HOUSE OF PRAYER

By: TYLER STATON

So the Jewish Passover, this was one week out of the year, a holiday week when the entire nation of Israel traveled to Jerusalem. A whole country was attempting to fit into a single city. Actually, an entire country was trying to fit into a single building, the temple. And so Jesus turned up on that week to that standing room only temple and made a bit of a scene. He made a makeshift whip and led a stampede down the temple steps. He had unleashed doves that are flying erratically in every direction. He went to the cash register and overturned the tables. The tables of the coins were spilling all across the temple floor. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. (sound of coins falling) Stop turning my Father's house into a market. This will be a house of prayer. That's what Jesus said after he got everyone's attention with that scene. And there's so much important context about the social injustice that Jesus was overturning in this act. But what I'm really interested in for us this morning are the words that he said when he finally opened his mouth after he had everyone's attention. My house will be a house of prayer. And if we're going to talk about prayer, this is where we have to start, because the importance of that scene can not be overstated. I mean, first of all, this is in the Gospels that automatically makes it extra important, right, because we understand the scriptures [are] all building up to the life of Jesus and then following from the life of Jesus. So it's in that category. But secondly, this is in all four gospels, and that puts the story in pretty exclusive company. By my count, it is one of only five stories recorded by all four of Jesus biographers before his final 24 hours. What that means that everyone who got close to him said, you cannot understand Jesus without understanding the weight of this particular moment. But then third, you'll notice something interesting if you go through and read this story and each of its four versions, and that is that in the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, this is all this event is placed in the final week of Jesus life. It falls right at the end. But then if you read John's Gospel, which was written later, you will find it in Chapter two right at the beginning. So scholars have two different opinions on this discrepancy. Some scholars think, well, Jesus cleansed the temple twice, and if that's the case, then it's certainly possible that's the case because Jesus ministry spanned three Passovers. And if that's the case, I just want you to imagine the second time and the rabbis go, "oh, my goodness, he's coming back. Close the registers, get the doves away." Other scholars think that this event only happened once, but that John writing later decided not to write his gospel chronologically, but instead moved things around a little bit to make Jesus' life understandable to the reader. And what that would mean is that in his editorial opinion, this is the best lens through which to view the entire life of Jesus. So just pick either interpretation that you'd like. If you believe Jesus did this twice, then it's in a class all its own. The Temple Cleansing is bookending the life and ministry of Jesus -- that is unprecedented. It's as if Jesus is saying, my ministry begins by calling my people back to being a people of prayer, and it ends with calling my people back to being a people of prayer. He has emphasized it so much with his life. Or if you believe it only happened once, then what that means is that one of the core three, one of Jesus closest disciples, the one who outlived all the others, the one that went on to author the majority of the New Testament said this is the event through which we have to understand the entire life of God on the earth, however you interpret it, the importance of this scene can not be overstated. My house will be a house of prayer. Now, there's plenty of opinions out there and in here about what does and does not qualify as prayer, right? I mean, is prayer telling God what I want? Is it him telling me what I need? Is prayer a monologue or is it a dialog? Is it a wish list or is it a confession? Is it crying out with passion or is it contemplative silence? Does prayer change the whole world? Or does it just change the person praying? So amidst all of our different experiences, the opinions, the stories, the questions, the confusion that we drag into this room this morning, I just want to offer us some common ground to stand on together as we begin.

