Soul Shift — Lord, Teach Us To Pray #1

SoulShiftToday we begin a new series – “Soul Shift.”  I thought the title expressed well a desire for transformation.

We will be working our way through Matthew 6 – and other related passages (Luke 11 for instance).  By next Sunday we will have a curriculum available for use to follow along.  It will be able to be used in a Sunday School class, a bible study, or a community group.

If you were here the last two weeks, we listened to theologian, author, and lecturer J. Edwin Orr talk about revival, and specifically revival in America – and its relationship to prayer.

I think the most important thing J. Edwin Orr said was:

“There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united concerted, and sustained prayer.”

We are beginning – or returning, to some prayer initiatives here at SBF.

  • After the service.
  • On the first Sunday afternoon of each month we will gather for a concert – or concerted prayer.  This afternoon from 4-5:30pm.

I will be beginning to search out pastors prayer gatherings in and around Manchester to pray with them as well.

Last week J. Edwin Orr gave us some perspective on the history of revival – particularly as it relates to New England.  I think it’s important for us to be aware of our history here in New England.

And in the last couple of our SBF e-NEWS that goes out during the week I have spoken of a sense that there is a “quiet revival,” taking place in New England right now.  One New England pastor referred to it as a “gospel replanting” of churches.  Both formerly liberal as well as moralistically fundamental churches are undergoing a gospel-centered transformation, which is much like what has been happening here.

For most of us prayer is, without a doubt, the most difficult spiritual discipline to make good and consistent progress in.

It’s a little bit like humility – no one ever feels like they’ve “arrived.”

And, when we think about prayer it’s easy to feel very guilty very quickly.

The bottom-line definition of prayer is that it is communion with God.

I recently came across a way to think about and clarify the different aspects of prayer that I’d like to share with you – and we will come back to this over the coming weeks.

This matrix, or template, for prayer can be called 360 degree prayer, which helps us to see prayer in four ways, or dimensions:

Inward – Surrendering to God and aligning ourselves with God.  We’ll be talking about this aspect more today – and next week.  This is where we surrender ourselves into the sanctification process.  Most of the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount is devoted to a humble surrender and reorientation through owning our own issues and mourning over the effects of sin.

Upward – Worshipful communion with God.  We lift our hearts and hands in grateful surrender, adoration, and worship.

Around – To pray with others.  The passage we’ll be studying, after all, begins with the words, “Our Father…”

Outward – To engage with the mission of God.  Asking God to send us out on mission with Him.  It’s been said that we serve a missionary God:

  • The Father sent the Son.
  • The Son sent the Holy Spirit
  • And the Holy Spirit sends us…

Some people go around the world as missionaries.  Most of us are missionaries sent to neighbors, co-workers, family, friends, acquaintances who are not yet active, intentional followers of Jesus Christ.

What we are aiming for in this series (and season of SBF’s ministry life) is for there to be a transforming shift in our soul (individually and collectively), so that prayer becomes more natural – and more normative.

I have come to see that there may be a common reason why we don’t pray more…

It’s happened to me in different seasons of my life…

Sometimes, when we have a burden to pray or a strong desire to draw closer to God, things right away, seem to get harder and more difficult – so we tend to back off of prayer.  We end-up thinking, or even saying:  “God, You just do Your thing and I’ll do mine…”  Then we don’t move into “extraordinary prayer,” we just stick to “ordinary” prayer.

I don’t want to discourage you, but I do think that often times our circumstances will get harder before they get better when we lean into God – and into prayer.

Realistically, we need to be prepared for this.

Why is it like that?  Because when we get all soft and tender before God, He begins to deal with stuff in our lives.  Someone said He “fixes a fix to fix us.”

Mostly God begins point out and put His finger on our idols – or functional saviors, which are all the earth-bound things we turn to, to quiet the longings or pain that is in our souls.

In the Bible – and in prayer, we have a language of love, trust, holy fear, hope, seeking, and serving.  These are terms describing our legitimate longings, our desires for relationship to the true God.

Then most of us have a host of false loves, false trusts, false fears, false hopes, false pursuits, and even false masters.

Idolatry describes our drift away from God, where we find ourselves serving lessor Gods.  The best working definition for idolatry is: turning a good thing into an ultimate thing…

There are personal, cultural, and religious idols…

1.  Some common personal idols include:

  • Certain relationships can become idolatrous – looking to other people to find our value or worth – and not finding that in and through good.  It may be a spouse, a parent, a boss…
  • Dysfunctional family or marital systems are often idolatrous.  The most destructive of these is the classic addict and enabler.  Did you know you can’t have an addict if there’s no enabler?
  • There are many kinds of addictions…
    • There are ingestive addictions – things like alcohol, drugs, or food.  We ingest substances to satisfy the longs and cravings of our soul.
    • There are also process addictions – things like gambling, pornography and masturbation, shopping (or spending), watching too much TV, religion can become an idol, making money – even working out can become an addiction – although most of us could use a little more time at the gym 🙂

2.  We have many cultural idols – There are famous people that we idolize.  We even have a national TV show – American Idol… What might a North Eastern cultural idol be?  (Patriots :), “Live Free or Die”?)

3.  What are some religious idols?

  • The most common is probably superstition, trying to earn God’s favor, or other forms of moralism.
  • The biblical expression of our lives and the Church through the gospel is: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.”
  • Religion alternatively says: “I obey, therefore I am accepted.”
  • The human tendency is bent toward religion, which essentially sets up rules and regulations (i.e., moralism) and we keep them to earn our righteousness before God.
  • This is exactly the “different gospel” that Paul addresses in his letter to the Galatians (1:6).  In the same verse Paul expresses amazement at how quickly they have veered and substituted religion for the gospel.  Religious practice can become our functional savior.
  • While the Galatians struggled with abuses of legalism, the Corinthians struggled with abuses of liberty.[1]
  • Both are soulish expressions of religion and not born of the Holy Spirit.  The antidote to both excessive legalism and excessive liberty is the gospel.

What am I saying with all this talk of idolatry?  If we want to learn how to pray, we must be prepared for life to get harder before it gets better.

We must be willing for God to point out our idols – and then ask us to offer them up to Him.

In the end Satan remains the enemy of our souls who wants to disrupt, discourage, distort, and divide (see Eph 6:10-12).

Prayer is not a method to get what we want from God, but THE means of getting more of God Himself, of encountering God so that He becomes the primary object we desire – God becomes the end goal of our lives.

  • Ps 63:1 – O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You…
  • Ps. 42:1 – As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God.

Here are some descriptions of prayer that have recently caught my attention:

  • Brennan Manning, prayer is “holy loitering.”
  • Anne Lamott, prayer is our real self trying to communicate with the Real.
  • Richard Rohr, prayer is disrobing our souls before God.
  • Someone has said that prayer is like good jazz – it is both structured and spontaneous; there is tempo, timing, and a key yet there is freedom to move around.
  • Shane Claiborne writes, “the cry of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us of our vocation as children of God, [we are] orphans adopted into the family of Yahweh…God comes and dwells among us as a Big Brother whom we can emulate.  From Him we learn to pray, “Our Father in heaven.”

[1] Which Paul specifically addresses in 1 Corinthians.

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