Robert Jeffress - Heavenly Communication - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Conversations with friends and family seem to flow naturally, most of the time. Whether it's on the phone or e-mail or text messages, we're in constant communication with one another. It seems like we're never at a loss for words. But talking with our Heavenly Father? Well, that can be more challenging sometimes. It seems like our conversations with God feel clichéd or we run out of words. So today, I want to show you how to make conversations with God a meaningful and valued experience. My message is titled, "Heavenly Communication", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory!
A mother was passing by the bedroom of her 9-year-old son one evening and was pleased to see him kneeling beside the bed and praying. But she was perplexed by what she heard him praying. Over and over again he kept repeating the words 'Tokyo,' 'Tokyo,' 'Tokyo'. Finally, when he had finished, the mom said, "Tommy, I'm glad to see you praying. But why did you keep repeating Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo, over and over again"? He said, "Well mom, this morning I took my geography test, and I was just praying that God would make Tokyo the capital of France".
You know, that little boy believed that prayer changes things. The question is: do you? Do you believe prayer really changes things? Most of us, if we're honest, would say: we think prayer's comforting, and encouraging, and even aids the spiritual growth of the pray-er. But any relationship between prayer and a change in circumstances is purely coincidental. My friend max Andrews writes, "Most of us don't pray as much as we feel we should, not because we're unwilling, but because we are uncertain how to pray and don't understand why our prayers aren't answered more consistently". Bottom line, we don't pray more because we're really not convinced that prayer changes things. But the Word of God says differently. The Bible is filled with stories of men and women who changed not only the course of history, but the course of their own lives through prayer. Prayer truly moves the hand of God.
And that's why when you look at the life of Jesus Christ you see that Jesus was devoted to making prayer a priority in his life. Because he believed prayer really changed things. And in the passage we're going to look at today, Paul says: if you're becoming like Jesus Christ, you're going to give the same attention and devotion to prayer in your life that Jesus gave to prayer in his life. If you have your Bibles this morning, I want you to turn to Colossians 4. Let me remind you, again, of the theme of this important letter. This letter is about the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has sufficiently saved us, secured us, empowered us to live a victorious life. We need no one or anything else other than Jesus Christ. And Paul presents that in the first two chapters of this letter. And then in chapter three he does a pivot. And he says: ok, if Jesus is sufficient, he also should be central in your life. And chapter three is about how to make Jesus central in your life. It's about becoming like Jesus in our attitudes, actions, and affections.
Now remember, at the end of chapter three Paul says: here is the test of whether or not you're really becoming like Christ. One test is in your horizontal relationships, your relationships to other people. How do you behave at home and in the work place? But when we get to chapter four, Paul says: here is another test of whether you're becoming like Christ. And that is your relationship to your Heavenly Father. That is, do you give the same attention that Jesus gave to his relationship to his father? What did Jesus do in relationship to his father? First of all, he devoted himself to communication with God, and secondly, to fulfilling the agenda of God. And that's what we're going to talk about today and next time. One test of our Christ's likeness is whether we give the same attention to prayer and to sharing our faith with others that Jesus gave as a priority in his life. And today we're going to look at what Jesus' life reveals to us about prayer, and how that should impact our relationship with God.
Let's look at Colossians 4:2-3. Paul writes, "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving: praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ for which I have also been imprisoned". If Jesus Christ is central in your life: prayer is going to be a priority in your life. Now, let's, first of all, talk about what prayer is. What do we mean when we say "Devote yourself to prayer"? What is prayer? And I think the easiest way to define prayer is to first of all, define it by what it's not, okay? A lot of times we have a misunderstanding of prayer. And so, Jesus clears up a lot of misconceptions about prayer in Matthew 6. Hold your place here and turn over to the first Gospel, Matthew 6. This is smack-dab in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus spends some time talking about prayer. And he says, in verses five and six, first of all: prayer is not a public display of our spirituality. Prayer was never meant to be a public display of our own spirituality. Look at verses five and six, "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and turn on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full".
I want you to underline that word hypocrites. It is a Greek word that means 'a masked man', not the lone ranger, ok. It's talking about a masked man, that is, an actor in a Greek or Roman drama. The way actors would play their parts would be to wear a mask, that is to pretend to be somebody that they really weren't. And that's where we get our word hypocrites - a two-faced or a masked person: someone who is pretending to be something that he is not. Now, Jesus used the term 'hypocrite' as a synonym for the pharisees.
Remember, the pharisees were the most devout, at least externally, of all the sects of Judaism. And they appeared to be very spiritual, especially in their prayer life. The pharisees had 18 different prayers for every occasion under the sun. And a good pharisee would find some way to pray each one of those 18 prayers during the day. And usually he would pray it in the public square, in the synagogue, where everybody could see how spiritual he was. And in doing so, they were pretending to be something they weren't. They were acting. They were hypocrites. They were two-faced people pretending to be one thing when, in fact, they were something completely different. Jesus said: when you pray, don't do it for public display: to pretend to be something that you're really not. Instead, he says in verse six, "When you pray, go into the inner room, close your door, and pray to your father who is in secret, and your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you".
