Sunday, 25 November 2012

Attitudes of Prayer: Perseverance

Alan's Message notes 
Sunday 25th November 2012
Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told this parable to show that we should always pray and not give up. Prayer is worship, seeking to know God and developing our relationship with him but prayer is also petition.

The Lord’s Prayer asks God for a lot of things; for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, for daily bread, for forgiveness, for protection and deliverance.
The widow in the story asks someone with power to bring about justice for her. When Jesus says we should always pray it seems he is also saying that we should continue to ask God to provide for our needs, to overturn injustice, to provide protection, to guide our lives and help us and others make the right decisions. Jesus says “and do not give up” to his explanation as he also wanted his followers to know that it would often feel very tempting to give up asking God to answer our petitions.

Reasons why we might give up praying.
1. We become complacent
In Bible times, widowhood for a woman often meant destitution and women had few legal rights. In this story the widow was also being unfairly exploited or persecuted by another person. She is desperate that this harassment should stop so goes to court. This was a desperate act as courts in those days were unruly and often a bribe was expected just to get your case heard.
When we or someone we love goes through a crisis we pray desperately but at other times our fervency is often weak. We are less likely to pray fervently if we still think we can manage a situation or if we refuse to recognise that something as serious. If we truly believed our last doctrine about the eternal destination of those who don’t accept Jesus as Saviour, would not our praying for the lost be just a little more passionate? If we really had the compassionate heart of the Saviour would we not our praying for the poor, the victims of abuse and those caught up in war be a bit more frequent?
Oswald Chambers speaking about prayer said that “We pray pious blether, our will is not in it and then we say God does not answer; we never really asked him for anything. Asking means that our wills are in what we ask.”
Mary Elizabeth Isleib wrote this, “When you put the iron down and the heat comes from the iron, the wrinkles come out. It’s a good example of effective fervent prayer. So what is fervency? It is turning the iron on. It’s getting some heat in your prayers
Many prayers we pray shouldn’t be answered because they are so shallow. God often looks for our persistence to help us deepen and develop our convictions and to help us to discover what we really want.

2. We are not sure what is the right thing to ask for
Is it really Ok to ask things for myself? Sometimes we question or own motives, “Am I really praying for people to get saved and join my church because I care about them or is that that I want my church to do better than the one down the road? Should we pray to get for instance, a particular job? How do we know it is the right job?
-It is always right to pray for justice.
The widow and asked ”Grant me justice.” God is a God of justice. It is always right to pray for justice. We cannot always pray that a person escapes the consequences of their actions but we can always pray that someone is treated fairly and honestly.
-It is always right to pray for mercy
The widow had done nothing wrong and because the judge was hard hearted she did not expect kindness. Jesus contrasts God with the mean judge. If someone as corrupt as him will respond to pressure how much more will God respond to those he loves. The next parable is the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector where Jesus highlights God’s willingness to respond to a prayer for mercy.
-It is always right to pray for healing
We might not always see physical healing but that should not stop us because prayer for healing is wider than the physical. God is often healing what we can’t see and complete healing is assured in heaven. One of God’s names is the God who heals.
- It is always right to pray for the lost to get saved.
I Timothy 2:4 tells us that God wants “all men are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”

3. We are disappointed with God
The widow is determined to get justice and didn’t back off at the first refusal. She did not let her disappointment with the judge’s inaction put her off, even though he was known for his hardness.
How much more then should we who have evidence that God is good should keep on praying. “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?”
We often jump to the conclusion that if God does not do as we have asked immediately then he is not good or prayer is a waste of time. Before we do that we should ask if there is a problem on our side. It may be the wrong request, or we may have un-confessed sin in our life.
Yet at times after we have done that and we know the prayer is right and we are in a right place with God still heaven seems unmoved. Jesus says, “I tell you he (that is God) will see that they get justice and quickly.” Yet God often seems very slow in answering our prayers.
In the Greek the word Jesus uses which is sometimes translated quickly could also be translated “suddenly.” And perhaps you have known that experience when your prayers may seem to be unanswered for months, and then BOOM suddenly God gives the answer.
But there will be times when we don’t know why God’s answers seem so delayed or denied.

Rob Parsons of Care for the Family advises that we need to guard against feeding young people with the idea that God always answers prayer instantly or in the way that meets their expectations or they will walk away from church disappointed with God. He also says that when we carry on praying, crying out to God and turning to him in the times when we don’t understand what he is doing, it is then that we show how much faith and love we really have for him. Jesus ends his parable by asking a question, When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
There will be times when we lack passion, when we are confused with what to pray for and when we don’t understand what God is doing. Persistence is always a valuable thing.
The most effective prayers in the Bible are those that were prayed persistently.
In Psalm 55:16-17, David wrote: “I call to God, and the Lord saves me. Evening, morning, and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.”
Hannah desperately wanted a child. For many years she prayed and prayed to have a child. After her prayer was unanswered for years she didn’t say, “Well, it must not be God’s will for me to have a child.” She kept on praying for years, and eventually God gave her a son–Samuel, the mighty prophet.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “Father, take this cup from me–but not my will but yours be done!” again and again until His Father heard Him and gave Him the strength to face the cross.

God bless


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Praying with attitude

It has been requested that sermon notes from Sunday mornings at Exeter Temple be put on line so I thought the best was to return to posting them on my blog. So after a couple of months away, here I am back in blogland.

Praying with attitude:  Boldness
Luke 11:5-8

1. Bold because God has chosen to work through prayerful people

The story has three people; a person in need, his friend and the friend’s neighbour that has the power to help. Jesus intends us to see the friend’s neighbour as representing God. The resources are only made available through the friend making a deliberate request for them to be released.

