Does God talk back when we pray? - Earth To God (Pt 4)

Does God talk back when we pray? – Earth To God (Pt 4)



amen good morning my name is Eric and I'm the lead pastor here at the story and we've been talking about prayer for three weeks and I think we don't have moments like that quite enough in fact we do it so infrequently where we just let people pray that I'm afraid many of us don't even know what to do with with that time it just feels awkward and empty like something supposed to be happening someone's supposed to be entertaining me like why am I just sitting here like we don't often deal well with that and I think that's a problem I think we should be teaching each other how to pray on our own and in silence or just with music or whatever like just go into God ourselves sometimes in worship we just want to put one thing after another in front of you that's change the lights and sometimes it's so insidious we just use prayer as like a way to change up the stage while you're while your eyes are closed we're just like setting the thing for the next thing you know it's just like crazy like it must be more than that you know because prayer if we're to believe the Bible prayers is essential it's incredibly important it's what you're made for to be in communion and communication with the one who made you like nothing is more important than this but nothing I think baffles us confuses us frustrates us more than prayer and so with earth to God we're spending eight weeks talking about prayer and I had a plan y'all and it got torn up this week on like Tuesday and I posted some silly little Facebook poll asking people what their normal typical experience of Prayer feels like and I didn't expect this to be consequential at all I thought it was just something fun to do on Facebook this changed the outlook of the rest of our series in all honesty I asked people what their typical prayer experience feels like the one answer I expected most of our Facebook people to answer because it's a Christian group was it feels like Kate Winslet in the front of the Titanic in the beginning of moving not the end that's a different feeling but in the beginning of the movie which is on the front of it I'm flying you know and Leonardo DiCaprio's arms are around her that's like the arms of God like just wrapped her you're flying you know that kind of thing I answered this even though it's not probably the true answer I thought that's what Christians were supposed to say prayer feels like but I was only one of three people Giavanna was one of the other ones who said prayer feels like I'm flying double the amount of people so twice the amount six people instead of three said prayer feels more like waiting in line at the DMV endless pointless frustrating stuff II kind of you know unwelcoming kind of place and and unpleasant right they didn't stop there 14 people said that prayer feels like a bubble bath which I guess is a good answer but I hate bubble baths if I'm being honest I always feel like I'm gonna drown and those things I don't know why it's the bubbles they suffocate me anybody else one guy said yes anyone else just me okay so I'm gonna hang out with that guy in the a45 service and y'all can have your bubble ass but 14 people said prayer is like a bubble bath which I guess is good zero people said prayer is like giving birth without an epidural which is good I guess although I will say I expected some people to say that like okay it's not always you know working for me it's painful but hey I'm in it I'm feeling something when I'm in it I expected some people to say that I expected the top two answers honestly to be I'm flying and it's like childbirth without an epidural but three people said I'm flying zero people said it's like childbirth without an epidural the number one answer and it wasn't even close you can take all the other answers boats and add them up it would even get close to the 46 votes the 46 people who said that prayer most often typically feels like trying to have a conversation with a friend while your phone is blowing up and blowing up with notifications not like a one of the Samsung things haven't so you just keep getting your you're trying to have a conversation and this just keeps happening what this told me is that distraction is a huge problem for us in terms of our prayer life anybody struggle with distraction oh me too one of the insidious things about distraction is how it works is it shames and isolates the distracted person so you're ashamed of being so distracted because it leads to all kinds of you know problems and procrastination and all kinds of things so you think you're the only one it isolates you and I didn't even realize that even though it's my biggest problem in prayer that I'm talking to a roomful of people more than half of whom probably struggle with the very same thing prayer requires your presence in fact prayer is all about presence and attention the best of Prayer the meaning of prayer is your presence and your attention mingling with the presence and the attention of God that's what prayer is when it's working when it's not working someone's not really present and I would venture to say most of the time it's not God who's not really present you ever have one of those experiences where you're out to dinner or like you're on a date maybe or you're out with friends and you're with them but they're there in front of you but they're not really there this happens all the time lately maybe it's just me people that you're with like they're not really there you know what I mean like they're on their phones or you can tell they're distracted or you're saying stuff that they're not really absorbing like because you just said what you do