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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Prayer as a Path to Maturation

This Sermon was presented June 22, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA, as part of a series on prayer.

3 God's power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowing the One who called us to his own glory and goodness. 4 By these he has given us valuable and superlatively great promises, so that through them you might come to share in God's nature and escape the corruption which evil desires have brought into the world [2 Peter 1:3-4].

1 Meanwhile, Sha'ul, still breathing murderous threats against the Lord's talmidim, went to the cohen hagadol 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Dammesek, authorizing him to arrest any people he might find, whether men or women, who belonged to "the Way," and bring them back to Yerushalayim. 3 He was on the road and nearing Dammesek, when suddenly a light from heaven flashed all around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, "Sha'ul! Sha'ul! Why do you keep persecuting me?" 5 "Sir, who are you?" he asked. "I am Yeshua, and you are persecuting me. 6 But get up, and go into the city, and you will be told what you have to do." 7 The men traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 They helped Sha'ul get up off the ground; but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So, leading him by the hand, they brought him into Dammesek. 9 For three days he remained unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank. 10 There was a talmid in Dammesek, Hananyah by name; and in a vision the Lord said to him, "Hananyah!" He said, "Here I am, Lord." 11 The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to Straight Street, to Y'hudah's house; and ask for a man from Tarsus named Sha'ul; for he is praying, 12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Hananyah coming in and placing his hands on him to restore his sight." 13 But Hananyah answered, "Lord, many have told me about this man, how much harm he has done to your people in Yerushalayim; 14 and here he has a warrant from the head cohanim to arrest everyone who calls on your name." 15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name to the Goyim, even to their kings, and to the sons of Isra'el as well. 16 For I myself will show him how much he will have to suffer on account of my name." 17 So Hananyah left and went into the house. Placing his hands on him, he said, "Brother Sha'ul, the Lord - Yeshua, the one who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here - has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh." 18 In that moment, something like scales fell away from Sha'ul's eyes; and he could see again. He got up and was immersed; 19 then he ate some food and regained his strength. Sha'ul spent some days with the talmidim in Dammesek, 20 and immediately he began proclaiming in the synagogues that Yeshua is the Son of God. 21 All who heard him were amazed. They asked, "Isn't he the man who in Yerushalayim was trying to destroy the people who call on this name? In fact, isn't that why he came here, to arrest them and bring them back to the head cohanim?" 22 But Sha'ul was being filled with more and more power and was creating an uproar among the Jews living in Dammesek with his proofs that Yeshua is the Messiah [Acts 9:1-22].

We will need to grow in prayer if we are to grow into the fullness of our divine human potential. Our highest destiny is to become partakers of the Divine nature, to grow into the fullness of Messiah—to become people who mature and become Christ-like. We cannot do this without a full, deep, consistent and costly prayer life.

First, prayer matures us by allowing, forcing, and emboldening us to face the things we are afraid of.

I recently wrote the following to a friend:

“I am at one of those junctures of life when I must reach out to God for stability, for moorings. for perspective. Life is full of ‘things that go bump in the night,’ things at the fringes of our perception, neither seen, nor recognized for what they are, but inspiring fear and destabilizing confidence and certitude. For me, at least, life is an island in a sea of dread, and the trick is to stay inland and avoid the shoreline. [But God calls us to the shoreline.]

Of course these are the rantings of a man who is still, at heart, a little boy, like most men, just as most women are at heart still little girls. We all need to call out and reach out for the hand of our heavenly Father, recognizing that we are not as grown up as we pretend to be, and to reach out for His hand, and let him explain to us that what we fear is not fearsome at all from His perspective.

The trick is to get over our pride and to call out.“

There are many things that "go bump" for us: the fear of sickness, pain and death, the fear of failure, the fear of not finding the kind of love that makes life worthwhile, the fear of meaninglessness, the fear of being rejected for the hidden things we know, or cannot face, about ourselves. All of these fears become the subject of a true prayer life, and true growth involves coming to terms with these fears, and encountering God's provision and perspective on each one of them.

Second, prayer matures us by allowing, forcing, and emboldening us to learn about real relationship, which includes learning to remain connected to someone who disappoints you and doesn’t always do what you want, but with whom you choose to stay connected because overall, the relationship is worthwhile. Staying connected with someone who pushes us beyond our comfort zone, and won’t settle for us being less than what we could be.

I think that people who learn to stay connected to God have the greatest potential for learning to stay connected in human relationships. Furthermore, I think that people who cannot stay connected in genuine, give and take, difficult, human relationships face twin dangers. First, they may not choose to connect with God at all. And second, they may only connect with God in an immature, narcissistic manner, so that they are only prepared to use God, like they do people. Their image of God will be but a reflection of their own needs and preferences. Also, such people, unprepared for the difficulties of real relationship, will tend to keep both God and people at arms length, keeping relationships superficial, eliminating vulnerability and risk.

