Seeing Through His Eyes: The Priority of Prayer
ATTN - GAME CHANGER: JACKIE ROBINSON
There was a guy who mattered! There was a man who, regardless of how you might feel about him or baseball, he made a difference when a difference was not easy to make. And, as a result, Jackie Robinson still lives in our memory as a courageous and significant person.
Have you ever mattered like that? Have you ever achieved that kind of significance. Have you ever had an impact on the world like that?
And right away I know that there may be some of us who would say, “Well, uh, no! And I don’t want to. Hey, man, I’m just not that ambitious! That’s not me! I’m content just to drift through life . . . you know, go to work, come home, watch TV, eat the frozen dinner, get through life, keep my house in a bad economy, live till I’m seventy-five, die in my sleep, and then, hopefully, go to heaven where I’ll be just as bored praising God in heaven as I’ve been living for Him here!”
Now, from the practical point of view, that is the extent of most christians’ dream. They’re just surviving. They’re getting through the world, but they’re not having much impact on it. They’re not building the kingdom, they’re often embarrassing the King!
And yet, this hand-top-mouth existence is not what Christ intended. He meant for you to matter.
Which brings me to what we have been talking about over the last few weeks. We’ve been discovering the depth of meaning in the Lord’s prayer. You remember how it all started, right? Jesus’ disciples evidently observe up close and personal His dynamic relationship with His Father and they are intrigued. It wasn’t that they had never prayed before, I’m sure they had. It was that they had never prayed the way Jesus prayed. He could spend hours upon hours doing it, and it was obvious that the Father moved in response to what Jesus prayed because people were being healed and Jesus spoke with a wisdom and power they’d never experienced before. So when they asked Him to teach them how to pray, they really meant it.
And since they are willing to learn, Jesus is willing to teach. He gives them a model of what prayer should look like. That prayer begins with a note of intimacy. He tells them to address their “daddy” in heaven. Having established this powerful, intimate, vital connection, they are then to worship God. They are to hallow His name. I think if they were really getting what Jesus was telling them, they probably begin to get a much different picture of what it really meant to pray.
You remember, He told them to pray by saying, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Then came the phrase that was a “game-changer. Then came the phrase that made them matter. What comes next? Say it with me: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
This is actually the first specific request, and it is somewhat peculiar to our ears. We’re not used to talking about Kingdoms, much less the “Kingdom of God,” but that is what we are told to long for and, indeed, ask for. And just what did Jesus mean when He told them to ask for God’s Kingdom to come? Well, while there were several characteristics of this kingdom found in Jesus’ teaching, the one most vital to understanding this passage is this: The Kingdom of God was not some vague hope for the future that could be passively acknowledged, then ignored. No! It found personal expression in Christ and a response to His demands was required.
And what were those demands? Very simply that His followers make a personal commitment to prefer His Kingdom to any and every other loyalty. Jesus makes it very clear that, to follow Him, He must come first. In a very real sense, then, when I ask God for His Kingdom to come, I am not asking first for cosmic events to align so that some never seen figure emerges, the world is shaken, and empires fall. It isn’t a political thing at all, it is personal. When I pray for His Kingdom to come, I am personally pledging to place His Kingdom ahead of all other things so that His will is done in my life.
And what is His will? What is that thing we are to do as loyal subjects of His kingdom. That really is no mystery. Time and again, we are told what the mission of Kingdom people is. One of the most familiar is found in Matthew 28 where we are told that since all authority is given to the risen King, we are to go around the world and make followers of His out of all nations. His Kingdom exists in and above all other kingdoms. In short, the priority of the Kingdom is the gospel. When we pray for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth, we are praying that the gospel will be spread and that many will follow the King. More than that, we are, through our very own request, committing ourselves to be a part of making that a reality. Thus our prayer for His Kingdom to come is nothing short of our own pledge to prioritize the gospel in our own lives.
