I want you to understand that I am very much a learner when it comes to intimacy with God, and intimacy with God through prayer. I think we all are, if we're honest. I am not an expert in anything whatsoever, I think the only expert is Jesus - and, through the Holy Spirit, we learn from the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit - but I am not an expert in how to pray, or how to be close to God. So anything I'm bringing to you is all that the Lord has taught me, and all that I have benefited from.
Now I want you to turn with me this morning to Matthew Gospel chapter 6. This morning and this evening I want to look at 'The Basis Of Intimacy With God Through Prayer', and then tonight we're going to look at 'The Dynamic Of Intimacy With God Through Prayer' - this morning the basis, tonight the dynamic. To give you a wee bit of a glimpse, the dynamic or the power behind intimacy with God through prayer is the Holy Spirit. This morning we're going to look at the basis, which you will see in just a moment.
Let's just pray before we read the word of God, very briefly let's pray: Abba Father, we come to You in the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we ask You now, by the power of the blessed Holy Spirit, that You will minister Your truth to all our hearts, and that You will take us further on the journey of intimacy into Your heart. Lord, we cannot do anything without You, so we ask You to come and minister to each one. In Jesus' mighty name, Amen.
Verse 9 then, and these are very familiar words of course, Matthew chapter 6 verse 9, I'm reading from the New King James Version: "In this manner, therefore", Jesus says, "pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen".
Now I have a bit of a dilemma: I don't want to preach about prayer! Now I did say that I was asked to preach on things that my heart is very much in, but this morning and this evening I don't really want to preach about prayer. Now don't panic, alright! What I'm getting at is, there is no doubt about it, a lack of prayer is a serious problem in personal Christian lives and in the church corporately. But here's the issue I have: is it the problem? I don't think it is, and so the danger is that on a day like this, with a theme like ours, and assuming you're like me and you found prayer one of the hardest things to do - I could teach you some new techniques, and I have a few, that would improve your prayer life; or some strategic mind tricks that will help you make you think you're enjoying what you're doing when you're having your quiet time; when, in reality, if we are honest, so often prayer feels like holding your breath underwater. How far through can I get before I expire? We're looking at our watch. We are conscious of the things, the burdens that we need to pray for, and the people we promised we would pray for - but let's really be truthful: prayer is not an enjoyable experience for most of us, and it certainly does not come easily. So we want some answers.
Now don't misunderstand me, discipline is important, and you do need certain boundaries and guidelines, a framework. If you just sit down and decide 'I'm going to pray for five minutes', you probably wouldn't get through the five minutes, you need some kind of structure. Scripture talks about that, the psalmist said: 'My prayers have I ordered before You', and the idea is that he had some kind of a framework that he worked around. Of course, our Lord Jesus here in Matthew 6 gives us, essentially, a prayer that we can pray, and I often do pray it - but basically it's a framework of the issues and topics that we ought to bring to our Father in prayer. So discipline is vital, and disciplined habits of prayer are indispensable ingredients in order to maintain intimacy with God - but discipline alone cannot cause intimacy! Now, are you hearing that? Discipline alone cannot bring you close to God. This is a trap we as evangelical Christians so often fall into. It's probably more true to say that long-term discipline outflows from an intimacy with God.
Whilst it's true to say that intimacy does not come through prayer, it's more accurate to say that real prayer comes from true intimacy - it is the other way around. Now I want to be balanced in what I'm saying, we're not undermining habits, we're not undermining discipline - in fact one of the fruit of the Spirit is what? Self-control, discipline comes out of the fruit of self-control. But because it's a fruit of the Spirit, that means it's because our roots are grounded in the foundation of Christ Jesus, and we are drawing off the power, the life source of the Holy Spirit. This is not work, this is just life. A result is that we become discipline people with self-control, but it comes through intimacy, where our roots are, what we are drawing off.
There are many disciplined people in the world and in our society, people with self-control. There are athletes getting up at five in the morning and doing their workout. There are soldiers drilled in their discipline. There are successful professionals of various careers, musicians practising day in and day out for hours - but it's got nothing to do with God, in a direct way at least. Their gifts may be from God, and the concept of discipline, but it's not God in their life that is driving them to do these things. Equally it's the same in the religious sphere: we can produce routines that don't actually foster true intimacy with God, whereas the fruit of the Spirit, self-control, is a by-product of intimacy - but you can't get it through regimen, through the quiet time discipline alone, through some kind of prayer structure.
