Breathing the Kingdom

PRAYING WITH GOD

This evening we’re going to be in Matthew 6, so go ahead and turn there.

Last night we began exploring what it means for us
to begin to lead more whole and integrated lives
that are connected with that mysterious Presence
that enchants and illuminates the world.

What does it look like to connect with Heart of Love that animates the entire universe?
And what does it look like for us to live more and more in rhythm with its beats?

Last night we began exploring what it looks like for us to pray.

And even though prayer is an elemental human impulse—
we all feel some sort of urge to send some kind of prayers
in some kind direction at some point in our lives
—prayer is often incredibly frustrating.

Anyone who has really tried to pursue a life of prayer
will tell you that it’s a struggle.

Prayer isn’t something that any of us feel like we’re doing well.
So the topic of prayer is fertile ground for us feeling all kinds of guilt.

But we tried to banish guilt and receive grace last night
by reminding ourselves of the gospel—the absurdly good news—that Jesus prays.

We look at Jesus, and we see both God and humanity fully revealed.

We see God descending as Jesus into the rebellion and helplessness of humanity
and a human-being bringing the rest of us up into the presence and life of God.

Jesus hasn’t stopped praying.
He never will.

That’s the good news—that’s what God is like.

God is the kind of God who becomes human,
understands all our weakness, limits and temptation,
decides to die our death,
resolves to rupture the grave
and now reigns over the universe.

And he always lives to pray for us.

Underneath any decision we may ever make to pray
we need to remember that all our prayers are responses.

Responses to the God who is already speaking to—already loving—us.

An early Christian said that we love God because God loves first (1 Jn 4.19).
We could just also say that we speak to God because God speaks first.

That’s good news—God is for us.
The universe is ultimately a friendly place.

Below and behind everything we think and feel and believe,
there lies a quite voice of love that is always speaking for us and over us and to us.

That’s the foundation (that’s the bedrock) of prayer—Jesus prays.
We’re invited to rest on that foundation.
We’re invited to answer this voice of love.

And this isn’t a game.
We have a real role to play in prayer.
It’s a genuine invitation.

Throughout the witness of Scripture, the people of God are invited
to really, actually, meaningfully participate with God.

Especially in our uneventful lives and our day-in, day-out routines.

The human experience isn’t just a single-player game where Father, Son and Spirit
just unilaterally move people and nations around like pawns on board.

The overwhelming assumption throughout the entire biblical witness is
that our choices really do matter,
that our lives really do matter,
that our prayers really do matter.

And that brings us to the Jesus teaching on the side of a mountain in Matthew:

(v5f) “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,
    
on earth as it is in heaven.


Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,
    
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,
    
but deliver us from the evil one.’

“This, then is how [we] should pray.“
Here we have Jesus himself giving us a pattern for prayer.

We can get exhausted really quick when we’re always having to
spontaneously talk to God with no guidance or direction.

So Jesus gives us some handrails.

Generation after generation of Christians have found this prayer—
what we call “the Lord’s Prayer”—to be an unspeakable gift.

It’s the place where we learn to pray.

I find myself returning often to this prayer with the comforting thought that this prayer is stable ground: I’m not praying wrong—these are the words that I’ve been given to pray!

So this evening, I’d like to walk us through two brief reflections—two brief meditations—on this prayer.

And then as we’re beginning to wrap up, I’d like for us to pray this prayer together. Because according to a nineteenth century pastor named George MacDonald: “If prayer be anything at all, it is a thing to be done.”

Does that plan sound good? Two brief meditations and then a lab.

BABBLING AND BREATHING

1) When he invites us to pray, Jesus invites us to stop babbling and start breathing.

If you read about saints through church history, you’ll quickly notice they have at least one thing in common—in the words of Richard Foster, “prayer was no little habit tacked onto the periphery of their lives; it was their lives… to breath was to pray.”

In other words, if you examine the lives of the people throughout history who have drank from the life of God most deeply, it’s because they took Paul seriously when he told the Thessalonians to “pray continually” (1 Thess 5:17).

I think we struggle with prayer because we’ve often got our thinking about life and prayer backwards.

A lot times I think of prayer as the little habit that’s tacked onto my life. And if someone were to ask me why I engage in this little habit, I’d probably respond with something along the lines of:

“Prayer helps me to live in a better way,” or
“Prayer is something I do that honors God,” or
“Prayer is what I’m supposed to do.”

