The Bravest Prayer
I have hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim and I have hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I’ve done a couple of triathlons but that marathon was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And that’s why I did it. The last 10 miles I was cramping up and I had to do a little stopping and stretching along the way but I finished it. I’ve got the shirt to prove it. What a joy to be able to share this weekend. And I want to say up front that it is not about the marathon, it is about the miracle. It is about the miracle. It is an almost an out of body experience for me to watch myself preach that message from July 2, 2016 because I had no idea what would happen and here we are 475 later and I want you to know that if God did it for me, He can do it for you.
Welcome to National Community Church. At all eight of our campuses this weekend, we kick off a new series titled Whisper. The book releases next Tuesday but we’ve got some black market copies! Lora and I have a little tradition that before you can buy a copy, we want to give you a copy so it is a gift from us to you and you will get a copy on the way out. By the way, can I just say, I didn’t like the cover at first and then Lora and I went out to the Shenandoah Valley and then I liked the cover because I felt like I was looking at it and it was such a beautiful place and I feel like the mountains are so picturesque. It is such a picture of the way in which God speaks. So I’m excited about you getting a copy of the book.
This series is going to be short and sweet. Two weeks but I’m believing that this series, this book is going to help us learn to hear the voice of God. I think it is going to help us acquire the seven languages that I talk about in the book.
The first language is Scripture and it is in a category by itself but in Scripture God speaks in some different ways. In fact, there are six secondary language, desires, dreams, doors, people, promptings and pain. And I happen to believe that the Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever. He still speaks in those ways so I’m praying that it is going to help us learn to hear the voice of God.
Turn to I Kings 19 and we will get there in just a minute.
Half a century ago, an otolaryngologist, Dr. Tomatis, was confronted with the most curious case of his 50 year career as an otolaryngologist. A renowned opera singer had mysterious lost his ability to hit certain notes even though those notes were still within his octave range. He had been to some other specialists and they all thought it was a vocal problem. The doctor thought otherwise. So using a cymometer, he discovered that the opera singer was producing 140 decibel sound waves. That is a little bit louder than a military jet taking off from an aircraft carrier. Well, that discovery led to this diagnosis. The opera singer had been deafened by the sound of his own voice. And because he couldn’t hear the note, he could no longer sing the note. In the doctor’s word, the voice can only reproduce what the ear can hear. The French Academy of Medicine dubbed it the Tomatis Effect and I think the ramifications are way beyond the opera.
Here’s my theory, all of us have problems, relational problems, emotional problems, spiritual problems and we think that those problems are the problems but I think they are the symptoms of a root cause, a spiritual Tomatis Effect, ears that have been deafened to the voice of God. Sometimes it is our own negative self-talk and God can’t even get a word in edgewise. Sometimes it is the voice of criticism. You’ve heard that voice so often for so long that you can’t even believe anything else about yourself. Sometimes it is the voice of conformity, the voice of culture and sometimes it is the voice of condemnation. The Bible says that we have an enemy and he is called the accuser of the brethren and the father of lies and if you listen to those lies long enough, it will deafen you to the voice of God. And if you can’t hear his voice, you can’t sing his song and your life is going to be off key.
Let me give you a prescription for the problem. Learning to discern the still, small voice of God is the solution to a thousand problems and it is the key to discovering your identity and your destiny. His voice is joy. His voice is wisdom. His voice is healing. His voice is peace. His voice is power. His voice is grace. His voice is truth.