The question becomes, How? How do we live out this prayer and prioritize the gospel? For that answer, let’s look at another time when Jesus talked to would-be followers who said that they had Kingdom priorities but really did not. Read Luke 9:57-62 with me:
57 Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” 61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Three encounters are described in these verses. All of them are with people who claimed to have Kingdom priorities but really did not. They give us three barriers which we must overcome to truly be able to pray for His Kingdom to come. In the first place, we can prioritize the gospel when we
DIV: SURRENDER THE EGO
I saw something I had never seen in this passage of scripture when I began studying it for this message. Always before, when I read about this first guy, I thought that Jesus was emphasizing the fact that, if you follow Him, you will probably lose your material possessions. Now, while that may indeed be true, I believe that, if you take the passage in context, there is something else in play here. You see, this little encounter occurs immediately after Jesus has gone to try to evangelize the Samaritans.
That in itself was quite a unique occurrence. As you may recall, Jews had very to do with the Samaritans. The Samaritans were “half-breeds.” They were formerly Jewish people who had intermarried with other nations and were no longer pure. They were despised because, not only had they sacrificed their Jewishness, they had, in a sense, committed treason by intermarrying with the very people who had conquered them. For this reason they were hated by “pure” Jews and they returned the favor.
In that context, read v 51
51 Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. 53 But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” 55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.
Do you get what’s happening here? They’re on their way to Jerusalem, and, on the trip, they have to pass through a Samaritan village. Jesus sends some of his disciples ahead to prepare a place for Him to stay for the night. The Samaritans ask where He’s heading and, when they learn that He is on His way to Jerusalem, they refuse to give Him a place to sleep.
His disciples are indignant! How dare these half-breed traitors refuse to receive the Messiah! James and John ask Jesus, “Hey, Lord, want us to play Elijah and “go off” on these jerks? Jesus says, “No way! I didn’t come to destroy people, but to save them.”
Now, pick up v57 again: Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” In other words, They’ve just been rejected by the very dregs of society and some guy blithely comes up to Jesus and says, “Lord, I’m ready to commit my life to you and follow you anywhere. Jesus says to Him, “Hey man. Do you really know what is required? Not only will you give up everything to follow me, you may even be humiliated by the worst of the worst. are you ready for that? “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head, not even among the Samaritans!” Don’t tell me that you’re ready to follow unless you’ve really surrendered your ego. Ego and evangelism do not mix!
If we are to spread the gospel we have got to let go of ego. In fact, I would even say that to really preach the gospel will require some humiliation. Let me give you some examples. In the first place, making disciples may cost you the PRIDE OF ACCEPTANCE. Listen, I’m just like you. I want to fit in. I want the world to look at me and think favorably of me. I don’t want to be one of those “crazies” who are talking about “religion” when it isn’t a “polite” topic of discussion. But what I am finding more and more is that Christians are losing influence because we do not want to offend. I believe Danny Akin is right: We must get over the awkwardness of the gospel! The only way we will have impact is to speak up and swallow the “pride of acceptance.”
Making disciples may cost use the pride of acceptance and then it may cost us the PRIDE OF RACE. Some believe that the church is the most prejudiced institution on the planet and that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. In the very institution that is to be known for its love, we have often been the unconscious demonstration of hate. We cannot claim to love the world and hate our neighbor. The only way to truly prioritize the gospel is to let go of the pride of race.
And then we can let go the PRIDE OF COUNTRY. Now this one really can get sticky because we all love America. And when I say that we are to let go of the pride of country, I am not saying that we should not love our land, but I am saying that very often our pride in being American and our desire to protect ourselves may raise barriers to sharing the gospel. For instance, if we are really going to reach the Hispanic population, we must refuse to hold their immigration status against them. I am not saying that we need to grant amnesty or anything like that, but I am saying we have to love them from our heart, no matter how they got here. Look! Let the ICE and the INS sort out the legal stuff. Let the Holy Spirit work on their consciences once they come to Christ, but you and I have been given a great opportunity to reach them for His Glory. Let’s not let the pride of country stop us.
