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Sermon Series

 

July 12, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Acts of the Apostles 4:1-12 [NLTse]
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees. 2 These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. 3 They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning. 4 But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so the number of believers now totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.
The next day the council of all the rulers and elders and teachers of religious law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, along with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and other relatives of the high priest. 7 They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of our people, 9 are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? 10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,
‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’
12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

Sermon
I have felt compelled to preach about prayer these past weeks and into the summer. During that time already we’ve acknowledged that prayer can be work and that it requires discipline: A place; a time; a pattern; and that’s in addition to all our more sporadic times of talking with God and enjoying His presence. We’ve seen that God calls us to pray and that Jesus assumed we would pray. But that the result of this “work” of prayer in our lives will be a relationship with God that is personal, friendly, and so very close.

I’ve encouraged us towards a prayer-pattern that parallels our Worship Service: Starting with Adoration & Praise; moving to Confession & Forgiveness; then to Meditation & Listening; a time of Petition & Intercession; and ending with more Thanksgiving & Praise.
Today I’d like to talk together about having greater and greater assurance in our prayers: Growing in confidence that the Father is, indeed, listening to our prayers, and growing in confidence that He will, indeed, answer.

Our Lord Jesus taught those first disciples three principles to help them grow in confidence and assurance about their prayers. Jesus taught them to always make their requests in Jesus’ name; to make their requests together, in agreement, in groups of two or three or more; and, to ask in faith, trusting Him to do what they had asked.

Let’s talk about these one by one.

First off, why should God listen to our prayers? Why should God listen to the President of the United States’ prayers, or even the Reverend Billy Graham’s prayers? Those who study such things say that if our galaxy – the Milky Way Galaxy – was a room like this Sanctuary, that in it all Earth would be like a pin-prick “there”. And if the universe were a room like this Sanctuary, that in it all the Milky Way would be like a pin-prick “there”.

So, [acting it out] this whole Sanctuary is the universe and “here” [pin-prick] is our galaxy. Now we’ll blow that pin-prick up to be the Sanctuary and now the Earth is this pin-prick “here”. And on the Earth, if it were this Sanctuary, each of us individually would be little pin-pricks, “here” and “here” and “here”. And we think that God Almighty, Who can fit the whole works – Earth, Milky Way, and the whole universe – into His back pocket should be paying attention to us? No. Not us. Not the President. Not Billy Graham. Nobody deserves to have God listening to our prayers. The very greatest of us is less than nothing, less than nobody, to the Great I Am!

But Jesus…

Let’s make clear that God listens to the prayers of human beings only because of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has merged humanity and divinity into an impossible whole. He is the God-Man: Not 50/50 but 100% God, 100% Man. And on the cross He has become a bridge for human beings to get to God, by faith in Him. John 14:6 makes clear, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus told those first disciples. “No one can come to the Father except through Me.”

There is power in asking in Jesus’ name because of Who Jesus is and because of what Jesus has done. The secret to prayer with authority and effectiveness is being a part of Jesus Christ by faith. Only through our relationship with Jesus by faith do we enter into communication and fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Acts 19 records the story of some exorcists who, imitating the apostle Paul, tried to use Jesus’ name to cast out an evil spirit. These exorcists did not have a relationship with Jesus, nor were they led by the Holy Spirit. And the results were disastrous and revealing. Acts 19:13-16 says: “A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus, Whom Paul preaches, to come out!’ Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.”

These “sons of Sceva” were seeking to use Jesus’ name like a magical phrase – like “hocus pocus” – because they had seen Paul use Jesus’ name with such powerful results. But demon’s recognize those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells and those in whom He does not, and they know whether or not people are acting in Jesus’ authority because of our relationship with Him by God’s Spirit, and when people are doing their own thing apart from Him.