In the beginning God said let there be light and those four words are still creating galaxies at the outer edge of the universe. How did God do it? He did it with his voice. The universe is God’s way of saying look at what I can do with four words. And if God can do that with four words, what are we worried about? The voice that spoke the universe into existence is the same voice that parted the Red Sea and that told the sun to stand still. His voice can heal a withered arm or wither a barren fig tree. His voice can turn water into wine and it can install synaptic connections between the optic nerve and visual cortex of a blind man’s brain and it can resurrect a man who has been four days death. There is nothing that God’s voice cannot say and cannot do and frankly He can do it however He pleases. He can speak through a burning bush and He can speak through a donkey. He can stop a storm on the Sea of Galilee with three words, peace be still. And that is tough for us to comprehend and I’ll tell you why. Because we use our voices for about one thing, to communicate. Sometimes you can talk real loud and you can shout but you know that doesn’t’ always work. And maybe we can use our voice in a beautiful way and sing but our voices, our capacity is limited to that. So when we think voice, we think phonics but this is about physics. Most people I know would say that they have never heard the voice of God. And if you are talking about the audible voice of God between 20 and 20 thousand hertz, me neither. But God’s voice isn’t’ limited to our range of hearing. The reality is this, it is when you get outside the human range of hearing that sound waves begin to do some strange and mysterious things.
I don’t have time to talk about infrasound and ultrasound but suffice it to say, God’s ability to speak is not limited to our ability to hear audibly.
Can I tell you how God uses his voice? God uses his voice to create and to convey and to heal and to reveal and to guide and to grace. Here’s what I know for sure. God is speaking. Are we listening? And is He the loudest voice in our lives? If He is not, that’s the problem. And the solution is tuning and turning up that still, small voice, these seven languages that we will talk about and that you will read about. Like any language, can I just say it takes some time to acquire? And I know this from experience because it took me about three and half years of Spanish to learn how to say no Espanola. I can’t even roll my Rs. It is not easy learning a language. It is going to take time to learn these seven languages. But it is going to take more than
that, it is going to take relationship. I know Lora’s voice. And I know her tone of voice. And I know the non-verbals because we’ve been married 25 years so I know her voice like I didn’t know the day we got married. It is going to take time and it is going to take relationship and that’s what God wants.
A few years ago, I wrote a book about prayer title The Circle Maker and really it is a book about talking to God. But I think I have realized that was half the equation. Prayer isn’t just outlining our agenda to God, it is about getting into God’s presence and God’s Word and God outlining his agenda to us. So I sort of feel like Whispers is a sequel about listening to God. And if you said which side of that coin is more important, listen, it is easy, listening to God is far more important than talking to God. And that’s what turns prayer from a monologue into a dialogue. I want you to hear this, I need to hear what God has to say more than God needs to hear what I have to say! Amen!
When I preached the message Mountains Move on July 2, 2016, I said at some point you have to stop talking to God about your mountain and start talking to your mountain about God and I think that is still true. You have to declare his power, declare his grace, declare his goodness, declare his promises.
Let me tell you a couple of things up front. First, if you aren’t willing to listen to everything God has to say, eventually you won’t hear anything He has to say. If you want to hear his comforting voice, you have to listen to his convicting voice. I think sometimes, let’s be honest, we are afraid of what God is going to say. Anybody else? I think that is because we don’t know his heart. And I want to say this, these seven languages are love languages. The Bible says God is love, and if it not loving, not the way our culture defines it but biblically, if it is not loving, it is not God. Sometimes it is tough love. Sometimes it is what I wanted to hear least that I needed to hear the most. And God’s not afraid to go there. So sometimes it is tough love.
The second thing I want to say is we live in a culture where everyone wants to be heard but has so little to say. I think that because we do so little listening especially to God. So I hope and pray that you find your voice but I think finding your voice starts with hearing the voice of God. And if you want people to listen to you, listen to God because then you will have something to say that is worth listening to.
The Lord said to Moses, I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets. I pray that God would give each and every one of us, no matter what sphere of influence you are in, that God would give you a prophetic voice. What I mean by that is this, I Corinthians 13, it is for comforting and encouraging and strengthening but it is words that are prompted by the Spirit of God Himself. So I pray that God would give you a prophetic voice. But it starts with a prophetic ear.
