Prayer

Prayers that criss-cross (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5)

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Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you (2 Thessalonians 3:1)

The Apostolic gift lifts local eyes from considering only the local church and personal issues to see the broader need, and in so doing the worldwide mission of Jesus remains in focus always.  The apostle Paul has addressed local questions that the believers had amongst themselves, but now he calls them to join him in Jesus’ mission to the whole world.

Paul asked these young believers to pray that the gospel ‘would run and be glorified’. He is asking them to pray that the gospel would advance and that it would be honoured (3:1).  The gospel advances through local churches, through preaching, through the lives of all believers living out their transformation and sharing Jesus.

What do you pray about?  Only local, personal things or are you prayers about the gospel speeding ahead, spreading out all across the world.  I urge you from Scripture to widen the scope of your prayers if that’s needed, to care about church planting, and the gospel’s advance reaching to all unreached people of the world.

He also asked them to pray that people would respond wholeheartedly to the gospel, that lives would be transformed (as had happened in Thessalonica) by the gospel (3:1).

2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.

In Paul’s mind, gospel advance was linked to danger and oppression.  So he asked them to pray that we may be delivered from wicked & evil men (3:2) and yet even as he is praying he knows, the Lord is faithful, he knows, he is confident that God will establish them and guard you against the evil one.

So he closes praying that the Lord would ‘direct their hearts’ (3:5).  Only God can lead and direct us at a heart-level so that we end up loving God more and becoming more and more robust/steadfast like Jesus.

This little section starts with Paul asking them to pray, and ends with Paul praying for them! May our prayers for one another criss-cross like this, us praying for others and others praying for us – partnering in prayer knowing that prayer is the power God’s given us to open and shut doors.

 

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Praying for what really matters (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

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What we pray for reveals what we value.  In 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 we get a little insight into some of Paul’s prayer time for the believers he had to leave behind in Thessalonica. Let’s do a quick survey of the things Paul and his team were praying for and see what we can learn from what it was they were praying for…

  1. Paul and his team gave thanks for the Thessalonians response to the Gospel (1:2-3)
  2. Prayed that God might enable his team to help the Thessalonians to grow up in their faith through good teaching and leadership (3:10)
  3. Prayed that God would make a way through the devil’s hindering (2:18) so that they could be re-united with the Thessalonians again for their mutual encouragement (3:11)
  4. Prayed that the Thessalonians love would abound towards one another in the church & also about for all people (3:12)
  5. Prayed that the Thessalonians might be blameless on the day of Jesus’ second coming (3:13)
    Prayed that they might become more and more like God (sanctified) and that they be kept blameless until the day Jesus returns (5:23-24)

In summary, incidentally through this letter we discover some of the things that really mattered to the apostle Paul when he prayed for others.

  1. He gave thanks to God!
  2. He prayed for enabling power to accomplish that which God had called him to do.
  3. He prayed for God’s breakthrough where things felt stuck/hindered
  4. He prayed for these believers to be like God, to be abounding in love
  5. He prayed that God would keep them safe through trials to the very end of the age.

Think about your prayers for a moment.

What things are your prayers typically characterised by if you were to do an audit?

How could you pray through some of these things that were the apostle’s prayer focus in your life and over the lives of others?

Partnership & Prayer (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10)

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Paul and his team eventually send Timothy to Thessalonica to establish and exhort the Thessalonians in their faith in Jesus so that ‘no one would be moved by these afflictions’. (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3)

On his return to Paul in Athens Timothy brought back a good report of the Thessalonians faith, love and also their warm friendship and longing to meet again (1 Thessalonians 3:6).

This report comforted Paul and his team and provoked them to thanksgiving and more fervent prayer (night & day) for the Thessalonians that their faith might be firmly established.

What can we learn from this?

The Gospel forms new relationships that didn’t previously exist (1 Peter 2:10)!

Paul is worried, eager to hear news, wanted to come visit, was hindered, prayed, sent Timothy, then was relieved and prayed day and night – all for a group of people he didn’t know prior to their salvation and whom he only spent a month with.  But in that time God joined their hearts and true spiritual friendship formed so that they really cared for each other.

