Prayer is something most of us are comfortable with, but few of us have a really great grasp on it. Tune in today to hear Pastor Robby share some super important insights on prayer and how very different and powerful it can be when we treat it as more than magic. (There are 2 video clips that Robby used that could not be uploaded. You can find the links in the sermon notes)
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Not Magic Robert Frisone / General The Physics of the Spiritual / Prayer / Matthew 26:36–46
Many people have the wrong idea about prayer, treating it like it’s magic. The idea is if I say the right words in the right way then I’ll get what I want. Prayer is so much more and so much deeper. Jesus shows us the power of prayer in his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. As we look at this story we will realize that prayer isn’t so much about my will being done in heaven, but heaven’s will being done in my heart.
[Intro] (FAS) – Raining Candy
We’re currently in our series all about the physics of the spiritual realm and how it works. He claims he’s out of town, but I know the real reason why Kent has asked me to cover today’s sermon is that he didn’t want to cover today’s topic himself. Today is all about prayer and part of me wishes it wasn’t because prayer is hard to talk about. I mean, how would you explain what prayer is to someone? I’ve even gotten it wrong before! I was a children’s pastor at the time working part-time at my very first paid ministry job out of college. I was teaching in Sunday school at the time and the lesson was on prayer. I told the kids that we were going to pray and explained that when we pray we can ask God for anything and God is big and strong enough to answer our prayers. There is no prayer too big for God. I even said, “You could even ask God for it to rain candy, and He’s powerful enough to make it happen.” No sooner did those words leave my lips than I saw the lead pastor’s 8-year-old son’s eyes shoot wide open like saucers and I knew I had just said something I’m going to regret. So I did what any young pastor would do if they had just misspoken and imparted terrible broken doctrine onto an impressionable child, I ignored it and hoped he’d forget. That day he, of course, asked me to pray that it would rain candy, so I did. And I prayed for it the next Sunday, and the next, and the next. He did not forget. Every single Sunday for months, he always asked me to pray that it would rain candy. When it came to prayer requests it was praying for dead animals, kids always want to pray for dogs and cats that passed away before they were born, friends who are sick, and for it to rain candy. Of course, not so much as a tic-tac fell from the sky all those months and my pastor’s son clearly had noticed. This brought on a big crisis of faith. I could no longer ignore it and finally had to address the issue and set him straight. I think that most of us have a similar story about the first time we were told about prayer. We’re told to talk to God and to ask him for things we want and need, and based on many of the prayer requests I’ve heard over the years, we still treat prayer like it’s magic. I even do it sometimes. Old habits die hard. But we do treat prayer like we’re saying magic spells. We have a request or something we want, so we pray to God and hope that if we say the right words and do the right things, if we have enough brownie points with God, then he will grant our wish. That’s a big problem! It reduces God, you know the creator of the universe and sovereign over all creation, into a giant celestial vending machine that we make sure to poke the right buttons and do the right things and if we shake it just right we can get what we want. Unfortunately, that’s not what the Bible tells us about prayer, so what does it say? This series is all about how the physics of the spiritual realm works, so how does prayer work? (Linking Statement) We’re going to break down a story from the life of Jesus to see how prayer worked in his own life and pull two truths about prayer from it for our own lives.
[Body] (Proof 1) – It’s not about “yes”
This story starts on the night before Jesus’ death. He has just finished having the last supper with the disciples when he asks them to come with him to pray. Jesus has been in Jerusalem for a while now and every night he has snuck away to pray in what is called Gethsemane, but this time he has asked his disciples to come with him. So they go to the garden and He tells them that he is so upset that he feels like he might die. Jesus needs the disciples now more than ever, so he asks them to please stay awake with him while he prays. Then Jesus leaves the disciples and travels3 a little ways away to pray by himself. I need to take a moment to paint the picture of this scene in your mind. Gethsemane was a garden that was full of these old olive trees. It was also on the side of a mountain aptly called the Mount of Olives. It was right across from the mountain that the Temple in Jerusalem was on. It was here in this garden, at night that Jesus would sneak to for the past couple of nights while he was in Jerusalem to pray. I can’t say for certainty, because the Bible doesn’t directly say, but I’m pretty sure he prayed for the same thing those past nights that he prays for this night. Jesus leaves the disciples and walks deeper into this garden and falls on his face and beings to pray. We know that this wasn’t some nice gentle prayer from Jesus. This was a prayer drenched with his agony over what he knows is coming in the morning. The pain of the torture and humiliation of his death is bearing down on him so deeply that we’re told that sweat is falling o of him as if it were blood. Contrast this against what happens next. Jesus returns to the disciples and finds that they’re just sleeping peacefully. Jesus is pouring his heart out and the disciples can’t even stay awake, so he wakes them up to chastise them and ask them to pray. Then Jesus goes o and prays again. He continues to pray, pouring his heart out to his Father, and then he returns to find the disciples sleeping again. So Jesus just gives up on them and lets them sleep. He goes away again and prays once more. Then he returns, wakes up the disciples, and prepares to be arrested.