for a living and then they're like the what do you do for a living and you're like I just said it man like two seconds ago you know what I mean like you ever have that experience what does that feel like how does it make you feel makes you feel like you're talking without being heard but we want to be heard we want to be known and one of the fears that I have and this is irrational fear because God's not as petty as me I know what I would do if I was God and peep came to heaven like hey I love you and I'd be like yeah you were always on your phone you know like here something like you didn't really like want me you wanted something from me you know I don't think God's that petty with us I don't think he'll I think he's more gracious than that I don't want to get to heaven though and have God tell me somehow that I gave him the same feeling and prayer that other people give me when they're distracted and not really present but I fear that that's where it leads when we fail to pay attention when we give in to distractions and I think it's leading to some deeper problems for us the problems that I want to talk about today because I think this problem distraction actually does relate to some of the questions that we've received before we get there I want to I want to share an email with you were part of an email this is from a young woman named Sarah she's in her 30s she comes here to the story and I'm not outing her or anything there's about 30 for Sarah's had the story so you're safe but but I think she identifies part of the problem here she says I've always struggled with prayer for me of the most difficult part of my faith is a prayer I do it because I know I should and because I believe there's power there but I've always felt a little ridiculous or even like my words are bouncing off the clouds prayer is just so boring she said those are her caps I didn't add that she said I know that's a terrible thing to say but you close your eyes you shut out the other ideas in your mind it just seems so lonely and dull I guess I wish I could feel God on the other line I mean it's pretty solid which he does a great job of articulating what many of us experienced in prayer like I just wish there was something more going on but it just feels so lonely and it feels so boring and it feels like a one-way conversation so one of the questions today is does God talk back when we pray should I be hearing something when I'm praying so people claim that God still speaks like prayer warriors talk about hearing his voice all the time people still hear his voice we put most of them in asylums graduate but people still say they hear the voice should I be hearing a voice and if I'm not hearing the voice then what am I doing wrong and I want to suggest today that the problem with destruction isn't just that it prevents you from being present with God but it prevents you from hearing God because I believe he still speaks today as much as ever but it's um I want to say impossible anything's possible it's incredibly difficult to hear the voice of God and to discern it if you're pulled in a hundred different directions and distractions all right so I wanted to talk a little bit more about this in detail today apparently distraction is not just a problem for Christians so this is a universal issue the younger you are and the more likely you are to be distracted and bored out of your mind seven minutes in to a forty minutes early so sit tight but that's how it works because we're so used to certain streams of information and steady streams that we don't know what to do when we're just sitting and being I would tell you guys especially young people that it's part of being truly human to just sit and be like you don't always need to be entertained or distracted in fact the best parts of life are when we can just sit and be but that appears to be a skill that we're losing it's called focus focus is the currency of the future young people if you can learn to focus you will be very very successful one day in your career and in relationships because no one else will know the secret that you know like when I was a kid growing up in East Texas under the Friday Night Lights culture they used to say that if you want your kid to succeed she's gonna be a punter because nobody knows how to punt that was the currency of my future no one taught me how to punt butts kids I'm telling you focus focus now it doesn't happen accidentally focus is a skill that you learn focus is the ability to direct your thoughts free from distraction it's the discipline it's work it's mental exercise to say no to certain irrelevant stimuli and to only say yes to the relevant stimuli or the relevant things the things that really matter no if you look in all of the business journals all over Barnes and Noble all over the internet like go to Forbes comm and see what they're talking about it's all about distraction and so we have a lot to learn here and I think some of these studies can inform it now if you're somebody that struggles with focus I just want to tell you that there's hope you can learn this but you first need to understand that this is a battle of the mind and your mind is a battlefield this is not about your heart today we're not talking about your feelings the last few sermons on prayer have been more about your experience with God your feelings with God your heart in the matter today we're talking specifically about what's going on between your ears in your mind we're talking strategy today so if this is if your heart or your mind is a battlefield in every battle you need to strategy in order to succeed this is this is your strategy we're talking about today when Jesus says to love the Lord your God with all your