Series: Meeting with God Category: Core Seminars, Devotional Life, Personal Holiness, Sanctification & Growth, The Glory of God
Last week we looked at prayer as part of our daily quiet time with the Lord. We’ve said throughout this core seminar that we understand a quiet time to be the part of your day that you specifically set aside for the worship of God, for the reading of the Word of God and for fellowship with God so that we would know Him more, know ourselves in light of Him, and know the world according to His perspective. And as we go to God in His word for those reasons, the worship and fellowship of God, the Spirit-given response is prayer to God. Prayer is the Spirit-given, word-saturated response to meeting with God.
This response includes praise to God as we come to know Him more. It includes confession to God as we begin to know ourselves in light of who He is.
Meeting with God via Mediator
We are great sinners and scripture makes it clear that we cannot have access to God, we cannot meet with Him, we cannot have a relationship with God. But God, in His great mercy, sent His son to live a perfect life, to die on the cross, to bear our sins and the punishment we deserve and then raise from the dead so as to defeat death and to be declared the Son of God (Romans 1). It is only through Him that we can come to God at all. Remember, all Biblical spirituality comes through a mediator.
It also includes thanksgiving and supplications, or making our requests known to God, as we begin to understand the world we live in according to His perspective. But if prayer includes praise and adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication, what is its purpose? I see at least three purposes in prayer, with the first being primary.
1) Glorify God – God gives us prayer to make much of Himself.
John 14:13-14 – “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
So, we see three things here. First, like last week, Jesus instructs us to pray in His name. Second, He will do it. Prayers will be answered. Have confidence because our prayers, in the name of the Son, will be answered. Third, we pray in His name and our prayers are answered through Him so that the Father will be glorified. And He will be glorified in the Son because it is the Son who intercedes for us and through whom we have access to the Father.
John 15:7-8 – “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
Notice that Jesus speaks of our prayer to Him being contingent upon 1) our abiding in Him (i.e. our trusting in Christ by faith such that we live in Him – prayer is for believers) and 2) His words living in us. This is why we understand prayer to be a Word-saturated response to meeting with God. We abide in Jesus as His words abide in us. And if this is the case, we may ask of Him and it will be done. Abiding in the words of Jesus helps us to pray according to God’s will and when we pray according to God’s will, the Lord is pleased to answer those prayers and glorifies Himself when He does so.
What does it mean for God to be glorified?
i. Revelation 21:23 - God’s glory is the created brightness (or
brilliance) that surrounds God’s revelation of Himself (Grudem). God’s glory is the “appropriate outward expression of his own excellence.” “This glory of God is the visible manifestation of the excellence of God’s character.”
ii. Another way to say it: the glorification of God is the holiness of God going public. It is the character of God, all of who He is, being made known and loved.
2) To make God known in the world by our bearing the fruit of the gospel
John 15:16 – “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
i. Notice the “so that.” When you go over that verse in your quiet time, meditate on the “so that.” What does it mean? I choose you to bear fruit so that you will get answers to prayer. Prayer is an instrument for the purpose of fruit-bearing.
ii. God made us to be making Him known in the world by bearing the fruit of the gospel (that is, showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control and all the other fruits from Galatians 5:22-23 along with things like leading others to a passion for Jesus, helping others to fight sin and encouraging other believers to stay strong in the Lord) and the means by our abiding in Him and then praying and letting the world see that it is not us who are doing the work alone but the Lord as we rest in Him and rely on Him. Let’s see this in another place.
John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit for apart from me you can do nothing.”
i. God gave us prayer because we can do nothing apart from Him.
ii. We must go to God in prayer so that He would move through us. He has granted us to ask Him to work in our lives so that when He does the work, we will bear fruit and He will be glorified.