Jesus says, when you pray, don't do it in order to be seen by other people: pray secretly. Now, Jesus is not, by the way, condemning praying publicly. You look at some of the most powerful prayers in the Bible, and they were public prayers. I think about Elijah on mount Carmel praying publicly before the hundreds of the prophets of Baal, as well as the Israelites. He prayed for the fire of God to come down and consume the animal sacrifices and God answered dramatically. Or I think about Solomon's prayer of dedication for the temple - one of the most beautiful prayers in all of the Bible - he prayed that before thousands of people as they dedicated their new worship center. I think about Jesus Christ. Even though he said pray privately, Jesus prayed before thousands before he fed the five thousand. When Jesus is talking about praying in private, he is talking about our motive for praying, not our location of praying. He's saying: when you pray, if you pray publicly, do so to be heard by God not by other people. Prayer is not to be a public display of our spirituality.
Secondly, Jesus says: prayer is not some complex theological formula. It's not some complex theological formula. Look at what he says in verses seven and eight, "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So, do not be like them, for your father knows what you need even before you ask him". Underline that phrase 'meaningless repetition'. That was a reference to how the pagans prayed. It literally means gibberish. The pagans would use gibberish, ecstatic gibberish and say the same thing over, and over, and over again to try to get their false gods to act. Again, going back to 1 Kings 18, remember the prophets of Baal. They had a chance to pray before Baal, to get him to act on their behalf. And the Bible says, they prayed from morning until evening saying the same thing over and over, chanting, and chanting, and chanting, but Baal did not hear them, because Baal did not exist.
A lot of people today employ that same practice, even when praying to the true God. They think if they will just say the same thing over and over again, repeat the same things over and over again, maybe they can force God to do something he really doesn't want to do. Isn't that a strange view of prayer? Some people really think you can make God do something he doesn't want to do by simply repeating the same thing over and over again. Other people think: well, if you can just get the right words, the right vocabulary in the right order, perhaps you can unlock the treasure vault of heaven and make God act. They kind of think of prayer as a Christian abracadabra, you know: if you can just say the right words, suddenly you're going to cause God to answer.
Do you remember the old show "All in the Family" and Archie Bunker? One of my favorite episodes of "All in the family" was the time that Archie was asked to deliver the eulogy and give a prayer at his best friend's funeral. He kept calling it a urology. And, anyway, he was not only to give the urology, but he was also to say a prayer. And Archie wasn't used to praying. And so, he got his sister-in-law, who had more of a religious bent, to write the prayer for him. And there was a scene of Archie pacing around the living room, dictating to his sister-in-law what to say. And he said, "Whatever you do, be sure and throw some 'Jesuses' in there".
See, Archie had the idea that a lot of people have. If he can just say the right word, throw a few 'Jesuses' or few words like 'holy' and 'omnipotent' and so forth in there, somehow, you're going to get God's attention. I see this all the time in public prayer meetings where people stand up and pray out loud and publicly. Sometimes it's so funny. I forget that we're praying as I listen to people. Sometimes people think they're in a contest to see who can say the most theological words without taking a breath when they pray. Or have you ever noticed this - this really gets me - when people stand up and start praying, and suddenly they start talking in King James' English: they start saying thee, and thou, and thine, and thouest, and thouist, and all this, you know, and usually not correctly.
Have you ever stopped to think how silly that is: to stand up and start speaking in that arcane language? Do you think God is in heaven and he gets spiritual goosebumps whenever he hears 17th century English: oooh, I can't believe that: oooh, that makes me want to do something? You think God does that? Yeah, we think somehow that's more holy. A little thee, a little thou: that makes God listen to us more. No, Jesus said, prayer is not meaningless repetition. It's not using the right words in the right places. In fact, did you know some of the most affective prayers in the Bible: some of the most powerful were some of the simplest prayers.
Remember in Luke 18, Jesus told the story about two men who went up to the temple to pray. One was a pharisee and the other was a tax gatherer. The pharisee was standing and praying with his eyes lifted up toward heaven and he prayed a long time. And most of the time he was telling God how holy he, the pharisee, was. But in contrast here was this tax gatherer who was so humble he wouldn't even lift his eyes up into heaven. But instead, he beat his chest and he prayed the simple prayer: Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner. And Jesus asked the question: which man left the temple justified, made right with God? Prayer is not some complicated theological formula: it's not a long repetition of the same thing over and over again meant to show people our spirituality. Well, if prayer is not a public display of spirituality or complex theological formula, then what is prayer? Everybody, have your pen: I want you to write this down, ok. Here is a definition of prayer. I want you to write this down word for word and then think about it, ok, everybody ready? Here is a definition of prayer: prayer is talking to God. Prayer is talking to God. Nothing more, nothing less, just talking with God, that's all it is. Talking to God.
