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(085) The Gospel of John 30: Abiding in Prayer

Notes & Transcripts

The Gospel of John XXX:

Abiding in Prayer

John 15:13-17

August 30, 2009

Main Point(s) of sermon:

·         The reason God answers prayers is so that we can partner with Jesus in bearing fruit in order to bring glory to God.

·         The reason God has us partner with Jesus is so that we may be friends of Christ, becoming more like him and being in him as he is in the father.

·         When our prayers are contrary to these purposes (be it wrong request, motive, or timing) they are not answered. When they are in harmony with these purposes, they are answered.

·         Having your prayers answered, then, is a skill to be developed, not a gift that some have and others don’t.

·         Abiding in his words is a primary way we develop that skill, as we better understand his purpose and what will bring him glory.

Objectives of sermon:

·         To help the church better understand the purpose of prayer and hence pray with greater hope and expectation, trusting that he will answer the prayers that will bring him glory and us joy. 

 

Prep:

·         077, 082, 083, 084

·         First pages of leftovers

Scripture reading: John 15:13-17

Intro

Verse 16 “the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” As kids we quickly learn that this verse doesn’t work:

Q   Does this mean I can ask for $1,000,000?

We’ve learned the answer is no. We are told that this only works if it’s something God knows we should have. Even though that’s true, it still feels like a cop-out. Don’t you agree?

Why does God answer some prayers and not others? That is the focus of this sermon. It can be summed up in these points:

·         The reason God answers prayers is so that we can partner with Jesus to bear fruit in order to bring glory to God.

·         The reason God has us partner with Jesus is so we may grow in relationship with him and become more like Christ.

·         When our prayers are contrary to these purposes (be it wrong motives, requests, or timing) they are not answered. When they are in harmony with these purposes, they are answered.

·         Having your prayers answered, then, is a skill to be developed, not a gift that some have and others don’t.

If you get this, then you can ignore the rest of the sermon.

Prayer

I boldly ask that you help us understand and apply this stuff, knowing it is your desire to for us to partner with you.

To the glory of God

Q   Why does God answer prayers?

John 14:12-14   12 ¶ I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 15:7-8   7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. [=partnering]

The reason God answers prayers is so that we partner with Jesus to bring God glory by bearing fruit.

To bear fruit means that we do the things that Jesus did, that we act as Jesus did, and that our attitude be that of Jesus:

·         It means serving as Jesus did (washing feet).

·         It means loving one another and the world.

·         It means being full of the fruit of the Spirit.

When we do these things, people get a glimpse of God’s character, how kind, loving, just, and glorious he is. This is how we bring God glory, by making him more clearly visible.

·         When confronted by that they choose if they want more or less of this glory (next week).  

Asking for what we want

So the entire purpose of answering prayers is to bring God glory, but does that mean can never just ask God for something we want? Not at all! Two reasons:

1)  God delights in giving us good gifts and it is to his glory to do so, as it shows us his character.

God is not a stingy father looking for a reason to say no, he is a generous father who looks for ways to say yes, even giving a gift as simple as a breeze in the summer.

·         The problem comes when we ask for things that will harm us, frequently by distracting us from him.

2)   His glory is what we really want.

When God is glorified it means that his good character is most full seen and felt, and that is what we really want. “When God is most glorified, his people are most happy.”

·         Everything that is good, joyful, and pleasing is in some manner a reflection of God’s glory, even if it’s corrupted.

If I had a $1,000,000...

Think to the things you want, e.g. that $1,000,000. What is behind that desire? Security that comes from God? Happiness that can’t be found in things? Beauty of a good view?

·         God would give these to you without them possessing you.

So the call to pray is a call to eagerly pursue the glory of God, not begrudgingly (“Since I can’t have my million, I guess I’ll settle for God’s glory”), because it’s what we really want.

Q   Isn’t this an anthropocentric (man-centered) perspective?

Q   Shouldn’t we seek God’s glory even if it makes us miserable?

To me that is a nonsense question. If seeking God’s glory were to make us miserable, it would only be because God is not the source of all that is good, but he is so it doesn’t.

·         The problem is not that we pursue God’s glory as our highest joy, it is that we pursue lesser joys and lesser gods.

The test comes when we can’t see how his glory is our highest joy (which happens more often than not). Will we pursue joy as we think we see it, or God’s glory, trusting that it he our joy.

Partnering with Jesus

So God answers our prayers so that we can partner with Jesus to bear fruit and bring glory to God. But why does Jesus want to partner with us?

It certainly isn’t pragmatic – God could do it all better without us, if “it” was to display his glory in all of its mind-shattering brilliance.

·         But “it” (that God wants to do) is draw all humanity to him in relationship, and for that, partnering with Jesus is best.

Friends of Christ

This idea we are friends with Christ is and was revolutionary.

John 15:15   15 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 learned from my Father I have made known to you.

In the OT, only two men were ever called friends of God, Abraham and Moses. But now we are “no longer” servants. This is a fundamental shift from OT to NT.

With the grace that flows from the cross and the internal heart change that comes from the gift of the Holy Spirit, we now can be friends of God, motivated by love, not fear of punishment.

Ancient religions – have we changed?

This wasn’t just revolutionary among the Jews, but also the Gentiles. The ancient religions lived in fear of the gods and of fate. Very few of the gods simply sought the good of people.

·         Rituals sought to appease the gods, and magic sought to control them.

The sad thing is that this is still the perspective that many of us hold regarding prayer. We either beg or plead with God (with or without hope) or trying to make him do what we want.

We try to do the right things to appease God so he will answer. We try praying “enough,” living right, or making deals.