heart and your soul and your strength and your mind and when Paul says in Romans 12:2 be transformed by the renewing of your mind and when David says in the Psalms that he prays by considering the heavens he's thinking pondering these things prayer is very much a matter of the mind but the mind can so easily be entangled by distractions and those distractions will keep you from intimacy with God not only from being present with him but from hearing his voice well and so we're talking about discipline self control self-denial today this is the premise of today's talk the attention span that you have your attention is a limited resource you cannot despite what you've trained yourself to believe you cannot pay attention to all things you must make a choice you know as well as I do whenever you pretend like you can pay attention to all things you find yourself incapable of paying attention to anything to the point of absorbing it you can experience all things but you can't absorb all things and so when we talk about focus we're trying to decide what to pay attention to and how we make those decisions attention is limited like money is limited like time is limited that's why we use the same economic language to describe attention what do you do with attention you pay it you pay attention just like you have money that you pay with or you spend money spending time you only have so much attention that you can spend in a day and if we don't prioritize and spend that attention wisely then we'll find ourselves caught up in webs of distraction alright so the ability to focus comes when we train our brains to spend attention wisely I saw this TED talk this week that I'd seen before but I kind of revisited it this week it's from a French neuroscientist his name is Jean Philippe that sound right Jean Philippe the show is his name I was going to play the video for you but it has a really thick French accent I don't think anyone wants to hear that today right we're in Texas it's 13 minutes and nobody it's too long all right so it's a it's a tough to tough watch but I'll tell you what he said it's very pretty simple he talked about neuro scientists studying the brain to the to the extent that they are starting to zero in on how exactly distraction works and they want people to understand how to redirect our minds and how to train our brains to deal with the steady streams of stimuli and information that we are receiving so that we can choose not to be distracted in our thoughts right so we're coming at it from a secular point of view but I think this is actually pretty helpful so he says there are three systems in your brain that help you determine and discern how to deal with different kinds of stimuli and the three systems are the habit system the pleasure system and the executive system so in the back of your brain is the most basic system and whenever you're faced with something new or something's put in front of you there is the habit system in the back of your brain that just reacts it's kind of a involuntary response thing it's not really an involuntary response by definition but it feels like it because it just happens like you see something familiar and that part of your brain remembers how you respond to things that look like that and so you can imagine all the ways that the habit system can get you into trouble like if it's not in check and you just need to respond to everything in front of you like that can be that can be a problem but let's say for example somebody puts a topo Chico bottle in front of you like what is the habit system going to tell you to do when there's a bottle of delicious sparkling water in front of you on a hot summer day your habit systems gonna go bottle drink it like that's what the habit system does there's no filter there there's no like consideration of other possibilities use a bottle drink that's what you do with bottles you drink right and so that's what the habit system does you can imagine the same kind of reactions to other familiar items imagine what you do when you see a puppy anytime you see a cute puppy what do you do oh you know you get that's what you do it's just and something else has to intervene to keep you from doing this there needs to be another system in place that goes Oh rabies you know or something like there has to be otherwise it's just a puppy and you just react right I have a problem with basketballs every anytime I see a basketball I become distracted I I cannot think straight until I have the basketball in my hand and I love basketball my whole life and whenever I'm in a conversation with someone who's holding a basketball which doesn't happen very often but it happens sometimes I can't I can't focus on whether but they're saying until I've stolen the basketball away from them is there any guy here who relates anyway I want to hold the basketball and one dribble it and then they can talk I'm with you I'm with you now you know that kind of thing but that's kind of the habit system in your brain you kind of know what I'm talking about and any familiar item in front of you is going to trigger some kind of a familiar response the second systems a little more a little more complicated than that not too much more it's called the pleasure system and the pleasure system is the part of your brain that goes do it do it some of our pleasure systems are more dominant than others but it's it's the voice that goes you only live once man like you just serve this like it feels good do it man do it go for it like that's the pleasure system and the pleasure system thrives on novelty novelty of stimuli so new things and novelty of information new information you can imagine how overwhelmed the pleasure systems are in our brains