PRAYER IS COMMUNION WITH GOD

And here it is. Prayer is at least this. Prayer is communion with the triune God. Prayer is communion with the triune God. I think it's easier if I show it to you in a picture, if we just go to the next slide. This is a painting done by a Russian artist in the 15th century. It's become one of the most recognizable icons in church history, and it's called The Trinity. Now, I love this painting because it depicts the Father, son and spirit sitting around a table enjoying each other's company. It depicts God as this communal, inviting being full of rest and joy. And prayer in any form by anybody is to pull up a chair to that table and enjoy the restful, intimate, unbroken communion with the Father, son and spirit. The fight Jesus was picking when he kicked down the door of the Jewish temple during the biggest holiday service was a fight for your seat at that table. So I lead this church in Brooklyn, as Darren mentioned a moment ago, or as you might call him, Pastor D, I hear that that's what he insists that people refer to him as these days. Anyway, so I lead a church in Brooklyn and we are your family on the other coast. Whether you realize that or not, there is such a one heart and mindness between our two communities. The only word for it is family. And it just so happens that we have been graciously given something of a revival when it comes to prayer in our community in the last year. And so Darren asked that I kind of gather up whatever I can hold from that incredible season we've walked as a church -- which we are at the very beginning of, by the way, and come and offer it to you today. And so I'm just trying to gather up a bit of what we've experienced and come and give it to you. And if we're going to talk about prayer, this is where we have to start. Because the fight Jesus was picking when he stormed into the temple was the fight for your seat at that table. It was the fight for intimate, unbroken conversation with the Father, son and spirit. It was a fight for prayer. And so I want to reimagine prayer with you this morning along these lines. So let's begin where Jesus began: with the Father. The most striking thing that happened when Jesus kicked down the door of the temple was not the holy tirade. It was the first words that he said when he opened his mouth, "my Father's house." When Jesus was too wound up and too emotional to be calculated with his words, when exactly what he thought of the presence of God just spilled out of him uncalculated, this is how he thought of God's presence. My Father's house. And that was radical back then. Adonai, that's what the priests called God, and that's a title, it's not a name, and it was the most reverent title, we translate Adonai into English as Lord. It's kind of like calling someone, sir, instead of calling them by their first name. It is filled with respect and reverence, but it has no intimacy to it. Abba. That's what Jesus called God. And that's the most intimate title. It means Father, but that's even too formal, that doesn't quite do it. We don't have an English equivalent to the Aramaic word Abba. Some people like to compare it to the English word dada, but that does not work for me because dada is a term of endearment that a toddler uses speaking about their Father and then they grow out of right. I have a one year old and a three year old and they call me dada right now. If they're doing that when they're 25, everyone's going to think they have a problem. We grow out of that. But Abba doesn't work like that. It's not a word that you're too embarrassed to say at some point in your life. It is the word for a Father figure that you are fully known by and that you fully know it's a term of deepest sort of endearment. All four gospels were written in ancient Greek except one word. Abba. All four gospels are translated into English, but go read through them for yourself. There's one word that goes on translated. Abba. It's so intimate, we don't have a way to translate it. The Hebrew scholar Joaquim Jeremiahs writes this: "There is not a single example of the use of Abba as an address to God in the whole of Jewish literature, a new way of praying was born. Jesus talks to his Father as naturally, as intimately with the same sense of security as a child talks to his Father. Jesus' prayers were so intimate that we can't translate them. My Father's house." Now, on the other end of John's Gospel, on the very final night of Jesus life, he's having a conversation with his disciples and he says this: "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language, but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I'm not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and believe that I came from God. The Father himself loves you. Not the world, not the city, not even us. The Father himself loves you." So what was Jesus fighting for when he stormed the temple and flipped over the