Becoming Agents of Holiness- Pt 1 (9/18/16)

Posted by on Oct 1, 2016 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pastor Jim is beginning a sermon series on Prayer, entitled “Becoming Objects of Holiness.”  In this first week, he reminded us that prayer changes us; it doesn’t change God.  In order to grow into holiness and to be an “agent” that God can use to His glory, we must develop an active and growing prayer life.

And it’s important that we pray together as a family of believers in “Corporate Prayer.” Yeah- I can go into my “prayer closet” and pray all by myself; and that is important. But the Bible consistently models the power of prayer when we also take time to join together and offer our prayers in concert.

The following recording is from the 11:00 service.  Click on the play button, then scroll down to follow along…

Our scripture reading was from Acts 6:1-7 and Ephesians 3:14-19.    Open the below drop down box to follow along.  The New King James Version is shown below…

Scripture Reading

Acts 6:1-7

6 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution.

2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.

3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business;

4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch,

6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.

7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

  *    *   *   *   *

Ephesians 3:14-19

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,

17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height —

19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

Prayer is a Holy Act…

To become Agents of holiness, we must have a full and active prayer life.

 

In Leviticus 20:26 (and repeated frequently in other parts of the Bible), God commanded us:

You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

We are called to live holy lives (to be different from the crowd)… to reflect Christ.  We are called to be “God-Reliant”, instead of being “Self-Reliant.”  Prayer is integral to that, because prayer changes us.  Prayer isn’t intended to change God, it’s real purpose is to mold us into God’s will and “way of thinking” and to depend on Him.  This happens both when we pray individually and when we pray corporately.

The Ten Commandments and also Prayer are given so we can grow into long and fruitful lives.  But we cannot grow as disciples of Jesus Christ unless we are growing in our prayer life.  We can’t grow in our relationship to God unless we’re talking to Him.  Prayer is an opportunity to dialogue with God… and for Him to dialogue with us.

Do we give a shallow, routing prayer at the beginning of our meetings, and then end with a prayer asking God to bless what we just determined?  What would happen if we really and earnestly poured out our hearts to God before the meeting to find out what God wants us to do?

Would you trust the words of your surgeon, or the words of a committee???

 

Here are some quotes about prayer to get us started this morning…

 

The neglect of prayer is a grand hindrance to holiness.

You might remember John Wesley’s noteworthy quote, “Give me 100 preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergy or lay[people], such alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. God does nothing but in answer to prayer.

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays
Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts
Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?

signboard-2016-09-21-prayer-steering-wheel-_img_3756

Click this button for more on this quote:  Steering Wheel

To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives.

The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ. To pray is to change.

(from Richard Foster’s book, “Celebration of Discipline”)

 

Are we willing to be changed?!?

 


 

As a “Bonus Feature” for our online listeners, here are some more quotes that Pastor Jim didn’t have time to include on Sunday morning…

Bonus Material

I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day
We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.

Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.”

Rick Warren in “The Purpose of Christmas” writes,

The more you pray, the less you’ll panic. The more you worship, the less you worry. You’ll feel more patient and less pressured.

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying at the Constitutional Convention (July 28, 1787),

Gentlemen, I have lived a long time and am convinced that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? I move that prayer imploring the assistance of Heaven be held every morning before we proceed to business.”

(from “The Truth in Words: Inspiring Quotes”, page 61 (Paras)

Hymn writer Fanny J. Crosby has said,

God will answer you prayers better than you think. Of course, one will not always get exactly what he has asked for….We all have sorrows and disappointments, but one must never forget that, if commended to God, they will issue in good….His own solution is far better than any we could conceive.

In “The Power of a Praying Woman’s Bible Study,” Stormie Omartian writes,

The most important thing we can pray about for others is that they will know God better and that He will help them understand His will, grow in spiritual wisdom, and live lives that honor Him. We can pray that they will become more like Him and bear the fruit of His Spirit.

