Sunday, August 26, 2012

Persevering In Prayer

It has once again been too long since I last posted, and for that I apologize.  I must admit that I 'made' time for this post...simply because after what happened at church today, I THINK it may be a little necessary.  I would definitely have to say that this is one of my more favorite passages from Luke.  (Okay, that's not necessarily true).  Luke definitely has to be my favorite recording of the Gospel (yeah, kinda wrong, I know), and I am very familiar with the passages.  Anyway, it comes from Chapter 18 verses 1 through 8.  Here I will post it for you:

 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to whis elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

We had a good time of prayer after the sermon.  I watched as a bunch of people came forward and fell upon their knees.  I will say this:  There is nothing better then that feeling, seeing people humble themselves before God.  I can definitely say that when you're in that position of heart, sure, doubts will come...but IN that position, there's very little the devil can accomplish against you.  (I know I'm crossing all sorts of lines there, but that's how I feel).  Anyway, let's hop right into this!

The first point we see:

I.  At All Times, We Ought To Pray.

First off and foremost, note that this 'ought' in verse 1 is really not only a suggestion.  It really has an idea of necessity.  As humans, we are completely prone to lose heart and wander.  To me, this definitely brought a portion of a song:  "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love, here's my heart o take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.".  Very much so, we are prone to wander and lose heart.  I sure am.

You may also be able to connect them in this way:  If you lead a life that's characterized by prayer, you probably won't be prone to lose heart as much.  (Now, I know that's not ALWAYS the case.).  Now my pastor brought up some serious thoughts on the matter:  To give up on prayer, in essence, is giving up on God.  When you use the 'excuse' of "Well, it's good and all, I just don't have time.  My schedule doesn't work to pray a lot.".  Waaiiiiiiit....You only say that to things that are of no importance to you.  Is communication with God, asking Him for help in things, of no importance to us?  I oughta think about what I just said there before I'm tempted to use that excuse.

Before we get a bit deeper, I must clarify something.  ALWAYS.  Uhm, what am I saying there exactly?  That I shouldn't hang out with any friends because I need to always be praying?  No, no, I'm not saying that. I love what my pastor said on this matter:  It's more of, don't cease to pray.  Whhhaat?  Doesn't that mean the same thing?  Well, that's what I'm tempted to think.  But the moment my pastor said 'military tactic' not 'ceasing'...what that means is they charge, pull back and regroup, and then charge again.  Now, repeat.  Then repeat again.  And again.  And onto infinity.  That's what 'don't cease to pray' means.  We take a break, sometimes regroup with friends or (and, definitely no matter what) the Holy Spirit.  The other thing is that prayer isn't necessarily limited to just speaking words with closed eyes and an open heart to our Heavenly's a lifestyle.  It's praising Him for who He is and what He does for us.

Before we actually move on to the 'parable', I would also say this:  From what I've said, do NOT BY ANY MEANS think that I'm saying, "Hey, you, pray more!  Pray, pray, pray!".  I mean, sure, we all need to pray more.  But prayer is one of those things that you can always theoretically 'do better' in.  We can always be better, therefore we can't be satisfied.  But that' just the thing:  It's no performance!  It's nothing that'll get you from Hell to Heaven (or vice versa).  Here's the point though:  Does leading a prayer-less life characterize our lives?  The answer is to not say, "Oh, I need to change that.".  You need to ask WHY that is, not how to change it.

II.  A Main Reason We Lose Heart In Prayer is the Delays in God's Answers.

Yeaaah, that's a big one, certainly.  Here is where we start to answer that 'why' question.  It often seems that God doesn't answer our prayers as rapidly as we want Him to.  But remember:  What is rapidly to Him isn't rapid to us.  We're but a moment, He's always been.  We don't really understand His Eternal Perspective on things.

We go on to the parable.  The main thing to note here are the characters.

1 Character:  A selfish, unrighteous, wicked Judge.  You get the idea that he doesn't really care about justice, he doesn't care about anyone, just himself.

2 Character:  A needy widow, who relentlessly comes to the wicked judge for justice.  (Note:  In that time, it was much harder for widows then it is today [Not that it's NOT difficult for them today] in the sense that women weren't really allowed to own anything, and when their husband passed away, they received anything that was left and had to live off of it.  [which is usually little].  Here, Jesus seems to make it apparent that someone has removed this widow's source of livelihood.  That's why she's desperate, and relentless in approaching the judge.).

