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Our main activity in Canterbury

by on February 9, 2015

I haven’t been very good at keeping up with posting talks! But this one sums up a lot of what we are on about here, so I thought you might like a read:

VISION TALK 3: PRAY

Ephesians 6:10-20

We’re continuing our series on our church’s vision, using the vision diagram I showed you last week. We’ve been talking about taking part in God’s kingdom as it arrives in Canterbury.

Now we’re going to get practical: we’re up to our core strategies, the main activities God is calling us get involved in along with Jesus.  What do we actually do? 

Our first box is: PRAY.

I wonder if you would have expected this to come first. There’s something strange about our age: many Christians don’t pray much. Many churches don’t pray much. Church leader and international speaker Don Carson says: “What is both surprising and depressing is the sheer prayerlessness that characterises so much of the western church.”

I went to Bible college along with the next generation of leaders of our churches. And what I learned was that many of the studuents there were also mostly prayerless.

This is something new and different: in past ages prayer was a big part of the Christian’s life, and a big part of the church’s life. In other cultures prayer is big: so many Korean Christians love to pray. Chinese believers hold many prayer meetings. But in the West, in our culture, we don’t. Why do you think that is? DISCUSS.

If you’re anything like me you struggle too, to pray. Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 5.30.33 pm

Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians about prayer and what he has to say may surprise you. In Ephesians 6 he describes the Christian life as a struggle, a battle: v.10

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

In the face of this great enemy, believers in Christ have to be ready for action: v.13  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

And so Paul describes this armour, the belt of truth and so on. It’s an image of the Christian community gearing up to stand firm together under pressure. It’s a stirring picture, Christians are not weak and hopeless, they are strong like soldiers who fight.

But what does the picture actually mean, in real terms. What does it look like day to day? Paul only has one thing to say about this: v.18 Praying in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. 

He doesn’t say, ‘And pray in the Spirit’ as though this were an extra thing added on to the  battle instructions. No, he says, take up God’s armour, praying in the Spirit. This is Paul’s explanation of what’s involved in arming yourself for the battle. “Arm yourselves by praying in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayer and request.”

How are they to fight? Through prayer. These tough Christian warriors use this as their weapon, their armour. And it’s not a once a week thing. They need to be armed and ready 24/7. Paul says ‘Praying at all times.’ He insists on this: v.18  “In this be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” When Paul says the saints he doesn’t mean special people chosen by Rome. No he means all the Christian believers, the whole church family. They are the saints. Be alert and always keep on praying for each other. For all of you. This is something they do together as well as in private.

Of course in the back of his mind Paul is thinking of Jesus. Do you remember how Jesus prepared himself when his own day of evil came, so that he was able to stand his ground against the forces of evil. When they came to arrest Jesus and put him on trial, what did they find him doing? LET PEOPLE ANSWER. He was in the garden, praying. And urging his disciples to pray. There he was in Gethsemane, putting on his armour, ready for battle.

So the Christian community fights its battles in this unique way. Not with anger and violence. Not through taking people to court. Not through putting up high walls like a fortress. No we stand against all pressures through prayer. Like a soldier surrounds himself with armour, so the people of God surround themselves with prayer.

Paul really gives prayer a unique place in the Christian life. that’s one of the reasons we’ve put it at the start of our core activities. It’s like breath. Did you know you are constantly surrounded by breath, all the people around you are breathing in and out. Like it or not, we all live in that atmosphere! Paul says, that’s what prayer is like for the community of Jesus: it surrounds us always like breath. When the Spirit breathes life into you, you start to breath out prayer. Paul doesn’t want the Christians to stop breathing!

I wonder how that sits with you? If you’re anything like me, prayer doesn’t come natural.

We are part of this culture this society where it’s like prayer is stifled, squashed. There’s an anti-prayer force at work in our country and we all feel the effects. It’s like a kind of spiritual asthma: we fi
nd it hard to breath. Our faith has trouble breathing.

So at CCC we’ve deliberately taken a stand on this: we’ve tried to put prayer at the centre of our community life. Whatever is going on our our church life, in our neighbourhood, we are praying over it. Prayer is where the heavy lifting happens for our ministries. We don’t expect anything good to happen, any growth or progress or breakthroughs, unless we’ve prayed for it. And we’re trying to learn to pray faithfully, to keep on praying for a thing over time. Also, did you know we have over 90 prayer supporters out there praying for us each week, in other churches around Australia? How good is that!

But the reality is, we all still find it hard. And people in our church family tell me they struggle to pray in private. Rather than being surrounded by prayer, it can become a once a week activity. But a soldier who only puts on his armour once a week isn’t going to last that long in battle, is he?

So I want to do more to persuade us all that we need to give ourselves to prayer, both together and in private. And then I want to suggest a few practical ways to help you pray.

When Paul puts prayer in a battle context, as well as Gethsemane he probably has in the back of his mind the story of Israel fighting the Amalekites, which – storytold for us earlier. Remember it? The people are under severe attack by this hostile tribe. Moses their leader, you would think he should lead them into battle, but instead he says, ‘I’m going to climb that hill over there and lift up my staff. You guys stay down here and do the fighting.’

