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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Mike Novotny » Mike Novotny - I Find It Hard to Pray

Mike Novotny - I Find It Hard to Pray

Mike Novotny - I Find It Hard to Pray
TOPICS: Christmas Stress, Christmas, Prayer

"So, Mike," the radio host asked me once we were live on the air, "Why do you stink at prayer"? I was blessed with an opportunity to talk about this book that I had co-written about prayer and the host asked me from the very start of the program about a confession I made in the very first line of that book, where I confessed, quote, "I stink at prayer". Unquote. I told the radio host that I wasn't trying to be falsely modest or just relate to people in the church. When I think about my prayer life and compare it to my church life, or my reading the Bible life, or sharing my faith life, or trying to give generously life, my prayer life is kind of like the Detroit Lions. My spiritual life.

If you're watching this, in the future right now and the Lions are just about to win the Superbowl, well, that's an interesting world you're living in, just not right now, it's like the worst, the bottom. And that's kind of how it is with me with prayer. If I had to count up all the seconds and the minutes, I would bet that I pray less on average, than ten minutes a day. Any of you in the same boat? A bunch of Christians I've learned in the church, they love God, they believe in Jesus, they treasure the same book that I treasure, but their prayer lives are anything but an inspirational story, an example that others should follow. And if that's you today, I want to speak directly to you for a few minutes, and I want to pose the questions that I sometimes ask myself, "Why"? If we believe in God, we believe he's powerful, he knows everything, he can change things, why wouldn't we be better at prayer?

I recently found out that the word 'pray' or 'prayer' shows up 367 times in the Bible. That's one pray for every day during a leap year with one to spare. Prayer is a big deal and the teachings of Moses in the songs or Psalms of the Old Testament, the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus, himself, taught us to pray what we now call, "The Lord's prayer". It's everywhere. And so, the question I've been wrestling with is, "Why, for people who believe in the Bible, why, if the Bible talks prayer so much, do some of us at the end of the day end up praying so little"? I'm not sure what your answer to that question is, but I'd love for you to write down my answer to that question. I think that I struggle to dedicate and prioritize time in prayer is that, it's hard to believe that prayer works. For me, it's just hard to see the connection between my prayers and God's blessings.

Now, you ever notice this? Sometimes, you pray really little, maybe not at all, about something and it turns out really, really well. And other times, you pray a whole bunch about something and you see very, very little change. I've noticed that that doesn't happen with the other areas of my spiritual life. When I really sit down and like meditate on the Bible, I have a really good devotion, I instantly learn something, I'm confronted for a sin, I'm comforted by the good news of the gospel. I see the effects of my devotional life. When I come to church, almost always something happens. It's a song that stirs my soul. It's a conversation I have in the lobby that was so good for me. It's one point in the message or one part of the reading. Like, I see an instant impact of attending church but prayer, I don't know, is it just me?

Sometimes, I pray and I think, "Well, that just happened". And I wouldn't say that, like, officially, that's my belief but I sometimes wrestle and I wonder, like, does this change things? Is this working? Would life actually be different if I prayed five minutes more today? Is there some blessing that I wouldn't have had if I prayed five minutes less yesterday? It's sometimes very hard, even for Bible loving Christians to believe that prayer works. But I tell you what, based on everything I know about God, I want to change that little thing that's swirling around in my heart and I bet a whole bunch of you do too. You and I every single Christmas and every single year face challenges with our health, maybe challenges with our finances. We're trying to reconcile and forgive with someone who hurt us, maybe in our own immediate family.

We want to resist some temptation. We want God to get us through a difficult season. We want to battle cancer with hope and faith. We want to do marriage maybe even better than our parents did it. We want to be courageous with the gospel. Like, there's so many things we're facing and we want to tap into the power of prayer. So, today, here's what I want to do, I want to open the Bible to this amazing story in Luke 1, and I want to give your prayer life an injection of Holy Spirit adrenaline. My hope today, by the time I say, "Amen" is that you and I will be amped up to pray. We'll be like a kid with a bunch of presents piled into the tree who's begging mom and dad, "Can we open them now? Can we open them now"? I want you to be more fired up about talking to your Heavenly Father than ever. And I think it's possible that that could happen, not just because I'm trying to pitch you at the start of a message, but because this page of the Bible has an amazing lesson about prayer.

It's a story that a few of you have heard about an elderly couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth, who one day were visited by an angel and they learned the incredible privilege and power of talking to God in prayer. So, if you have a Bible along with you, or you just want to follow along on the screen, we're going to be in Luke 1 and we're going to kick things off today in verse five. Luke says this, "In the time of Herod, king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old".

Some of you know what that's like. You love God, you talk to God about your hopes and your dreams. You really would love the privilege of raising a little one, but it doesn't happen and the years go by, and the other people have kids but you can't, and other people who don't even plan to are getting pregnant but you don't. And people who maybe aren't even maybe fit to be parents are pushing strollers down while you're praying, begging, pleading with God to change your situation but it doesn't. We can only imagine how many times Zach and Liz prayed in the quietness of their hearts, shouting out loud at the skies, holding hands that were becoming wrinkled as the years passed. But then, Zechariah's first gray hair, menopause arrives, and their dream dies. And you have to wonder if they wondered about the power of prayer. Did it work? Did it change anything?

