God’s Friendship and the Intimacy of Faith

God’s Friendship and the Intimacy of Faith | Genesis 18
Brian Hedges | July 21, 2019

C.S. Lewis once commented that one of life’s greatest earthly blessings or pleasures is friendship, and I wonder how many of you have experienced some of the deep joys of friendship in your own lives. Let me see your hand. How many of you feel like you have someone right now that you would call a best friend? Let me see your friend.

Alright, so this is something that we’re all familiar with. We understand what it is to have friendship and to value and treasure friendship. I enjoyed reading, a number of years ago, a series of essays by a guy named Joseph Epstine, and the whole book was on friendship. He’s not a Christian man, but he had very interesting insights about the nature of friendship. He talked about long-distance friendships and the kinds of friendships that are more occasional by nature; he talked about friendships that went back many, many years, friendships that only stayed at a certain level. He even talked about the friendships that sometimes he found himself in and kind of wished he could get out of.

We’ve probably all experienced some of those kinds of relationships and friendships. I know that in my own life there are friends that I’ve had since I was a kid, and they’re still friends today; not the same kind of friendship that I had when we were growing up together, but still friends. I also know that the deepest and best friendships I’ve ever had in my life are the friendships I’ve had in about the last ten or fifteen years, since I’ve been a part of this church and the friendships that I have with many of you and our relationships together in Christ.

So friendship is a wonderful blessing in our lives, but I wonder, how often do we think about our relationship with God in terms of friendship? Did you know that there’s one man in Scripture who three times is called the friend of God? And do you know who that man is? It’s Abraham!

We’ve been studying together the life of Abraham for about the last eight weeks, and three times the Bible says that Abraham was the friend of God; in 2 Chronicles 20, in Isaiah 41, and in James 2. I think one of the reasons that Scriptures call Abraham the friend of God is because of what happens in Genesis 18, and that’s where we’re going to be studying together this morning, Genesis 18.

Now, Genesis 18 in some ways is the beginning of a new segment of the Abraham narratives, as it brings us back to Sodom and Gomorrah. You remember that Sodom and Gomorrah had been mentioned earlier in the narrative, in Genesis 13; but Genesis 18 and 19 show us what happens in this city. It begins with a visit that Abraham has from three mysterious men, and they begin to talk to him, both about the promise that God has made to him and about the plans, the judgment, actually, that God is going to bring on Sodom and Gomorrah.

Now, I’m just going to say this here at the beginning. I’m not going to talk about Sodom and Gomorrah this morning. I’m going to do that in two weeks; we’re going to look especially at Genesis 19, and then I’m going to come back and pick up on the Sodom and Gomorrah themes in Genesis 18 in that message. But today I want to focus more on the relationship that Abraham has with God, as seen in his hospitality of these three visitors.

We’re going to think about this in terms of God’s friendship with Abraham and his friendship that is offered to us, and the intimacy or the closeness that faith can have in relationship with God. As we work through this text, I want us to notice three things about this relationship, this friendship, with God. I’m just going to give you three key words, and we’ll organize everything under these three key words. The three key words are: preparing, listening, and praying.

I want us to think about preparation for friendship with God, then listening to God when he speaks to us, and then our speaking to God. We all know that friendship involves communication, right? It’s listening and it’s speaking to one another, and friendship with God is the same way. So, that’s how we’re going to organize these points.

I. Preparing

Let’s begin by thinking about the preparation, preparing. What does it mean to be prepared for relationship with God? We see this in verses 1-8.

Now, as we read through verses 1-8, your first thought is probably going to be, “This looks like an example of hospitality,” because you’re going to see that Abraham goes to great lengths to provide a meal for these three guests. And it is; it’s a great example of hospitality among the Bedouins in the ancient near east.

But just note something before we begin to dig in. This is something that Ian Duguid points out in his book on Abraham. He says that “this is the only case before the incarnation in which the Lord ate food that was set before him.” Now, there are lots of theophanies in the Old Testament, but many times, in the theophanies of the Old Testament, when someone set out food, what would happen is a flame of fire would devour, would consume that food, and it was basically turned into a sacrifice.

