All In - Forty Days of Prayer: "Like A Child"

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Take your bibles this morning if you would turn to Luke 18. I imagine some of you the moment I came up on state probably took your eyes away from the video for just a moment see what on Earth I was up to. A lot of you no doubt recognize the chairs I have on stage this morning.  These chairs go all the way back to the beginning with this church. 

[Indicating larger char] A lot of these chairs (this will mean something to some of you) go back to the J. Frank Norris days, the seminary days, and all of that.  When this church got its launch, these were the chairs God's people were sitting in when they heard the word, they grew in Christ, and started reaching their community.

[Indicating smaller chair] These are something extra-special.  This one apparently says Alyssa on it, so Alyssa claimed this one. I don't know which Alyssa but there have been a few through the years! These were the little chairs down in the cradle roll in the basement with Miss BJ McLarry teaching those little ones for years and years.  BJ, back in the back, raise your hand back there.  Give Mrs. BJ a hand here this morning.  I know some of you right now wiping tears; I can see you. Because you know how special what happened in these chairs was.

I think [these chairs are] a pretty good analogy for the spiritual life. Here's the thing, it was in those seats that many of the people under the sound of my voice first learned to pray. I got a picture of my son Vance, who’s here this morning, when he's just a little guy, just a little baby boy, seated in these chairs with his hands folded learning how to pray.

This morning we start a brand new series simply called All In: 40 Days of Prayer.  To say that prayer is prominent in the Bible would be the most colossal kind of understatement.  I mean from cover to cover y'all, this is a book jammed to the brink with prayer. In Genesis we see every one of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob all praying with familiarity and directness.  In Exodus, prayer was the way Moses secured the liberation of Israel from Egypt.  In Joshua, it was prayer that took the children of Israel literally into the Promised Land and every step of the way. We read of King David who composed Israel’s song / prayer book, known as the Psalms.  We read of his son, Solomon, who built the Temple in Jerusalem and then dedicated that temple with this magnificent prayer.  The Old Testament book of Job is a story of a man suffering, a man going through pain, yes, but its pain worked through with prayer. 

Prayer permeated the ministry of the Old Testament prophets.  The Jews preservation and return from exile in Babylon were essentially carried out through prayer. Daniel, nearly executed by the Babylonian authorities over his insistence that he was going to pray three times a day, prayed this gorgeous prayer of repentance for his people. He asked for their return and God heard him. Nehemiah rebuilds the walls around Jerusalem with a series of great prayers and wise leadership.  And then, ladies and gentlemen, there was Jesus. 

I've been reading a book by TimKeller that I would absolutely recommend to anybody it is changing the way I pray!  I’ll be quoting this some of it through the series, here's what Tim Keller said:

Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, He said, should be a “house of prayer”), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer. He prayed often and regularly with fervent cries and tears (Heb 5:7), and sometimes all night. The Holy Spirit came upon Him and anointed Him as He was praying (Luke 3:21–22), and He was transfigured with the divine glory as He prayed (Luke 9:29). When He faced His greatest crisis, He did so with prayer. We hear Him praying for His disciples and the church on the night before He died (John 17:1–26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, He died praying.

Immediately after their Lord’s death, the disciples prepare for the future by being “constantly in prayer” together (Acts 1:14). All church gatherings are “devoted . . . to prayer” (Acts 2:42; 11:5; 12:5, 12). The power of the Spirit descends on the early Christians in response to powerful prayer, and leaders are selected and appointed only with prayer. All Christians are expected to have a regular, faithful, devoted, fervent prayer life. In the book of Acts, prayer is one of the main signs that the Spirit has come into the heart through faith in Christ. The Spirit gives us the confidence and desire to pray to God and enables us to pray even when we don’t know what to say. Christians are taught that prayer should pervade their whole day and whole life—they should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).43

Prayer is so great that wherever you look in the Bible, it is there. Why? Everywhere God is prayer is. Since God is everywhere and infinitely great, prayer must be all-pervasive in our lives.

