Life with God

Get on Your Knees, 29 May 2022

Get on Your Knees!
Series—Alliance Core Values
Philippians 4:6-7
Series Big Idea: After a 2021 reveal of our First Alliance Core Values, this series is a presentation of the Christian & Missionary Alliance Core Values.
Big Idea: Prayer is the primary work of God’s people.
The year was
1988 and musician Bobby McFerrin hit big with a little ditty called Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Nobody in 1988 could imagine the amount of worry people in 2022 would be facing. Anxiety is running rampant. Mental health professionals have seemingly endless job security. Fear continues to rise over COVID, inflation, Ukraine, …and now monkeypox?! Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply stop worrying and become happy?
Our scripture text for today conveys a similar message, but one with much more power.
Don’t worry…pray! That’s essentially what Paul said to the church in Philippi, a city in modern-day Greece.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. (Philippians 4:6a, NLT)
That would be a great verse to memorize…or shall I say half of a verse. These words are on the wall of our bathroom at home. They comfort me—and sometimes convict me—in my moments of worry.
What about you? Are you prone to fear…or faith? Worry or prayer? Anxiety or petition?
Prayer is one of those things everyone knows is a good idea, but most find challenging. How many of you eat your veggies? Floss your teeth? Exercise?
Prayer is work. The city of Toledo logo says as much…to work is to pray. Sure, a quick prayer before a meal is simple, but how do we pray when life gets hard?
We’ve been going through a series on the core values of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, our global family. We have previously noted
-       Lost people matter to God. He wants them found. Luke 19:10
-       Everything we have belongs to God; we are His stewards. 1 Chronicles 29:14
-       Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully-devoted disciple. Matthew 28:19
-       Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success. Joshua 1:8
Today’s core value states
-       Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. Philippians 4:6-7
I said it’s work, but that’s because all relationships are work. They require time. They involve effort. I’ve never met a couple that said, “We’ve had a great marriage for decades. We never really talk or do anything together, but we are so close!” Never. Marriage is hard work, but it’s worth it.
Friendship can be hard work, too. I was recently in a meeting with a good friend and he said and did some things which made me feel like my input was worthless. I was tempted to let it go, but it was really bothering me and I knew my friend was clueless about his actions. After an hour or two of prayer and planning, I confronted him as graciously as I could and lovingly confronted his behavior. He apologized, thanked me for drawing it to his attention, and we hugged. It was work, but it was so worth it.
By the way, the enemy loves to steal, kill, and destroy…especially relationships. Just look at our cancel culture today. If you really want to kick the enemy in the teeth, work on reconciling a broken relationship. Not all relationships are mendable, but if you speak the truth in love and experiencing restoration, it’s an amazing feeling! Relationships are work, but they’re worth it.
Prayer is work, but what really is prayer? I used to think it was talking to God, but it’s more than that. For years I thought it was talking with God, but it’s more than even that. I submit to you prayer is doing life with God. Marriage is not just talking to or with someone. It’s doing life with them. Life is what we do. It’s non-stop. Perhaps that’s why Paul wrote elsewhere,
Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV)
Pray continually. Talk with God continually. Do life with God continually. How?
There’s actually more to verse six in Philippians chapter four:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. (Philippians 4:6, NLT)
Don’t worry. Pray. I wish I could tell you I’ve mastered this, but I’m a fellow pilgrim on the journey toward a worry-free life! I want to be in control…or think I’m in control! Many of the things I fear never even occur. What a waste of energy…energy that could’ve been spent praying for others or just being with the LORD.
How do we pray, then? We could do an entire sermon series on prayer. Countless books have been written on the subject. The scriptures are filled with examples (though most are rather short). We’ll scratch the surface today, but examining our text, it says, “Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Of course, He knows already, but He loves to hear your voice. I think your voice is the most beautiful sound to Him. The next verse tells us what happens when we pray:
Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7, NLT)
Who wants peace in their life? How many of you want God’s peace? This might be one of the few formulas in the Bible, but it’s clear.
Prayer leads to peace. Our world needs more peace, doesn’t it? We try negotiation tactics, call on law enforcement, hire mediators, defend ourselves, …but there’s nothing like God and His peace.
Notice Philippians 4:7 says God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds. That’s God’s protective custody. How
does that work?  When we thank God, we’re reminded of His goodness, power, and thankfulness. Our problems often seem small once we realize God is great. Someone said, ““Kneeling to pray is what gives you the strength to stand.”
This should be obvious, but the power of prayer is not in the person praying, but the Person to whom they are praying. You can pray to a volleyball (Tom Hanks almost did in
