My sermon on sunday was on prayer (which will be no surprise to my regular readers!) I focussed in on how prayer changes us and the vital importance of believing in and experiencing a present God. The audio is available at http://jubilee-church.org/sermons/2006/01/prayer-works-when-life-is-tough.htm
Here are the notes I preached from
Four groups of people here this morning, and I have something to say to each of you
- Those who are not yet Christians
You will have an opportunity to become a Christian today- begin to think, is that what I want to do?
- Those who used to live like a Christian but you haven’t been going to church for a while and are what we might call “backslidden”
You will have an opportunity to rededicate yourself to Jesus this morning- is that what you want to do?
- Christians who are following God, but nonetheless are facing a tough time at the moment, and for whom hope is a battle- perhaps your motivation is lower than it used to be
I am praying that todays message will give you renewed hope as we look at how to pray in tough times
- The rest of us will face tough times in the future so be prepared!
For all of us we are going to focus on the kind of prayer which works when life is tough.
PSALM 13 The “how long” psalm
At the beginning of this psalm we see an absent God, a worrying heart and an exalted enemy.
Sadly for many Christians, although they believe in God, they belive in a God who essentially leaves them to their own devices and this experience of God feeling distant and almost disinterested in them is their daily experience.
In fact for some Christians their experience of God is almost non-existant. It doesn’t have to be that way!
God does not intend us to relate to him as some kind of distant, dormant figure, and we just quietly wait for heaven. There is a “not yet” to the Christian life, as we wait for heaven but there is also meant to be a NOW aspect to it.
Maybe you have never known the real presense of God in your life, this psalm tells us you can experience God, it also tells us that there are times when although in fact God hasn’t forgotten us, he does hide himself from us.
Actually, our sin and indifference towards God produces a barrier between us and him which has to be dealt with if God seems a long way away, or you are not even sure about whether he exists, this psalm tells us how to pray in a way that changes this.
BY the end of the psalm we have
A Present God, a joyful heart and hope that the enemy will be defeated.
What makes the difference? PRAYER!
What can we learn about the kind of prayer that works in tough times from this psalm?
David begins with
THE LONGING OF HIS HEART
There is a yearning that everyone feels at times, but during hard times that yearning becomes stronger.
We were made for something more than this daily grind.
Life is a journey. We have not arrived at the destination, but are getting closer all the time.
We are not made for this world, and when things go wrong it helps us to realize this.
Children say “are we there yet”, God like the parents say “it wont be long now” we, like the kids say “it feels like for ever” When we get there, like the kids we will almost forget the journey for eternity will be so wonderful, and so long that everything we experience on earth will feel like-
“light and momentary troubles”
If the battle wasnt so hard the victory wouldnt taste as sweet.
The phrase “how long” itself marks the beginning of faith. There is a cry that all is not as it should be, and just a hint that he is expecting an answer that isn’t “I have forgotten you and will hide from you forever!”
As Christians, we are not called to believe that all is as it is meant to be. We should have a yearning in our hearts for more. Our church, is known for being on the move, for changing. Anyone who was hear one year ago will tell you things were very different- meeting in a school, much smaller, beginning to look outwardly, not as many visitors, prayer beginning to grip us.
God has no problem with us being dissatisfied with the status quo- there is little to pray for if we are completely at ease with the way things are.
In fact we look for some sense of dissatisfaction in our leaders.
The secret I want us to learn this morning is NOT the secret of being content WITH all our circumstances, but rather the secret through prayer of being content IN ALL our circumstances
Life can be hard for us as individuals- how long will I be sick? Struggle with this sin? Have this relationship problem? Be looking for a job?
How long will the church as a whole be in decline in the UK? When will revival come?
God has no problem with us being sincere with him. We can fall into two errors here- 1 unreality how are you “praising the lord” or getting angry with God and giving him a piece of our minds.
David is respectful and honoring of God, but is also real about how he feels.
His prayer starts a bit out of balance really, even as he says “how long will you forget me.” He probably knows that he is going a bit too far, but have you ever stopped to think that in order to walk we have to be out of balance.
He is stewing in his own thoughts taking counsel within or wrestling with thoughts
It certainly seemed to him that God had forgotten him maybe you feel the same way. AS he is leaning in the direction of despair, it is as though all his years of experience of the faithfulness of God kicks in and rather than fall over into frank despair, his reflex takes over and his foot swings forward, and he moves into a cry that marks the beginning of faith.
THE CRY OF PRAYER
IT is OK to bring things to God and to then move into a cry for his mercy
Bring light to my eyes good prayer for the unbeliever, the backslidden and the established christian
Note the cry of faith, “O Lord MY God!”v3
Prayer is the turning point between mourning and rejoicing!
If you are an unbeliever here today, we pray for you that God will bring light to your hearts, as John Piper put it
My prayer for unbelievers is that God will do for them what He did for Lydia: He opened her heart so that she gave heed to what Paul said ( Acts 16:14). I will pray that God, who once said, ‘Let there be light!’, will by that same creative power ‘shine in their hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ ( II Corinthians 4:6). I will pray that He will ‘take out their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh’ ( Ezekiel 36:26) .
In short, I do not ask God to sit back and wait for my neighbor to decide to change. I do not suggest to God that He keep his distance lest his beauty become irresistible and violate my neighbor’s power of self-determination. No! I pray that he ravish my unbelieving neighbor with his beauty, that he unshackle the enslaved will, that he make the dead alive and that he suffer no resistance to stop him lest my neighbor perish.
THE CHANGE PRAYER BRINGSFive and six represent faith. Faith is the fruit of prayer don’t wait till you have faith to pray, pray in order to get faith!
Don’t wait for God to show himself to you, cry out to him to show himself to you, even if you have to say “if you are there”
Re3membring past blessings and thanking for them!
“Sorrows remembered sweeten present joy.”
PRAYER INFUSES GODS THOUGHTS INTO US.
Notice that nothing in his circumstances had changed, HE had changed instead.
SALVATION AND REDEDICATION of life to Christ