Here's the question this morning, if prayer is that prominent, if prayer is so incredibly powerful, if prayer is a spiritual essential, can we just be honest? Why do we find it so hard to pray with any kind of consistency, with any kind of power, with any kind of certainty? If I would ask the question how many of you believe in prayer this morning, I’m betting most hands would go up. If I were to ask you this morning how many of you believe your prayer life is adequate most of our hands would stay tightly confined to our torso. Statistics tell us 80% of Christians pray for less than 15 minutes a day and that makes a lot of sense because the average pastor, statistics tell us, prays for seven minutes a day. Here's the thing, if I had to choose one word to describe my own struggles with prayer (and I can't stand up here like “I got this one down y'all” that's the honest truth) if I were to describe my own struggle with prayer through the years; staying consistent, doing it with certainty having it with power, I would simply use the word – uncertainty. 

I’ve had a lot of uncertainty when it comes to prayer. How exactly do I do this? What exactly should I pray for? What should I expect when I pray? Isn’t that a big one?  Lord I don't know your sovereignty, what if I’m asking for something that's just me.  If you're going to do it, aren't you going to do it anyway? All those questions that go around in your mind when you pray: God why do I often feel so empty when I pray? So distracted when I pray? Why does prayer feel so awkward, Lord? Uncertainty. I just don't know if what I’m doing here is... certainly it can't be what they were doing when it had so much power!

So here's the question y'all, how can we pray with certainty? How can we pray better? How can we tap into what they were talking about in this book? In Luke 18 this morning, Jesus is going to give us this powerful picture.  I think He knew how broke down we are, I think He knew we'd have trouble with deep theological concepts, so very often He gives us a picture.  Very often He takes some metaphor and says you want to understand something deep look at this.  So in Luke 18 were given this powerful, beautiful, simple metaphor when it comes to prayer.

15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it [people bringing babies up to Jesus for Him to touch], they rebuked them. [Don’t do that!]
16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer [or allow] little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such [or to such belong] is the kingdom of God.
17 Verily [or truly] I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as [or literally like] a little child shall in no wise enter therein.

Jesus says if you're going to be mine, if you're going to come to me, and have a relationship with me, and talk with me, you're going to have to become like these little children that you despise!

I want to break down a phrase here for our next few moments together and I pray God just puts it in our heart, burns into our consciousness. Here it is: prayer is a continual conversation between a loving father and his helpless child. Let's unpack that just a little bit.

His helpless child.  Our text says it like this, 15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.

Here's the idea. In most ancient cultures, children were regarded as a burden until they were physically strong enough to contribute something, ok?  When you can bring something to the table, we’ll regard you; up until then stay out of the way, ok?  So with that notion, they’re bringing babies up to Jesus.  We find in other gospels they’re bringing little children up to Jesus just wanting Him to touch them.  The kids couldn’t bring anything! They couldn't bring some deep question, a debate, great conversation; they were just coming up to Him.  They wanted Jesus to touch them and the disciples say, listen they don't have anything to bring to the table, He doesn't have time or resources for them.  

I want you to notice what Jesus does and says here, 16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.

So the question here is in what sense are we to become like children if we're going to have a relationship with God and enter His kingdom?   I read all sorts of commentaries this week, looked at all sorts of commentators, all that and there was one little phrase that absolutely stopped me in my tracks.  Here’s what it said, “children cannot live without trusting those around them. Their trust is not a virtue. It's a vital reality.”  You know what that means? Kids have no resources; they have nothing to bring to the table to garner your favor. Kids are needy and they know it.  It thrills me because 13 years ago when I arrived there was one baby in our nurseries and that was Emmy Adams and she don't look like much of a baby anymore, she looks like a grown woman now.  Now we've got all these babies, all these little sweethearts running around. One of my favorite things is to watch them. Like Brooklyn, she's just learning to walk. It's amazing how you have a crowd of adults just standing around watching them walk; fascinated, just staring at them.  And that baby doing that stumbling thing they do.  

One of the things I love is babies very early on learn to point at where they want to go, point at what they want you to grab for them.  They learn very early on “I can't do it but you can. I can't get over there but you can, take me. I can't get that sucker but you can give it to me if you want to.”  So they're not ashamed to ask.  They don't have too much pride they don't have any ego, they know you've got resources and they don't so they ask.