tables? First and foremost, he was not fighting for prayer outcomes or prayer results or prayer power. He was fighting for the Father's presence in your life. The Father himself loves you. And the Bible teaches that God expresses his love for us in the things that he collects, that there are two things from your life that God collects forever, and they are your prayers and your tears. God collects your prayers. Revelation chapter five says there's a golden bowl in heaven where every prayer ever uttered is collected. There's this movie that I saw just a couple of years ago called The Dead Girl, and it came out in 2006 making this a dated reference. There are no spoiler rules for 13 year old movies. You've had your chance. So this movie, it stars Brittany Murphy and she plays a 22-year-old prostitute in the plot, is about her relationship with her daughter. And there's this one scene and it's just before her daughter's third birthday and one of her handlers takes her to the mall so she can pick out a gift for her daughter. And she gets this massive stuffed bunny. And in the scene, she's sitting in the car talking to this handler on the way back from the mall. And there's sort of an awkward silence that you sit in for a few minutes or for a minute when you're watching the movie. And then she breaks the silence saying this: "When I was a kid, every year, I'd flip through the Sears catalog just before Christmas and I'd get to pick out one thing that I wanted, and so I would over analyze and I would look page after page thinking, is this the thing? Is this what I really, really want? And then finally, I would settle on something and I would circle it with a marker. And I can remember this one year when I picked out this ventriloquist doll and I was so excited about it on Christmas morning that your my mom sat this gift in front of me and I tore off all the wrapping paper and it was this other puppet thing. And I was so confused, I thought, did I circled the wrong thing, did I make a mistake today? And year after year it would happen like this? It was always something similar, but not quite. And then finally, I got old enough to catch on to the pattern. That no matter what I circled, I always got what was on sale. And then she pulls this stuffed bunny close to her chest. And so I just don't want my kid growing up like that. I want her to actually get what she wants, not all the time, so that she ends up spoiled, I just think that. Sometimes. You should get what you really want. On your actual birthday." And you know what that is? That's the image of God in a 22-year-old prostitute mother. It's the heart of a parent who longs to provide for her child, who loves giving her gifts and then watching her face light up. It's the image of the one Jesus called Abba, the one Jesus loved enough to get up before the sun to be with and stayed up with the stars just to be in conversation with. It's the one that Jesus cracked a smile about on the way to his own execution to stop and look at the 12 and say "the Father himself loves you." And so prayer is asking. And asking is actually a sign of relational health when it comes to prayer, there is no kind of prayer healthier than asking, because in any healthy relationship, you feel permission to voice your desires to name your need to ask for help and to know that you have been heard and that the listener actually cares. There is no kind of prayer healthier than asking, but there's no kind of prayer that experienced Christians have a harder time with than asking. I mean, be still and contemplate. Absolutely. I know that I need that gift. Thanks. Definitely. Gratitude is so good for the soul. Intercede for others. Absolutely. Tell me what you need and I'll pray for it. Ask God for what I want? Well. He knows what I need, right? Isn't that enough? Does he care to hear more than that? My Father's house means I love to know what you want. Whatever you need and whatever you really want just comes tumbling out of you as effortlessly as a kid with a Sears catalog and a magic marker. Can you imagine a loving parent that wants their child to stay quiet about their desires? Revelation five says there's this golden bowl where God collects every prayer you've ever prayed in Revelation eight says that at the proper time, the fire of the spirit is mixed with that golden bowl. And it smells like incense and God pours it out on the Earth and responds to every prayer ever uttered by every one of his children. I love what Pete Greig writes about this passage: "The very idea that the living Lord might diligently have treasured up every little prayer I had ever prayed, even all the ones I had forgotten and the name might still be weaving their fulfillment was almost too much to take in. It means there must be answered prayers most days that I never even recognize as such and casual requests I've uttered that continue to marshal the very hosts of heaven."