But not here. In this passage, these three mysterious visitors actually come into Abraham’s tent, he makes a meal for them, and they eat the meal. It’s mysterious. Exactly how does the Lord himself relate to these three visitors? What at least seems clear is that this passage is an appearance of Yahweh. That’s what we read in the first verse, that the Lord appeared to Abraham, and appeared somehow through these three visitors. Okay? So this is relationship that Abraham has with God. When we understand that, then I think it’s reasonable for us to draw some principles about our own relationship with God from this passage.

So, with that understanding, let’s look at verses 1 and 2. We’re talking now about preparing for friendship with God. Look at verses 1 and 2.

“And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them [notice this], he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth.”

(1) The very first thing you see about preparation in friendship with God is eagerness. You see Abraham’s eagerness; he ran to meet them. And then reverence; he bowed himself to the earth. Abraham was attentive here to an opportunity to show hospitality to these three mysterious guests who, it becomes increasingly clear in this passage, somehow represent Yahweh himself. They represent the Lord.

My first application point this morning is simply this, it’s a question: Are you eager for friendship with God? Does your relationship with God demonstrate eagerness and anticipation and desire, so that just as Abraham ran to meet with these three men, so you are, in a sense, running to meet with the Lord? Is there eagerness in your relationship with God?

I want to read something to you from J.I. Packer. J.I. Packer wrote a wonderful book called A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. One of the reasons that I love the Puritans is because I read this book probably about 20 years ago. I think it was 1998 the first time I read it. I’m re-reading it here just recently, I’ve been re-reading it this week.

I read something just a day or two ago. It was in a chapter that was talking about the spirituality of the Puritan John Owen, and it’s a comment about the contrast between the Puritans’ emphasis on communion with God--relationship with God, communion, fellowship with God--and the emphasis of the modern church today. This is a lengthy quote, but I think it’s worth reading in order to just press home for us the great need we have in this aspect of our spiritual lives. This is what Packer says.

“Whereas to the Puritans communion with God was a great thing, to evangelicals today it is a comparatively small thing. The Puritans were concerned about communion with God in a way that we are not. The measure of our unconcern is the little that we say about it. When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology; but rarely of their daily experience with God. Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service; but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God. Our sermons contain much sound doctrine, but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Savior. We do not spend much time alone or together in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all. No, we just take that for granted and give our minds to other matters. Thus, we make it plan that communion with God is a small thing to us; but how different were the Puritans!”

How does that hit you this morning? Is communion with God, friendship with God, is that a treasured, valuable aspect of your life, and is that demonstrated in your life by the eagerness that you show to meet with God? Preparation. Eagerness in our relationship and our friendship with God.

(2) The second thing we see here about the preparation is Abraham’s request in verse 3. He ran from his tent door to meet these men, bowed himself to the earth, and said, “Oh Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.” What a wonderful request!

It reminds me of that great old hymn from Fanny Crosby,

“Pass me not, oh gentle Savior;
Hear my humble cry!
While on others thou art calling,
Do not pass my by.”

Again, I just ask, do you ever pray like that? Do you think like that in your relationship with God? Even in coming to worship, I wonder if we come with that kind of anticipation, that kind of desire, that kind of request. Do you ever come and you’re coming on a Sunday morning, or maybe you’re bowing your head over your Bible before you come to church, coffee on the stand beside you, and in your prayers saying, “Lord, speak to me this morning! Lord, don’t pass us by this morning! Lord, meet with us this morning!”

To whatever degree those kinds of prayers are not on our hearts, to that degree we are impoverished in our friendship with God, both as individuals and corporately. Abraham says, “Do not pass by your servant. Instead, come and meet with me.”

(3) Here’s another thing we see about preparation. In verses 4-8 we see Abraham giving his very best to God. Look at verse 4. He says, “‘Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on--since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it to make cakes.’ And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tend and good, and give it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”

You see what he’s doing. He’s going to great trouble to prepare a lavish meal for these guests. Now, you all know the difference in hospitality between when you invite someone to your home and you spend a lot of time and a lot of money preparing the home. You’re cleaning things up, you’re making things look as good as they can, you’re preparing a really nice, fine meal. The white tablecloths are out, the crystal and the china is out. It’s a more formal occasion. You do that, sometimes, when you really want to lay out the trappings and show your honor and your appreciation for a guest.

