Prayer and the Danger of Cynicism
January 15, 2012 Series: A Praying Life
Topic: Prayer Passage: Mark 10:13–10:16
We’re in a series on Prayer for the month of January. I hope that one of the themes that you’re picking up (if not already aware) is that prayer is not about form; the way you do it or say it. Prayer is about our lives connecting with the very heart of God. That’s why I love this book so much and why we’ve titles our series the same as the book. Because prayer isn’t an item to be check off a list, it flows out of relationship. As children of the living God we are to be living “A Praying Life”.
Open your bibles to Mark chapter 10. Even though prayer is intended to be a lifestyle that flows from a relationship we tend to want to categorize it with all our other responsibilities and make it more about form. And over time we come up with what we believe to be the right way to pray and then spend our efforts trying to accomplish it. And then we respond according to our success or failure in meeting our own standard; self-righteousness and pride or discouragement and weariness.
Because of this, anyone who teaches about prayer has a particular challenge. For example, if in an attempt to illustrate a point, I give you an example from my life of success in prayer, some of you will go home and try it (or at least file it away as a potential standard to attain) or your spouse may file it away and one day you might hear “well, Matt fasted and prayed for 40 days, why don’t you”? Or, there may be some who would critically judge me. “Seriously, 40 days? That’s all you’ve got?” If you regularly fail to meet your self-assigned regiment your probably the imitator; if your satisfied with your prayer regiment your probably the judge. The truth is both are getting it wrong. And there is real danger in getting it wrong. One such danger is the danger of Cynicism. Doing this wrong long enough breeds a cynical spirit.
In order to “get prayer right” we need to throw away what we’ve come up with and do it the way Jesus tells us to. Let’s read Mark 10:13-16:
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”
Let’s Pray. The title of this message is “Come as a Child”. Big Idea: A praying life is the result of the real, messy you meeting with…living with your Heavenly Father. My title should also include “…Beware of Cynicism”. Paul Miller says that the opposite of a childlike spirit is a cynical spirit. We’re going to take a closer look at what it is to come as a child but I also want to shine a light on what we tend to do instead. We can’t just add right behavior to wrong we need to identify the wrong, repent of it and replace it with the right. So let’s first take a look at Cynicism.
The heart of Jesus in this passage is the heart of God throughout scripture and we see it immediately before and after this passage. 1st the religious leaders ask Him if it’s lawful to get a divorce. Jesus response addresses their heart not the law. And then right after Jesus call the children to come, the rich young ruler comes asking “what must I do”. Jesus, knowing that there’s nothing he can do to earn eternal life but also knowing his heart, gives him the one thing to do that would test his heart; sell everything and follow. And he couldn’t do it. Jesus is not concerned with the outward; he’s all about the heart. Because he know that if the heart is right everything else will follow. That’s why Cynicism is so dangerous. It’s an infection of the heart. Cynicism not only infects our relationship with God but also with each other.
Essentially, cynicism questions the active goodness of God on our behalf. And when God is questioned we have no security; everyone and everything is up for grabs and we’re on our own. The roots of cynicism can run in many different directions. Here’s where I want us to follow them right now: If prayer for you has been more about doing than spending time with a friend and developing a relationship, there’s a good chance you have developed some degree of cynicism. It may have happened a number of different ways but it goes something like this:
- You experience grace and out a genuine desire to grow in godliness and intimacy with God you pray
- As life happens, at some point you get thrown off track and “feel disconnected” from God
- You still desire to pray (you know you should-maintain image) so you get back to it (adopt a bible reading plan) (repeat 1-3 for years)
As this process repeats your focus on form grows and love for God diminishes. All along we’re growing in knowledge, experiencing conviction, and learning Christian culture. Before you know it what used to be an ignorant but passionate disciple of Christ, in love with God has become well trained in the art of looking good but disconnected from the reality of intimacy with God and living the truth we know. Form has become our focus.
In order to maintain our reputation as the mature Christian (that we think we should be) we try to put up a facade. The problem is that what we’re projecting on the outside is not on the inside. We have knowledge of the truth but we’re not living the truth. And on top of that, we’re trying to maintain this image of godliness in our own strength. At some point we started believing the lie that form is more important than genuine relationship.
In order to maintain a godly image that isn’t real, we have to do 2 things: 1st-Keep everyone at a distance. The result is isolation. I can’t let you get close enough to see what I’m really like so I become a master of disguise. I sacrifice reality for an image and my relationships begin to be characterized by surface level conversations and distractions like humor or an over emphasis on everyday life issues and problems. Or we take control of the conversation so that the other person never has the chance to try to get to know me. And we do the same thing with God. If we wince at the threat of exposure with our friends how much more uncomfortable is it for us to expose ourselves to the all seeing eyes of God. So we either avoid God or stick to our form-in and out.
