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Go To Your Room!


Jesus said: "when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret." We're spending a whole lot more time 'in our rooms' this year than planned. Could it be that there is an invitation from the Lord to draw closer to Him in prayer during lockdown? In this message, we're going to explore two passages in the Sermon on the Mount about prayer, and discuss three things that will help us to enrich our personal prayer lives: variety, consistency and expectation.

Recently, I was in a Zoom meeting with a bunch of pastors of international churches in the Netherlands. We do this about twice a year and share some of our experiences in this unique context and encourage each other and pray for each other. A pastor of an Anglican church in Eindhoven said something that strongly resonated with me. He said that he discerned that this year was God’s way of telling us to: “go to your room”.

In a year of crisis, uncertainty and limitations on social contact, more than ever, it is a time to meet with God in prayer. And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this in Matthew 6:6 (ESV): But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.

We see this time of lockdown and limitations mostly as something preventing us from experiencing real life. And you know, in many ways it is – I feel that as well. Yet, I believe there is also a powerful invitation from our Lord to meet with Him in new ways during lockdown. Could it be that God is using this time to draw us all closer to Him, and learn to walk with Him and know Him intimately?

My story

In this message I would like to explore the topic of prayer. I’m going to run through some things that are surely worth exploring more, and we are going to do this in the first month of 2021. We’ll do a whole series on prayer in that month, and you will also be invited to participate in the Prayer Course in that time.

The evangelist Leonard Ravenhill said: “no man is greater than his prayer life”.

Can I be honest with you for a bit?


For most of my life I have seriously struggled with my spiritual life. I believed in the possibility of an intimate relationship with God, longed for it, talked about it, preached about it – but never really felt I had it. And also, no one really taught me or showed me how to do this well!


There were moments of intimacy and awe – of course, but when I was really honest with myself, I knew that my spiritual life was lacking. And I knew that a lacking spiritual life was going to be my biggest limitation in my life and ministry.

This year, there has been a change. And the three biggest reasons were a course, a commitment and a dog. I was able to do a course on spiritual direction, containing a lot of practices and insights into spiritual disciplines formerly unfamiliar to me. I made a commitment to prioritize my relationship with God and since we have a dog, I’m outside about three times a day which have become some of my regular prayer times.

We're going to explore two passages in the Sermon on the Mount about prayer, and from that take three things that will help us to enrich our personal prayer lives: variety, consistency and expectation.

Variety

One of the things that I have discovered in this last year, is that a richer spiritual life is not always about more prayer. I don’t know about you, but guilt has never really moved me to more prayer – desire for God did. I believe that a greater variety of ways to connect with God may spark more of that desire.

Let’s have a quick look at the well-known prayer Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

I love the introduction: “pray then like this”. It tells us that this is both a prayer that we can pray literally – using these very words. But it also gives us an outline for the different ways we should be praying.


Have you ever noticed the rich variety in the Lord’s Prayer?

It’s a prayer of intimacy:

“Our Father in heaven,

It’s a prayer of adoration:

hallowed be your name.

It’s a prayer of intercession:

Your kingdom come, your will be done,

It’s a prayer of contemplation:

on earth as it is in heaven.

It’s a prayer of petition:

Give us this day our daily bread,

It’s a prayer of confession:

and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And it’s a prayer of spiritual warfare:

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

All of these different forms of prayer are vital and essential for our prayer lives.

Our spiritual lives must resemble the rich variety of the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer needs to be more than a to-do list for God or a quick ‘thank you’ before dinner. It needs contain worship, silence, prayers for others, prayers for our own needs, genuine confession and an understanding that our prayers make a difference in the unseen realm.


Our spiritual lives must resemble the rich variety of the Lord’s Prayer.

When we embrace this variety, all of our spiritual senses are involved and we live out our complete calling.

When I talk about variety in our prayer lives, my main point is not to challenge you to pray more, per se, although that might not be a bad thing, but to incorporate prayer in the things that you already do.

Do you like walking in nature? Invite God into that time. Enjoy His Presence in the silence.


Do you like cooking? Put on some worship music and worship and cook at the same time.


Do you perhaps journal? Direct it to God, and it instantly becomes prayer.


Do you have a bedtime ritual with your kids – work some prayer and thanksgiving into that.


Do you spend a lot of time thinking or perhaps worrying about your life, your family, this world – turn that worry into prayer!


Variety of prayers in church traditions

I’m currently reading the book “Doing Spirituality” by Alexander Venter, the Vineyard Pastor that has written some milestone books for our movement like “Doing Church” and Doing Healing”.