When you think about it, if you're familiar with Christian history at all and have read a little bit, most spiritual Christians - even those that are around, contemporary folk - most spiritual Christians that we revere and honour are not known primarily for their discipline or even their self-control. They have got it, no doubt about it, but they are known for their passion for God, they are known first and foremost because of their intimacy, their closeness with the Almighty.
That's why I don't want to preach on prayer, because our Christian culture - indeed, human nature - tends to grasp for fad quick fixes. You know, 'Give me a 12-step program that will revive my prayer life. Give me a new technique, a new way of praying that will make it easy'. It keeps, actually, the symptoms at bay, that there is something wrong that is deeper. It gives us a placebo effect that eventually wears off in time - and you have been there, haven't you? Let's have a show of hands: who has been on the prayer-fad cycle before? It's like dieting, isn't it? It never works - hardly ever works anyway! A show of hands, no? You've been there, haven't you? You've got something, you've thought: 'I've cracked it, this actually works, I kind of enjoy this!' - but after a week or so the novelty goes.
So, be assured: I'm not going to lay burdens on your shoulders that you cannot carry, knowing full well that I cannot bear them myself. Neither am I going to advertise some innovative technique that will finally dispel your prayer inertia. What I want to do today, and indeed throughout the week, is get to the core problem of why prayer is so hard for all of us. Here's the basic answer - are you ready? We don't know God.
Now, let me explain: intimacy, I think, can be broken down into a number of words. 'In to me see' - it would be good to remember that, 'In to me see', intimacy. So God is saying: 'Intimacy with Me is you seeing into My heart; and My intimacy with you is Me seeing right into you, who you really are'. This is the problem in prayer: we do not truly see who God is, we don't have a complete understanding - and of course nobody can perfectly so - but we're not understanding how He is like. It's like when we discover that we are attracted to a member of the opposite sex, and then we seek to pursue them, and then it follows that we want to be around them - so it is the same with God. To know Him is to love Him, and to love Him is to want to be in His company.
So we don't really understand the true nature of God, His heart toward us, in a way that would actually cross to want to spend time with Him. That's very basic, but it's profound when you really plumb the depths of it. If you have an aversion to spending time with God - and I do at times - it's because we're not truly seeing God, we're not truly appreciating what His heart is. Then it follows on from that: we're not appreciating how He feels toward us. It's like discovering that the one whom we are attracted to of the opposite sex, is actually drawn to us - you remember when that happened? You discovered, believe it or not, that they have some similar feelings toward you, as you have towards them! God likes you!
Now, if you find that hard to accept, there is something wrong with you. Some of us have, over many many years, strongholds in our minds - and we're going to touch on some of these throughout the week - that actually prevent us getting through to God, and prevent Him coming to us. Do you think God likes you? I'm not talking about love now, we know that He loves us, and we can all sing about that and talk about that - but do you believe He likes you? How do you think God is? There is a preacher in America and he starts many of his Sunday sermons by saying: 'God is in a good mood today'. Do you believe that? Some of us have bought this 'angry' view of God. There is no doubt God has anger, and He is just, and He is righteous and all the rest - but as children of God, we have never truly seen into the heart of Father, and because of that we are not drawn to Him, and we don't appreciate how He actually is, and how He feels toward us.
Intimacy is essentially summed up in what we call the Lord's prayer, it's really better called 'the Disciple's prayer', verse 9 - and this is all I want to speak about this morning, the first two words: 'Our Father'. Now listen: this is the basis for intimacy with God period, but intimacy with God in prayer - this is where Jesus starts. If you want to know how to pray - we read in the other Gospels that the disciples came to Him and said, 'Teach us to pray, even as John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray'. He says: 'After this manner pray: Our Father' - that's where He starts. We rush into it: 'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name', and we don't grasp the import of how Jesus is addressing God, and how He is instructing us to come to the holy God of heaven. The basis for our intimacy with God will always be: God is our Father, and our sonship in Him - or to put it in a generic term, our relationship with God; or to simplify it even more, our relatedness to God our Father.
Now, of course, it's very hard to sum Jesus' life up in a statement, but if you want an explanation for the life of Jesus it is this: His relationship with His Father. Now we believe that He is God of very God, and when He walked on the earth, of course, He was and is still the Son of God - He never laid aside His deity, but He didn't live life on the earth as God. He was God, but He didn't live as God - do you understand that? He lived as a man, completely dependent upon His Heavenly Father. He was a perfect man, and He had the perfect relationship as a Son with His Father. He even said: 'I only do what I see the Father do'. Someone put it like this: 'Jesus was the man He was because of the Father He had' - I like that, because it gets to the core of the fact that Jesus' life, the only explanation is - you can't just say, 'Oh, He was the Son of God' - it's because of how He related to His Heavenly Father as the Son.