All this talk of prayer reminds me of a movie that came out in 2003 that was foundational to my understanding of theology when I first started following Christ. That movie was Bruce Almighty. Now, I certainly don’t advocate that we should base our theology on fictional movies, but I have to admit that it does present some doctrine in an interesting way, even if the movies are a bit vulgar at times. It stars a man named, as you can probably guess, Bruce. As the movie starts we see that Bruce is having a pretty rough day. Things just aren’t going his way and it continues to go from bad to worse. Things go really bad for Bruce and when he gets to his absolute lowest point he really cracks and lets God have it. He figures that God is at best terrible at his job of caring for the universe, or at worse willfully torturing him. Either way, Bruce has had enough and declares that if he had all God’s powers then he’d solve everyone’s problems. I mean, who hasn’t thought that before. I certainly have. Unlike many of us though, God calls his blu. The next day he gets called in for a job interview, except the job he’s given is God‘s job. It’s time for Bruce to put his money where his mouth is. He’s given all God’s powers and all God’s responsibilities. Of course, he starts o doing all the tricks, walking on water, getting even with his bullies, and, my favorite, parting his soup. Bruce soon finds out it’s not all fun when the voices start. He finds out that fortunately, he’s not going crazy. The voices are the prayers of everyone in Buffalo, New York, and those people are expecting answers. That’s where this clip begins.
What you don’t see is the fallout that happens after Bruce says “Yes” to all those prayers. 1,100 people win the lottery. They only get $17 each. People lose dozens of pounds just sitting on their butts. People’s wildest dreams get granted overnight and it throws the city of Buffalo into chaos. It goes to show that sometimes there are very good reasons that our prayers don’t always get answered with “yes.” It’s a hard truth to have to learn, and it’s one that I always have to work around. I’ve become a pro at what author Jon Acu calls the “prayer shot block.” It’s what you do when someone says a prayer that you know God is not going to say yes to. Say your friend Ryan says a prayer like, “Please help my wife learn to be more patient and understand my needs better.” And while you love your friend, you know that he’s kinda a jerk sometimes and his wife is kinda right, so you follow it up with, “Dear God, I pray for Ryan and his wife. Please let him learn to put her needs before his own.” So right as his prayer is floating up to heaven, you reach up and slap it down. I have to do this all the time as a pastor. I’ve had people ask me to pray for money problems, while they continue to blow money on lottery tickets. People have asked me to pray for their marriage, while they refuse to go to counseling. Students have asked me to pray for their test, but in their next breath tell me they haven’t studied at all. It goes to show that we again believe that prayer is magic and it’s the only solution we need for all our problems. What you need is not a ”yes” from God, but to actually get up and do something. “Now, are you saying that prayer isn’t the answer to everything?” YES! That is exactly what I’m saying. God forbid, but if there was a threat and the security team here at the church needed to respond, they’re not going to respond by holding hands in the lobby and praying. They’re going to act! So often we pray for things because we don’t want to do them, so we think that God will just make up for our laziness and God is shouting, “What are you doing! I have equipped and prepared you for this! What more do you want from me?” We don’t use prayer to empower ourselves, we instead use it as an excuse to not do what we’re supposed to and it drives me crazy. Look at Jesus’ prayer. He prays more fervently and powerfully than anyone else in the history of the universe, and then he still goes to the cross. Follow Jesus’ example and pray and pray but then know that there is a time to get up o your knees and do something. So often our measure of successful prayer is that it goes answered with a “yes.” If that’s the standard, then Jesus’ prayer must have been terrible, because his prayer doesn’t seem to make anything better for him. He is still arrested, tried, beaten, and crucified. So if Jesus wasn’t praying to get a “yes” from God, then why do we pray like that? Don’t get me wrong. We should certainly bring our problems and wants and needs to God through our prayers, he wants to hear the desires of our heart, but he isn’t going to serve up answers on a silver platter. We also have to be ok that sometimes our prayers don’t get a yes. Sometimes we don’t get the job, our marriage falls apart, we’re not healed, our loved ones die. That doesn’t mean we didn’t pray hard enough or that God hates us and didn’t want to answer our prayers. God didn’t say “yes” to Jesus and sometimes he doesn’t say “yes“ to us either.