The great preacher of the 1st Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards said in 1742,

I have often said it would be a thing very desirable and very likely to be followed with a great blessing, if there could be some contrivance, that there should be an agreement of all God’s people in America, that are well affected to this work, to keep a Day of Fasting and Prayer to God; wherein we should all unite on the same day…

Some perhaps may think its being all on the same day, is a circumstance of no great consequence; but I can’ t be of that mind…

It seems to me, it would mightily encourage and animate God’s saints, in humbly and earnestly seeking God, for such blessings which concerns them all; and that it would be much for the rejoicing of all, to think, that at the same time, such multitudes of God’s dear children, far and near, were sending up their cries to the same common Father, for the same motives.”

King David understood this when he prayed in Psalm 25:4-5,

Show me You ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths, guide me in Your truth, and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long.

Here ‘s some more “Bonus Feature” material that’s not on the audio recording…

I feel the Holy Spirit has placed it on my heart to have us look carefully at the Scriptures and from Church History and be reminded of the primacy of corporate prayer. In other words, God’s people intentionally getting together for times of prayer.

A second purpose to this series I sense the Holy Spirit saying, is for you and me to determine to take a step forward in our participation and confidence in prayer, not just as individuals, but with each other, gathering together with the purpose of seeing God’s glory manifested in and through prayer.

 

Why am I talking about this today? It’s because the spiritual discipline of prayer I believe, is being lost in our denomination and in many of our churches.

ALSO: I bring the issue of praying together up for three reasons:

  1. Corporate prayer is on par with preaching and teaching as a priority in a healthy church.
  2. Praying together is a vital key to opening God’s presence and work among His people in unique ways.
  3. The tendency among believers, even among those who occupy leadership positions in the church, to think of prayer gatherings as the extra-curricular activity in the life of the church.  IN OTHER WORDS, praying together is good, but not important enough to join; let somebody else do it.

Here’s a Bold Statement…

Scripture and the Christian Church through the centuries has taught that God has sovereignly ordained the corporate praying of a church, such that His mighty workings increase exponentially and His purposes are accelerated when we pray together.

Understand that this message is not given to minimize personal prayer. Instead, it is to show you that personal prayer alone will not result in the working of God to the degree needed for spiritual transformation in our lives, our church, our cities, and our nation.

 

 

Pretty bold statements, pastor. You got anything to back that up?
(you’ve got to open the “Bonus Material” to see the “Bold Statements”!)

I’m glad you asked. I want to give you five testimonies from Scripture and Church History that establish the desperate need for all who are believers to be praying together.  This morning we will survey various Scriptures that establish something simple, profound, and stirring:

Praying Churches are used of God to change the world.

Here are five proofs:

 

1:  Praying Together was a Priority for the Apostles

The book of Acts constantly shows us that praying together was a priority for the Apostles.  In fact, immediately after the Ascension, the apostles joined together for prayer.  Here’s how it’s described in Acts 1:12-14…

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.  When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.    NIV

They prayed first.  This is kind of a lost art now-a-days.  We tend to have our meetings, decide what we want to do, and then close in prayer to ask God to bless what we already planned.  But now that Jesus was gone (returned to heaven), the first step these believers took was to ask God what they should do.  The next verse after this passage tells us that there were 120 believers in that prayer meeting.  And, is it any surprise, that 10 days after this prayer they were answered by the coming of the Holy Spirit, and 3000 people were saved.

Are we afraid that our prayers might be answered?

Are we afraid of change?

The example of the apostles in Acts points to the priority praying together held for them. Every occurrence of prayer in Acts preceding Chapter 6 pictures the apostles leading others in prayer. Not one reference points to their private prayer time; the focus is on God’s people praying together.  Check out these verses from Acts:

These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer — at three in the afternoon.

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.

When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.  Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. 

So by testimony and by example, it is plain that the Apostles placed a high premium on the people of God praying together. They considered guiding the corporate prayer life of the church just as critical a priority as the preaching/teaching of God’s Word.

