Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 37: Desperate Prayers
2 Chronicles 20:1-25; Matthew 9:35-38
November 7, 2010
· 133, Mem. Class notes
· Lanphier in Leftovers and CT
· Kelby e-mail
Scripture reading: James 4:2b-6 (Genea)
Drinks for Drinks announcement: Working hard to reach out
Hitting some heavy stuff – hope you are ready to be bruised, just as God has been bruising me!
Recap: vision 2011
I think last week’s sermon was very exciting for a lot of us – looking at the future and seeing what God has called us to: Double the size of this church in 2011. This goal is the biggest thing The Gathering has ever attempted.
I said this is not about numbers, but about the fact that there are people in Skagit Valley you can reach better than anyone.
· And this will be healthy growth, “making disciples” as well as “going.”
We have never done anything like this, but Elders and I are convinced that 2011 is the year that we can finally focus “engaging culture,” on reaching those outside our walls.
The necessity of prayer
But if you are not used to church, this whole thing may seem silly, too reminiscent of grade school – Ooh, do we get a pizza party if we make our goal? Where’s the thermometer?
Even if you’re used to church and jaded by all the campaigns, you may think, “Yeah, that’s cute. I bet you’ll be happy if we just get 25% more people this year. Okay, let’s all pretend to get excited, but we know this is unrealistic.”
And you are right, not about the happy with 25% part, but the unrealistic part. I would actually say it is impossible. How often do hear of a church doubling its size and its health in one year?
· Unless of course you have some super-star preacher, and I ain’t that (even then you might not have healthy growth).
But that, my friends is the point. I am convinced that God gave us a goal that we cannot reach on our own. He gave us a goal that can only be reached by partnering with him.
Q How do we partner with God? (Hint: Look at the screen.)
Not a praying church (yet)
But there is a big problem here: We are not a praying church. I don’t mean that we don’t pray, and I know that some of us are real “prayer warriors.” But as a church, we are not dependent upon God through prayer.
You know that I love you, and I am not trying to beat up on you, but let’s face the facts:
Q Show of hands: How many do not feel that prayer is a central, vital part of your daily life? That it is very difficult to have a deep, intimate prayer life?
I am raising my hand – I am committed to my church, I read the Bible, confess my sins to my brothers, show hospitality, but my prayer life just isn’t what I want it to be.
From community groups, I know that committing ourselves to “engaging culture” is intimidating. You are worried about how we are going to do this, how are we going to find the time, etc.
· All the “how’s” will be answered later, and I’m convinced once we are doing what we are supposed to do it will be a delight.
But the logistics really are least of our concerns. Our greatest obstacle won’t be being too comfortable in our community. Or fear of talking to others about Jesus. Or not knowing enough to share the Gospel.
· Our greatest obstacle will be that we are not a praying church, at least not yet.
If we are praying, all those other things won’t be a problem.
Why don’t we pray?
So why don’t we pray?
Q How many of you basically know how to pray? (Talk to God; it’s not that complicated.)
Q How many of you know prayer is really important?
It isn’t an information problem, it an American problem:
You go to churches in other countries, they’ll pray for hours on end. There first response to a problem isn’t “Let’s call a doctor,” it’s let’s pray.
· Story: Honduras – food poisoning.
Prayer is more common in poorer nations. Praying for your daily bread takes on a whole new meaning if you don’t have any bread in the fridge (or you don’t even have a fridge).
· And with some of the food I have eaten, asking God to bless the meal take on a whole new meaning.
Between last week and this, I’m probably starting to sound really anti-American. “Love it or leave it. Go to Canada, eh?”
First of all, they are just as screwed up, just in different ways. Every country has its strengths and weaknesses.
· It’s like Cecil said about marriage, you choose your pile of garbage.
I love America, it is my country, and it is a good one, but it so shapes our world view that we are incapable of understanding how unbiblical it is at points.
Fat, fat Jehoshaphat
In our Inscription reading, we have just finished off 1st Chronicles, and we start 2nd next.
· Chronicles retells the story of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, but not as a historical account, rather as a moral lesson.
It can be boiled down to this one statement:
NIV 2 Chronicles 15:2 The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.
· This is both a promise and a warning.
There are many stories of both seeking and forsaking. But the one about Jehoshaphat (David’s great x 4 grandson) has a special place in my heart: Years ago, when I was too old to be in church plays, I was guilted into being in a church play.
NIV 2 Chronicles 20:1-6, 12-13 ¶ After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to make war on Jehoshaphat. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea. It is already in Hazazon Tamar” (that is, En Gedi) [about 20-30 miles]. 3 Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. 4 The people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD; indeed, they came from every town in Judah to seek him. 5 ¶ Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the LORD in the front of the new courtyard 6 and said: “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.... 12 O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” 13 ¶ All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the LORD.