When a child of God, rooted in a relationship with Jesus Christ, commands demon’s in Jesus’ name, they must obey: Because the Christian has the Holy Spirit; because the Christian is ministering out of his or her close relationship with Jesus. Jesus Christ is the only way anyone has any right to be in communion with the Father, and the only reason we can bring our requests to Him.

John 15:1-7 says: “I am the true grapevine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in Me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in Me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!”

My brothers and sisters: We have nothing in ourselves. We have no righteousness, no goodness, no reason why magnificent, almighty, holy-God should pay any attention to insignificant, small, sinful-us. We must acknowledge our helplessness and realize that Jesus Christ is our only hope.

Preacher R. A. Torrey said it like this: “There is no use in our trying to approach God in any other way than in the name of Jesus Christ, and on the ground of Jesus’ Own claims upon God, and on the ground of His atoning death whereby He took our sins upon Himself and made it possible for us to approach God on the ground of His claims upon God.
“While we have no claims upon God because of any goodness or service of our own, Jesus Christ, as we have said, has infinite claims upon God and has given us the right to approach God in His name, and we ought to go boldly to God and ask great things of God.”

Torrey goes on: “…Do you realize that we honor the name of Christ by asking great things in that name? Do you realize that we dishonor that name by not daring to ask great things in that name? Oh, have faith in the power of Jesus’ name and dare to ask great things in His name.”
When we pray in Jesus’ name we are acknowledging our unity with Jesus Christ: He the vine, we the branches; He the head, we His body. So when we pray in Jesus’ name we are praying as Jesus would. The prayer-pattern I’ve been setting before us gives us time to meditate on God’s Word and listen for the Holy Spirit’s direction before we go on to our varied requests for ourselves and others. When the Lord Jesus promises us that “we will receive whatever we ask for in His name,” He is not giving us a blank check, He is offering us a relationship with Himself that will grow us to know His mind and His heart and to join with Him in asking the Father for it all.

Praying in Jesus’ name, that is, knowing we’ve asked for what Jesus would ask for, and, praying in His name because He is God-the-Son and because He has taken away the sins of the world – Who Jesus is and what Jesus has done – praying in His name gives us great contentment and assurance that the Father has heard and will answer our prayers, because we know He hears and answers for the sake of Jesus.

The Lord Jesus also calls us to pray together, and if we are truly praying His will, then we should be able to agree with each other’s prayers knowing they are from Him.

In Matthew 18:19-20 Jesus says: “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, My Father in Heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as My followers, I am there among them.”

We practice discernment in our praying when we pray together and agree in prayer. Just as we seek the counsel and confirmation of other Spirit-filled Christians when we believe we have received some kind of special direction from the Lord, when we pray together and agree in prayer we are seeking the confirmation of the other Spirit-filled
Christians we’ve been praying with to see if what we’ve asked for is truly Jesus’ mind and will and so can truly be asked in His name. If it can then we are assured that Jesus has been present and been praying through and among us, and we can be confident that God has heard and will answer our prayers.

I’ve been in many prayer meetings where this one prays this and that one prays that and it all seems so disheveled and chaotic. And I have been in many prayer meetings where this one prays, and then that one carefully agrees with the prayer, perhaps repeating different parts of it in his or her own words, or perhaps echoing the sentiment while adding new aspects of their own. There is always such a sense of intensity and immensity in those times of agreed upon prayer – I’m not talking about things feeling good or emotions “getting all-fired-up” – but a heaviness and sense of expectation, as though Heaven were tearing Earth wide-open and invading as we were speaking!

Of course, our faith in Jesus – and living according to that faith – is supposed to continue growing our whole lives long. It begins when we recognize that we are sinners and begin believing that Jesus’ death served as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. That’s where faith begins. But just as we’ve believed Jesus to have done what He said He’d done on the cross, the Lord Jesus wants us to keep on believing that He will keep on doing all that He has said He will do.

In Mark 11:23-24 and Matthew 21:21-22 Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.”

