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Rom 8 sermon

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The Privilege of Prayer

What has God said to you this week?  Have you heard Him?  Has he answered your prayers?  Have you heard the answer?

 

How often do we rush through a two or five-minute prayer TO God each day or less, and then wonder why we don’t get what we want?  We then go off pouting that God doesn’t care, or maybe he’s busy, or some other foolish thing.  When in reality, we show we don’t know how to pray, because we don’t know how to listen.  Very few people in our culture today really listen to each other.  Instead, we half-listen, looking for an opportunity to say what’s on our mind – our opinion – or our need.  And when the conversation has ended, we have no idea what the other person is talking about!  And we then wonder why God seems to not be answering our prayer.  God created us with two ears, but only one mouth.  We should take this to heart and listen twice as much as we talk.

 

There once was a man who was trapped in his house during a flood.  He continually prayed to God to deliver him.

As the waters rose, a man in a canoe came by and offered to take him to safety.  He replied that he was going to be okay and that God was going to deliver him.  So the man went on his way.

Soon after another man in a motor-boat came along with several people in his boat that he had rescued and offered the man a ride to safety.  Again the man replied that he was going to be delivered by God.

The water continued to rise, forcing the man had to climb up onto the roof of his house to avoid the water.  A helicopter came along and stopped overhead and the pilot told the man the rushing waters were about to get a whole lot worse and that if he would climb up the ladder and he would fly him to dry land.  Again he responded that he was going to be okay and that God would deliver him.

The flood waters rose and eventually the swift current swept him away and he drowned.  Upon arriving in heaven, the first thing he asked God was why, after all of his prayers for deliverance, had God not delivered him from the rushing waters.

God replied,  “Oh, but I tried.  I sent you the canoe, the motor-boat and the helicopter.”

The man had not heard what God was trying to tell him.

Often we pray and seem to receive no response, but in reality God is always speaking to us.

Yet due to our refusal to calm down and listen, we can’t hear what he says. Sometimes we don’t pray because we don’t know how to.  OR we try to pray, but all that comes out is a litany of things we want or think we need – most of which are not in line with the will of God for our lives.

The Apostle James writes about this in James 4:2-3,

“You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. “

I did this early on in my walk with the Lord after  God brought me out of my rebellion.  I would spend time praying and mostly it was about 20 to 25 minutes of telling God stuff, and then maybe listening for a minute.  God didn’t say much to me back then.  Or so I thought.

 

So what does God expect?  How can we break through in our difficulties and struggles?  How can we be assured of His care for us if it doesn’t seem like we are able to tap into the divine?

David, the Psalmist tells us

“The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous

and his ears are attentive to their cry” or prayer as Peter restates it in 1 Peter 3:12.

St. Paul knew well the struggles that we have in our prayer life and walk with the Lord.  He writes to the churches as one who has been in the desert; struggling with God, struggling to hear God.  He had been through the trials and at the end of it all, he could say he had fought the good fight in the upward calling of God.  Why? He learned how to listen to God.

 

Remember, Paul, who before he started his ministry, was struck by God with sudden blindness. For three days he fasted and prayed alone until God sent someone to his aid, someone who knew who Paul was and that he could have him executed for being a believer.  Can you imagine trying to connect to the God of the universe after he blinds you and let’s you sit for three days in that blindness?  Especially if you were a good Pharisee that kept the Law of God?

 

How many times have we gone about our life thinking because we are a good person, and because we go to church, or help someone in need that God will always take care of us – regardless of how much we pray?  While this is partly true, God in his wisdom many times let’s things occur in our lives that we don’t quite see as “caring” for us at the time. But he allows these things so that we will turn to him and seek him in prayer and so that he can change our hearts.. 

 

If we really want to hear God, prayer should be more listening than talking.  We need to center ourselves…quiet our minds so that we can concentrate on God and hearing His voice.  We need to eliminate the clutter, find a quiet place, turn off the TV or Radio so that it can’t interfere with the signal we want to establish with God. All the clutter that prevents us from hearing God is like putting the microphone that father Matt wears too close to the speakers here and all we get is a lot of feedback and we can’t hear what he is saying.  It is the same thing with prayer - when we allow all the other distractions to interfere with our prayer time, we can’t get the signal clear. 

