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This morning I am going to continue my two-part message on Living Well by engaging in regular, routine prayer.  To recap last week’s message:

Prayer reminds me I am never alone.

Prayer is an act of faith.

Prayer is an act of humility.

Prayer is preventative medicine.

Prayer is an invitation to the supernatural.

Let’s move on to even more benefits of this awesome gift that God has given to us to enable us to live our best life!

Prayer is an opportunity to de-stress.  Adulting is stressful. Being a student is stressful. Property owning is stressful.  Work is stressful.  Traffic is stressful.  Raising children is stressful.  Letting them gain their independence is double stressful.  Caring for the aging generation is stressful.  Dealing with our own health is stressful.  Relationships are stressful.  Living on planet earth could easily mean living as a big ball of stress.

And stress is something the world recognizes as a problem.  De-stressing has become big business in America.  Right now, on Amazon, for $29.95 you can purchase, “Pinch Me Dough Therapy.”  It is a kind of dough that you knead with your hands in order to relax.  The ad says, “Knead your worries away with this pliable dough that feels great on your hands and smells good, too.”  For $165.00 you can buy a Spinning Gear Ring. It is a stainless-steel ring with gears on it, and the gears move in unison, subtly keeping your fingers busy and somehow that is supposed to be stress-relieving.  If you are looking for a cheaper option, the “Squeeze a Bean Keychain” is just $7.99. Last one…For $9.99 you can buy this Bubble Wrap I-phone case that enables you to simulate the popping of bubble wrap all throughout the day so that you can de-stress with bubble wrap therapy. Those are but a few of thousands upon thousands of stress-relieving products you can acquire.  Retailers have made a living by responding to the real need that people have to de-stress.  You could buy all of that stuff OR you could pray.  I’m not saying don’t utilize additional coping mechanisms besides prayer, but I will tell you this, if you leave prayer out of the equation, you will never be free from the root of your stress.

Life has become exponentially more stressful as a result of the pandemic and political upheaval in our country.  We have to wade through the heaviness that comes from the mess we are in. In addition to the changes we have been requested to make regarding the way we do life during this last year there is additional concern and anxiety, fear and suspicion that many are dealing with and with great reason for all of it. It is all very extra at this point.

Jesus says, “Give your extra to Me in prayer.”  I Peter 5:7 says this: CAST all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  God cares for you.  You are His treasured possession.  He has made a huge commitment to you and investment in you in the sending of Jesus to die on the cross for your sins.  He will take care of you.  He will.

Another verse puts it this way: Psalm 55:22-CAST your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  Sometimes God takes care of us by removing the problem, and at other times He takes care of us by sustaining us and giving us what we need to endure.  Both are equally helpful because we learn new things about God and ourselves through both experiences.  Our faith is refined in both cases.

You fishermen know about casting.  “Cast,” here comes from the Greek verb “epiripto” which means you are propelling something from one place to another.  It is an intentional throwing or hurling that transfers the weight of your burden onto the shoulders of God.  We aren’t talking about a cute tossing, like the gentle arc of a corn hole bean bag as it is lofted through the air, but a violent projectile and deliberate separation from worry and anxiety. 

A lot of times we don’t take the deliberate step we could and need to.  Instead, we nurse our wounds, we feed our fears, we ruminate on the heaviness of life and allow it to haunt us all throughout the day as if we are powerless to think about or experience anything else.  Here in I Peter we are told to hurl our issues onto God.  If a spider appeared in your lap right now, you wouldn’t think, “Hmmm.  How long can I let this spider crawl on me?  I wonder if it is poisonous.  If I let it live on my lap how big will it get?  I’ll just sleep with one eye open.  This is wigging me out.  What if it crawls up my sleeve?”  No, you would fling that sucker off and to the floor where you would violently, and with a blood curdling scream, smash it with your shoe.  (Well, that is what I would do.)  So, why in the world do we sit and soak in all of our life’s anxieties instead of flinging them off of us when God says we can? 