In another gospel the Bible says this, [Matthew 18] Jesus said [verse 3], “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Ladies and gentleman, you know what I'm convinced is one of our biggest problems with prayer? Pride and self-sufficiency.  Right?  We don't think we're all that needy. We don't really know what to ask for a lot of the time. We’ve got resources;  I got money in the bank, I got some savings, I got a couple of cars to get me where I'm going, I've got a reputation, I've got some clothes, it's not like I’m in the heart of Haiti or Africa or Guatemala and don't have anything. I got some stuff.  Jim Cymbala once said this, “Prayer cannot truly be taught by principles and seminars and symposiums. It has to be born out of a whole environment of felt need. If I say, "I ought to pray," I will soon run out of motivation and quit; the flesh is too strong. I have to be driven to pray.”

You know what I’ve been thinking about? Do you know when we don't struggle with prayer and I meet people all the time, and I'm not saying this to disparage anybody, their  like “man I just I don't know what to say in prayer, like please don't call on me in prayer, I don’t want to say the wrong thing!” I think a lot of us drag that into our private time like “I just don't know how to talk to God.” Do you know when we do know how to talk to God?  Do you know when we become fluent prayers?  When we’re in danger, when our family is in danger, when we're in serious, serious trouble and we don't know how we're going to make it out. Nobody needs prayer lessons at that point. We instinctively know how to say “oh God, I can’t get out of this! I can't heal them. We're not going to make it through Lord unless you do something. God we don’t have any control here!”

If you want to know the context of what we're reading, and this is strong look at Luke 18 starting with verse 9,
Jesus spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised [or looked down on] others:
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican [or a tax collector – hated people].
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican [dirty tax collector].
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. [Did he ask for one thing?  No, because he’s got it.  He’s got his resources, he’s got control, and he’s good.]
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast [beat on his chest], saying, God be merciful [I have nothing to bring to you] to me a sinner.
14 [From the son of God y’all...] I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

You know part of the problem with us in prayer is we have these illusions. We’re fooled about ourselves. We think we've kind of got it together, we think we've got control. My friend can I promise you something? Control is an illusion.  I will never forget Matt Chandler from the Village, this amazing, brilliant, communicator. This pastor who I mean has a gift from God to communicate God's Word. He had a serious, serious brain issue.  To the point they had to go in and do surgery and I remember literally praying to God, “God please don't let that brilliant mind, that gifted mind be damaged.”  You know what? Chandler came out of that.  I'll never forget him standing in his pulpit with his head all shaved, 30-something years old, in the prime of his life, in the peak of his ministry, and you know he said? He looked at the congregation and he said “you have no idea how easy you are to kill. You have no idea how easy you are to kill.” Control, you guys, is an illusion.

Thinking we've got it together. Do you understand every breath in your lungs as a gift from God? Every firing neuron? Every beat of your heart? God commands it to beat and the moment He commands it to stop, it is over! You understand? Every dollar in your bank account can be gone in a moment notice. That's not said to terrify us; it’s to remind us the source of every good and perfect gift is God!  Is your marriage in perfect shape? God can fix that! Is your spiritual life thriving where Jesus is real to you, so real you can't stand to keep Him quiet, you got to share Him with other people?  No? Jesus can fix that! Is your family, or your kids, growing up in fear and admonition of God? Not only growing up healthy physically but growing up healthy spiritually? God can fix that if you're scared of it. Everything we truly need only God has got. God help us! Listen, humility; to not be fooled about yourself, to come before Him and be like “oh God [beats chest], I’ve got nothing! God you're the only one that can do it! I don't have anything today!”  To get in touch with our need would be the true beginning of a vibrant prayer life; a helpless child.