God established a heart level partnership between Paul’s team and this church, these believers so that the church longed to see Paul and team again and they were eager to see them and hear from them and wanted to see them built up and encouraged in their faith.

God does this at an individual level when we get joined to individuals in our church who come alongside us or whom God uses us to come alongside to establish and encourage them in their faith.

God does this at a church level when we as a church have people that speak into the life of the church, pray for and care for a church that is not theirs but is a church community of faith that they care for and love.

Over the years, as Oasis, we have had many people like that who have prayed for, loved and cared for Oasis Church even though they have been from somewhere else and have only visited or been with us for a short time – God has joined them to us in partnership & prayer…

We thank God for every Frontier Year Project person who’s ever invested in the life of our church, we thank God for Craig & Shannon Botha and their investment in our church, for Ray & Sue Lowe who love Oasis, for Lois who has advocated for us for so many years and prayed continuously, for Gerry & Donna too for their love and generosity & the whole of Centre Street Church for their partnership, for Common Ground Church & GodFirst Rosebank for their exceeding generosity and the many other Advance churches that have partnered with Oasis Church, for local churches who have supported and prayed for Oasis, for the Waldron family who made us their home and carry us in their hearts………….  I know I have missed out on many but the point is made.

We have been joined together with others in partnership and prayer as a local church, it’s what we see in the New Testament and its been our experience.

May we partner with others!  As individuals, may God use us to exhort and establish and encourage others in the faith, may God join our hearts in prayer and partnership for their growth and benefit, and may God keep using us more and more as a local church to plant and strengthen other local churches all over South Africa!

So which is it?

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Are we to pray for God’s will or are we to pray asking God for what we want?

Is Jesus contradicting Himself?

Matthew 6:9-15 Jesus clearly teaches us to pray for His purposes for His will to be done and by implication, Jesus is teaching that prayer is about us aligning our will with God’s will. In prayer we are the one’s who are changed.
And yet in the very next chapter (Matthew 7:7-11), in the same sermon on the mount Jesus is teaching us to be proactive in prayer to ask our Father in heaven for He who is perfect in His love for us will respond willingly/generously when we call on Him in need or even when we desire something we don’t need.
Depending on our Christian tradition we will find either one of these statements regarding prayer as a naturally better ‘fit’ for us. For some prayer is not telling God what you want from Him but us asking God what He wants of us. For others prayer is about faith, which is born out of the confidence of knowing whom we are asking and knowing what our relationship to Him is!

Neither of these traditions is right, they both are half right – which is not right at all.

I love the paradox here, Jesus teaches two different truths held in tension and we are to hold onto both of them to understand His will for us in prayer.
We are to align our hearts our wills to His, in prayer we get tuned into His perspective and His desires and yet we are to know the freedom of little children before their Father who tend to ask things of their Father, not for a minute questioning His goodness or His love, and quite frankly not even often paying attention to His desires in that moment.

What a lovely picture of prayer!

It’s complex, dynamic, it’s about relationship and reflection, it’s appropriate to express raw desires with confidence knowing who we bring our requests to with faith.

The type of prayer Jesus speaks of refuses to be put into one box or another – it’s glorious and it’s our privilege. Amen.

Irony

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It’s been said that the more you learn the more you know how little you know!  Just this week if you might have been among those who were the first people ever to see close-up photo’s of the dwarf planet Pluto with the incredible photo’s being sent back by the New Horizons space probe across 3+billion miles of space.  We know, so little of so much…

Yet in our lives I/we often act as though we have a solid grasp on what’s happening and or what should be happening in any given situation.  Sometimes when I hear myself praying, it’s even as if I’ve slipped into ‘informing God mode’ telling my Father what He needs to know and needs to do…  Have you ever slipped into that mode?

On the Emmaus Road (Luke 24), at one point Jesus comes alongside the two disciples who have just left Jerusalem after 3 tumultuous days with Jesus’ arrest, trial, abuse, death on the cross, being buried and then on the 3rd day an empty tomb with stories of angelic encounters…

The two men are talking about all these things and Jesus asks them what they’re talking about to which Cleopas replies; “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

What irony!  Cleopas is amazed, thinking he knows what has been happening, he is amazed at how little Jesus Himself seemingly knows.  Without knowing it he is in ‘informing God mode’ and yet they are the ones who are about to have their eyes, their minds & their hearts opened to what is really true and real.  God is about to give them some perspective that is going to cause their hearts to burn with passion within them!

