HABITS – Hang Time with God
Sycamore Creek Church
September 20, 2009
Today we continue into the second week of a series on HABITS. Fyodor Dostoyevsky is quoted to have said about habits that “the second half of a man’s [or woman’s] life is made up of nothing but the habits he [or she] has acquired during the first half.” What habits do you have right now? Where is your life heading? What kind of person are your habits forming you to become?
Last week we explored a basic idea: if you want to be like Jesus and have the same kind of habits Jesus has, then you have to practice like Jesus practiced. Let’s look just a little further into this idea of Jesus’ habits. Here are three different verses about Jesus. Do you notice anything similar between them?
He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them (Mark 10:1, NRSV)
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom (Luke 4:16, NRSV).
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him (Luke 22:39, NRSV).
“As was his custom.” Jesus had habits! He tended to do certain things over and over again. He taught, as was his custom. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom. He prayed on the Mount of Olives, as was his custom. “As was his custom.” It’s a very small phrase, but in between the lines of the story of Jesus’ life as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John you will find, if you pay close attention, Jesus’ habits, the customs and practices he had of spending time with God. If I could sum Jesus’ habits up briefly, I’d say that Jesus spent regular unhurried time with God. He hung out with God.
I’d like to take a closer look at some of those in-between-the-lines moments and explore just exactly how Jesus spent time with God. What did he do? I mean, it’s not like God is visibly sitting in a coffee shop somewhere holding office hours. So how exactly did Jesus spend time with God? How did he hang out with God? Let’s explore three habits or practices that Jesus practiced.
Solitude and Prayer
First, Jesus spent time in solitude and prayer. He got away from the crowds and spent time by himself talking to God. For example, before choosing his twelve disciples, Luke tells us that Jesus spent the night in prayer. Luke says, “One day soon afterward Jesus went to a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night” (6:12). Jesus went to a mountain. He got away from the hustle and bustle of the city and spent the night in the wilderness. When was the last time you got away from it all and spent some time by yourself in a park, on a trail, on a lake or mountain or beach? By yourself? Just you and God?
Luke goes on to tell us that Jesus didn’t just spend this night by himself, but he prayed to God all night. He didn’t spend the evening day dreaming. He spent it talking to God. Solitude and prayer often go hand in hand.
It’s not only Luke who describes this practice of Jesus. Mark does too. After spending time healing people, Jesus goes off to be by himself in prayer. Mark says, “The next morning Jesus awoke long before daybreak and went out alone into the wilderness to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. They said, ‘Everyone is asking for you’” (1:35-37). This time we find Jesus getting up early in the morning and going into the wilderness to be by himself. He had spent the previous day healing people which apparently made him pretty tired. So he gets away from it all for a while. I love how Simon (Peter) goes out to find Jesus. He is incredulous. “Come on Jesus. What are you doing out here? Everyone is looking for you. Can’t you whip out some more of that healing stuff? That was awesome.” I hope some day when everyone is looking for me, I’m found praying rather than spending time doing something like surfing the internet or watching TV. Jesus has certain customs, practices, or habits. In both Mark and Luke we see Jesus spending time in solitude and prayer.
So what is prayer? Here are some practical suggestions. Prayer is simply talking to God. When you’re happy, tell God about it: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth” (Psalm 100). When you’re sad, tell God about it: “I am weary with moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Psalm 6). When you’re angry, tell God about your anger, even if it’s toward God: “Look & answer me, O Lord my God” (Psalm 13). And when you’re confused, tell God that you’re confused: “How long O Lord, will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13). Simply be authentic with God. If you’re not, who are you kidding? God already knows. Being authentic with God isn’t about God, it’s about you. Be open with God because God already knows, and God still loves you.
Many have trouble with a wandering mind during prayer. Consider writing or typing your prayers. Write God a letter (or email) each day. This might help you focus.
What about times? When do you talk to God? Well, all day. But also set some time aside each day. If you’re like me, I talk to Sarah at times that are both planned and unplanned. Do the same with God. Consider praying three times a day: morning, noon and evening. Maybe that goes with breakfast, lunch, and dinner or bedtime. Psalm 55 says, “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice” (v17). There’s that authenticity again. Complaining and moaning to God. And the psalmist says he does it three times a day (which is also a way of saying all the time!).
Jesus had the habit of spending time with God in the practice of prayer and solitude. Find some time to do the same.
Prayer and Confession
Second, Jesus taught his followers to confess their sins to God in prayer. The clearest place where Jesus teaches his followers this habit and practice is in what is called The Lord’s Prayer. Luke tells the story this way:
1 Once when Jesus had been out praying, one of his disciples came to him as he finished and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be honored. May your Kingdom come soon. 3 Give us our food day by day. 4 And forgive us our sins — just as we forgive those who have sinned against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation” (Luke 11:1-4, NLT).
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Jesus tells his followers that they are to ask for forgiveness from God. While confession also has a component of confessing to others, we’re going to look at that more next week. Right now we’ll focus on confession to God.