Second of all we see a loving father.  As we read in our devotionals this week we're going to be going through the Lord's Prayer.  Most all of us recited that. I remember every football game in West Texas we'd get down on a knee, “our Father who art in heaven hallowed...” We'd all recite it and then it was like, “Ah, let’s kill ‘em, let’s rip their faces off” right as as you got done with the Lord's Prayer.  We all learned that prayer and said that prayer most of us.  It’s just kind of a little ritual.  But think about the way Jesus started that. When you pray, say our Father which art in heaven.  I think sometimes we know these things so well we forget the significance.  You understand, when He told His disciples to pray to God and say “our Father” that intimately they were shocked. They didn't think of God as their father like that. They thought of Him as father in sort of a general sense but not personal, not intimate. God was too big for that. He was too distant for that. You dare not mess up around Him and certainly coming before Him as father was a risky thing to do!  Jesus said no listen when you come before God, omnipotent, omnipresent God, come and say our Father

Here's the deal, it was natural for Jesus to call Jehovah father that intimate term suggested they had a relationship for all eternity past. Here in the model prayer Christ is telling His disciples I want you to share the same relationship I have with my father I'm going to give you, and he's going to be your father. I want to give you and some of you know it [in the mind] but God help us to get it [in the heart] today.   I want to give you a profound truth this morning if you're a follower of Jesus Christ. When you got saved you got adopted into the family of God. When you got saved it wasn't just a change from hell to heaven you got a adopted into a brand-new family; the family of God!  I hear people say a lot, I see things on Facebook a lot, about how we're all God's children.  In a very general sense that's true; we're all image bearers even those of us that have fallen away.  In a particular sense the Bible says that from birth we're not children of God but in fact children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), sons of disobedience (Eph. 5:6). 

Although the Jews who rejected Christ 2,000 years ago tried to claim God as their father, Jesus told them in John 8 [paraphrasing] if God we're your father you love Me, but you're of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.  But you what?  When you get saved, something happens John 1:11.
 11 [Jesus] came to his own,[b] and his own people[c] did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 

Galatians 4 takes it deeper, [paraphrasing] when the right time came God sent his son, born of a woman, subject to the law, God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us to be His very own children. That's what we were singing this morning with Brandon. Because we're his children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our heart prompting us to call out “Abba”, Father. Now you are no longer a slave to fear but God's own child and since you're His child God has made you His heir.

One more, Romans 8:15, 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; [the fear that you are not properly related to God] but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

What is that word, “Abba”.  Over and over, you can call him Abba.  He saves you so you can call him Abba.  Do you understand when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood, talking to His Father on the night before he was going to drink that cup of judgment, Jesus called the Father Abba.  Do you know what that Aramaic word means?  If you want a modern English counterpart - “Daddy”  You know what the Bible says? God so loves you Christian, your sins are so gone, His goodness is so yours, that just like Jesus was entitled to call his Father, Daddy and all that that relationship means, so are you.

Charles Stanley once wrote this, “I've heard of many unwanted pregnancies; I've never heard of an unwanted adoption.  Couples adopt children because they want children. God adopted you for the same reason. He knew your shortcomings. He knew your inconsistencies.  He knew all about you. But he wanted you just the same.”

You know what Psalms says
As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;[a]

    he remembers that we are dust.

Matthew said 11 If you then [Fathers], who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

You know what a lot of the problem is? Part of it is we're not willing to say,” God I don't have anything, and everything that matters I need, and I'm empty, and I'm broken, and I'm scared, and I'm simple...” but you know what part of it is?  We're just not sure how He really feels about us a lot of the time.   It’s like that leper that ran up to Jesus and said “Jesus if you want to, you can make me clean.”  I’m telling you, every time I read that I'm almost in tears.  “If you want to I know you have the power, but I don't know if you want to. I'm dirty, I'm messed up, you may not want somebody like me hanging around with you. You may not want to touch me, nobody else does. If you want to you can make me clean.”  You know what Jesus says?  “I want to. Be clean.” He wants to.

Bottom line is, some of you are angry, angry, angry at God because you have cried out to Him like this and He didn't, you feel, answer your prayers. Listen my friends, sometimes my children ask me for things and the answer has to be no. Not because I don't love them, but because I do love them. I can see downstream. I can see some things that will hurt their character. I can see some things.  It may hurt now but this hurt will make something beautiful later. I don't know what you've been through but I want to tell you something, He knows all about you and He loves you.

