Talk 2 – Gary Millar – Learning to Pray in a Cynical World

Here’s the second talk from Gary Millar. These are condensed from the notes I took – so feel free to correct if I misheard anything!

Intro: What is the ultimate prayer killer in our world? It’s cynicism. Cynical people. People, and personalities, whose default position is to distrust the information that we’re given. All of us live in a very cynical world – and Christians who subconsciously think this way about our world will end up prayerless. Prayer won’t seem so urgent or necessary in a cynical world.

So the biggest obstacle to prayer is cynicism – or the bible’s word: unbelief. Unbelief is not an intellect thing. It’s not just the intellect’s inability to grapple with a concept. Unbelief, biblically, is the choice to refuse to trust and believe God.

Today unbelief is in. There is no scandal in being an atheist as their used to be. Trusting God today is completely counter-cultural.

Unbelief is a what you would call a biblical mega category – pretty much all sins can be traced to this (idolatry is another meg-category).

Even as Christians we act as unbelievers, and unbelief kills prayer. Deep down we will say in our hearts, ‘I do not believe that you’ll answer this prayer because you haven’t answered big prayers in the past’

(Mark 9:14-29 ESV)

[14] And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. [15] And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. [16] And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” [17] And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. [18] And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” [19] And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” [20] And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. [21] And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. [22] And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” [23] And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” [24] Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” [25] And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” [26] And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” [27] But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. [28] And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” [29] And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

What’s the problem in this story?

According to Jesus, in v19, the problem is unbelief – the disciples thought they could do the exorcism on their own! The disciples are contrasted with the father – I believe, help my unbelief!

What is the antidote to the attitude of unbelief? Most of us feel the tug of this struggle every day…

Six steps to a (better) prayer life:

1. Repent
Repentance is never trendy. If you refuse to believe that God will work through, hear, and answer your prayers then now is the time to repent. If you haven’t be praying because you believe that you can do it on your own then it’s time to repent.

2. Rebuild
Rebuild your trust in God.

(James 1:6-8 ESV)

[6] But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. [7] For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; [8] he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

What is James saying about doubt here? He is not saying you must have no doubt whatsoever, but that you should work on your trust issues. Doubt doesn’t say ‘How can God do that?’ It’s an issue of unbelief.

3. Rediscover
Rediscover delight.

We’re not very good at delighting at the details of life. But to repent is not only to turn from unbelief and turn to trust God, but also to delight in Him. It’s not hard, but it does take effort. And here’s the key: to look at the world through the Gospel.

4. Rekindle
Rekindle faithfulness

(Deuteronomy 8:11-20 ESV)

[11] “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, [12] lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, [13] and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, [14] then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, [15] who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, [16] who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. [17] Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ [18] You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. [19] And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. [20] Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God.

In Deuteronomy 8 Moses warns Israel not to forget God when they go into the land. Realise that God has done it all for them – remember him when you take the land. It can be easy to lose our faithfulness when everything is nice and good in our lives.

5. Recover
Recover our awe

It’s vital to gasp at the greatness of our God.

Paul Tripp says it well in his book ‘Dangerous Calling’:

A human being who is not living in awe of God is a functionally limited human being…when awe of God is absent it is quickly replaced with awe of ourselves.

How do we get back here? Awe happens when we are confronted by greatness. There is only one thing that can produce awe: the Gospel itself.

6. Renew
Renew our hope

Remember there’s more to come, life will be better than this. This is not escapism, it is reality.

In CS Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles there is a character named Puddleglum. He is a picture of a character stripped of hope.

Our world is becoming increasingly cynical making hope harder and harder.

We need to do all of this, BUT we can’t do it all by ourselves. We need God to do it for us in the Gospel. The only real prayer is Gospel driven prayer – we need God to work the Gospel a little bit deeper into our lives. Only then can we repent, delight in God, be in awe of God, gasp at the greatness of God, and be in thanks as we see more and more of Jesus Christ. And this is a prayer that God delights to answer!



Published bySteven

Steven grew up in a nominal Buddhist home, was introduced to Jesus in early university and after lengthy debate and reading came to realise that Jesus made more sense of life, meaning, morality and our ultimate destiny. Graduating from Queensland Theological College in 2011, Steven is a Pastor at his home church, SLE Church, in Brisbane, Queensland. Steven is also husband to Steph, father to Jayden, Janessa, and Eliza, and part time blogger. He also loves a good New Zealand Pinot Noir, Australian craft beer, and coffee. Though preferably not mixed together.