Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Way Forward: Prayer

(A sermon based on Matthew 6:5-15 & Romans 8:26-27 for Sunday, February 21, 2010; it is the fourth in a series)

We have said that the way forward for First Baptist Church is for us to focus on worshiping God, following Jesus, and being formed by Scripture. Today I want to say that all of those emphases, indeed, that everything about the church’s life, must be undergirded by prayer.

To be a Christian and to be the Church is always to be becoming what God wants us to be and to be doing more and more what God wants us to do. Prayer clarifies our status as the people of God and thus aligns us with the will of God.

We need to be warned right up front that we cannot fully understand God’s ways and God’s will. To have figured God’s will out is actually to have equated what God wants with what we want and that’s a dangerously shallow way to live. Still, talking with God is how we make progress; it is how we move down the road that we must move down if we are to live as Christians.

Prayer focuses us on our relationship with God and sincerity is vital in that relationship. Jesus said,

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)

Our goal in praying is to know God and to be known by God; we want to live as members of God’s family and as citizens of God’s kingdom and praying opens us up to those realities. Praying to our Father in secret means that we are concerned only about what God thinks and not about what anyone else thinks. It means that we have an eternal perspective and that we understand that hearing “Well done” from the Father means everything while hearing “Well done” from other people means next to nothing.

And God will reward us—but with what?

God will reward us with what we need to live as God’s people. When we pray the Holy Spirit works to align us with God’s will. Henry Blackaby, reflecting on Romans 8:26-27, said, “The Holy Spirit has an advantage over us—He already knows the will of God. When He prays for us, He is praying absolutely in agreement with the will of God. He then helps us to know the will of God as we pray.” Blackaby then told this story.

For his sixth birthday, my oldest son Richard was old enough to have a bicycle. I looked all around for a bicycle. I found a blue Schwinn. I bought it and hid it in the garage. Then I had a task—to convince Richard that he needed a blue Schwinn bike. For the next little while, we began to work with Richard. Richard decided that what he really wanted for his birthday was a blue Schwinn bike. Do you know what Richard got? Well, the bike was already in the garage. I just had to convince him to ask for it. He asked for it, and he got it!
What happens when you pray? The Holy Spirit knows what God has “in the garage.” It is already there. The Holy Spirit’s task is to get you to want it—to get you to ask for it. What will happen when you ask for things God already wants to give or do? You will always receive it. Why? Because you have asked according to the will of God. When God answers your prayer, He gets the glory and your faith is increased.
[Henry T. Blackaby & Claude V. King, Experiencing God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), pp. 175-176]

As the Holy Spirit prays with us in order to align us more with the will of God we will find more and more of what we need to carry out the ministry that God has given us. So Jesus said,

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. (John 14:12-14)

To ask for something in the name of Jesus means to pray in line with the character of Jesus, in line with his revelation of God and of God’s way of working in this world. The church can ask the Lord for whatever we need to continue his ministry provided that the ministry we are carrying out actually reflects who Jesus is and what Jesus would do.

Praying in Jesus’ name also means that we will be changed personally because to pray in Jesus’ name is to pray in light of who he is and in light of our relationship with him. As the Holy Spirit prays with us in order to align us more with the will of God we will be changed more and more into people who are truly Christian in our attitudes and behaviors. Maybe some of us think like the little boy who prayed, "Lord, if you can't make me a better boy, don't worry about it. I'm having a real good time like I am." But if we’re honest we know that we all have a long way to go.

To pray in Jesus’ name means that we are committed to becoming more Christ-like in our attitudes and actions and praying brings that about. As William Barclay said,

The test of any prayer is: Can I make it in the name of Jesus? No man, for instance, could pray for personal revenge, for personal ambition, for some unworthy and unchristian object in the name of Jesus. When we pray, we must always ask: Can we honestly make this prayer in the name of Jesus? The prayer which can stand the test of that consideration, and which, in the end says, Thy will be done, is always answered. But the prayer based on self cannot expect to be granted. [William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. 2, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), p.165]

And in such praying our own attitudes and actions are changed so that they become more Christ-like.

Prayer then is a tool that helps us to live as Christians. Our own lives cry out for us to live as Christians. The broken lives of our neighbors cry out for us to live as Christians. Our world cries out for us to live as Christians. Praying changes us. Prayer makes us more Christ-like. Prayer makes us more equipped to witness to our world about Jesus Christ with our attitudes, our words, and our actions.

Christians are not people who major on the temporary and who need the immediate or obvious answer. We understand that God paints on an eternal tapestry. Therefore, we persevere and endure with great faith, knowing that God is working God’s purposes out. As the Holy Spirit prays with us in order to align us more with the will of God we will be inspired to persevere. We can trust God to work God’s eternal purposes out and to act out of perfect love and grace. We know that when all is said and done all will be said and done in God’s way and that is all that we want. In the meantime we persevere in prayer and in faith. In the meantime we pray in the name of Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit so that our prayers and our lives may become more aligned with the will of God.

How can we help but pray?

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