If you want to let go of ego and disciple others you must let go of the pride of acceptance, the pride of race and the pride of country, but you must also let go of the PRIDE OF SECURITY. We all want to live the American dream. We want the house, the 30 year job and the opportunity to spend our kids’ inheritance RV’ing our way across the lower forty-eight. But Christ calls us from that. One of the most challenging things I’ve seen lately has been the dedication of a couple in our own church who have already sold their home in preparation to going on the mission field. I’m sure they must have thought long and hard about that. I am sure there may have been moments of doubt. But they discovered what Jesus is teaching in this scripture: When you pray for His Kingdom to come, it will cost you the pride of security. You will have to surrender your ego. But then, if you want to prioritize the gospel, you can
DIV 2: SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY
Now the second person who is encountered by the priority of the gospel is one whom JESUS ACTUALLY CALLS. v59 says:
Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
You know, if I were keeping a book of the BEST EXCUSES for disobedience, this would have to be number one. This guy, when asked by Christ to follow, says, “Great, Lord, I’d be happy to, but I need to go home and bury my Dad.” That excuse is even accentuated when you understand that burial of the dead which, for the Jew, took precedence over all other duties, including even the study of the Law. Priests, who were not normally allowed to even touch dead bodies, could do so in the case of relatives. To assist in burying a dead person who had no claims on one as a relative was a work of love which carried great reward from God. It follows that the burial of a father, then, was one of the most important things you could do. Of all the excuses for not obeying, this seems to have the most merit.
That’s why Jesus’ REPLY is so SHOCKING. He says, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the Kingdom of God.” In other words, Jesus says, “Let those who are spiritually dead and not a part of the Kingdom, bury those who are physically dead. This whole “preaching the Kingdom” thing is far too important to be delayed!” Now before you jump to conclusions, some have suggested that the father of the man making this excuse may not have even been dead yet so that he may have been saying, “Hey Lord, I’ll go, but let me first wait till my father dies, and I have my inheritance in the bank and all these matters are settled, then I’ll go.” Jesus tells him that this job is much too urgent to wait. If He is going to be involved in impacting this world, he must SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY.
Now in the first place, seizing the opportunity is important because of the nature of the opportunity itself. After all, we’re talking about eternity. We’re talking about the difference between heaven and hell. We’re talking about the difference between eternal life and eternal death. It doesn’t get more important than that.
And yet, all of us can make excuses about not dealing with things that really are urgent. Recently, I was riding around with one of our church members making some visits and he noticed that my “Maintenance required” light was lit on my dashboard. He made a comment about it and I said something about getting my oil changed. I had the best of intentions and I know that oil changes really aren’t something you should put off, but it was about a week later he got in the car and said, “When you going to get your oil changed?” I looked down, and there as that light. I had all kinds of excuses about why I hadn’t got it done yet, but the truth is, I just had not seen it as urgent.
I’m not alone. A 2008 Harris survey found that 10% of us are driving around with our “Check engine” light on. I won’t embarrass you this morning, but I bet that, seated right here in this audience, some of you have that light reflecting in your eyes when you get behind the wheel. By the way of that 10 % of you, half of you have problems that are bringing you close to break down and another 10% of you have had that light on for 1-2 months. Now people make all kinds of excuses for letting their light stay on. they range from comments such as “my car is running fine,” to “I can’t afford a repair.” Whatever the excuse, however, the lack of urgency about your little amber “friend” will soon leave you stranded if you don’t change your attitude.
And this same phenomena afflicts us spiritually. In fact, Satan makes sure that some other endeavor replaces the urgency that should be reserved for the gospel. If we do not have a strategy for “keeping the main thing the main thing,” we’ll go through this life never living out Kingdom priorities. We may drone out the phrase “Your Kingdom Come,” but it will lose its teeth because it sacrifices its urgency.
If that is the case, how can we keep the gospel urgent in our lives. When it comes to our personal lives, how can we place a priority on evangelism. In the first place, we can HAVE A REASON.
We must change the way we view the gospel. In the church it has tended to be one of our many priorities. This will never do! If the preaching of the gospel defines the priority of God’s Kingdom, it must be much more than a part of an ecclesiastical “laundry list.” The reason we must have is the awareness that God has prioritized the Gospel. I know that for many reasons, but one of the greatest is that, to reach us in our lostness, God sent His Son to die. I know that because only when we receive Him can we be saved. I know that because only when someone hears the truth about Jesus can they fully receive Him. The great reason that I personally must preach the gospel is because no one is saved until someone like me and someone like you actually preaches the gospel to them. That’s my reason!
