The Listening Lord

Third in a series called Resolution Revolution,
Delivered January 18, 2004 by Rev. Laura Crihfield.

Sermon Text:
Matthew 7:7-11
and Psalm 5

Good morning! It’s good to be here this morning, and I am going to invite you to turn in your Bibles in front of you or watch up there. We are going to look at Psalms 5. Psalms 5 is going to be our first text and if you want to get your finger there we are going to switch to Matthew, Chapter 7 after we are done with Psalm 5.

Hear the Word of God from Psalm, chapter 5.

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.

You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.

But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple. Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies-make straight your way before me.

Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit. Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor us with a shield.

And then flipping over to Matthew, again, we will be looking at chapter 7, beginning at verse 7. Hear again the Word of God, this time the words of Jesus. Jesus says:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Will you pray with me? Holy God, for this time in your Word we say thank you. Thank you God that your Word is alive, that it is relevant and that it is for us. God I pray that the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, and our hearts together will be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Come Holy Spirit, come and fall afresh on each one of us now. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I joined the family as they gathered in the girl’s room at bedtime. Lynn, their mother sat with Erin on her lap on the bottom bunk, and Eric sat with Lauren on the floor across the room, and I joined the circle. “Who wants to go first”, Eric asked. “I do, I do Daddy”. And I watched peeking you know, my eyes are supposed to be closed, but I was of course peeking. As all of them closed their eyes and we listened as Lauren who was 5 1/2 at the time, began. “Dear Jesus, thank you for loving us. Thank you for dying for us. Thank you for being with us. Thank you for our family, for Laura visiting, for Nana and Granddad. Thank you for the fun we had today. Please take care of us and give us good dreams tonight. Thank you Jesus. I love you. Amen.”

And within a split second of the 5 1/2-year-old Lauren finishing up her prayer, “I want to go. It’s my turn. It’s my turn; I want to talk to Jesus.” And again we listened as 4-year-old Erin took over and prayed and took her thoughts and her concerns to her God. I will never forget that night, even though it was over five years ago. What a joy it was to hear my goddaughters so willing talk with God, so willingly offer their concerns to Jesus and enjoy it so much. They loved it. They wouldn’t have missed that time in their day for anything. Now I will concede that a bit of what they were probably doing was imitating their parents. They were young and some of that was certainly going on, but when I heard the assurance in their voices and the joy with which they prayed, there was no doubt in their mind, there was no hesitation that God was listening. And when I heard that, it became clear to me that it really was their own faith, as young and immature as it might have been leading them to pray like that. It wasn’t just mimicking their parents. The faith of little children, young children, it’s amazing. And I am sure that most of you can share times when you have been blessed with similar moments with children in your life. When I reflect on the faith of the youngest of believers, there seems to be no doubt in their mind that God is listening, that God cares and that God is going to answer their prayers.

I am sure there are some questions, but as I watched Lauren and Erin pray, and as I have been blessed to pray with them since that time and with other children, there is do doubt in my mind that there was no doubt in their mind. They pray believing that God listens and that they are being heard.

I have a very pointed question for us. Do we pray with the same confidence? Do we pray really believing that we are being heard? Or does our grown up cynicism and doubt sometimes get in the way? It gets in the way of our ability sometimes, but more importantly I think probably our willingness to really pray with that kind of confidence. These are pointed questions as I said, but as we think about this months focus, as we think about what it means to live as people going through a resolution revolution, changing the way we think about who we are, about who God is and how we approach who we are in God, I believe these are questions that God is asking us and calling us to wrestle with, because prayer is absolutely, fundamentally central to who we are as believers, and if we expect to experience a revolution in our lives, it has to begin with prayer. It absolutely must.

Now that said, I have to admit that I struggle with this at times, and maybe you do as well. I know up here very well. I mean I have been to seminary. I know this. They tell you this. You don’t even have to go to seminary to know this. I know that prayer is vital. (Did they teach you that this week? Good. A little reminder. He’s been away for two weeks on study leave.) I know that prayer is vital. I know that we are called to it. I know that it is central to who we are as believers. I know that prayer is powerful. I know all of those things. But when I stop to think about the God of this universe, the God who created everything we see, everything we experience, everyone we interact with, things that are far beyond what we could ever understand or have any hope of understanding. When I think about that God loving me enough to take the time to listen, when I take what in my mind are sometimes trivial concerns, that blows me away. I mean absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt blows me away.

How could the God of the universe care about me and what concerns me? And even if He does care, how could He have the time to respond? And even if he does care and wants to respond, here’s the big question if you never really stopped to wrestle with this it will kind of blow your mind, how can you listen to all of us at the same time? I mean, think about that. My husband says that I am pretty good at multi-tasking. I mean that is like multi-tasking on only a level that God could understand because how could He listen to all of our needs and all of our prayers, all of our concerns, all of our joys at the exact same time? Scripture tells us He can. Scripture tells us He does. That He hears us when we pray. The question before us today is, do we believe it and do we live it?

