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2020 has been a bit strange, especially for the huggers. 2020 has made the importance of interaction clear to us. We were made for and need interaction. We have made Zoom calls, phone calls and used other media to maintain our relationships. Healthy interaction is critical to a healthy relationship. The same is true of our relationship with Jesus, and that is why Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. Praying keeps the line of communication with God live so that we can continue to grow in our relationship with Him. It is a two-way street. It is more than us unloading all of our struggles on God. Praying is having a voice with God and giving God a voice with us.
Prayer Leads to Dangerous Disciple-Making
By Josh Romano
There are three aspects to this idea of prayer. The first aspect is the purpose of prayer. In John 10, Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd and we are the sheep. In verse three, we see that Jesus calls his own sheep out and he calls them by name. It is a personal aspect of prayer, and its purpose is knowing and trusting God. In verse 14 and 15, he says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.” The purpose of prayer and the truth behind prayer is that it is personal. It is not about an agenda; it is about renewing my relationship with God. My one-year-old son may have said “Dada” first because I said it in front of him over and over, but it is obvious that he loves his mom more. She has put in a lot more time with him by feeding him at night and caring for him during the day. It is frequency that builds familiarity. If the purpose of prayer is to build a relationship, then it needs to be happening in greater frequency.
Jesus says that I know my sheep and my sheep know me because this familiarity has been built through frequent time together. When we are discouraged that we are not hearing God’s voice or we are struggling to know His voice, we need to continue to build in frequency. The more we do, the more we will be accustomed to hearing God’s voice. A danger that we can encounter when we are in ministry is letting Jesus become our Job. Every day we eat, sleep, and speak about Jesus, but it can be hard to not let him become my job. He should be our joy. Make sure it is a relationship and not a business transaction when you are meeting with the Father. Psalm 34 says that we should delight ourselves in the Lord and he will give us the desires of our heart. The purpose of prayer is knowing and trusting God more deeply.
The second aspect is the process of prayer. John 10 verses 3-5 tells us that the sheep will only follow the voice of their shepherd, and they will never follow the voice of a stranger. In fact, they will run away from a stranger. In these verses, we see that we have sheep that are tuned into the shepherd through frequency and through building a relationship. There is an ongoing process of hearing and responding between the sheep and the shepherd. Our interaction with God boils down to hearing and praying. We know that this can be easier said than done. Jesus tells us in this illustration that there is more than one voice in this story. We have the voice of the shepherd, but we also have the voice of a stranger. One of the things that we have seen is that the voice of the stranger can be a lot louder than the voice of the shepherd. Sometimes we have to work a lot harder to tune into the voice of the shepherd. In the story, the sheep scatter when the stranger comes in because he elicits chaos and confusion, but the shepherd instills confidence and contentment.
The radio frequency in my car will battle at times between two stations because I live halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton. However, as I drive to closer to Cincinnati, the Cincinnati station will become clearer, and as I drive closer to Dayton, the Dayton station will become clearer. In order to hear God more clearly so we can follow him more closely, we have to move closer to the source. We need to tune into the shepherd and move away from the stranger. If we are not proactive in this, the voice of the stranger will overpower the shepherd. Tuning into the shepherd helps us to understand how he speaks.
The acronym HEAR helps us understand how God interacts with us. The H stands for the Holy Spirit. With the Spirit of God, he convicts us, guides us, and impresses things on our hearts. The E stands for experiences. We have to filter these experiences through the Holy Spirit, advice from others and reading His Word. Experiences are divine moments that God uses to teach us something. God meets us in difficult moments and moments of flourishing to teach us. We have to lean into these divine moments. The A stands for advice. Not all advice is created equal. We should people looking for spirit-filled people living in the way of Jesus that will guide us to the shepherd. We can receive advice through a message or maybe from someone that challenges us. The R stands for reading God’s word. We should use it as a filter for the advice that we receive and the experiences in our life. It is remarkable that God speaks to us and we should make sure that we are carving out space and time to give him a voice in our lives. It is more remarkable that the God of the universe gives us a voice with him.
We can use the acronym PRAY from the Lord’s Prayer to help us remember how to use our voice with God. The P stands for praise. The Lord’s Prayer says, “Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” We should begin with praise by elevating and edifying the name of God because he deserves it. The R stands for repentance. The prayer goes on to say, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We need to remove and turn away from barriers and come before God with a clean heart by confessing. The A stands for ask. There are several examples of things that we can ask for in the Lord’s Prayer. We can ask for deliverance from evil, not being led into temptation, guidance, wisdom, and our daily bread. We may get to a point in our lives where we are asking for things daily from God. He will provide for us on a daily basis, and this will help build a dependence on the shepherd. Our daily bread isn’t just our wants but rather God’s best for us. The things God wants us to be asking for are the things we truly need. The Y stands for yielding to God. The Lord’s Prayer says, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We want things how God intends them to be. We want things to be here on earth, in our family and in our community, the way that God wants them to be, so we yield to Him. Yielding is not completely stopping but following in behind God. We should ask ourselves if we are lacking in any of these areas.
The last aspect is the power of prayer. John 10:14 tells us the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy but Jesus came that we may have life and have it to the full. The shepherd comes that we can have life and have it to the full. The power of prayer is not only what we can receive from God but also that we can be transformed by God. James tells us that the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.
We all have stories about the power of prayer in our life as we dove deeper in that interaction with God. God challenged me this past year to walk with him. To get miles in with him. To physically walk with God so that I could spiritually walk with God and cultivate my relationship with him. I was praying boldly for some big things to happen in our church and in our community. Through this time, I learned that prayer does change everything but especially us. In fact, he typically starts with us.
I want to encourage you to give God a voice and know that you have a voice with him as well. We have an audience with the King of heaven, so use your voice. Pray without ceasing because prayer changes everything, especially us. By doing so, we can experience what Hebrews 13: 20-21 talks about when it says, “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus that great shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” We are praying. We are repenting. We are asking. We are yielding. When we pray in this manner, we open ourselves up to receive from him and be transformed by him.
In The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, he writes a manifest of an exchange between an older, wiser demon to his younger nephew. The older demon warns the nephew that where there is prayer there is danger. We are most dangerous when we are praying mightily and boldly in the name of God. Prayer takes us from a position of defenselessness to dangerous.
Erwin McManus tells a great story about sending his son off to summer camp in his book Seizing Your Divine Moment: Dare to Live a Life of Adventure. McManus was glad that his son, Aaron, was going to a Christian camp because he was a little guy and did not want him hearing ghost stories which would probably cause him to have nightmares. Unfortunately, the camp told demon and Satan stories instead. When Aaron got home from camp, he was terrified and wanted his dad to sleep in his room with him that first night. McManus wanted to tell his son that Satan and demons weren’t real, but he couldn’t say that. Aaron pleaded for his dad to pray for him that he would be safe. In that moment of Aaron’s plea, McManus said that he heard a desire for that kind of warm blanket of Christianity that too many people assume is all there is to it. McManus said to his son that he would not pray for him to be safe, but that God would make him dangerous, so dangerous that demons will flee when you enter the room. Aaron in return asked that his dad would pray that God would make him really, really dangerous.
At the end of the story, McManus asks the reader if they have ever come to a place in their life when they stopped asking God for a safe existence and instead asked him to make them a dangerous follower. This is my hope for you, and this is my hope for those that you lead. Through the power of the voice, through the power of leaning into the shepherd, that you might be more dangerous, and that those disciples that you lead might be more dangerous as well.