Philippians 4:6 says,  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Paul says we are to literally pray about everything.  Nothing is too big.  Nothing is too small.  And Philippians 4:7 that follows gives us a glimpse of what to expect when we have made prayer a daily habit: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

God will fortify your mind.  He will build a fortress of peace around you.  Sounds good to me, how about you?  Remember, we aren’t talking about a one-time, sixty-second prayer, but a lifestyle of prayer.  When I engage in regular communication with God, I de-stress because prayer helps me form the habit of recognizing God and interacting with Him, and when that happens, I have all of the strength and reassurance that I need for whatever is happening.  Prayer gets me to THAT place where I can plug into the peace and power of God. It is through that interaction that my cares are cast off and onto Him. Cast your cares on God through prayer, and then don’t reel them back in.

Prayer paves the way for deep and sustained change.

The way to keep our relationship with God healthy is through the confession of sin and by talking to God about our struggles.  This is clearly seen in what I will call “confessional prayer.”  God showed me something pretty awesome this week.  Here it is:  Confession is about more than gaining forgiveness, but it is about inviting and permitting God to work in us.  Isn’t that what we need?  For God to keep working in us?  Look at David’s confessional prayer in Psalm 51:  Have mercy on me, O God,  according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion  blot out my transgressions.

David is saying, “I can’t deal with my sin on my own.  I can’t blot out my sin.” In fact, he says in verse 3:  For I know my transgressions,  and my sin is always before me.  He can’t escape his sin.  Wherever he goes, it goes with him and nags him, oppresses him, and condemns him. It keeps him up at night.  It is impacting his physical and emotional well-being.  You have to read the whole Psalm to see it.

David doesn’t just want to be off the hook with God, but he wants to be a different person.  He wants cleansed from anything that led him to pursue his sin.  He wants who he has been to be washed away.Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  It had disrupted his relationship with God.  Look at verse 4: Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

We all know the feeling of regret and remorse for the things we have done.  Those are human reactions to the realization that we have hurt people, and those moments are tough, but there is an added and almost unbearable burden on the person who realizes they have damaged their relationship with God.  Life apart from God, life with limited interaction with God, isn’t abundant life.  From God flows peace, joy and hope and when there is a breech in our relationship with Him because of unrepentant sin the life-giving intangibles, like the ones I just mentioned, cannot be recovered any other way than through confessional prayer.

And so, David invited God to do a deep internal work in his heart.  In verse 7 he asked to be cleansed and washed.  He didn’t only want forgiveness, but he also wanted a new heart, one that didn’t entertain the desires of sin.  He wasn’t just sorry that he got caught. He wanted to change.  He wasn’t looking for a free pass.  He wanted freedom.  He wanted not just to be free of the way sin had made him feel, but he wanted to be free FROM sin.  He didn’t want anything messing with his connection with God anymore. 

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

He invited God to remake him, to makeover his desires.  He wanted strength to be faithful and fully committed to God. He was surrendering fully to God.

11 Do not cast me from your presence    or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Do you know what a mouthful that is?  Do you know what a dangerous and risky prayer that is?  Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me?  Do you know why David prayed that?  Because he needed the accountability of the Holy Spirit.  Because he absolutely wanted to be done with sin. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of sin.  David never wanted to be without the One who would convict his heart immediately when he had gotten into spiritual trouble.  He never wanted a repeat of that disconnect from God. Woe to the person who feels no sorrow over sin anymore.  That person is truly lost. David never wanted to be in danger of that happening to him. 

If God still deals with you and disciplines you and moves in your heart and mind to bring a revelation of what you are doing wrong, be glad.  Be thankful.  It means He hasn’t removed the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit in your life!  Trust me.  You don’t ever want to find yourself there. Friends, the Holy Spirit is our protective covering.  We never want to be without Him. Oh, verse 11 has taken on a whole new meaning for me.  Yes, I want the presence of God, but I also want the power of the Holy Spirit moving freely in my life to convict me when I get off track.  I need both!

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation  and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

David said, “I’ve lost my joy,” and “I am too weak to recover from all I have done. God, come pick me up and turn me around.”

