Rev. Shane on Prayer (Part III)
In my last article, I argued that Christians believe there is a temporal world and a spirit world; Earth on one hand and heaven and hell on the other. These worlds exist in different, but not mutually exclusive dimensions. It is impossible to discuss prayer apart from these two worlds for prayer is precisely where these dimensions are in union. I also spoke about the presence of Satan as an adversary to the people of God. If we are the offense, Satan is the defense, desperately trying to keep us from advancing in our mission of connecting people to Jesus Christ. Though Satan is good at his job, he is neither an irresistible object nor an immovable force; he has no creative power, operates according to clear tendencies and his destiny has already been determined. No pun intended but Satan will one day go down in flames. But in the meantime, Satan works strategically and is doing all the damage he can, everywhere he can to anyone he can.
There are four “predictable” times when Satan comes at us throwing high and inside. 1) When we are on the verge of receiving Christ. The number one strategy of Satan is to keep people from becoming Christians. He will tempt people to fill the void with material things, discourage the required leap of faith and create an illusion that the short-term pleasure is better than the eternal treasure. 2) When we are on the verge of becoming a disciple of Christ. Once Satan has lost the soul of a human, the next strategy is containment. That is why all hell breaks loose anytime you attempt to step up your commitment to Christ. Imagine that you decide one Sunday you are going to attend church each week. I guarantee you the following Sunday the car won’t start, the toilet will leak and both kids and the dog will throw up. When you step up, expect push back! 3) When we answer a call to engage in the work of Christ. We often think of a call as a one-time event that changes the course of a life forever like a call to full-time ministry or the mission field. Most often calls are simply promptings the Holy Spirit places upon our hearts to participate in something God wants done. You are in the kitchen on a Saturday morning baking cookies and the Spirit prompts you to bake a second batch, take them to your new neighbors and invite them to church. God loves your neighbors, wants the invitation delivered and has chosen you to deliver it. The first thing that happens is Satan is going to try to talk you out of it. 4) When something really good is on the horizon. I wonder how many people quit just when God is about to lead them to a breakthrough in their lives? If you are really discouraged right now but are walking with the Lord, there is good reason to believe something incredible lies on the other side. I believe that knowing the tactics of the enemy is our first and best defense against his attacks. So the next Sunday morning that WW III breaks out in your kitchen as you are getting ready to come to church, just dial back the energy, realize what is going on, tell the devil to go to hell, get in the car and don’t forget to use the shuttle.
The Bible says, “Resist the devil and he will flee.” When I was a baseball coach and a pitcher knocked down one of my players high and tight, I always told them to get even closer to the plate next time. If we stop bailing out every time Satan throws inside, he will eventually stop because it becomes a waste of his time. But sometimes Satan throws right at our heads. There have been times in my life and ministry when I felt like I had been blindsided by an NFL linebacker and all I could do was gasp for air. I did not know what to do, how the story would end or what to pray. In those desperate times, I take comfort in knowing the Father is protecting my soul, the Jesus is praying for me and the Holy Spirit is already giving me the power to get back up, though I cannot presently imagine ever standing again. Today I want to look at the fact that Jesus is praying for you by looking at a prayer he is praying for each of us…right here and right now!
In John 17 we are given an incredible gift. The apostle, late in his life and writing from Ephesus, recalled a prayer he personally heard Jesus pray and delivered to us its contents. What makes this prayer unique is that it is not just a prayer for disciples who lived long ago, it is a prayer for, “all who will ever believe.”
John 17: 9-21
V. 9 My prayer is for those you have given me You are a treasured gift God has given to Christ! In the same sense that talented players are a gift to a baseball team or exceptional musicians are a gift to a symphony or a great staff is a gift to a church; we are treasured and valuable gifts to Christ. We are gifts God has given to Jesus who are so precious that he constantly prays for us…even when we don’t’ have the strength to pray for ourselves.
V. 10 They are my glory When Zec and Lydia were still living at home there was big celebration around their achievements! When they had a great day on the athletic fields, made the honor roll or got selected for some kind of honor, mom and dad felt like a million dollars! They were our glory! God feels the same way about you! Have you recently overcome a destructive habit or addiction? Have you recently asked Christ into your life? Have you recently made a commitment to attend church regularly or get involved in a Connect group or go on a mission trip? Have you recently followed through on something God prompted you to do? Then you are the glory of Christ.
