Brian Cropp: My name is Brian Cropp. I'm one of the associate pastors here. I want to let you know that you have chosen a very auspicious Sunday to be here worshiping the Lord with us for we are starting a brand new message series on prayer. But not just any prayer - dangerous prayers. Kind of gritty that way. Dangerous prayers.
The topic of prayer has been a bit of head-scratcher for many millennia. We know as humans that there's this part of us that wants to connect with the Divine. Whatever your faith background is, we want to connect with the Divine. And prayer is one of those things we have lots of questions about. When is the right time of day to do that? What words do I use? What words don't I use? Should I be kneeling? Should I be standing? Should I be crying? There's all kinds of questions surrounding prayer. It's a bit of a mystery for us. Even Jesus's own followers, ones closest to Him asked Him, "Teach us to pray." These folks have been raised in the Jewish tradition. They knew how to pray. But Jesus being Jesus had set up a whole new perspective on how to connect with God. And they want to ask Him, "Well, maybe you're doing it better than me. So I don't know. Teach me how to pray."
The Pew Research Foundation back in 2014 surveyed a bunch of us, a bunch of Americans, and found out that across all of the faith traditions represented in the United States, 55% of us say that we pray every day. And another 22% say that we pray weekly or monthly meaning 77% of us know that it's an important thing to do. We want to connect with the Divine.
But where there is confusion, or where there is mystery, or where there is fog out there; we tend to not make a lot of risky moves. So we want to pray but we pray safe prayers. And God wants to hear all of our prayers so it's not bad that we pray these safe prayers, but it's not uncommon for us to pray prayers like, "Bless me. Bless my family. Bless my work. Bless," any number of things that you could ask for God's blessing. It's not a bad prayer to pray. We could pray the prayer, "Be with me. God be with me as I go to this job interview. Be with my mom as she goes into surgery." Or we might pray, "Save me. Save me from an audit this spring." That'd be a good one to pray. "Save me from that person who works in the cubicle next to me because if You don't save me from them, You're going to have to save them from me. It's just that kind of thing." These are not bad prayers to pray. God wants to hear all of our prayers.
But the prayers were going to look at are dangerous prayers. And they're dangerous not because they are a magic spell that's going to cause the sky to crack open and lava's going to pour down and destroy cities. It's not that kind of dangerous. It's not dangerous that if we pray them, we're going to cause us or our family members, those that we love, going to cause them harm. No, no, no. They're dangerous because we pray these kind of prayers. This is also true when we pray the bless me, save me prayers too. But when we pray prayers God takes you and me seriously. When we talk to Him, He's taking us seriously. So if we pray these dangerous prayers, He's also going to take us seriously there. And He's going to start acting on those prayers. And maybe we're a little uncomfortable. "What's God going to do if I start praying these prayers."
Often when we pray, we're sort of listening to one side of a phone call. We know what we're saying. We don't know all of the words that God is saying in reply to us. And it's interesting to imagine what would God, maybe He's saying when we pray these more normal prayers, prayers that if you go to your group launch meeting this week and you say, "Hey, God be with me or bless me," whatever, no one's going to look at you weird. They're fine. They're good prayers. Pray those prayers. Those are good things. But if we heard God's end of it, maybe sometimes we say, "Bless me" and He would say, "I have. I have blessed you. You're blessed. You have air coming in and out of your lungs. You have blood flowing through the right parts of your body. You have food in your stomach, a roof over your head. You're blessed. You're blessed. There are places around the world where this is not true. You're blessed. I would love to bless you more. I'm glad that you're praying that. I would love to do that, but you already are blessed."
Or if we pray, "Be with me." That God would say, "I am everywhere always all at once. I am with you. I've always been with you. I am more with you than you're with you. I know where you're going to be in five years. You have no clue. I know what's going on in every nucleus of every cell in your body, parts of you that you've never seen. I know you. I am with you." And He might stop us at some point and say, "I want the dialogue. I want us to connect. And I want you to know from Me. And I want you to express your concerns, but every once in a while, could you ask Me something hard? Something that you think is impossible for Me to do? And then just wait to see what I do in response to that prayer." I mean what would you and I pray, really pray, if we thought God would and could actually accomplish the deep, deep desires of our hearts. So we're going to look at some of these dangerous prayers.