The 2nd thing we have to do is act the part. And every good actor knows that you have to become the character in order to be believable. And in time we do. We actually begin to believe that we are the person that we’re pretending to be. And with the absence of God at the center we’re free to critique and judge everyone else. Whether we express it or keep it in our heart, a critical, judgmental spirit is born and it breeds discontentment, arrogance and bitterness. In short, it undermines the gospel. And again, keeps us away from intimacy with the Father. We have become cynical.
You see, when the very message that you proclaim on the outside has no effect in your life on the inside, everything becomes dark. There is no hope, no joy, no trust in God. When you meet with hardship, failure, discouragement, all you have is a façade to lean on. You no longer feel like you’re on the winning team because you assume that your experience of the gospel is accurate. But that’s because your form and ultimately you have become the focus. But He is not far and He’s calling, beckoning.
How can we change? We can’t just determine not to be critical, distant, depressed, arrogant or a hypocrite. To focus these are like pushing peas around on your plate to avoid eating them. They’re the symptom of a bigger problem. We have to go all the way back to the root. The reason the cynic lacks hope or is proud or a phony is the same reason that he struggles with prayer. It’s because God is missing.
At some point we’ve gone from depending on God to depending on ourselves; from trusting God to trusting ourselves; from believing Gods word to believing our opinion; from desiring his will to following our own will; from believing He’s good to trusting our own assessment of what’s good. We’ve taken our heart back and given him our duty.
In essence, we’ve grown up, we’re become an adult. We’re living an independent life. Because of our superior knowledge and experience we have matured and moved out of the house. If this is you, how’s it going for you? Are you happy? Well, I know you’re not because scripture says you’re not. The key to happiness isn’t you and getting what you want-it’s God. And you don’t get God by trying harder or doing things your own way. You get God by coming to Him as a child.
Come Like a Child
Come like a child. We need to learn how to trust our Father like a child again. Runny nose, messy hair, skinned knees, dirty clothes, nothing coherent to say. I think about my own kids. I can remember that some of our most precious moments with them were when they first woke up; messed up hair, groggy and sleepy eyed, stinky diaper. But they were so cute and all they wanted to do was cuddle. And we would hold them and just soak it in.
I can remember coming home from work some days and having different kids come running down the driveway because they were so excited to see me. The thing is, they were so excited when they saw me, they didn’t even think about what they were doing or how they looked. They just dropped what they were doing and ran out which always made it exciting. Especially the times they were in the middle of playing dress up. Sometimes I was greeted by super hero/ballerina half breeds and sometimes they only got as far as putting the cowboy boots on. Relationship is built and intimacy is developed on those times. Try as you may, you’ll never be able to fabricate moments like these or produce the affection and fruit that they produce.
Children have no pretense, they’re not paralyzed by selfishness; they just love. There’s an inherent sense of safety and trust that children are born with. They’re distracted, immature, persistent and unassuming. And they’re real. They come to their parents and expect to be accepted and loved. Jesus calls us to come like this. He doesn’t care about your form or performance. He already knows everything about you and he’s waiting for you to bring the real package; not the pretty wrapped package with the bow, the real tattered and torn, damaged package. He wants you to come like a child. And when you do, and you experience his love and affection and care and acceptance you’ll be set free to relate to others the same way. Because when you’re completely secure with your Father, you’re completely secure.
Now, Jesus doesn’t just suggest that we come as a child. He says, “Come…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” In other words, if we don’t come to Jesus like a child we can’t receive Him. This isn’t an option. There’s only one way to receive Him. If you struggle to connect with God in prayer; if you’re going through the motions but His presence is missing perhaps you aren’t coming like a child. If you’re not coming to Him as a child you’re not living in His Kingdom under His rule, you’re living in your kingdom under your rule. But you can come back; you can experience His blessing. There’s nothing you can do to work your way back…except humble yourself-repent of your pride and come as a child.
Jesus delights to receive His children, to bless them and to shower them with His love. He showed His love most clearly by dying for us on the cross. His call to us is to come like a child and trust Him. As you bring the real, messy you to meet with your Heavenly Father you will experience the joy and intimacy of a praying life.
More in A Praying Life
January 29, 2012Praying in Real Life (text)
January 22, 2012Praying With Faith (text)
January 8, 2012Prayer and Our Relationship With The Father (text)