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We talk a lot here at NoLimits about getting closer to God. But I’ve realized that there are some roadblocks along the way.
As you draw closer to God, you are going to run into places where you get stuck because you don’t understand something about God. And actually, most of us run into the same roadblocks.
In this series, we’re going to break through those areas and get closer to God as a result.
Our theme verse for this series actually comes from a place where people were making fun of Christianity and making fun of God because they didn’t understand what God was doing.
This is when the Holy Spirit was poured out just 7 days after Jesus had ascended into heaven. You’d think everyone who was there would appreciate the gift of the Holy Spirit, but take a look:
Acts 2:12-15 NIV – Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Maybe you’ve been here yourself. Something out of the norm happened at church and you just sat there thinking, “What in the heck is going on?!” And then you went home and made fun of it with your family and friends.
I’m not getting on to you. I just wanted to show you that you are not alone in your thoughts. You will always criticize things you don’t understand. That’s just a natural response.
It’s not that you don’t believe God can do it, it’s just you don’t understand. And it is easier to make fun of it than to dig in and try to understand it.
But through this series, I’m going to respond like Peter did:
Acts 2:12-15 NIV – Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.
This wasn’t what they thought it was. They thought these people were drunk. But no, this is not what you think. This is that, you know, the truth you find in the Bible.
This stuff happens to us all the time. Someone says or does something and we assume the worst, only to find out it wasn’t anything like what we thought it was. We do the same thing with God regarding things in the Bible.
We have an idea about this thing in the Bible, but once we gain a real understanding of what’s really going on, our whole perspective shifts and we see it in a whole new light. That’s what’s going to happen for you in this series.
Last week, we talked about the Holy Spirit. If that’s something that seems mysterious to you, or maybe something that you run away from, I encourage you to go listen to the message from the safety of your home.
Today, we’re going to talk about something that’s not really controversial, but it is often misunderstood. We think it’s one thing, but it’s really something else. We’re going to talk about prayer.
And the reason I know that prayer is often misunderstood is because of how often we use it as a last resort instead of our first response. We try to figure it out all on our own and only resort to prayer when we fail.
If we understood prayer, we would pray first. Before I answer that email, I pray first. Before I post that on Facebook, I don’t post it. I pray first. Here’s the simple truth we all need to grab ahold of:
Prayer should be our first response, not our last resort.
To get the right idea about prayer, I am going to walk you through one chapter in the Bible today. Normally we’d look at several different books and chapters, but there is also a lot of value in digging into the details of one single chapter.
Philippians chapter 4 is where we are going. The book of Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul while he was in prison. He wanted to be preaching somewhere, but he got arrested, so he made the most of it.
Now his message continues to preach to us today, all because he was in prison and had to write us a letter instead of speaking in person. How cool is that?
So Paul was sitting in prison. And we’re not talking about the prisons we have today where you can sit and watch cable TV all day. He was probably underground, no windows, damp environment, bleeding, sore and hungry.
Most of us wouldn’t survive one day where Paul was. We’d be griping and crying and asking the Lord to take us home. We’d be done. But what does Paul say?
Philippians 4:4 NLT – Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!
Obviously this guy has something to teach us. If he can hold on to his joy in this situation, surely we can hold on to joy as we are quarantined to our comfortable homes with air conditioning and plenty of food.
What is the point of prayer?
I wanted you to have some background about what is going on with Paul. He’s in prison, but he is choosing to keep his joy. In the midst of it all, he takes the time to write us a letter and teach us five things about prayer.
Prayer replaces worry.
This one is probably going to resonate with all of us. At some point in the past couple of months, I bet you’ve worried about your health, or your finances, or your family. Maybe you’re still worried?
Here’s the truth about worry. If you worry about something and then it happens, you’ve worried twice. If you worry about something that doesn’t happen, then you’ve worried in vain.
We’d all agree that worry doesn’t add anything to our lives. Yet, it keeps showing up. What do we do to get rid of it?
Philippians 4:6 NLT – Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
When I read this, I feel ashamed about all the times I’ve worried. “Maybe I’m not a strong enough Christian. I don’t have enough faith.” These are the kind of things that go through my head.
But if God expected us to never deal with worry, this scripture would have said something more like, “If you worry, you are in sin. Knock it off.”
This is more of an encouragement. “Hey, I know you are worried. But you don’t need to worry about anything. Let me make this practical for you. If you pray in the midst of worry, the worry will disappear.”
That’s what God is teaching us in this verse. He’s giving us the way out of worry, which just so happens to be prayer.
What kind of prayer? A prayer that’s focused on thankfulness. You think back to all the good things that God has done for you and you thank Him for it.
Start with breakfast. “God, thank you for creating chickens to lay eggs so that I can fry them into the perfect sunny-side up egg.” Those of you who know me are confused right now. Because you know I don’t do runny yokes.
The only way to fry an egg is to leave that sucker in there until the yoke is nice and firm. Now that’s some good stuff.
But if you start with thanking God for something as simple as breakfast, it’s going to roll into other things, like being thankful for your family, or your job, or your striking good looks.
The next time you are worried, pray a prayer of thankfulness and watch the worry disappear. Keep at it until it is completely gone.
And prayer doesn’t just take away worry. It gives you something in return:
Prayer creates peace.
If the worry disappeared but nothing took its place, worry would wiggle its way right back into your life. But God fills that space with peace so there is no more room for worry.