in 2019 like more than ever because the information is never ending there's always a new news story there's always more information there's always something else to learn something else to read about something else on Twitter someone else to hate on Twitter like there's always something calling us beckoning us and the pleasure centers like do it let's do it you know and the pleasure system never runs out of steam it all it thrives on more new stuff and it's always interesting to see as dr. Loe show said in his talk what happens with someone who grows accustomed to new a steady stream constant steady stream of new stimuli so when you take them and put them in a more controlled environment a more sedate kind of setting like a cubicle at an office have you ever had a job in a cubicle have you ever known someone who is you know kind of a DD by nature and like they get a job in a cubicle and it lasts about half a day you know like or someone who's who loves video games everything in video games is new next level level up next game better game like better system it's always something more exciting and then you put them in a fifth-grade classroom and you just watch as they glaze over and then they click into some other gear that is the pleasure system of their brain reverting back to novelty seeking behavior which is not satisfied by stillness novelty seeking behavior works like an addiction and you'll find yourself bouncing from one thing to the next to the next to the next to try and fill the void of that feeling that you had with the novelty the new stuff and so you'll find yourself jittery and scattered in a meeting that's why I can't sit through committee meetings this is my biggest like weakness in my job right now I can't sit through a committee meeting without going I should check my email oh I should check my phone I should do this I should go to the bathroom I should do this and then I'm like I can handle all of this and still pay attention do you think I can never and then they call on me what do you think Eric it's a good idea Bob you know that kind of thing at it I don't know and we all find ourselves in situations like that because attention is a limited resource we cannot process all of these things at the same time now if you are someone who struggles with something like this you need to know that there is hope there is hope there is another system that is intended designed by God I believe to govern the other two I think it's all designed by God but I think this one is intended in a hierarchical sense to govern the other two and even neurology is supporting this that the other two systems kind of work like the houses of Congress and they send proposals up the chain of command like they send it to the the President's desk to be signed or vetoed and the executive system functions in that way and so for example you know you're you're presented with a bottle of topo Chico and your your first system was it called habit system bottle drink and your pleasure systems like oh it's hot until she goes delicious take it drink it it's gonna be awesome do it but your but but your executive systems like whoa boys I I don't know about this it could be someone else's bottle it might it might be an empty bottle or it could be one of those plastic bottles of topo Chico which absolutely worthless it's not the same it's not the same and so your executive system goes I don't know that's like the conscience God gives us Paul says that God speaks to our conscience sometimes that's what the that's what the how the brain is supposed to work but have you ever let me ask you something you ever been like on the phone or in the middle of something like important and all your brain your most important parts your brain are all wrapped up in that and then you do something stupid like while you're on the phone like you draw some doodle and you got a phone you're like what what what is this and you're trying to analyze it like what's wrong with me and what what Freud say about this or like or there's a cup in front of you like on the phone you're distracted they're like asking for more money for something in blah blah blah and you take a drink of something guy it's like somebody's dip cup or something you know like you do that yeah we all do that because that's what happens when the executive system of your brain is preoccupied or overwhelmed and the other systems are sending proposals up the chain of command and there's no one there to govern them the thing about it is that your executive system works so hard all the time that it fatigues and this is something not little show talked about but but it wears out the moment the executive the neurons in your executive system begin to fray they don't get enough rest you don't close your eyes often enough you don't sleep enough you know your anything can go wrong and the moment there's a sign of weakness there there is like a coup in your brain and these other two systems take over and that's how distraction happens now I think God's wisdom is in the design of our brains and I think it's made that way for a reason but I think we have to know how it works so that we can make sense of things like hey onto the Sabbath every seventh day shut it down shut it down because your brain needs to recalibrate and what's crazy is that a lot of these studies show that it's about every seventh day that the rhythm of your brain needs a reset you need to rest shut it down turn it off just beat and if you power through that seventh day instead of shutting it down those other systems have more ability to overcome and you become more and more distracted more and more surface level superficial unable to be intimate with God or anybody else and you find yourself