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Abiding in the Word

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Abiding in the Word

May 21, 2006

John 15:1-8

Today I’d like to take up the role of a realtor and sell you some properties in a really rich neighborhood. The word “abide” in our key verse this morning means to take up residence. So where is the best address? Are you ready to take a tour with me? Our first address is Psalm 91:1. Let me know when you have it. “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will abide (find rest) in the shadow of the Almighty.” .Would you like to be there? In the shadow of His wings!

Let’s move on. Down the street a little ways is our own address: Proverbs 15:31. Let me know when you get there.”
If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.”
 WE all want to live amongst the wise, don’t we? Our next step in our virtual tour is John 8:31 Got it? “Jesus said to the people who believed in him, "If you abid in My Word you are My disciples indeed. “ At this address we have assurance from the King of Kings of belonging in His neighborhood. Let’s move on, for we have two more stops to make. The next address is 1 John 2:10:
He who loves his brother abides in the light.”
 This address provides a wealth of electricity providing light galore! Our last stop on our real estate hunt this morning is right across the street at the prestigious address of 2 John 1:9. Who would like to read what our real estate guide has to say about this hot property? “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. “ That hot property guarantees not only the best neighborhood in town, but also invaluable potential – eternity down the road.

Now, let’s look at our key passage for this morning, a passage which seven times tells us the most valuable residence we can ever hope to find. Turn once again to John. We are still in the fifteenth chapter.“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.  By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples”.

Last week we discovered that God wants us to be fruitful, as this glorifies Him. But to be fruitful we must be in prayer and in His Word. We must abide in Him. The New Living Translation says we must remain in Him, so let’s read this passage again using the word “remain” instead of “abide”: “Remain in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who remains in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.  If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.  By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples”.

The reason prayer has such great potential for changing things is God. And the reason prayer is surrounded by such difficult problems is God. If it weren't for the power of God over natural process and over the human will, there would be no hope in praying for change in the world or in people. And it is that very same power and prerogative of God that creates the problems we stumble over in prayer.

Two of the biggest problems are: 1) that our prayers, even those we have prayed for a thousand times, are sometimes not answered as we ask; and 2) why pray anyway, because if God is sovereign and controls and plans all things, what's the point in praying?

Let’s examine this point more carefully.

If God is Sovereign, why pray?

If God is sovereign and governs the world by his providence, why pray? This question was asked of Pastor/speaker John Piper in Atlanta a few months ago before about 2,000 people after he had spoken on the Providence of God. He gave an answer, and since then have found the answer expressed so well by one better that he prefers to use the answer of Charles Spurgeon, which is exactly what I am going to do. This is from a sermon Spurgeon preached on Luke 11:9, "Ask and it will be given you."

It is our full belief that God has foreknown and predestinated everything that happens in heaven above or in the earth beneath, and that the foreknown station of a reed by the river is as fixed as the station of a king, and "the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses." Predestination embraces the great and the little, and reaches into all things; the question is, wherefore pray? Might it not as logically be asked wherefore breathe, eat, move, or do anything? We have an answer which satisfies us, namely, that our prayers are in the predestination, and that God has as much ordained His people's prayers as anything else, and when we pray we are producing links in the chain of ordained facts. Destiny decrees that I should pray—I pray; destiny decrees that I shall be answered, and the answer comes to me.*

This is my faith, and it is rooted in the repeated testimony of God in Scripture that he governs all things in the world—from the dominion of kings in Saudi Arabia to the roll of the dice in Las Vegas. Proverbs 16:33 says, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." And Daniel 2:21 says, "He removes kings and establishes kings." So from the dominion of kings to the roll of the dice, God governs the universe by his wisdom and power—including the prayers of his people. Our kneeling to pray is no less God's gracious work than the regenerating of our souls: he writes his will on our hearts (As Hebrews 8:10 says: “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds so they will understand them, and I will write them on their hearts so they will obey them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” ) and works in us what is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:21 says: “may he equip you with all you need for doing His will. May He produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ every good thing that is pleasing to Him. All glory to Him forever and ever! Amen.”), and we do it—we pray—freely from our own wills.

Why Aren't my Prayers Answered?

Remember those two problems with prayer, I mentioned earlier – God is in control, why pray? – and I never get the answer I want anyway. Well, let’s look at that one. I pray and pray and pray for the salvation of a family member, friend, or neighbor, but, though I ask a thousand times, I get no answer or why don’t I get the answer I long for. The Bible has several possible answers:

It says I may not be praying according to God's will; 1 John 5:14, "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us."

Or it could be I have cherished sin that we will not let go from our lives; Psalm 66:18, "If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear."

It could be that I have man-centered and not God-centered motives; James 4:3, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures."

Or it may be that I do not believe that God will do it; Mark 11:24, "All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you."

Or it could be that God wants me to persevere, and is testing my obedience to his command in Luke 18:1, "At all times [you] ought to pray and not to lose heart."