He was affirmed by His Father. If you turn back with me to chapter 3 of Matthew, the baptism of Jesus, He received the affirmation of His Father - and just to say, that's what some of us here today in this gathering are lacking. I'm not talking about God the Father, I'm talking about your earthly father - you never had the affirmation of your Dad. Maybe he wasn't around, and you don't realise how your maturity and your development have been stunted by that fact. Even those whose Dads have been about, they haven't given us affirmation. Look at this in a mere human capacity, chapter 3 and verse 16, you know the baptism how it happens: 'When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased''. Do you see what God is saying? I don't want to dumb it down, but He's saying: 'This is My Boy, and all My delight is in Him. I love Him' - and Jesus heard that. Jesus didn't just hear it in His ears, He heard it in His spirit, and it affirmed Him.
Now please note, as you come another chapter further into Matthew, chapter 4, the Sonship of Jesus, His relationship, His relatedness to His Father, is the very thing that the devil attacks. This is important, look at verse 1 of chapter 4: ' Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said' - look - ''If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread''. Now here in verse 3, sonship is being attacked on the basis of provision: 'If God really loves You, and You are His Boy, He will provide for you - but He's not, You're out here in the wilderness starving. Turn these stones to bread! If You're really His Son, show Your power, turn these stones to bread'. Causing Him to doubt God's provision - is that what the devil is doing for some of you even right now, God hasn't come through for you, and he's causing you to doubt that He loves you at all?
Look at verse 6, second temptation: 'And he said to Him again', look at the opening remark, ''If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you''' - this is protection that Satan is attacking in the relationship between Father and Son, security. 'Are you really safe? If all that's happening to You is happening to You, how can God be Your Father, how can He be looking after You if You're the Son of God?'. Then we see in verses 8 and 9: 'Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, 'All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me''. Now what the devil is attacking there is the promise of inheritance, the purpose and destiny of Jesus - He had come to inherit all the kingdoms of the world, but He came to do it through the cross, not through bowing the knee to the devil.
What I want you to understand is: this is how the enemy attacks us. He says: 'How can you be a child of God when you're not provided for, you're not protected, you don't feel secure, and when your inheritance - the promises that you feel are from God - are disappearing in your life, falling between your fingers as you watch?'. This is the enemy's strategy. If you go right back to the first temptation in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, what did Satan the serpent attack there? Their relationship with God: 'Has God really said?'. What Satan was saying was: 'Is that really in God's heart toward you? He's wanting to rob you, He's wanting to deprive you from something that is good'. Now, in the wilderness, Satan comes to Jesus and he attacks His sonship - and that's what he does to us.
That's why the times that you are most vulnerable to falling into sin, are the times when you feel devoid of intimacy. Now I need to repeat that: the times when you are most vulnerable to fall into sin are the times when you don't sense God near. It figures, I mean it's the same in marriage: if a married couple are struggling with intimacy and closeness in their romantic relationship, it does follow that they will be more susceptible to temptation outside the marriage - doesn't it figure? So when our intimacy with God is being attacked, and we start to believe the enemy's lies, we are more prone to fall into sin. Again, here is the secret to holiness - this is not just the basis to intimacy with God in prayer, this is the secret to holiness - it's not rules and regulations, it's not do's and don'ts, although we need our boundaries and all that, but the secret to everything in the Christian life is intimacy with God!
But how do we get that? Well, pursuit of sin is often about filling the intimacy vacuum. You do know that? Whether it's lust, whether it's addictions, whether it's prestige, whether it's career, whether it's success - whatever - it's all an attempt to fill the intimacy vacuum, the empty place in you that can only be satisfied with a relationship with your Heavenly Father. How do you get that filled? Well, just look with me again - note in Jesus' temptation - the first words that came out of the enemy's mouth in verse 4, and later in verses 3 and 6: 'If You are the Son of God'. Now this is right after the affirmation of the Father at the baptism in Matthew 3 - is that what God said of His Boy in Matthew 3? Is that what He said? 'You are the Son of God', is that what He said? It's not, sorry, no prize for you! Is that what He said 'You are the Son of God'? What did He say? 'You are My beloved Son'. Where is the shortfall? Oh, it's just the love of God! But you see when you understand - and Jesus understood - that's what caused Him, humanly speaking, to hang on through that temptation, because He knew what was in the heart of His Father toward Him. It wasn't just some kind of earthly relationship, and it wasn't even some kind of celestial relationship and sire-age, it was a deep heartfelt love that He knew - and sadly many of us don't know.