Every prayer you've ever whispered from the simplest, most throwaway request to the most heartfelt cry, he's collected it. And at the proper time, God is tipping that Revelation bowl, saying, yes, I know what you need and I love to give you what you want. This is the heart of the Father. God collects your prayers.

And God collects your tears. Psalm 56: "You have kept count of my tossing, put my tears in your bottle." Prayer is asking. And prayer is also weeping. See prayer is asking, when we look with God from the vantage point of heaven and point down into the mess and prayers weeping when from the mess we cry out, I cannot take it down here anymore. There's so many different kinds of tears. Grief when we're left shedding tears of loss, we were never made to feel staring at a God who did not stop it for reasons we'll never understand. And frustration, subtle anger that's built and built and built, and then we just can't take it anymore, and so it pours out of us. There's disappointment because expectations went unmet and now God seems to be less than he was advertised. And fear. Because no one can promise me immunity from pain in this world. And we are promised that a day will come when he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, but in the meantime, we are given this in-between promise to live on. That I've collected every tear you've ever shed and I won't let a single one be wasted. Psalm 126: "Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy."

Not only do I collect every tear, I will redeem every tear. That's the Father's promise to his children that every tear of yours that has ever fallen off your cheek becomes a seed of redemption into a better world. I will bend history so that the moments of your greatest pain become the moments of your greatest redemption. I will twist the story so the pain you feel right now releases power for others in the future and that the tears you cry actually begin to grow up the seeds of the redeemed city that I've promised.

Even just this weekend, I got to sit with a member of this church as he shared with me the parts of his story that he kept hidden from everyone he knew, even from himself for so long. And then finally, with the courage to bring those things into the presence of the Father, they became not only healing for him, but healing for his brothers and sisters all around him. What is that? Those who sow with tears will reap songs of joy. It's the promise of the Father. That 'you're mine, and that there's not a single tear you've ever shed that I will allow to be wasted.' And so after watching Jesus drive livestock down the steps of the temple, it says that one of his disciples remembered these words, "zeal for your house will consume me. That's Psalm 69. It's one of the most quoted passages in the entire New Testament, and every single time it's referenced -- except for this one -- is in direct relationship to Jesus crucifixion. Jesus' disciples remembered as they watched him reclaim prayer. A prayer that was written on a tear soaked paper. A prayer of mourning and pain and loss. Jesus crucifixion was the most painful, gut wrenching moment of his life, and simultaneously it was the most powerful life-giving moment of his life. Through his wounds, we are healed, and by your wounds, through your tears, I will heal the world. This is the promise of the Abba Father. And so prayer is an invitation to ask the great loving parent and prayer is an invitation to weep in the arms of the great loving parent. And the promise is this: neither of those will ever allowed to be wasted. But in spite of the fact that it actually is that good, some of us sit in here and we have a prayer life that is caged in by fear. Henri Nouwen writes: "I'm convinced that the real reason we pray so little is fear. We are afraid that the God who says he loves us will prove in the end to be more demanding than loving. Some of you have a prayer life that's caged in by fear. And it's possible you've learned to cloak it in heady theology or sophisticated skepticism, but the real thing that keeps you from praying according to the invitation of Jesus is fear. Fear that in the end, God will turn out to be more demanding than loving. Fear that if there is a God out there holding all this thing together, he's something less than the Abba Father that Jesus promised. Fear that in God's presence, you are something less than the child who he is, who he loves, that Jesus promises." My Father's house will be a house of prayer. That's the sound of Jesus fighting for you. Because prayer caged in by fear will not do, because perfect love casts out fear, so come and pray. Come and know your Father. Before prayer is about answers or outcomes, it's always about the Father's presence. So if we're going to talk about prayer, we don't dare start with outcomes or power or responses or results. We have to start with love. Because prayer always starts with love, the Father himself loves you. But there's even more than that. Because prayer is communion with the triune God, and that means it's about the Father, but it also means that it is about the son. Mother Teresa in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech said we may be doing social work in the eyes of people, but we're really just contemplatives in the heart of the world. And what she was claiming is that everything she was being awarded for in front of the whole world, caring for the poor, rehabilitating addicts, creating this community of love in the heart of a slum, all of that was more or less just an accident. She's saying, I'm just remaining in Jesus. The fruit? The fruit was just sort of an accident, just what came from remaining in Jesus, it's just the collateral damage of intimacy. And that's more or less how Jesus promised it would work. Right. This is John, 15, Jesus speaking. "If you remain in me and I remain in you, you will bear much fruit. if you remain with me, my words remain and you ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples." Spiritual fruit is the collateral damage of spiritual intimacy.I got to spend a few hours with one of my faith heroes at the beginning of this year, and he said this one thing to me that's really stayed with me. He said "Tyler. I did not marry my wife as a child raising strategy." And what he was getting at is this, that sometimes we, the bride of Christ, turn a relationship with Jesus into a really well intentioned strategy. A social justice strategy, a healing strategy, an antianxiety strategy, a world changing strategy, and all of that is available. It's to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit, but fruit comes from intimacy. Never the other way around. It comes because you love Jesus and want to be with him, and when that's your heart, the expression of that love effortlessly begins to look like justice in the world, healing for your past peace in your inner being. And on and on and on. Spiritual fruit is the collateral damage of spiritual intimacy. Can I just show you how this works? Let me just tell you two quick stories. When the prophet Elijah was in a cave in the lowest of low moments, it says that God came to him in a still, small whisper. But even if you’re having difficulty discerning your thoughts from God’s voice, God will still reveal himself in scripture, through others, or even by an inner peace we experience. Here’s the ultimate goal: to center ourselves in such a way where we’re able to slow down enough to recognize God, to remember truth and to fulfill our greater purpose of becoming people of love. This is not a formula or a mandate. If the conclusion is: "okay, I just need to pray more” or “I just need to get up earlier and read my Bible more," you’re missing the point. Yes, those practices are beautiful in the right context, but we need to be careful not to miss the heart of why we’re doing this in the first place.