Castaway!) but nothing will change. I’m fascinated with the popularity of meditation in our society. It’s huge! Scripture is filled with encouragement to meditate, but the real issue is the object of our meditation…on nothing, ourselves, or God and His Word? The same is true for prayer. It’s about doing life with our Creator. Prayer is an alternative lifestyle! We simply need to work, take time, be present with God.
"Most Christians want to experience spiritual transformation. But many are frustrated by the limited progress of our spiritual self-improvement efforts. We find our praying burdened by a sense of obligation and failure. But prayer is not merely something we do; prayer is what God does in us. Prayer is not just communication with God; it is communion with God. As we open ourselves to him, God does the spiritual work of transformation in us." - David G. Benner
I think too many people think of prayer as a magic power to get God to do what we want…and then we get disappointed when He doesn’t serve us on demand. “Prayer,” said Robert Law, “is not getting man’s will done in heaven. It’s getting God’s will done on earth.” It’s all about a relationship. I think prayer is a lot like marriage.
I’m married to my wife. I’m always married to my wife, 24/7/365. I’m married without ceasing. It’s a state of being as well as a state of doing. I’m still married when I’m not with her. I obviously feel more connected when we’re having dinner together, but sometimes we connect via text, phone, or FaceTime. Sometimes we’re physically together but not even communicating, like when we watch a movie together or even when we take a drive in the car and say nothing. Marriage is all about communication, honesty, and experimentation…and so is prayer.
Obviously, prayer involves communication. Honesty is a given with God (uh, He knows everything!). And
it’s important to experiment with prayer. I want to give you some tools to get you started.
ACTS. This is a popular acronym to guide your prayers. Begin with Adoration, praise, worship. Tell God how awesome He is! This is not to butter Him up, but to remind yourself who it is you’re talking with.
C is confession. Get real with God. Again, He knows it all. There can be great joy and freedom in confessing, agreeing with God how you’ve sinned, and being reminded of the joy of forgiveness.
T is thanksgiving. We spoke of this earlier. It’s not just an annual holiday! It should be a part of our rhythms to be grateful.
S stands for supplication or requests or petitions. Tell God what you want. Pray for others. Pray for yourself. He’s a good, good Father who loves to give gifts to His children…though not always when and how we desire. Daddy knows best!
Another prayer tool is a
journal. Write out your prayers…on paper or a laptop. I hate to burst your bubble, but I don’t spend three hours each moment on my knees with my eyes closed in prayer. It would quickly become a nap! Some of my best times of prayer involve me essentially writing a letter to God. It keeps me focused…and I can go back and see how God responded to my prayers.
Praying with others is another thing I do. It’s harder to fall asleep praying when you are with others! We have Zoom Prayer every weekday from 9 AM to 9:30 AM. You’re all invited! It’s a great way to meet people and love well, praying prayers of blessing, hope, and healing over one another. Life Groups are another great forum for prayer.
Listening is another prayer tool. I know that might sound unusual, but we need to give God an opportunity to speak, too! What has God been saying to you? What are you going to do about it?
I’d be the first to admit I’ve never heard God speak audibly, but He does speak…through other people, circumstances, dreams, and sometimes an internal prompting. But the primary way God speaks is through the Bible. If you’re not reading it, don’t be surprised if you’re not hearing from God.
If we’re honest, sometimes we don’t want God to speak to us! Maybe we choose to live busy, noisy lives in hopes that He doesn’t speak! Such an attitude says a lot about our view of God. He’s a good, good Father who loves His children. Yes, He does discipline us, but He always has our best interest at heart. Really!
I realize a relationship with God can be challenging. After all, you can’t see Him, hear Him, or even text Him! But He has created you first and foremost for a love relationship with Him. Prayer is work. Relationships are work. They take time and effort. They’re don’t always feel warm and fuzzy! But they’re worth the effort.
Perhaps you’ve been told Christianity is just about praying a prayer so you can go to heaven when you die. If so, I’m deeply sorry! It’s a tragedy to think prayer is a one-time thing…or even something we do at bedtime or at meals as a ritual. It’s a rhythm of life!
“Jesus tells us to pray for daily bread, but we’d rather have a Costco relationship with God. We’d rather have stuff in bulk so as not to come back to God so often. But we can’t live without daily dependence.” – Rich Villodas
God wants to do life with you! The Creator of the universe wants to spend every moment of your life with you! How cool is that?! Will you make yourself available for Him? Will you get on your knees?
Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. Philippians 4:6-7
I want to offer one final tool before we close. It’s a free app called
Lectio 365. I may have mentioned it before, but it’s a simple way to make room for God, to be fully present. It takes about ten minutes in the morning and about ten minutes at night to be still and listen to these guided prayers with scriptural meditations. It’s probably the best tool Heather and I have found to develop our spiritual life together. We use it most every day. They have an acronym, too…PRAY.