Or it might be that God is, in fact, doing far more every time you pray than you can imagine and is daily putting in place a part of the mosaic that will in good time be the full answer to your prayer (as in Daniel 10:2,12).

"Praying for All His Purposes, Meditating on All His Word"

Or could it be that there is a dynamic to prayer that I have not yet learned? Could it be that this matter of praying is so mysterious and so wonderful that there is a deeper, fuller way of relating to God in prayer that I have not yet experienced? Could it be that I am like a child who has been told something by my Father, but I just don't get it yet? And in his wisdom and patience he goes on loving me and teaching me. Could it be that 2006 would be the year when I finally get it? I would love to think so! We started 2006 with a series of messages on prayer – eight weeks of learning more about prayer. What did I learn? What did you learn?

Here is one of my goals for 2006 for us. It is that we as a church discover corporately how the Word of God and prayer work together in powerful, life-changing, fruit-bearing ministry. For I firmly believe that if we do not learn to be powerful prayers abiding in Christ’s Word and being fruitful, my purpose here will be futile.

I pray that we would  join God the Father in magnifying the supremacy of God’s glory
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Holy Spirit by
treasuring all that God is,
loving all whom God loves,
praying for all God’s purposes,
meditating on all God’s Word,
sustained by all God’s grace.

Let me repeat what I just said:                                                  I pray that we would  join God the Father in magnifying the supremacy of God’s glory
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Holy Spirit by
treasuring all that God is,
loving all whom God loves,
praying for all God’s purposes,
meditating on all God’s Word,
sustained by all God’s grace.

My prayer is that in 2006 we will learn from study and experience how - praying for all his purposes and meditating on all his Word and working together for our good and the good of God’s kingdom here in Millet.. What's the connection? How do praying and meditating on His Word function together to make us a transformed, fruit-bearing people? Well, to find out, we need to go back to our key Scripture passage for today. It is a crucial text, especially John 15:7, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you." Do you see the connection between the Word of God and prayer? "If my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you." Here is a great goal for us in 2006: what does that mean? What does it mean to experience, not just in talk, but in action and life? That is what I want us to learn together.

I put it as a question because I am not at all sure I know what this text means—at least not in its fullness. I have the suspicion that there is a potential here that few, if any, are tapping into. I don't think I have arrived—perhaps I have barely begun to experience this dynamic of the Word abiding in me and releasing sure answers to prayer. Do I really know—have I really experienced—what Jesus means by the Word abiding in me? Do I experience—do you experience—day in and day out the dynamic relationship between the indwelling Word and answers to prayer? Do you know from experience what this is?

In Prayer Week of 1987 Bethlehem Baptist Church did a survey and asked, How much time per week do you spend reading the Bible? 255 people took the survey. 21% said fewer than 15 minutes (a week!). Another 25% said 15-30 minutes a week. So 46% of sisters and brothers in Christ  were spending fewer than five minutes a day reading God's Word. When asked about time spent in focused prayer, 62% said they spent fewer than 30 minutes in prayer each week—less than five minutes a day.

I doubt that the statistics are very different today. And I would venture to say that many of these people harbor some deep resentments toward God for not answering their prayers. So the question arises: is there anything in their lives—or in my life—that corresponds to John 15:7—"If the Word of God abides in you ask and it shall be done for you . . ." Is reading the Word of God five minutes a day what Jesus was referring to when he said, "If my words abide in you"? My own suspicion is that Jesus had something in mind vastly more extensive and more life-shaping than the quick glances that forty percent of our Christian people give to the Word of God each day.

Is This Legalistic?

I know that at this point some people are already throwing up defenses in the name of freedom, and are ready to say that all such talk is infected with legalism and a performance mentality. Well, I plead with you to look at the words of Jesus here in John 15:7 and struggle with me over this. This is not legalism. We are not talking about doing x-number of minutes of Bible reading to earn x-number of answered prayers. We are talking about living out what we value.

For example, suppose a coach prepares a steak dinner for his football team every day and spreads it before them freely, without cost, and says to them: eat and enjoy this rich meal every day and you will have strength to win the championship. And suppose that half the team instead goes to the candy store and the bakery, and week after week eats sweets and pastries. They start to lose games and the coach finds out they are not eating his free steak dinners and rebukes them. Some of them become indignant and say, "Hey we don't want a legalistic relationship with you. We want to relate to you in freedom and do what comes more naturally for our appetites."

Now that coach would be justified in saying, "It is not legalism to accept a free gift from me and to trust me that it is better for you than candy." And so it is with Jesus. It is not legalism to welcome his free gift and infinitely valuable word. It is not legalism to savor it and revel in its preciousness. It is not legalism to believe that without it we get weaker and weaker and more and more worldly.