·         “If you do ___, I will do ___” assumes that God doesn’t really want to answer our prayer!

We also act like the ancient magicians, hoping to force God to answer: Fasting, praying the right words, saying “In Jesus name.” This makes prayer about the answer, and not relationship.

Prayer makes us abide

God wants to care for us, and he is capable of doing without us, but he partners with us to deepen relationship, that we will be “in Christ,” that we abide in him more and more.

·         And that is what he and we really want.

·         Prayer is about relationship, and relationship is about enjoying God.

Prayer builds this relationship in several ways:

1. Prayer is spending time with God.

Relationships take time. The closer we get to God, the more we want to be with him. God loves to hear us pray. Proverbs says it is his delight, and Revelation says our prayers are as incense.

·         This is probably why Jesus prayed so often.

And as prayer involves seeking help with what troubles us, it is also pouring out our heart to God.

·         Because of this, God may require us to be “fervent in prayer,” not answering the first time.

2. Prayer allows us to participate

We allow our children to help not because it’s efficient, but to train them and spend time with them.

3. Prayer develops dependency on God

As a branch is dependent upon the vine, so we are completely dependent on Christ, through pray. Prayer removes the illusion that we are in control, it removes self-sufficiency.

\   All of these things (and more) are ways that prayer sends us into deeper relationship and deeper abiding.

It will be given you

To summarize to this point:

·         The reason God answers prayers is so that we can partner with Jesus in bearing fruit in order to bring glory to God.

·         The reason God has us partner with Jesus is so we may grow in relationship with him and become more like Christ.

Now to the next point:

·         When our prayers are contrary to these purposes (be it wrong motives, requests, or timing) they are not answered. When they are in harmony with these purposes, they are answered.

In other words, God WILL answer your prayers, providing give us what we really want – his glory. Again, this isn’t a cop-out. This is actually evidence of God’s love

“What man gives his son a snake if he asks for fish?” But what if the son asks for a snake, a deadly viper for a toy? The problem is we are stupid, and so we ask for a lot of snakes.

·         Actually, we are not stupid so much as corrupted and deceived by the world’s value system.

We ask for power tools and handguns, thing that we will almost certainly hurt ourselves with. Speaking again of the $1,000,000, few of us could really handle it without damaging our soul.

·         Given that so many lotto winners go bankrupt, it may actually be a sign of God’s disfavor!

Hindrances to prayer

The list of reasons our prayers could be counter to God’s purposes (wrong motives, requests, timing) is in order of “controllableness,” how much we can understand it and do something about it.

1. Wrong motives

James 4:3-5   3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.  4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?

Any wrong motives will shipwreck our prayers because God loves us too much to damage our souls. Notice something here:

The specific wrong motive here is desiring the things of the world more than God and his glory. The last verse is powerful, though I think ESV translates it better:

James 4:5 ESV  Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

God is jealous for us, he will not share us with lesser things, nor would it be loving for him to do so, anymore than it would it be loving for a husband to suggest an “open marriage.”

·         If your prayers are not being answered, check if your motives: Are you seeking God’s glory or your way?

This is why Scripture is so clear that God ignores the prayers of the wicked – their motives are completely contrary to God’s glory. If they were to ask for the right reasons, they wouldn’t be wicked anymore.

Searching our motives

How do we know if our motives are right? Our souls are dark and murky, and hard to discern. Here we back to a key principle:

NIV John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

Studying, applying, and internalizing Scripture, in community, allows us to judge motives and attitudes.

NIV Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

2. Wrong requests

Sometimes we are asking for the wrong thing, even when our motivation is genuinely “to the glory of God.”

If that is our desire, then implicit (and perhaps explicit) in our prayers is “if it is your will.” Some people don’t believe we should pray that way, but depends what you mean:

If it means “I don’t think that you’ll answer my prayer, so I am leaving you (and my faith) a loophole,” it’s not Biblical. We should pray boldly, with faith that God is mighty and will act.

If it means “I believe you’re capable and willing, but I’m not sure I am asking for the right things” then it is Biblical, for “the Lord’s prayer” begins that way. It recognizes our limits.

·         Prayer requires boldness and humility.

Boldness is believing God will answer, humility in knowing you may not understand how he will answer it. And our boldness is in that God will answer our genuine prayer (to joyfully pursue God’s glory), even if our words are off.

·         While we can improve our ability to know what to ask (and past “no” help teach us), we still have to trust him.

3. Wrong timing

It may be the right request for the right reason, but the timing may still be wrong. At these times, all we can do is take it as a lesson in trust.

·         There be times that his “no’s” make no sense, we must trust that he is still work.

The skill of answered prayers

Now the final point: Since God will answer prayers given for the right reasons, that ask for the right thing, and are at the right time, it follows that having your prays answered is a skill that may be developed, not a gift only a few have.

·         We have this idea that God likes some of his children more, and that is why their prayers are answered.

The more we align ourselves with God’s will, the more we seek his glory and the better we understand his will, the more assuredly we will see our prayers answered. God wants to answer our prayers; it is only concern for us that prevents him.

How, then, to pray?

1. Remain in His Words

This is where you will be able to test your motives, learn what brings glory to God and hence you should ask for, and build your trust in his timing.

2. Pray for relationship, the joy of spending time with God.

3. Pray expectantly and hopefully

As we understand that prayer is not a crap shoot, rocket science, or a special gift, we can pray more fervently, expectantly, and hopefully.

Q & A

During worship...

·         Ask God to challenge your views on prayer – do you pray seeking the joy of his glory?

·         Ask him to change your motives 1st, then improve your habits.

 

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