What I want to talk about tonight is something that I've heard a lot, a theme that comes up and I try – I'm going to try and do my best to explain it. And it's this: why are answers to prayer so inconsistent? Why are they so inconsistent and a lot of times when people say, "hey, John, you know, I heard a rumor that you get together and have coffee with people." And I'm like, "well, it is a sort of a rumor. I only do third wave boutique coffee." So it's not coffee in general. Tonight somebody saw me in Starbucks because everything else is closed, and they're like "settling for Starbucks." And I was like, "settling." I just want to be able to be honest about these things.


Have you experienced this, that God is somewhat inconsistent in the way he answers prayer in your life? Sometimes it's like, oh, my gosh, I am just aligned with heaven, and other times it's like, what happened? What happened? I've [experienced this] in my own life has been inconsistent, so sometimes I've been like, well, maybe I'm not using the right formula. I know it's A.C.T.S.: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. Maybe I'm praying like T.C.A.P or something where thanking is out of order. Or I don't know, maybe because I can't hear it because I'm not approaching in the right order or, you know, every now and then. Don't judge me for this. But in a moment of weakness, like I pulled out the prayer of Jabez and I was like, "it's a best seller Lord. And can I pray this, it's your word, Lord, increase my territory or whatever." You ever prayed formulas? Maybe some of you are like, "look, I don't doubt God's heart, but I actually do doubt his power a little bit. But I know he's good because I see that in Jesus." But maybe I doubt his power. Maybe all the talk about an interventionist God who still does stuff today, maybe like we're a little excited about that. We exaggerate that in our desire to be nice to God. So I'm always happy. Maybe he doesn't act, or maybe it's me, it's not God, it's me. Maybe I'm not fasting. If I hate fasting, maybe it's like, I'm not fasting. And Jesus said this kind only comes out [through prayer and fasting] and maybe I'm not praying with faith or maybe I'm praying the wrong way. Like I'm ending my prayers in your name instead of Jesus name. And God's like: "your name. What is your name? Say Jesus' name. How much clearer can I make it in the Gospels?" Maybe I'm getting that wrong. I don't know. I know that there is a temptation when God answers something once, you try to get under that spot and stay there. It's like you said a prayer and said "I'm not moving from this spot." But this one got through. I remember being on a camping trip -- confession. It was glamping. But I remember being on a glamping trip and there was no cell phone coverage. It was out in the country. But this one spot and this one spot you could get is like a very, very weak signal. And so you sort of see people sneak off and try and stand in this one square foot of [service]. Many of us are like that when it comes to prayer. We're just trying to get in that spot. So what is happening here? Why is it so inconsistent? And I think this really in many ways asks the larger question, which is, how does prayer work? Does it work? Well, what I want to present tonight, perhaps, is my take on that, and it's simple, but maybe it's not. How does prayer work? Maybe the question is, what kind of prayers am I praying? So maybe it's not on God's side, maybe it's time to investigate our side, which is the kinds of things that we're asking for, the spirit in which we approach God, all the rest of it. I wouldn't want to present to you tonight something simple, but it's basically three stages of prayer that I think we have the opportunity to grow in and to go through as followers of Jesus. Now, these stages. I don't want to moralize these stages. I can't go to Biblical theology of the three stages of prayer or anything like that. But I think you see, as we move through them that there's real truth to them. And these stages, though, they are sequential. I don't want to present them as stage ones for babies and, you know, stage three for blackbelt. I think that at some stage we're always in them. But I think they do help us to sort of get some perspective, perhaps on why prayer is inconsistent or perhaps why it doesn't quite work how we think. So let's jump into this. By the way, tonight's sermon is entitled "Careful. Prayer will change you."