There’s a big difference between that and someone coming over and you just pull out the leftovers. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that in friendship; but if our relationship with God is only a relationship in which we give him the leftovers, there is something wrong with that, if we don’t give God our best.

I wonder, in terms of especially your time, does God get your best time, or does he only get your leftovers? Now I know we have to work our 40 or 50 hours a week, I know that we have family responsibilities, some of us have school responsibilities. So let’s just think for a minute about discretionary. Think about the time when you’re not sleeping and you’re not working and you have free time. Most of us have at least some of that. We have some free time.

What are we doing with that time? Are we spending most of it watching television or surfing the Internet or cruising through Facebook or whatever; or are we spending it with open Bibles, in meditation on God’s word, prayer, seeking the Lord, reading the kinds of literature that will feed and nourish our souls? Are we entertaining ourselves to death, or our we feeding the friendship with God? Abraham brought his best to God, and we need to do the same. Might not our indifference to communion with God indicate a deep problem in our hearts?

Years ago, I read a quotation from the mystic Francis de Sales. I don’t love everything about the mystics, but I love this quotation. Francis de Sales said, “Since, O my soul, thou art capable of God, woe to thee if thou content thyself with anything less than God.” You’re capable of God, capable of fellowship with God, but are you content with something less?

Now, let me anticipate a possible objection. Someone might say, “Well, isn’t it true that since Jesus died on the cross the veil has been torn, the way is open; isn’t it true that I can at any moment of any day I can enter right into the presence of the Lord, I can be in fellowship with God? Isn’t all this discussion of giving your best and preparation and time and effort and intention--isn’t that kind of legalistic?”

This would be my answer to that. My answer would be: opportunity does not equal capacity. Jesus has, indeed, opened the way to fellowship with God, but have you developed the capacity to know, enjoy, and love him? There’s a difference between opportunity and capacity. The way is open; that’s true. But you can’t just, at the drop of a hat, without any work in your heart, without any effort on your part, without any attention to your soul, you cannot at the drop of the hat enter into the riches of relationship with God. It does take preparation. That’s not legalism; it’s just the way--it’s what it means to develop a capacity for actually enjoying God.

You might think of in terms of many of the other things we do in our lives. We do a lot of things in life that bring exquisite pleasure and joy. Not just the passive entertainment we get from watching TV, but a depth of joy and satisfaction, a richness to our lives. It only comes with great effort and acquired skill and lengthy amounts of time.

You might think of playing a musical instrument. Don’t you love what the worship team is able to do because of the effort, the hours that they’ve spent in playing these instruments? It looks effortless, doesn’t it? But it’s not effortless. They’ve spent a lot of time developing those skills and those capacities, and they therefore are able to offer that to the Lord and minister to us and derive great joy and pleasure from doing that themselves.

You might think about learning a second language. Great pleasure, I think, can be found in learning a second language, but it takes a lot of effort.

With so many things in life, if they’re worth doing and if they’re bring great joy into our lives, it takes some effort for us to develop the capacities, to develop the skills; and relationship with God is very much like that. The way is open and you have freedom, because of God’s grace, to develop a relationship with God; but you still have to develop the capacity to know him and to enjoy him and to delight in him. That will take spiritual discipline. So, preparation. Preparing; that’s the first aspect of friendship with God.

II. Listening

Here’s the second. The second aspect is listening. I said a few minutes ago that communication between friends always involves this two-way street of both listening to a friend and speaking to a friend.

I don’t know if you’ve had this experience or not, but I many times I have gone to lunch or coffee with someone, and maybe anticipated having a good conversation; and it ended up kind of being one-sided, where I was mostly just listening and I wasn’t talking. Or vice versa, I ended up doing a lot of the talking and didn’t really get to know them because I wasn’t listening.

That doesn’t make for good friendship. Friendship involves both listening and speaking, and that’s true in our relationship with God. If we only go to God to tell him what we want and we’re never listening, that’s not a relationship. That’s kind of like someone who only knocks on the door of his friend’s house when he needs a loan or he’s in trouble. You know, every time you have a need you go to your friend--that’s not a real friend. That’s using someone rather than actually developing friendship with them.