I Kings 19:11
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but
the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
The ESV calls it a low whisper. The NASB translates it, a gentle blowing. The King James, a still, small voice. By definition a whisper is speaking using one’s breath instead of one’s vocal chords. And the theological significance of that is pretty profound. God breathed into the dust and formed Adam. In other words, Adam was once a whisper. And so were you and so was everything else.
II Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God-breathed. That book is God whispering to you.
Now hold that thought and we will come back to it. On the morning of August 27, 1883, ranchers in Alice Springs, Australia heard what sounded like gun shots. The same mysterious sound was reported in 50 geographical locations spanning one-thirteenth of the globe. What the Aussies heard was the eruption of a volcano on the remote island of Indonesia 2,233 miles away from those ranchers in Australia. That volcanic eruption, possibly the loudest sound ever measured sent sound waves measuring 310 decibels all the way around the globe four times. It generated 3,000 foot title waves. It threw rocks a distance of 34 miles and it cracked one foot thick concrete 300 miles away. That is the power of a sound wave. If sound exceed 110 decibels, we experience a chance in blood pressure. At 141 decibels, we become nauseous. At 145 decibels, our vision blurs because our eyeballs vibrate! At 195 decibels, our eardrums are in danger of rupturing and death by sound wave can happen at 202 decibels. And on the opposite end of that sound spectrum just about the absolute threshold of hearing is a whisper measuring about 15 decibels.
Now let me double back to I Kings 19. We tend to dismiss the natural phenomenon that precedes the whisper and we think of it as insignificant because it says God was not in them. But I bet they got Elijah’s attention! God has an outside voice and He is not afraid to use it! But when God wants to be heard, when what He has to say is too important to miss, He often speaks in a whisper right about the absolute of hearing. The question is why? And how? And when? And where? And I can’t answer all of those questions in this message, I touch on them in the book, but let me take a stab at why.
When someone speaks in a whisper, you have to get pretty close to hear them don’t you? In fact, you have to put your ear right next to their mouth. We lean into a whisper and that is what God wants. We think that the goal of hearing God’s voice is hearing God’s voice but that is not God’s goal. God’s goal is intimacy with us. So He speaks in a whisper so we have to get really close to hear Him.
When our kids were young, I would play a little trick on them. I would speak in a whisper because I wanted them to have to get real close and then I would reach out and grab them and I would hug them. I think God plays the same trick on us. I think what God wants is for us to be so close to Him that we don’t just hear his voice, we hear his heart.
Oswald Chambers said the voice of the Spirit is as gentle as a zephyr. Aren’t you grateful for a gentle God? He could intimidate us with his outside voice but he woos us with a whisper. And his whisper is the breath of life.
I’ve shared this story but let me share it again. Over the span of 40 years, I had prayed hundreds of times that the Lord would heal my asthma. I don’t know why He wanted until July 2, 2016, that’s past my pay grade, not sure I will ever figure that one out. But I want to tell you why I kept praying and it is because of a whisper. Right before my freshman year of high school, I ended up in the hospital again, intensive care unit and it was bad this time. I was code blue. I thought I was taking my last breath. But I made it out of the hospital, got home and a prayer team from Calvary Church, Pastor Paul McGarvey, came over to our house and said they wanted to pray for me. I said would you pray that God would heal my asthma? So they prayed a prayer and God did a miracle but not the one I expected. I woke up the next morning and I still had asthma but all the warts on my feet were gone! You’ve heard me share this. It was a little confusing, some kind of mix up between here and heaven. There is someone somewhere who is breathing great but still has warts on their feet!
And for the first time, I heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. It was not an audible voice, it was Spirit to spirit but I heard it so loud and so clear. The Spirit of God said, Mark, I just wanted you to know that I am able. I held on to that for more than 30 years. It was that whisper that kept me praying and kept me believing and I’m going to share this because no one looks at this except the author but one of my favorite pages on the book is the dedication page and I dedicated Whisper to Pastor Paul McGarvey. Here’s what I said. You prayed a prayer in August of 1984 that God answered on July 2, 2016.