Pause to be still
Rejoice and reflect
Ask for God's help
Yield to His will
There’s so much that can be said about prayer—and so much has been said—but know it is work, but anything worth having is worth the investment. It is how we do life with God, and that relationship is at the core of the meaning of life.
Prayer is the primary work of God’s people. Philippians 4:6-7
“Don’t worry, be happy.” – Bobby McFerrin
“Pray and let God worry.” – Martin Luther

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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The Search for Meaning, 3 March 2019

The Search for Meaning
Series—The Meaning of Life
Ecclesiastes 1

Series Big Idea:
The human heart is wired to pursue meaning in life…and the meaning of life itself only truly understood through our Creator.

Big Idea:
The search for meaning should ultimately lead us to God.

"Everything is meaningless." Is that true? Well, the Bible says it so it must be true, right? Not so fast! We must understand the context of these words…and what follows.

Today we begin a series called, “The Meaning of Life.” We’re going to look at several passages from the ancient book of Ecclesiastes, a book likely written by Solomon, the great king we saw two weeks ago as having been given one wish or request from God.

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

David’s son Solomon asked for a heart of understanding…for wisdom. He was considered the wisest person on the planet, and he’s likely the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, a word which means, “one who addresses or convenes an assembly” or simply “teacher” or “preacher.” There’s debate about whether Solomon actually penned every word in the book, but if not, it’s almost certainly a compilation of his thoughts and ideas. He probably wrote Proverbs and Song of Solomon during his younger years when he was faithfully following God, and this book later in life after searching for satisfaction in just about everything but God.

Although it’s a little tricky to say and spell, Ecclesiastes is a literary treasure. Abraham Lincoln quoted from it when addressing Congress in 1862. American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote, “
[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man's life upon this earth—and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one, I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound."

One of the most famous song lyrics in rock music history declares, “I can’t get no…satisfaction.” Ironically, Mick Jagger has possessed fame and fortune for decades, making his confession deeply tragic. If the lead singer of one of the most successful musical groups in the world isn’t satisfied, how are we to expect to find meaning and purpose in this broken world?

I’m so glad you asked!

I believe the secret to meaning, purpose, and satisfaction is all about perspective. It’s about attitude. It’s about vision.