And in Matthew 8, when the Lord offers to go to the home of a Roman commander to heal his servant, the Roman commander says: “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come into my home. Just say the word from where You are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” (Vv. 8-9)

Clearly the command-structure of the Roman army gave the centurion a way to understand the command-structure of Heaven and Earth. And we can grow in such mountain-moving faith as we read the Bible, believe what we read, pray ourselves, and experience God’s answers to our prayers, and as we keep on asking the Holy Spirit to fill us, and as we keep on doing the works of Jesus that the Holy Spirit leads us and empowers us to do.

We see it all around us in the world: God does seem to work according to the largeness or smallness of our faith in what He can do. To those who trust Jesus, He is able to do great things. To those with no trust, or who discount Jesus altogether, He is able to do only a little. According to His sovereignty over the affairs of human beings, God has chosen to make faith the means by which He works in the human sphere. Faith: That deep trust that Jesus will do what He says He will do. When we greatly trust that He will do what He has said, we see great things happen! When we don’t ask Him for great things, or when our faith that He will grant us our requests is slight, well, are we surprised that we see little if nothing at all in answer? Faith is the open door that welcomes and enables our cooperation with God. And faith welcomes and enables us to receive answers to prayer.

Next Sunday evening from 7:00 to 8:30pm we will be meeting next door in the Manse for prayer. Come and pray in Jesus’ name. Come and let us agree together in our prayers. Come and let us believe together that God will be listening and that even here in sleepy little Milford that Heaven wants to tear open Earth and pouring out the riches of the God’s Kingdom and every good thing among us.

Pray in Jesus’ name this week. Pray together in agreement, when you can. And pray with faith that our Abba can and will do great things as we agree together praying in Jesus’ name!
?
And then, next Sunday evening, let’s come and pray those ways all together! He is worthy! With Him all things are possible!



July 5, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Introduction
The emperor of Rome from AD 54 to 68 was Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, also known simply as Nero. The emperor was not known for being a godly person and engaged in a variety of illicit acts, homosexual marriage being among them. In AD 64 the great Roman fire occurred, with Nero himself being suspected of arson. In his writings, the Roman senator and historian Tacitus recorded, “To get rid of the report [that he had started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace” (Annals, XV).
It was during the reign of Nero that the apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans. While one might expect him to encourage the Christians in Rome to rise up against their oppressive ruler, in the chapter 13, we find instead:

Romans 13:1-7 [NLTse]
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.

Sermon

Even under the reign of a ruthless and godless emperor, Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells his readers to be in subjection to the government. Moreover, he states that no authority exists other than that established by God, and that rulers are serving God in their political office.

Peter writes nearly the same thing in his first New Testament letter:  “For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.
“It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king. (2:13–17).

Both Paul’s and Peter’s teachings have led to quite a few questions from Christians: Do Paul and Peter mean that Christians are always to submit to whatever the government commands, no matter what is asked of them?

A brief look at the various views of civil disobedience might help. Civil disobedience is the active, public, refusal to obey certain laws, demands, or commands of a government, or of an occupying international power. There are at least three general positions on the matter of civil disobedience. The anarchist view says that a person can choose to disobey the government whenever he or she likes and whenever he or she feels they are personally justified in doing so. Such a stance has no biblical support whatsoever, as evidenced in the writings of Paul in Romans 13, as we just read.

The extremist patriot says that a person should always follow and obey their country, no matter what the command. As will be shown in a moment, this view also does not have biblical support. Moreover, it is not even supported in the history of nations. For example, during the Nuremberg trials, the attorneys for the Nazi war criminals attempted to use the defense that their clients were only following the direct orders of the government and therefore could not be held responsible for their actions. However, one of the judges dismissed their argument with the simple question: “But gentlemen, is there not a law above our laws?”
The position the Scriptures uphold is one of biblical submission, with a Christian being allowed to act in civil disobedience to the government if it commands evil, that is, that the government requires the Christian to act in a manner that is contrary to the clear teachings and requirements of God’s Word.

