20 September 2020
When we don’t pray
Friends, this is our third sermon in our short series on Prayer. I imagine that every Christian here would agree that prayer is very important.
More than that, there are many of us here who want to pray more often, and want to pray in a better spirit, and want to be constant in prayer.
Some of you are, and you are a great encouragement to us. Keep going!
Yet so many of us are not. It is hard, not always, but often, for so many.
We hear the statistics that say so many Christians of our age, and so many churches of our age are marked by prayerlessness, in private and in public.
Consistently, the least attended gathering a church has is its prayer meeting and the least persistent activity we do personally is often private prayer.
On the one hand we know we ought to pray, for prayer is central and important, and a privilege.
yet on the other hand, our actions, all too often say the opposite.
What would you say about Trinity Church if you had to sum us up?
We are very good at organising things.
We work hard at caring for those in need.
So many here are theologically sharp and know their Bibles well.
How about our prayer?
One person I read this past week asked:
Are we better at organising than and agonising in praying?
Are we better at arguments that adoration?
It is a good question for us as a church.
It is a good question for you as an individual.
What about you?
What about when we don’t pray?
Let me say a few things this morning that I hope will help us all.
It might be we don’t pray because we have head problems.
1. Do you have a Head Problem?
For example, has your thinking about God’s sovereignty made you prayerless?
One of the saddest things is when a wonderful truth about God leads to prayerlessness because it is not understood.
We are a church that is convinced that the Bible teaches us, very clearly that God is in control of all things, he has a set plan and purpose, and nothing can or will thwart what God has intended in all eternity to do.
One of the things that can happen is we start to think. If God is the one “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”, surely it is a bit cheeky or even rude of me to badger him for things?
Surely, he does not change the course of the universe just because some finite, ignorant, and sinful human being asks him to.
Sadly to say, our prayer evaporates into the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.
One of the truly astounding things that is seen over and over again in the scripture is that God has a sovereign plan and his plan includes the prayers of his people.
The Bible simultaneously pictures God as utterly sovereign, and as a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God.
Ezekiel was a prophet in the time when the people of God had rebelled against the Lord and had been punished, but God speaks about the day in which he would change his people so that they will obey him.
When Ezekiel seeks to know how God will do it he is told that the sovereign Lord will stir up his people to prayer for the very thing that he has determined already to give them.
God has a plan and the prayer of his people is part of that plan.
The prophet Daniel understood from the scriptures that the period of seventy years of the exile was drawing to an end.
Daniel knows that God is utterly sovereign and personal, and so in Daniel 9 he addresses himself to his personal God, and prays for the very things that God had promised.
In fact it was precisely because Daniel is aware of the promise of his personal, sovereign God, he feels it is his obligation to prayer in accord with what he has learned in the scriptures regarding the will of that God.
God has a plan, and that plan includes the prayers of his people.
Paul in his letter to the Philippians speaks about his deliverance.
He is confident that that will be the case. How will God deliver him from such temptation?
for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance
How will God bring about his deliverance of Paul?
The Holy Spirit working in Paul and the people at the church in Philippi as they pray for Paul and God answers their pray.
God has a plan and prayer is part of that plan.
Do you see the privilege of prayer? That God would be pleased, delighted to include us, our prayers in his plan.
You might say, “I don’t get how that works.”
Look to be honest, I don’t fully understand it either. Do you have to?
Does Jesus pray? Yes.
Does he know more about the sovereignty of his Father than you or I? Yes.
Does he tell you to pray? Yes.
Do we need to say more?
Don’t let wrong thinking lead to prayerlessness.
That might not be you.
What about this head problem.
What about this one.
Has your sense of unworthiness made you prayerless?
It can be hard to pray, to come into the presence of God when …
You have fallen into gross sin.
Or when you are stuck in habitual sin.
Or when you have a tender conscience to your unworthiness before a holy God …
You think, “how can I come again before him in prayer when I have mucked things up so badly again?”
That can be a real issue. Too ashamed.
Surely he must be sick and tied of me?
That is a lie of Satan. You know that is not true.
Your head might say it is, but you know that is not true.
Do you remember the story of the Samaritan woman in John’s gospel? The woman who had spent her life seeking to find fulfilment in the arms of men, and was now living with her 6th attempt at finding happiness apart from Jesus.
9The Samaritan woman said to Jesus, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" 10Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."
Jesus says to the woman, “If you just knew the gift of God … water that will satisfy your longing heart and soul … and if you knew who I am, you would ask Me – you would pray to ME (It is the same word), and I give it!
Was she worthy? No.
Had she mucked it all up? Yes.
Does Jesus say ask? Yes
You know you never come to Jesus worthy.
You will never come to him worthy, but he says, “When you know me … ask.”
There is a direct connection between NOT knowing Jesus well and NOT asking much from Him.
You know him … so stop believing your head and listen to him.
Do you have a head problem?
For some, our prayerlessness is a head problem.
For others our Prayerlessness is a heart problem.
2. Do we have a Heart Problem?
Can I speak a little personally for a moment?
I don’t often use really personal illustration, but I hope this one is ok.
When Annie, my eldest daughter finished the HSC she did a gap year and worked at McDonalds. For two weeks in that year she decided to go on a holiday to South Africa. She wanted to spend a week at an animal sanctuary and a week at an orphanage.