They might have doubted it until this day, verse 8, "Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by Lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside". It's actually a huge part of the Old Testament, but God had designed this church and it's very specifications, sometimes you read it in the Old Testament, you wonder, "Why am I reading this"? but God had himself constructed a church very intentionally. He wanted everyone who walked into the temple to learn things about God, spiritual things that they couldn't otherwise see.

So, for example, you'd walk into the temple in Jerusalem, it was massive, exalted, in the days of Jesus, it was 15 stories high and you'd look up and you'd realize, "Oh, because my God is the most high God". The inside of the temple would be covered in pure, precious gold because when you walked into God's presence, you were supposed to think, "Oh, because God is so precious". Inside the temple, there was this big candle stick that was constantly lit, it never ever went out, because you were supposed to think, "Oh, because God is constant and he is my light, and he warms my heart". And every single day, the priest would put out fresh bread on a table inside the temple because you were supposed to think, "Oh yeah, because God is the bread for my soul. He provides fresh mercy and forgiveness every single day when I wake up". There's a huge bowl of water called the "washing basin" outside the temple because you were supposed to think, "Oh yeah, because God's mercy and forgiveness washes away all of my sins".

There was this huge room called the "Most holy place where God lived". There were two massive angels over the arch of the covenant because you were supposed to think, "Oh yeah, because God is most holy, he lives in the presence of angels". There was actually a big curtain in front of the most holy place because you were supposed to think, "Oh yeah, God is so holy, I just can't walk into his presence on my own, I'm too sinful for that". So, God designed every single piece of the temple for us to know things about him that we couldn't otherwise see. And if you want to you can read the book of Exodus and Leviticus and figure all that out after church. Because for now, I don't want to talk about all those other pieces of furniture, I want to talk about this one. When Zechariah would have walked into the temple, he enters this room called "The holy place," he passes the bread, he passes the candlestick, he's coming up to the big, towering curtain that stands in front of the presence of God, but before he got there, there was one last piece of furniture... this. It was called the "Altar of incense".

Super props to my man, Tom, who rebuilt an altar of incense for this sermon. It was three feet high, it was a cubits wide. Cubit was elbow to fingertips, nice job Tom. There's a cubits this way. It had these four little wooden horns that kind of came out of it and what God had commanded in Exodus 30, I've been praying today the smoke alarms don't go off during the sermon. What God had commanded in Exodus 30 was that two times a day, every single morning and every single evening, a priest was supposed to come in and light this special blend of incense that could be used nowhere else in the whole country of Israel. So, let's see if I can make this work. Now... Why do you think God did that?

Check out this Bible passage from Psalms 141, the Psalmist said, "God let my prayer rise before you as incense". It smells sweet and you can see it. The smoke, more than any candle I've ever seen, rises up to the heavens. Think of it. A curtain here right in front of the very presence of God, God was trying to say, "When you pray, your prayer is sweet to me and your prayer reaches me. When you come into my temple, my presence, and you pray, and you just wonder, 'Is this working?'" God had a visual aid running 24/7 to say, "No, your prayer is sweet to me and your prayer reaches me". But I wonder if Zechariah believed it. He was chosen by Lot that day to go by himself into the temple. He's pulling out the incense, he's lighting it on fire, he sees the smoke before the curtain where God supposedly lives. Do you think he believed it?

And if you've ever dealt with infertility or anything that weighs heavy on your heart, if you've poured out your soul, not once or twice, but a thousand times the exact same prayer and nothing changes, do you think he wondered, "God, is it sweet to you? You mad at me? Did Liz and I do something wrong? God, is this even working? Am I praying right? Is this reaching you? You're God, the most high exalted God, you could fix this so simply". I wonder if Zechariah just like me doubted the power of prayer. Whatever was going on in his heart though, God was about to change everything. Jump back into Luke 1:11, "Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear". This was no Hallmark chubby baby angel in the diaper with little wings, alright? It's a terrifying warrior from Heaven. "But the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard".

If you have a Bible with you, like, circle that phrase until you almost rip through the page. "Your prayer has been heard". Your, not prayers in general, "Your prayer". Not "Ooh, God finally hear it". No. It has been, God heard it the first time you said it, every time you prayed it. "Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son. And you are to call him 'John'". "Zechariah don't be afraid. God's about to put a fresh bun in that old oven. Your wife Elizabeth is going to bear you a child". In fact, God didn't just hear the prayer, he didn't just give them a baby, he gave them the Baptist. If you know the story, John the Baptist was the hype man for Jesus, he got the world ready for the coming of God's one and only son, and that is the child that God gave this family. Look at verse 14, the angel said, "Your son, John, will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord, their God and he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous to make ready a people prepared for the Lord".