  “Prayer meetings were the arteries of the early church. Through them, life-sustaining power was derived.”

Great quote, but anonymous

Here is some more information about this section which was not included in the delivered sermon…

Bonus Material

In Acts 6:1-7, the Christian Church in Jerusalem faced one of its first dilemmas. Here’s how it happened: In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

  • Hellenistic Judiasm was a form of Judiasm in the ancient world that combined Jewish religious tradition with elements of Greek culture.
  • Hebraic Jews- Relating to, or characteristic of the Hebrews, their language, and/or their culture.

The word distribution is the word “diakonia” diakonia which is the root word behind our words deacon and ministry. So the emphasis is on serving people.

In v2,  the twelve Apostles summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, “It would not be right for us to give up preaching about God to wait on tables.”  The word translated wait on or serve tables is “diakonein” diakonein (from the same root word, focusing on serving others).

In v3, “Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty.

In v4 we read, But we to the prayer and the “diakonia” of the word will steadfastly continue.

The apostles are not referring to the need for personal, private prayer. Instead, they are talking about the ministry of mobilizing the people of God to pray together. They were marking out the two ministries they must especially do as church leaders. Let me show you the clues that lead to this conclusion.

  1. The context of this passage revolves around ministries: v1 points out a problem with ministries. In v2, the apostles discuss what ministries they must do and the ones they must not do. In v3-4, they instruct that seven men be identified from among the congregation to take on this ministry. This section of Scripture is focused on ministry to people, not on personal issues.
  2. The definite article of the Greek verb before “prayer” in v4 points to something significant. Listen again: But we to the prayer and to the ministry of the word will steadfastly continue. That little word “the” that appears before prayer indicates that this doesn’t mean prayer in general. It highlights something specific and important. The syntax of the sentence creates the possibility that the ministry of prayer and the word are twin ideas.

 

 

2:  Praying Together was Modeled and Practiced by Jesus

The apostles learned their leadership patterns from the Master, Jesus Christ. READ THROUGH THE GOSPELS (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) for Jesus’ teaching and practice of prayer, and you will identify 37 verses, sometimes repeated in more than one Gospel. Of those 37 instances in which Jesus refers to prayer, 33 of them were addressed to a plural rather than singular audience. In other words, Jesus’ instruction decisively leaned toward praying with others, not just praying in private.

1. For example, Matthew 7:7 literally says, “Keep on asking, and it will be given to you. Keep on searching, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”   When we read the English word “you” in that verse our minds immediately think it is singular and thus referring to us as an individual.   HOWEVER, it is a plural use of the word “you,” which means that Jesus is urging a gathering of believers to ask, seek, and knock.

If we look at Matthew 18:19 Jesus intentionally stressed the significance of praying together. Jesus says, “Again, I say to you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven.

That is significant friends. Jesus could have said, “If anyone asks…;” instead, He purposefully chose to emphasize a group gathered for prayer. This focus of Jesus’ on more than one praying indicates that there is a design of God’s in such gatherings, through which He uniquely and powerfully works.

Following the lead of the Master, the Apostles after Pentecost were intentional and made it a priority that Christians be in prayer together.

This idea was echoed by Charles Haddon Spurgeon who said of a Church that prays together… “

The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings.  So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray.  And if He be not there, one of the first tokens of His absence will be a slothfulness in prayer”!

Fred Hartley, Everything by Prayer, p120


Ahhh- that Clock!!!  Time was closing in on points 3 and 4, and they couldn’t be delivered in the spoken sermon.  Here’s what you missed…

More Bonus Material

3: They Prayed Together Throughout the New Testament

The book we refer to as The Acts of the Apostles records the awesome works of God for and through His church in its early years. And surprisingly there is a connection to the works God is doing, to Church growth, to souls being saved, and the Christian gathering together in one accord to pray.

Acts 1:13-14 says, “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (NIV).

