I must confess, I am not always the best listener when it comes to conversations. You can ask my wife you continuously needs to repeat herself. I’m not deaf, in fact I have pretty decent hearing…it’s my attention span that has a harder time. My mind is always racing and I always feel like I have to be somewhere or go get something done and so I take very little care into actually listening. Many of you in this room may have experienced this from me once, or many times and if I’ve done this to you, I sincerely apologize.
The problem is that this is also how many times I come before God. In a hurried, get what I need to say out and then shut the conversation down. It’s not an intimate conversation much of the time, but a rushed, drive by of a monologue I hurry to speak out. Prayer is meant to be so much more than this! Prayer is the single most important thing in the life of a believer because it creates intimacy with the LOVING and LIVING God! We are to have intimate conversation with God, so we must ask the question:
What does intimate conversation with God do?
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:1-5 ESV)
John was praying when God revealed to him the book of Revelation.
Prepares us to Hear
John, back at the beginning of the book shares how he was “in the Spirit”. He was not talking about God, but he was talking with God. He knew himself to be in a place where He was communing with the Holy Spirit of God and was being ushered into the throne room of the King. He set himself up to be so receptive to the King that God revealed the most amazing pictures with Him. He was in a posture to hear what God wanted to say to him. It wasn’t just a quick prayer for his meal. He set aside his schedule, ponderings, agenda and postured himself to have intimate conversation with God. It was then God revealed the entirety of the book we now possess. It was during a time of prayer in the Spirit that God spoke this book into existence! Seeing prayer as an intimate conversation, rather than a list of items deepens our ability to be in a posture of hearing. Sometimes we may not want to hear what God is saying, so we don’t give Him time to speak but then we are deeply missing a vital portion of our relationship with Christ.
This week of all times, I was smacked with this reality full on. I went into a fellow pastors office to chat about life and ministry when not 5 minutes later 2 other pastors came into the same office. We decided to sit and pray together and it lasted for 2.5 hours! No on was checking their watch, we were all sitting and listening, and speaking and listening some more. This time prepared us to listen to what God was saying about ourselves, our community and our ministry. It was an intense and amazing time of prayer.
I was convicted of my own lack of prayer and it was ironic that this weeks sermon happened to be about prayer and the power it has in our life and the lives of the entire earth! Prayer actually does something, God actually speaks…I just need to prepare myself to hear!
Not only must we understand that intimate conversation with God prepares us to hear, it also prepares Him to hear.
Prepares Him to Hear (vs. 1-4)
Everything in Heaven halts, for 30 minutes there is dead silence. No singing, no thunder, no earthquakes, no worshiping the Living God. Why? God hushed heaven to silence in order to listen to His saint’s prayers. God shuts heaven down as our prayers come up. In our culture, that’s like someone shutting down their laptop, TV, cell phone, tablet and then listening to you. Imagine if someone took their cell phone out and said: “I want to shut this off, so we don’t have any distractions while we have this conversation”! That’s what God does. He shuts everything down and prepares himself to listen. WOW! Too often, I think we see prayer as a much weaker reality than this.
Our prayers are then mixed with incense, which purifies them and then mixed with Fire (God’s Spirit) from the altar! When God’s Spirit enters into our prayers, they become powerful and effective. Peterson says: “Praying is that act in the life of faith which consciously and deliberately enters into a speaking/listening attentiveness before God-his relationship with his creation and creatures relationship with Him.”
Our hearing Him and His hearing us makes for a true intimate relationship. The fact that the almighty God cares to stop everything and listen to me causes me to desire more intimate conversations with Him. It drives me to know he will hear me out, he will have an attentiveness to my cares, pains and struggles where this is hard to find among humans, it is readily available with God. God speaking is one thing, but his full attentive listening is something possibly more than His speaking. Let the truth of that soak in.
God then Acts (vs. 5)
“Out of the silence of heaven, actions are prepared” (Peterson)
Our prayers strike the earth with power because they are sent from Heaven back down to earth. “The prayers which ascended, un remarked by the journalists of the day, returned with immense force-in George Herbert’s phrase as “reversed thunder”. Prayer reenters history with incalculable effects. Our earth is shaken daily by it.”
God not only listens to our prayers, but he then acts upon them. This week alone, I saw God answer prayers the very next day after praying them. We are never ignored. Asked to wait? Maybe, told no because God knows better than we do? Sure. Ignored? Never! God doesn’t ignore the prayers of his saints. The Bible promises that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, meaning they shift things. God desires o act, but sometimes he waits for us to pray for Him to act. Not that he needs us to pray it for it to happen, but because he desires to show us that as His saints we have only to ask and he will provide. Moses prayers changed God’s mind about destroying the Israelites. Abraham’s prayers saved Lot’s life. God desires to move, we need only to ask.
I truly believe that if we all had faith that our prayers were effective, we wouldn’t cease praying. I am admitting my own guilt here when I say I do not always believe my prayers mean much. I doubt and struggle to believe all the time that it means much to a mighty Holy God and I repent before you of my unbelief. If I truly believe my prayers have power, which I do, I should be on my knees more, which I plan to do much more of. God has given us a special role as saints. We have the power to bring Heaven to earth through His Spirit. I believe God has much more for us and our world than we know, we simply have to be in a place to ask Him for it. Elijah prayed for the rains to be held back and they were, he then prayed for the rains to come back to prove God was the God and God did! We can be praying for healings, but we doubt. We can be praying for the city to be transformed, but we doubt. We can be praying for broken relationships to be restored but we don’t due to our doubt. Spending time with God in intimate conversation leaks out of us as well. Sitting with God “in the Spirit” changes our hearts, our words and our actions!
Why is it we don’t pray in intimate conversations with God?