My healing was once a whisper. And that is true of every miracle. As I survey my life, I realize that the genesis of every blessing of every breakthrough is a whisper. It is the breath of God. Ebenezers, our coffee house in Capitol Hill a perfect example. When people walk by Ebenezers, they see a coffee house but I hear a whisper because that is what it was two decades ago. It was this graffiti covered building dilapidated with cinder block in the doors and windows but as I walked by one day, I heard the Spirit of God say this crack house would make a great coffee house. A million customers later, a million dollars given to mission, every penny of profit, praise God! That God idea turned into a brave prayer and turned into a coffee house but every shot of espresso that we pull was once a whisper. And that is true of everything.
I’m about out of time. Let me share one thought and one challenge.
Do you remember the definition of a whisper? It is speaking using one’s breath rather than one’s vocal chords. After God healed my asthma, you saw it, I made a decision to run a marathon. I felt like it was the best way to celebrate and validate the miracle that God had done. You also know that I believe in not just praying like it depends on God, I believe in working like it depends on you, so I did lots of things including going to the pulmonary specialist because I wanted to validate what God had done. I also started researching everything I could find on respiration and on oxygen and on breathing. I made a discovery that somehow managed to allude me despite three seminary degrees. I knew that according to Jewish tradition, the name for God, Yahweh was too sacred to pronounce. But there is another tradition within Judaism that believes
that the name for God, Yahweh without the vowels, is synonymous with the sound of breathing. So on one hand, the name is too sacred to pronounce but on the other hand, it is whispered with each and every breath you take. It was your first word. It will be your last word. It is every word in between. 23,000 times a day, I think we are breathing the name of God. In Him we live and move and have our being. May He breathe on you? May He do what He did with the valley of dry bones? He breathed into those bones and they came to life. God breathed into my lungs and they were opened.
One challenge. In I Samuel 3, there is a seven word prayer that I believe can change your life. It is the brave prayer that I talked about July 2, 2016. There was a woman named Hannah who could not conceive. She begged God and God gave her five children but her first child, a boy named Samuel, she gave back to the Lord. He essentially was raised in the temple. In fact, I love this description. I think it is my prayer for all of our parents and all of our children here at NCC. I think about it when we dedicate children to the Lord because it says that he grew up in the presence of God. Don’t you want that for our children? I pray it and I believe it.
It says he grew in favor with God and with people. It also says that in those days, the words of the Lord were rare and there were not many visions. Well one night, the Lord spoke to Samuel but Samuel had not yet learned to discern the voice of God. And he mistook the voice of God for the voice of Eli and I wonder if we do the same. God is speaking through desires and dreams and doors and people and promptings and pain but we mistake it for something else or we ignore it altogether. Now, it needs to be filtered through Scripture. I’m about as careful as careful can be when you read the book, it is the first language, but we have to learn to interpret these messages.
Verse 7 says the Samuel did not yet know the Lord. The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. In other words, he had not yet learned to discern the voice of God. And my fear as a pastor is that this is where so many of us settle in spiritually. I hope that the messages that we preach are a catalyst in your spiritual journey, that they feed you spiritually and that they stretch you. But if you rely upon us to hear from God, that is spiritual codependency. You can hear God’s voice! He wants to speak to you!
It happened three times and finally the wise old Eli finally figured out what was going on. He knew God was trying to get his attention so Eli gives a piece of advice that changes Samuel’s life. He said go and lie down and if He calls you, say, and here it is, the seven word prayer, I believe it can change your life. ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’
God speaks. Samuel hears the voice of God for the first time and it ends with this fascinating descriptor. The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up and he let none of his words fall to the ground. How incredible is that! In other words, God have Samuel a prophetic voice. But it started with a prophetic ear.
As we end this message, I challenge you to pray that seven word prayer. It is so simple but if you mean it and then after you pray it and then maybe after you pray it, you are quite for a little bit, it will change the game. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.