 

In the old days of TV antennas, if someone had a HAM radio close by, often times it would distort the picture and sound and we couldn’t watch TV until the interfering signal stopped.  It’s the same with prayer.  Only when we get quieted down and listen can we hear the voice of God speaking to us.  He is always speaking to us – into our lives, we just don’t stop long enough to listen hear Him. 

Martin Luther declared, “ I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.”

In addition to listening, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us while He works to  train our thoughts to the thoughts of God.  It is important to realize that we have one primary purpose on earth – to allow God to reshape us and to conform us to the likeness of His Son, Jesus.  This is where the Holy Spirit steps in to intercede for us, since we do not know how to pray God’s will.  Constantly He works in us as He intercedes for us, molding and shaping our will toward that of God our Father.  As we listen and quiet ourselves, we begin to hear the small voice of the Holy Spirit’s promptings in certain areas of our life and we learn the direction God wants us to go.  This takes time to learn how to do, but scripture is clear that we are to work to that end. 

 

The importance of our need to pray cannot be stressed enough.  In the seminary course I am currently taking, prayer is the central element in the disciplines of the faith.  In the seminary book I am reading right now, BEGINNING SPIRITUAL DIRECTION by David Rosage, he notes that “Our prayer helps us acknowledge our own poverty of spirit and our dire need for God’s guidance.  It also generates within us a hunger and desire that His preferences be fulfilled in us.”

We need to pray because we are in dire need of God’s guidance – especially today as we navigate the conflicting claims to true Christian faith. 

 

Jesus teaches us to pray with the Lord’s prayer.  Throughout the Gospels he instructs on all kinds of prayer.  He himself is the model of getting to a quiet place to be with His Father on a regular basis, and I would bet he did it a whole lot more than is recorded in scripture. 


In Matthew chapter 6, vs.5  he says:

"And when you pray , do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”

Notice that he says “WHEN” you pray, not if you pray.  It is assumed that the command to pray regularly to God will be the cornerstone of every Christian’s walk of faith.

In Matt 6:6-8

“But when you pray , go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray , do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

In Luke 6:28 He says:

“bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. “

He taught us to get away and pray. 

In Matt 14:23, Mark 6:46, Luke 6:12 and Luke 9:28 it says he went away to a mountainside to pray.

 He often left the others to find a solitary place where he could be with His Father.


He prayed all night on at least one occasion.  In Luke 6:12 it says,

“Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray , and spent the night praying to God.”

He taught us to be persistent in our prayers.  In Luke 18:1-5 he told the parable of the widow and the judge.

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"

In Acts we are told that the disciples were consistently at prayer.

Acts 1:14

“They all joined together constantly in prayer , along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

Acts 2:42

“They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer . “


Acts 3:1

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer — at three in the afternoon. “

Prayer was so important to the Apostles that in Acts 6:3-4 we read:

“Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

The apostles needed to add the office of deacon to their ministry so that they could give all their attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word instead of taking the time to set the tables and taking care of the widows and orphans. 

 

Note also that prayer came before ministry.   In Mark 9 after the disciples had returned from an attempt to drive out a demon from a little child and could not, in verse 28 & 29 we read that:

“After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"

He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer ." 

Again in Acts 28:7-8 after Paul was shipwrecked during his last journey to Rome:

“There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably.  His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.”

Prayer comes before ministry.  We need to pray to know God’s mind in order to do ministry.

 

Paul tells us many times to pray – and to do so fervently and faithfully.

In Romans 12:12

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer .”

In Philippians 4:6

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

In  Colossians 4:2

“Devote yourselves to prayer , being watchful and thankful.”

Again in 1 Thessalonians  5:16-18

“Be joyful always;  pray continually;  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. “

and again in 1 Timothy 2:8

“I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing”


James, in chapter 5 verses 15 and 16 tells us that prayer is effectual.