As you follow the story, Jesus shows that eventually the wicked judge gives her justice just because he didn't want her to bug him.  Now don't misunderstand here.  Yes, the widow represents us.  And no, the wicked judge doesn't represent God, we know that.  Here's the thing though:  If a wicked person can give justice by being annoyed into it, won't a perfect, loving and caring judge give justice to those whom He loves and gave His life for?  Exactly!  He does!  But again, it's difficult for us to see that at times.  It's really hard at times, I know.  But He is faithful, His timing is always perfect.  We are promised that He WILL give us justice, and help us in our time of need.  Even rapidly, He says.  But we have to go by God's 'rapidly'...not our own definition of rapidly.  (I'll continue this train of thought in a moment).

III.  In Order To Pray Unceasingly, We Need To Understand Ourselves, and We Need To Understand God.

I've already given you a lot to 'understand' about God, and there's much more, and much more no one understands at all!  But we're revealed some things.  According to other Scriptures, we know of God's Faithfulness, Omnipotence and Omniscience.  He's powerful, and can do anything He wants.  So when He doesn't answer our prayers, it's NOT that He's unable to do it.  We know that He's able.  We also know that He works all for our good, even if we can't see it as good.  Don't freak out about an issue that He's not answering:  If He's not answering, then you don't need it solved quite yet, and God knows that.

What about us?  Well, we know that we're not at all powerful in any minuscule way...otherwise, you know, we wouldn't really need Him, now would we?  As humans, we're frail, we lose heart and give up easily.  We often are grieved by mistreatment (from other humans, because God never mistreats us.  He treats us so oppositely from that, when you realize what we really deserve) and difficult trials.  (Or seemingly mistreatment from difficult trials).  God's Will is Sovereign, and He works all for these things are necessary.  Our position in life is necessary, otherwise, it completely disproves everything about the Gospel and the Bible.  Also, we must never cease to bring to Him our troubles and heartfelt needs.  He listens.  He knows.  There's a song by Fireflight that's called He Weeps...and He Weeps for you, and loves you.  Know that!  Just remember the importance on His timing.  (I know I'm repeating myself...but I wouldn't repeat it if it wasn't serious).  Also, we should NEVER question God's Faithfulness.  The Bible in so many different places has shown us that various people have asked the question:  "God, where are you?  Why have you abandoned me?".  We must be concerned with OUR faithfulness.  The issue is that we have a lack of it, and we must acknowledge it.  Perhaps in prayer, you may also express that.  We ought to be sad and distressed at our lack of faithfulness, and realize that any attempt of ours to be more faithful won't really do much.  Perhaps in addition to asking Him for help in our time of need, we could say, "Hey, God...I don't feel like I'm trusting you.  I mean, I know you can be trusted.  I know that.  But I feel my faith lacking.  Give me the strength to believe that this is all according to your plan."  <---and it really does.  Always.  If a problem isn't solved, then God will solve it...when He solves it.  But He loves to hear you ask anyway.  Amen?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Increase The Master

I apologize, it has been again too long of a time since I've had a post.  Perhaps maybe, I can post a few this week!!! :)  We shall see.  Anyway, I really enjoyed this sermon.  Here's what the sermon kind of wraps around:

Only those who honor the master are able and humble servants.

Here is the scripture:  Luke 17:1-10:   And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”  5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.  7 Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly,4 and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants;5 we have only done what was our duty.’”

Let's jump right into this.  To me, this is a very strong passage.  It throws a burden onto my soul, and I'm sure that's the case with you as well.  The thing that Jesus talks about first deals with this:

I.  The Reality Of The World.

How is the world?  The world throws temptations at us.  It is sure to come.  In our use of words today, we don't use the word 'sure' as a certainty, but that's what Jesus is meaning.  It is impossible for temptations to not come after us.  (Yeah, I know, there's a saying that says, "Even the word itself says, 'I'm Possible!" but leave that for now).  The other thing is that it is better for us to be dead then to lead others in to sin.

