Harbor Lights Sermon  Aug 2011

Pray Confidently

As I said previously I plan to teach a little a bit on prayer for some sessions. And in particular to focus on the prayers found in the New Testament letters. For what better way to learn about prayer than to see what the apostles wrote to the Christians about prayer and to read examples of how they prayed. As I studied the matter I found the things that they emphasized in prayer seemed not to reflect how Christians commonly pray today in my experience. Today Christians primarily pray about circumstances, health, the economy, sometimes to the exclusion of anything else. But most of the prayers in the New Testament epistles are about spiritual things. The prayers contained in the letters written to the Christian community are full of a sense of eternal security, hope and joy at the thought of the rich inheritance awaiting us in heaven, for those of us who have put our faith in Christ. For example, the Apostle Peter starts one of his letters saying,

1Peter 1:3-5 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope
        through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
        and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade— kept in heaven for you,
                who through faith are shielded by God’s power
                        until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

This is an example of a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. And what is he thanking God for? He is thanking God for giving us salvation and all that salvation incorporates. He expresses no doubts as to whether Christians are saved. His rhetoric is that of complete confidence and certainty. And such is characteristic of the rhetoric of the prayers found in the New Testament letters. In fact this sermon I've decided to entitle Pray Confidently.

The early Christians weren't continually praying to be saved. Rather they rejoiced in having been saved and expressed thankfulness to God for the security of their salvation and for all that salvation incorporates. It's not just about going to heaven. That's just part of it. Salvation in Christ includes a new birth into a living hope - to becoming like Christ, being involved in his work in this life with rewards to follow in the afterlife.

Thus we find most of the prayers in the New Testament letters don't focus on issues of justification as if Christians aren't already justified. Though there are a number of prayers which praise God for our position in Christ, having been justified by his blood and consequently forgiven of sin. But rather most focus on sanctification, having had our eternal destiny already secured for us. Having been saved from the wrath of God, we believers can now focus on maturing spiritually and being involved in doing God's work, not to be saved but because we are saved. For it is written of Christ that "he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2Cor 5:15 And that's just fine with us. Having been guaranteed eternal life, what better purpose in life is there than to have the privilege of being involved in securing the salvation of others around us, having an impact on their eternal destiny, and glorifying God though the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ who died for our sins, was buried, and raised from the dead.

To this end I'm focussing on prayer that you believers may be active in applying your faith despite your circumstances, that you may even now bear fruit to God in anticipation of entering His presence. Scripture says, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." 1Thess 5:16-18

The Apostle Paul writes the church at Ephesus saying, "I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." Eph 1:16-19

Notice the content of his prayer. That the believers may have a spirit of wisdom and revelation in their knowledge of God. This is the kind of thing on  the apostle's mind. This is what he considers important for Christians. More important than any material thing or circumstance is that we have a revelation in the knowledge of God and the wisdom with which to apply that knowledge. You know of the wicked it is written, "In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God." Ps 10:4 Conversely wisdom and revelation of the knowlege of God starts with humility. For it first involves putting aside our own thoughts and letting God define Himself. Not imposing our values on God, but letting God tell us what His values are, what He considers important, and perhaps most of all having a spirit of compliance. Jesus said, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him." John 14:21 Thus our revelation of God is a function of our submission to Him.

But, having such an attitude, "In Christ and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence." Eph 3:12  So "let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Heb 4:16 Paul says, "For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (that's praying for the development of personal convictions) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (That's speaking of the development of Christlike desires) That you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—(That's speaking of our experience of the revelation of God's love)  that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Being filled with the fulness of God is a function of knowing Him personally) But notice that this whole quote is a prayer from Ephesians chapter 3. What can influence you to have the revelation of the knowledge of God and be filled with His fullness? How can you influence others to that end? Through prayer. Now there may be a whole process involved God utilizes to bring that end, but it all starts with asking God. Paul finishes the prayer saying, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Eph 3:14-21 Have confidence that God has the power to fulfill that which you ask according to His will. In Romans chapter 4 where Paul characterizes Christian faith, he writes of Abraham's example of faith that "he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." Rom 4:20,21

Furthermore the confidence of our convictions concerning the promises of God is reflected in our hope. Hope was so characteristic of the early Christians that Peter writes, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 1Peter 3:15 And Paul writes, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Rom 15:13


Hymns:


Jul 29,2015