A Call To Prayer

Prayer

A Call To Prayer

Matt Chandler - 1/8/2017

Our lives should be informed by and marked by prayer. Our God desires us to seek Him and pray to Him. We want to be, always, a prayerful people and a prayerful church, so we should be aware of the hurdles of a life marked by joyful prayerfulness.

Transcript

Good morning! If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab those. Ephesians, chapter 2, is where we're going to camp out today. If you don't have a Bible with you, there should be a hardback black one somewhere around you. Why don't you go ahead and grab that? We're going to look at these 10 verses in Ephesians, chapter 2. We're going to look at these verses in the context of prayer and prayerlessness versus prayerfulness.

I think one of the more staggering realities in the cosmos is that the Creator of the cosmos, the Creator of the expanse of the universe, has made a way for us to have a relationship with him. In fact, the Bible would go farther than that and say not only has he made a way to have a relationship with us, but he actually desires to have a relationship with us. When you think about, if you could for just a few moments, how expansive the universe is, again, it's a staggering reality that the Creator, Governor, Sustainer, Sovereign King of all of that desires to have a relationship with us.

Now it's not uncommon for me to have friendships with people who became Christians after having grown up in church until it one day occurred to them that God actually wanted to have a relationship with them rather than us being some sort of robot that's meant to download code and then act out on that code with precision and he wants a real relationship with them, with all the doubts, struggles, fears, failures, successes, desires and dreams that mark what it means to be in relationship with one another.

One of (not the only, but one of) the invitations into the joy of that relationship is the invitation and command to pray. Now here's what struck me after pastoring now for close to 20 years. I want to encourage you with this, although it's bad news. Here's how I'm going to do that. I don't think the reason we struggle with prayer is that we don't know how. In fact, I will create a caveat. Maybe some of you are brand new Christians or you haven't really been discipled so prayer is difficult for you because you don't know how to do it.

But for those of us with church backgrounds, man, we've grown up our whole lives with all sorts of acronyms. We know it's Adoration and Confession and Supplication and Praise. We have all sorts of little tricks and games. There's the quiet time that sounds like punishment, but it's actually awesome that we learn very early on if you've grown up in church. But really I think if we're honest… In fact, here's how I want to encourage you with bad news.

If you're here today and you're a Christian and you would just say by means of confession that you still struggle with a consistent, vibrant prayer life, would you just raise your hand where you are? "I just struggle with a consistent, vibrant prayer life." Okay. Keep your hand up. No, no, no. That's too quick. All right. Now look around, and be encouraged with the struggle. You're not alone.

The lie that you're alone is a lie. What is it? I thought the way we could use our time today before we pray… Because I made a promise to myself about four years ago that I would never preach on prayer again without creating space in the sermon to actually pray. Right? You don't talk about food and then not eat. We're going to talk about prayer, and then we're going to pray.

What I thought we could do is I could just lay before you I think the three primary reasons we struggle with prayerlessness. If we could address these three areas, then I think we'll grow in our prayerfulness. Are you tracking with me? Okay. I don't know if you are or not. I probably shouldn't have said that because of that dumb article, but that's neither here nor there. Oh, you liked that, huh? Let's look at Ephesians, chapter 2, starting in verse 1.

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

Now I think there are three things we can see in this text that I think are serious hurdles for our lives to be marked by prayerfulness and actually have led us into prayerlessness. Here's the first one. The first thing you see in the first three verses of Ephesians 2 is what life is like before Christ, before we became Christians. If we look at this text again, here's our testimony.

We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We followed the course of this world. We followed the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is at work in the sons of the disobedient. You and I, stock broken in our sinfulness are unable to fully surrender to what is right, good, and beautiful in Christ because we're dead in trespass and sin.

In fact, although we live in a very disenchanted world, the Bible is very clear that rooted in our flesh and driven by demons, we gave ourselves over to the desires of our heart or our stomach and our mind. We just gave ourselves over to what sounded right and good to us. In a very real way, we were our own god. We knew what was best for us, so we followed the spirit of the age, the spirit that's at work in the sons of disobedience, and we just decided we didn't need a God. We were a good enough god.

Then if we continue through (and we will, starting in verse 4), it says, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…made us alive…" He woke us up. Really I think one of the things that robs us from a life of vibrant prayerfulness, entering into the joy of our relationship with God made possible by Jesus Christ, is we've grown spiritually stagnant, and we've gone back to living like an unbeliever. Now this is the warning Paul gives the church at Ephesus in Ephesians, chapter 4, starting in verse 17. It says…

"Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."

