Welcome to the first Hi-C service of the school year! This is the post for the sermon delivered during the Hi-C worship service on September 4, 2016.
Hi-C service messages will be posted weekly on the website.
As we begin a new school year, I wanted to emphasize the foundations of our faith and life.
Let’s begin by reviewing some of the themes from the retreat. These are themes that I will be returning to constantly. In your middle school and high school years, my prayer is that these foundational themes may be imprinted on your heart. Life will become more complicated, difficult and challenging, but I truly believe that if you have a solid foundation, then you will be able to navigate through whatever life throws at you.
Review of the Retreat Themes
So let’s do a bit of review. What were the main themes from this retreat?
We discussed our identity as God’s beloved children, with whom God is well pleased. In a world telling us what we need to do what we need to be in order to be acceptable, God is telling us that we are already acceptable and pleasing to God as His children.
This identity should be the foundation of who we are.
We discussed that no person is an island: that we need a community to grow in our faith and life journey. A community is not just a group of friends: it is a body of people committed to affirming our basic identity – that we are beloved children of God, and that we don’t need to be anyone else other than ourselves. It is also a community that is committed to sharing life together, growing together, and praying together and for one another.
Once we know our basic identity as God’s children, we then seek to discover what is unique about us, and what God has intended for our lives. This calling is discovered through a close relationship with God.
Many of you decided to seek a truly personal relationship with God. There were emotions and tears as many of us felt the presence of God. And that’s great.
But growing a relationship with God is not a one-time thing. It is not strictly an emotional experience. It is a day by day journey.
So today and next week, I would like to talk about growing and deepening our relationship with God. I’m not going to provide a how-to manual on growing your relationship with God, but rather I want to illustrate some biblical principles on what it means to be in relationship with God.
What Does it Mean to Be in Relationship with God?
Let’s talk a bit about what it means to be in a relationship with God.
When we get to know God, we become more attuned to His character and His desire for us. When you get to know a friend more and more, you start learning about his or her personality and character, right? Same with God. The more we get to know Him, the more we learn about God’s character.
By getting closer to God, we discover ourselves more. Think about it: we are getting closer to the one who created us. God created us uniquely and intentionally. So by getting to know our Creator more, we learn more about the very person – me – that God has created. Isn’t that amazing?
And finally, by getting to know God better, we start discerning His will for our lives.
This all sounds great, doesn’t it? The question is, how do I develop this close relationship with God?
As I said, there is no step-by-step manual on how to do this. But let us examine what the Scripture says.
Today I will talk about one aspect of growing our relationship with God.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes[a] with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God,[b] who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit[c] intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Topic of Today’s Message
Did you get what the topic of today’s message is from that passage?
Yes, it is prayer.
Prayer is a basic fundamental part of how we get closer to God. BUT, let’s clarify what this is, and get rid of some wrong ideas we have of prayer.
What are some common images that come to mind when you hear the word prayer?
I bet some images that come to mind are (slides):
- Closing your eyes
- Holding your hands together
- Kneeling down
- Saying words like “Dear God”, “Heavenly Father”, “In Jesus’ name”, etc.
Well, let me just make things clear by saying that those things are not by themselves prayer. They are outward ways of praying, but they are not prayer.
In fact, (slide) prayer is not the words we use or the actions we take. So what is it then?
The Obstacles to Prayer
Let me first talk about some obstacles to true prayer.
When we think about prayer, a lot of the times we say: but I don’t know how to pray, or I don’t know what to say.
Often we think that we need to present a certain self before God. That we need to behave a certain way in front of God. That we need to be solemn or holy. Or that we have to change our behavior, or be “good” in front of God.
These attitudes PREVENT us from getting close to God.
So prayer is not the words we use, or the actions we do like kneeling down or closing our eyes.
Those are things that may help us focus and concentrate, but those things aren’t prayer.
Prayer is opening ourselves to God and letting Him in.
Let me break it down even more.
Prayer is being nakedly honest before God. It is baring our souls before Him. It is in fact being weak and vulnerable before Him – not strong and guarded.
THAT, my friends, is what prayer is.
Prayer is not for the proud and those who want to be all strong.
It is about being vulnerable and weak.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness…
God can only come into our hearts and help us when we are weak, meaning we don’t try or pretend to be all strong.
The world tells us that we have to be strong, that we need to get respect, that we need to save face. We’re supposed to present a happy face to the world. On things like Instagram and other social media, we post pictures of happy and smiling faces. Look at me, my life is so good!
