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Jan 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 13, 2013 – Matthew 6:1-8

Spiritual Mentoring And Our Prayer Life

But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Matthew 6:6-8

INTRO: If John Howell is not here when we meet on Sunday, it’s because his church that morning is on a mountainside (or valley), usually in the Sierras, Sequoias, or a local mountain or desert

He frequently posts breath-taking photos of pristine lakes and sharp-edged mountains outlined against a blue sky background
– it is as if through his photographs you can feel his sense of awe and worship
– but his arduous hikes require proper gear, education, training and experience
• some of his challenging climbs he uses to prepare himself for more difficult ascents

There is a biblical precedent for using mountain climbing as a metaphor for spiritual growth
– both Moses and Elijah had God-encounters when they ascended Mount Sinai
• Jesus delivered his most famous sermon on a mountain, prayed on a mountain, was transfigured on a mountain, and gave his life on Mount Calvary
– God has called us to venture on a spiritual journey with him
• I’ve come to see that the point of this journey is not to reach a destination in this life
• it’s about what we learn and become along the way
– the journey is where our faith is tested and formed, hope is established, and our love is deepened

Mountain climbers learn a lot from each other
– and an inexperienced climber learns even more from those who have been at if for years
• it seems we can always someone with more experience
• someone who knows the trail better, who can warn us of dangers and advise precautions we should take
○ “When the trail forks, avoid the trail to the left. It won’t get you to the top”
– that’s the role a spiritual mentor plays in our spiritual journey

Last week I asked if we can look to God as our spiritual Mentor this year
– I thought it might be helpful if we took a look at the sort of assistance a spiritual mentor provides

A spiritual mentor helps someone who helps another person with his or her prayer life

There are lots of books on prayer – many of them promise more powerful or effective prayers
– this usually means they will teach us how to pray so we get what we want
• I am going to suggest a different purpose for prayer

Therefore He [Jesus] is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25)

– prayer is drawing near to God (and notice what Jesus is doing as we draw near in prayer–he is praying, “interceding”

Last week we looked at Psalm 32:8-9

Do not be as the horse or mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they would not come near you

– the obvious applications:
• it is our nature to resist God – that has to be overcome
• through spiritual discipline we form new habits–acceptance
– not as obvious: God wants us to draw near him!

If this does not happen, we have not prayed

. . . the Lord said to [Ananias], “Get up and go to the street that is called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying (Acts 9:11)

– that’s an unusual observation — hadn’t Saul the Pharisee ever prayed before?
– Saul had said prayers, but now, for the first time, he was doing something that heaven recognized as prayer

Think of prayer not as a way to get your will, but as a way to draw close to God and discover his will

Spiritual mentors usually give a few simple instructions regarding prayer

V. 6, Jesus’ simple instructions: “go into your inner room” and “close the door”
– a private and secluded place
• close the door on all the nonsense outside
• we are turning our attention away from the world–what it thinks of us or demands from us–to God
○ shutting our eyes is like closing the door — cut off our tendency to pay attention to other things

I would recommend stoking the fire before you pray
– a cold engine is more difficult to start and runs rough until it heats up
• the same is true of a cold heart
○ heat it by reading a page or paragraph from a useful book–i.e., one that reminds you why you pray
○ even if you forget what you read, it will have done it’s job if it makes you want to pray
• we’re not looking for sentimental thoughts or warm feelings
○ or goal isn’t to work up feelings, but become aware of God’s presence
○ this discipline is like the priests who started the fire on the altar every morning

“and pray to your Father who is in secret”
– everyone else and everything else is shut out of this moment with God

V. 7, “meaningless repetitions” translates a word that means babble
– to just keep talking on and on
• I’ve known Christians, who like “the Gentiles,” thought they had to pray long prayers or for a long time
○ so they would blabber endlessly – rewording same request or adding more verbs and adjectives
“your Father knows what you need . . .”
• we don’t have to give God all the trivial details

A mentor helps us sit with God in silence and stillness

Silencing our thoughts, concerns, desires, and so on, helps us:
focus our attention on God — with inner silence, we bring awareness to him right now
become receptive to God – what he wants to do with this moment
listen carefully when God speaks with a still, small voice — to become more sensitive listeners
discipline the ego – it doesn’t come first as it always expects, God does
practice self-denial – we silence the voice of self

Silence is not something we do or make
– silence is what we fall into when we shut out all the noise
– silence forces us out of our hyperactive mode

It can be difficult to find a time and place for silence and stillness
– but it’s even more difficult to achieve internal silence

Jesus will go on to talk about:
• where we place our treasures and hearts, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
• having our sight completely focused on God and being devoted to serving him as our only Master
• not letting anxieties take over our minds
○ his cure for anxiety: “Look at the birds,” “Observe . . . the lilies”
○ contemplate nature and pay attention to how God carries on his work there
– Jesus did not intend for us to shut down our minds, rather, to totally focus our concentration on God, “to seek first” his kingdom and righteousness

Physical or mental tension causes prayer to constrict
– the easiest to resolve this is to work from the outside in – relax your body and your mind will follow
– when your body is at rest, then notice your emotions and loosen your grip on them
• we are attached to our fears (we assume they protect us), our despair (we assume it defines us), our desires (we assume they will bring us happiness)
○ trust everything to God

A spiritual mentor will helps us manage our distractions

Everyone gets distracted in prayer
– it’s part of the experience of prayer – distractions serve a purpose
• like the prodigal, it is when we come to our senses, that we return (our attention) to our Father
– so the first lesson, is don’t fight distractions – that just give them more power
• trying to hold off a thought only keeps you thinking about it

One of our big distractions is trying to make something happen
– trying to produce an experience or special feeling
• symptoms that we are doing this include frustration, confusion, and a sense of futility
• any attempt to make our hearts feel at peace is guaranteed to fail
– just remind yourself, This is the moment when one thing is needful (Lk. 10:41-42)

Distractions are sometimes opportunities to hear God
– I realize a thought has my attention
• what does it reveal about what worries me? Preoccupies my mind?
– sometimes it’s a feeling or emotion
• first notice how you interpret it – do you judge it? (“I’m a bad person for having this feeling,” “I can’t do this,” “Silent prayer isn’t for me”)
○ bring attention to your automatic reaction
• the point the  of sitting with our distractions, is we allow the deeper truth beneath them to emerge

But we need to take care that we don’t breed distractions
– by always getting worked up over controversies and debates — politics, doctrinal arguments, etc.
– by engrossing ourselves in shallow entertainment and ideas

The more aware we become of things that distract us, the more God’s Spirit will keep us aware of them
– we will start to notice when they begin and bring our awareness back to God sooner
– eventually a shift occurs in our attitude and mood
• through the time we spend focusing our attention on God, he affects our state of mind more than other people or circumstances

A spiritual mentor will remind us to practice everywhere

The more often you return, the easier it becomes – just pause
– you will discover that every thought and urge rises to a peak
• if you breathe through the urge rather than rush to satisfy it, you will observe it rise, peak, and then diminish
• it will no longer control you
– it doesn’t take long to reconnect with God
• we can usually do it within a couple of deep breaths

CONC: We are making our way to the real deal

To the place where “God” is not just a word we use or an idea we talk about
– but where we have actually learned to draw near to him — enjoying him and being transformed by our encounters

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  1. JoAnna / Jan 20 2013


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