Philippians 4:6-7 NLT – Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Do you see it? When we pray, worry fades away and peace takes its place. And peace stands in your mind as a guard against worry as you continue to live out this principle of praying with thankfulness instead of worrying.
I know, sounds too good to be true. But try it next time you get worried and you’ll find that it works. This is free to try – you are not going to be out anything. So you might as well give it a shot.
Here’s the next one:
Prayer redirects our thoughts.
Have you ever been stuck in the wrong kind of thinking? Like, you start thinking about all the COVID-19 stats and your mind goes off the deep end and you can’t seem to stop thinking about it.
Or how about those times you’ve messed up and all you can think about is your failure. And you dream up what might happen, who might be mad because of what you’ve done.
Sometimes we need something to help redirect our thoughts and slap them into submission. Prayer does that for you. Let me show you. This is a continuation of the scripture we’ve been reading:
Philippians 4:8 NLT – And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Where do you do this kind of thinking? In prayer.
One of the most common misconceptions about prayer is that we think we have to talk the whole time. Some people don’t even try to pray because they know they are going to run out of things to say in ten seconds.
All my talkers listening right now don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. And that’s okay. What we all need to know is that spending time focusing our thoughts on good things is a form of prayer.
This is something I do almost every morning before getting out of bed. I lay there and think about all the good things going on around me. All the good things God had done for me. I don’t say anything, I just fix my thoughts on good things. What a great way to start the day.
Please hear me on this. Prayer is not sitting in a quiet room and talking to God with the perfect grammar and phrasing. No, prayer is any time you fix your thoughts on God, whether you are talking or not.
I love this quote by C.S. Lewis regarding the benefits of fixing our thoughts on God:
Aim at heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you’ll get neither. -C.S. Lewis
Here’s the next thing you need to know about prayer:
Prayer reveals contentment.
When you start praying you have all kinds of needs. And God is good with that. But if you hang out for a minute after presenting all your needs, you’ll realize that you already have everything you need.
Let’s look at how Paul explains it:
Philippians 4:12 NLT – I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.
Paul found out that it didn’t really matter how rich he was, or how much food he had, or how big his house was, or what kind of car he was driving. Whether he was driving a new Tesla or an old Toyota, he was content.
Doesn’t that sound good? Wouldn’t you like to live your life content regardless of how much money you were making or what kind of car you were driving? Prayer is where you find that contentment. Because it leads you into the last thing I am going to show you about prayer:
Prayer relies on God.
This is how you get to that place of contentment. It’s not that you don’t have needs. It’s not that everything is perfect. You’ve just stopped trying to do it all on your own. Just like Paul said:
Philippians 4:13 NLT – For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
I can’t do this on my own. But I can do this through Christ. When I let God’s mighty power work in me, He’s going to blow my mind with what He can accomplish in my life.
Try to do this by yourself and you’ll make it a little ways. But at some point you are going to crash and burn.
Get yourself out of the way and allow God to work through you, and you are going to go way further than you ever could have imagined.
Here’s how Paul ends the chapter:
Philippians 4:19 NLT – And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
You’ve probably heard this scripture before, but my hope is that you see it in a new light today.
When we pray, it leads us to a place where our needs are met, not because of our own striving and hustle, but because we simply receive the gifts given to us through Jesus.
This happens through prayer for one reason:
Prayer doesn’t move God closer to us. It moves us closer to God.
How do I make prayer part of my life?
To end today, let me give you two practical ways to incorporate prayer into your life. Here’s the first one:
1. Pray first.
You’ll be tempted to worry first. You’ll be tempted to talk to someone else first. You’ll be tempted to wait it out and see what happens.
Instead, let your response be to pray first. Even if it’s just a three-word prayer, “God, help me”, make it a habit to pray first.
2. Pray continually.
You don’t have to wait until the house is quiet or until you are alone. Pray every chance you get.
At work, take a moment to think of the good things. Go for a quick walk and release your anxieties to God. Pray while your kids are screaming.
Any time you think of it throughout the day, pray. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t even have to close your eyes. Simply acknowledge God.
That’s it! It isn’t complicated. And it doesn’t have to look like someone else’s prayer life. You don’t have to pray for hours at a time.
Simply let your first response to any challenge be to pray first. And throughout your day, take moments here and there to acknowledge and thank God. Do these two things, and you are going to find yourself content and at peace.
Maybe you sense something on the inside of you stirring, excited, and ready to receive what God has for you today. The first gift He has for you is salvation through Jesus Christ.
Without Jesus, you couldn’t have a relationship with God because of all the things you’ve done wrong. But Jesus died on the cross and rose back to life so that your old life could die and you could be raised to new life.
Believe in Jesus right now and your relationship with God will be immediately restored. Jesus paid the price for everything you’ve done wrong, and everything you will do wrong in the future. All you have to do is believe that Jesus was raised from the dead for you.
I want to help you put your faith into words by leading you in a prayer. Wherever you are right now, go ahead and say this prayer out loud:
“Jesus, thank you. I’ve been trying to do this on my own. It wasn’t working. I messed up a lot. But I believe you made it right. You paid for my sin on the cross. You gave me new life when you rose again. I want you to lead my life. I believe in you Jesus.”
If you just prayed that prayer, we want to support you along the journey that’s ahead. But we can’t support you if we don’t know. So we set up an easy way for you to tell us. Simply text the word Jesus to 918-373-9883.
We’re not going to bug you. We’re not going to spam you. We are just going to help guide you through your next step. We’re here for you. So please, go ahead and send that text.