TWO STORIES OF POWERFUL PRAYER

First one, Philip Yancey in his book on Prayer tells this incredible story of a sex offender who had just been released from prison in New Jersey trying to pull his life back together. He finds a house in a suburban neighborhood and moves in. But the trouble is that if you have a sex offense on your record, the neighbors get notified of your record the moment that you move into the neighborhood. And so he moves in trying to rehabilitate himself. But the neighbors are all worried about him. The worst parts of his past drug with him everywhere he goes. Kids are told to stay away from him. A couple of times in the first week after moving in, he had to clean graffiti off the exterior of his home, of his neighbors, letting him know how unwelcome he was in their community. Now there's this one couple that is watching all of this happen and they decided we should pray for this guy that's just moved in. And so they just gathered together one morning. They pray for him, and it feels if God's calling them just to invite him over for breakfast that Saturday mornings, so they do. Twenty one years later, they're hosting a Saturday morning breakfast for sex offenders at their home and have never stopped since that first Saturday morning. Their home accidentally became a place where the people with the darkest past become rehabilitated and those that society pushes to the margins are dignified and made whole, and all they did was pray. Spiritual fruit is the collateral damage of spiritual intimacy. I've gotten to know this guy named Brian Heasley, and he encountered God in prison during his fourth stretch, during his fourth sentence. And so if you meet Jesus for the first time in solitary confinement, then your early stages of discipleship look like staying up all night by yourself in prayer. And that actually turned out to be much better training for him than any seminary could have offered because he went on to plant a church in Ibiza, Spain, which has more pubs, clubs and bars per square mile than anywhere else in all of Europe. So an ex-con starts a church in Europe's most immoral city. This should be good, right? It is quite good, actually. So this one night in the early days of their church plant, he's gathered together with a group of four people in a prayer meeting and he said it had gotten to somewhere between four and five a.m. and so he began to pray the, let's wrap this up sort of prayers that even he, who had done this so much was getting tired. And so he just starts with "Lord we just seal this evening by your spirit. We just thank you for everything that's been offered. Just place a seal now, God, as we all go in peace." And as he was praying one of those prayers, he hears this knock on the door. And the way he told me a story, "I said, I honestly believe God was knocking on my door. It just so happened that God was looking quite disheveled and wearing beads and had no shoes on in this instance." But he said to me, "hey, I'm so sorry to interrupt your meeting. But there's someone out here who needs help. And so the five of them walk out from this prayer meeting and there's a guy passed out on the street covered in his own vomit and urine, just dangerously drunk, and they wake him up. They somehow get his address. They take him to his home, they clean him up, they put him in his own bed so that he can sleep it off. And that started something. It accidentally led to their church planting strategy, which was that they took Brian's minivan, the one that he used to drop his kids off at school every morning, and they organized teams to drive it aimlessly around the city from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. every night of the week, looking for the dangerously drunk, the high enough to hallucinate, the passed out and vulnerable. And they just got them home safely. And over time, because they did not judge the world, but they took care of those who could not care for themselves, their church was flooded with the poor, the addicted and the down and out, because if that's what Jesus is like, maybe I wouldn't mind getting to know him a bit. And that's exactly what Jesus is like. And the church exploded with fruit in a place that desperately needed it, and all they did was pray. Spiritual fruit is the collateral damage of spiritual intimacy, and that is so important for us because we know who we want to be, right? I mean, we want to be the place where the most notorious sinners find a home, acceptance and dignity. We want to be the place where the poor find shelter and the rejected find value and the needy and the wealthy share together and the insecure, find security in the forgotten are known. But if you try to get there by your best plans and efforts, you are in for a bunch of toil and finger pointing and blame and burnout. Intimacy is the way to fruitfulness, pursue intimacy and the rest gets thrown in. See, the thing I'm trying to find a million different ways to tell you is just this prayer is not a thing. Prayer is everything. "I'm passionate about justice." Great, I love that. Spend time with Jesus in prayer and you end up going to the poor. That's where he's always going. "Well, I want to see a church that's authentic and messy." Beautiful vision. Spend time with Jesus in prayer, and you cannot help but become a home for the outsider because that's the people that have always been the most drawn to Jesus. "I want to know true, real deep community. perfect." Spend time with Jesus in prayer and you'll accidentally end up in it because he will teach you how to forgive and change your perspective.