And I can also HAVE A TARGET. Many people would agree with everything I just said in theory. They really do think that salvation through Christ is the only way to heaven. They might even agree that only through preaching the gospel can others be saved and they might even agree that they are personally responsible, but they still may not ever have even shared their faith. How is this possible? It’s because they’ve never begun to take these abstract truths of the faith and applied them to the people in their lives. They’ve never really seen their lost neighbor in hell; they’ve never really envisioned their lost brother or sister eternally lost. And they’ve never begun to pray and act specifically to begin to share the Lord with any of those people. In short, they have no target for their preaching and if you shoot for nothing you’ll hit it every time! You see, if you are to seize the opportunity, you must zero in on those people in your life that God has placed there to be reached. So who is that person in your life? Who is the friend or the family member God has
And then, if you’re going to go from someone who dreams about evangelism to someone who does evangelism, not only must you have the reason and have a target, you must HAVE A SCHEDULE. This is so important! You know that you only do consistently the things that you schedule. I can preach the best evangelism sermon, and, if God really used it, you might walk out of here determined to really start. But if you don’t put it on the schedule, you WILL NOT do it. I have found this over and over again. I believe in evangelism, but I don’t do it if I do not schedule it. I must set aside time to go over and talk to my neighbor; I must set aside time to go to Prison Ministry; I must set aside time to disciple someone else. Write this down and never forget it: UNSCHEDULED=UNIMPORTANT!
And this urgency must exceed my personal drive and be reflected in this church body. Now there’s a lot I could talk about here, but I want to mention one thing particularly. The only way for us to be urgent about the gospel is for us to BE FLEXIBLE. I know when I mention that, you might, at first, think it’s almost a contradiction. How can be focused and flexible at the same time. Well, we must be focused on the gospel and glorifying God through spreading the truth about Christ. At the same time, we must be flexible in how we go about spreading the gospel. This is why we’re trying so many things out around here! We’ve begun to seriously consider what we’re going to do with that new space that we’re building. We don’t want a building that sits around empty all week. We want to leverage that resource for the glory of God and the gospel. Yes, I’ve heard all the horror stories about what can go wrong in Mothers Day Out or After-school care or Daycare. But if we let horror stories stop us, we’ll never do anything for the Lord. We must understand the urgency of the gospel and we must be willing to be unconventional in order to be able to share the gospel. That’s the way we’ve been since I came here 18 years ago and I hope we never lose that. We must keep the gospel urgent. If we’re going to be a Kingdom Church, we have to seize our opportunities.
You see, when you pray for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done, you’re putting yourself on the line, in a way. You’re not just saying, “God make all this happen while I sit down and watch.” No, you’re placing yourself at His disposal. You’re saying, “O God, use me to bring your Kingdom by using me to preach your gospel.” And you are saying, “Lord, I will wprioritize the gospel in my own life by surrendering my ego and seizing my opportunities.” And there’s one more way in which you can prioritize the gospel in your life: You can
DIV 3: SETTLE THE QUESTION
This last candidate for discipleship is pretty up front about his lack of commitment. He begins with the old “but” sandwich. I will do this, BUT. In v 61 he says, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” Ok, this doesn’t rise to the level of burying your father at all. It’s just a convenience. I’ll be your disciple, but on my own terms, Lord. It will be all voluntary. I’ll go with you till you get to the hard stuff, then seeeee ya! This is what I’ve experienced in the church so often as a pastor and as a pastor’s kid. Church was always the leftover. You know, I’ll be there if there’s no soccer game that night; I’ll be there if Johnny doesn’t have a band concert; I’ll be there if my second niece’s step-sister’s friend doesn’t come in from Lucama or something important like that!”