The same is true in our relationship with God. So we have to develop listening skills in our relationship with God, and you see Abraham doing that in this passage. You see the communication is two-way. You see God speaking to Abraham and Abraham listening in verses 9-21, and then you see Abraham speaking to God and God listening in verses 22-33.

Let’s look at verses 9-15. “They said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said, ‘She is in the tent.’ The Lord said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was afraid. He said, ‘No, but you did laugh.’”

Now, on one level the theological point of this passage is to once again give an affirmation to the promise that God has made Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12, and then reaffirmed and ratified in covenant in Genesis 15 and again in Genesis 17. This passage is also, then, bringing Sarah into the picture, where Sarah, perhaps for the first time, is actually hearing that she’s the one who’s going to bear a child. She at least seems surprised, and responds in disbelief.

When we’re trying to apply something like this to our own lives, it’s important for us to look at the level of the narrative itself and the theology in the passage. This is showing God’s faithful prophecy, that he’s going to fulfill this promise to Abraham, and therefore carry on the story of redemption.

But we also should zoom out a little bit so that we see a basic principle that is applicable to us, and that is that God also makes promises to us, and we have to learn to listen to those promises and respond in faith.

Now, God is not going to promise someone today, when they’re 90 years old, “I’m going to give you a child next year.” Abraham was in a unique place in redemptive history. So it’s not a one-to-one application. But God does make promises to us. He promises to forgive our sins. He promises to work everything together for our good, even the trials, even the difficulties, even the hard circumstances in our lives. He promises to be with us, to never leave us or forsake us, no matter what we’re going through. He promises to give us wisdom if we will ask.

There are many other such promises in Scripture, and part of communion with God, part of friendship with God, is us learning to listen to God through his word, to hear those promises, and to respond with faith in those promises that God has made to us in Scripture.

We see in this passage Abraham listening as God makes promises, and then we see something else. In verses 16-21 we see God beginning to reveal his purposes to Abraham, and doing so with, I think, a very specific intention. Look at verse 16.

It says, “Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.’”

This is kind of interesting. It seems that the Lord here is speaking out loud, in Abraham’s hearing, and is saying, “Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I’m about to do?” That had to have prompted something in Abraham. Then the Lord goes on to tell him what he’s going to do.

It’s kind of like when you’re in a situation and maybe your spouse says, “Honey, I think I’m going to go to the mall today and do some shopping.” It’s not just that they’re making a statement; it’s a statement that’s kind of inviting a response. They’re kind of asking, “Is it okay if I go to the mall to do some shopping, or is it not okay?” Right? You know what that’s like in relationship, right? “I think I’m going to run out for a little while and do such-and-such.” You’re saying what you intend to do, but you’re saying it anticipating either an encouragement, a response, or maybe a response that says no.

I think the Lord is doing something similar with Abraham. He’s disclosing an intention in order to draw Abraham into the conversation. Abraham, indeed, responds.

There’s a story that comes from the revival period in the 1950s. I’ve mentioned this before. Duncan Campbell, who was so greatly instrumental in the revival in the Hebrides islands off the coast of Scotland. There was a really close-knit fellowship of people that were praying together, that did a lot of the spiritual work together, and one of these people, who was a great friend of Duncan Campbell, was a woman named Mary Morrison. She would often pray with and for Duncan Campbell.

In 1957, Campbell was actually in South Africa on a preaching tour, and he was in the town of Pretoria. I’ve actually been to the town of Pretoria. He was in the town of Pretoria, and he was preaching in South Africa. What is it--3,000 miles away, Mary Morrison suddenly felt this incredibly deep conviction that she needed to pray for Duncan Campbell.

She stopped what she was doing, she went off to be by herself, and she really prayed for him, she really interceded for him. She didn’t know why, she just felt that there was some reason she needed to pray for Duncan Campbell. When she finished, she wrote him a letter (this was before texting and email). She wrote him a letter, sent it in the mail, asked if something was going on.

It so happened that that very day, at that very hour, Duncan Campbell was preaching and began to hemorrhage severely, so that his life was in danger. He had to be rushed to the hospital. The Lord had prompted her, in that very moment, to intercede for her friend, Duncan Campbell. [Brian credits the previous two illustrations to Dale Ralph Davis's helpful book Faith of Our Father.]