Now, our talking to God takes all kind of different forms. In Ephesians 6:18 Paul says, "With all prayer and petition, pray it all times". Literally, in the Greek text, "Praying with all kinds of prayers". Sometimes when we're talking with God, we ask him to do something for us - that's called petition. Sometimes we ask God to do something for somebody else - that's intersession. Sometimes we tell God, and we admit we've blown it - that's called confession. Sometimes we express gratitude to God for what he's already done - that's thanksgiving. And sometimes we just talk with God for no other reason than we want to talk with him: tell him about our day: tell him about our feelings: tell him about what's going on in our life - that's called conversation. The Bible says prayer is simply talking with God. Now, how do you have a successful prayer life? Remember, Paul says: if you want to become like Jesus, prayer's got to be a priority in your life. How do you have a successful prayer life?
Notice in these two verses, Colossians 4:2-3, there are four characteristics of a meaningful prayer life. First of all, a successful prayer life is consistent. Look at verse two. He says, "Devote yourselves to prayer". Literally, in the original text, "Be persistent in your prayer". A successful prayer life is both consistent and persistent. Now, what do we mean by being consistent in your prayer life? Most of us usually pray only when we feel like it, or when we're in a crisis situation: our backs are up against the wall, and we wonder why we don't have more power in our life. Jesus says and Paul says: if you want to unlock the power of God in your life, your prayer life has to be consistent. And let me suggest to you two implications of that in your life and my life. To be consistent in our prayer, first of all means, we have a designated time every day that we meet with God. A designated time that we meet with God. Jesus had that. For Jesus it was in the early morning in a secluded place.
Mark 1:35 says, "In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got out and went out to a lonely place, and was praying there". Jesus got up while it was still dark: that was his time to meet alone with God. Now, maybe that doesn't work for you: maybe you're not a morning person. That doesn't mean you're not spiritual if you're not a morning person. Maybe, your best time of the day is in the evening: maybe it's at lunch time. You know one of the greatest myths about prayer is that God hears us better when we're hungry and tired. Isn't that ridiculous? Nothing could be further from the truth. Find a time that works for you. And, you know, even if you have a designated time and something happens that day that interrupts that time, you know, don't be hard on yourself: don't be legalistic. God hasn't erased your name from the book of life because you missed that time. Find another time at the day to meet with him.
And, by the way, don't fall into the trap of thinking that if you don't have 30 minutes or an hour to spend that it's not worth praying. No. I would encourage you, if you want to take this seriously, find a place where you can meet with God once a day and start small. Start with just 5 minutes. Just say: I'm going to spend 5 minutes praying. And what you'll find is: if you start small, that 5 minutes will turn into 7 minutes, and 9 minutes, and 10 minutes, and 15 minutes, as you get used to the idea of conversing with God. First of all, being consistent means having a time, a designated time every day that you meet with God. But having a consistent prayer life also means speaking with God throughout the day. Engage yourself in a continuing conversation with God. After all, that is what prayer is like. But, the fact is, we are to make speaking to God a regular part of our life, even while we're doing other things.
In fact, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, remember the verse. It says, "Pray without ceasing". That doesn't mean you go around in a trance all the time. That phrase 'without ceasing' means to pray with the frequency of a hacking cough, literally. You know what it's like to have that cough and you think you've rid yourself of it. All of the sudden, you find that tickle in your chest, emerging again, and no matter how much you try to suppress it, you can't suppress it. Paul says our prayer life ought to be with that kind of frequency. Well, think about breathing: you know, pray is like spiritual breathing. When you breathe, do you have to tell yourself to breathe? Do you have to say to yourself: ok, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale? No, you do that normally without even thinking about it. Or, do you get up in the morning and you say: you know what, I've got to remember to breathe today. I'm going to have a hard day today, so I'm just going to suck in all the oxygen I can get for the next 3 minutes to last me throughout the day. You don't do that in your breathing, do you? Try to breathe once a day all the breath you need? No, you do it throughout the day. It is a regular rhythm of life.
And so it's to be in our prayer life. We're to pray as naturally and as frequently as we breathe. You know, it was brother Lawrence who said, "There's a way to order your life where you're doing more than one thing at the same time. On one level, you're doing the dishes, or mowing the lawn, or conducting a meeting, or studying for an exam - that's what you're consciously doing. But, on the subconscious level, at the same time, you're talking with God. And that's what conversation with God means. It means bringing God into whatever you're doing". Brother Lawrence continues by saying, "There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God". Ladies and gentlemen, this is the single, most revolutionary thought I've ever encountered about prayer. Prayer is a continuing conversation with God. You and I were created with spirits to have that continuing conversation with our Creator. A successful prayer life is, first of all, consistent. Secondly, it is energetic. Look again at verse two. He says: devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it. That's a lot easier said than done, isn't it? Do you ever have trouble with that? You're not alone.