The warning from the apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus is, "Don't live like an unbeliever." Right? "Don't go back to your former things. Put off the former things, and put on holiness and righteousness that is found in Christ." He is warning against spiritual stagnation. He is warning against going back to living the way we used to live before Christ saved us, ransomed us, and rescued us.

The real warning here and the real thing that leads to prayerlessness is for us to get back on the throne of our heart and decide we make better gods than God does. See, really all atheism is is the decision to be your own god. It's not that you don't believe in God. It's that you think you are one. Right?

What's happening here in this text is there's this warning, "Don't go back to living like you're dead in your trespasses and sins, because you're not." If you remember when we were walking through the last couple of chapters of Exodus before we took the break (we'll fire it back up in February), there was this idea of consecration, right? There was this idea of being set apart for holy purposes.

You and I, as human beings bought by the blood of Christ, have been set aside, we've been consecrated, by God, set apart for his fame and our joy. We have been created and put together as the people of God to show to the world the beauty of what it looks like to walk in step, to get into the rhythm of God's creative goodness and commands and flourish as a community of faith.

But when we live as unbelievers, although we are believers, we forfeit that birthright. Salt loses its saltiness. Prayerlessness begins to mark our lives, because why should we pray? We're doing just fine on our own, right? If you're your own god, you're not going to pray, right? Because you're your own god.

Then the purpose of God in the gathering of the saints, in the forming of Christian community, then also gets lost on the people of God, the joy that's found in there, because we've, like I said, forfeited what God is up to. We're not offering any sort of critique or alternative to the world as they're operating. See, that's what the Christian community is. We are an alternative to what the world sees in the brokenness and chaos of life outside of God's good creative design. The Christian community becomes a mirror, becomes a light, becomes salt to the world by offering an alternative.

Think about Christian sexual ethic compared to the world's. Think about how Christians should view marriage and operate within marriage. It's not that we have perfect marriages. It's that there should be ferocious commitment to one another, an acknowledgement that two sinners are living in the house. All God's people said… Yeah. Don't say that too loud if you're sitting next to your girl, all right? We acknowledge this, and yet as the Lord has entered covenant with us, we enter covenant with another. We say with that kind of ahava-type love, "I'm not going anywhere."

When we begin to, like a light or like salt, reveal to the world the manifold wisdom of God, that's also an argument found in the book of Ephesians. Ephesians 3, verse 10, says in the church, God would reveal the manifold wisdom of himself to the world. How does the world see the manifold wisdom of God? The church. Now look. I've said it before. I'll put my cards out. That just seems like a bad idea. I mean, I have been around church for the last 20 years, and this plan of God seems to be wrought with flaws. Amen?

If we're God's big plan, I'm anxious for us. Yet remember what the goal is: the glory of God and our relationship with him, which means failures, which means struggles, which means fears, and the faithfulness of God toward us in Christ throughout all of it. We don't pray because we're living like unbelievers. We've ascended back to the throne of our own hearts, and we've convinced ourselves that we make better gods than God does.

I'm telling you, as just a pastor, it's one of the more heartbreaking things to watch men and women choose that they're smarter than, more capable than, and wiser than God and then watch their world burn to the ground while they blame everyone, including God, for their own rebellion and their own sovereign reign over their life wreaking havoc on their own life. It's a heartbreaking thing. It's like Groundhog Day. It just keeps happening over and over again.

This isn't the only reason. It's not just that we're spiritually stagnant or living like our former lives, but I also think it's a very real thing we have to wrestle with that many of us are relationally stunted. Here's what I mean by relationally stunted. Look at verse 4.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Now look right at me. No one has a human relationship that looks like that. This is hard to believe. In fact, it's so hard to believe, it's impossible to believe, the Holy Spirit of God won't open our hearts to it. Here's what the Bible just said. The Bible says God is for you. His mercy has been extended to you while you were at your worst. God is the initiator. God is the sustainer. In fact, I'll put it in earthly, relational terms.

It is always at his house. He is always driving. He is always buying the meal. He is always the one who starts the conversation. He is always the one who sets up date night. He is always the one who is romancing. He is always the one who makes the house clean. He is always the one who makes sure the yard is done. He is always the one who makes sure the dog is fed. He is always the one who goes out in the cold and warms up the car. He is always the one. He is always the one. He is always the one.