This is the secret to the Christian life, I believe. As we come to the Sermon on the Mount, where the Lord gives us this great prayer, you see He mentions 'Your Father' - you should go home and look at this, look at the Sermon on the Mount, and look at how many times Jesus says to the disciples 'Your Father'. You see it in chapter 5 verse 16, verse 45, verse 48. Then I want to direct your attention to the chapter we're in, chapter 6, look at verse 4. Verse 3 says: 'When you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret' - your Father - 'who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly'. Go down to verse 6: 'But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly'. Then down to verse 8: 'Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him'.
Do you see where Jesus is going with this? He's breaking them in gently to present to them this family prayer, where they say to God 'Our Father', because He is your Father! He's encouraging them in prayer on the basis of the Father heart of God. What's He saying? He sees you the secret place! Where is your secret place today? It mightn't be prayer, it mightn't be almsgiving, it might be depression, it might be failure, it might be a heartbreak - but He sees you. Your Father sees you! He doesn't answer our prayers - as we have been conditioned to believe, perhaps, erroneously - by our much asking. Verse 7: 'When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words'. No! We are heard because of who our Father is, and who you are as His child! That's why Jesus says: 'Therefore, pray: Our Father'.
Are you getting this? Hello? Are you getting it? I don't think you are! Let me ask it like this: do you call Him 'Abba'? Do you call Him 'Abba'? Do you address God 'Abba'? Do you know Him from your heart as 'Abba'? Now no one ever addressed God as 'Abba', nobody did that, nobody addressed God as 'My Father' in Jesus' day and in Old Testament Scriptures, because it would have been perceived as totally and utterly irreverent and disrespectful. Now you will look into the Old Testament and find that God is depicted as the Father of the nation, He is depicted as the Father of the faith, but it's not understood personally as 'My Father', 'Your Father'. But Jesus always used this title of God in addressing God in prayer, and much to the amazement of the disciples He legislates this for them, He warrants them in the use of 'Our Father'.
Now there is only once actually in the Gospels, Matthew 14, in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is recorded as using the word 'Abba', 'Abba Father, take this cup from Me if it is possible'. But of course the New Testament is written in Greek, and the Greek word for 'father' is 'pater', but Jesus didn't speak Greek, He spoke Aramaic. It is the belief that every time we read 'Pater' in Greek in the New Testament in the Gospels, Jesus spoke the word 'Abba', because that's how He taught the disciples to pray, that was the name for 'Father' in Aramaic. The only exception, whenever Jesus did not address God as 'Abba', was when - and you heard it round the Table - He was hanging on the cross, and He cried 'Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani'. We can't go into why He didn't address God as 'Abba' then, but it's something to do with your sin and mine.
So Jesus is calling God, the holy, righteous God of law and justice 'Abba', and He's telling the disciples 'You call Him 'Abba' too, because He is your 'Abba'' - and they did. So this utterly scandalised the Jews. It did amaze the disciples, but it was shocking to the Jewish establishment - it was unseeming intimacy with God, it was an overfamiliarity, Jesus addressing the holy God of heaven. Here's why: do you know what 'Abba' is? Well 'Abba' is the male equivalent of 'Imma', and this is baby speak, alright? So, wee tots, they start to get their voice in our culture and what do they say first? 'Dada', of course, isn't it? 'Dada' or 'Mama', in Aramaic it was 'Abba', 'Imma'. If you can imagine a little Jewish boy, let's call him Samuel or Joshua or something, and Daddy is a carpenter or a fisherman. When he comes home, he opens the front door - and maybe Samuel is about four - and Samuel comes running down the hallway, and he throws his arms around his Daddy's neck, and he cries 'Abba, Abba, Abba!'. Some of you have seen it in Jerusalem.
Jesus says: 'This is how you pray, this is the intimacy that you need with God'. The reaction often is: 'Oh, that's too familiar, that's irreverent', but here's the bottom line: if you don't pray like that, you have never known it. We're not saying to be irreverent, you note: 'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name', so we hallow the name of God - but the first port of call is not reverence, the first port of call is intimacy.
