Talking To God – 03.14.2021
This is an old story, and it might not even be true – but it makes me laugh and it makes my point, so here we go. Once upon a time there was a small town that had been historically “dry.” No alcohol allowed in town. But then a local business man decided to build a tavern. A group of Christians from a local church were concerned and planned an all-night prayer meeting to ask God to intervene. Lord, keep this alcohol out of our town. It just so happened that shortly after the prayer meeting, lightning struck the bar and it burned to the ground. The owner of the bar sued the church, claiming that the prayers of the congregation were responsible, but the church hired a lawyer to argue in court that they were not responsible. The presiding judge, after his initial review of the case stated that “no matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear: the tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not.” 
Today is the next installment of our series Overcoming Obstacles and other extreme Sports. In our journey with Jesus we are walking through the book of Luke, and today we are going to break down chapter 18. After a bit of study I realized, chapter 18 is really just a series of stories giving us clear, practical advice on how to pray. How to talk to God. This is such a crucial, fundamental practice and a lot of us struggle with starting that conversation. If you have ever struggled with your connection to God, how to connect and talk to God – today’s sermon is for you.
So we jump right in with a story [read v.1-5]. So we’ve got a judge and a widow, and apparently he’s terrible – but she is persistent. She wears him down and he gives us justice, not because he’s a good guy – but because she sticks with it. [read v.6-8]. Jesus says, well how much more is God, who unlike the crummy judge, is actually good, how much more does a good God WANT to grant justice. So we get two things about this. First – God wants to grant justice for you. The good God in heaven wants you to have justice, whether in this life or the next – justice comes. So be persistent, that’s the second thing. Be persistent in your prayers. It’s okay to come back to God over and over about the same thing. It’s okay to pray for the same person or the same struggle or the same hope every single day. Think about it this way. Sometimes, you might feel like you’re pestering God – I’m just bothering him with my repetitive prayers, same thing day in and day out. But God is not like the terrible human judge. God is so much better. Consider a field of flowers for a moment. Imagine it, and entire field filled with the same type of flowers. Maybe they’re sunflowers or daffodils or something. Now God created every single flower in that field. But God does not use the copy and paste function. Every flower in the field, they are almost exactly identical, and yet God created each and every one individually and it brought joy to God’s heart over and over. Take a second to contemplate the sunrise. Every morning as it comes over the ridge, it is more or less exactly the same, and yet it pleases God to paint the world in light every single morning in the same way. Unlike the terrible judge, God invites our persistent, repetitive prayer. God draws joy from every single time we come to him, even if it’s the same words – like a new flower, like a new morning. The first story teaches us persistence in prayer.
[read v.9] – So the next story is for those who don’t pray, because they think they are already good enough. This is for people who look down on other people. Maybe you need prayer, but I’m too good for that. Jesus says, nah listen to this [read v.10-14]. So we’ve got our pharisee – who on the outside looks like a great, churchy God-fearing man. He follows the rules, he fasts, he donates money – he’s looks the part of a great man. But he is so prideful! He thinks because of all the good things he does, like he has earned God’s love. Do you remember that horrible paragraph last week about slavery? Jesus says we obey and do the things Christians do, not because we earn anything – but because it’s our place in the universe. We are the created of God, living his way. That doesn’t make us better than other people. We are all still sinners, saved by grace. So we’ve got this haughty prideful pharisee – thinking he’s good with God because of his good deeds. Then there’s the tax collector. And I just love this picture. Standing far off, won’t even look up to heaven – convicted of his sin, aware of his status as far away from God. Beating his chest, crying out to God – “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” It’s a powerful image to teach us the next thing we need in prayer. Humility. Jesus says the one with humility in his heart is the one who comes away justified. Not the one with the big list of good deeds, but the humble heart. We want persistence like the widow, and we want humility like the tax collector.
After Jesus tells this story, he has kind of this random moment [read v.15-17]. Jesus says “let the children come to me,” and then he goes further and says, you need to receive the kingdom of God as a little child. We need to come before God as a child, with ears that listen. If you don’t know – kids soak up what their parents do. Far more than any rule you can put down for children to follow – they soak up what their parents DO. That’s how we need to experience the kingdom of God. Soak up what God is saying to you in the scriptures and in your life. Come as a child.