PRAYER IS ABIDING, PRAYER IS ASKING

Prayer is not a thing, it's everything. It is the source for everything, we know who we want to be, but when we pray, we discover who Jesus remakes us to be, and that is infinitely better. The best stories of this church. The ones that you will build on, the ones that your faith will rest on, the ones that you'll still be telling in old age, they are not waiting for a better staff and more better run programs and a larger budget. They're waiting on prayer. Our lives are about intimacy, the fruit is the collateral damage. The invitation really is that good. But some of us sit in the room exhausted. Because you've moved fruit to the center and you've pushed relationship and intimacy out to the margins, and you've turned a relationship with Jesus into a really well-intentioned project. Social Justice Project, an antianxiety project, a healing project, a personal wholeness project. A self-discovery Project. You've been trying to live the life of Jesus at the expense of intimacy with Jesus, and you're exhausted. He stormed into a temple to fight for you. To fight for intimacy back. So that you can let him be the source of the fruit that you so rightly want. That's the invitation of the Son. So this is prayer, it is communion with the triune God, and that matters for the Father and it matters for the son, but it's also about the spirit. And the Holy Spirit is God's living presence. See the subplot of this whole temple cleansing story that was so apparent to 1st century Jews but is almost entirely lost on modern Westerners is the meaning of the temple. That Jesus stormed into a temple that was running sort of business as usual in the presence of God. Now, to every Jewish person, God lived in the temple. It was the place, the only place where you could encounter the presence of God. The temple was inspired by Moses' tent during the exodus, when the presence of God descended around us like a cloud, and he spoke face to face with God, as one speaks to a friend. (Read: prayer.) But then by the time Jesus shows up in the temple over generations that had been reduced to a bunch of well-dressed, lifeless substitutes. Standing room only holiday services, sacrifices are for sale out in the lobby, there's a well-dressed, elitist priest here to lead the services. Sure, it's not the presence of God in Moses' tent, but there's not an empty seat in the place. This will have to do. And when Jesus cracks a whip and flips tables, he is saying emphatically, loud enough for everyone to hear: this will not do. The actions of my presence without my presence will not do. So let's just jump back in the story for a moment to see what Moses had that they had lost. I want to read you a couple verses from Exodus 33. "Then the Lord said to Moses, leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt and go to the land. I've promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob saying, I will give it to your descendants, go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you. Because you're a stiff necked people and I might destroy you on the way." Touch harsh on the end there right? Do you see what God is saying? He said, I'll give you everything you want, everything that you've asked for, but I can't go with you there. So God's offering Israel an exchange: he's saying you can have all of your prayers answered minus God's presence, or you can have a totally unsure blank canvas kind of future with God's presence. Which one of those are you taking? You know, honestly. Because we do know the right answer, right, at least with these people sitting next to you. But which one of those are you really seeking? Another way to ask that same question is this: if God gave you everything you want but God himself didn't go with you, would you notice the absence? Or, if you never saw a direct answer to prayer, but had the constant, palpable sense of God's presence with you, would there be anything left to want? Would that be enough for you? Is God enough for you? A few months ago, I received objectively the most flattering call that I've ever gotten as a pastor, which isn't saying much, to be honest, and from this really well known organization that asked me to be the keynote speaker at their biggest event of the year. And I'm just not the guy that gets those calls. And they rattled off the line up and it was a bunch of really well