Word & Power
Word and Prayer: Hand in Hand
How the Spirit and the Word Produce Change
2 Thessalonians 2:13 - 3:5
Before reading today’s Scripture or starting my message, I would like to share a short story with you: There was a nice lady, a minister’s widow, who was a little old-fashioned. She was planning a week’s vacation in California at Skylake Yosemite campground (Bass Lake, to the uninitiated), but she wanted to make sure of the accommodations first. Uppermost in her mind were bathroom facilities, but she couldn’t bring herself to write “toilet” in a letter. After considerable deliberation, she settled on “bathroom commode,” but when she wrote that down, it still sounded too forward, so, after the first page of her letter, she referred to the bathroom commode as “BC.” “Does the cabin where I will be staying have its own ‘BC’? If not, where is the ‘BC’ located?” is what she actually wrote.
The campground owner took the first page of the letter and the lady’s check and gave it to his secretary. He put the remainder of the letter on the desk of the senior member of his staff without noticing that the staffer would have no way of knowing what “BC” meant. Then the owner went off to town to run some errands.
The staff member came in after lunch, found the letter, and was baffled by the euphemism, so he showed the letter around to several counselors, but they couldn’t decipher it either. The staff member’s wife, who knew that the lady was the widow of a famous Baptist preacher, was sure that it must be a question about the local Baptist Church. “Of course,” the first staffer exclaimed, “‘BC’ stands for ‘Baptist Church.’ ” And he sat down and wrote:
I regret very much the delay in answering your letter, but I now take the pleasure in informing you that the BC is located nine miles north of the campground and is capable of seating 250 people at one time. I admit it is quite a distance away if you are in the habit of going regularly, but no doubt you will be pleased to know that a great number of people take their lunches along and make a day of it. They usually arrive early and stay late.
The last time my wife and I went was six years ago, and it was so crowded we had to stand up the whole time we were there. It may interest you to know that right now there is a supper planned to raise money to buy more seats. They are going to hold it in the basement of the “BC.”
I would like to say that it pains me very much not to be able to go more regularly, but it is surely not lack of desire on my part. As we grow older, it seems to be more of an effort, particularly in cold weather.
If you decide to come down to our campground, perhaps I could go with you the first time, sit with you, and introduce you to all the folks. Remember, this is a friendly community.
You may wonder what this story has to do with 2 Thessalonians 2 and 3 or with today’s message. The answer is, absolutely nothing! I just happened to like the story. I hope you did too.
So, on with today’s message. Sermons on prayer and meditation are like books on marriage. They may help point the way to the reality of a deep and precious relationship, but the reality is discovered and experienced in the act of marriage, not in talking or reading about marriage. The reality of communion with God – you speaking in prayer and God speaking through his written Word by his Spirit – is discovered and experienced in the act of prayer and meditation. If you want this reality – and Christians do want this reality – you will find it this year when the Word this morning moves you to the act of prayer and meditation where the reality is. You learn the secrets of prayer and meditation – communion with God through Christ – by doing it. Oh that God would use this message to move you to do it. And to keep doing it until it becomes as indispensable in your life as eating and drinking.
Now, let’s look together at our key passage from God’s Word 2 Thessalonians 2:13 – 3:5
As for us, we always thank God for you, dear brothers and sisters loved by the Lord. We are thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation, a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and by your belief in the truth.
He called you to salvation when we told you the Good News; now you can share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on everything we taught you both in person and by letter.
May our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father, who loved us and in his special favor gave us everlasting comfort and good hope,
comfort your hearts and give you strength in every good thing you do and say. Finally, dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to pray for us. Pray first that the Lord's message will spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you.
Pray, too, that we will be saved from wicked and evil people, for not everyone believes in the Lord.
But the Lord is faithful; he will make you strong and guard you from the evil one.
And we are confident in the Lord that you are practicing the things we commanded you, and that you always will.
May the Lord bring you into an ever deeper understanding of the love of God and the endurance that comes from Christ.
Here's my main point this morning: Prayer and meditation are as inseparable in living the Christian life as are the Spirit of God and the Word of God. First, a word of explanation, and then I will show you where I get this truth from the text. I am implying four things in this main point.