So we sometimes try to carve out five or ten minutes in our daily routines to pray
and cross our fingers that prayer will help in some way.

We think of prayer as the spiritual booster-shot of real life.

And then we quietly think that Paul is crazy when he says “pray continually.”

After all, who lives in the doctor’s office getting booster-shots?
At some point you’ve got to leave the clinic and really live.

But what if we’ve got it backwards?

What if we didn’t pray in order to live go out and live “real life”?
What if we recognized when we live “Real Life” actually is prayer?

What if the wonderful moments
of being aware of our Father’s presence,
of trusting our Father’s actions,
of honoring our Father with our lives—

what if those wonderful moments and minutes and hours
became the very fabric of our lives?

This would require us to understand prayer less like booster-shot
(something we do occasionally to help us avoid pain or to make us feel good)
and more like breathing.

It’s what we do because we can’t help it. 
Not an add-on—an essential.

I think that’s why Jesus gave us a prayer that covers our lives pretty comprehensively
(who God is, what’s really important, and our daily dependence on him),
and it takes less than thirty seconds to thoughtfully pray.

It’s weird—I hear that and the consumer within me says:
“Less than thirty-seconds?! Sweet!! Thanks, Jesus!
You just saved me nine-and-a-half minutes!”

But that’s totally missing the point.

By giving us a pattern of prayer, Jesus isn’t trying to save us time so much as he’s directing our hearts—showing us what really matters.

Babbling on and on and on
in front of people or in front of God isn’t what matters (v5-7).

Don’t get fooled into thinking that “much prayer” equals “much faith.”

“Much prayer” could just as likely mean “much doubt.”

That we’ve got to shore this thing up—
because we’re not sure that God is really hearing us
or (more likely) we’re not sure that God really cares.

But Jesus is assuring us that God does care.
God does hear.

So Jesus tells us to pray like this—simply and confidently.

What matters is that we’re beginning to have our lives aligned with Jesus’ central proclamation—the rule and reign of God in the world. What matters is that we’re beginning to breathe in and live in the reality of the kingdom of God (or as Matthew puts it, the kingdom of heaven).

You want to know the genius of a 30-second prayer?
We might actually pray it.

At the end of this talk we’re going do it.
You could pray it again before you go bed tonight.
And maybe even when you wake up.
Perhaps even when you get back home.

Don’t misunderstand—there’s unbelievable wisdom in developing longer times of prayer.
Of marinating in the presence of God in the secret place.

But this really is a beautiful gift from Jesus—
a prayer we can practically breathe.

A prayer that isn’t lecturing us about the idea of God.
This is a prayer that invites us to (really, actually) encounter God.

This is a prayer that helps us carry the secret place with us—
reminding us that all space is sacred space,
and training us to see that our very lives are performed prayers.

And what saints throughout the history of the church have realized is
that if you breathe in God long enough, you become truly alive.

God isn’t interested in you having a “prayer-life.”
God is interested in you having a life—in you having Real Life.

Real life where we’re learning to really live before him all the time.
Real life where we’re learning to breathe.

And this prayer is here to help.

THE QUESTION OF KINGSHIP

2) The priority of prayer is who we hail as king.

Richard Foster (in his creatively titled book called “Prayer”) is worth quoting again:

“Our problem is that we assume prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or auto mechanics. That puts us in the ‘on-top’ position, where we are competent and in control. But when praying, we come ‘underneath,’ where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become incompetent.”

Think about it with me.
Why do most of us pray?
What’s the motivating priority in most of us?

I can speak for myself:
Most of the time I’m primarily interested in the last half of this prayer—verses 11-13.

You know, the bits where we ask God for the things that we need—
we need God to provide for our needs,
we need God to absolve us of our wrongdoing,
and we need God to steer our lives.

We all need God to give, to forgive and to lead. Right?
Those are pretty basic things that I’m almost always asking for.

And the beautiful thing is that these things are legitimately important.

I’m invited to ask for daily bread—
for financial provision and for Joy (my wife) to be healed of migraines.

It’s important for me to seek forgiveness
and remember that I can’t receive what I refuse to give.
I need guidance from God on how to live my life,
how to plant a church and relief from exhausting and excruciating seasons.

All of these things really are important.

Think about it—they made it into The Lord’s Prayer!
It’s a relief to know I’m not being selfish when I pray for myself.

We need God to give, forgive and lead,
and asking for them is actually a sign of child-like humility.