There are some of you who have built up strong resistance to receiving the Word of God and letting it abide in you, as Psalm 1 says, day and night. We are to delight in and meditate on the law of the Lord. And I plead with you to let 2006 be the year you trust God to change you. There is something here for us that we are not getting. And I believe that if you would just reach out and taste a fraction of it, you would take heart that there are possibilities in your life and prayer that you never dreamed.

Saint Basil, who was born three centuries after Christ in a wealthy Christian home in Caesarea of Cappodocia (in what is now Turkey) became a Christian through his sister Macrina qho encouraged him to be faithful before God rather than famous before men But his gifts and stature became well-known despit his efforts to withdraw from prominence. He became advisor to Bishop Eusebius and reluctantly left quiet retreat for public ministry. He wrote brilliant messages on the nature of Christ and the Trinity, Upon succeeding Eusebius in 370, he proved himself a gifted bishop all the time remaining a kind man. He ate plainly, dressed simply, bore his ailments patiently and personally treated the diseased. He was happiest serving the Lord quietly and retreating frequently to quiet spots where he could enjoy his Lord and Savior.

“What is more blessed”, he once wrote, ‘than to imitate the choir of angels at break of day, to rise to prayer and praise the creator; than to go to labor in the clear radiance of the sun, accompanied by prayer, seasoning work with praise, as if salt? Silent solitude is the beginning of purification of the soul, in Scripture is a store of medicines, the true remedy for sickness of the soul.”

Is God’s Word the true remedy for the sickness of your soul?

Is His Word dwelling richly in you?

If His Word Were Abiding in us,
How Might that Yield Answers to Prayer?

What might John 15:7 mean when Jesus says, "If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you." What are the possibilities of how the Word abiding in us might yield sure answers to prayer? Remember, the Word – Logos- is another name for Jesus. John 1; says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. “ So, when you know His words, you know Jesus. Jesus is the Word. SO why is it important for us to submerge ourselves in the Word?

Firstly,  the Word abiding in us functions to guide our prayers. In other words, 1 John 5:14 says, "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." The abiding of the Word of Christ in our lives directs us to what God's will is in prayer. We know we ought to pray according to God’s will and we know that if we pray according to God's will and the answer comes. His answer – the best answer!

Or, secondly, it may be that the Word abiding in us functions to build our faith, which then is built even more answers to prayer. Romans 10:17 says, "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." And in Mark 11:24 Jesus says, "All things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you." So if faith is essential for answered prayer, and if the Word abiding within sustains faith, then maybe that is what Jesus means when he says that if his words abide in us we will have answers to our prayers. There is an old word, now avoided in newer translations, but beloved in olden days. The King James version uses it in 1 John 2:20. It says, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. “ The Greek word “unction” is “chrisma”, literally meaning unguent or ointment or smearing – it conveys the idea of rubbing ointment into the skin. In terms of abiding in the Word, it refers to a special anointing of the Holy Spirit on the message. So, smear yourselves with the Words of God. They have healing powers. In the words of E.M. Bounds unction is “the sweetest exhalation of the Holy Spirit. It impregnates, suffuses, softens, percolates, cuts and soothes. If carries the Word like dynamite, like salt, like sugar’ it makes the Word a soother, an arranger, a revealer, a searcher; it makes the hearer weep like a child and live like a giant. Genuine unction comes to us in our closet of prayer. The words of Scripture have great power. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 assures us: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true, and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip us to do every good work. Let the Word of God be your ointment.

The Word abiding in us functions to transform us morally and spiritually so that we are walking in the path of love where God answers prayer, rather than in the path of selfishness where he doesn't. We know from Psalm 66:18 and James 4:3 that intentionally cherishing or walking in sin cuts us off from answered prayer. And we know from John 8:32 that the Word of God sets us free from sin: "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." And we know from John 17:17 that the word of God sanctifies: "Sanctify them in the truth [Jesus prays to the Father], your Word is truth." So maybe it's the transforming, sanctifying power of the Word that leads to holiness and love and then to answered prayer.

Bearing Fruit for God's Glory is the Main Aim

What's plain from the context of John 15:1-8 is that bearing fruit for God's glory is the main concern—and it probably means both the fruit of love and joy as well as the fruit of conversions. Verse 2: "Every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit." Verse 4: "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me." Verse 5: "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit." Verse 8: "By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit."

So the aim of this passage is more fruit for God's glory, and the path to that fruit-bearing is our abiding in Christ, and his word abiding in us. And prayer, according to verse 7, is an essential part of that abiding in Christ and having his Word abide in us, so that we can bear fruit for God's glory.

How this prayer and this Word abiding in us work together is what I want us to discover together this. The very least that it means is that we make it our aim to pray from the fullness of God's word. Effective prayer is the overflow of the fullness of the Word of God abiding in us. What does that mean in experience? That is our quest in 2006.

Think with me this week about the practical challenge of letting the Word of God abide in us.

Pray with me now that God would go with us into this great investigation of praying from the fullness of abiding in the Word.

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