God's Work Happens through the Word in Your Life, which Happens through the Spirit
First, I have said this before and am saying it again because it’s so important: the work of God's Spirit in your life happens through the Word - the Scriptures - and the work of the Word in your life happens through the Spirit. The Spirit and the Word are inseparable in producing change in our lives (call it obedience, or sanctification, or fruit of the Spirit,) When we become more obedient to the Word it is because we have been in the Word. When we are in the Word, it can change our minds and hearts. Romans 8:2 says that God will transform the way you think. Then you will know God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. That process toward holiness God calls sanctification. It His work in us. He is faithful; He will do it if we obediently infuse our minds with the truth of His Word. The He has the chance to produce the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. From the first act of regeneration at salvation to the final act of glorification when we arrive at heaven’s gate, God works by His Spirit through his Word to accomplish his saving purpose in our lives. Mathematically speaking, there is a formula here: Word + Spirit = Change
Prayer Involves Reliance on His Spirit; Meditation Involves Reliance on His Word
Dwight Moody told of a remarkable incident in connection with an early visit to London. He had gone there for a visit. He was unknown in London, so he did not expect to preach; but a little while after arriving there he was invited to preach for a certain church, which he did. He described the ceremony as a very cold and uninteresting service to him, but he announced that he would preach again that night.
Upon reaching the church, he noticed that the atmosphere had changed, he did not know just why. At the close of the meeting he was led to give an invitation for those who wanted to be saved to stand. A great crowd of people stood. He left the next day for Dublin, Ireland. Shortly after arriving there he received a telegram from the church to return, stating that the whole community was stirred up and clamoring for a series of meetings. He went back and found that a great revival was beginning, and hundreds of people were being converted.
Not long after he learned the secret. An invalid lady, who could not attend the church, was praying for a mighty outpouring of the Spirit upon the church. She prayed for months. Once she saw in the papers’ accounts of some of the Moody meetings in America, and, although she had never heard of Mr. Moody before, she began to pray that God would send him to her church in London for a revival. One Sunday morning her sister, upon her return from the service, informed her of Moody’s presence and his preaching, whereupon she spent the whole afternoon in prayer that God would make that night a night of power. That explains the difference between morning and evening services!
I tell you what we need in the church is praying members! Oh, if we could find even one who would be resolved to pray to God for salvation and power to come upon the church. This is the need of today—importunate prayer, like the Syro-Phoenician woman’s “Lord, help! Lord, help!”
Another thing I am saying, and have also said before, in this main point today is that prayer is our response to God in reliance on his Spirit; and meditation is our response to God in reliance on his Word. In prayer we praise the perfections of God through his Spirit, we thank God for what he has done by his Spirit, we confess our failures to trust the promise of his Spirit, and we ask for the help of his Spirit – all in Jesus' name. Prayer is the human expression of treasuring and trusting the Spirit of God.
Meditation is hearing and pondering and prizing the Word of God. It is reading the Bible and chewing on it to get the sweetness and the nourishment from it that God designs to give. It should involve memorizing the Word so that you can chew on it and be strengthened by it during day and night, like Psalm 1 says. ("On his law he meditates day and night," v. 2.) The essence of meditation is to think your way into the very mind of the inspired writers of the Bible who were granted by inspiration to think the thoughts of God. 2 Peter 1:21 states: “It was the Holy Spirit who moved the prophets to speak from God.” and 2 Timothy 3:16 adds: “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 straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.” Think and mull and ponder and chew until you see what they see the way God wants it to be seen, namely, as precious and valuable and beautiful and desirable.
Prayer and meditation are inseparable in living the Christian life. Kesharan Nair writing in Leadership Magazine, says “Disciplined meditation does not take time away from work; it sustains the spirit and increases the intensity and quality of work.”
Prayer without meditation on the Word will disintegrate into selfish spirituality. It will simply reflect your own ideas and feelings – not God's. And meditation without calling on God in prayer will create proud legalism or hopeless despair. You will try to live the Word in your own strength and will think you are succeeding, and you will become a proud legalist; or you'll know you are not succeeding, and will give up hopeless and despondent. Those are the only alternatives. My point is: God's will is that prayer and meditation always stay together. In prayer we call on God's Spirit for his help to change; and in meditation we see the truth that causes the change when the Spirit is at work.
If Word + Spirit = Change then Prayer + Meditation = Holiness
Change Comes through the Word so that the Truth of Christ in the Word Will Be Honored
A third and final thing I am saying is that the reason the Spirit produces change in our lives through the Word (and to keep Himself, as it were, hidden behind the Word) is so that the truth of Christ in the Word will be honored by the change in our lives. The Spirit has been given to glorify the Son of God In John 16:13 and 14 we are told: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.
He will bring me glory by revealing to you whatever he receives from me.”
Everything we do on our own path toward holiness must glorify the Son. He is sort of the measuring rod as we become more holy, we bring more honor to our Savior.
