I am encouraging everyone at my church to focus on three things during the 40 days of Lent--prayer, study, and service. Today, I want to talk about prayer.
Prayer is communicating with God. You don’t have to use fancy language or try to impress God (or anyone else) with your eloquent speech. The best prayer is simply you talking to God like you would talk to a trusted friend.
However, we often forget prayer is also listening. Many times, our prayers are just us talking, but never listening. There’s a cliché that says God gave us two ears and only one mouth so we ought to listen twice as much as we speak. That’s even truer when we come into the presence of God. Do you presume to teach God something He doesn’t already know or impress Him with your clever speech? We should tell God about our day and our struggles and our joys and present Him with our petitions. And we should thank Him and praise Him and glorify His holy name. Yet it is even better and far more beneficial to just be still and quiet and know that He is God and to listen for His holy voice that we might know His thoughts and His purposes for our life. That would be a worthy practice for the 40 days of Lent.
I want to share a story takes place right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus goes into the wilderness on a pilgrimage to fast. And fasting always goes with prayer. Jesus is listening for the voice of God to prepare him for the next 3 years of his life—a ministry that will be powerful but face many challenges, require great spiritual fortitude, wisdom, and grace, and that will culminate in his arrest, torture, and crucifixion. Ultimately, there will be the final victory of the resurrection and defeat of death, but only if Jesus is completely faithful to God’s plan. So Jesus begins his ministry with an intense period of fasting and prayer.
Slides – Luke 4:1-13
3 Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”
4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”
5 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”
8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,
‘You must worship the Lord your God
and serve only him.’”
9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say,
He will order his angels to protect and guard you.
11 And they will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”
12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”
13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.
The Voice of God vs. the Voice of Satan In this passage, Jesus communes with God as he fasts in the wilderness, but he also encounters Satan. It is often the case that we encounter Satan when we are looking for God. Why? I will tell you. Satan does not want us to commune with God. His ultimate purpose is to disrupt just such encounters. People may think of Satan’s wants to scare us, or hurt us, or deceive us, or make bad things happen to us. In part, all of these are true. Satan hates us and wants only bad to befall us. However, the greatest and darkest goal Satan has is to keep us from a true relationship with God. For if he accomplishes this, he will ultimately achieve the greatest evil of all which will also include all the other lesser evils.
If all Satan wants to do is scare us or cause us pain, he could simply show his ugly face and shred our bodies with his evil hands. However, doing so would be the surest way to make us turn to God. (If you saw Satan face to face, you would cry out to God—and He would come running to save you. You would never forget it; you would cling to God forever lest you fall back into the hands of the Devil.) It is much better for Satan that we never know he is the one who torments us.
Satan’s goal is to turn our hearts away from God, to make us forget about God. Then Satan will have our souls and can make sport of us forever, torturing us and causing pain, having already accomplish the greatest wound of all—eternal separation from our Creator.
So when we go looking for God—as Jesus did while fasting in the wilderness—Satan comes along to tempt, to disrupt, to deceive, and destroy. Satan doesn’t usually come and tell you “I am Satan.” We would never listen to him if he did. Nor does Satan look as you would expect—with red skin, horns on his head, and a pointy tale. Who would take advice from a monster? Satan’s usually comes to us in the same way God does—as a voice in our head as we contemplate the world around us, as we think about our life, as we meditate on the worries we have, as we ponder how we should react and what we should do.
So you must learn to know the difference between Satan's whispers and the voice of God. And I want to give you some clues to how you tell which is which.
God’s voice stills you; Satan rushes you.
Satan will push you to always do more and more and more. He will keep you so busy you don’t have time to look for God or consider if all you’re doing has any real meaning. But God calls us to slow down. He gave us a whole day to rest—the Sabbath—so that we can be still and know that He is God. For when we are still, we become calm. And when we are calm, we listen with our heart. And when we listen with our heart, we hear God’s voice. And when we hear God’s voice, we know Him.
God’s voice leads you; Satan pushes you. Jesus said, “Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of me.” He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heaven burdens, and I will give you rest.” Satan pushes us to do more and more and more. He literally told Jesus to go jump off the highest point of the temple. What do you think Satan would do to you?
God’s voice reassures you; Satan frightens you.
Slide – God voice encourages you; Satan discourages you.
God voice convicts you; Satan condemns you.
If you want to know how much God loves you, look at the cross. He loved you enough to die on the cross to forgive you of your sins. The cross is clearest statement about the depth of God's love and the forgiveness He offers. Listen to God's voice in prayer and ignore Satan.