Confession is simply telling the truth to God about what you have done or not done. Confession is also taking the time to let God show you where you have not lived up to the kind of love God desires of you. Confession is making right your relationship with God and others.
Whenever Sarah and I sit down to eat, we talk. Conversation usually comes very easily. We find things to tell one another about our day or things we’ve been reading or thinking about. Occasionally though, when we sit down to eat, things are not right between us and conversation does not come easily. The air between us is tense because of something one of us has done or said to the other. It is in these moments that we must first confess before the conversation flows freely again. The same thing is true with God in prayer. When you spend time in solitude with God to talk about your day, your hopes and dreams, your hurts and pains, it’s also appropriate to talk about your failures; to clear the air between you and God. This is confession.
Here’s the really good news about confession: “If we confess our sins to him, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong” (1 John 1:9, NLT)! When you seek to clear the air between you and God, God forgives you. Wow! Thank God.
Jesus taught his followers to confess their sins to God while talking to God in prayer. Do you take time to make things right between you and God?
First, Jesus spent time in prayer and solitude. Second, he taught his followers to spend time in prayer and confession. Jesus’ third habit of spending time with God, of hanging out with God, is meditation. Now this is a practice of Jesus’ that is definitely an in-between-the-lines kind of practice. Let me show you what I mean.
Luke and Matthew both have Jesus saying something as he hangs on the cross. Matthew tells the story this way: “At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (28:46). Luke tells the story this way, “Then Jesus shouted, ‘Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!’ And with those words he breathed his last” (23:46, NLT). Do you know that Jesus is quoting something here as he hangs on the cross? What is Jesus quoting? He’s quoting the Psalms. In Matthew he’s quoting Psalm 22:1. In Luke he’s quoting Psalm 31:6.
Keep in mind that Jesus didn’t exactly have a pocket Bible on hand with a handy concordance that lists helpful Psalms while hanging on a cross. No. He would have had these psalms memorized. It means that he would have spent significant time hanging out with God by meditating on the psalms. When it’s game time and Jesus is in the worst situation he’s faced, the practice of meditation would have formed certain habits in him that just naturally come out. Those habits come out as “muscle memory” on the cross. He prays lines of the psalms because that’s what he spent time hanging out with God meditating upon.
The first Psalm offers a wonderful piece of wisdom about meditation. It says:
1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
Those who meditate on the law of the LORD day and night are blessed or happy or fortunate. They prosper like a tree planted by a stream. They bear fruit in their life that is godly. Their strength does not wither. This may not always look like how we expect it, but God sustains those who meditate on God’s words.
So what is meditation exactly? We often have this idea of meditation that comes more from popularizations of eastern religions. In that sense, meditation is the emptying of the mind, but that is not what Christian mediation is about. Christian meditation is rotating God’s word and God’s creation around in your mind and looking at it from every possible angle. Chewing on it. Savoring it like a gobstopper.
Let’s practice meditation for a moment on something simple. Take a simple picture of a leaf. What do you see in this picture? What do you wonder about? What questions do you have about it? What do you notice? Take a moment and notice things about this picture and ask questions about it.
Here’s some things I notice or wonder about it:
- What kind of leaf is it?
- How many points does it have?
- What color red is this?
- How many veins does it have?
- Is it all one color or are there variations?
- What are the small splotches on it? Some are dark and some are gray. Is it mold or something else?
- What does it look like on the other side?
- Why is there only one leaf in this picture?
- Why is it on a bed of rocks?
- How many rocks are around it?
- What color are the rocks?
- Are they all the same kind of rocks?
- What are the little brown things in the bottom right corner?
- Where was this picture taken?
- What is just outside the frame of the picture?
- Who took the picture?
- Did they place the leaf here or did they find it like this?
- Are there other similar leaves around it?
This little exercise in meditation could go on and on and on. God’s words and God’s creation are big enough and deep enough for us to meditate on for the rest of our lives. We will always see something new when we go back and spend the time. Every time we go back we will also have new experiences that we bring with us that help us see new and different things.
Jesus spent time meditating on God’s words. Find some time to do so yourself.
We’re going to give you time right now to choose one of these practices of spending time with God and to go and practice it. You’ll find three stations around the building. One is to practice prayer by writing a letter to God. A second is to practice confession by taking time to reflect on where you need to clear the air between you and God. A third is to practice meditation by spending time outside in God’s creation. You’ll find a handout at each station that describes all three practices with some suggestions, psalms, and prayers. We’re going to give you ten minutes to hang out with God. When you hear the band begin to play, come back in and we’ll bring our worship to a close by spending time with God in communion.
May we practice these HABITS not just by our own power and strength but by the power of God working in us whom we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
This is a manuscript and not a transcript. While I prepare a manuscript, I don’t preach from it. All the major points are here, but there are bound to be some small differences from the sermon as it was preached live. Also, expect some “bonus” material that wasn’t in the live sermon.