I don’t know about you, but when I think about a revolution in my life, what Andy said a couple of weeks ago to start this series really hit home, especially when I was thinking about prayer this week. Because if I want a revolution in my life, like I said it’s got to start with prayer and it’s got to start with a focus that Andy was helping us to shift to a couple of weeks ago, which was the focus away from the kind of self help approach to a revolution in our lives to a focus that says the only way that that’s going to happen is if I focus on what God wants for me and God’s will and God’s plan. And the only way to do that that I know of is to be in prayer. So again, just start specifically thinking about taking prayer more seriously, we got to ask the questions and I want to start as we wrestle with them, where we should start, which is with scripture. So I want to take us back to the passages we just read, and I want us to look at them because both of those passages we just read point us to believe that the answer to the questions, does God listen? does God care? does God respond? is a resounding yes, a resounding yes! God does hear us when we pray. God is indeed a listening Lord.

In Psalm 5 if you’ve got your Bibles or again I guess we could bring it back up on here, David begins with a plea and it’s a plea for God to listen to him. He says, give ear to my words, consider my sighing. Everybody sigh for a minute. Do you know that God hears us when we sigh? When that is sometimes all we know how to say, the Psalmist is saying, give ear to my sighing, listen to my cry for help for to you I pray, and he speaks with certainty, doesn’t he? He is assured that God is listening and then in verse three he says, “In the morning, O Lord you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my request before you and wait in expectation.”

Have you waited in expectation for something? How about when you were a child waiting for Christmas morning? Did you ever doubt that Christmas morning would really come? I didn’t. When I got to the point on Christmas Eve when my parents said, as long as you go to bed and you go to sleep, it’s going to happen. And I went to sleep with an assurance that Christmas morning would indeed happen when I woke up, and it always did. That’s the kind of expectation that the Psalmist is talking about. He presents all of his requests, all of his needs, all of his desires before the Lord, and then he waits in certain expectation that God has heard him. And God will respond. That’s a model that is huge for me, and I love the fact that he doesn’t say, and this is important to notice, he doesn’t say “In the morning, O Lord I hope that you hear my voice; or in the morning, O Lord I lay my request before you and hope that maybe, sort of, somehow, in your grand way of doing things you will figure out how to hear me or take the time or care to hear me. He doesn’t say that. He is certain that God hears him. What a model for each one of us.

And I love what comes next as he goes on in the rest of this Psalm to tell God what he knows to be true of God. It’s a statement of faith. He talks about God’s relationship with God’s people, about what God does and doesn’t approve of, about what he knows to be true of God, he talks with God, asking God to lead him in righteousness, to make God’s way straight before him. He is seeking God’s will in that. Show me how to walk the straight life and straight and narrow life that you want me to, because it is so easy to veer off of that, and I want to be in your will. That’s what he is asking for there. He prays for protection. He requests that the righteous be able to take refuge in God and rejoice knowing that the God whom they have trusted and have prayed to is the same God who protects and watches them. And then he ends with an absolutely clear statement of faith. Look at verse 12, he says, “For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” It’s quite an image. There is no doubt about this man’s faith and what he is doing because of that faith is what we are called to do.

Sometimes I think we put prayer kind of here, where it is only attainable by some who have either been trained or been to seminary or really know how to pray or how to talk with God, but my question before us this morning is, “Do we recognize that prayer is all about having a conversation with a friend? And that all of us are pretty adept to doing that.” Some of us might not get things done often enough because we spend so much time talking with our friends. We are good at it. We know how to have these conversations. And what we learn from the Psalmist as we see the scope of what he is talking about here, is that he is just having a conversation with God. He is talking to God about what’s on his heart. That’s what prayer is all about. It’s not something lofty that we have to work toward. It’s a conversation with a God who loves us and who wants to be in communication with us.

Do we approach God with the same kind of confidence that the Psalmist did? I hope so. I hope that each of us believes in the power of prayer. I hope that we as a congregation believe in the power of prayer. Jesus said that apart from him we can do nothing. That’s a really big statement. We can do nothing of consequence apart from Jesus. It won’t happen. We are powerless unless we are connected to him and prayer is the gift, the means by which we have to stay connected to Jesus, to stay connected to God and to know God’s will. It’s the key to growing our own relationships with Jesus Christ and with God the Father, God the Holy Spirit. It’s the key to growing this church which will go absolutely nowhere unless everyone of us is committed to holding it up in prayer and to holding the ministries of this congregation up in prayer It’s the key to the success of our families, our relationships, our work, our lives. Prayer has to be the foundation as I said a few minutes ago. And if we look at Matthew, chapter 7 again, we see another clear example of why this is true and this time it is through the mouth of Jesus who says and I want to read this again because it is so important.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Do we ask? Do we seek? Do we knock? In other words, do we take Jesus seriously? And believe his words to be the truth, that the door will be opened, that we will find, that we will receive? It doesn’t say we might, it says we will. Or do we stand off at a distance afraid to ask? I don’t want to bother him. He might not like my question. Uncertain of what we might find if we seek, I don’t know that I want to know what’s behind door number two. I am not sure that I want to go there, because it might require that I change or that I be different, or that I do something that I am not really comfortable doing or that I talk to that person I have been avoiding. Do we knock? Or are we afraid that if we do knock on door number two that we might just have it slammed in our face.

