Yesterday’s opening sermon in the PrayFast was quite a departure from the norm . . . but that’s going to be the case for each message in the series.
Here’s some of what was different:
- We concluded the sermon by doing — together! — a “dress rehearsal” for a daily quiet time. I led the 8:30, 10, and 11:30 worshipping communities through a step by step devotion time in real time. Sammy Gonzalez did the same thing for our Latino community.
- We distributed our PrayFast Prayer Guide — a 36 page daily prayer experienced written by five people who are part of the Good Shepherd family.
- I did a Cam Dab Dance early on. If you don’t know what that means, you’re not from the greater Charlotte area or you don’t follow the NFL.
- Our closing “dress rehearsal” used an acrostic: PRAY, standing for Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield. I normally shy away from rote methods in prayer, but you know what? This one works. Especially if your goal is to get people who have never given God five minutes per day to now give him five minutes per day.
So here it is — Living Prayer, a sermon and prayer experience with the bottom line: Public victories come from private discipline.
Some of you may have seen these photos back in the last fall: (AV, KC Royals World Series parade w 500K people). 500,000 people out in public celebrating the Royals’ World Series win! And c’mon, how many of us in the Carolinas region are just dying to have the same kind parade this year, post Super Bowl? There’s something about public victory, isn’t there? You win it in front of other people, you celebrate it in front of other people.
It’s starts so young, this attraction to public victory. Here’s my very first tennis trophy: AV. On a slightly – but just slightly – grander scale, here’s Roger Federer winning Wimbledon: AV. Here’s the Warriors with the NBA (AV), Duke with NCAA (AV), the Dalai Lama with a Nobel Peace Prize (AV), here’s a college graduate with a diploma. All those share in common the great satisfaction of victories that are both won and celebrated in public. And you more “normal” adults & teens – you still thrive on it. You may not be on the cover of SI or Time, but you win Sales Rep of the Year. Division Manager of the Year. Health Care Professional of the month. It’s why the walls of your work spaces are cluttered with plaques and awards – because there is something about public victory that makes you want to linger on it. It’s why Cam’s Dab Dance is all the rage in the Carolinas this fall.
But there’s also something else. Each of those public victories – ranging from the Royals’ World Series down to your sales rep of the year plaque – hinged on, pivoted on a great deal of private dedication. Those highlight tapes were preceded by a blooper reel! The Royals went through spring training, the Panthers spent July & August in the heat of Spartanburg, the graduate spent untold hours studying, the sales rep honed her skills, the Dalai Lama spent time in meditation. The plaque may be up there on the wall, but you know all too well the toll and the toil it took to get there.
And you know what? As I reach the mid-point of my 16th year among you, as we head into this extension season with Zoar and this expansion season with the Living Room, I really want the same kind of thing in your lives. A life of public victories. But public victories of a profoundly different kind that championship trophies and professional plaques. I want for me and for all of you the kind of victories that are a deeply embedded part of what it means to have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. How about some of these public victories? Marriages that stay intact. Marriages that stay in love. 2nd marriages – if you’re in one – that are healthy and involve lessons learned and repentance made from #1. Low blood pressure because you’ve got internal peace. The ability to be content in singleness. A
proper understanding of your life in relation to God. Serenity and sobriety. Abundant generosity. The rock solid assurance of your eternity. A growing familiarity with the library we call the bible. Maybe even something like this: READ “Inner Strength . . . you must be the family dog.” No! For people, too!
See, these are the kind of public victories that, while they don’t get a parade with 500K people, nevertheless are at the heart of what church, faith, and living relationships with Jesus Christ are all about. These are the kind of public victories and personal balance I want for me and for all of you. So how do we arrive at that place? Hint: it’s essentially the same as those athletic heroes and workplace leaders I talked about earlier.
Because we’re going to look at a pattern from Jesus’ life, remembering he was one person who probably needed devotion time less than anyone else ever and yet was in fact more dedicated to it than any other character in Scripture. The one man who got life right by his very nature is the same one who made a point of carving time out when he had no time to carve just to be with his Father. Look first at Mark 1:32-33, very early in Jesus’ public ministry:
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
Great night, huh? And we think a Board Meeting is tough! What’d you do last night? Oh, just all the demon possessed in the whole town!
And if that’s me, the next morning I’d be like, “I am SLEEPING IN! Look at all I’ve done for God; he’ll understand.”