Let’s look at some examples of civil disobedience in Scripture.

In Exodus 1, the Egyptian Pharaoh gave the clear command to two Hebrew midwives that they were to kill all male Jewish babies upon their births. An extreme patriot would have carried out the government’s order, yet the Bible says the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and – I quote – “because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders. They allowed the boys to live” (Exodus 1:17). The Bible goes on to say the midwives lied to Pharaoh about why they were letting the children live; yet even though they lied and disobeyed their government, “God was good to the midwives, and the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. And because the midwives feared God, He gave them families of their own” (Exodus 1:20–21).

In Joshua 2, a prostitute names Rahab directly disobeyed a command from the king of Jericho to produce the Israelite spies who had entered the city to gain intelligence for battle. Instead, she let them down by rope out of her city-wall window so they could escape. Even though Rahab had received a clear order from the top government official, she resisted the command and was saved from the city’s destruction when Joshua and the Israelite army destroyed it.

The book of 1 Samuel records a command given by King Saul during a military campaign that no one could eat until Saul had won his battle with the Philistines. However, Saul’s son Jonathan, who had not heard the order, ate honey to refresh himself from the hard battle the army had waged. When Saul found out about it, he ordered his son to die. However, the people resisted Saul and his command and saved Jonathan from being put to death (1 Samuel 14:45).

Another example of civil disobedience in keeping with biblical submission is found in 1 Kings 18. That chapter briefly introduces a man named Obadiah who “was a devoted follower of the LORD.” When the queen Jezebel was killing God’s prophets, Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them from her so they could live. Such an act was in clear defiance of the ruling authority’s wishes.

In 2 Kings, the only apparently God-approved revolt against a reigning government official is recorded. Queen-Mother Athaliah, upon the death of her son, King Ahaziah, began a purge of all the potential heirs and her competitors to the throne of Judah. However, Prince Joash, one of King Ahaziah’s many sons, was taken and hidden from the Queen-Mother so that the bloodline would be preserved. Six years later, the priest Jehoiada gathered an army around him, declared Joash to be king, and put Athaliah to death.

Daniel records a number of examples of civil disobedience. In chapter 3 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol in disobedience to the king’s direct command. In chapter 6 Daniel defies the decree forbidding prayer to anyone other than the king. In both cases, God rescued His people from the death penalty that was imposed, seemingly showing His approval of their actions.

In the New Testament, the book of Acts records the civil disobedience of Peter and John towards the Jewish authorities that were in power at the time. After Peter healed a man born lame, Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and put in jail. The religious authorities were determined to stop them from teaching about Jesus; however, Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Later, those same rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29).

One last example of civil disobedience is found in the book of Revelation where Antichrist commands all those across the end times to worship an image of himself. But by the Holy Spirit the apostle John, who wrote Revelation, states that Christians should disobey Antichrist and the world government and refuse to worship the image (Revelation 13:15) just as Daniel’s companions violated Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to worship his idol.

What can be drawn from these examples? The guidelines for a Christian’s rebellion against their government can be summed up as follows:

Christians should openly and publicly resist a government that commands or compels what is in direct violation of God’s laws and commands, and should work in-line with God’s ways to bring about change in that nation and government.

If a Christian disobeys an evil government, unless he or she can flee from the government, they should accept that government’s punishment for their actions. (Peter, John, and the apostles’ accepting their beatings and imprisonment would be the rationale for this.)

Of course, Christians are certainly permitted to work to install new government leaders within the laws that have been established. (Such as getting involved in campaigning and voting.)

Lastly and most importantly, Christians are commanded to pray for their leaders and for God to intervene according to His timing to change any ungodly paths that they are pursuing. As Paul writes to young Pastor Timothy, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).