  • Acts 2:1, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (NASB).
  • In Acts 1:24 the Apostles and all 120 gathered together (cf Acts 1:15) prayed for wisdom in knowing who Judas’ replacement should be. THEIR VERSION of a Nominations Committee meeting!
  • In Acts 3:1 we read that Peter and John went together to the Temple “at the hour of prayer.”

But there’s more…

  • Acts 4:24-31, when Peter and John had been instructed by the religious leaders not to “teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18), that they reported the threats. AND Acts 4:24 says, “…they lifted up their voice to God” IN OTHER WORDS, all the Christians gathered together prayed to God.
  • AND here in Acts 6:6 the Apostles and the gathered Church prayed over the seven men appointed to serve the widows.

And then there’s the marvelous account of how Peter was arrested, and then was freed while the church was gathered in prayer.  After  the Apostle James was martyred (Acts 12:2) and Peter imprisoned by Herod (Acts 12:3), the Church was fervently praying as we read in Acts 12:5, and God miraculously delivered Peter from his cell (Acts 12:5-19).

More examples of people praying together…

  • We read in Acts 13:1-2 that while the prophets and teachers were praying and fasting together, the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to go on their first missionary journey.
  • While they were imprisoned together, Paul and Silas were praying and even as they were praying God sent an earthquake that resulted in the conversion of the jailer (Acts 16:30-32) and their release (Acts 16:25).
  • Paul prays with a group of Christians from Ephesus as we read in Acts 21:5.

 

Again, let me say that I am not discouraging personal, private prayer as we know Jesus and the canon of Scripture teach that as well as a spiritual discipline for HOLINESS.  There are also many examples of personal prayer…

  • Ananias was praying alone when God instructed him to go to Saul (Acts 9:10ff).
  • Peter was alone on the rooftop when he had his famous vision leading him to share the Gospel with a Gentile named Cornelius (Acts 10:9ff).  That story is shared by Peter in detail in Acts 11:5-14.
  • LATER IN Acts 22:17, Paul tells us that when he returned to Jerusalem he prayed in the Temple.
  • Jesus went away from the crowds and prayed alone often times as we see in Mark 4:46; Mark 1:35; Matthew 20:5ff; Luke 22:41 shows us that Jesus prayed alone and yet with others.  IN FACT, Jesus encourages all of His followers to have an active prayer life as we read in Matthew 6:6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
  • Here are more examples of individual prayer…  Daniel 6:10; Ezra 9:5; 1 Kings 8:54; 2 Chronicles 6:13; Psalm 86:3.

Nevertheless, the majority of God’s recorded workings came when His people prayed together.

 

4:  Corporate Prayer is Part of Our Country’s History

There are so many examples of how corporate prayer was the springboard for the sweeping movements of God. Let me mention a few. 1. In 1857, America was riding the wave of a strong economy, and, as tends to be true in times of prosperity, showed a radical decrease of interest in the things of God. There was a layman named Jeremiah Lamphier whose concern led to a call for prayer. He tacked up notices in NYC calling for a weekly prayer meeting on Wednesdays from noon till one at a rented space on Fulton Street.

The first prayer meeting was on September 23, 1857. Only six people came, and they didn’t arrive until just before 12:30. The next week, the attendance jumped to 20. The numbers continued to climb week-by-week.  Then, on October 10th, the Stock Market crashed and financial panic ensued. Trouble had its humbling affect and the hearts of many turned to spiritual matters. It wasn’t long until somewhere between 10 and 50,000 businessmen were meeting every day in NYC to pray at noon. By week 15, the meetings moved from weekly to daily.

 

In 1858, this prayer movement leaped to every major city in America. The Second Great Awakening swept our land. Estimates are that a million Americans out of a population of 30 million at that time were converted in less than two years. And it all started with prayer.

Rees Howells, a Welsh coal miner, journeyed to South Africa as a missionary in 1910 in response to an increasing burden from the Lord. Six weeks after arriving, he joined in a prayer meeting. Out of that came the sweeping work of the Holy Spirit in which they had two revival meetings a day for fifteen months and all day on Friday. Thousands were converted as a result.  