The contrast between God’s omniscience and our tiny grasp on reality is massive.  There is much in life which we don’t understand, much that we feel is out of our grasp or out of our control and yet we are in an eternal love relationship with Him who knows all things and works all things according to the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:11) and importantly knows us intimately, formed us in our mother’s wombs and knows every step of ours and even knows every thought (Psalm 139)…

I believe that our Father loves to hear what’s in our hearts, what’s on our minds and that we can tell Him anything we want, but let’s remember that in one sense we can’t tell Him anything and we definitely don’t need to remind Him of anything.

Prayer is not for God but for us, prayer doesn’t change God’s perspective but rather changes ours as we come into our heavenly Father’s presence.

Is there something you’re struggling with, perplexed by?

Take it to Father in prayer, remembering that He knows it already.  He doesn’t need a PA telling Him, reminding Him what to do today, but He wants to hear from your heart, He wants you to express yourself to Him and He wants to pour His love out into your heart, to cause your heart to burn within you, He wants to open your eyes, your mind and your heart so that you see Him more clearly, love and worship Him more passionately and so that you’ll be comforted by knowing who He is regardless of what circumstances you face.

“Father, you know everything in my heart today, you know my hopes, dreams, fears & questions, you know what I need and everything that those I serve need, today I still myself, quieten myself and resolve to simply know that you are God!” Amen.

Come…

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Jesus took the initiative and left heaven to come to us, in Luke 18 there is a set of five parables/encounters that are all about how we ought to come to Jesus…

Come with persistent faith in prayer

The widow (vs1-8) eventually gets the justice she has been pleading for from the unrighteous judge.  Jesus uses this to contrast how much more God who has chosen us in love (elected us) will give us justice (answer our prayers) speedily.  This is because of our relationship with God that was established by God when we believed (John 1:12).

Jesus urges us to be persistent like her and to have faith as we ask because we know who we are asking when we pray.  We are not coming to some unknown official in the sky, but to our Heavenly Father who loves us!

Come with humility acknowledging your brokenness 

Next (vs9-14) Jesus contrasts a self-centered (note the five “I”‘s in the text) self-righteous, proud Pharisee with a humble sinner who knows he has messed up.

These are like the two types of people in the world;

The one is trying to save themselves by human effort trusting in their morality and performance to save them and so asks for recognition and praise for their efforts…

The other knows there is no hope in self-salvation projects and rather humbly admits their moral failings, their brokenness and asks for mercy.

Here Jesus reveals that the only way to being justified is not performance but grace which is only accessed by humbling oneself before God and asking for mercy and grace.

Come believing as a child

Next (vs15-17) Jesus urges us to come ‘like a child’ for only such people shall enter His kingdom.  What does that mean?

Children are eager to believe, they are uninhibited in their believing and they are full of wonder and amazement and unrestrained in expressing joy…

Such a provocation for stuck up, cynical, staid, doubting, questioning adults…!  May I, may we be more like children in our coming to Jesus.

Come prepared to relinquish other loves, other idols

In the encounter with the rich ruler (vs18-30) Jesus refused to let the man put Jesus in the box he had in mind for Jesus!  He tried to call Jesus “good”, good teacher – someone you might learn from…  But Jesus wouldn’t let him do that.

‘I’m not good, I’m God’ Jesus basically says to the man.  ‘You want me to be good teacher but actually I am God and as God I call you to relinquish all other loves, all other things (idols) you have worshipped or put your trust into’…

Teachers don’t make demands, but God does.  Only God is worthy of our worship, our trust, our full attention.  Sadly, the man doesn’t want to let go of what he loves, let go of what he is trusting and holding on to in order to hold on to God alone.

We need to come to God, relinquishing other loves, other things we place our trust in, love Him with all our heart would, mind and strength, knowing that to relinquish all to get God is in fact to get more than all we ever had (vs29-30).