A little further down (And really His whole point of the dialogue) is that as humans, we don't like to 'serve' others.  We would rather be served.  We like to rest.  We like to sleep.  We don't like to work.  And we certainly don't like to work on the 'beyond' point that our Lord calls us to.  There are certain things that most of us will lay a line and not cross into.  That leads us really to the next point.

II.  The Role Of The Kingdom Subjects.

What is our role?  I touched on it above.  Jesus went through a description of how it would be better for us to die then to lead others in to sin.  But because we all sin, He calls us to be brothers and sisters to one another.  We must pay attention to ourselves and others.  When we see one of our brothers or sisters sin, we must rebuke them.  But this is rebuking, not condemning.  When you rebuke one another, you do it comfortingly.  Although it is true that they'll be in for a lot of trouble if they don't repent, they aren't destined for Hell just because of it.  We must keep each other accountable to God's commands in love, not in hate.  And after rebuking, we must forgive.  We must forgive and forgive, no matter how many times we're hurt or sinned against.

This all ties together in one knot.  The reality of the world, is that also, as humans...we don't want to forgive.  When someone hurts or sins against us, our first response is to get angry.  We don't want to be friendly with them.  We want to attack them back, but such ways are sinful and Jesus calls us to do the opposite.  We must forgive, which is a very hard thing to do.

Remember that a church cannot grow without rebuke.  It can't mature spiritually.  It cannot, and it will not.  He doesn't call us to just say, "I forgive you." to that person that sinned against us.  The tongue can utter words, but the heart may not grasp or believe the words we send out.  We must say it, and we must mean it.

Forgiveness is hard to do, right?  Well, That's certainly the Disciples' response.  But I want to leave you with something before we move on.  In order to 'be able to forgive', think of Jesus' forgiveness.  He forgave you and I to the point of giving His life for us.  The debt He had to pay for us all was a great sum.  If we can truly understand what that means, we should be easily able to forgive and move on.  After all, our situations against each other are different then the ones we have with our Creator, but the same model applies.  We may not have to go to what Jesus did to forgive us, but there will be sacrifices.  There's always sacrifices.

III.  The Disciple's Response

Their response is truly interesting.  "Increase our Faith!", they cry.  Why?  Because they realize that alone in themselves, they can't do it.  They want Jesus to increase their faith more so that they can handle forgiving and caring for others.  They stayed with Him even when others left.  Perhaps we will stay with Him when others leave and give up, but no matter what, we're all weak.  We all need more strength.  There's no way to do things without Him.

IV.  Jesus' Response

The Lord's response is very stunning.  A mustard seed is a really small thing, and yet, if we had that amount of faith, we could tell a tree to uproot itself and throw itself into the ocean.  Ouch.  If it only required that amount of faith, I'm pretty sure all of us (or at least me, definitely) have no faith whatsoever.  And yet, look at how much God has done for us?  And yet we're unfaithful, and sometimes have doubts.  There are certain thoughts of mine though, that think it's not just a physical thing.  I'm reminded of other things, like the story of when Jesus walked on water.  When they're in the boat in a storm, and they have a lack of faith.  Mountains, storms, trees.  I think that they represent different kinds of 'troubles' or 'trials' that we go through.  If we have enough faith, we can put them aside.  Or we can put them aside into God's ocean, which He controls.  Do I make sense in that frame of reference?

It is sometimes fascinating in how Jesus seems to not answer their questions on things.  Or our questions, for that matter.  And then something odd as well:  He answers our questions.  At least, what we should be asking.  Sometimes we have a habit of not asking the right questions.  We ask for more faith, instead of Him to show Himself more to us.  In order to become 'more able and humble', we have to do just that.

For one moment, Jesus pulls us out of our real position, and gives us the view of the Master.  We are the servants, but He gives us that look.  Should the Master bless the servant who has only done what he's been commanded to do?  Not really, because that's what he's supposed to do.  Not only does the servant have to get everything that he's supposed to do done, but he needs to 'wait' on the Master before he can even think of feeding himself.

So first off, Jesus saves us from doom.  Second, He makes His servants (us) cease causing others to sin and start pointing them to life.  Thirdly, Jesus authorizes them (us, His servants) to do the impossible.  Spiritual troubles won't be too difficult, He gives us the power to overcome them.  Even if we can't do what someone would call 'impossible', the nature of what we are able to do in His power is extraordinary, and all in itself seemingly impossible.