There is one other purpose of prayer that I want us to think about. It is this:
3) To give access to our great Commander while we are in a time of war
When you wake up in the morning, do you think you are in a war? Does that shape the way you think about your morning devotions? Your time in the Word? Your time in prayer? We know what war is. We hear about it every day on the news in Iraq and Afghanistan and maybe from books about World War I and World War II. It involves sacrifice and intensity and death. War is a serious business because people’s lives are on the line and worldviews and ideas about the human race are on the line.
In a book called Flags of our Fathers about the Battle of Iwo Jima during WWII, there’s a story of a young boy named Jack Lucas. He entered the marines when he was 14 years old by fooling the recruiters with his muscled physique. He was assigned to drive a truck but when his friends went to battle on Iwo Jima he wanted to go to so he stowed away, living off food his buds gave him. He got to the island as a 17 year old and grabbed a gun of one of the guys around him who had just died. On the second day of the battle one of the enemy threw a grenade that landed right at the feet of him and two of his buddies. He shoved it in the dirt with his rifle. A second grenade then landed in the same spot and Jack dropped down on top of it. “You’re going to die,” Jack thought. The blast shot him sky high into the air. His friends went a long and came back later to grab his dog tags only to find Jack still breathing. They took him to a medic who had him flown off the island. “I guess he was too strong to die,” one of the medics said. Jack got off the island and after 21 surgeries is still alive. In 2001 when the author of the book asked him why he did that, Jack replied, “I was just trying to save my buddies.”
When we hear stories like this, it is easy for us to wrap our minds around the intensity and severity of war. But do we think about our life like that? Because scripture clearly speaks about life in terms of spiritual warfare.
2 Timothy 4:6-8 (esp. 7) – “I have fought the good fight…”
Matthew 5:27-30 – “If
The enemy: Satan
i. 1 Peter 5:8 (seeking to devour you)
ii. 1 Thessalonians 3:5 (stealing your faith)
In wartime, people are not just concerned with themselves. If you’re a soldier and all you do is go into the battle watching your own back, you are not going to help win the war and you might cost someone else their life. There is no place for selfishness in war. Now, let’s translate that analogy to prayer. What or whom do you pray for most?
i. There is a time and place to pray for yourself, but you must be praying for others.
ii. A heart not turned towards praying for others is a heart that is not in tune with the gospel. It is the mark of a Christian to be concerned with the lives of others. We learn this from at least two passages.
Jesus says this:
Love other Christians - “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).”
Love your neighbor - “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).”
Ephesians 6:18 – “To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…” Paul charges the Ephesians to pray for all the saints!
iii. Do you feel overwhelmed in prayer for others? There’s a lot to pray for. I find that simply structuring your times of prayer for certain people and certain things is a very helpful thing to keep us from getting so overwhelmed in prayer that we just stop praying.
Let’s look at one other passage and think about this picture. A helpful image is to think about prayer as a war time walkie-talkie used to call up the commander and get your battle commands or to radio for help to get your buddy who just landed on a grenade some help compared to a domestic intercom intended to bring you another cushion for the couch or another drink while you watch your favorite show on TV. How do you understand prayer in light of this passage?
Ephesians 6:10 – Read the whole passage.
i. We fight the devil.
ii. As Christians, we do not fight with weapons that shed anyone’s blood other than our own. We fight with spiritual weapons and we say with Esther, “If I perish, I perish.”
iii. We take the sword (our main weapon), praying.
There are several things that can really keep us from meeting with God. These things are real hindrances to know the Lord more. What are some of these pitfalls? In other words, why do we not spend more time in the Word? How can we be aware of them and prepare for them? We’ve already talked about the excuse of being busy. Let’s look at three others.