a distraction addict doctor Lachelle finished his talk by saying your brain is at war with itself again a secular doctor talking about something other than prayer but this resonate with my prayer life if I could add a fifth option to that or six option to that Facebook poll that I mentioned earlier I probably would put war because more often than not prayer feels like a battle a battle of wills inside my own head it reminds me of a very popular passage of the Apostle Paul who you would think had it all together but even he struggle with this battle in his own mind he said in Romans chapter seven I don't understand the stuff that I do what I want to do I don't do but I do what I hate and I don't do the good that I want to do but this evil stuff that I do not want to do this I keep on doing and so I find this law at work although I want to do good evils right there with me what a wretched man that I am this is sadly how a lot of my ten-minute prayer moments have ended over the last few weeks what a wretched man that I am because again that's how distraction works is not only to rob us of intimacy with God but to shame us perhaps not having intimacy with God not being able to focus but there's hope only only if you understand the battle you're up against and only if you know that to win any battle you must strategize and so in addition to understanding how your brain works and I hope this little foray into Neurology has helped a little bit that helps uh strategize but I also think we have to see the spiritual side of this I can't explain what I'm about to tell you but I know it's true there's a spiritual force in the universe that's on our side and there's a spiritual force in the universe that wants us dead and I see that spirit working in my life not to make me a horrible killer of people but just to make me superficially distracted y'all I'm not even lying when I tell you that this week as I'm preparing a sermon on distraction it was the most distracting with her hat I'm not even joking like ask anyone close to me it was the craziest most chaotic it was fun and glorious and wonderful and I want to Astros game and they won and I I went to this event with these guys where we just drink wine and ate meat all night like who doesn't want that and and I've got a house that we're working on and it's a new house and I'm so happy and I'm just amazed in these two puppies that I love so much but they're a mess and they require all kinds of time and attention and and you know I've got like 50,000 mosquito bites on me right now for some reason I just I can't focus on anything something tells me that's exactly how my enemy wants it hmm there's this story from obscure book first kings and the Old Testament and it's a story about his prophet Elijah and it's uh I think it's a story about prayer Elijah prior to this he's got himself into some trouble and he has a warrant out for his arrest and for his death the Queen Jezebel doesn't like Elijah and she's put a hit out on him and so Elijah feels urgently alone I don't know if you've ever felt that kind of desperation but that I think is also what a life of distractions does to us because we never get intimate with anyone we find ourselves in moments of stress incredibly alone and that's where Elijah is in this story he's out in the wilderness on his own and he wants to die he's done and God meets him there and this is what happens there he came to a cave and lodged in it and behold the word of the Lord came to him and he said to him what are you doing here Elijah he said I've been very jealous for the Lord the God of hosts for the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant everybody's corrupt in Elijah's life like he's he feels incredibly alone they've thrown down your altars killed your prophets and now I'm the only one that's left and they seek my life to take it away and he said to them it's our God said to him go out Elijah and stand on the Mount before the Lord and behold the Lord passed by and a great and strong wind tore the mountain and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord the Lord was not in the wind after the wind an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake and after the earthquake was a fire but the Lord was not in the fire and after the fire the sound of a low whisper and when Elijah heard it he rapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave and behold there came a voice to him and said what are you doing here Elijah and Elijah said again same words but I imagined in a different tone of voice this time I've been very jealous for the Lord the God of hosts for the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant thrown down your altars killed your prophets and now I'm the only one that's left and now they want to kill me too and the Lord said to him go return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus and the Lord proceeded to give Elijah instructions on how to live gave him protection and provision this story is unique which is pretty special because there's a lot of ancient holy texts and a lot of them speak about God or their gods in the same ways so in every tradition in ancient Mesopotamia or in any ancient culture God or the gods have always spoken in the same ways every God or set of gods has spoken through the sound and fury of thunder through the power of earthquakes and natural disasters through the force of winds that shake the mountains through the fury of a fire the gods have spoken from on high including in the Bible in other parts God speaks with Wrath and this is the only passage the only one anywhere in any holy text where any God speaks in a whisper y'all I think this is important I think this God and this story is trying