So let's look at point number one, the first kinds of prayers, the first stages of prayer that we go into. And I've just called them simply prayers of request. Which honestly is about getting what we want from God. And believe it or not, that's actually sort of encouraged in the Bible to ask and to seek intent. I want to read a passage of scripture. You're probably familiar with it, but let's revisit it. Matthew 7:7-11. It says this. This is Jesus speaking, by the way. "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you. For everyone who asks, receives the one who seeks, finds and to the one who knocks the door will be opened. Which of you, if your 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 you?" Now, do any of you know which section of scripture Matthew 7 falls into in terms of the Gospels? This little section called the Sermon on the Mount, are you familiar with that? Jesus' clearest teachings about Kingdom Life. And apparently Jesus felt that it was important in the middle of his teachings on the Sermon on the Mount to include this section on prayer that says ask and you'll receive, seek and you will find, knock on the door will be opened. And then he ups the ante, and he says, because your God is a good father and He'll give good gifts to his children who ask him. And a lot of our prayers in this first stage of prayer requests where we just ask God to act, and he just acts. He just does stuff. And for a lot of people, this is truly represented in the early stages of their walk with God. With the new Christians or new believers, it just seems like you pray and he answers. And you have those prayers when you're in a café and you're like, "God, if you're real. I just ask in the next five minutes, my friend I haven't seen in two years would walk through the door." Then [they] walk through the door and you're like, "oh my God, what are you doing here? I know why you're here. I summoned you through prayer. It's so great to see you." Everything we just request, like God just seems to respond to it. He's there, he's present. "Father, if you're real this week I ask for a promotion." And so your boss is like, "you have a minute?" And you're like, "I've been expecting this." Yes. How much is it in your spirit? God just does these things for you. Never had any of that? You're just a new believer and God His nature is kind and He does it. I do one of these things as a parent and I don't know if it's good or bad, but I do it where I do these check-ins with my kids. And I've done it since before they were in kindergarten. And I basically take them out for an official meeting. And I just say to them, hey, I'd like to do a little three by three. Three things I'm getting right as a dad, and three things you think I can improve on in my relationship with you. And so my kids have always known that I've done this. And remember, one of the first times I did this with Hailey, so little, she's so cute having a tea party. I said "hey, you want to just do a little three by three with dad? Just to check in so, you know, how am I doing as your dad?"She said, "Well, you know, basically you're doing a great job and I don't think I'd change anything. You basically do everything I want." It's like, OK, great. She's like four. And I reflected on that and I was like, I basically do everything she wants, that's what I do and there's something wonderful about that, because what's being established in her life is the nature of her father. How does that feel about me? What's the source of provision and joy? I can go to my dad. He's going to do something about that. Almost nothing. You do basically everything I want. And honestly, it is an amazing thing when you're a parent to have a child and to watch your kid just emerge into personhood when they get little preferences and things that they love and little hobbies and trends. And sometimes just as a parent, you are constantly, proactively trying to do things to bless them and to draw out who they are. And at this point, some of you were like, look, I'm asleep at seven o'clock and I didn't come to church on a Sunday night to hear cute little stories about your kids, OK? Like, why don't you preach the Bible. Jesus the Christ in Matthew chapter seven, in the Sermon on the Mount, says, "ask, seek, and knock, because your dad is better than your earthly dad." Jesus uses father, child, and nature in here. There's at least something to this, the first stage of prayer where God responds to us. The number one question in the gospels around the person of Jesus, Jesus asks: "what do you want me to do for you?" An amazing thing. Jesus doesn't say, "oh, my gosh, you're such a spiritual consumer." He's just like, "you got a need? I'm the answer. What would you want? What do you want me to do for you?" And he in some senses, he doesn't seem necessarily that bothered by that, because often his response is, "I'm willing. I will heal you. I will make you whole." Jesus somehow is drawn, his compassion and power awakened by need. He seems to respond to that. When I first started auditing my prayers, which is really, like going back and looking as I grew in my faith, the content of my prayers, I realized that most of my prayers were in two categories: trouble and trivia. "Dear God help me." And so in moments of crisis, I'd be like "help, Lord God" and often miraculous things would happen. And other times I like trivial little things that, like no one else would know but me. Father, in the next five minutes I'm in the woods, would a certain animal walk past? Like, there it is! It's incredible. I saw this. I [was] out surfing. "Lord, would a dolphin jump out of the wave?" And many of you know, I took a camera with me. And if you've never seen my camera, my photo of the dolphin doing a backflip out of the wave in front of me, who you're missing out. It's amazing. God would just, like, do these little things just to let me know he was there and [that] he was kind.