That's hard for us. We don't have relationships that work that way. Our relationships are almost always built on reciprocity. "I'll do this, and you do this. Why am I always the one doing this? Why can't you do this?" Right? That's human relationship, but in Ephesians 2, verses 4 through 9, it's God going, "It's always me. I got you. I love you through no act of your own."

Listen. I'm an Xer. So that's kind of where I fall in the category of Boomer, Xer, Millennial, whatever is next, and then whatever is after that. I don't know. As an Xer, here's what I've learned from my friends. There was something in a lot of the Boomers… I've tried to track it historically, but I'm not confident enough to say it.

Our dads were just a little bit closed off emotionally. They just didn't quite know how to enter in with kind of kindness and affirmation. They were good men. They worked hard, but what happened is there was this kind of thing established where we just needed to do what we were told and leave them alone. I don't know that that was their heart. In fact, I'm fairly convinced that wasn't their heart, but that's what happened.

There's this whole generation of Xer men in their late thirties to early forties who understand the idea or concept of father as, "Let me do what I'm told, and he won't be upset. Let me get done what he has for me to do, and then maybe he'll love me." That's the anti-gospel. That's on the other side of the spectrum. See, our Father says, "No, no, no. I love you not because of what you have done, but I love you because I have chosen to love you."

This year I'm reading through the Bible in chronological order. I'm in Genesis right now, which makes sense. Genesis is at the beginning. If you went through our study last fall in the men's or women's classes on Genesis, you're going to know what I'm saying about this. That God loved Abram is scandalous. What a fool that man was. What a cowardly chump Abraham was. God loved him. It's stunning. He rarely gets anything right, on multiple occasions.

He tried to whore out his wife to save his own life. I just have to believe Sarah is bringing that stuff up for the rest of their lives together. I mean, love keeps no record of wrongs, but it's going to remember that. Yet what does God do? God loves him. He makes him the father of many nations. Again, if you have a church background, you know this. "Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham." That's going to be an earworm. You're going to be playing that in your head for the rest of the day.

This is just one of hundreds of examples in the Scriptures of God going, "My love for you isn't built on your actions. It's built on my heart toward you." I'm not saying God doesn't hate sin. I'm not saying God doesn't command us to pursue holiness and righteousness. I'm not saying any of that. I am saying your salvation is rooted in what God has done for you in Jesus Christ and in nothing you have done for yourself.

That's what this text says. You would have nothing to boast in. I love that! You have nothing to boast in. There is no swagger available to you. God has done this. God has made the way. God has rescued you. God has initiated. God has sustained. God has provided. God has made the way. Because we're relationally stunted and we know relationships don't actually work like that, we avoid, because we feel like we let him down.

When you feel like you let someone down, what we do in a passive-aggressive culture if we're not behind a Twitter handle or a Facebook page is we avoid. If you feel like you've disappointed someone, you feel like you've sinned against them, you feel like you've let them down, the number one play in our culture is to avoid the person. "Oh man. I really let them down, but they go to the 9:00, so I'll go to the 11:15. Oh, Saturday nights are sounding good now." We avoid.

What happens is, because we don't actually believe this, we're relationally stunted. We avoid the Lord, but if you get this, you understand this. You understand God delights in you, he loves you, he rejoices over you, and you bring pleasure to his heart. All of that is found in the Scriptures. Then you run to, not from, him.

In fact, I've said for 14 years now (as long as you've given me a mic) I can almost always tell whether or not a person really understands the gospel by what they do when they screw up, not what they do when everything is going well. What happens when they actually blow it? What do they do? Do they run from the Lord, or do they run toward him, trusting and believing in his grace and kindness?

We don't pray because we're relationally stunted. Then, lastly, look at verse 10. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." I want to just continue… You should be picking up on this as a theme of what The Village Church wants to be all about and will be all about.

God has saved us, called us to himself, filled us with the Holy Spirit, has enabled us to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, not for just ever-increasing comfort and joy but the mission of God to seek and save the lost to the ends of the earth. Prayerlessness follows those who are not on the mission of God.

John Piper would say it like this in his book Let the Nations Be Glad! Prayer is a wartime walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom. God is far more like a general in command central than a butler waiting to bring you another pillow in the den.

Piper's point (and he goes on to make the point by listing out all the prayers of the New Testament) is the more we give ourselves over to evangelism, the more we give ourselves over to mission, the more we need to pray, because the more we're given over to mission, the more we're aware of just how helpless we are outside the power of God. Let me read for you the prayers of the New Testament church. Hang in there with me. There are 35 of them. This is what the New Testament church prays about:

They called on God to exalt his name in the world.

