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March 6, 2013

Psalm 5 v 3
NIV – In the morning O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
MSG – King God I need your help. Every morning you’ll hear me at it again. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.

Everything changed when you met Jesus. Whatever you felt before, there was a predictability about your life. Your life could never be what it was designed to be. You were created for a relationship with God but you had no way of reaching him.

When Jesus came that all changed. Suddenly you received abundant life. Now you could live life as it was intended. You could converse with God. You experienced his power. You found purpose for living. Fantastic!

Life is never predictable. Who knows what miracles God will perform each day – at least 2 or 3 before breakfast. The Christian life is one non-stop adventure. Or at least that’s the theory.

What am I like at the start of each day? What does the day ahead look like? Is it a busy working day? Is it to be a day of leisure? What is my expectation? Is it my day or God’s day? Do I expect God to show up or will he get lost in the busy schedule? Who will take control of the day? God or my boss? God or my family?

Do we start each day with prayer? The Psalmist does. There’s a regular pattern, a predictability. The way the Message portrays it is even slightly irritating – “at it again”.

There can certainly be a predictability in our daily prayers. I often catch myself trotting out phrases which have become empty and meaningless. I remind myself that there is power in prayer, but that prayer needs to be real – it is not an act. And I challenge myself to find new ways to say things. To leave behind those tried and tested – or rather tired and tested – repetitions. Sometimes our prayers can be too much “God bless Mummy, God bless Daddy”. As I work through my prayer lists each day on my iPhone (how high tech!), it can just be a hurried recital of a list or I can take time to recognise the people, their circumstances, their needs and the greatness of our God.

So when I pray, what do I expect to happen? If I pray for opportunities to share my faith in the office, do I expect to HAVE opportunities to share my faith? If I pray for God to help me face a difficult task, do I expect him to do so, or do I decide to let the thing worry me instead? I’m really good at that. Can I ultimately trust God with my day, with my worries and fears? Or do I leave him out of the picture? Am I more concerned with my bank balance than the glorious riches that are mine through faith in Jesus?

For the Psalmist David the day can only start one way, with prayer. It’s a habit, but it’s a good habit and one that he will not neglect. God will hear his voice. David has many requests but he brings them before God and has a faith and a trust that EXPECTS God to answer. This is not wishful thinking surely. I have tried enough over the years to psyche myself up name it and claim it. It’s all about an almighty, loving God – it’s not about weak and feeble me. How can it be? At least it is about me, in the sense of continuing to come before God and continuing to bring my requests. It’s about me being in the right place and attitude for God to act.

But the big challenge here is – what happens when I pray? What is the potential outcome? How great is our God?
It was reading the Message version of this verse that had me struck between the eyes. One of those moments when the words jump off the page of the Bible and you know there is a power here. Prayer is not about bringing our shopping list. There is so much more taking place here.

When Eugene Peterson tries to enter the mind of David, as he prays he is full of expectation. What for? A cure for his auntie’s cold, a sense of God’s peace? Good weather for the day out? No – we are led to believe that David is anticipating something dramatic. He is watching for God’s fire to descend.

Fire! God is at work. Pieces laid on the altar and the fire of God will fall.

Whatever David had in mind specifically, the aspect that Peterson brings to it is awesome. This reminds us of Elijah and his duel on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal. Elijah put his sacrifice on the altar and called for God’s fire to come down. He didn’t ask God to bless his people, he wanted God to show himself, to prove himself. Where the prophets of Baal failed with their frantic chanting and self-harming, Elijah saw God act in an act of power that was unmistakeable as the people recognised “the Lord he is God!!”

Elijah prayed with an expectancy. He had already of course prayed that it would stop raining and it had for three years. If only we had had an ounce of that faith during our wet winter! And so he prayed with an expectancy – “Prove today that you are God”. What is more important to us, our individual concerns or that God should reveal himself more and more in this world? Prayers are answered, but the glory goes to God.

It is one thing to pray out of duty or habit. It is one thing to ask God to bless Mummy and Daddy. But dare we believe that in response to the feeble prayers of people like you and me, God can show his glory and greatness in this world? Shall we dare? Shall we go for it?

I feel like a fraud saying this because I know how uncommitted I am to prayer. I am ashamed at my lack of expectation. As James challenges us, we need to ask and expect.