(Proof 2) – Prayer is about changing you
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask for God to help fix our problems, because we absolutely should, but that is only such a small part of what prayer should be. We tend to make prayer all about getting things, and it is so much more than that. So what is the point of prayer? What is the full reason we should pray? In fact, why is Jesus praying? Does that strike anyone else as strange or just me? Jesus is literally God, he has shown that he has all the powers of God and that if he really didn’t want to go to the Cross then he could have called angels to come and save him. He commands the entire universe, the weather literally listens to him, so what does he have to pray about? The answer to our question, “What is prayer all about” lies at the answer to that question, “why is Jesus praying?” Every night for the week that Jesus spent in Jerusalem before his death, he had le! the disciples and went to this garden, Gethesmane. Every night he spent praying. Him knowing what was going to happen to him, that he would be arrested, tried, tortured, and executed, he went to the garden. What exactly is Jesus praying for? Fortunately, he tells us right here in this story. He says, “Father, if there is any other way that this could be done, let it be done.” So he is looking for a way to escape his fate, to be delivered from the cross. But that’s not the entirety of his prayer. I’ve le! out the most important part. He continues the prayer, “but not my will, but yours be done.” Woah, this is more intense than we thought. Jesus here is having a battle of wills. We actually know that from something he says in the story after he wakes the disciples up for the first time. He asks them to pray because “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
What is happening here with Jesus through his prayer is very similar to what happens to our friend Bruce in Bruce Almighty when he finally understands prayer. All through the movie, Bruce struggles with his own selfishness. He is given all of God’s powers because he said he could solve everyone’s problems, but he only uses God’s powers to solve his own problems. He doesn’t actually end up helping anyone else. His selfishness ends up pushing away his girlfriend, Grace. She eventually leaves him, and she sends her sister to get her things from Bruce’s apartment. That’s where this clip begins.
Bruce doesn’t end up getting what he wants, but in that prayer, he realizes just how to overcome his selfishness. His prayer empowers him to change his life. That’s really at the heart of Jesus‘ prayer here. Every night on that mountain, in the garden, Jesus prays. He looks across the Kidron Valley that separates Mount Olive, the one he is on, from the Temple mountain and he can see the temple. He can see the lights from the torches and lamps in the temple, he can see the smoke rising from the burnt offerings for Passover, he sees this temple, this symbol of God’s current broken relationship with his people. The Israelites couldn’t have a personal relationship with their God, they couldn’t worship him in spirit and truth, they had to constantly sacrifice for their sins, and God wants so badly to be with these people. He wants to live not in a temple, but in their hearts, except the only way that could happen is if Jesus gives himself as a sacrifice for every. He really doesn’t want to go to the cross, to be tortured and put to death, but more than that, he prays that not his will be done but God’s. The movie, the Passion of the Christ, makes all the drama of Christ’s death about his trial and execution, but really this is the moment, here in The garden, this is the moment all of eternity is resting on. Does Jesus overcome his flesh and his own desires and submit to his father’s will, or does he tap out? Eternity lies in the balance here. Heaven and Hell all wait on what happens at this moment in the garden as this battle is raging inside of Jesus, the Son of God, as he fights to stay focused on his Father’s will. That’s when we find out what prayer really is about. Prayer is not about our will being done in heaven, but God’s will being done in us.
[Outro] (Central Theme) – Place a heavenly perspective on your prayers
We have to keep a heavenly perspective on our prayers. That’s what this story is all about. We can and should pray for the things we want. Jesus does that right here in his prayer, but he follows it with these powerful words, “Not my will, but yours be done.” When is the last time you prayed like that? Can you pray like that? Imagine how your life would change if that was how you approached prayer. “Father, I really need this new job, but I understand if you don’t make a way for me to get it. Not my will, but yours be done.“ “Father, I want you to guide me through this struggle or situation I find myself in and give me a way out, but if I have to endure it for longer, then that’s ok. Not my will, but yours be done.” ” Father, I really need you to remove this person from my life, but if instead, you want me to learn to forgive them, then that’s fine. Not my will, but yours be done.“ “Father, I really don’t want to lose my mom or my dad, I want you to heal them, but if instead, you take them from me, then that’s ok. Not my will, but yours be done.” I’ve had prayers like that. Prayers that I shout to God for an answer, but he always reminds me that it’s not my will, but his that will be done. It feels harsh and rough, especially from a God who loves us, but he also gives us another promise through our prayers, that he will prepare us to do his will, just like he did with Jesus. He may not give you the job or fix all your money problems, but he will give you hope for a bright future regardless of your financial situation. He may not magically make your children behave better, but he can give you grace and patience to become a better parent and show them who He is. He may not magically take away your struggle, but he will give you the strength to make it through it. He may not heal your mother or father, because he didn’t do that for me. No matter how many times I cried out to him and begged and pleaded with him. I would shout at him in my pain, but he reminded me that not mine but his will be done. My prayers didn’t go unanswered, though. He still heard me and while he still took my parents when it was their time, he comforted me, eased my pain, and healed my heart, and he taught me to take a heavenly perspective on my prayers as Jesus did. If we want to stop treating prayer like it’s magic, then we have to shift our perspective on prayer from our will but God’s will, and when we do that we suddenly realize that God will use our prayers to prepare us for his will.