God will do that in our lives. He will speak to us not only through his word, but by his Spirit, sometimes the Lord will do something in our hearts to lead us into prayer, to invite us to participate with him in relationship with him. That’s similar to what’s going on here in this story.

Pick up in verse 20. “Then the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.’”

So God does disclose to Abraham what he’s about to do, and this prompts Abraham’s intercession, his prayer, which will follow in the next verses. We’ll talk about Sodom and Gomorrah next time, but I think you see a comparative statement here in John 15:13-14, where Jesus says something similar to his disciples because of his friendship with them.

He says, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business; instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learn from my Father I have made known to you.”

This is part of what friendship with Christ involves. It involves Christ making his heart known to his disciples. He has supremely done that through his word. He has shown us his purposes, his ways, his plans, his mission, his intentions in the world, and part of relationship with God is developing an attentiveness to what the Spirit of God is doing in the world and what the Spirit of God is saying through his word, so that we are engaged, responding to him.

III. Praying

That leads us to the third thing, and that is praying. We’ve talked about preparing, we’ve talked about listening; let’s talk about praying in verses 22-23. Now what we’re seeing is Abraham’s response to this initiative that God has taken with him. Look at verses 22 and 23. “So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord. Then Abraham drew near…”

I love that phrase. He drew near. This is right at the heart of prayer. This is right at the heart of relationship, friendship with God. It is drawing near to God.

There’s a wonderful book called The Hidden Life: Thoughts on Communion with God, written by a Hungarian pastor from the 19th century named Adolph Saphir. This is what Adolph Saphir said about this phrase, drawing nigh to God, or drawing near to God.

“Drawing nigh to God is the most comprehensive expression to describe the soul’s attitude toward God. Prayer is the culminating point of this attitude. Drawing nigh to God describes the character of the Christian’s life. In the meditation of our hearts, in the desires of our souls, in the activities and enjoyments of our daily path we approach God, for we wish to live before him, conscious of his presence, in constant dependence and in constant enjoyment of his grace.”

That’s what it means to draw near to God. It’s to approach him. “Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,” one of the great hymn writers says. Do you do that? Do you draw near to God? The promise of Scripture is, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Abraham does that here. He draws near; he approaches God.

Then look in verses 23-27. He appeals to God’s character. “Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?’” Now get this: he’s interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah, and in particular, the righteous within the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; namely, Lot and his family. We’ll talk about that more when we look at Genesis 19, but notice how Abraham prays.

Verse 24; he says, “‘Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’”

Do you see what he’s doing? He’s appealing to the character of God! “And the Lord said,” verse 26, “‘If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.’”

This is part of what prayer life should look like for us, that as we pray, as we intercede, as we speak to God, we are appealing to God’s character, because God acts consistently with his character.

Then notice that Abraham expresses humility before the Lord, verse 27: “Abraham answered and said, ‘Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.’” “I’m dust and ashes before you!” He’s describing his mortality, his finitude, in contrast to the greatness of God. It’s a humble posture before God.

Then, the rest of the chapter, verses 28-33, show how Abraham continues to intercede for others before the Lord. That shows us, I think, a very important truth. It shows us that when we grow in friendship with God, it never leaves us indifferent to the needs of others. Love for God will always express itself in love for people. Communion with God will always fuel compassion and intercession for others. That’s the life of prayer. It’s praying in communion with God, in friendship with God, but it’s also praying for others because of this friendship we have with God.

So, preparing, listening, praying. Those are the three aspects of friendship with God. I want to end in this way. I want to give you three takeaways, three application points, and they correspond to the three things that we’ve talked about, preparing, listening, and praying.

They come directly from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a great Welsh pastor from the 20th century. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has been so helpful for me, and I think this is some of the most helpful--I was just trying to think, what’s the most helpful thing; in my own spiritual life, what has really helped me? Not that I perfectly apply this (I feel the need to grow in this in my own life), but these are the things that have really helped me, and I got them from Lloyd-Jones. This is from Lloyd-Jones book, actually, for preachers, called Preaching and Preachers. I’m not recommending that if you’re not a preacher that you read the book, but some of what he says to preachers is applicable to everyone.