I love that. He's going to bring back all of these people in Israel who have strayed because of empty religion or pursuing their own sins. He's going to be like Elijah, that Old Testament prophet, he's going to be courageous, he'll confront the sins of both the church and the state. He'll be bold. He'll say, "Repent". But he won't leave people there and then, he'll point them to the one, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He's going to change the hearts of parents who think that they're too old to learn something new and he's going to give them the faith of little children to confess their sins to the most high God. And he, get this, is going to make people prepared for the Lord. With repentant hearts, seeing their sin, Jesus will show up and say, "I'm the one". And they'll receive him, and believe in him, and trust in him, and find eternal life.

Ah, well, Zach, you and Liz aren't just going to have a baby, you're going to have the baby that gets people ready for God's baby, for Jesus. And this should be the time where Zechariah, standing next to the altar, says, "Thank you". He should say, "Amen. Hallelujah. I'm sorry for doubting you. Thank you". But he doesn't. Here's what he said next, verse 18, "Zechariah asked the angel, 'How can I be sure of this? I'm an old man and my wife is well along in years.'" I love that line. Like, "Yeah, angel, can we talk about this little bit? Can I be sure that what you're saying is true"? I mean, Liz and I make dinner reservations at like 4:15. She's done with Facebook by 8:30 and fast asleep. Look, like I'm old and she... is older than she was previously I love how he gets around that. "How can I know that this great promise of a baby is going to happen"?

But when you think about it, that is a pretty insulting thing to say. "How can I be sure"? Imagine, if you told me today, "Hey Mike, I'll give you a ride home after church". And I said to you, "How can I be sure"? And you would say, "Because I just told you". "How can I be sure"? is a question that suggests, implies, almost directly says, "Can I trust you"? Look what happens next, "The angel said him, 'I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.' Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. When Zechariah's time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 'The Lord has done this for me.' She said. 'In these days, he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.'"

There are a lot of great things we could learn from this text, but I want you to write this one down. Here's the promise that God attaches to prayer, that every word is heard. I'm talking to the very throne where prayers are answered and heard. I'm talking about the throne of the king of kings, the Lord of lords, the one who oversees all nations, the one who can cure cancer, get you out of debt, or make you content while you are in the midst of debt. It reaches him, every single prayer, every single time. It's sweet to him and it reaches him. And if you and I remember that, we will just pray. What else would we do? Google it? No, we say, "God, I know you hear this. I know you love this. Help me, forgive me, sustain me, change me". And no matter what the prayer, what the topic, what the time, your prayer is sweet to him, and your prayer reaches him.

And here's why. There was this very odd day in the Old Testament where a priest would come in and cover this altar with blood. It was called the "Day of atonement"; an innocent animal would be sacrificed, a bowl of its blood would be gathered, a priest would walk in and dip his fingers and he would cover the horns of this altar. The incense that was burned was actually surrounded by blood, the blood of an innocent sacrifice. Now, why in the world would God want that? Some of you know. Because if it was just me without the blood of Jesus, if it was just me talking to God, there would be no connection. My voice would be shrill in his ears, my prayers would be sour in his nostrils, but with Jesus, everything changes. If Jesus comes, and as we hear about John the Baptist, he brings people back to God, he humbles us from our pride and gives us the faith of little children. If he makes us ready and prepared for the Lord... If like Elizabeth, we can say, "The Lord has done this for me. He has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace. The blood of Jesus has purified me".

And all of you who trust in his name, from all of our doubts and all of our questions, all of our implications about the power of prayer, every time we pray, it is surrounded in faith, by the blood of Jesus. We are cleansed so that when we pray, God loves it. He loves it. So, today if you don't believe in Jesus, today's the day. Today is the day to trust in his name, to be ready to talk to God and to see him face to face. And if you do believe in Jesus today is a great day to pray. Pray big, pray boldly, pray about everything, pray in Jesus name. Every word, brothers and sisters, is heard. So, what shall we do next? Let's pray:

Our Father, it's hard to believe that you like it when we talk. Our problems are so small compared to the things people face on this planet, and yet, nothing is too small for you. You say in a beautiful passage on prayer that we can cast all of our anxiety on you because you care. You care about all of it. Some of us are anxious about the holidays. Some of us are anxious about having money to buy gifts. Some of us are anxious about a loved one who's sick. Some of us are anxious about the temptations we keep giving into. All of it, God, we can bring to you and you will change things. That you said in the book of James, that when we pray without doubting, you give us exactly what we need. It might not be when we want, it might not be exactly what we asked for, but you always respond to prayer.

What a crazy blank check you've given us, God. Help us to fill it out every morning, every night, every day, not because we have to, but because we get to. God, I'm asking you to make me better at prayer. I forget these things so quickly. May this message stir my heart to be an example for this church. And God, may the many prayer warriors who have always believed this be an example to me and to our church family that we won't go a single day without speaking to the best listener in the world, the one who can change anything at any time for the people that he loves so dearly. We pray today God, not tentatively but boldly, because we know that you hear every word. This prayer reached you. I know it was sweet to you because of the blood of Jesus. And all God's people said, "Amen".

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