But you can't stay there, can you? It's not healthy to stay there. If I was to do a little three by three with my daughter, which I did recently, and I'll keep the contents of that conversation to myself, but she wouldn't say "one of the things I love about you, Dad, is that you let me do whatever I want." Maybe she would say "one of the ways that I know you love me is that you don't let me do whatever I want." Something shifts. Richard Foster says this: "As we are learning to pray, we discover an interesting progression in the beginning, our will is to struggle with God's will. We beg, we pout, we demand we expect God to perform like a magician or shower us with blessings like Father Christmas. We major in instant solutions and manipulative prayers. As difficult as the time of struggle is, we must never despise or try to avoid it. It is an essential part of our growing and deepening in things spiritual, to be sure, as an inferior stage, but only in the sense that a child is and is and is at an inferior stage to that of an adult. The adult can reason better and carry heavier loads because both brain and brawn are more fully developed. But the child is doing exactly what we would expect at that age." So it's a part of Kingdom Life. You have needs. You're a child of God. "Help." And he responds. And this is the first stage of prayer -- it's the stage of requests. Honestly, you're kind of asking God for your will to be done on earth. And sometimes he's just so kind that he does it because it's in his nature. But as you move out of that stage, like you said, this can be painful. You see any child when a parent says no to them after they're used to having yes said to them all the time, this can be painful. Ever seen a kid throw a tantrum? Whenever I see Manhattan parents, often many parents in Manhattan, no judgment, many parents in Manhattan, the children are their gods. Tiny little toddler gods controlling their lives, their sense of worth and identity all wrapped up in the success of the child. And sometimes you see the child having a meltdown in a playground. And you see the parent hovering. And often I want to just go off and put my arm around them and say "stand firm, they'll thank you later. Stand firm, man." And so often they just give in, they hand the screen back or they put the ice cream in their hand. Being weaned off immediate answers to what we want can be painful. But God does this because he wants to ask a question of us, which is, "do you only love him because I do things for you or do you love me because of who I am to you? Do you love me for me? Would you love me for what I do?" And this is the second stage of prayer, these prayers of relationship. But God's not trying to show us his power, what He can do. He's trying to show us his face in his heart. He's trying to show us what He's like. So you see this development out of rather than just "help me God and thank you God," into "who are you God? Show me your glory." You see this in Psalm 27. "One thing I ask from the Lord, this only, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple." How many of you, if I was to say, "look, first three words that come up when you think about God, you would say beauty?" I want to know, "what do you want to do with your life?" "Well, you know, one of the things I was considering was gazing on the beauty of the Lord in his temple, at least for my life." Beauty? Temple? Something shifted. He got a vision of who God is. And the response isn't just power. It isn't just might. It isn't just what you can do. It's who you are. Gaze on your beauty, you know. You know, the human heart is drawn to beauty. You see someone who's truly beautiful. And you're just kind of struck. We use the term stunning, somebody stunning and what is someone who's done something like this stunned for a moment, which means that they're overcome there. They're swept up. Stunningly beautiful. Here's God, he's the one thing I want to want to see him, this is somebody who has moved away from the first stage of prayer, the prayers of request into the prayers of relationship. Now, in this particular season, I think God is trying to develop relational things inside of us. And here's a couple just from my own experience. Here's a couple of things in the stage of relationship that God wants to consciously release in our lives. So the first stage are things that we're wanting God to release for us. The second stage is things that God is wanting to release in us. So here's the first thing. It's the release of the "Abba" cry. The spirit of adoption. Here, this passage in Romans 8:15, the spirit you receive doesn't make you slaves so that you live in fear again. Rather the spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship and by whom we have a father now. This would be a cry. An interesting word. We cry Abba Father. There's many, many people who understand the doctrine of adoption who don't have the cry of Abba in their spirit. And this is a different thing, this is where God's wanting us to truly not in just an intellectual sense, but from our hearts, from the deepest part of who we are, develop our identity in him. Who are you? I am a child. And then if you were to push me, what cry comes out of my life. It's the cry about father. All of us, as we mature through life, release a cry for something. For many of us, it's a cry for attention. Look at me. For others, it's a cry of accomplishment. Look at what I've done. As human beings, we ache, we long for recognition, and this is the stage in relationship with God releases that, he establishes our identity. If we don't develop a spirit of sonship, we would develop a spirit of something else, a spirit of striving, spirit of proving an orphan spirit. And these things will let out different cries. But in this season, God draws us close and it's like, I want you to know who you are, I want to release this Abba cry from our Father. Jesus had this, didn't he, father? He let this crowd God in this season, a relationship established. The second thing he wants to release is the cry of the bride. How many of you like, hey, what stage of faith are you right now?" "I'm sort of like the bridal cry stage." It's not something we talk about very often, but it's the central metaphor of the Bible, Old Testament, Covenant people, bridal language. New Testament, the bride of Christ. And even as we refer to human relationships in Ephesians 5, Paul's like, look, honestly, this whole thing is a mystery. And I'm