They are serious about prayer, “from every town,” “men, women, children, and babies.” No big prayer campaign. No sermon series on prayer, no acronyms to remind them how to pray.
Q What gave them the motivation to pray? They were about to be wiped out!
They were absolutely and completely dependent on God. Without him his they were “S.O.L” (you know, “Simply Out of Luck”). Prayer was first, last, and only option.
If we don’t reach our goal, we will be disappointed, I will be embarrassed, but we’ll continue to live out our lives. The Vikings from Bellingham aren’t going to come and sack MV!
· But if God didn’t come through for them, they would be wiped out, off the map, by-by, gone.
Why don’t we pray like this? It’s not an information problem it is a dependency problem – we don’t genuinely believe that we are in desperate need of God’s help.
· In theory we believe that God gives us our very breath, but in practice, we are pretty sure we do the breathing.
Every once in a while, tragedy strips away the illusion we are in control and show us just how dependent we are. Back at my previous church, some friends of mine had their 18 month-old daughter diagnosed with cancer.
· The entire church was praying for them, but no one more than her parents.
Q When was the last time you felt that sort of dependence?
· Was it when your child was sick?
· When you lost your job?
· When your marriage was in trouble and you had no idea how to fix it?
Do you remember how you prayed then? That’s how we’re meant to pray all the time, “pray without ceasing,” a continual outpouring of desperate prayers, begging God to show up.
· But then we go back to thinking we are in control and only praying for meals and at bedtime (if that much).
In order to people of prayer and a praying church, we need to live continually aware of our utter dependency.
Q Sound good, but how do we stay dependent on God?
There’s the hard way and the easy way:
1. The Hard Way
Keep going through tragedy and having your life clearly out of control, and after endless cycles, finally start to get it (BTW: I am NOT saying that if you have been hit by a lot of tragedy, it’s because God is teaching you a lesson).
· This is how our brothers and sisters in persecuted nations have learned it, but I would prefer the easy way.
2. The Easy Way
The easy way is develop a Gospel perspective. Wait, I thought the Gospel meant “For God so loved world...” and getting saved, what does that have to do with me now?
· Everything – the Gospel is not simply escaping hell, life-perspective that we can’t do it and desperately need God.
Here is how it works: Think of the last time you felt like a failures. Maybe it was as a spouse, as a parent, as an employee, a person. Look hard into the mirror and see all your flaws.
· When you do that, there are two typical responses: I am worthless or they are not that bad.
The Gospel perspective is “Yes, they are that bad, but no you are not worthless. God loved you enough to die for you.” Do you think that he is going to leave you there? How much more will he help you become everything he wants you to be?
The Gospel perspective is remembering that we continually fall short of the glory of God, and he continually forgives and loves us, and helps us grow.
· And this reinforces our dependency on God.
In other words, we can use our daily failures to send us back to God in prayer to receive his grace.
Preaching has turned me into a Pray-er
Any growth I have experienced in becoming a man of prayer has come from this. We have had the occasional hardships that have made us dependent on God, but stop praying when things improved.
· Trying times in marriage.
· Raising a teenager.
· Taking a large salary cut.
But each time I stop praying prayers of desperate dependency when things got better.
Q Do you know what has been the most effective tool for making prayer a part of my life?
Preaching. Each week I struggle to determine what God wants me to say to you. Some weeks are easier than others. Then I meet with Cecil because he is great at helping me see it from your perspective, “It’s true, but who cares?”
· After that meeting, I am desperately praying that I just don’t get fired on Sunday.
But even that is not what really drives me to prayer: I stand up here and preach my heart out, opening the Scriptures, showing you what God requires, week after week.
But I know that you will probably forget what I’ve said by this afternoon. I know that I can’t make you become a person of prayer, and that I can’t make us a praying church.
And that sends me to my knees – Holy Spirit, do what I cannot, grab the hearts of your children that you desperately love. You want them to know the joy of relying on you. You want to use this church to reach many others. Move their hearts.
· It’s not that you’re bad, you’re lazy, and I am lazy – look what it’s taken to get me praying!
Hey, don’t get mad. I still love you. There is no place I would rather be each Sunday then here with you.
· Unless you are a far better person than I am, you have plenty of failures, plenty of needs that can drive you back to God.
To finish up Jehoshaphat’s story: It has a happy ending. God answers their prayers. He says it’s my battle, and he gets the bad guys to turn on each other.
They did their part: Praying, showing up, and reaping the benefits. Then God did his part – everything else.
get ‘er done?
There is a second reason prayer is hard for us as Americans. Let’s look at a story in the NT with a situation more comparable to ours (we are trying to win souls, not kill them).
NIV Matthew 9:35 ¶ Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
The workers are few, so what should they do? Get your butts out there? Find more disciples and get them out there? Create a mission board?