to teach us something about his nature in how he is toward us not always loud and thunderous and violent sometimes gentle quiet but you can't hear a whisper until you stand still right you can't hear a whisper until your court and you only hear whispering from someone who wants you to be close enough to hear them when they're whispering sometimes I think we bring God all of our chaos and when it's time to pray we bring all the storms of life all the winds of change all the distractions all the fires everything to God we say God why aren't you talking to us and the wind is blowing around us and my phone and my email and my family and my team like oh how do I hear from God and gods like so sometimes hearing from God means shutting it down it means I didn't have it with me let's have discipline I am turning you to halt y'all know what I was looking for turning it off not being available hey it'll be okay a promise to not be available for 20 minutes the world will keep spinning like be present with God and no one else have you ever wondered spiritually speaking why it is that we fear that so much are we really that afraid of being bored for a minute that's our surface level answer I don't think that's it I think we know that if we sit still and quiet with God you'll show us something that will change our lives and I think we like things as they are pretty good sitting with God and silence will always change your life so really it comes down to overcoming fear right I was thinking this week about how my whole life I've done all my best praying and writing and thinking and reflecting and meditating 30,000 feet up in an airplane why is that why why do I feel like if I flew more I would be the most prolific author like more than you know who up the street like I wouldn't total that I would rock it like I would be writing books like crazy if I just blew more why because why anyway because there's no distractions of their like you don't get texts up there you can pay Delta $14.99 and the text still don't come through up there that never works why am I so productive up there there's no ESPN to check up there I just write and I pray there's just enough like white noise to keep me from losing my mind you know like I just it's beautiful sometimes I don't even want the plane to land I'm in such a good place with God and I'm in coach I still I just I was wondering you this week about just recreating that somehow down here and you have to you have to look for it you have to carve out the time and the space you have to value it like you would value something else in your life that you prioritize this is relevant this is important more than anything else this 15 20 whatever minutes a day with God in silence just you your whole self before him fearless listening there's nothing that more that matters more than the God still speaks he speaks in a whisper he speaks through his word and it's amazing to see how related his word and prayer aren't by the way the more you pray and hear from God the more you read the Bible and see a word from him the more you read the Bible the more you want to pray to him like those things go hand in hand take your Bible into prayer with you he speaks through your conscience he speaks through your community your accountability groups your brothers and sisters that pray with you he speaks as he's always spoken but if you're always distracted you'll never hear the words he has for you and no matter how much you have in this life and how much things are going your way what a great house what a great wife what a great kid what a great without job everything you can have it all and still feel lost and empty because you were made not for that stuff you were made for this to sit and be still with God and to speak and to hear his voice it's when you pray don't be afraid of the silence put yourself your whole self before him and just for a few minutes be his and only is for some of us it's time to grow up and stop praying like babies you can still pray childlike prayers father I love you daddy I love you all that stuff still applies but some of us are praying like babies I mean what I want if he doesn't like you're on to someone else one thing in the next one toy the next whatever like you're just and the questions you ask are like the questions a baby would ask when I was raising babies Gio and I we came to a place where we had to ferberize our babies you know that means you stop giving them what they want because when they're little they cry they want a bottle you give them a bottle of course you give him a bottle they cry the change the diaper of course you change the diaper but then they keep crying they have everything they need they keep crying why because they want to own you got a ferberize your baby let him cry and it's hard I laid down there many nights might even crying for the monitor I was crying too cuz I'm soft-hearted dad you know but you got a ferberize your baby doesn't need to ferberize our prayer alive – and grow up realize that your father's calling you not into a transactional relationship but into a loving one he wants to know you and be known by let's pray Lord forgive us for how we have judged you for not speaking over our chaos and over our storms and over our distractions truly there have been times all of us where we've been like that friend who's there but not really so we seek forgiveness and we own our mistake and we want to repent and sit with you know you and be known by you this we know is our true purpose so we thank you for being patient with us as we grow to pray no longer like babies like children who love you surely and want to be with you and pray in Jesus name Amen

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