Jesus’ words make it abundantly clear. We are being called to prayer. There is no way to get around it. Every single one of us is being called to prayer and Christ is inviting us to take advantage, very intentional choice of words there, to take advantage of the power of prayer, which plainly put, is the power of the Holy Spirit to change out lives, to revolutionize who we are in Christ and to make us more and more into the image of Jesus, as Kristen shared earlier. That image that God desires for us. God wants us to talk with him. If you ever thought it will be a waste of time, it’s just a waste of God’s time for me to talk to him and I think in the back of my mind that it might be a waste of mine too, have you ever thought that? If Jesus were looking you straight in the eye today, I have no doubt He would say go ahead and waste our time. Because it is not a waste of time and you will see that. It’s not a waste of time.

We are being called to be still and know that God is God, and the only way that is going to happen is if we spend time in prayer. It doesn’t happen any other way. Talking to God and listening to God. And, as I said earlier, I am really convicted by my own words this morning, perhaps more than I ever have been about a sermon that I have preached. And I am really believing that God is calling us to wrestle with these questions. I know that He is calling me to wrestle with them. I want a God focused, a God centered revolution in my life. Not that there is anything definitive wrong with my life, but I want the best that God has for me and I want that kind of revolution. But, I also know that until I take prayer more seriously than I ever have before, it won’t happen. Because if I am not taking prayer seriously; if I am not going to the Lord in prayer; if I am not getting down on my knees and saying God I want you will right now for my life; I don’t want it to be about me anymore; then what I am essentially saying to God by not doing that, is, “You know what God I am going to rely on my own power. I am going to rely on my own will. I am going to rely on my own ability to get myself where I think I want to go, where I think you might want me to go, but I am not really going to ask because you might show me a different path and I am really kind of comfortable going down this path.” Until we get down on our knees it’s not going to happen.

I want to look at one more passage and this one I know that they don’t have up top, so I am going to encourage you to open your Bibles because this is an important one. It’s Philippians, chapter 4 about halfway through the New Testament. Philippians, chapter 4. These are Paul’s words concerning prayer. We are going to start in verse 6. I have to just share with you a little side note. If we ever doubt that God orchestrates things when we pray, you know we ask Him to guide the morning on Sundays, this is the very passage that John who leads the 8:15 read totally unbeknownst to me and it was in my notes to read this at the end and that was just God totally orchestrating things because sometimes when we hear things more than once. So, I am going to encourage you to go home and read this again before the end of the day, because when we hear it twice sometimes it sinks in a little better. Philippans, chapter 4, beginning at verse 6. Paul says,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The peace of God in everything that concerns me, everything that concerns me. Don’t you want that? A peace of God in everything that concerns you. The peace of God guarding your hearts and your mind, guarding your heart individually and your mind in Christ Jesus. It doesn’t get any better than that. The peace of God. I want that in my life, and I trust that you want that as well or you wouldn’t be here this morning. On some level no matter where you are in your faith journey, that’s very appealing I think to all of us. And the only way that that will happen, where the peace of God transcends everything in our lives is when we get down on our knees and we set aside our will and we say, God it’s about you.

So, I want to give us just a minute or two to do that, to begin that process. If you have never begun that process before, to simply say to God I want you to help me set aside my will and I want to know your will. I don’t have a clue what that is, I don’t know what that looks like, but help me to understand it and if you have said it before, take this time to say it again, and then again, and again, and again, because it’s a constant process. It’s not a one time shot. It’s a constant process of letting go of our will and saying God I want your will to be central. So, we are going to take some time to do that in the stillness and quietness of this place. The band is not going to be playing during this time. I will close us in a few minutes. And we will move on to the rest of our worship time together. But I want to just give us an opportunity to take seriously what we are talking about.

So let’s go to the Lord in prayer. Holy God, the silence can sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable and yet we thank you God that even in the midst of what appears to be tremendous silence that you hear us and that you respond and that you are so grateful that we come to you with all that we are and with all that’s on our hearts. God we ask that you would help us to take seriously, very seriously Lord, the call to set aside our wills, to get down on our knees regularly and to seek your will. Help us to do that as individuals and help us Lord to do that more faithfully, even than we have before as a congregation, knowing that you listen. Thank you God that you are a listening Lord. We love you and we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.