actually really just talking about Christ in the church. Marriage at its best is as a picture of it. And then the Bible closes -- Revelation 22. What is it? And the spirit and the brides say "come, even so come Lord Jesus." It's the cry of union, it's the cry released where I don't just want a temporary relationship, I want consummation. I want to see your face. I want to know your heart. I want to be united with you. And God in a season of relationship raises that cry within us. Now, look, being honest, when I was younger, I would say things like, I don't want God to come back and I don't want to die. At least without having sex or -- why are you laughing? Every single one of you've thought that. You've all thought that. " I don't want to die. I don't want the Rapture to happen, whatever that is, I don't want Jesus to come back honestly without, like, traveling the world because the new Jerusalem is going to be different than this one. There's some spots I want to hit up." Like honestly, I [was] like "I want to get married and I want to accomplish that stuff," because my vision of eternity was so opaque and neutered and thin that I thought, "if I don't get it in now, I'm going to miss out on eternity. But now that I'm in the stage of relationship and, you know, like I've done a bunch of things, I'm like "this isn't it, man." As good as this is, there's longings deeper than this, there's passion stronger than this, and deeper relationship with this. And God raises in our spirits the cry of the bride. Come, Lord Jesus. I ache for them. That day when the marriage supper of the lamb comes, that great, the cry of the bride. When it's ready, it's done. Behold a new heaven and a new earth. An eternal city. No more curse. Tears wiped away. Justice, peace, and righteousness. We see his face. No temple because the son is in the temple. But God has to do something in your heart in this season of relationship where you really believe it and the cry of your heart isn't. "Dear God, please let me date the right person." The cry of your heart is "send me into eternity. If it ends today, God, this is a good thing." The modern American church has reversed Paul's cry. What was Paul's cry? To live is Christ. To live is Christ and to die is gain. And what do we say? To live is gain and to die is Christ. Let me live and get as much crap as I can, and then when I'm dead, then I'll get Christ. The great reversal that neuters the bridal cry. And then the third thing God does in this season of relationships, is he frees us from an addiction to outcomes of prayer. Where it's just like, look, man, I don't honestly, I'm so in love. I don't care if he answers. The answer's nice, but if I don't get it, that's OK. I'm with Him. You see this in Daniel, Chapter three in the Old Testament. And Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego. You know what's happening here that shouldn't have. The children of Israel being bought into exile, who've been forced to serve basically a godless [king] -- oh he actually loves multiple gods, so an idolatrous king, a prideful king. And he basically establishes a statue for himself to be worshiped and whoever doesn't worship it gets thrown into this fiery furnace. And these guys refuse to do it. They're like, no. I'm with him. They refused to do it, and so they get dragged before the king at this point, they're probably just teenagers and this is what we read Daniel Chapter 3, verse 16: "Shadrach, Meshach Abednego replied to King Nebuchadnezzar, 'We don't need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we're thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it and he would deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. But even if he doesn't, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your cause of worship, the image of gold that you've set up.'" I love this though. He can save us. And if he doesn't, that's OK, we're going to burn up, but we're going to burn with Him rather than survive with you. It doesn't matter for someone who is free from an addiction to outcome. And that's what God often does in this period, in this stage of prayer. Stage one, the prayer of requests, God's doing your will on Earth. Stage two, you're just getting swept up into who God is. I remember when I entered into this state, I'd seen all these miraculous answers to prayers, really pressing into prayer and it was just so incredible. Then I felt God just like freeing me from answers to prayer. So I just entered a season of God's presence. And, you know, I told you some of my stories before, but I just would have these encounters with God while I was praying right before I moved out of that house. And I would be so overcome with the presence of God in my room, I would literally just be sitting on my bed praying and shaking. And the presence of God was so real. It was just extraordinary. Mom would be like, "it's time for dinner." And I'd be like, "oh, the glory glow that broke my heart." I couldn't answer. Oh, it was just unbelievable. It didn't matter what God did. I'm just so in touch with his presence now, one word of caution here, it can happen when you're in a stage of relationship that you judge people whose primary prayer is requests. It's like, oh, my gosh, all you want is things from God. Like you wanted -- oh you wanted things from God about a month ago. You've moved onto a new stage and now you're hating where you were. Just look, people are where they are. God welcomes us all. You can't moralize your position and in some ways not even responsible for this is a work of God that is doing in you. So just a word of caution is don't judge other people who aren't where you are. Just let them be where they are. This is a particular tension. You think of being more in the glory of God would just make you less judgmental, but sometimes it just doesn't work like that. That's not true. Read the Bible. So many people in the glory of God and then doing stupid things. So let's just guard our hearts against this. Now, stage one, requests stage two, relationships. Now, my conviction is at this point that God's bringing you into these stages for the most part, he brings you into this relationship with him and he brings you to a point where he is putting things on your heart to ask for and you're asking for him and they're happening that he brings you out of that into a season of just relationship. And the Abba cry, the bridal cry, breaking your addiction to outcomes. He's doing all of these things.


