7/1/01 10.45 a.m. Luke 6:12-19,27-36.
In Luke 5:16 it says, 'Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.'
This is the first of this month's sermon series focusing on prayer.
In "Christianity Today" Richard C. Halverson wrote an article entitled, 'Why Should God Visit Us... When We're Not Interested?'
He listed five reasons people don't pray,
a) We don't think it really works.
b) It's just something you have to endure in church.
a) We don't pray until a problem is huge.
a) Other things are more important to us.
4) It is hard work.
5) We are focused on this world.
a) We limit our goals to what we expect here and now.
b) The things of God do not mean much to us.
Yet, in today's gospel, and in that earlier verse, we read how prayer was important to Jesus in his earthly ministry. He was very busy, but it was because he was so busy that he had to pray.
Each month, I check that my pay has been credited to my bank account before I give instructions for the bills to be paid. Jesus had the deposited prayer in his account after his night of prayer so that he could make withdrawals during the day.
We don't know exactly what Jesus prayed about all night, although we have some pointers when we look at what followed. He chose twelve apostles from his many disciples, so some prayers would have been about this. An apostle is someone who is sent out with a special task. These twelve were to form the backbone of the early church. They would heal, preach, evangelise, and some of them would write parts of the New Testament. So it was vital that Jesus chose the right people, even through few , if any of them would be the type of people you would select from an earthly point of view. They came from the unfashionable North and were not very religious or well educated. Peter was hot-headed. Matthew an outcast, having been a tax collector. Simon was called a Zealot, either a description of his religious zeal or a reference to his membership in the party of the Zealots, a Jewish revolutionary group violently opposed to Roman rule over Palestine. James and John were called by Jesus 'Sons of Thunder' indicating their disposition. They were also ambitious, spurred on by their mother.
We read from verse 17 onwards that Jesus taught, healed and exorcised many people and, verse 19, that 'power was coming from him.' No doubt some of Jesus' prayers would have been for the power that he needed to preach, to heal and to drive out evil spirits.
I am sure that part of Jesus' night of prayer would have been devoted to conversation with God rather than simply prayer requests. This would have included adoration for who God the father is, as well as praise for what he had done.
Our prayer life should also involve more than a heavenly shopping list of requests made to God. After all, God loves us and knows what is best for us. He will give us more than we ask for or deserve. But, sometimes we need to discover what God's will is, and prayer, sometimes unanswered prayer, can help us to discover this
Charles Brent (1862-1929) : "Prayer is not so much the means whereby God's will is bent to man's desires, as it is that whereby man's will is bent to God's desires. The real end of prayer is not so much to get this or that single desire granted, as to put human life into full and joyful conformity with the will of God."
When we look at Jesus' teaching in verses 27-36 which can deduce that some of Jesus' prayers would have been for his enemies. I am sure that he who told his disciples to love and pray for their enemies would have done this himself.
There was a Christian lady who lived next door to an atheist. Everyday, when the lady prayed, the atheist guy could hear and he thought to himself, "She sure is crazy, praying all the time like that. Doesn't she know there isn't a God?"
Many times while she was praying, he would go to her house and harass her, saying "Lady, why do you pray all the time? Don't you know there is no God?" But she kept on praying.
One day, she ran out of groceries. As usual, she was praying to the Lord explaining her situation and thanking Him for what He was going to do. As usual the atheist heard her praying and thought to himself. "Humph . . . I'll fix her." He went to the grocery store, bought a load of groceries, took them to her house, dropped them off on the front porch, rang the doorbell and then hid in the bushes to see what she would do.
When she opened the door and saw the groceries, she began to praise the Lord with all her heart, jumping, singing and shouting everywhere! The atheist then jumped out of the bushes and told her, "You crazy old lady, God didn't buy you those groceries, I bought those groceries!"
Well, she broke out and started running down the street, shouting and praising the Lord. When he finally caught up with her, he asked what her problem was . . She said, "I knew the Lord would provide me with some groceries, but I didn't know he was going to make the devil pay for them!"
If we are honest, praying can be very difficult at times. How much more difficult is it, however, to love our enemies. We need God the Holy Spirit, who lives within every Christian to help us to pray and to love our enemies.
Loving our enemies cuts across our human nature. The natural reaction to opposition is fight or flight. The world says do it unto others before they do it to you. But Jesus says, verse 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
In verse 27 Jesus tells Christians the attitude that they should have for their enemies : "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies... Enemies are those who hate you, curse you, ill-treat you, hit you, steal from you and use you. These words may have been very relevant to the apostles a few years later when they were persecuted for their faith.
This attitude of love should be linked with a lack of condemnation of others, something Jesus speaks of in verses 37-42. It is easy to condemn others because then you can fail to love them because they deserve punishment, not love. But we all sin and fall short of the glory of God and are, therefore, not qualified to judge others. Jesus illustrated this with the story about the person with the plank in their eye, offering to help another remove a speck from their eye.
This attitude has to be backed up by words and action... do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Jesus teaches his followers that they must have a different, improved way of living to those who follow the ways of the world...
32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' lend to `sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full.
The inspiration for loving enemies is the imitation of God.
35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
When Chloe was first born we looked at her and discussed what features she had inherited from each of us. Has she got Melanie's nose, my chin, etc...
Christians are children of God and, are, therefore, called to display His characteristics, especially his mercy. We referred to judgement earlier. Everyone deserves God's condemnation. Yet God shows his mercy to everyone. Even the ungrateful and wicked, and there may be times when that applies to us.
As his children we have received his mercy through Jesus, something we celebrate and proclaim in this service of Holy Communion. In our closing prayers we are reminded that this mercy has to affect the way that we live. So we are 'living sacrifices'. A sacrifice is wholeheartedly committed to it's function, and, as living sacrifices, we are called to be wholeheartedly committed to God in our lives.
This is not something that we can do in our own strength. We can only do this through God's Holy Spirit. The way to access his love and power in our lives is to pray.
Whilst following the ways of Christ may lead to ridicule and opposition, loving our enemies will lead to a great reward, verse 35. This reward is referring to the treasure that awaits Christians in heaven and is linked to being 'sons of the Most High'.
Just as a son will receive an inheritance, so the children of God can look forward to their heavenly inheritance. Being with God forever with no more sin, suffering, mourning or death. Being in constant close fellowship with the one with whom we now pray.
A young man approached the foreman of a logging crew and asked for a job. "That depends," replied the foreman. "Let's see you fell this tree." The young man stepped forward and quickly and skilfully felled the great tree. Impressed, the foreman exclaimed, "You can start Monday!"
On the following Thursday afternoon the foreman approached the young man and said, "You can pick up your pay on the way out today." Startled, he replied, "I thought you paid on Friday." "Normally we do," answered the foreman, "but we're letting you go today because you've fallen behind. Our daily felling charts show that you've dropped from first place on Monday to last on Wednesday."
"But I'm a hard worker," the young man objected. "I arrive first, leave last, and have even worked through my coffee breaks!" The foreman thought for a minute and then asked, "Have you been sharpening your axe?"
The young man replied, "I've been working too hard to take the time."
How about you? Have you been too busy, too hard at work to sharpen your axe?
Prayer gives us that sharp edge. Without it, the more work we do, the duller we'll get. Like Jesus we need to pray about the decisions we have to make, the people that we encounter and minister to. We need to ask for the Holy Spirit to give us the power and love us live for God.
At the start of 2001 can I encourage each one of us here today to commit ourselves afresh to prayer this year. To use our monthly 'Prayer Clock', and to build up our Prayer Account for our personal and corporate walk with God.