But the way I approach asking about these things is often really twisted.
Often I’m trying to feed my greed instead of asking for grace.

Somewhere within me I’m doing exactly what Richard Foster suggests we all do:

I approach prayer as something to master.
I assume I need to be build my prayer-skills to reach some level of prayer-competence.

And I then think I can use prayer as a tool to take a little control my life.

I hardly ever consciously recognize that I’m approaching prayer in this way.
But I think I do.

And when I do, I go out of my mind in frustration
because prayer just doesn’t work.

It doesn’t matter how much I try to sharpen my skills or build my competence,
as a tool for controlling—or even swaying!—circumstances,
it just doesn’t seem to work.

And I think that’s because we’re flying upside down.
Prayer isn’t something that we master.
Prayer is something that masters us.

What I’m about to say is completely counterintuitive and counter-cultural,
but prayer is the place we go to be incompetent.

The place we go to surrender control.
The place we go to be helpless.

We live most of our lives
with some kind of agenda we’re trying to accomplish,
with some set of priorities to take care of,
with some kind of kingdom we’re trying to build.

We live our lives this way most of the time,
and we approach prayer this way too.

We’re always in danger of hijacking prayer—of making it another tool or technique that can help us conquer our small little worlds and build our small little kingdoms.

But Jesus’ loves us too much to let us live in our delusions of grandeur.

He’s loves us too much to let us pretend to be king.
He’s loves us too much to let us pretend to be God.

And that’s why the Lord’s Prayer starts the way it does.

Our Father.
Your name.
Your kingdom.
Your will.

Jesus gives us a prayer that we can practically breathe so that we can begin learning how to breathe in the real world—how to live in God’s kingdom.

That’s what the long story of Scripture was always anticipating:
the return of the Creator as king over the world.

The Israelites are an anomaly in world history—they’re this beacon of hope anticipating the day when the living God would come as king to rescue his creation from its slavery to death—just like he had rescued them from their slavery to Egypt.

Did you know that the book of Exodus is actually the first place in Scripture where God conceived of as a father: “Those slaves you’ve got in chains, Pharaoh—those people building your pyramids, building your kingdom—that’s my son. Israel is my firstborn son. These people are my son. And I will have them out of those chains—they will be free.” (cf. 4:22-23)

And the confession of the church is that through Jesus the supreme day of freedom from slavery has begun arriving.

God has broken the chains of darkness, death and rebellion through
the most surprising, counterintuitive, counter-cultural of ways—
through surrendering himself to the cross.

He’s made that praying, groaning rabbi in Gethsemane king over the universe.

When I find myself hearing about the God-revealed-in-Jesus,
when I hear about Our Father who will have us free
when I hear about the Son willing to become a slave in order to set us free from slavery,

Something within me (Gal 4:6-7) makes me wants to cry—
“Daddy, me too. Save me too. Set me free too.”

I think that’s the ultimate invitation of The Lord’s Prayer. 
I think that’s the ultimate invitation of all prayer.

And since that’s the invitation of prayer,
we thought it would be appropriate to extend that invitation this evening.

To confess that cannot sit on the throne of the universe.
We can’t be sovereign over the world.
We can’t be king or queen over our own lives.

We want to be free of the crushing slavery of self
and surrender control our lives to the servant who really does reign the world.

When we call God our Father it’s not just a term of endearment or intimacy,
in the words of one scholar—it’s a term of revolution.

Our kingdoms of self must be overthrown.
The patterns of our lives must begin to match the pattern of this prayer.

Your will. Your kingdom. Your name.

If you feel something within you stirring wanting you to cry,
“Me too. Save me. Jesus is king. Jesus is Lord,” —guess what?

That’s God himself at work within you (1 Cor 12:3).
Wooing you. Stirring you. Inviting you.
You are not far from the kingdom.

I’d invite you to begin confessing that “Jesus is Lord.”
I’d invite you to begin breathing.

Why don’t we all stand—we’re pray this prayer together
asking God to make himself the center of our lives
asking God to establish his kingdom around us
asking God to work his will in the world.

And if after we’ve prayed this together, you’d like to talk to someone about what all of this means—what it means to surrender your life to Jesus—come talk to me, come talk to Pastor Jon or JMac or anyone else on staff. We would love to talk to you.

So let’s pray this together:

“‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done,
    
on earth as it is in heaven.


Give us today our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,
    
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,
    
but deliver us from the evil one.

Categories: Sermon