But then a third stage emerges on the horizon. And I think this is a stage, not the God brings you into, I think this is a stage God invites you into. And you have a choice to respond, and honestly, I don't think most people do. Because it's really hard. This third stage of prayer is called the Prayer of Relinquishment. Now, this word here, "relinquishes," is not a word we use that often, maybe Christians use the term "surrender. " You know, like, hey, what do you want to watch on Netflix, you know, and you get in a fight? Look, I want to watch this. "OK, I relinquish to you. We'll watch what you say." Not a word we banter about or whatever, but it's a strong word [meaning] to surrender. Feels kind of passive, like, OK, you just gave up, but relinquish feels like man, you have to fight that decision to the point where you might go. To relinquish: to give up after struggle, abandon, surrender, renounce. To leave behind. I just after everything, I want to leave that behind. And this is really the kind of prayer we see in the garden with Jesus. This is what it says [in Luke 22] says: "He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them and he knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you were willing to take this cup from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.'". The cup, you go through the Old Testament, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Zechariah, these are basically referring to the wrath of God being poured out, the wrath, the cup of the wrath of God. If Jesus realizes his Father's wrath for us is going to be poured out on him, like, isn't there some other way? That I don't have to bear the wrath. I'm the sinless lamb of God, that I don't have to bear the sins of the world. Is there some other way? And the Father says, no, there's not. And he says OK, not my will, but yours. In the Ministry of Jesus, people asked things for Jesus repeatedly and he gave them to him. It seems that this is the only point in the gospels that Jesus directly asked for something for himself. And the Father said no to it. This is the stage of prayer where prayer changes us, wrestling with God changes us into the kinds of people who are willing to do what we would never want to do in stage one kinds of prayers. These are not prayers of "God, please do what I want," these are prayers of "God, I don't want to do it. But I surrendered to you so that you will be done on earth as it is in heaven." This kind of praise is a means of getting God's will done on earth, not mine. And this is a hard kind of prayer. And it's only by sitting in the place of relationship that this will emerge on the horizon where God will invite you to a place of deeper surrender to relinquish, and it will be painful and it will be costly. And I don't think God loves us any less if we don't go with it. But I still think most people just say, "I think I'm fine here." So when you're in a place of prayer, be careful. Because prayer will change you. Prayer would turn you into the kind of person, if you stay in it long enough, if you sit with God long enough where you're willing to do things you would never want to, his kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven. So here's the truth. The evangelization of the world could happen in a year. If everybody just relinquished their rights to their lives, all the justice in the world could be sold by the church in a year. If everybody just said Matthew 25 will be my lifestyle. It would all happen so quickly if everybody would relinquish, but we don't. And so God has chosen in His sovereignty, in many ways to limit his sovereignty to the activity of His church. It's a bad deal for God. I don't know why He's so patient, but he seems to -- God can save the world like this (snaps). But He has tolerated the bumbling mess of the church because he wants to work through us. We are Christ's body on Earth. And the question He's asking is, "who can I use to do my will, who will relinquish their will so that my will will be done?" Now, when you are in the presence of God and this is on the horizon, you have to be very, very careful. Because you never know when a prayer storm will strike, that will change your life. Eugene Peterson puts it this way: "Be slow to pray. Praying puts us at risk of getting involved with God's conditions, praying most often doesn't get us what we want, but what God wants. Something quite at variance with what we conceive to be in our best interests. And when we realize what is going on, it is often too late to go back." It's like you get in the presence of God and there's this thing you want and it begins to change your heart and the terror of surrender comes. But you see it. But he closes the door and the only way forward is to relinquish. Careful, prayer will change you. Peter goes up on a roof following the Jewish prayer hours like he's probably done his whole life, and then a blanket comes down with a bunch of food. And in his moment of prayer, he has this realization that he's actually a racist and he has prejudice in his heart. And he says this great oxymoron, "no, Lord," which doesn't quite work and God brings it down again, and he's like "no." And God brings it down a third time and someone's knocking at the door and he's trapped between a blanket dropping