But there’s another level I wanted to highlight. Think about how a child experiences love. I’m a father and I have children. And I will always love my children, even if they disobey me. It makes me sad, but my love for my sons will always be there. It’s non-negotiable. Because I am their father. And yet, some of us – in our connection to God, we think God is a worse parent than us. I can love my child when they screw up, but there’s no way God could love me. I have to earn God’s love by doing good things. Isn’t that how some of us look at God? One of the worst lies the adversary ever taught us was that God does not love us until we obey. I finished a book this past week called the Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler, which was really great, but at the end of the book he talks about a child learning to walk. And it really resonated with me, because I got a kid who just learned how to walk. That’s right, my pandemic baby can walk. And in the book Matt compares how children learn to walk with how we learn to walk with God. Because children all learn the same way. They crawl, they learn to pull themselves up on stuff. Like the coffee table. And Ezra was always very proud of himself. Haha! I can pull myself up on stuff. Did you see what I did, I stood up! Then they start moving along the table, moving along the couch. They can’t walk, but he can side step down the coffee table as long as he’s got support. And then there’s that moment. Where he steps away from the table. And he wobbles, but then he lets go of the table and starts moving towards me or towards my wife or whatever it is. He walks. Like a step and a half, right? 3 steps max and then he falls. Now what does a parent do the first time a kid takes three steps and falls. We freak out! We cheer and we clap and we take videos for Instagram and we call grandma to tell her and we scoop up the baby into our arms and we’re so happy he took three steps. Then we put him down, and try and get him to do it again. Walk to mommy, walk back to daddy. Step, step, plop. That’s why baby’s butts are so bouncy. I swear it seems like they’re made of rubber. Step, step, plop. They fall all the time. Yet no parent focuses on the fall. I’ve never met another dad who’s like, “My kid took his first step, but he fell like a idiot. What a failure.”
So why do we think God is like that? When a Christian is taking their first steps in a walk with Jesus, sometimes they will fall. Jesus said, “occasions for stumbling will come.” Why do we think God focuses on the fall, rather than being overjoyed that his child just took their first steps? Don’t listen to that lie! If you have Jesus, you have forgiveness, and that is the greatest reason to get back up and keep walking. My little boy taking three steps and falling brings me so much joy, because I know now he’ll take four steps and fall, and then he’ll take lots of steps and no falling. Then those steps will lead to running, will lead to climbing and dancing and playing. Jesus says, you need to receive the kingdom of God as a little child. There is a God in heaven who loves you, he offers you forgiveness through Jesus, and if you have that he walks beside you, he is watching you take your first steps towards holiness. And God is so excited that you took three steps, and then four and then before you know it – you too can be running, and climbing and dancing in the kingdom of God. Come to God as a child, soak up what God is saying and soak up who your good Father in heaven is.
The widow shows us to have persistence in prayer, the tax collector show us a need for humility and the children show us a little bit about who is listening to us. Then Jesus has a little conversation with a guy, we don’t know his name – we just call him the rich ruler. And it goes, [read v.18-21]. And it’s funny because we could almost just stop there. How do I get to heaven? Follow these rules. I’ve done that since I was a kid. Boom. Done. And if that’s how it worked, that’s all you need. Follow the rules, and God will love you. It’s a legalistic contract and so simple. Requires no actual relationship, no trust. Just obey a list of rules. But then Jesus says, “wait, wait, wait – one more thing: sell everything you own.” And the rich ruler’s like, “Come again for Big fudge? You want me to do what?” Sell everything you own [read v.22-23]. Now the big question that always comes up is why? Why does Jesus tell this guy to sell all his stuff? He doesn’t tell anybody else to do that. And some of us, who are still trying to earn God’s love – we’re over here taking notes and we’re wondering – is this is a new rule? Do I have to do that too? If I sell all my stuff today, then when my paycheck comes in on Friday – can I buy new stuff? Like a change of clothes? Then next Sunday do I have to sell my new stuff? What’s the rule here? How do I earn God’s love by obeying this new rule Jesus is giving us? [pause] But that aint it.
The rich ruler trusted in his money. He had learned in his life to depend on wealth, rather than leaning on God. Jesus says [read v.24-25]. Rich people have a hard time trusting God. They have learned to provide for themselves through the methods of the world, and Jesus says – if you want to follow me, I need you to lean on me, not money. The reason Jesus tells him to sell all his stuff, is because for that fella – his stuff was a distraction from God. It’s a lot like the pharisees and the tax collector. God doesn’t want anything between you and him. God doesn’t want you thinking he loves you because of your good deeds. God doesn’t want you thinking you got everything you need because you’ve got money. God wants you to trust him. Our father in heaven wants you to trust in him and lean on him completely. Money is one of the greatest obstacles that keeps you from a life where you can truly trust God.
Then the chapter finishes up with one final story. It goes like this, [read v.35-39]. Blind man by the road, begging as Jesus walked by with a big crowd of people. By this point in the story, Jesus is pretty famous – like, he’s a really big deal. Beggar asks for help, people tell him to stop, so he gets louder. He shouts for Jesus, he cries out for Jesus’ attention. [read v.40-43]. The man shouts louder. He makes himself heard. Jesus brings him near and asks “What do you want me to do for you?” I love how much Jesus says that to people. He says it all the time, “what do you want me to do for you?” He heals the beggar, who starts following Jesus glorifying God. And the big thing I’m getting from that is that we need to make ourselves heard. There are going to be things that will keep you from prayer, there are things or people or riches or good deeds that will keep you from kneeling in prayer and connecting with the almighty. But you need to overcome those obstacles. Be loud with your prayers. The world is noisy, but you need to make yourself heard. Jesus wants to bring you close, to turn to you and say, “what can I do for you?” In this story the beggar shouts. The beggar is louder than the voices trying to keep him away from his savior. But in our lives sometimes being loud with your prayers means that you turn down the volume on the world. Find a quiet place. Turn off the cell phone, the TV, shut down the screens – take a moment to hear and be heard by God. Be loud with your prayers.