The Bible says that we should boldly walk into His presence and specifically ask prayers. And He asks us to get real with Him. And we're going to find over the course of this message series that if we get real with the real God, we're going to see real change in our lives. Hebrews 14 puts it this way that we are to come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. And there we will receive His mercy. And we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
We're Americans. We don't go in for all the kings and the thrones and all of that stuff. Sometimes, there's language in the Bible we don't quite identify with. So let's just pretend that the book of Hebrews is written to America and it was called the Americans. That's the name of the book. It might have been written this way. "Come boldly to the oval office of our gracious God." We understand that concept. That's where the president does his job. You don't walk in to the oval office. Just don't. People tackle you. You get an appointment and you pass all kinds of security checks to get into the oval office, and you better have something important because you're taking the president's time when you go into the oval office.
I love this picture from the Kennedy Administration. Isn't that sweet? This is President Kennedy in the oval office. He's sitting in the president chair. That's the president. It's all presidential. And they're on the floor like he owns the place. It's his son John Jr. There are all sorts of pictures on Google of all of the kids. Caroline, John is running around in the oval office. Do you see any frustration on Kennedy's face? No. And there's no weirdness in John Jr's face because he's talking to his dad. This is the most normal thing for their family, for a dad to be talking to his son. And that's how God wants us to approach Him with confidence because He is our dad.
In the book of Philippians, it says, "Do not be anxious about anything. But in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God." That means let Him know when you're happy. Let Him know when you're confused. Let Him know when you're sad. Let Him know when you're mad. Let Him know when you're mad at Him. Let Him know what's going on. He can take it. And He wants to hear from us and connect with us. But you know, you're already in the oval office, might as well ask for something dangerous. You know?
So we're going to look at five particular types of dangerous prayers. And I'm going to tell you all the topics so you can check your calendar. And you're like, "Oh that's the Sunday I'm going to be out. That's good." You can check along with that.
This morning we're going to look at a particular prayer that is really dangerous to me. I have a lot of personal baggage with this particular prayer. On your listening guide, on your program, there are two blanks right at the top. For those of you who like to fill in blanks, we got two blanks up there. I'm going to leave it a mystery for just a little bit longer. Right? Okay.
So this morning we're going to look at a personal baggage prayer that I have. Next week, we're going to look at the 'Prayer Strength in Me' which we have to admit that we don't have all the strength that we need, and we're going to need God's strength in our lives. There's a little bit danger in there. And next, we're going to look at the prayer 'Search Me'. No one likes to be searched online, TSA, your doctor. No one likes being searched. But when God gets into our lives and starts searching things out, He is able to help us get over the things often trip us up in life. Then we're going to look at the prayer 'Send Me'. For some of you, you're like, "Oh those kind of dangerous prayers. I'm good where I am. Send? No. I'm good." Again, mark your calendars. This is ... And then we're going to wrap up the series with 'Unite Us' which sounds like the nicest one of the prayers until you realize it's going to take a lot of reconciliation between people, forgiveness being asked and given for us to actually be united. So that's that series.
And this morning again, we're going to delve into this particular prayer that I have baggage with. We planned this message series. I've known about this series for months. Back in August, we were all sitting in a room and said, "We're going to do this series. And Brian, you're going to get this." And I'm like, "Oh of course I am. Sure." So at parts, I am excited to actually deal with my baggage with this particular prayer. And there's parts of me that want to call in sick. So there you go. But God asks us to come boldly before Him. So with boldness, here we go.
We're going to look at the dangerous prayer 'Break Me'. Now, here's where my baggage with this prayer stems from. When I moved to Fort Worth, Texas, I was attending a different church in the area. And through avenues I cannot hope to remember at this point of my life, I ended up volunteering in the student ministry. And they had a Wednesday night meeting, and it looked a lot like this. Students sitting in chairs. We would sing songs of worship and praise to God. Someone would get up and deliver a message. And during the music, the students were awesome. They were in it, the sincerity all over their faces. They're connecting with God through songs, eyes closed, hands raised, just all kinds of ... There was dancing. It was just great. It was a great, great time.
And there was a song that was popular at the time that they would sing. And it would drive me nuts. It was this one verse of this song which was driving me bananas, and there's were the lyrics. "Brokenness, brokenness is what I long for. Brokenness, brokenness is what I need." And it was all I could do, not to run to the front of the room and say, 'Stop saying things. Stop singing. You're asking the God of the universe, the Maker of all reality to break you? That sounds terrible. That sounds painful. That's ... No, don't pray that prayer. That's dangerous. Turns out they were fine. They're fine. The song's fine. I have issues. We'll talk about those.
But God wants us to pray this prayer 'Break Me'. Well, how do we get to a spot where we need to be broken in the first place? Why is that a thing? Often what happens in our lives is that we acquire a picture of what life is supposed to look like. We get all these expectations for what's supposed to happen at certain times. And who am I supposed to live with? And where are we supposed to live? And at what am I going to be when all of that happens? And how much money is it going to be in the account? And where all have I visited on the planet? Who knows? It's the color the carpet?