known big name Christian leaders, and then they sold the whole event hard and said, "hey, we'll fly your whole family out. We'll put you up in a suite. You can stay all weekend." And here's how they closed. And this is embarrassing to say out loud, but I'm just trying to be completely honest with you here. Here's how they closed. "Tyler, I know that you're relatively unknown alongside this other list of speakers, but we believe you're in this league and we want to put you there." And you know what I wanted in? I really wanted it. I wanted the self-importance of having my name on that list of really special names, and I wanted the safely distant kind of flattery that comes when people only have to interact with you for 45 minutes and then tell you how wonderful you are. And I wanted the "I made it" feeling of providing something luxurious for my family. I wanted all of it, every little bit that came along with it so bad. I got off the phone and I started Googling pictures of the suites so that I could show my wife. And then I prayed. I stopped and I prayed, and as I prayed, something occurred to me, I just felt like the Spirit reminded me, if you say yes to this, you will be on that flight during the one hour prayer meeting that you scheduled with the three elders of your church that happens in the rickety attic of the church building. So we had planned a sort of hour equivalent to this third Wednesday thing and as an older team, it was the first one we were going to gather together and play for an hour right before. And I thought about it and I thought, "you know, if I'm not there, the whole thing's going to go off without a hitch. I have no actual part in it." And I just felt like God was making this offer to me. And he was just saying, "Tyler, you can choose." You can have a fancy room filled with strangers that make you feel important, or you can have my presence in the secret place of prayer. And in that moment, I just knew I chose presence in the secret place. Every single time. I choose the Spirit's presence in the secret place, I choose prayer over spectacle, I choose intimacy over flattery, I choose presence and I choose the secret place. And I'm not telling you that story to try to seem noble. Because the miraculous part of that story, the swimming against logic, sort of piece of that story is not that I chose to be in a church attic instead of a hotel suite. The swimming against logic part of that story is that the creator of all, the majestic one who spoke everything into being was waiting to meet me there. The miracle is not that I prioritize the Spirit, the miracle is that the spirit prioritizes me. The miracle of prayer is presence, that God gives his presence not only to heroes like Moses, but to distracted, greedy, self-interested people like me. The miracle of prayer is that even now, God himself eagerly waits for your attention. He's longing that you might turn your gaze on him. He's that interested in you. That's not needy. That's love. It's love so deep, we've never seen it in this world, but love so true that it draws your heart even now as I speak about it. So back to the question: what would you choose? Predictably answered prayer with a set future minus God. Or actual prayer, totally unsure future, plus the presence of God.Here's what Moses chose, Exodus 33:15. If your presence does not go with us. Do not send us up from here. Give me the spirit in the secret place. Give me the cloud in the tent every single time. Charles Spurgeon says: "prayer is an art that only the Holy Spirit can teach you to pray until you can really pray. So Jesus walked into a temple and he started flipping over all these tables. That's because business as usual without God's presence would not do. He fought to win that back for you. That's the imitation of the spirit. So we'll close here. Prayer is communion with the triune God. If we go back to this painting, prayer is to pull up a chair at that table and enjoy restful, intimate communion with the Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus was fighting for your seat at that table. And the importance of that scene cannot possibly be overstated. That's what we're talking about when we say prayer. My house, this house will be a house of prayer. So you make us the people of prayer, Lord. You make us a people of prayer, Lord.

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