Throughout this whole chapter. It felt kind of scattered, it’s like 5-6 different stories, but throughout the entire thing I’m just getting this theme. This singular message rising from the text this morning. God is listening for you. The Almighty God, your loving Father in heaven, is listening for you. He wants to hear from you. He is better than the judge who listened to the widow because she was annoying. He actually wants to bring justice to you. He comes to the tax collector, in his humility, lowly and cast aside, and lifts him up. Because he wanted to hear from the tax collector. The disciples tried to keep the children away, Jesus wanted to hear from the children. The rich ruler, who let his money get in the way, Jesus wanted a connection with the man, not his money. He went so far as to say, “you’ve got to get rid of all your stuff, so you can hear me.” And then the blind beggar – who shouted down the obstacles, Jesus wanted to hear from him. God wants to hear from you. God is listening for your voice.
The application, the challenge for us this week should be super obvious. [point to the screen] Right there. Pray. That’s it. Pray. Talk to God. Reach out to the one who is listening to you. Don’t assume that you follow all the rules, so you and God are good – pray. Don’t assume you have plenty of blessings and money, so you don’t really need anything from God – pray. Don’t let obstacles or naysayers get in the way to keep you away from Jesus. Pray.
I’m going to outline a couple of the basics on prayer and then we’re out of here. First, pray a LOT. Pray so often that it becomes a reflex. All of us have emotional reflexes. Maybe when your stressed you eat, or if you’re feeling depressed you shop, or if your angry you go break something. But what if the reflex before you turn to all these other coping mechanisms of the broken world – what if the first reaction was prayer. Pray a lot, so much that it becomes a reflex. Something happens in my life – my first reaction, my knee jerk reaction, is to pray. Put it in front of God first.
And I want to say – prayer can be awkward at first. Maybe you’ve never prayed before in your entire life. Or maybe you pray only on Sunday when the Pastor puts words on the screen and tells you what to say. So the idea of praying by yourself – you’ve got no idea. It is totally normal for prayer to feel awkward at first. Think about the first time you talk to anyone. You walk up to someone – and you don’t really know how to talk to them yet. Sometimes it feels the same way with God. When I became a Christian I was a teenager, and I remember wanting to pray. And I’d go home and lay on my bed and talk to my ceiling. Because that’s what it felt like! If it feels awkward, or it feels like you’re talking to the wall – don’t stress, sometimes that’s how it is in the beginning. Keep talking. God is listening, and from personal experience, the moment in my prayer when I realized there was something on the other end of the conversation – it changed my life forever. Pray a lot, and don’t worry about it if it’s awkward at first.
The third piece is to overcome the world’s loudness. Make yourself heard. Shout for Jesus’ attention. The modern world is flashy and loud. We have never lived in a more distracting time. I read these old theologians from a couple hundred years ago, and they’re like “I love to meditate on the word of God for hours everyday” and I’m sitting here in the modern world thinking, “of course you did, that’s the only book you owned!” There’s no Netflix back then, no sitcoms or Hollywood, no social media or music. If you want to become a prayer warrior, you need to carve out time to overcome the world’s loudness. Make yourself heard. Turn down the world and pray. I recommend first thing in the morning, last thing before bed. Those are perfect quiet times.
I teach this to the kids in confirmation and it’s just so valuable I wanted to share it with you all to close out. This is the ACTS prayer. Four types of prayer you can have in your life. Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. First, adoration – this is where you take a second to praise God because he’s awesome. Because you adore God. This is the blind beggar’s prayer. He’s just freaking out with excitement. God listened to him, changed his life, God is so good, all the time. Adoration. I adore you God. Then Confession – that’s the prayer of the tax collector. That’s the realization that we are far away from God, that we need forgiveness. We confess, we repent and God forgives us. This is a prayer you need every single time you sin, I need it just about every single day. I’m going to come back to Thanksgiving and move on to Supplication. Supplication is a prayer for God’s supply. We are asking God for help. This is the widow, right? She’s pestering the bad judge who doesn’t want to listen, but God tells us that he wants to grant us justice. He wants to hear from us. It’s okay to ask God for things, on our behalf AND for other people. Adoration, Confession, Supplication – now I skipped over Thanksgiving, because I couldn’t find it in the chapter. We’ve got all these stories, all these clear examples of Adoration, Confession and Supplication. And then I found it. The rich ruler. The man who followed every rule and had lots of money. There’s no thankfulness in his life. This could have been the story where the man was thanking God for all that he has been blessed with, but instead he took the blessings and was trying to do everything himself. Take a second every single day to Thank God for everything you’ve got in your life.
God is listening to you. Jesus teaches us to reach out and start that conversation, start that connection with God. With persistence like the widow, with humility like the tax collector, with thankfulness unlike the rich ruler, with a loud voice like the beggar. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you pray so often it becomes a reflex, the first thing you turn to. May you overcome the world’s loudness and make yourself heard. May you pray with adoration, confession, thanksgiving and even supplication – and in that way you will grow closer to your loving Father God in heaven. Amen.
 J.K. Johnston, Why Christians Sin, Discovery House, 1992, p. 129.