There’s a chapter in that book called “The Preparation of the Preacher,” where Lloyd-Jones is just saying that before you start preparing your sermon, preacher, you have to prepare your own heart. It’s some of the best, most practical, helpful material on the devotional life that I’ve read; and I’ve read that chapter, especially, over and over and over again.

There are three things in particular that Lloyd-Jones says in that chapter that I want to share with you, three takeaways that I think will be helpful for you.

(1) Here’s the first one: you have to learn how to use a spiritual choke. Now what does that mean? He’s not talking about a chokehold on a person, okay. The mechanics in the room will know what a choke. Years ago, before fuel injection, cars had carburetors, right, and in order to start a car you had to use a choke. The choke would cut off the air supply so as to make a richer fuel/air mixture so it would make it easier for a cold engine to start. (Did I do well, Dave Enders, explaining that? Wikipedia is really helpful for the non-mechanical person to understand how chokes work!)

Lloyd-Jones is using that as an illustration, and he says, essentially, that sometimes, when we are going to our devotions, we’re going to pray, you can’t just start by really praying in deep intimacy and communion with him. Your heart’s not there, because your heart is like a cold engine. He says that a coldness can set in, into your spirit and in to your heart, and he says (and I quote here), “I have found nothing more important than to learn how to get oneself into that framing condition in which one can pray,” and the metaphor he uses is you have to learn how to use a spiritual choke.

How do you get your heart into a condition where it is able to pray? That’s the issue here. Here’s the advice that Lloyd-Jones gives; I think this is so practical and so helpful. He says you have to read devotional kind of material that will help warm your spirit. It’s that simple. You were waiting for something really profound. This isn’t profound; it’s very simple, it’s very practical. Read something that is devotional that will warm your spirit.

What does he mean by that? Well, he says especially the Puritans. You wonder why I read these guys. I love reading these guys, but the reason is because they just kind of pierce through all the fog and get right to the heart issues, for me. They speak to my heart.

I do recommend them. I recommend the Puritans. There’s a handful of them on our book table. If you feel intimidated by the Puritans, don’t feel intimidated. I’d love to help you. There are wonderful paperback volumes, now, of Puritans, where the Elizabethan English has been simplified, they’re modernized, they’re abridged, they’re easy to read. Seriously, a teenager who knows how to read should be able to read and digest these Puritan paperbacks. They will help you. They will help you.

Now, you can also do it with Spurgeon. You can also do it by reading some of the better material of somebody like C.S. Lewis or A.W. Tozer. You find what’s going to work for you, but read something of devotional value that will work on your heart to bring your heart into a frame, a condition where you’re able to hear God, listen to God, and speak to God as well. That’s the first thing. Learn how to use a spiritual choke.

(2) Here’s the second thing. Read the Bible systematically. Read the Bible systematically. What Lloyd-Jones means by that is, don’t just read haphazardly. Don’t play Bible roulette. “Oh, I guess I should have devotions today. Where am I going to read? Lord, speak to me from your word!” You open it up and you look down and you read the very first thing your eyes--that is not a good way to read the Bible.

The Bible was written thoughtfully. It’s not an encyclopedia of proverbs, right? You have a book of Proverbs, but that’s not what the Bible is. The Bible is a narrative, it’s a story, it’s a collection of all different kinds of literature, and it is meant to be read through. Books of the Bible are meant to be read through.

I would not hesitate to say that every single Christian should make it their goal to systematically read through the entirety of Scripture, the whole Bible, over and over and over again. That should be your intention. Now, whether you do it in a year or in two years or in four years--that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how fast you do it. What matters is that you’re reading it, you’re reading it with regularity, you’re reading it systematically, and you’re reading it so that you’re getting all of the Bible.

If you don’t do that, you know what’s going to happen? You’re going to read a lot of Psalm 23, you’re going to read a lot of Romans 8, you’re going to read a lot of the Gospel of John; you’re going to read your favorite passages a lot, and you’re not going to know anything about the book of Ezekiel or Jeremiah, and hence, you are not going to be hearing what God has to say to you through those parts of Scripture. So you really need all of it.