Prayer is Spiritual Warfare

Ephesians 6 is a spiritual warfare passage. Verse 10 tells us to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power and the subsequent verses tell us how to do it. There is spiritual armor that we have to put on in order to be able to stand against the devil’s schemes. Verse 12 says, For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Since you are in a spiritual battle, you have to utilize spiritual weapons in order to be able to engage effectively. You have to move from the physical realm into the spiritual realm because it isn’t a physical fight, but one with the spiritual forces of darkness.  So, you have to be committed to spiritual truth, you have to stand in the righteousness of Christ, you have to be committed to the Gospel of peace, you have to have faith, you must be saved through the blood of Christ and you have to be in the Word.  That takes us down through verse 17 of Ephesians 6. 

But Paul says, even all of that isn’t enough to defeat the devil. We have to add prayer. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

Listen, you need to not only pray for God to take anxieties and burdens from you and to keep your relationship free from the clutter sin creates, but you also need to pray out loud against the enemy of your soul as well.  You need to open your mouth and declare that Satan cannot have your nervous system and your mental health.  He cannot come at you through your physical body or your marital relationship.  He cannot have access to the souls of your children.  He cannot attack you through your finances or whatever way he is attempting to harass and assault you.  Yes, your 15-year old refrigerator will one day give out.  Your body won’t be ache and pain-free forever.  Things break. That’s not what I am talking about.  I just bought new towels the other day, and when I went to take the price tag off of one, I yanked on the towel to get the plastic tag off, and it unraveled my new towel.  Y’all, I can’t blame Satan for my stupidity!  There are lots of believers who would love to blame Satan for stuff they don’t want to take credit for themselves.  He isn’t to blame for everything.  Is there an “amen” in the house?  BUT when things are being distorted and lies are circulating, when communication with the people you love gets confused and convoluted, when thing after thing after thing happens and there isn’t a clear explanation, when sleep is disrupted and your stomach stays upset for no earthly reason, Satan may not be far off.

Paul says to ward Satan off, stay suited up AND then pray, pray, pray. When you pray you are acknowledging that not only do you need God’s help, but you are acknowledging that you are aware that you have an enemy and it isn’t your co-worker, your kids or your spouse.  Prayer will help you stay vigilant against Satan’s schemes and the traps he is baiting for you. When you pray for people to be saved you are doing spiritual warfare because Satan is hard at work to blind the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see God (II Corinthians 4:4).  When you pray for people to be able to recognize the truth, you are doing spiritual warfare.  When you pray that people will be given Divine opportunities to know God and to live well you are doing spiritual warfare. When you pray for addictions and strongholds to break, you are doing spiritual warfare. When you pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven you are doing spiritual warfare because Satan opposes all that God is seeking to accomplish.    

Prayer aligns my will with God’s will.

Over time, as we spend time in prayer, our wills become conformed to the will of God.  In prayer, we can ask God to reveal His perfect will to us.  We can ask Him for Heaven’s perspective on our pain.  We can acknowledge that we will trust God no matter what.  We can surrender by praying the prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but Yours be done.” 

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Day in and day out we are bombarded with worldly messages, with evil and confusing patterns of communication, with secular expressions which Satan wants to use to conform us and convert us to his will.  Do you realize that Satan has a will for your life?  In many ways, he has an upper hand when it comes to the communication of his will and the pressures that are in place in this world which come against us to conform us to that will because most of our day is spent engaging in the world in human, earthly, physical ways. It is what it is.  We live on planet earth. 

That is why regular prayer is so crucial!  Prayer is one of a few ways that God gives us to help us conform our will to His will.  Prayer time becomes the time during which our mind gets conformed to the mind of Christ.  The more we pray, the more we will know what God’s good and pleasing and perfect will is. 

I say that because prayer is two-way communication.  It isn’t just that we talk to God, but it becomes a conversation. John 10:27 says that we can learn to know and listen to the voice of God. In prayer, we get to hear from God, and the more time we spend talking AND listening, the more we will become accustomed to the voice of God and be able to know God’s will when we aren’t even actively engaged in conversation with Him.  His will, will be imprinted on our minds and hearts as we spend time with Him in prayer, and we will begin to automatically, supernaturally know what would please Him in any situation.

Living well means living as God desires.  He doesn’t want you stressed.  Pray.  He wants access into your life to transform you into the image of Christ.  Pray.  He wants you living in victory over Satan and his traps.  Pray.  He wants you to be able to hear Him clearly and know what His plans are for you specifically.  Pray.

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