Come boldly with faith

Lastly in this little grouping is the blind beggar, who cried out loudly for Jesus to have mercy on him.  He pressed through etiquette, pressed through the opinions of others and boldly got his request before Jesus.

Jesus interpreted this boldness and this determined action as faith (vs42)!  Faith that Jesus was God and that Jesus could heal him was the fire that motivated him to call out so boldly.

Sometimes I/we come to Jesus in prayer that is so far removed from this man’s bold faith, we come apologetically masking often our lack of conviction that God is able or that God does want to answer with words hat are anything but bold.

Let’s come as God’s beloved children with faith when we pray.

Is it the end yet?

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Why?  

Such a short phrase and yet so all consuming at times in our lives or the lives of those we love.  In the opening lines of Luke’s gospel (Luke chapter 1) we are introduced to a married couple (Zechariah & Elizabeth) who are now ‘well advanced’ in years and yet sadly do not have any children…

Why?  Although Nadine and I never faced this particular challenge ourselves, we know a number of couples who wanted children and yet had to wait month after month, year after painful year… Why?

Luke, wants us to know that this experience of theirs was not as a result of consequences of some action on their part.  In fact they are described in glowing terms as having married according to God’s instructions and they were also diligently serving God and living in such a way that would have been pleasing to God.

Luke points out two medical reasons for their being childless – ‘Elizabeth was barren’ and ‘both were advanced in years’.  However, the unmentioned reason is the true reason for this situation in their lives – God was going to work a miracle through them that was going to usher in the miraculous birth of the Messiah to come!

Makes me think of Romans 8:28 and how as Michael Eaton says that passage means that when things are going badly, somehow for the believer they’re going right in a funny sort of way that we just might not fully understand right now!

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s pain and sadness must have been real and crushing at times, it must have caused them to question themselves, to even question God…  But all the while, God was sovereignly working out all things, personal things and national and cosmic things all in accordance with a His plan and purposes (Ephesians 1:11).

We know Zechariah had prayed because the angel Gabriel in vs13 says to Zechariah; “your prayer has been heard”.  I would not be surprised if Zechariah had gone through periods of doubt regarding his faith, regarding the goodness of God or whether his prayer’s were being heard…  But in this moment, the angel confirms, your prayer has been heard!

Are you like Zechariah and Elizabeth?  

Have you been diligently following God, seeking to live in ways you know please Him, serving God in the church in some way and yet there is something that you feel God has not heard you on?

What an encouragement this seemingly ordinary couple are!

They served God, obeyed God loved to please God in spite of their own struggle and disappointment at seemingly unheard and unanswered prayers and seemingly did so for years and years.  Their faith wasn’t dependent on God doing what they wanted when they wanted it!  They weren’t consumer’s but worshipers of Almighty God.

If they had conceived as a married young couple, no one would have noticed, it would not have caused all who knew them or all those in the hill country of Judea and all around who heard say; “What then will this child be?” (vs66)

God was working in the delay, God wasn’t late but on time as He always is according to His timescale not ours.  What is there in your life that feels like delay, or unheard or unanswered prayer?  Can you believe God’s sovereign will and His perfect timing?  I am not saying you’ll get what you’ve been praying for necessarily, but I am saying that as with this couple, God has your life and it’s circumstances in His loving control and your life like that of this couples’ is interwoven with God’s divine purposes in the whole earth!

This story is a good news story, with a wonderful conclusion far beyond what they had ever prayed for no doubt, angelic visitations, in filling by the Holy Spirit, prophesy, and the honour of a son who usher’s in the Messiah…

Someone said to me the other day, when things in our lives seem unfulfilled, out of control even, under pressure – what we can say with assurance is ‘that we haven’t reached the end of the story yet‘, there is more to come, God’s not done.  We know from Hebrews 11:39 that for some of us God won’t have even written the final chapter of our lives when we have passed on to eternity as our lives can still have impact after our death and history of this earth won’t be wrapped up until Jesus comes back…

Maybe you’re in a tough spot right now, maybe your faith is being challenged, maybe it feels like God has abandoned you or is not answering your prayers…

Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story encourages us to remain faithful, diligent in loving God, serving God’s purposes and while we wait to see what God will do and we too with them one day cry out “blessed be the Lord God”.