We come in with all kinds of expectations for what a good life is supposed to look like. And then we start going after those things. We're charging after those things. And then something derails us. A circumstance pulls us off. Some relationship falls apart and that derails us. God asks us to do something, and that takes off like, "Ugh. I'm trying to get my expectations met." And so we start forming this crust of stone around our heart because we don't want to be moved. We're going there, and we want to keep making that picture of a good life happen. We charge for it. And then things keep knocking us off. And the crust of stone gets thicker and thicker and thicker to where ... We're going after we want, and God cannot move us.
We have this agenda we want. We have this hardness around our heart. And it's a hardness of bitterness and hurt. And we're just trying to get the good life going. And God wants to break those things out of our lives so that we can be pliable and useful for the things that He wants to see happen in our lives because He wants our hearts.
There are two events that happened in the life of Jesus that I want to look at this morning. And they're both in the book of Mark chapter 14. They're almost back to back. And these two events set a pattern, a picture for us of what can happen when we pray the prayer 'Break Me'. Mark 14:3-9 says, "And while He," this is Jesus, "And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard." Now this is an essential oil, very topical at the moment. Nard has to be nastiest sounding name for an essential oil. But apparently it's very fragrant and nice. So it's nard. But she comes in with alabaster flask of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over Jesus' head. Now, this sound strange. You're with Jesus at a dinner party. And some strange lady thinks it's an doTERRA party and just pours essential oil over Jesus' head. That seems a little strange.
It may not be too shocking to know there's more context and issues going on in that moment than is at a first reading of that. In just the verses ahead of these in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 14, we know that this is inside of the week where Jesus is going to be betrayed and crucified and then raised again on Easter Sunday morning. This is Monday night of that week. And he's in Bethany, a town not too far away from Jerusalem. He's at a friend's house, Simon the leper. And Jesus had done a lot of different things, miracles and ministry in Bethany.
One of the most dramatic events in Bethany up until this moment was when a guy named Lazarus had been dead four days. He was buried in a tomb, gone, like he's ... And Jesus comes and raised him back to life. That's rather dramatic. That happened in Bethany. He's having dinner at Simon the leper's house because of how leprosy can spread through a town. The Jewish law was you have to be out of town if you have leprosy. So if Simon the leper is in town, he probably didn't have leprosy that night. Maybe Jesus had healed him of leprosy which is how he was in a friendship with Jesus.
And the woman who comes in is not some random woman. Her name is Mary. We know from John's account of this exact same event that her name is Mary. She is the sister of Lazarus. So Jesus had raised her brother back to life. She also has a bit of a past. And so by being with Jesus, maybe he's shown her a better way of living her life. And so out of gratitude and gratefulness, she pours this oil on His head. Now, that act in and of itself seems weird to us. But it wasn't as weird back in Jesus' day. That was a high honor that if you had your head anointed with oil, that was a high honor. So it was reserved for kings as they start to rule or for the high priest as they step in to rule, and maybe for a war hero. But you reserve this for high honor. It's not for a traveling homeless preacher on the outskirts of society. That is not what you do. This is just outrageous and extravagant what she has done here.
She also knows that there's a plot to kill Jesus. Again, we're a week away from him being betrayed and crucified. There's also a plot to kill her brother because Lazarus is a walking, talking testimony of what Jesus is doing and the power of Jesus. So she more than most has an empathy and an understanding for what is going on and the pressure in Jesus' life. And she wants, out of gratitude, to show Him this high honor.
I want to show you a picture of what alabaster jar might have looked like. On purpose, I found a picture on Google. You can find different designs. I found one that looked like it was hard to pour out of. That's why it looks the way that it does. But let's just say that that's the jar that she had, and it's full of pure nard oil. And it says it's very costly. We find out that it's about the value of a year's wage. So average Fort Worth money, this alabaster jar of pure nard oil costs $60,000. That's a lot of money. And she doesn't dribble it out. You might dribble it on the head of a king or dribble it on the priest or the war hero. No. She takes this very valuable jar of oil, and she cracks the top off of this thing and empties it over Jesus. She took something so very valuable to her. And she pours it out.
And as is not uncommon, we do these great ... God has been so gracious to us and so forgiving, and loving to us. And we show some great, a show of honor and worship to Him, and we get criticized for it because other people didn't quite understand. That's not an uncommon thing. And that happened to Mary.