Pastor Ken Baugh offers three principles that King Solomon will emphasize throughout the book of Ecclesiastes:

1. I will be satisfied to the extent that I see everything I have as a gift from God.
2. I will be satisfied to the extent that I notice what is going on in the lives of others.
3. I will be satisfied to the extent that I trust God during times of distress.

Do you see what’s missing? Self.

The mirror can be a dangerous thing. Sure, I use one each morning as I attempt to style my hair, but if I gaze too long, a number of unfortunate things may occur.

One of the great tragedies of our culture is our addiction with self.

John Ortberg, in his book,
Soul Keeping—which are staff and elders are reading this year—writes,

“Despite the rise of the mental health profession, people are becoming increasingly vulnerable to depression. Why? Martin Seligman, a brilliant psychologist with no religious ax to grind, has a theory that it’s because we have replaced church, faith, and community with a tiny little unit that cannot bear the weight of meaning. That’s the self. We’re all about the self. We revolve our lives around ourselves. Ironically, the more obsessed we are with our selves, the more we neglect our souls.”

This is hardly news. Solomon wrote about it hundreds of years before Christ!

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-4)

Solomon had everything the world seeks: money, sex, and power.

History is filled with people who acquired those things, yet they couldn’t “get no satisfaction.” Howard Hughes comes to mind, a character tragically portrayed in the DiCaprio movie The Aviator. Thomas Jefferson sought to give us the unalienable right of “the pursuit of Happiness,” but happiness is fleeting. It is temporary.

Will a new car make you happy? Yes…until it breaks down.

Will a new house make you happy? Yes…until you had to clean it!

Would a million dollars make you happy? Yes…until you had to pay taxes on it!

There are many things that can make us happy, but they’re temporary. Supermodels get wrinkles, clothes go out of fashion, tech toys become obsolete, delicious food ends up in the…

Under the sun—life outside of heaven and the kingdom of God—is meaningless. The King James Version of the Bible translates the first word “vanity,” not a reference to pride or obsession with appearance, but rather emptiness as in laboring in vain. Worthless, fleeting frustration, and emptiness are also common translations of the Hebrew word whose root means breath or vapor. It is used 38 times in this short book about life “under the sun.”

Life without God is like your breath this morning, seen only for a moment and then disappearing. One professor described
hevel, the Hebrew word, as “whatever is left after you break a soap bubble.”

Rick Warren said, “Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.” No wonder so many struggle in our culture.

Throughout human history, I suspect many people have never had much time or energy to ponder the meaning of life. Sure, philosophers have done so, but a great many people have focused on hunting and gathering food for survival. In fact, some research suggests depression doesn’t exist in any form in cultures where people are gathering food or hunting for food.

Meanwhile, the Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem once called life “a blister on top of a tumor, and a boil on top of that.” The rates of suicide and depression in our culture bear witness to the fact that we have the luxury of time, reflection, and thought…and it’s pretty bleak without God.

Solomon concluded in life under the sun, nothing is changed.

Let’s look further at the first chapter of Ecclesiastes:

The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again. (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7)

Without God, life is repetitive and monotonous. It’s a virtual merry-go-round. Every day the sun rises. Every day the sun sets.

Wait! That’s not true! The sun doesn’t move. The Bible must be false since scientifically we know the sun does not rise and set. Relax! This poetic language, language used by every meteorologist thousands of years later. As we study the Bible, it’s important to know what is propositional truth and what is poetry. There’s a difference between metaphors and declarations of fact. Read the Bible responsibly.

It is amazing that Solomon recognized the jet stream, wind patterns that blow to the south and turn to the north, creating the ever-changing weather we enjoy here in Toledo!

Nature has profound things to teach us. As much as I complain about the weather, it’s a reminder that even with smart phones and self-driving cars and the Internet and rockets in space, we still have no control over the weather. We can’t control the sun, the wind, or the sea. Control is an illusion. You can control your attitude. That’s about it! Oh that we could all truly grasp this simple yet profound truth!