In one of the early chapters, he argues that it is important for us to consider a greater variety of prayer. Different movements in the worldwide church have emphasized different ways of prayer and encountering God – all of them valid, and all of them important for a rich prayer life.

This is the figure he uses, borrowed actually from another writer, that gives an overview of different traditions of prayer.



Outward types of prayer a more outspoken and expressive. On the charismatic side there is an emphasis on expressive worship and praying in tongues for example.

On the more Reformed/Evangelical side there is a bigger emphasis on a well worded prayer, or a Psalm.

In the more inward types of prayer, silence and experience are stronger.

Mother Theresa said that: “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.”

The Monastic contemplatives for example spent hours considering God’s nearness and loving presence. Their emphasis was more on silent forms of prayer.


Then, on the Catholic side, there is a stronger emphasis on rituals and meditation.

Alexander Venter argues that these different approaches to prayer have a lot to do with your personal wiring as well – but that a balance and variety in our personal spiritual lives is very enriching.


He says this:

Focus only on the Word and you dry up

Focus only on the Spirit and you blow up

Focus only on the inward and you get tied up

Focus only on the outward and you burn up

But when we hold all four in creative tension, pursuing each of them, we grow up into Christ in all things.

Here’s the thing; prayer doesn’t always look like hands folded and eyes closed. It can be as simple as acknowledging God’s nearness in a moment of silence. Bringing variety in your prayer life often means that you incorporate prayer in more of the things that you regularly do – inviting God into every part of your life.

Consistency

Another key to a richer spiritual life is bringing consistency in it. We see the regular habit of prayer in the life of Daniel.

Daniel went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. (Daniel 6:10)

Daniel had developed a habit of praying to God at several set moments in the day. In this way, an awareness of the presence of God and the acknowledgement of his dependency on God was part of his whole day.

What does this look like for you? What are your regular prayer habits? Are they consistent?

Pete Scazzero, in his book Emotional Healthy Spirituality, a book that has had a profound impact in the Evangelical world, talks about the Daily Office. This is a set of regular prayer habits and prayer times, first developed by St. Benedict in the 6th Century.

The purpose of a Daily Office, he says, is to remember God and commune with him all through the day.

It will look differently for different people. The one may set 3 moments in the day, another 5, or even up to 10. The key to the Daily Office is not the length of your prayer time, but the regularity and consistency.

I’m in the process of developing my own Daily Office and, as I mentioned, having to walk the dog a couple times a day really helps me with this. I turn that walk-time into prayer-time.

And I want my Daily Office to include different forms of prayer like; Scripture, silence, meditation, intercession, worship and petition.

I firmly believe that, embracing consistency and variety, will bring a great enrichment and health to your spiritual life.


Expectation

There is one last essential aspect of a strong prayer life that we need to discuss today: expectation.


Let’s turn again to the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 7:7-11 (NLT)

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

When we pray, we need to pray with the expectation of a child – in the full faith that we are heard, and that our prayers will be answered.

It’s unbelievable what my 3-year old can get me to do by just asking. Sometimes, she only has to hold up her hands, and I’ll carry her up the stairs – no questions asked. There is such power in a simple request.


Jesus encourages us to keep on asking God, knocking on His door, seeking His attention and bringing our requests to Him – and our good Father will hear us and not let us down, trick us or deceive us, but give what we need.

Many treat the asking as a formality, as if the asking has no influence in the result. But God is not an unblinking cosmic stare that never changes His mind. Prayer does change things!


Prayer is both an invitation to intimacy and an invitation to influence.

Dallas Willard says this: “God is unchanging in nature, identity and over-arching purposes. But His intentions with regard to many practical matters that concern individual human beings are not.”

Brother Andrew says it this way: “God is unchanging in His purposes, but His plans are flexible”.

Through prayer we partner with God to see His Kingdom being established here on the earth. He chose to put the testimony and the works of His Kingdom into the hands of His people – that’s us.

Prayer is both an invitation to intimacy and an invitation to influence.

Conclusion

I hope that I have been able to help you today to enrich your prayer life. Today, I’ve shared three keys with you that may help you to improve your prayer life.

Firstly, bring more variety in the way that you pray – following the model of the Lord’s Prayer and learning new practices from the many Jesus followers that have gone before us, from all corners of the Christian world.

Secondly, designing a personal prayer schedule with multiple moments in the day when you pause and pray – and following that schedule consistently will help you to involve God in the whole of your life.

And lastly, pray with the expectation of a child asking for something to eat, asking to go to the playground, asking to be picked up. Our God is a good father, and He will not brush away our requests.

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