In the next set of verses, it says this that, "There were some who said to themselves indignantly, 'Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii,' that's where we get the year's wage number, "and given to the poor.' And they scolded her." Isn't that just like people to do that. They're like, "Hey, they did something awesome for God. Let's criticize them for it. There's probably a more pragmatic use for their offering than what they actually did." But Jesus is in the room. So Jesus steps in, silences her accusers and says, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Time out. There are many statements inside the Bible and outside the Bible that suggests that's what's inside the Bible is what it says it is, that these are real events in real time that happened to real people. And that God is trying to communicate His ways to us and how we can connect with Him. This is one of those verses I find particularly fascinating. It's probably one of the deeper cuts in the album of comments that help say that the Bible is what it is. But Jesus says what sounds like a very nice compliment. As extravagant as her offering to Him was, this is a very extravagant compliment. It sounds like something you'd write in the back of yearbook like, "Don't ever change. BFF forever." That kind of thing. What she did will be said for generations. This is very nice compliment. But here we are, 2000 years later talking about what happened to her in honor of her and in memory of her. And there you go. Just food for thought. Time in.
So Jesus sets a whole new perspective on what has happened that she has taken this valuable thing. She's broken it. She's poured it out for God's purposes and God's use. I'm guessing she didn't know that she is preparing for body beforehand for burial. But Jesus knows that that's what it is, that out of obedience and of worship and gratitude for what Jesus has done in her life, that God is going to use that for His purposes.
Well, the next event I want to look at is just a few verses later. It's now Thursday night. Jesus and the disciples are in Jerusalem. They're having their last meal together, the last supper, before He is put on mock trials and crucified. And they're about to have the Passover meal which is a highly symbolic meal. There's a lot of meaning in this. And He's about to take parts of it and add a whole new perspective to them. It says, "And as they were eating, He took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.'"
So in the Passover tradition, the bread here is not a nice soft loaf that you might get at a restaurant. It's unleavened cracker called matza, kind of looks like this, might be bigger, might be smaller. I don't know, but it's broken and distributed amongst the guests. You could use it as like a tortilla but more reverent than that. And parts of it would be wrapped in a cloth and then saved for the end of the meal where then it is unwrapped and distributed at the end of the meal.
And what Jesus is saying is, "I'm about to be broken. My body's about to be broken. And it's going to be wrapped in burial clothes. And it's going to be hidden in a tomb. And in just a little bit after that, I'll be unwrapped from that and I'll be available for everyone." There's a whole new perspective for this part of the ceremony. "And the cup full of wine represents My blood that is going to be poured for a payment for all of humanity's rebellion against God. I am giving My life, this valuable thing. I'm giving My life to be broken and poured out for God's purposes."
So what does all that have to do with us praying the prayer 'Break Me'? It seems like it would be a much better prayer for us to pray, 'God, hold it together'. I feel like my life is fragmenting. And it's going all kinds of crazy directions. If you can just hold it together, that will be a much better prayer. But God wants us to pray this prayer 'Break Me'. Jesus, out of devotion to the Father, was devoted to us. And out of our devotion to Jesus, we want to follow the same pattern that He examples for us that we should be willing to say. "Break me," and take our lives, our agendas, our once-an-expectations out of life, and allow Him to break those in us so that we can be poured out and used for His purposes.
We resist this kind of control in our lives. That's my baggage with this prayer. That's what was driving me nuts when those students were singing that song is I really don't want to give God that much control over my life. I have stuff that I want to see happen. And it's good stuff and I don't trust that the God who made me is going to do good by me or better than what I could imagine. I know what is right. I'm going to control it and make sure that it happens. And it's uncommon for us to have that kind of feeling when we think of God breaking us and getting control over our agendas and our will and our spirit.
I'm raising, right now, my wife and I, we have two toddler boys. I got a three-year-old. I got a two-year-old. And this is what they like to do right now. It's fun. We say, "Hey, Micah, Casey, come here." They're not in trouble. "Micah, Casey, come here." They go that way. They go the opposite direction. They laugh as they run the opposite direction. Micah, the littlest one, what he's liking to do right now is run and hide. It's very Adam in the garden what he's doing. It's great.
This is how we are naturally bent. We are anti-authoritarian from the get-go. And when God calls to us, "Hey, come here." We go that way and laugh about it because our agenda is more important to us than what our Authority's agenda is. It can't possibly be true that for them, for my boys, it can't be true that I have for them is better than what they have for them. It can't possibly be true. And that's how we relate to God as well. And we need that to break. If we're going to be useful for God's purposes, if we want to really see the growth and the change that we want out of our lives, we're going to have to submit those agendas, allow those things to break in order to be useful for Him.