Here’s the last thing, it's a continual conversation.  Prayer is the continual conversation between a loving Father and his helpless child; a continual conversation. Think about this one, of the whole notion, “Father this morning I know you love me. I know I'm washed in the blood of Jesus so all my sins are gone. I know I have your goodness and God today I’m going to make the wrong choices. I confess to you I love the wrong stuff; stuff that breaks my heart. I constantly get all caught up in it. Oh Father, please help me and work this in me. God you know what you want to do with me. Please for my wife she's struggling, please for my kids I want to turn out right, oh God!”  What if this was you helpless? No pride, no ego, no nothing but [the tax collector beating his chest in grief]. “God you're my father, I know you love me.”   

Here's the thing, I have found very often I don't know what to say. I don't how to put it. I don't know.  We get incredibly awkward sometimes in prayer. Next Sunday, I’m going to preach on this, but I want to give you a little taste. I'm having something that is profoundly changing my prayer life. Listen to this quote, this is where it started “prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started... we speak only to the degree we are spoken to.” I'm telling you your prayer life will take flight when you don't start off doing the talking; you let Him start off doing the talking.

Next Sunday we're going to talk about exactly how to do that. This book called Prayer, as I’m drawing to a close, I've been getting so much out of it.  It has been a blessing and I've been practicing so much of what the Lord's told me through the Scriptures, through the insights on this but there's one spot in here I write in my books, I underline, I highlight; I mean a tear them apart when they mean something to me.  There's a section this book where I literally wrote in bold THIS IS IT and underlined every letter of it.  

In our natural state we pray to God to get things. We may believe in God, but our deepest hopes and happiness reside in things as in how successful we are or in our social relationships. We therefore pray mainly when our career or finances are in trouble, or when some relationship or social status is in jeopardy .When life is going smoothly, and our truest heart treasures seem safe, it does not occur to us to pray. Also, ordinarily our prayers are not varied–they consist usually of petitions, occasionally some confession (if we have just done something wrong). Seldom or never do we spend sustained time adoring and praising God. In short, we have no positive, inner desire to pray. We do it only when circumstances force us. Why? We know God is there, but we tend to see him as a means through which we get things to make us happy. For most of us, he has not become our happiness. We therefore pray to procure things, not to know him better.

All this changes when we discover that we have been mired all our lives in forms of self-salvation, and we turn to Christ. When we grasp his astonishing, costly sacrifice for us, transfer our trust and hope from other things to Christ, and ask for God’s acceptance and grace for Christ’s sake, we begin to realize with the Spirit’s help the magnitude of our benefits and blessings in Christ. Then we begin to want almost desperately to know and love God for himself. His love and regard make popularity and worldly status look pale and thin. Being delighted in him and delighting him become inherently fulfilling and beautiful.

To see the law by Christ fulfilled

And hear his pardoning voice

Transforms a slave into a child

And duty into choice.
-William Cowper, Olney Hymns

Friends, these 40 days... I’m telling you, one thing prayer does like no other, it reorders your loves.  You may say I love stuff, I know it's going to break my heart, but I can't get over it.  You know what will change that? Prayer.  When you come before God, whether you feel it or not in the beginning, and commit to “Father,  I’m going to come before you like a child and humble myself, and seek your face. I don't know what you're going to do. I don't know where you're leading me. I don't know what's going to happen with my church. I don’t know what's going to happen with my family. I don’t have any control over any of that. But God, I feel you prompting me to come” You know some of you this morning, you feel him prompting you to come. He's calling you. He wants this with you.

You know what?  For 40 days, to climb off that hamster wheel of obligation that's had a whole lot of activity but not a lot of progress, and say God for these 40 days please let me come to see you as you are let me come to know the real you.


"Like A Child" Brian Loveless Sermon on March 5, 2017 at Calvary Baptist Church, Grand Prairie, Texas. 1st part in a series called "All In - Forty Days of Prayer"

Our mission is simple: Become whole-hearted followers of Jesus Christ. The people of Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, TX seek to fulfill our mission by accomplishing these four actions: See God - To experience God in fresh ways every week. Share Life - To enjoy biblical community with our church family. Serve Others - To manifest God’s love in tangible acts of service. Stay Connected - To remain in supporting fellowship during the pains of life.