If you know anything about South Africa, you will know that it is one of the least safe countries in the world. Johannesburg, which is where she flew in, is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Now I was nervous, but before she went I got this dreadful foreboding that she would die in South Africa. It was all in my head, but it was overwhelming…like a premonition that she would die.
When I took her to the airport … I overwhelmingly felt like I would not see her again on this earth.
I remember driving back from the airport weeping uncontrollably.
For two weeks I felt utterly desperate and helpless.
I think I prayed more in those two weeks than I have ever prayed in my life.
I prayed that she would live.
I prayed that if she died it would be quick.
I prayed that she belonged to Jesus and was safe into eternity.
I prayed that I would trust Jesus with whatever he did.
I prayed that God would give me sleep at night when anxiety kept me awake.
I thanked God for every contact we had with her and on and on.
I would pray in the morning, I would pray in the car, I would pray in the shower, and incidental times in the day …
I prayed because I knew I belonged to a merciful and gracious Heavenly Father who is wise and good and all powerful.
I prayed because I was utterly helpless and utterly desperate.
Those two things meant I prayed.
Now why is it do you think that I ever believe I am in a situation that is other than that?
That I belong to a gracious Heavenly Father who is wise and good and all powerful and that I am utterly helpless and utterly desperate?
If the Lord doesn’t hold me, and sustain me and protect me and bless me I wouldn’t last a second.
If the Lord doesn’t hold this church, and sustain it and protect it we would be gone in a second.
What sort of arrogant, self-confident heart do I have that I believe that most of the time I am not utterly helpless and utterly desperate.
We are people who are in desperate need of blessing from God.
Some of you here are young Christians, you have only been a believer for a very short time.
There are many ways in which you use to live, which you now know are not honouring to God.
While many things have changed in your life the pull back to the old ways can be very strong.
You are desperate and helpless and in need a great blessing from God.
Some of us here are old Christians; we have been believers for a very long time. Yet there is temptation to slow down and be slack.
There is temptation to slip into mediocrity or to grow cold in our affection. We are desperate and helpless and in need a great blessing from God.
Some of you are despised for being a Christian either at work or at home or at school and it wears you down. People will not let you follow Christ in peace. Rather, they attack you and mock you and accuse you, and if Satan had his way you would let go of Christ in a moment. You are desperate and helpless and in need of great blessing from God.
Some of you have grown bitter and angry towards a brother or sister in Christ, and you have let that bitterness fester and grow and have fed it and even this morning you are excusing your thoughts and self- righteousness and don’t see how hardened your heart has become. You are desperate and helpless and in need of great blessing from God.
Shall I go on?
Have a look at the passage before us.
Paul has spoken for 11 chapters about all the astounding privileges of belonging to Jesus.
Justified by the faithfulness of Christ – you are clean before God
Adopted as a child of the living God – God is your heavenly Father.
Changed by the Spirit to be more and more like Jesus.
In the light of all those blessing how ought we to live?
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation …
Do you think you do that?
Do you think you have a handle on that.
It is not a surprise is it that he says after all those things … be constant in prayer.
Friends we live in a hostile world and we have hostile hearts. If left to ourselves we would stumble and fall, and bring dishonour to the name of Christ.
We are in great need of blessing from God if we are to continue to stand firm for Christ as individuals and as a church.
A prayerless Christian is like a bus driver trying alone to push his bus out of a bog because he doesn’t need Clark Kent (Superman) who is on board.
A prayerless Christian is like having your wall papered with $100 notes but eating food from a garbage bin because you think you can make it on your own.
A prayerless Christian doesn’t believe we are utterly desperate and utterly helpless.
Do you have a heart problem?
Do you have a head problem?
Do you have a heart problem?
3. Do we have a plan problem?
What do I mean by that?
The devil defeats most praying before it happens because we didn’t make a plan.
If you don’t plan — believe me — you won’t pray.
If you want to take a four week holiday, you don’t just get up one morning and say, “Hey let’s go today.”
If you haven’t planned you won’t go, and that is how many of us treat prayer. Is there any surprise when we don’t pray?
Do you have a plan?
Do you have a place?
Some where you won’t be distracted?
Where you won’t see the dust on the window sill.
Where you don’t have your phone or a ipad.
You may have to go for a walk.
There is no rules which says you have to sit still when you prayer.
Make a plan, find a place and make it work.
Be smart about it.
If you are too cold when you pray, put a jumper on, if you are too hot take a jumper off.
It is not particularly godly to be hot or cold when you pray.
Spurgeon told his students, “It is no good praying if you are in a cold bedroom. Otherwise all the time that you are on your knees you will be mentally getting the fire going!
It may be that for you, when you pray you need to use a softer chair. It may be that for you, when you prayer you need to use a harder chair.
Some people write down their prayers as they pray them, because it helps them concentrate.
Some people speak them out loud and they find this focuses their mind. Some people pray with others.
I will say this.
Combine it with reading your Bible.
Take what you read in the Bible and turn it into prayer
Some people read a passage of scripture and after that with their eyes open they pray through what they have just read.
That is not a bad thing to do.
God has given us great freedom to be wise in the way that we pray. So “Pray as you can and don’t try to pray as you can’t”
Do you feel the battle … did you expect it not to be difficult?
See our great privilege … See the wonder of our heavenly Father … see our utter desperation, and let’s be people who pray.
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