This is a big problem for me, and I think for all of us. I have begun to think that most if not all difficulties we have building community here at Ahavat Zion could be solved if most of us became more deeply people of prayer. And prayer is not simply spiritual shopping. It is at its heart, seeking the face of God, pursuing relationship with Him, standing before the glory.

Third, prayer matures us by allowing, forcing, and emboldening us to face the truth about ourselves. When we pursue a true prayer life, we cannot avoid facing our own sinfulness—our pettiness, our self-indulgence, our willing bondage to certain appetites, our selfishness and indifference to others. You cannot truly stand in the presence of God without becoming aware of these things. And this is painful. Frankly, it is something we prefer to avoid. However, knowing that God pities us as a father pities his children, and that he does not deal with us as our iniquities deserve, and that He who spared not His Son, but freely gave him up for us all, will surely with him freely give us all things, knowing this level of mercy and forgiveness emboldens us to approach a holy God and to face our horrible immaturity, selfishness, and sinfulness. And if we avoid facing the truth about ourselves in this manner, regularly, in fact, constantly, we will simply fail to mature.

Fourth, prayer matures us by allowing, forcing, and emboldening us to live for greater, more beautiful, and less egocentric things. God calls us out beyond our small ambitions and our shrunken horizons, just as God called Paul out to a deeper and greater life than he had ever known

Fifth, prayer matures us by providing a context in which we can encounter and respond more fully to the Holy Spirit, who seeks to conform us to the image of Messiah. It seems obvious that it is those most engaged with God in prayer who will be most engaged with and by the Holy Spirit.

I believe that I have trouble praying because I have trouble denying myself. Contrary to the monstrous fantasies and caricatures that we sometimes see on TV, prayer is NOT a way to get whatever you want from God. Rather, the path of prayer is the path of maturation and of deepening relationship with God and with ourselves. In this maturing relationship, God will purify us, mature us, deepen us, call us to higher goals and values, and also teach us what it means to deny ourselves. Many of us do not want that—because we do not want to deny ourselves, we instinctively avoid prayer and avoid going on in our relationship with God.

But any parent can tell you that children mature through learning to deny themselves what they want, exchanging immediate gratifications for later ones, learning the principle of deferred satisfaction. So it is no surprise that we read of Yeshua who knew the path of denial and deferred gratification: “He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God's throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don't become weary and give up” [Hebrews 12:1-3].

Today’s New Covenant reading from Acts concerning Paul’s call to apostleship and his prayers at that time is crucial in what it has to teach us about prayer,

First, Paul is praying because he is in crisis. He is praying out of desperation. This will also be true of us. Some of our truest and best praying will be prayer out of desperation. Perhaps it is only then that we truly pray.

Second, the answer to his prayer will include some kind of relief from his despair and affliction. This will also be true of us, although sometimes the relief will simply be the knowledge that God knows and cares. Even when the affliction remains, God can change our relationship to the affliction.

Third, a deepened prayer life will lead to a deepening of his call from God. This will be true for us as well. A life of true prayer inevitably changes what your life is about.

Fourth, a deepened prayer life will lead to a transformation of his relationship with others. We see how his relationship with Yeshua believers is revolutionized. His relationship with the Jewish establishment will be transformed as well. This will be true for us too. Our relationships will be transformed. And people who are unwilling to revisit their relationships with others will tend to avoid prayer, or will convert prayer into either meaningless going through the motions or into out-of-touch subjectivism.

Fifth, a deepened prayer life will lead to a deepening relationship with God includes a call to suffering and self-denial. This will also be true of us.Do you want a deepening relationship with God? If so, prepare to learn about self-denial, the kind of self-denial that won’t matter as much to you as will the privilege of knowing God deeply and having work to do to which He has specifically called you.

We will not mature as persons without maturing in prayer. We will not become godly without maturing in prayer. Each and every one of us will remain childish, petulant, self-deceived, and relationally stunted. We will live self-protective lives with shrunken horizons and meager goals. Is that what you want?

If you want a bigger, better, broader life, a life that includes risk and self-denial, but also maturation in every area, growing to become people of divine stature, then you will want to pray as a constant habit of life.

There is no better way to grow up. And, I would suggests there is no other way to grow up.

I think we will all agree that there is something very sad about someone who never grew up.

There are really only two choices: We can choose to be like Yeshua the Messiah, the image of maturity, or we can choose to be like the boy who never grew up, Peter Pan.

Which will it be for you? Your prayer habits will demonstrate which choice you’re making.