You see, this nation – this world – is not our home. We are bound to a King Who has greater hold on our allegiance than any president, king, or prime minister this world might put in power. And we are subject to His laws, to His commandments, to His ways when the laws and commandments and ways of this world’s governments conflict with them.

So when this world’s leaders and governments pass laws that tell us it’s okay to kill our unwanted, unborn children, we will not because we know it goes against the laws of our Father and His Kingdom in Heaven.
When this world’s leaders and governments tell us that it’s okay to get divorced on the one hand or to live together as husband and wife without being married on the other, we will not because we know that – even if no one else seems to be getting hurt, that – it hurts our Father in Heaven. When human powers and authorities tell us that it’s okay to marry two men or two women in holy matrimony, we will not because human authorities did not define marriage to begin with and they don’t have the authority to re-define it.

Even if someone claims to be representing God and has wonder-working powers and the might of the nations’ military’s to back them up: If they tell us it is okay to treat those of other faiths and other skin colors and other nationalities and other economic states differently – as though “they” were of lesser worth in God’s eyes than “us” – we will not. If they tell us to treat those of other genders and other sexual orientations and those of other intellectual and physical capacities and other emotional and mental states than us differently, because they can’t know a real quality of life or be productive members of society, we will not. If our friends or family members tell us it is okay to have an affair, or to lie or to cheat or to steal (as long as we don’t get caught) we will not. We won’t call people degrading names. We won’t talk about them behind their backs.

We will love the One Who laid down His life for us, the One Who has loved us first and given us new lives, the One Who has called us and made a way for us to be His friends, with every thought and emotion, with every word and deed, with all our influence and with all our stuff. We will study and trust the Word of God – the Word of God that has been passed down to us and preserved for us at the cost of countless saints and martyrs lives – and we will love all those made in the image of God, believing and trusting that “God loved the world!” And that “He gave His one and only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

We recognize that this will likely be hard for us. But our Abba has given us the Holy Spirit to empower us for each and every work He has called us to. And we believe He has called us to this work: To tell the world His good news; to show the world His great love.

Yes, that includes loving gays and lesbians and transgendered persons and queers: We followers of Jesus Christ will love them as 1 Corinthians 13 defines love and calls us to love one another and others. That includes the unborn and the terminally ill and those of every handicap and walk of life. That includes government officials, and those of opposing political parties. That includes our president and the members of the Supreme Court and our representatives and senators in Congress. We will never treat others as property or as numbers or as objects or as test cases. We will not in any way ignore or demean the image of God in others and the love of God for others, but in all things we will let our faith in Jesus Christ show itself through acts of love: Loving each other and others – even those who are God-haters and those who have declared themselves our enemies – every other. We will love one and all as God in Christ has loved us. Because the Lord Jesus has shown us that how we treat those around us – especially those hurting and in need – is how we are treating Him.

?And we would see You, Lord Jesus!

Notes
The first part of this sermon borrowed heavily from GotQuestions.org’s article, “When is civil disobedience allowed for a Christian?” (http://www.gotquestions.org/civil-disobedience.html)



June 21, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Luke 6:12-19 [NLTse]

12 One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and He prayed to God all night. 13 At daybreak He called together all of His disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Here are their names:

14 Simon (whom He named Peter), Andrew (Peter’s brother), James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, 15 Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (who was called the zealot), 16 Judas (son of James), [and] Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed Him).

17 When they came down from the mountain, the disciples stood with Jesus on a large, level area, surrounded by many of His followers and by the crowds. There were people from all over Judea and from Jerusalem and from as far north as the seacoasts of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those troubled by evil spirits were healed. 19 Everyone tried to touch Him, because healing power went out from Him, and He healed everyone.

Sermon

Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus say, “You should pray.” We merely hear Him telling us how, when, where, and for what to pray. (He also tells us how not to pray.) The Lord Jesus makes the obvious assumption that those who follow Him will pray. And after all my years of ministry I am convinced that if Christians spoke to God more consistently, and if we heard God speaking back to us more consistently, that we would follow Him more closely and backslide into our old sins less readily and not be so easily tempted away from Him by the attractions of the world, as so many are.

