Prayer with Pastor Fred Michaux
Prayer is abundantly sermonized, voluminously represented in Scripture, and Christian bookstores teem with volumes dedicated to petition and supplication. And although the thoughts I would like to share are not the first time these beliefs have been espoused, this aspect of prayer in my opinion is too often over-looked. What aspect? We need to pray because we need to change.
Now this makes some people uncomfortable because for them prayer is a spiritual discipline with wonderfully altruistic tendencies! We need to shatter the myth that plagues Christians today that we must eschew any and all pursuits that have a self-benefitting motivation. We do not infringe upon God’s glory by caring for ourselves in ways that ultimately enable us to better glorify Him!
Let me give you some examples in Scripture where I believe we are instructed to pursue the discipline of prayer because of its profoundly transformational effect on us. In Mark 9:29 we read about Jesus coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration and telling the disciples that this sort of healing can only be accomplished through prayer (some translations say prayer and fasting). But the disciples had been praying. And if you add fasting, Jesus didn’t call a fast for a time of intercession. For me, the only way this text makes sense is if we understand Jesus to say that it is the lifestyle of prayer leading up to moments of ministry that prepare us. He is saying that we need to pray so that we will be changed through prayer! Some other texts where we see people being changed in prayer are: Exodus 34:29-35, Matthew 17:1-3, and Matthew 26:36-46. But how does prayer change us?
I want you to imagine a barrel. I want you to picture a barrel that is made with twelve wooden slats that is held together by metal bands. Maybe you have seen this type of barrel in someone’s landscape design…you may have seen one at a winery…I know I grew up seeing these barrels in old westerns filled with supplies. I want you to picture this barrel because it can only be as full as the shortest wooden slat. If eleven of the slats are four feet high but one slat is only three feet high, then the ability of that barrel to contain water or grain stops at three feet. I think you get the picture. I teach that there are twelve foundational spiritual disciplines that should be actively present in our lives. I call them Pathways. Prayer is one of these twelve. If I am excelling in six of these twelve Pathways, my spiritual life is only as strong as the weakest Pathway. My life is supposed to be filled with the virtues and the more Pathways I have operating in my life, the bigger my barrel will be! This is part of a much larger discipleship strategy that you will be able to understand through a booklet that is being published this year (2016) entitled “Praxis.” But for this post, it suffices to say that if prayer is missing or too infrequent then I will be less virtuous and therefore less Christ-like. And being like Jesus is the essence of discipleship which is what I am called to pursue when I make a vow of devotion to Jesus! We need to pray because we need to change!
Let me give you another verse that could not be more direct in its declaration that prayer changes us, specifically the heart. We find this text in Philippians 4:6-7. Now, let’s combine this text with a parable. Jesus loved using agricultural metaphors I think in part because He knows there is timelessness to these comparisons. 2,000 years later we live in a dramatically different world except crops are still crops! We find the Parable of the Sower in three Gospels (Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8). Let’s look at Luke 8:1-21. Jesus gives us four kinds of hearts: unbelieving, self-pity, temporal focused, and fertile. Now most Bible headings have the Sower Parable ending after verse 15 but I believe Jesus’ thoughts regarding this parable continue through verse 21. Verse 16 is Jesus’ call to us to be a spreader of “seed.” Verse 17 is a warning to us all that we are accountable for our efforts. And verse 18 tells us the answer to the question of what is the harvest spoken of in the Sower Parable? Understanding. Understanding is one of the great fruits that is produced from a fertile heart. The “seed” is Jesus’ teachings so it naturally follows that the fruit should be understanding, being able to discern God’s truth. So by connecting the principle of prayer changing our hearts to this parable, we see that prayer increases the fertility of my heart so that the teachings of Christ can find good soul ground and produce a harvest of understanding. And then finally in verses 19-21, the ultimate measure as to whether or not that harvest of understanding is stewarded well, obedience.
Here is another principle that you must embrace: my words create my tomorrow! Let’s unpack that thought. In 1 Peter 3:10, which comes from Psalm 34:11-13, we are told emphatically that our words shape our future. In Genesis chapter one, “God said” is used eight times. Now do our words have the same power as God’s? No. But I believe the Bible begins with this creation account for many reasons and one of them is to teach us that words have power. This power can never challenge the sovereignty of God but when my words are a reflection of God’s will, powerful! Hey, your prayers are words! And those words in your prayers and my prayers need to start commanding the dark places of our hearts to become light and to take shape in a way that serves God!
Our words shape our future too because wherever we go, there we are! Proverbs 18:20-21 teaches us that we eat from the fruit our lips and the greater the volume, the bigger the impact. What I say is a meal I am constantly eating. I remember years ago shooting a bird on a hunt called a woodcock. The meat was dark like steak…we loved it until someone told us the color of the meat is because this bird eats earthworms exclusively! What do you look like on the inside of your soul because of the meal of your words? Look at Matthew 12:33-37. This text tells us that a good heart produces good things. So when I partner this text with 1 Peter 3:10…I realize how interconnected my words are to my heart! So get busy making a meal of words that nourishes your heart…through prayer!
Just in case you are asking this question…should I be afraid to be honest about negative feelings? Will that harm my heart? Remember this principle: certain seeds for certain soil. Let me give your two Old Testament words. The first is shiggaion. Psalm 7 is a shiggaion. This word means despair that is so overwhelming that it is as though you are stumbling around in a drunken stupor. So when my emotions rise to the degree of a shiggaion, what should I do? You should do what David did! We take those feelings and sew them into the garden of God! We give them to him so that seed doesn’t get planted in us! Here is another word for you, imprecation. Psalm 109:6-15 is a prayer of imprecation. Listen to what the commentary entitled Reflections on the Psalms has to say about imprecations: “The hatred is there – festering, gloating, undisguised – and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or worse still, used it to justify similar passions in ourselves.” So why are these prayers included in the Bible? Because if you live long enough, you meet some people and a prayer of imprecation is human nature’s natural response! If don’t believe this let me introduce you to some people I know! So what do I do with those feelings? I sow them into the garden of God so that seed doesn’t get planted in me! The horrible teaching of negative confession has robbed people of a Biblical approach in dealing with the bad seed that comes out of me. I must not suppress that seed! I take it and give it to God through shiggaions and imprecations.
Pray. Pray for many reasons…but one of them must be that we pray because we need to change!
City Life Church