Instead, we’re enticed by the thousands of marketing messages that bombard us each day. We put our trust in stuff. We put our hope in circumstances. We have expectations for sinful people who inevitably fail and hurt us. No wonder so many of us love to be busy. We have no space to ponder the harsh realities of life. If you avoid rest and quiet, there’s no time for reflection, contemplation, or even feeling. Who has room for depression when you’re going 24/7? If you’re constantly in motion, you might never realize…

All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:8-9)

Are you happy yet?!

I must pause and remind you of the context. Solomon is not stating absolute facts, but instead reflecting upon the futility of pursuing life apart from God. It’s all temporary. It’s as if humanity is on a treadmill, passing the baton of discontent from one generation to the next.

Solomon concluded in life under the sun, nothing is new.

It’s been said that the ancients have stolen all of our best ideas! Humans cannot “create” anything new because we are the creature, not the Creator. Edison said that his great inventions were “only bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of mankind.”

Solomon continues,

Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them. (Ecclesiastes 1:10-11)

Dear senior saints, no one remembers the former generations. So much for legacy! How much do you really know about your great, great grandparents? I know nothing about mine!

These first eleven verses set the stage for what follows. The message is pretty simple: all is meaningless under the sun.

Now he tells us nothing is understood.

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14)

Solomon, you’re not helping us!

What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. (Ecclesiastes 1:15)

I don’t think he would be elected for the president of the Optimist’s Club!

I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17)

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief. (Ecclesiastes 1:18)

Weren’t we praising Solomon last month for his wisdom? This man had it all, yet he can’t seem to even crack a smile! What’s his problem?

Remember, he’s talking about life without God. Life under the sun.

It breaks my heart to watch people on a quest to find meaning and purpose apart from God. People try to fill the God-shaped hole in their heart with pleasure, philosophy, and even religion. They pursue alcohol, drugs, porn, and food only to find themselves trapped in addiction. They climb the ladder—sacrificing health, family and friends—only to discover it is leaning against the wrong building!

What’s over the sun is something entirely different and wonderful!

We created by God, for God, and for God’s glory. We were created in His image, with an eternal soul, and for relationship with Him.

So What?

We’re going to be in the book of Ecclesiastes for the next three Sundays, so I’m reluctant to give you the punchline—the end of the book—but here it is:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Fear God and keep his commandments. Life over the sun—with the Son—is so different than life under the sun, apart from God.

Instead of a monotonous, unchanging world where the earth, sun, wind, and sea repeat their endless cycles, we serve a God who answers prayer and intervenes. He stopped the sun so Joshua could win an important battle (Josh. 10:6-14), moved the sun as a sign to King Hezekiah (Is. 38:1-8), parted the Red Sea and Jordan River (Ex. 14; Josh. 3-4), calmed the wind and the waves (Mk 4:35-41), and will do radical things in the future (Rev. 6).

Instead of a world where nothing is truly new, God is working, creating, restoring, making all things new. His mercies are new every morning.

Instead of a world where nothing is understood and confusion abounds, the Holy Spirit lives inside every believer and is available to teach, comfort, and guide. We stand on the promises of God in the Bible. Hallelujah!

I know I’m largely “preaching to the choir” when I say we can only find meaning in a relationship with God, but many Christians live as practical atheists. Sure, we know the right answers on a theology quiz, but our lives look more like our neighbors than Jesus. We live like everyone else—except, perhaps, for a few church activities we sprinkle onto our busy schedules. My challenge to you—and me—throughout this series is to make more space for God. Invite Him into every arena of your life. Seek His will in all things, even little things. Obey Him even when you don’t feel like it. If we all take next steps with God this month, I think we’ll be amazed at how He blesses our obedience and faithfulness.

As we prepare for The Table, think about how you’ve either ignored or disobeyed God recently. This is a time to be remembered that God does exist, that God’s love language is obedience, that God will bring every deed into judgment…and also that Jesus died to offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

Credits: some ideas from the writings of Warren Wiersbe, Brian Williams, Ken Baugh

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.