Notice Jesus’ answer: “But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” In other words, Jesus says, “It’s time for a once-for-all decision. This Christian life is not a short-term mission trip. You can’t dip in for a month or so and see if you really like or not. You can’t make “but sandwiches” out of your commitment to God. Other priorities must be released.
I recently began a refinancing of my home. Interest rates had fallen and I was trying to lower my interest rate and pay things off earlier. A couple of weeks ago, as I was facing the deadline, they called me and said I had to clear something up before they’d give me the loan. It seems that I had an equity line of credit on my home. Now, I didn’t have anything on it and there was nothing that I owed on my home but the original mortgage remaining, but they refused to finance things the way they were. I even asked them, “Hey, if I don’t have anything on this loan, why are you making me close this line of credit. The amount on the credit line doesn’t come close to the amount of equity that I have in the home.”
Know what they told me? They said, “Sir, we refuse to be in second position. If you default on this loan, we insist on being the first creditor to get paid off and, we know that your current banker will say the same thing, so if you want a loan from us, you’ve got to put us first.”
You know what? Jesus insists on being in “first position.” This is why He often asks us to close off other priorities in our lives that, in themselves, might not be wrong. He tells us to shut them down because they will put Him in second position. If you have Kingdom priorities, He and His message, always comes first!
So what are the things in your life that tend to put the Lord in “second position?” Is it relationships? Are you the parent of a child who comes first? A grandchild? No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of God. Are you engaged to a man or a woman or even married to a spouse who comes first? No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of God.
Teenagers, are you connected to friends at school who come first? I know you might say they don’t, but you know, in your heart of hearts, that they do because you’ll do anything, say anything and give up your integrity in anything in order to fit in with them. No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of God.
It may be your career. You know that God wants you to have integrity on your job, but your boss is insisting on shady dealing. Who comes first? No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of God. It could be that God wants you to change careers, or accept the career that He’s leading you to, but you think your future will be much brighter if you do something else. No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of God.
It may be your money. Everything else in your life is on target, but not your giving. You know God wants you to tithe. You know that those dollars you are spending belong to God, but you refuse to surrender your control. Your affluence is competing for your allegiance and you think you can just compromise on the money thing. No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of God.
When I pray for His Kingdom to come, I am saying that I am willing to settle the question of my own loyalty. I follow Him and I don’t look back.
That’s what William Borden did. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, or perhaps you might say a golden calf in his back yard. He was heir to the Borden dairy estate and, because of this, was a millionaire by the age of 21. As you can imagine, he went to Yale for his education.
But William was not your average spoiled brat of a millionaire. While at Yale he started a movement to reach out to the students. After the first year 150 attended. By his senior year 1000 of the 1300 students attended. In his sophmore year they divided up the class of 300 among the believers and individually went after them. Whenever a difficult prospect’s name was mentioned, an ominous silence would rise in the room. At last Bill’s voice would be heard: “Assign that one to me,” he’d say.
As a follower of Christ, he heard and answered the call to missions. He further renounced his fortune and gave nearly all of it away to missions. As a missionary, his heart's desire was to take the gospel to Muslims in China. He. As he was traveling to China to begin his ministry, William stopped in Egypt to study Arabic, but four months later he contracted spinal meningitis and died at the age of 25.
After his death, Borden's Bible was found and given to his parents. In it they found in one place the words "No Reserve" and a date placing the note shortly after he renounced his fortune and given it to missions. At a later point, he had written "No Retreat.” That statement was dated shortly after his father told him that, if he left, he would never let him work in the company ever again. Shortly before he died in Egypt, he added the phrase "No Regrets."
We hear his story and are moved by it. But at the same time, if you’re like me, you feel a sense of
unworthiness. I also feel almost as if it is unreal. Do you? I think the problem is that we are so captured in our world the way it is that we often fail to see that the Kingdom is being built! There are eternal stakes involved in every encounter. When I pray, “Thy Kingdom Come,” I am saying to God that I realize what’s at stake and that I want to be a part of His great Kingdom on this earth. More than that I am saying that I want to be a part of it so much that I am willing to prioritize it. I will surrender my ego; I will seize my opportunity; I will settle the question.