That might seem like a strange thing to do, to us. Moses this is hardly a time for mountain-climbing! But people in the ancient world saw things differently. For them mountains were the home of gods. The mountain-top was the place to meet with your god. So what Moses says I’m going up the hill, everyone would have understood, he’s going up to see God. And Jews, when they prayed, would lift their hands up. So when Moses climbs the mountain to raise his hands holding his staff, it would have been clear to the people, he’s going up to plead with God in prayer. Moses with his staff raised represents Moses appealing to God. Asking for his people, for victory in the battle. For safety.

And as long as he keeps praying, the people are winning. But when his arms get tired, the battle goes against them. So his assistants prop up his arms. Good idea! For us it’s a funny story. But can you see the point of it? There are all those thousands of soldiers down below armed and fighting. But the place where the battle is decided is up on the mountain top. It’s Moses’ arms that make the difference. Without his prayer, nothing they do down below will be any good.

And so Paul writes to the Ephesians, v.19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. 

“I’m fighting here,” says Paul, “trying to do this gospel ministry God’s given me. But it isn’t going to work unless you guys are up the mountain raising your arms for me. I need your prayer support.”

And so friends, if you want to do anything good, if you want to be part of what God is doing, bringing his kingdom, it’s got to start here. With prayer.

Trouble is, our world is so sold on empowerment, on being strong and independent, when we see something that needs doing we want to get to it, fix the thing ourselves. We’re so confident we can make a difference. Its the Coldplay song: “I will try to fix you.” We teach our kids to be independent – we don’t teach them to pray. So we’re all down with the troops in the thick of the battle – but maybe no one climbed the mountain to see God. Maybe there’s no one holding up their hands. And so often we are left defeated.

The Christian way is much humbler. We see a need or a problem, and we ask God to do it, and we keep on asking in Jesus’ name, because we’re so confident that only Jesus can make a difference. It’s true that as we pray, God takes us up and makes use of us, gets us involved as he works. But it all starts with prayer. The Christians that God really uses are the ones on the mountain top. So Paul doesn’t tell the Ephesians get out and preach the gospel. Extend the kingdom! No, he tells them, Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,  20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. 

Paul wants to persuade us to live lives surrounded by prayer. To wear prayer like armour around us. How about we make this year a special year of prayer in our community? How about we make this the year when we really learn to live this? If you and I do one thing together this year, let’s make it this one thing: learn to pray.

Now the great thing about this is, anyone can pray. It doesn’t need any special gift, and great mind or intellect. You don’t need qualifications. Whatever else you might be able to do you can speak. That means you can speak to your Father in heaven.

How can we do that? I want to finish with a few practical tips to help you learn to live in prayer. This is rubber hits the road stuff.

1. Use the Lord’s prayer. It is a great way to learn to pray. We want our prayers to be shaped by the Lord’s prayer. Use it, say it, pray it. Here’s a suggestion: each morning at breakfast, at the start of the day, gather your family, whether its just you alone or with your husband, or with the kids, whoever is there, gather and take a minute to start the day in prayer with these words Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Our father in heaven.’  We do this as a family each morning, it only takes a minute, and let me tell you, it shapes your life, it will shape and bless your family life. There’s nothing better you can do in the mornings than this. And it shapes the kids too – they are learning to connect with God as their father, at the start of each day. That’s worth doing!

2. Make a time in your day for private prayer. Go into your closet, Jesus said, and get in private with your heavenly Father. Pour out your heart to him. That’s a kind of closeness, an intimacy that you can’t have with God without private prayer. If you are wanting to get close to God and know him as your Father, you need this.

But it won’t just happen. The busyness of life crowds it out. You need to make a time. It could be when you first wake up. Or it could be last thing at night before bed, or at lunchtime at work. Or whenever works for you.  Make a time. You don’t need hours, just a bit of time.

3. Lastly, keep a track of the things you want to pray about.  Remember what Paul tells the Ephesians: Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Moses had to keep those arms up, and we need to keep faithfully praying for the people and the things God lays on our hearts.

But if you’re anything like me, I’m forgetful. I come to my prayertime, and – BLANK!

So I need to keep a record. I’ll show you how I do it, you might like to try something similar. SHOW PRAYER CHART

I pray about other things as well, this grid doesn’t limit me, but I’m always praying for these things and these people. And it helps me keep a track of how God answers. Unless you have a super memory, you need a record to remind you. Something like this.

We live in a prayerless society, and even the church has got infected. But in this time, Jesus calls us to this core ministry, to pray. Peter writes, You do not have because you do not ask. We are hoping for God to do great things among us this year, aren’t we. But if we don’t ask, why should God give? This morning at our planning meeting, people wrote down what they dreamed our church life would be like this year. Wonderful dreams. Here is the pathway to see that happen. Let’s take this journey together, and walk in prayer together. Let’s make this a year of special prayer, and then, you wait, see how richly God will answer us!

From → Bible talks

2 Comments
  1. Jon Blyth permalink

    Can you post your Prayer Chart?

  2. ok will do Jon

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