V. 11Keep them and care for them so they will be united I mentioned last week that when we petition God the answer will come in the form of yes, no or wait. Sometimes we get discouraged when our prayers are not quickly answered so try to get your head around this one; not all Jesus’ prayers have been answered. Our text today is contained in the narrative of the longest prayer of Christ recorded in scripture and this verse is a petition for unity within his church. With over 34,000 distinct sects of the Christian faith and most of them fighting amongst themselves like cats and dogs, we can correctly infer this prayer has yet to be answered. But still Jesus persistently prays for unity in his church for he knows one day…and it may not be looking good today but one day…that unity will come! And wouldn’t it be great if it started with us?
V. 13-14 I have taught them your word so they will be filled with joy When we know God’s word, we have a moral compass to guide us, a strong light to lead us and a secure future in which to live. When we know God’s word, we don’t have to get all whacked out about what is happening right now because we know how the story is going to end. When we know God’s word, we see that our lives have a purpose, we are loved unconditionally, our sins are forgiven, second chances await and we have the power to live the life to which God has called us! The Bible says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
And the world hates them Now don’t misunderstand me, the world is not going to hate you for just going to church a couple of times a month, throwing a twenty in the plate or donating some canned goods to the local shelter…these are viewed as harmless activities but when you get serious about becoming a disciple of Christ, that all begins to change. “Why would anyone go to church every single week? You actually give how much money a year to your church? You are at the church how many times a week? You are giving up vacation time to go on a mission trip?” The practices and core values of a disciple of Jesus Christ will always baffle the sensibilities of Christians.
V. 15 Don’t take them out of the world but keep them safe from the devil One of the most fundamental questions in the human equation is the Metaphysical musing, “Why am I here?” Here is the answer, “We are here to do Jesus’ stuff.” The bottom line is that we are here for a purpose now, not just heaven later. So if we are not doing Jesus’ stuff, I am not sure why we are here either. Secondly, Jesus knew that sending his agents into a fallen world would be dangerous work so he prays for our protection. There was a time when I believed my own integrity would always protect me in ministry. What I have learned over the years is that the devil is a liar and he doesn’t need a shred of truth to stand on before trying to destroy you, me or anybody else. A regular part of my prayer life these days is a petition for protection for me, my family, our staff and church leaders and the people who comprise our congregation from the attacks of the devil. If God does not protect us, we don’t have a chance against such an unscrupulous enemy.
V. 17 Make them pure and holy by teaching them your word of truth There is this incredible double ring to serving Christ; as we do his work, his work is done in us! We are purified and set apart for God’s use as we allow God to use us and to teach us!
V. 18 As you sent me, so I am sending them into the world We come to church to encounter God in such a way that we will be empowered to do God’s work in the world.
V. 21 The unity of my church will be a testimony to the world I believe that healthy things grow, growth produces change and change brings discontinuity. Growth is measured by worship attendance, professions of faith, new members, baptisms, people in classes, total offerings and people going out in evangelism and mission. Change is measured by our ability to respond to emerging needs, adapt to new situations, connect with a shifting culture and stay relevant with our methodology. Discontinuity occurs because change is hard for all of us. I often say around here, as only a kid who grew up at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds could, “We need to slow down the Scrambler a bit because too many kids are throwing up their corndogs.” Being comfortable is the opposite of being Christian. Serving a holy God in a fallen world leaves no room for comfort. Jesus tells us in this prayer that our ability to handle discontinuity in a Christian way is our most significant witness to the world.
I play on our Tournament Softball team. A part of our mission is to represent Christ in competitive settings where the presence of Christ is not anticipated and may not be welcomed. We have been excluded from tournaments because the organizers didn’t want a church team, not invited back because we did not buy beer from the concessions and in our first year had many teams root against us because we had Christ on the front of our shirts. When we are playing, people watch us carefully. When we are cruising along and we often do, there is little witness going on but when we make a couple of errors, aren’t scoring and frustration tries to set in; that is when people are really paying attention. How we display ourselves in the really difficult times is our greatest witness. When we don’t turn on each other, don’t fall apart and refuse indecent behavior despite our frustration we are offering witness to the power of Christ in our lives! Our collective character is our greatest witness and hundreds of men who do not know Christ pray with our team each year because they see Christ in us. Church, the world is watching us and our greatest witness is our unity and the love we have for each other. Jesus is praying for us right now! He is thinking about how much he treasures you and praying that God would keep you safe, fill you with joy and send you out into the world to do his stuff. We often pray…isn’t it cool to know Jesus also prays for us?