So what does God require of me? He wants me to come to him in prayer. He wants me to bring my requests but the challenge again from the Message version of Psalm 5:3 is much greater than this. He wants me to bring myself. The whole of me. The pieces of my life. The good bits, the bad bits. The bits where I am afraid and the bits where I am quite calm and trusting. Whether those pieces make a delightful whole or whether they don’t seem to add up. Bring it all. When I think I know what to pray, and when I am lost in a fog and don’t know how to begin. Bring yourself.
But we don’t just bring our requests and our hopes and fears before God. We don’t just sit in his presence. The Message translation firmly sits in the events at Mount Carmel. We don’t bring ourselves to a comfy arm chair. We bring ourselves to an altar. It is time for sacrifice. It is time to lay all that we are on the altar. To hold nothing back. To give him everything. Woah!

Are we prepared to say “God you can have it all, there is no part of my life that I value more than you. I want to see your glory”? That’s a big ask. But is this what true prayer is about? To bring myself wholeheartedly and expect great things from the great God?

We are not good at this. Paul exhorts us to be living sacrifices. Holy and pleasing to God. But as someone one said the trouble with LIVING sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar. We need to keep coming back day after day in sacrificial prayer and allow God to use us.

The thing is that as we pray to the Living God, he will act in ways that bring glory to him and his Son Jesus. He will send the fire. His greatness will be seen. Onlookers will recognise God at work.

But the only trouble is watching the fire of God is not a spectator sport. We’re not bystanders enjoying the fireworks. You and I are the sacrifices. We are on the altar and the fire of God is falling on us! It is as we bring ourselves in sacrificial surrender that God will set you and me on fire – with the fire of his Holy Spirit.
What does God’s fire do?

• It destroys the bad and cleanses us (1 Corinthians 3:13) – one day will be judged by fire. The bad stuff that we have built will be destroyed. We can allow God’s fire to show up and destroy those things now. God’s fire shows us what we are. We can co-operate with him now. His fire will also cleanse the impurities in our lives. There could be some pain involved, but the outcome is that the fire purifies us.
• It sets us on fire (Acts 2: 3) – It was as the early church was before God in prayer that God sent his fire. The church was born in fire. We need to pray that God’s consuming fire will “fan into flame a passion for your name”. He will empower us. He will use us. We do not just expect God to act, but we expect him to use us in answering our own prayers. Fire can spread, like a forest fire as the Spirit of God blows.
• It leads us (Exodus 13:21) – the Israelites were led through the wilderness by night by a pillar of fire. Do we want to know where God is leading us as a church? Where he wants to take me? Expect his fire.

As I say this I can feel the reluctance rising in me. Am I prepared to do this? Will I give everything? Of course not – I know myself too well. But the challenge won’t go away. I pray it will not go away. I don’t want a mundane ordinary existence. I am a child of God. You are a child of God. Surely it’s a fair bargain. To give all that I am so that I can live a life which is not ordinary, but full of the acts of the extraordinary God.

And of course the only reason I give everything to him is that Jesus gave everything for me. He laid himself on the altar and allowed the fire of God’s judgement to fall on him.

There is a longing in me. Maybe in you too. There is a desire for more.

I love the words of Isaiah 64 – they haunt me and make me hope “Oh that you would rip open the heavens and descend”. Will we give ourselves to God? Let us come now and every day and lay the pieces of our life on his altar – again and again. And expect his fire to fall! To His glory!

Let’s take some time to respond in the quietness. In my heart I want to respond to this message but I don’t know what it will mean for me. You may be the same. As a church perhaps we wonder what would it be like to see God’s fire fall in our town and beyond. God’s glory known.

Come to God again. Perhaps you feel that God must be tired of your prayers. He wants you to come. Perhaps you are living the routine life of a life without Jesus, but if you’ll come to him, it can all change. Perhaps you believe you’ve let him down once too often. He still reaches out his hands.

So come as David came and lay out the pieces of your life on his altar.

Give him everything.

• Give him your strengths and your weaknesses
• Give him your hopes and fears
• Give him the good bits and the bad
• Give him the pieces that seem to make sense and those that don’t
• Give him your faith and your doubt
• Give him the parts that you are proud of and the parts you’d rather hide
• Give him your working life, your family life, your church life, your social life, your recreation, your thought life

Give all those pieces and say Father God you can have it all. Take me. Use me. You gave everything for me. Help me to live for you.

Come expectantly and wait. And watch. God’s fire will descend. If you mean it God’s fire is descending. You and I cannot be the same. Cleansed, led and empowered.

Lord as we offer ourselves to you, rip open the heavens! And descend!



From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. Christiane permalink

    powerful, inspiring, emotional, food for prayer – thank you for it

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