I've got to cut to the chase here, but this is the basis for intimacy with God - and the problem that some of you have here is that your earthly father was rubbish at being a father. He failed miserably, and for some of you it may have been your mother let you down. Now you've got to understand - and I can't go into this - but mothers and fathers are meant to be signposts pointing toward God the Father for us. They're meant to depict the goodness of God. So when you get a good parent, it ought to make you realise: 'God is good, God is like this!' - but when you get a bad one, we actually can superimpose upon God some of the nature of our earthly parent. We are living today in a fatherless generation. Maybe you had a good Dad - but there is no perfect Dad, even though my kids are here this morning, I'm not perfect a Dad and I'll never be one. I try my best with the help of God. But some of us are in denial, we have got a skewed view of the commandment 'Honour your father and your mother', and we think that we have to live in denial of what they actually did or didn't do in our lives. We need to allow the truth to set us free, and some of us have had performance orientated fathers, where you had to get everything right. You know, if you got 99% he wants to know what the 1% was that you didn't get in the exam. We've had authoritarian fathers who we have feared more than loved; or we have had passive fathers, he was there, he put food on the table, clothes on our back, but though he was there he wasn't really there. Do you understand what I'm talking about? We are deprived of touch, of emotion, of the affirmation that Jesus even heard: 'I love you, I'm pleased with you, you're turning into a fine young man or woman'.
Some of us, tragically, have had abusive and aggressive fathers. What these are are attacks from the enemy - do you understand that? Right from our infancy the enemy wants you to doubt Father God in heaven, His provision for you, His protection of you, His promises and destiny upon your life. Maybe it's not just father flaws, it's mother wounds that you have - and many have those, we drink not just milk from our mothers, but from her tone, from her eyes, from her touch, we get affirmation. For some of us, humanly speaking, that hasn't been there. You've got understand that when our parents fail us in those ways - we honour them, we bless them, but we can't be in denial of how that can affect the signpost that is meant to point to God. If we have got a blockage of intimacy with God, it could be there. We need healing and release from the bondage of our past.
Now, when you were adopted in Bible times you would have a few problems - just like many do in adoption today - and there was a long period of adjustment. One of the aspects of adjustment was getting rid of the mind-set of a slave. Many of these kids were slaves, and then they had become sons or daughters - and you can imagine if you were made to do certain chores every day, and you were in fear of a master, and all of a sudden you're brought into the family home, and you've got parents. They're treating you like their own child, but you've still got this mind-set of performance-based acceptance, you're trying to earn something from them. There needs to be a whole shift in your outlook and mind-set, so I want to ask you today: do you live like a slave, or do you live like a son or a daughter of God?
We haven't got time to look at it, but look at the prodigal son. The parable of the prodigal son, I would love to forever rename 'the parable of Abba's heart' - because it's not about the one son that goes AWOL, and it's not even about the other son, though there is another son there, the elder brother; it's about the father's heart. The elder brother had never seen into the father's heart, that's why, when he hears the great party because the young fellow had come home from his prostitution, running around with women, with all the drink, and the wasting of his inheritance, that's why when he comes home and father throws a party for him, he asks one of the other servants: 'What's this great commotion? What's all the noise?'. He says: 'Your brother has come home, and your father has killed the fatted calf for him' - and he was angry, because he couldn't see into father's heart. He was angry, and he wouldn't go in, he was a separatist, he wouldn't go into the celebration. Then he said to his father, when his father came out to him - and this is what could be happening this morning for some of you - Father God is coming out to you, and He's saying, going a wee bit fast forward, 'Everything that I ever had was yours'. If you look at the very beginning of the prodigal son, he split the inheritance with both the younger and the elder son, they both got their cut: 'You could have had a party, you could have enjoyed everything that I ever give you, but you've never really seen into my heart'. Do you know what the retort of the elder brother was to his father? 'All these years I have been serving you, and you never killed the fatted calf for me and my friends'. Now let me ask you: who talks to their Dad like that? Who says: 'All these years I have been serving you'? That's the way an employee talks to an employer, not the way a son talks to a father. Are you a slave or a son?
Now listen, I've got to cut - but when Adam realised his need for intimacy, what did God do? He took a rib, and look at what He did, He created a woman to meet his need. This is going to be the basis for everything I say this week and tonight, but if you are experiencing blockage in intimacy with God in prayer or in general, I want you to consider: do you truly know God as your Abba?
Father, I pray in Jesus' name that through the Holy Spirit broken hearts, limping prayer warriors, will find You now. Amen.
Don't miss the follow-up message: 'The Dynamic Of Intimacy With God Through Prayer'...
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This sermon was delivered at Newtownbreda Baptist Church in N. Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Basis Of Intimacy With God Through Prayer" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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