 

5:  God Does Amazing Things When WE  Pray

OK.  All of that happened way back in the first century.  The “Church Fathers” were there- the “super saints.”  Of course great things happened way back then.  But what about now?

It is STILL true, that when people pray together, God STILL does amazing things.  If we don’t see God doing amazing things, could it be that it’s because we’re not praying?!?

Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear.

All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer…

Here are some examples of what God is doing today, in answer to prayer…

  In Nepal, just 2,000 Christians were known in 1990; today that number has grown to more than 800,000.  Read More
In Cambodia there were 600 believers in 1990; there is a reported 200,000 today. Read More   

East Africa is experiencing one of the greatest movements of God in history. In Uganda alone, HIV/AIDS once claimed the lives of one third of the population. The World Health Organization predicted the complete collapse of the Ugandan economy by the year 2000.

BUT THANKS BE TO GOD, revival has come to that country.

With the salvation of many has come a transformation in morals, so that AIDS is down to 5%. So great is this revival that one church alone went from 7 in attendance to an average of 2,000 in just two weeks! Currently, that same church as a membership of 22,000 and has planted 150 other churches.


FRIENDS, in almost every quarter of the globe, Christianity is advancing…except for four primary areas:

  1. North America
  2. Japan
  3. Australia
  4. Western Europe.

Guess what one of the common denominators is everywhere Christianity marches forward? Christians spend time in prayer together.
Track what God is doing in Korea, in China, in India, in Eastern Africa, and you will find believers gathering often to pray together.

 

A missionary on furlough told this true story while visiting his home church in Michigan…

“While serving at a small field hospital in Africa, every two weeks I traveled by bicycle through the jungle to a nearby city for supplies. This was a journey of two days and required camping overnight at the halfway point. On one of these journeys, I arrived in the city where I planned to collect money from a bank, purchase medicine and supplies, and then begin my two-day journey back to the field hospital.  Upon arrival in the city, I observed two men fighting, one of whom had been seriously injured. I treated him for his injuries and at the same time talked to him about the Lord Jesus Christ.  I then traveled two days, camping overnight, and arrived home without incident.

Two weeks later I repeated my journey. Upon arriving in the city, I was approached by the young man I had treated. He told me that he had known I carried money and medicines. He said, ‘Some friends and I followed you into the jungle, knowing you would camp overnight. We planned to kill you and take your money and drugs. But just as we were about to move into your camp, we saw that you were surrounded by 26 armed guards.’

At this I laughed and said that I was certainly all alone in that jungle campsite. The young man pressed the point, however, and said, ‘No sir, I was not the only person to see the guards. My five friends also saw them, and we all counted them. It was because of those guards that we were afraid and left you alone.'”

At this point in the sermon, one of the men in the Michigan congregation jumped to his feet and interrupted the missionary and asked if he could tell him the exact day this happened. The missionary told the congregation the date, and the man who interrupted told him this story:

“On the night of your incident in Africa, it was morning here and I was preparing to go play golf. I was about to putt when I felt the urge to pray for you. In fact, the urging of the Lord was so strong, I called men in this church to meet with me here in the sanctuary to pray for you. Would all of those men who met with me on that day stand up?”

The men who had met together to pray that day stood up. The missionary wasn’t concerned with who they were; he was too busy counting how many men he saw. There were 26! 

This story is an awesome example of how the Spirit of the Lord moves in mysterious and yet powerful ways when God’s people pray together.

God is not a rabbit’s foot or a “Spiritual Santa” who gives us everything we want on demand.  But God unleashes blessings when we align ourselves with Him.  Are we praying???

 

 


Quiz Time!

As you reflect on what you’ve just heard/read, give this quiz a try.  If you don’t understand an answer (or if you disagree with the “correct” answer, post a comment)…

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