But the truth is that many do not pray consistently, and many do not hear from God consistently. A friend of mine told me that the Lord once confided in him, “My people don’t pray. So all I can do is look at them trying to do My work for Me.”

Why do we need to pray? We need to pray because God wants us to put aside our passions and ambitions and learn to build the Kingdom of God from Him using the means of grace He has provided us in His Word and prayer. He wants us to put aside our self-reliance and learn how to rely on Him and His power. He is inviting us to create new things in cooperation with Him: But those things are in His mind. We have scarcely dreamed of them!

We need to pray because God Almighty wants us to realize the shallowness of what we have been able to build with our own hands and to recognize that only by means of prayer and fellowship with Him can we create anything worthwhile or enduring.

Anyone here ever heard of Martin Luther? Martin Luther lived during the 14- and 1500s and was the father of the Protestant Reformation. It was probably one of the most corrupt and self-destructive eras of European history. Unless you were of the nobility, human life had little worth. Wars were commonplace. Sexual wickedness was so widespread that it had even pervaded the monasteries. Political strife was so unsettling – even in the church – that there were three popes wrangling with each other for control of the Roman Catholic Church.

By God’s grace Martin Luther sensed the desperation of his times and God showed him the answer. Luther wrote:

Open your eyes and look into your life and the life of all Christians, particularly the spiritual estate, and you will find that faith, hope, love, obedience, chasteness, and all virtues are languishing; that all sorts of terrible vices are reigning; that good preachers and prelates are lacking; only rogues… are ruling. Then you will see that there is a need to pray throughout the world, every hour, without ceasing, with tears of blood, because of the terrible wrath of God over men…

A lot of historians talk about the Protestant Reformation as a doctrinal debate, not as a spiritual awakening or prayer movement. But Luther, the father of Protestantism, saw prayer at the heart of everything – that without prayer, nothing enduring or good could happen.

He wrote to his friend and colleague, Philip Melanchthon:

Whatever aspect matters may assume, we can achieve all through prayer. This alone is the almighty queen of human destiny. Therewith we can accomplish everything, and thus maintain what already exists, amend what is defective, patiently put up with what is inevitable, overcome what is evil, and preserve all that is good.

The Lord Jesus assumes we will pray for the same reasons He prayed: To grow close, intimate, and into one-ness with the Father; and, to have God’s guidance and empowerment for our work each day.

In our morning’s reading we get a glimpse of the Lord Jesus being caught up in extraordinary communion with the Father. That short phrase, “He prayed to God all night,” reveals a deep, mystical intimacy with God. And yet such mystical communion between Jesus and the Father was not an end in itself but the beginnings and source of actions that began shaping God’s purposes on the earth.

Through that extended, disciplined, and intimate prayer time Jesus received the guidance and empowerment He needed to know which leaders the Father had chosen for Him to be His apostles: All who were needed to set in motion the Father’s plans for bringing salvation to the human race.

In the life of Jesus, again and again, we see that His times of prayer are, yes, times of encouraging fellowship with the Father, but they also always lead up to decisive and dynamic action, preparing Jesus for the work the Father has called Him to, and setting in motion the spiritual and human forces that, together, will establish His future.

The same is true for us. the Father calls us to prayer, and the Lord Jesus assumes we will pray, in order to draw closer and grow more intimate with Him, while at the same time giving us the direction we need for the day’s work and to prepare us to receive the empowerment we’ll need for it.

We must decide to pray as a part of our decision to follow Jesus Christ. Once having made that decision and sticking to it even in the midst of distractions and enemy diversions, you will be amazed how often prayer begins to come spontaneously. You may even begin to be surprised at the discovery that you can, through the Holy Spirit, “pray without ceasing”. More next week!