They called on God to extend his kingdom in the world.

They called on God that the gospel would speed ahead and be honored.

They called on God for the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

They called on God to vindicate his people in their cause.

They called on God to save unbelievers.

They called on God to direct the use of the sword (of the Spirit, which is the Word of God).

They called on God for boldness in proclamation.

You pray for boldness when you're a bit embarrassed, right? You pray for boldness when you feel a little bit cowardly around the things of God. Let your heart be encouraged that as much as we point to the boldness of the early church that spread the gospel through the ancient world at great expense of their own blood and welfare, they're praying for boldness. It wasn't natural. They pled with God for it. "Make me bold! Make me bold!"

They called on God for signs and wonders.

They called on God for the healing of wounded comrades.

They called on God for the healing of unbelievers.

They called on God for the casting out of demons.

They called on God for miraculous deliverances.

They called on God for the raising of the dead.

They called on God to supply his troops with necessities.

They called on God for strategic wisdom.

They called on God to establish leadership in the outposts (for pastors and leaderships to be set up on the missional edge, that missional frontier of the ancient world).

They called on God to send out reinforcements.

They called on God for the success of other missionaries.

They called on God for unity and harmony in the ranks.

They called on God for the encouragement of togetherness. (We have been spoiled with our ability to come together like we do.)

They called on God for a mind of discernment.

They called on God for a knowledge of his will.

They called on God to know him better.

They called on God for power to comprehend the love of Christ.

They called on God for a deeper sense of assured hope.

They called on God for strength and endurance.

They called on God for a deeper sense of his power within them.

They called on God that their faith not be destroyed.

They called on God for greater faith.

They called on God that they might not fall into temptation.

They called on God that he would complete their resolves.

They called on God that they would do good works.

They called on God for forgiveness of their sins.

They called on God for protection from the Evil One.

Almost all of those prayers of the New Testament church have that missional edge of, "We're going to get into the mess of the muck and the mire, and we're going to shine like lights the beauty of God in Christ so the nations might be glad. No one gets argued or pestered into the kingdom of God. Are you tracking with me? (I have to stop saying that.)

I love presuppositional apologetics and apologetics in general. It's super helpful to remove people's hurdles, but no one gets argued into the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit of God that opens up the heart to believe. It's the Spirit of God that opens up the eyes of the soul to understand. I'm not saying don't read Tim Keller books on apologetics. I am saying the proclamation of the gospel to unbelievers by believers is how God has deemed salvation will flow.

I'm also saying that nothing will get you praying like actively being involved in the spaces in which God is actively working and moving. If you love someone, you want to see someone become a Christian. You share the gospel with them, and you get hit with a list of questions you're not quite sure how to answer. They might not even want to have that conversation with you anymore. What you begin to feel is what's actually true about you: that you are powerless to do anything other than be obedient to God's command and trust God to work, move, and be mighty. That makes you pray.

See, the more confident you are in you, the less you will pray. The more confident you are in God, the more you will pray. Think about this. If I could go back and just list out what the Bible says God is, God is our Father. He is our lover, a friend, a physician, a shepherd, a helper, a king, a Savior, a Lord, a counselor. This is our God. This is our Father.

Despite the expanse of the cosmos and all the roaring noise of the universe, it takes only one of his children to think, "Father…" for his full attention to be dialed into his child. See, the Bible calls us his beloved. "Sons and daughters" is a beautiful picture of his love for us, but I think because of some of our backgrounds and experiences, that illustration might fall short. So the Bible then would call the people of God the beloved of God.

We have three children: a 13-year-old, an 11-year-old, and a 7-year-old. Our house is loud. There's a lot. It's loud. It's not uncommon for me to be in our kitchen and Lauren to be back in our bathroom and for Audrey to be FaceTiming with a friend and Norah to be doing gymnastics in the kitchen and Reid to be following me around to tell me about a video game he wants.

In the chaos of all of that, my beloved would yell from the bathroom something that doesn't make it to my ears. She will then increase the volume in the hopes that I might hear. Then when that doesn't work, she (and I think almost everyone in here has had this experience) comes closer to me but keeps the volume of being back there in that room. She comes, and what she wants is my attention so I might hear and respond to what she is saying.