“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. “

Prayer is healing and revealing.

In 1 John 5:16 we are told:

“If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.”

God will give him life!

John Wesley said, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.”  AND he backed this up by spending two hours a day in prayer.

But if we do not pray, or pray only occasionally, how can we hear God, and more than that, how can we acquire the mind of Christ and thereby know WHAT to pray for?

One thing that prayer will do is to reveal how God works in us, how he changes our mind and our heart and it’s desires. 

 

Story about praying for Dn John.

Patty’s Story about praying for her boss.

In verse 28 of Romans 8 we here the well-known but often misinterpreted words of comfort to those called by God : “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Note here that it says “in all things…” not “in all good things”. Somehow some folks get it in their mind that God works in all good things for them.  A prime example is the Prosperity Gospel some TV evangelists have preached.  Their basic premise is that God wants you to be rich, healthy and wealthy, and the scripture says so.  Although this is not the primary passage they use, it is definitely used that way. 

What Paul is trying to say is that whatever occurs in your life, God is actively working it to your good in order that you may become like His Son.  As our father he certainly wants to shower us with good things as well, though we may not see them as what we want.  This is why it is so important to be tapped into the divine channel of God through prayer.  As we connect with God in our prayer time, we begin to see things as he sees them; to desire the things he desires; and to work toward the things He wants done.  But many time we don’t receive because #1 – we don’t know how God thinks, #2 we don’t know what to ask for, and #3 we don’t yet know how to listen.

Prayer for work

Prayer for Patty & Stephen’s safety in his birth.


Consider Joseph.  He was richly blessed by his father and gifted by God with visions.  Yet he was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt.  They had actually wanted to kill him until his brother Reuben came up with a plan to rescue him.  Though he suffered through slavery and ordeal’s in Egypt, God was with him and set the stage for the rescue of Israel from famine that was to come, while at the same time making Joseph very rich and second only to the Pharoah.  This is only one of the many stories in scripture where God turned what appeared to be disaster (from a human perspective) into good for His glory.

 

It is the same for us today.  It is similar in many instances for the life of the believer -  one who is called of God to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.

 

Every situation, be it in relationships, job, money, conversation, trials, errors, triumphs – are all set into motion by God for our good and for His purpose.

Consider the next verses in the reading today starting from verse 29:

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. “

We are called because God chose to call us, not because we decided to do anything.  He loved us first -then called us.  2 Corinthians 5:19 says:  “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.”

He also predestined us – not in the pre-destination view that certain folks are created to be Christian and certain are not – but He purposed before he called us to predestine us to be conformed - made into the likeness of His Son, Jesus.  Therefore we can have a solid confidence in the fact that those who love God, who are called according to His purpose, can boldly enter into prayer with God expecting God’s results.  The whole purpose in our praying is to become like Christ – to learn the mind of the father and to do the things he wants us to do….to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus.

I want to close with the encouragement I have received in reading of the great men of the faith in my current coursework.  They did not start out as giants of prayer.  They started out with the same struggles we all have in prayer: the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. (Disciples in the garden of Gethsemene)  But when we press through the fleshly desires to be distracted and to do other things and instead start spending time with God, praying and listening, we are changed.  Gradually our thoughts align with those of God.  Not perfectly, but they begin to get into sync with the desires of God’s heart.  Are we going to stumble along the way?  Of course.  But if we press steadily ahead, we begin to learn the ways of God and our desires become more in line with his and things will start to happen. 


How can we not take advantage of such a great gift?  God has chosen us – you and me – to converse with!  We can have confidence in the fact the God who created all things – who set the planets in motion; set time on it’s course; made the oceans roar….is on our side – no… more than that - He has called us with a purpose!  He wants more than anything else to make us into the likeness of his son and to have a relationship with us!  What greater gift is there?  He sent his son to die for us to have that kind of close relationship!

We can now pray fervently and faithfully in confidence and cry out with St. Paul in vs. 31 thru 34 :

 

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

 

We have been given the gift and the privilege - as Christians - through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, to pray to God the Father! !                  

 

 

Amen.

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