Let me illustrate. In Luke 2:10-11 we hear a word from God to the shepherds: "But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; (11) for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'" Now what was the aim of this word? It was, at least, to produce joy. "We bring you good news of great joy." Huge joy! In other words, the truth about Jesus – that he is a Savior and Messiah and Lord and that he was born in the prophesied city of David – this truth was to inspire great joy (and it did, Luke 2:20). And when it did, who got the glory? Jesus did. He is Savior, Christ, Lord. This is what the Word revealed, and this was what inspired the joy. Therefore the change in our lives brought about by the Word gives us joy and Christ gets glory for the truth of Christ in the Word.
So here we have another formula to add to our list. The first formula was: the Word + the Holy Spirit = Change The second was: Prayer + Meditation = Holiness Now we see the third formula: the Truth = Joy for us + Honor for Christ.
But suppose the shepherds were out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night and suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them with great joy with no news at all. No Word. No revelation. Only the feeling of joy. Who would be honored for that? Nobody, except maybe the Shepherds for being so resilient against the cold winter's night. How would it honor and glorify Christ if the Spirit created in us all kinds of good feelings and good resolves with no reference to Jesus and his cross and resurrection and the great acts of God in history? It wouldn't. So the way the Spirit brings about change in our lives is to quietly enable us to see in the Word the beauty of Christ and his ways. Then our motivation for joy flows from the truth about Christ, and he is glorified, and the Spirit remains the behind-the-scenes power that opened our eyes.
So you see why prayer and meditation are as inseparable in living the Christian life as are the indwelling Spirit of God and the Word of God. Prayer is the human act that corresponds to the Spirit of God (for the Spirit leads you to pray), and meditation is the human act that corresponds to the Word of God; and just as Word and Spirit are inseparable in how God changes us, so prayer and meditation are inseparable in how God changes us.
So I plead with you as a church this morning: make the second half of 2006 a year of joyful, disciplined, undaunted prayer and meditation on the Word. Don't let either slide. And if it does, pull them back together again.
Now let's look at our key text to let it inspire this conviction and change in our lives. Turn with me now to 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 14 and I’ll read it again: “As for us, we always thank God for you, dear brothers and sisters loved by the Lord. We are thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation, a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and by your belief in the truth.”
He called you to salvation when we told you the Good News; now you can share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Thess. 2:13-14: The Spirit Works through the Word to Awaken Gratitude
In these verses Paul says, "We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren." Thanks is a duty – we should feel it and say it. And it is one of the most joyful duties to God, because real gratitude is one of the sweetest experiences the human heart can know. And when we experience it, we are to say it in prayer to God, and before others, so they can say, "Amen," and join us in thanks (We do have so much to be thankful for, don’t we?).
Then Paul gives four reasons for feeling thankful. 1) You are beloved by the Lord. 2) God has chosen you. 3) He called you. 4) The aim of his call was that you glorify of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me read you the poem by an unknown author; it’s entitled:
Thanking God For Everyday Things
There is so much we have in life
For which we cannot pay
The things we take for granted
In our journey day by day.
From early in the morning
Until the day is done,
We ought to count our blessings
And name them one by one.
Health, peace, happiness;
Love of kin and friends;
Birds, trees, flowers, seas;
A list that never ends.
Summer, autumn, winter, spring,
Each brings something rare,
And we accept what comes our way
Without a thought or care.
We really ought to think a bit
Of what we have, and why.
There is so much belongs to us—
The stars, the moon, the sky;
The very air we breath each day,
And food upon the board;
And the only way we can ever pay—
"Our thanks to Thee, O Lord."
You see how this works: our duty is of gratitude. "We should always give thanks to God." But the reasons to give thanks that waken the joy in us are revealed in the Word about how God called us, chose us, and saved us. So the Spirit works through the Word to stir up the gratitude God loves and demands.
God saves us "through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. Not just truth. And not just Spirit. But Spirit and truth. Both together. Spirit and truth are always together.
Now, let’s quickly look at verses 15 to 17: “With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on everything we taught you both in person and by letter.
May our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father, who loved us and in his special favor gave us everlasting comfort and good hope,
comfort your hearts and give you strength in every good thing you do and say. “
2 Thess. 2:15-17: Strength for Good Works and Words Comes by Praying for God to Make the Word Effective in Our Lives
Paul tells us to stand firm and hold fast to the teaching in the Word. He prays that Jesus and the Father would strengthen us in every good work and word. So he shows that there is a connection between holding to the Word and praying for God to make the Word effective.