Not Jesus. Look at 1:35:
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
I love that: “while it was still dark.” While the only people awake are delivering newspapers or milking cows. What does he do? Goes off, by himself, to a solitary place, to get replenished by his Father. What had been poured out the night before gets filled back up before the sun even rises. And look next at Mark 6:45-46. Now here, Jesus has just done his signature miracle, the one of feeding well over 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. People like free food, especially when it is miraculously generated! And I know what to do when you have a big moment with a big crowd: get busy. Follow up, personal notes, emails, gifts, calls. Take advantage, leverage your influence, strike while the iron is hot! That’s what I’d do in the wake of ministry success! But, no. Look at 6:46:
45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
In spite of the demands, regardless of the moment, Jesus makes time where there is no time to be with his Father. The great Giver gets given to. And then Luke Chapter 5. Wedged between leadership development, and a series of healing services that put modern ones to shame, it’s so interesting what Luke notes in Jesus’ story. As demands on Jesus’ time and his power multiply, as the temptation to meet people’s ever-growing expectations escalates, look how Dr. Luke words it:
16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
“Often.” I love that. People clamoring, expectations rising, face on magazine covers, Twitter followers exploding, and his patter is “often” to retreat and to be. The rhythm and balance between public victory and private devotion is precise and patterned and Mark & Luke knew exactly what they were doing by putting it in there.
So you know what pattern emerges from Jesus’ biographies? Regardless of circumstances and independent of the demands of crowds, Jesus carved out time to be away & alone. Away from people, alone with his Father. Away & alone. Loud living and quiet time. Public victories, private devotion. The Lord of Lords carved out time, precious time to be out of the limelight in order to put his spotlight on the Father. Loud living always balanced with quiet time. Why? Because he knew what was true for himself would be true for all of his followers: as I heard someone say once: Public victory comes from private discipline.
See, I have this crazy dream that for the people of this church Sunday would NOT be an injection of religion into your calendar. It would instead be a continuation of a relationship you’ve been tending all week long! Because what would happen to our collective blood pressure, what would it do to our communal equilibrium if every here, every day, paused for 5-10-15 minutes. Spending a portion of that time reading the Word, a portion of that time praying through a very specific list, a portion of that time just breathing, a portion of that time simply being the child of God he created you to be. I am convinced that in that private routine there would come balance and perspective and Spirit-filling which would in turn result in some public victories. If you walk in here on a Sunday morning and it’s the first time you’ve prayed in a week . . . meh. But if you come in and your presence here merely continues what you’ve been tending . . . glory!
Last month, I told you I wasn’t asking you to commit to do this for the rest of your life. Just 31 days. Guess what? I’m asking for 31 more! Not forever! Just for the horizon. May even let you pray the 29 days of February this year as well. Yep, happy Leap Yr.
You know that verse “pray without ceasing” (I Th 5:17). A lot of times we get weirded out because we think the bible – a weird enough library anyway – is asking us to pray 24/7. It’s not! Ditch the 24; embrace the 7! Pray without ceasing doesn’t mean to pray so much you forget to work and eat; it means, keep on praying, continually, regardless of answers. Because Paul knew, like Jesus before him, Public victory comes from private discipline.
And the thing that really strikes me about these hidden little verses in the Gospels – they almost seem like asides or “oh by the ways” – is the way they show how Jesus carved time. He did not have the time! He made the time! And neither do you. Neither do I. You get up 15 minutes earlier. You go to sleep 15 minutes later. Morning seems to work best for most people, but not all. If you’ve got small children, their nap time becomes your away & alone time. You trade off with your spouse. And dads: what a gift to your kids. If they can ever see you reading Scripture or walk in on you while praying . . . those are the kind of indelible images that last a lifetime. You will be showing your kids that masculinity and spirituality are not mutually exclusive: properly understood, they are one and the same. Public victory comes from private discipline.
A couple of years ago, fairly early one morning, I called a guy in this church. Actually had a big project to ask him to join (Home!). His got on and said, “I was just finishing up my morning reading and praying.” I was like, “how do you choose what to read?” And he was like, “Dummy, it’s in the bulletin! I do it every day; what you all put in the bulletin.” Doh! Gift to his kids. And preacher. A & A. No wonder he said yes to what we asked him to do! Public victory comes from private discipline.
Here’s what we’re going to do. I want you so much to live a life of public victory that is fueled by your private devotion that we’re
actually going to do it, together, now. Ready for this? For some of you this will be brand new and we’re going to give you some tools that you can use the rest of the week. For others it will be old hat – you learned this stuff a long time ago. For A LOT of you, it’s old hat – but you haven’t done it in ages. I know how you are!
On screen, dissolving in:
READ (Out loud & together) Mark 1:29-40
NOW: JUST BREATHE. SLOWLY. DEEPLY. REVERENTLY.
BREATHE IN GOD’S PEACE.
BREATHE OUT YOUR ANXIETY.
Now, we’re going to ask you to pray.
We’ve got an oldie but goodie acrostic for you: P.R.A.Y.
P = Praise
Spend some time quietly praising God for who he is. His character, his power, his love, his gift of Jesus.
R = Repent
You know where you’ve fallen short. Guess what? So does God. It’s good for you to name those places now. Before him, in silence.
A = Ask
Most of us don’t ask for too much.
We ask for too little. Too little of the things that make God’s heart race with love and pride. So: spend the next few moments ASKING God to send favor on . . .
Our Zoar launch – that hundreds of new people would come to know what a living relationship with Jesus Christ is about.
Our persecuted pastors in India
People in your life who don’t yet know Christ
Y = Yield
Close by praying this: Lord, you have my life for your plan. Amen.