38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Pray? That’s it? Aren’t we going to do anything? You see all the crowds out there, and you want to tie up the few workers you have by having us pray?
We don’t like prayer because if feels like we are not doing anything. That’s what we mean when we say “I’ll pray for you,” right, that we aren’t actually going to do anything?
We want to do. Prayer does not feel like doing. When we see a need, we want to take care of it, especially as guys.
· Women want to talk about their problem, guys want to fix it – perhaps that’s why women frequently are better at praying.
As American we want to take care of things, get them done, “What’s the fastest way to enlightenment.”
Q But doesn’t the Bible say “The Lord helps him who helps himself.”?
No! That’s nowhere in the Bible. Do you know who said that? Benjamin Franklin, an American.
God doesn’t “helps him who helps himself.” God helps those who confess their utter dependency upon him and resolve to do whatever God tells them to do.
Prayer is action
Here is the mindset we need to adopt: Prayer doesn’t replace action, it is the first action and it makes the following actions possible.
Let’s say you are in a really big hurry to get to work, but the car is empty. If you see a gas station, you won’t say “I don’t’ have enough time to get gas,” you don’t have enough time not to!
· If you begin with prayer, you are filling on the resources that you need to get the job done.
We usually miss what happens next (because it is in the next chapter). In the next verse he sends the apostles out:
Matthew 10:1 He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
First Jesus tells them to pray, and assumably they do, then Jesus sends them out.
Q Why did Jesus tell us to pray first?
It’s not that inform God that there’s a need. And it’s not that he doesn’t care and we to twist his arm. Jesus knows we are not equal to the task (that’s the dependency thing) and he wants us to “fill up” before we get started.
· Now they able to go out with God’s authority – without that they couldn’t cast out demons or heal.
God wants us to connect with him so that we have the resources we need to do the job.
· You are going to talk to people who have hardened their hearts, and you can’t soften them.
· You don’t have the time or ability to make connections with non-Christians, he has to create them.
· You can’t make yourself be at the right place at the right time, he has to get you there.
But you have to ask:
James 4:2 NIV You do not have, because you do not ask God.
Illustration: Conversation with Rochelle: 1) Doctors need prayer because life and death, 2) I need prayer because preaching, 3) you need prayer because hold keys to Heaven and Hell.
Now here is the cool thing – if we develop this dependency, if we start relying on his resources, we can finally put our Americanism to work for us in a godly way – we love excellent, we love big. “Go big or go home.”
· “Bigger is better” is the American way: Our cars are bigger, our homes are bigger, and our waists are bigger.
That being the case, how much bigger can you are on God’s team?
Stated another way: If this church is satisfied with what we can pull off on our own, we don’t need to pray. But if we want the impossible, say, doubling a church in one year and staying healthy, we need to pray.
So we could do this one of two ways: We can spend a year focusing on becoming a praying church, then “engaging culture.”
Or we can up stakes and learn to become a church that prays out of the sheer desperation of needing his help.
· We are choosing the “learning to swim in the deep end of the pool” method.
This is a yearlong process, and we all have a long way to go. We will take it on step by step. Don’t get overwhelmed. This is what I am asking you to do for now:
1. Come to the membership class today – we will talk more about our vision for 2011.
2. Commit to pray for the church at least once a week – trying doing it at your meal times and include your family (join Facebook group).
3. Every Monday, some of us meet for prayer from 12:30 to 1:30 in the sanctuary. I would really love to have you there.
Prayer precedes revival
I want to close on this story: The 1850’s were very much like today. At the beginning of the decade there was great prosperity and many people forgot about God. But like our prosperity, it was built on speculation and unsustainable investments.
In October of 1857, it all came crashing down, and thousands lost their jobs. In that environment, a man names Jeremiah Lanphier, driven by the desperate situation, felt called to start a one hour prayer meeting in New York City.
The meetings would be simple: They started on time, and ended on time. People could come for five minutes or the entire hour. People would take turns praying, and no one prayed for too long.
He advertized it across the city, and at the first meeting 6 people showed up. The next week, 40. And within 6 months 10,000 were attending meetings throughout the city, all spring from that one.
And from this prayer movement, a great spiritual awakening occurred, bring millions to Christ. It got so big that the local papers started publishing the tallies.
I am always suspicious of those claiming that a great revival is around the corner. I have been hearing that for 25 years. I don’t know what’s ahead for this nation, or for this city.
· But I know what God has called this church to and I know that it can only start with prayer.
Q & A
Call to Worship: Giving
Main Point(s) of sermon:
· Prayer is essential to our vision for 2011
· Prayer demonstrates dependence
· Prayer is partnership with God
Objectives of sermon:
· Inspire us to strenuously seek God for his best.