If God is sovereign won’t he do what he wants anyway? Is there any point in bothering God with requests or seeking his help?
God has chosen to operate, to act in the world through human beings. Psalm 8:6 “You made him (man) ruler over the works of your hands you put everything under his feet.”

God has not given away ownership of the earth. (Ps24:1) but he did assign the responsibility of governing the world to humans. This was an awesome responsibility which mankind gave away to Satan. In Garden of Eden, human beings submitted to his lies and ended up giving their rightful position to God’s enemy. When Jesus was tempted, Satan could point at the world and say, “I will give you this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me and I give it to whom I wish.” (Luke 4:6)

Rather than abandon this way of working, God put in place a redemption plan that included human beings.

Pastor Dutch Sheets says, “So complete and final was God’s decision to do things on earth through human beings that it cost God the incarnation. I can’t think of a more staggering truth. Certainly nothing could give weightier proof of the finality of this “through humans “decision God made. Without question, humans were forever to be God’s link to authority and activity on the earth. Here we have the reason for the necessity of prayer. God chose from the time of creation to work on the earth through humans, not independently of them. Though God is sovereign and all powerful, Scripture clearly tells us that he has limited himself concerning the affairs of earth to working though human beings.”  (Intercessory Prayer How God can use your prayers to move heaven and earth)

God used human prophets to speak through; judges and kings to rule through and God saved the world through becoming a human Messiah.
In Jesus story, action resulted through the friend of the needy person asking his neighbour to move and respond.

St Augustine "Without God, we cannot; but without us, God will not."

John Wesley “God does nothing on earth save in answer to believing prayer,”

James 4:2 “You do not have because you do not ask.”

In His sovereignty God has voluntarily linked Himself to human cooperation. He has bound Himself to the prayers of His children. He merges His working with man’s praying.

2. We come with boldness because we know he can help

Approaching God for help is an act of faith in his ability to meet need.
In the story the friend was unprepared for his late arriving guest who is hungry after a long and exhausting journey. He has no bread himself but he knows where there is some.

Our problem is often that we are not always that convinced God has what we need or that Jesus who reveals him has anything to say to practical problems.
Dallas Willard in his book the Great Omission says, “The idea that Jesus is master of fields such as algebra, economics, business administration or French literature imply does not cross our minds …. In our culture and among Christians as well Jesus Christ is automatically disassociated from brilliance or intellectual capacity. Once you stop to think about it, how could Jesus be what Christians take him to be in other respects and not be the best informed and most intelligent person of all, the smartest person that ever lived. In contrast the early Christians who took the power of God’s life in Christ to all quarters of the earth thought of Jesus as one in “whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge. They thought of him as master of every domain of life.”

3. We can be bold because God is more willing to give than a reluctant neighbour

In the story the friend had to overcome the neighbour’s unwillingness. In the Middle East at that time doors remained wide in the day and anyone and everyone came in and out but if the door was shut it was a definite sign that the householder did not want to be disturbed.

But the friend pushes past politeness and custom, asks anyway and got what he needed.
We must not just assume that Jesus is comparing God to a sleepy, selfish and angry neighbour. Rather he is contrasts the two. If a reluctant neighbour can on the basis of boldness and friendship be persuaded to meet the needs of a friend, how much more will God in heaven want to meet the needs of his children?

3. Being bold in prayer fulfills our calling to serve suffering humanity

Prayer could end up being all about me but this parable shows that it is also about others. The man makes a request on behalf of another who was not in a position to ask for himself. The traveller could not make his own request of the neighbour who had bread because he did not possess the relationship with the neighbour that his friend did.

Intercessory prayer is partly approaching God on behalf of another who is not in the position to approach God that I am in.

The man in the parable says, “I have nothing to set before him." Likewise, in and of ourselves, we have no resources, no answers, no solutions, no power to bring about meaningful change in peoples’ lives. But in the story the resources are released from the neighbour because the travellers friend had the courage and persistence to ask.

In the culture of Jesus’ day the rules of hospitality did not just mean giving the odd meal to a visitor. To come under someone’s roof for a meal was also to come in under their protection. If an enemy sought fight with his guests, the host was obliged stand between them.

When Jesus deliberately got between Satan and humanity the result was a cross. The result of that meeting was not triumph for Satan, but for Christ

In intercessory prayer the Christian enters the battleground between two opposing forces, stands in between, to protect the weak, stand against the evil one and to help our brothers and sisters to fight.

“Intercession is by nature, where an individual positions themselves between two parties – one with a need and one with the answer – and seeks to bring the two parties together.” (Tom Elliff)

There are the elements of provision and protection involved in praying for other and they both fit perfectly with the focus of the Salvation Army. As soldiers we are called to fight, to defend, to stand in the gap. But it is also said of us, “Where there is a need there is the Salvation Army”

This often means coming out of the prayer room to go and cook a meal for the hungry, put an arm around someone who has been bereaved and giving shelter to the homeless but we are also meeting need and taking part in the fight when we pray for others. We are never more Salvation Army than when we are praying for others.

"The greatest thing anyone can do for God and man is pray. It is not the only thing, but it is the chief thing. The great people of earth are the people who pray. I do not mean those who talk about prayer; nor those who say they believe in prayer; nor yet those who can explain about prayer; but I mean those people who take time to pray." - S. D. Gordon

To think about:

1. Whilst prayer is more than petition, it does include it. How comfortable are you asking God for things for yourself?

2. What happens when we don’t pray?

3. Why is it important to pray for others?

4. What stops you praying?

God bless