Being Dependant on Our Emotions
There is a kind of spirituality popular today that is grounded more in our feelings and emotions than in the Word of God and the centrality of the gospel. Sometimes this is explicit and sometimes this is very implicit. This is another hindrance to spending daily time in the Word. I’ll be honest. I don’t wake up every morning on fire to go read the Bible. I just don’t feel like it. But if we let feelings like this drive us away from God’s word, eventually we will become so hard hearted that we won’t ever want to read the Bible. Our passions and emotions are not always bad things, but we have to know how step outside of ourselves and recognize when our emotions are placed on the right things or if our passions are directing towards the wrong things. We want to be passionate about Jesus. I want our emotions stirred up to go to God in His word. These are good emotions. But we must know when our emotions are not helping us.
What do you do when hit a dry patch and just aren’t getting anything out of the Word?
i. Remember, this is normal. Everyone experiences this at some point.
ii. Don’t rely on your feelings. Acknowledge your feelings, but refuse to be ruled by them.
iii. Continue reading the Bible. This is why we call it a “discipline.” It is easy to get in the Word when things are going well, but not always when you’re not getting much out of it.
iv. Don’t be afraid to change up your pattern.
1) We should have a structure or a pattern in our QT.
2) We should not rely on the structure to help us meet with God as much as we trust that God meets with us through His word.
3) I have a particular passage that I go to when I’m feeling dry. It’s a passage that has spoken to me a number of times about the character and nature of God. Isaiah 40-50. I will take a day or two or a week and go over these verses and ask the Lord to grip me with who He is.
What do I do when my mind wanders?
i. Give yourself a few minutes to think about whatever is on your mind. Write it down. Then, put the list aside and focus on your QT.
ii. We have to discipline our minds.
iii. Wandering minds are a problem, not a sin. This is just a reality.
iv. In prayer, structure your prayer times.
What do you do when you feel like your prayers are hitting a wall?
i. Remember that prayer is not about you. Prayer is rooted in God.
ii. Look back to the discussion last week on the Trinity.
What do you do when you don’t feel like praying or reading the Bible?
1) Incline - Psalm 119:36
2) Open - Psalm 119:18
3) Unite - Psalm 86:11
4) Satisfy - Psalm 90:14
When can you pray?
i. This is the same question as, “When are you in a time of need?”
ii. You can pray all the time for two reasons:
1) We have a high priest who is always making intercession for us. He provides constant access for us.
2) We are always in need.
Another way this plays out is in our sin. You may have committed a particular sin this week that has you feeling very guilty and unworthy to go to God. The hindrance here might come not just in the way sin legitimately hinders your relationship to God. It might simply make you think that God doesn’t want you to go to Him right now because you are especially dirty or sinful. Well, this is what we call being more reliant on our feelings than on the objective truth of God’s word. The truth of the matter is that, if you are justified by Christ through faith, you are never more or less worthy to go to God. He has paid for all your sins, past, present and future. In and of yourself, you are never worthy to go to God. But through Christ our mediator, you need never lack confidence. We should not be reliant on our emotions to tell us when to go to God but we should be reliant on the finished work of Christ such that we know we have access to the throne of grace. So, when we sin, the best thing to do is to go back immediately to the Lord in confession and repentance. Doing so will help your relationship with God.
Another pitfall to be aware of is legalism. CJ Maheney has a good section in his book,
The Cross-Centered Life. In that section he defines legalism as “seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience.” Why is this relevant when talking about meeting with God on a daily basis in His word? Because one of the tendencies of our flesh is to earn our way into God’s favor by doing things we think will please him. We try to earn God’s forgiveness and approval through personal performance.
This pitfall manifests itself in both explicit and implicit ways. Explicitly, it might actually look like someone holding to the belief that in order to be saved you have to be baptized or give a certain percentage of your paycheck to the church or speak in tongues. We can easily see how these things undermine the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. But, what about implicitly? This is where most of us may falter.
