the circumstances God is using to change us. And so prayer is about surrendering and submitting what is Jesus model here, to the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Rochelle Washington, on our Upper Zoom community has this little prayer that I've picked up on, "Your will, your way. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. In Jesus' name, amen".
Now, real quick, one last thing I'll close with this. You thought I was done. You know I have two conclusions. I'll make it quick, one of my earliest memories is my grandfather praying for me. He was hard of hearing. Night, he'd kneel next to his bed, take off his hearing aid, couldn't hear himself, but everybody in the house could hear him. He died when I was six, his prayers did not die. There is no expiration date on prayer. There have been moments in my life where God has done things that are unexpected, undeserved, and the Holy Spirit has said, "Mark, the prayers of your grandfather are being answered in your life right now". You are the answer to someone's prayer that you know nothing about. And now I challenge you to go thou and do likewise. Three words, I love these three words, "For David's sake".
You see 'em throughout the Old Testament. One of those instances, 2 Kings 8:19, it's 853 BC, there will not be a quiz at the end of this. A king named Jehoram assumes the throne, fifth king of the Southern kingdom, and he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. But I want you to listen to what it says, "Nevertheless, for David's sake, the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah". David is long gone, but there is a God who does not forget his people, a God who does not forget his promises. Listen, God has done things in your life for the sake of someone else. We are beneficiaries of prayers we know nothing about. And God wants to do the same through you, so I will close with, I'm gonna give Dan Hampton the last word, Hampton's been a part of this church forever. Dan is an orthopedic surgeon, emailed me a couple of months ago, said this, "During your benediction, I was struck that I need to live my life seeking to be an answer to someone else's prayer".
I like that a lot. He said, "Occasionally, my patients will tell me, mainly before surgery, that they've been praying for me. And I hope I am an answer to their prayer, for health and wellness". But I think it applies no matter what your vocation is. If you work in hospitality, be an answer to someone's prayer, to be welcomed into a space. If you work as a teacher, be an answer to a parent's prayer that their children are seen and known. If you work in advocacy, be an answer to the issues someone cares about, that they get attention from those in power. May our community be the ones that seek to be used by God as an answer to prayer for others, in Jesus' name. Amen.