Now here's why I said it's staggering. In the expanse of the universe, with the roar of stars, with the cries of billions of people, with the chaos of life just on earth, not even to throw in the chaos of the expanse of the universe, it takes only the beloved saying, "Father…" for his attention to be fully on us. That's staggering. Again, where does that takes us? It takes us back to that second point: our relational stuntedness. No way. No way! But way. This is the God of the Bible. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden…"

The illustration of the persistent widow. What father would ever say, "Just keep bothering me"? You know this, men and women. If your dad said to you growing up, "Ask me again…" we all know that was a threat. It wasn't like a legit invitation. Nobody followed up that statement from their dad with, "Can I have it?" No one did that. You got the cue. "Don't ask for that, or bad things are going to happen." Jesus uses the illustration of the persistent widow to say, "No, I love it when you come to me. You are my beloved."

Here's how I thought we would end our time together. I thought what we could do is we could spend some time praying. Now we've tried to weave prayer throughout the life of The Village. We pray oftentimes in our services, and we want to model what prayer looks like by doing that. Tonight at 5:00, we're going to have Elder-Led Prayer.

I just want to continue to say I just don't think there's anything more important we do as a church than come together at Elder-Led Prayer and ask God to do the things we know we cannot do and ask the Spirit of God to move and have his way in ways we can't muster just with our own unction. That will be tonight. You should join us for that.

What I thought we could do just in our remaining time together today is praying together in what's kind of an ancient process. It's a three-step process of examination, confession, and assurance. Really this is found rooted in Paul's teaching to the church at Corinth about how to come to the Lord's Table. I'm aware that for some of you, what I'm about to do might be a little spooky for you, a little bit too charismatic for you, but you're going to be fine. All right? Just trust me. You're going to be fine.

Here's what I want you to do. I want you to just kind of figure out a way to just kind of quiet your heart right now. I think the most common way we do that is we close our eyes. We bow our heads. I want to let you just sit quietly there for a moment. Now I want you to start to pay attention to your mind and your body. Are you tense, angry, bitter? Why don't you ask the Lord to open your heart and mind and show you if there's anything that is offensive to him in you?

Now in our time together today, we've talked about three reasons that could lead us into a life marked by prayerlessness rather than prayerfulness. Just there as you're examining your own heart, your own mind, would any of those three be true of you? Is your prayerlessness as a Christian rooted in spiritual stagnation, living like an unbeliever, being a functional atheist?

Maybe that's not it. Maybe it really is just so difficult for you to believe you are God's beloved and that he loves you and loves your presence and your prayers. Maybe if you're just really examining and being honest, man, you're not going to risk anything for the Lord. You do not find yourself in those spaces that God is most actively working, in evangelism, in going and heralding and proclaiming the good news.

Now we'll move into confession. As we've searched our hearts and maybe the Lord has revealed some things to us, we just confess those sins and ask God to forgive us. There's nothing fancy or complex about this. It's a simple sentence. "Father, forgive me for…" You fill in the blank. I would encourage you not to be vague here but to be specific.

Maybe in your self-examination, what the Lord revealed to you didn't have anything to do with what I was teaching today. That's fine. This is that moment where we want to just confess, "Father, forgive me for…" You fill in the blank with the details. You just begin to list those. Now examination and confession were never meant to burden the soul but to unburden the soul.

The third step in this kind of three-step movement is assurance. Assurance can happen all sorts of different ways. Sometimes we would immediately follow this moment with Communion. Sometimes you follow this moment with just a text of Scripture that reminds our hearts of the goodness and grace of God toward us in Christ.

I thought the way we could do assurance together as a church across all of our campuses is we would stand up, and we would read Ephesians 2:1 through 10 again, remembering where we've come from, remembering what God has done on our behalf, and remembering we have been saved by grace through faith by no act of our own.

Would you stand with me? I'm going to start out reading this, and then you're going to take over for me, being much louder than I could ever hope to be. I'm going to start us off. I'll just put it on the screen, and we'll read this together as a means of assurance.

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

Amen. Prayer is far more of an invitation than it is a command. Now there are plenty of commands in the Scripture commanding us to pray, but the invitation is to come, know, be known, and to enter into that relationship with God that is made available to you in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Let me pray over us here, and then we'll respond in kind.

Father, we love you. I think our confession would be we want to love you more than we do. Help us. Thank you that you heard every little utterance in our mind, that you reveal to us an examination where maybe we are outside of what you would have for us in your good graces. We thank you that you have heard from us. You have heard our confession.

Our confession has not let you know anything you didn't know before. We confessed it, and you are not in a real way now disgusted with us or ashamed of us or want to take the cross back. You are for us. We are your beloved. We thank you and we praise you that you hear us amidst the noise of the cosmos. It's for your beautiful we pray, amen.