Do you ever find yourself in sin, then wait before you go to God in confession before you’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the Bible? Or, maybe you catch yourself thinking that your life is going pretty well right now because you’ve had your quiet time for 30 days straight. Well, these are subtle ways that we practice legalism and thereby undermine the gospel. When we think we earn God’s favor or even access to God by the things we do, it is the same as saying that Jesus’ atoning work on the cross for our sins was unnecessary and insufficient. It is saying that there is something else that must be done. We don’t ultimately go to God in His word or in prayer because it will please God, though it certainly does. We don’t do it because it will make us more justified or earn us more favor with God. We go to God because He is worthy. He is worthy to be worshiped. He is worthy to be known.
Mahaney makes the helpful distinction between justification and sanctification to help us understand where the disciplines of Bible reading and prayer come into play. He says that
justification is being declared righteous by God. It is your position before God. It is Christ’s objective work for us, apart from ourselves. It is immediate and complete upon conversion. Sanctification, on the other hand, is being made righteous, being conformed into the image of Christ. It is our practice. It is Christ’s subjective work within us. It is a process.
When we mix these two things up, legalism is often the result. We start thinking that our practice, our work is going to make us finally justified before God. So, let’s be real clear right now. You will find no favor with God by reading your Bible everyday. You will not be justified in any sense by the number of sermons you’ve heard or the number of Bible verses you memorized. Conversely, you will not be condemned because you forgot to do your quiet time this morning. Those things are good for us, but they will not add an ounce of justification to our lives. And when we begin to understand this, we are freed to go to God, not to earn his blessing and favor but to simply enjoy Him. That is a sweet thing.
So, we should be aware of the pitfall of legalism as it undermines the gospel.
This will not be a problem for everyone in the room, but I do know that, esp. among the single guys (and I know this because I am one), laziness can be a huge obstacle to meeting with God. If you find yourself consistently watching more TV sitcoms or playing more video games than you do reading your Bible, you may want to change your habits. If you find yourself making stricter plans to watch college football on Saturday than you do to read your Bible, you may want to rethink your priorities. There’s a lyric from an old Keith Green song that some of us might need to take to heart. “Jesus rose from the grave, and you can’t even get out of bed.”
Now, I hesitate to mention that line. There are some people who respond really well to that kind of motivation. I’m one of those people. I need someone to get in my face sometimes and just flat out tell me that I’m being lazy. But please don’t hear me saying you’re worthless. Just hear me say that Jesus went to great lengths to draw us to Himself. He is greatest being in the universe and He is worthy for us to go to Him daily. Why would we not go to Him? He is the life giver, our sustainer, our very present help in times of trouble and our hope and joy even when we are not in trouble.
The Underlying Issues at the Heart of these Pitfalls
Lack of desire for God
Going on Vacation
Let me mention one other pitfall that I’ve experienced in my own life. I have the hardest time spending time with the Lord when I go on vacation.
Sometimes going home is the hardest place to spend time with the Lord. This is for many
1) Parents are always having you do things around the house.
2) Parents don’t expect you to spend time in the Word, so they’re after you as soona s you wake up (for both good and bad things).
3) Your home could be a real source of temptation, if it is a place where you began to struggle with certain sins.
Prepare yourself for this.
Be open with your parents. Tell them that you’re planning to stay in your room for the first 30 minutes of the day when you wake up so that you can read the Bible and pray. Or, you can get out of the house for 30 minutes or an hour if that is easier.
Also, set up accountability. Tell your friends when you’re leaving that you’re going home and that that is a hard place. Ask for phone call s while you’re home.
Be realistic about your QTs. Sometimes on vacation we have a tendency to overshoot ourselves. Don’t set your goals so high that if you don’t reach them you’re going to be thoroughly disappointed in yourself.
Practical questions for the class to think about (actually give them some paper to write things down)
1) What is one thing you can do to improve your intake of God’s word?
2) What time of the day will you commit to spending time in God’s word?
3) What kind of plan will you make to structure your time in God’s word?
Daily Bible reading plan?
Read through the Bible in a year?
Study through a book of the Bible?
A psalm a day?
4) How will you set out to apply God’s word each day?
5) How will you structure your prayer times?