by Allan Self

“Don’t mess this up”

I’ll never forget that night.

I sat in the dressing room staring at the clock. Tick, tick, tick!

We were all dressed up in our garb, we were ready to go, but now we just had to wait for the clock to hit the top of the hour. My stomach was in knots, I must have gone to the bathroom three or four times in 20 minutes. My nerves were almost shot as I rehashed the words I was going to say over and over again in my mind.

“Fellow Graduates, Parents, Teachers, Friends and Family…”

When I found out a few months earlier that I’d been nominated as valedictorian, no one told me it was going be like this. But then I thought to myself, why am I so nervous… it’s just my friends and family?!? That didn’t seem to make a difference though.

Finally, the orchestra started to play, we walked down the aisle toward the stage to take our seats. I thought, this is it, I’ll be fine once we get started, but I didn’t know that I was going to have to sit on the stage, in front of 1,200 people for three hours before I would finally get up to speak. By the time it was finally my turn I was terrified! All I could say to myself was, “Don’t mess this up, don’t say umm, don’t say ahh, don’t mess this up!”

I stood up, walked to the podium and took a deep breath. I am sure you could hear my knees knocking in the third row. I looked down at my speech, looked up at my friends in the crowd and began to speak.

Are you ready to approach the King?

You think it’s intimidating and sobering to have to stand up in front of 1,200 people to talk? Think for a minute with me about what we are doing when we talk to God.Now that you have a relationship with Jesus, God has given you one of the most amazing gifts you could imagine—the invitation to converse with him. And it is here that you stand in the same tension that I felt many years ago.

We’re talking to the Creator of the universe!

We’re talking to the One who knows everything that was, is or ever will be. He is in control of everything! It is a breathtakingly sobering realization.

But on the flip side, when I stood up at my graduation, I was speaking to my closest friends. I’d grown up with them, I’d played hockey with them, I’d sat next to them in class. Likewise, when we talk to God, we are talking to our friend, our confidant, our Saviour.

There is a portion of Scripture that focuses on this tension. In the letter to the Hebrews it says,

“Let us then with confidence (because of our faith in Jesus) draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (parenthetical note my own)

When you accepted Jesus, you were making a statement, “Jesus’ death and resurrection is the foundation of my life.” It’s because of this foundation that you can talk to God today.

Draw near & speak with me

God calls us in this passage to draw near to him (a.k.a. to talk to him) so that we can have mercy and grace when we need it.

Sometimes we have needs that feel huge, and God invites us to come to him with these needs. Sometimes we have needs that feel small, and God invites us to come to him with these needs. Not only does he invite us to come to him, he actually reassures us. He tells us to come to him with confidence because he isn’t going to turn us away.

He hears you, he will speak with you, he will answer you.

But it is vital to know why.

What confidence do we have?

We have this incredible opportunity because of our faith in who Jesus is and what he did for us when he died and rose again. When you accepted Jesus, you were making a statement, “Jesus’ death and resurrection is the foundation of my life.” It’s because of this foundation that you can talk to God today.

I don’t know about you, but I find this to be so freeing, because it assures me that it’s not about me. I can’t screw this foundation up—it happened 2,000 years ago. It’s not like I need to go through a certain set of formulas for God to speak to me. It’s not like I need to become a spiritual superstar before any of my prayers can be answered.

When I’m having a bad day or a bad week or a bad month, I can go to God with confidence because of my faith in Jesus.

On the flip side, we see the other half of our tension in this passage as well.

On the throne sits the King

When we talk to God, we are actually approaching a throne. This isn’t the only time God uses this picture; in fact, throughout the Scriptures God describes himself as a King who rules from his throne (Psalm 45:6, Isaiah 9:7, Rev 7:11, Rev 20:11).

There is one guy in the Old Testament, Isaiah, who was given a vision of God’s throne. Do you know what his immediate reaction was? He was terrified, he fell down on his face in fear because God was so amazing—he was convinced he was going to die (Isaiah 6)! My experience of standing in front of 1,200 people was nothing compared to Isaiah’s experience of seeing God on his throne.

God invites us to speak with him about anything and everything, but we should always keep in mind who we’re talking to.

We aren’t just chatting with a buddy in the dressing room after a game. We aren’t just talking to a friend on Skype.

Who is this King?

In the Scriptures we learn that God is massive:

He is in control (Ephesians 1:11).

He is all-knowing (Isaiah 46:8-11).

He is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-10).

He sustains the universe (Colossians 1:15-17).

He never gets tired (Isaiah 40:28).

He is the only God (Isaiah 45:22-23).

He is infinite (Revelations1:8).

He is always with us (Matthew 28:20).

This is the God who invites us to come to him and speak with him like a friend with complete confidence.

I love prayer because I find it so amazing. Prayer is a breathtaking picture of God, in his greatness, reaching down to me. AND, God doesn’t just listen to me when I talk, he also has the power and authority to act on my behalf.

Will you accept the King’s invitation?

Wherever you are at, whatever your background or your level of knowledge, God is inviting you to come to him and talk. He wants to speak to you and he wants to listen.

The beautiful thing about talking with God is that it does not matter how big your need might be, it’s all about how big your God is. And our God is HUGE!!!

Four practical ways to start the conversation

Let me finish up by giving you four suggestions friends have given me over the years that have made a huge impact on my own life.

1. Set a location

When you want to zone in and spend some concentrated time in prayer, it is wise to choose a place with minimal distractions. I have this really comfy chair in my basement that I love to sink into when I want to talk with God. When Jesus wanted time for prayer, he went out to a quiet place (Mark 1:35).

Find a peaceful place where you can go and talk to God.

2. Pray for specifics

Don’t be afraid to ask God for what you want or believe is best. God invites us, “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).

At the same time, understand that because he is wise and good, he knows better than us what is best and therefore may not answer the way we expect.

3. Pray through Scripture or a book of prayers

Using other people’s prayers as a guide has taught me how to pray. Using the Scriptures to pray has given me a confidence to know that what I am saying lines up with God’s heart.

This might sound dumb, but it took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t the first person to try and talk to God. Millions of men and women who loved Jesus have gone before us; a gold mine of wisdom and insight is found in their prayers.

4. Start small, dream big, keep going

No relationship is ever built in a day or a week. If you are expecting your heart to always be in the right place, you’re going to be disappointed. We all have bad days, but remember that our foundation in talking with God is built on what Jesus has done, not what we have done.

Have daily conversations about everything

When you wake up in the morning just say Hi to God. Ask him to fill you with his Spirit and guide you today.

As you are walking to class, thank God for some of the things around you or talk to him about what’s on your mind. The Scriptures encourage us to “rejoice always [and] pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

I love to just pray as I’m walking, driving or sitting in my backyard. Whenever or wherever, we simply need to take the initiative.

Final word: It’s about friendship

As you walk this journey with God, if there is one thing I hope you will remember, it is this—it’s not about religion, it’s not about spiritual super-stardom, it’s not about hoops you need to jump through. It’s about a friendship with your Creator.

“Let us then with confidence (because of our faith in Jesus) draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

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