There's a statement that God makes in the book of Ezekiel. He's speaking through the prophet Ezekiel that when we pray this 'Break Me' prayer, He says, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh." He is promising us that if we will pray, "Break me," that He will allow us to be pliable and useful for His agenda. And it will be better.
King David, there's a series of events that happens in his life that seems, it's dramatic, but it seems like sort of the kind of thing that happens often to us. We can read about in the book of 2 Samuel. But one day, he's not where he's supposed to be. And he looks out and he sees this beautiful naked woman bathing on the roof. I don't know the culture. I don't know that she was where she was supposed to be either. It seems weird to me. But he clearly was not where he was supposed to be. And he sees her and he "invites her for a sleepover" and finds out later that the sleepover caused her to be pregnant. She's married and not to me. And I ... That's a scandal. What do I do? What do I do? Kill the husband. That's what I do. So he plots and figures out a way to kill the husband. And like, "Okay, whew nobody knows. It's good. It's fine." And then Nathan the prophet shows up a little bit later and says, "No, no, buddy, God knows exactly what you did. And He wants to know what you're going to do about it."
And the fascinating part of that series of events in David's life to me is how long it took. You read in the bible, it's very quick. But it had to have taken months, months from when he sees Bathsheba bathing to when Nathan comes in and says, "God knows what you did." It had to have been months, months to find out that she's pregnant, to figure out, "Wow, what's the opportunity to kill the husband." And it just had to have been horrible for David. You can just feel over the course of that time, his heart just hardening as he's going to own this thing. And we're going to do life this way.
And he has a relationship with God. And God had to have been just all the time on His shoulders saying, "Look, let's fix this. Repent of your sin. Let's make restitution." For months, it had to have been so difficult for David. But he's going to get it through. He's starting to build that heart of stone. He's going to keep on the agenda that he's on. And when Nathan comes in and says, "It's not as private as you think."
Mercifully, David starts to pray, "Break me." And he makes restitution. He asks for forgiveness. And he repents of his sin, and part of that was he wrote down a psalm. David was a bit of a poet and a songwriter. So he writes down the lyrics to thing song and we have it in the Bible. It's Psalm 51. And he says this, "For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."
David as the king of the country has a lot of money. And he could offer all kinds of religiosity to say, "Me and God are good," right? "I have all the cows, all the sheep. I can do that." But David knows that that's not how God works, that God wants our hearts. He doesn't want our actions. He wants our hearts first. And he knows that I could do all the religious stuff, but that's like the spiritual version of a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers. That's not going to fix the relationship. He wants our hearts.
And the same is true for us. Whatever the hard parts in our lives are that we're just refusing to let God break, there aren't enough good deeds. There isn't enough opportunities to be here at church in worship. There isn't enough money that you could give to help church.com that's going to fix the relationship. God wants our hearts. All of those other things are really good. We should do those things. But out of gratitude, out devotion, out of worship of who God is, we do those things. It's not to hope that God doesn't kill us because we won't bend our agenda to His.
Here's the thing. If we will pray, "Break me," we get the awesome opportunity to discover and experience God's ways in ways that maybe we haven't before. And the people around us as we are trying to walk in faithfulness and obedience to God, they get to see and they get to discover and experience God's ways too. It's a great win-win that we get when we pray, "Break me," and align our wills with God's will.
So my question to you is, what in your life does God need to break? Are you like me? And there's like, "Ugh. There's a picture of life that I have, and I want it. And I don't want to trust God with it." And he's asking you to break it. Maybe it's like what David had, and there's restitution and reconciliation with somebody that you're like, "No. I'm right. They're wrong." And that needs to break. They're maybe any number of things that God is tapping you and saying, "This needs to break." And it feels dangerous. But I invite you step into the danger zone. It will be so much better as we do that. As we with our lives model what Jesus modeled for us by going to the cross, breaking His life and pouring out His life blood literally for you and me.
Let's pray. God, we thank you for prayer. We thank you that you've made a way for us to connect with you, to talk with you, to tell you all the stuff that's in our hearts and our heads. We know that you know that stuff anyway, but it's good to have a way to express it to you. We ask that you would continue to bless us, to be with us. We thank you that you have blessed us, and you are with us. I pray for myself and for everyone here this morning that you would also help us. Give us the courage to ask that you would break us. For those of us who want to be aligned with Your agenda even when it's difficult, help us to pray like those song lyrics from back in the day, "Brokenness is what we long for. Brokenness is what we need," because brokenness is what you want from us. Help us to step out and pray this dangerous prayer, to step into the danger zone this week. It's in the great name of Jesus Christ we ask these things. Amen.