Another version says, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." How would he say this today? Not be sure to worship all the past traditions of your church so change cannot happen! Not to pick and choose carefully which biblical truths you will follow and discard the rest! Not: be sure you have a Bible on the shelf at home and carry it to church with you on Sunday! He would say: read it and memorize it and take hold of it as you go out of the house in the morning, and meditate on it and use it to fight the fight of faith during the day. Use it to "stand firm." It is the Sword as described in the last chapter of Ephesians. Of all the armor it is the ONLY offensive weapon mentioned in our arsenal of weapons.
Paul speaks a blessing or benediction in Verse 16: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word." Paul calls on God to do the comforting and strengthening. In verse 15 he says : "Stand firm." Then in verse 17 he tells us how? By holding fast to the Word! "Lord Jesus and God the Father, strengthen them for every good word and work."
So how does our strength for good works and good words happen? By meditation alone? No. By prayer alone? No. By prayer for God to make the Word effective in our lives. Word plus Spirit. Meditation plus Prayer. Not either-or, but both together = changes lives. We are heading toward HOLINESS!
2 Thess. 3:1-2: Praying for the Triumph of the Word in the Lives of Others
Then in the next two verses Paul sums up the bond between prayer and the Word. "Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith." The Word had a powerful effect in the lives of the Thessalonians. Now Paul wants the Thessalonians to be engaged in spreading the Word with passion. He wants the Word to triumph in the lives of others.
So what does he ask for? Prayer! He says, pray! Pray for what? Pray for the bearers of the Word. "Pray for us," He needs help , and prayer is his help. Something needs to happen in us for the Word to run and triumph. Prayer needs to happen. Paul has the Word of the gospel in him, which is the power of God unto salvation and which produces hope and joy (Romans 15:4, 13). But it is not automatic. Not even for Paul. He has enemies – wicked people who can be thwarted by prayer. No matter how mature we are in the faith we need prayer. So Paul pleads for them to pray for him and his team. Amazing! Beneath the surface of the routine of daily life, a fierce struggle among invisible spiritual powers is being waged. Paul knew this. Our main defense is PRAYER! God is the only one who can strengthen us. The following guidelines can help you prepare for and survive satanic attack.
1. Take the threat of spiritual attack seriously.
2. Pray for strength and help from God. Put on the full armor of God.
3. Study the Bible to recognize strategy.
4. Memorize Scripture. It will guard your though life.
5. Associate with those who speak the truth. Pick your friends carefully.
6. Practice what you are taught by Spirit-led leaders.
Ask God to open your eyes and see the glory of Christ in the gospel so that when it is preached there is a reality and a power that will cause people to see and hear and believe and glorify the truth of Christ in the Word. As Matthew 5:16 says: “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Missions and evangelism are not carried forward by Word only or by prayer only. They advance and triumph by Word and Prayer. Spirit and Truth. And this is the way it will be in the lives of those you love. Don't ever stop praying for them. And don't ever stop telling them the truth about Jesus. If you are living by the Word yourself every day, there will be fresh discoveries for your loved ones, too. They will see your works and glorify your Father in heaven. In the February issue of Preaching Magazine, Chuck Swindoll quoted a profound statement made by Ray Steadman: “If the church were doing what it is supposed to be doing, the world would become so attracted, so curious, if nothing else, the sheer curiosity of it would draw them in.” Let your light so shine that people will crave what you have in Christ.
2 Thess. 3:4-5: The Word and Prayer to Produce Change
The final illustration of how Word and prayer go together is in 2 Thessalonians 3:4-5. "We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command." So Paul says he is confident that they have heard this command and will go on walking in it. But then look what he does in verse 5. He prays again one of those prayers of blessing or benediction: "May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ." Why does he do this if he is so confident that they will follow his Word? The reason is, his prayer for them is part of why he is confident in them – he knows the Lord must do some powerful "heart-directing" if they are to continue in obedience. So he prays: "O Lord, direct their hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ."
Paul gave commands, and he prayed Not Word alone to produce the change. And not prayer alone to produce the change. But the Word and prayer, hand in hand.
Prayer and Meditation Are as Inseparable in Living the Christian Life as Are the Spirit of God and the Word of God
So the point stands clear and powerful in this text: Prayer and meditation are as inseparable in living the Christian life as are the Spirit of God and the Word of God.
Therefore, I beg of you, for the sake of your own growth in grace, and the transformation of your life and family, and the impact of your life on your neighborhood and work and school and extended family – give yourself in this second half of 2006 to prayer and meditation. Ponder the Word day and night, and pray for the Spirit's help day and night.