from heaven and someone knocking on a door. And the next thing you know, the Holy Spirit is being poured out. Cornelius and the gospel breaks cultural barriers. He's probably just thinking: "if I had if I just stayed downstairs, if I just read the Torah in private, if I just did my thing." No, he goes to the place of prayer and then God breaks a careful prayer change. I'm inspired by the city fathers here in New York and I tried to meet with them. Thank God for them, or whatever. David Wilkinson's story. That's an amazing story. One night he's in his 20s, mid 20s, and Life Magazine, which is like Time Magazine, had this story about these kids in gangs who are standing on trial for murder. They've been convicted and he's looking at this, the artist's rendition of these kids on trial. He's just like, "this is awful. Like, what's happening in New York is awful. Gosh, I wish you'd do something about that." And one of the girls said to him: "you do something about that." He's like "I'm in Pennsylvania, what do I know about gangs in New York?" But he shows up at the court case and then the Cross and the Switchblade happens in Times Square, church happens and all of this stuff happens. Why? Because be careful. Be careful. Because if you get in this relationship with God, it's not about what you want, it's about what he wants. You never know when God will break in and change your life.


Wilson says "if a person prays that he himself might be constructed. Not that God may be instructed." So we pray that God makes us into the kind of people we would never want to be ourselves with, a life that we would never choose. So the will of God happens on Earth as it is in heaven. Now, you made this point B saying, well, how do I know if I'm, like, being invited in to relinquish? How do I know that God's wanting to change things? And what sort of things would God change? So here's just a few observations. Here's what happens when prayer changes you. It changes the vision of your life. I want to be super honest for a minute, if we can. No guilt, OK? Total honesty. Not that honesty where your answer out loud, but honestly of heart. So for us to sit down and say, "okay, enough with all the God language. I just want to ask you about, like, what you really want in life. What do you really want? Not like what you should want, but what do you really want? "Well, honestly, I want, like Instagram worthy friends and events, like I want to do cool stuff with really great people. That's so great that people – dang, that looks fun. I want to be like some sort of romantic relationship where I'm just like known and I'm loved. I want to be sexually fulfilled. Bodies on fire. Culture's crazy. Love to get in on that." In some measure I'd like good health, you know, and better tasting kale, I don't know. But I like good health and I like financial security. Like, I don't want to be rich or anything. I just want enough money to do whatever I want. I'd like varied and exciting forms of leisure. In my life like that, that would be like a really meaningful job. OK? And if I was being honest, like you're all nervously laughing. But many of us right now. I mean, like that's [kind of valid]. I mean, yes, and God, the Kingdom of God course framed by the Kingdom of God here. Then I bet if we were to go to any apartment building in New York or ask your coworkers, what is it that you want out of life, I think many of you might say, well, honestly, like, I'd like some Instagram worthy friends and moments, like I'd like to do some cool stuff with some cool people that I like to find someone romantically that like I really would fulfill me. And I'd like to have, like, satisfying sex, and I'd like to be in good health. I'd like to have enough money to do whatever I want. I tithe it, obviously. And I'd like to have varied and exciting forms of leisure. And if we're really being honest, the vision of most of our lives, if we really interrogated it and sat with it, is basically identical to everybody else in New York. What do you offer us? Well, you know. When you get in a place of prayer, God will enlarge your vision. He just says look, "I appreciate those things, sort of common human needs. But I can do more than the base levels of the Maslow Hierarchy for your life." So, He will enlarge our vision, prayer will change our vision. Number two, prayer will change your motives about why you're going about your life.  Listen to this one [from Richard Foster]. "It means freedom from the self sins: self-sufficiency, self-pity, self-absorption, self-abuse, of self-aggrandizement, self-castigation, self-deception, self-exaltation, self-depreciation, self-indulgence, self-hatred and a host of others just like them. It means freedom from the everlasting burden of always having to get our own way. It means freedom to care for others, to genuinely put their needs first, to give joyfully and freely. Little by little we are changed by this daily crucifixion of the will. Changed, not like a tornado changes things, but like a grain of sand in an oyster changes things. New graces emerge: new ability to cast all our cares upon God, new joy in the success of others, new hope in a God who is good." It changes our motives and then it changes our desires. What's wrong with the world is that everybody's trying to create a world in which they are the center. So from Adam and Eve, the builders of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, all great empires. But prayer changes our desires where we really do want God's Kingdom. And then what happens is that prayer changes our will. Now I want you to see this is important because most of us think that praying is the easy part and then acting's the hard part. But prayer, the prayer of relinquishment, is about the crucifixion of your will. So that you walk in obedience with ease. The wrestling is in the prayer, the blood comes in Gethsemane. That's where Jesus was crushed. Listen to what Haddon Robinson says: "Where was it that Jesus swept great drops of blood? Not in Pilate's Hall nor on his way to go to Golgotha. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane. There, he 'offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death.' Had I been there and witnessed the struggle, I would have worried about the future. If he is so broken up when all he is doing is praying, I might have said, 'what will he do when he faces a real crisis? Why can't he approach this ordeal with the calm and confidence of his three sleeping friends?' Yet when the test came, Jesus walked to the cross with courage and his three friends fell apart and fell away." It is wrestling through the pressure of relinquishment, control of your life, surrender of who you are and in the death of your own desires is the resurrection of new life that you walk in the power of God.


Stage one: prayers of requests. God's a good father. He's kind. And he promises to bless us. That's true. And if that's where you are, praise God, enjoy it. Stage two: the prayer of relationships where he's just releasing these things about our identity and our future and our desire for him, not why he can do it. It's a beautiful, beautiful stage of prayer. And if you're there, enjoy it. But I believe on the horizon is this third kind of prayer: the prayer relinquishment. That's where you step into the place of prayer and God just changes what you want into something else. And I believe that's the invitation God's giving our church. It's the prayer of relinquishment. We can be a great church that just is filled with stories of miraculous answers to prayer, and there's many of them. We could be a church that really cares about the presence of God. And I hope we are. But God also wants his people to be people who died to themselves so God's will can be done in the city and around the world, and that will take a crucified people. And so in some sense, it's almost crazy because I'm almost inviting our church to die a violent, painful, bloody death to self. That Christ may live and that his kingdom may advance. But if you've ever tasted the fruit of relinquishment, you know, it's worth it. You are in secret fellowship with the sufferings of Jesus Christ. A kind of intimacy that's released. That I think very few people have the privilege of accessing, everybody's invited. But not many want to respond. So I'm, for whatever reason, preaching the longest of the 7:00 p.m. Which is contrarian because it's been a long day. Thank you. Four ways to relinquish this, I think there's four dangerous prayers you pray in doing this. Here's what they are: The first one is the prayer of emptying. This is the prayer of Philippians 2. And this is basically the whole of Jesus' life. "Though He was in very nature, God, He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but He emptied himself and became nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant." He's just emptied himself out, just poured it out. Here's who I am, here's what I have got, and I'm just laying it out. That's the first prayer. The second prayer is the prayer of surrender. And then once you've emptied out, God begins to highlight specific things, and he says. That. That. That. And many of us love general surrender, yes, Lord here's everything -- except these specific things, that was sort of like a general kind of framing, sort of a surrender. But not that. Then there's prayer of release, which is like into your hands, I commit my spirit, I let go into your hands. I commit my relationships, my romantic life, my career, my finances, my expectations. That's going to put this in your hands. And the prayer of release is the prayer from the cross, the prayer of death. OK, I'm out. It's up to you, God. This leads to the fourth prayer, which is the prayer of resurrection. This is a hard prayer to pray, it's a prayer of deep trust. This is a prayer that says, God, I only want back what's from you. All I want is the gold that's refined. So take me to the crucible of relinquishment. Save me from the day of judgment, where the wood, the straw, the hay, the stubble is burned up, I voluntarily invite you to start the process now. Richard Foster says this "the Prayer of Relinquishment is a bona fide letting go, but it is a release with hope. We have no fatalist resignation. We are buoyed up by a confident trust in the character of God. Even when all we see are the tangled threads on the back side of life's tapestry, we know that God is good and is out to do us good always. This gives us hope to believe that we are all the winners, regardless of what we've been called upon to relinquish. God's