But the Scripture tells us that God can only come into our hearts when we let those guards down and we are willing to be weak. The Spirit helps us in our weakness.
Not About Words
Also, there is a lot of confusion. People say: “I don’t know what to say when I’m praying”. So again, prayer is not about the words we use. We often don’t have the words to express what is going on in our hearts. In fact, we don’t usually even know what’s going on in our hearts. Each of us have had our own life experiences. We all have a story. I shared some of my stories at the retreat that shaped me. You all have your unique story. There have been many things that have affected us: family experiences that shaped us, events in our lives that may have traumatized us, people who have affected us. You will realize more as you grow older just how you’re your family relationships and experiences have shaped who you are. These things affect us, but we often don’t know how they have affected us.
There are many reasons we don’t have such insight into ourselves: we’re either too lazy and distract ourselves with things like Netflix, YouTube and other diversions; we ignore what’s really in our hearts and try to compensate for our hurts by doing things like trying to be popular, finding comfort in friends, or even taking substances. Whatever the case, we often cover up what’s really in our hearts.
And so, Paul was wise when he wrote: (slide) “for we do not know how to pray as we ought”. We just don’t have the insight into ourselves to pray the right words!
But thanks be to God, because Paul goes onto write: (slide) “but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
Isn’t that amazing? We don’t have much insight into ourselves, but if we let God in, His Spirit examines our hearts, discerns what’s weighing on our hearts, and the Spirit prays on our behalf with sighs too deep for words.
So let’s put it all together: (slide)
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes[a] with sighs too deep for words.
So when we are willing to be weak and vulnerable, God’s Spirit comes and helps us. We don’t even know what to say to God, but that Spirit comes and expresses what is on our hearts – with sighs too deep for words.
So that’s what God does: (slide) “And God, who searches the heart…”
God searches the heart. This, my friends, is the essence of prayer: allowing God to search our hearts, and being open to the insights that God reveals about our hearts.
By being open to God’s Spirit, He will eventually reveal our true selves to us more and more.
Now this is a scary thing. Most people don’t really want to know or see what their true hearts are like. This is because what’s revealed is often very ugly and unpleasant. Often what we see is deep insecurity.
And in this world, it’s not a cool thing to be insecure, weak and fragile. We’re supposed to appear strong, collected, and cool. At the retreat I shared just how insecure I was when I was younger, and even when I became an adult. But for a long time I didn’t really want to acknowledge it. It just wasn’t cool to be weak and admit just how scared and insecure I was.
When we allow God to reveal our true selves, we often find a self that is broken, hurt, and deeply insecure. Why would anyone want to go through that?
But thanks be to God for His grace. This is the message of grace, and goes back to our identity: that God, who created us, created us as we are – with all of our flaws, weaknesses and vulnerability – and loved us and is pleased with us.
He wants us to respond to His invitation to be in a close relationship with Him. He wants us to open our hearts to Him. The reason we can go through the difficult process of seeing our true selves is that God gives us the strength to overcome the darkness we see in us. God will carry us through.
Although it is difficult to see our insecurities and fears face to face, God will be with us.
(Slide): John 14:16-17
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[a] to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in[b] you.
God will strengthen us to face what is in our hearts. Isn’t this such a better way to live than hiding what’s really there? Than in pretending to be something we’re not?
So again, this goes back to our identity: if we are truly God’s children and believe that He loves us, then we allow ourselves to be weak, and ask God to come into our hearts.
God knows our hearts. We just need to invite Him in.
Finally, here is a message that God tells us today via His servant Paul: (slide)
6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
So we do not worry. Instead, being thankful for the love that God first showed us, we let what’s in our hearts be made known to God. When we can just invite God into what’s really going on in our hearts, God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds.
Isn’t this such a better way to live? Isn’t this a refreshing message? We are called to just be ourselves before God, our honest selves, and not try to be something else.
So this coming week and for the year to come, try to spend some time on your own asking God to come into your heart. He already knows it, but He asks us to open our hearts to Him. There are no need for any special words. God’s Spirit will pray on our behalf. When we do this, we will experience God’s peace.
So find your own way to do this. This can be by doing the traditional method of kneeling down with your eyes closed. Or it can be by meditating when you’re taking the bus to school, or when you’re eating, or whatever works for you. The important thing is to just continually invite God into your heart and for Him to reveal what is on your heart.
Let us sing together, I Have a Maker. Let’s really meditate on the words and let this be our prayer to God into our hearts.