Now, you might object, “Well, I just don’t have time to do that.” Listen. Adults in the U.S. watch an average of five hours and four minutes of TV a day, and they spend an average of 11 hours a day somehow connected to social media. Now, I think you guys beat the average. I don’t think everybody is on Facebook or Twitter 11 hours a day. But if you have any discretionary time that you use for watching television or social media, you have time to read the Bible.

I can tell you that you can find a Bible-reading plan (this is what I use; in fact, our whole family is using this year) that will take you through the Old Testament once, the New Testament and Psalms twice in the course of a year, and it only takes about eight minutes a day. It only takes about eight minutes a day. You can even listen to it! You can put it on audio and listen to it. You can read it or listen to it. I do both. Sometimes I read it, sometimes I listen to it. You have time. The problem is not our time; the problem is motivation. Hopefully this message will help you with that.

(3) Read the Bible systematically, learn how to use a spiritual choke; and then one more. We’re almost done. Always respond to every impulse to pray. Always respond to every impulse to pray.

Lloyd-Jones says (and I quote), “Above all, and I regard this as most important of all, always respond to every impulse to pray. The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you’re battling with a text. I would make an absolute law of this: always obey such an impulse. It is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Here’s one thing you can be pretty much certain about: the devil does not want you to pray. Your own flesh does not want you to pray. The Holy Spirit does want you to pray. You say, “Well, I don’t know how the Holy Spirit speaks to me.” Well, if you ever feel the least nudge to pray, that’s the Spirit! Because it’s not coming from you, and it sure isn’t coming from the devil. It’s coming from the Spirit!

So when the Spirit prompts you, when he nudges you, when you feel that inclination inside, “I really should seek the Lord in prayer”; when you feel that nudge, obey it. Every time, obey that nudge. Seek the Lord in prayer, and what you will find is that your friendship with God will begin to deepen, it will grow, it will develop, it will begin to take on a richness in your life that you’ve not known before.

Here’s my final thought. The final thing I want you to remember is simply this, that the privilege of friendship with God is a blood-bought privilege. Do you realize--I know you do, and I’m reminding you--do you realize that Jesus Christ died on the cross not just to get you a “get out of jail free” card, not just to get you fire insurance, not just to forgive your sins, not just to get you out of hell; but he died on the cross, Peter tells us, to bring us to God! He died on the cross so that the way would be open, so that the veil would be torn, so that you could actually come into the presence of God, so that you could know God.

What that means is that when we disregard the privilege of friendship with God, we are disregarding the very purpose for which Jesus died on the cross. We are treating his suffering and his death lightly when we ignore our relationship with him.

Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says. I’ll close with these words. “Therefore, brothers [and sisters], since we have confidence to enter the most holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body; and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience, and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Let’s pray.

Almighty and gracious God, how we thank you for this amazing grace that you have demonstrated to us in sending your Son to die for our sins, as our substitute, as our sacrifice, as the atoning sacrifice and offering that purges away our sins, that cleanses our consciences, that opens the way into fellowship with you. Oh Lord, we pray this morning that you would forgive us that we have treated it so lightly. We ask you to forgive us that we have not valued friendship with you as we should. Forgive us for our neglect of your word and prayer, forgive us that we have not prepared our hearts to meet with you, that we have not made room in our hearts and in our lives, we have not given time, we’ve not given our best. Too often we’ve given you leftovers instead of really preparing our hearts for friendship with you. Forgive us for that.

I pray this morning that we would feel both conviction of that neglect and that we would feel hopeful that we can really grow in this area of our lives. I pray that you would help us to lock onto something that we’ve learned this morning, or maybe even some work of your Spirit above and beyond the words that I have spoken, some way that your spirit is prompting us to deepen our relationship with you.

Lord, may we be known as the friends of God. May we know what it is to live in friendship and in fellowship with you. As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, help us remember that this is a communion table. It’s a shared meal with the risen Jesus Christ himself, through his Spirit, as we come to remember what Jesus has done and to feed on him through faith, so that our hearts are enriched, so that our memories are prodded and prompted to think on what Christ has done, so that our hopes are set on eternal realities. So Lord, work within us this morning, meet with us in these moments, we pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.