inviting us deeper in and higher up. There's training in righteousness, transforming power, new joys, deeper intimacy. Part of the answer lies in the fact that frequently we hold on so tightly to the good that we do know that we cannot receive the greater good that we do not know. God has to help us let go of our tiny vision in order to release the greater good he has in store for us." And so we believe in resurrection life. God's always asking us to let go for something more true, more beautiful, more pure. Kierkegaard says this: "God creates everything out of nothing and everything which God is to use first, he reduces to nothing." And this is often the way that God does this. What a prayer that Jesus prayed. Here he is in the garden, the sinless son of God stepping from eternity into the present to bear the sin of the world. And in a moment he's like, "not my will, but yours. Is there any other way? No. OK, then I'll do it." And what's the fruit? The fruit is our salvation. The fruit is a redemption of the world. The fruit is eternal life. And so ultimately, even from a point of pain, it says in the book of Hebrews that for the joy set before him, he endured the cross. In the prayer of relinquishment, God is able to produce joy that enables you to bear the cross God's called you to now. So I want to be specific here. Forgive me if I probe a little too deeply. I just want to ask a series of questions. Is God asking you to relinquish a relationship right now? Maybe you're in a relationship with somebody and you're like "I mean, yeah, they're believers, you know? They're really supportive, really supportive. Like, they encouraged me to go to church." Yeah, because you're dating. When you're dating you encourage them to do whatever, but is this the deep value of their life? Are they like, "hey, here's my life vision: relinquishment." Is God calling you to relinquish some sort of relationship? Secondly, is there any bitterness in your life and God's asking you to relinquish your right to get even? Maybe you've been holding something against somebody and there's some sort of bitterness in your spirit. God's like "you're going to relinquish that. You got to die of your right to be right. You just gotta trust me." Maybe it's your ambition, and you just got this thing mapped out, you figured it out when you were nine and you've been on a track for 20 years. You're running hard and it's working out well. There's a little nagging thing inside of you. God's like "it's unchecked ambition, that's going to destroy you. I need you to relinquish your ambition." It will be such a tragedy if we heard this teaching tonight and our response was like, "yeah, but it was kind of long," rather than hearing the invitation of God to resurrection life. So I would like to lead us collectively as God's people through just a prayer of relinquishment. So I want you just to, if you're up for it, just to open your heart. And if nothing else, this is a way to practice learning to relinquish things. Father, we come into your presence now and we thank you that you are good and that you answer our requests. We bless, honor and love you for your kind nature that responds to us. Father, we thank you that you invite us into relationship. Thank you that you establish our identity, that you give us a vision of the future, that you free us from making you do things for us. But Lord, we want to be people who are willing to die to ourselves to relinquish our rights for your kingdom. So, Father, right now, as your people here, we just pray the prayer of emptying. Lord, we empty ourself out before you. Lord, we just pour out our lives like a kid dumping out a bucket of Legos, trying to sort out what's in there. We just dump our lives out before you, Lord. Our sexuality, our money, our jobs, our living situation, our friendships, our online world, our real world, workplace, everything. We just dump it all out before you leave. We empty ourselves. And Father, as you begin to just sift through what's laid out before you and you highlight these things, these relationships or attitudes or the need for forgiveness or ungodly ambition, whatever these things are, sexual sin, whatever it is, Lord, and you put your finger on it, we just say not our will, but yours. We are willing to surrender these things. Maybe for you it's helpful to name whatever the Holy Spirit highlighted to you, but just say, "Lord, I relinquish [fill in the blank] to you, Jesus." And then, Father, we pray this prayer of release. Into your hands, Lord, I commit, I commit my relationships, I commit my finances, I commit my future. I commit my family, I commit my hobbies. Lord, I just surrender. This is the prayer from our own cross, our own death to self. We'll take it, Father, we trust you. And Father, we pray the prayer of resurrection. Lord, we receive back only what you want for us, Lord God. We receive it with gratitude, we receive it with contentment, but all we want is the fruit of crucifixion and the beauty of resurrection, Lord. So I just pray for the joy that is set before us, just release a vision of resurrection life, what it is that you have for us, and we pray this in Jesus name, Amen. In this posture of worship and to invite you to stand.


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