A while ago I stumbled across an extract from a CH Spurgeon sermon in which he urges his congregation to pray for his preaching. Without it, he said, his preaching was useless.
Here’s a great post from Joe Thorn giving you 4 different things you could be praying for your pastor this weekend.
‘Something has gone wrong in our reasoning if our reasoning leads us away from prayer’ – lessons in prayer
A section from yesterday’s sermon on 2 Thessalonians 3 where we took some time to consider the purpose of praying to a sovereign God:
A lot of 2 Thessalonians is prayer. For Paul the key to holding on to the end is a growing confidence in God’s ability to keep us – even in the face of suffering. Look at v.3-4.
Paul’s confidence for the Thessalonians future rests in God’s faithfulness. All the way through 2 Thess. we have seen that God’s sovereignty over evil is crucial to our ability to endure and prayer is where we show that we know God is in control.
Prayer isn’t like a tug-of-war: I used to do a summer camp with a sports day that ended in a tug of war – the leaders on one side and the teenagers on the other. We were stronger but they were twice as many and so every year it was touch and go who would win but we shouldn’t think of prayer as grabbing the rope to pull with God’s team to try and win victory. All the way through 2 Thessalonians Paul has stressed that Christ’s victory over evil is certain (see 1:8-11, 2:8)
Prayer is where we show we know that God is in control.
But that makes prayer a bit of a mystery to many people including many Christians. We can’t quite see the purpose of prayer, after all if God has it all under control, if he is working things out, how is that an incentive to prayer?
Why pray to a sovereign God?
a) Prayer changes us.
Prayer is God’s means of helping us hold on to him. All the great prayers of the Bible are prays for God to do what he has promised to do and so through prayer we grow in trust that God will do what he has promised to do.
I wonder whether you are ever struck by the fact that Paul was a man who absolutely believed in the unstoppable plan of God was a man who prayed and he didn’t just pray occasionally he prayed constantly for the Thessalonians (1v11).
Why should you and I pray? We pray because it changes us….
John Bunyan said Prayer opens the heart to God, and it is the means by which the soul, though empty is filled by God. As we pray we practise putting our trust in God and so our confidence in him begins to grow.
Bunyan again: The truths that I know best I have learned on my knees. I never know a thing well, till it burned into my heart by prayer. Prayer will change you. Will you let it? Will you give yourself to prayer.
Persecuted Christians pray and they pray because they very thing God has promised to do is the very thing they most need him to do , to deliver on his promises to keep his people and then to vindicate them on Christ’s return. Maybe the reason we don’t pray is because we don’t think we need God – not to live today or tomorrow.
We’ve said in this short series in 2 Thessalonians that suffering works for us and not against us and one of the ways that works is that at times of suffering we more quickly turn to God. Abraham Lincoln said I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had absolutely no other place to go.
We also pray because
2) Prayer changes things
Paul prayed because he knew God’s plans includes our prayers. God takes our prayers and uses them.
God is sovereign but he’s not a computer programme, he’s not a machine. We need to understand that God is sovereign but he is also personal and because he’s personal he chooses to achieve his purposes through his people.
Imagine I want to wash my car I could take my sons and drive the car into the machine at the petrol station. The key when you wash your car with a machine is that you need to sit still, stay in the car and let it wash over you, literally! But I could wash my car by filling three buckets full of soapy water and saying to my sons let’s wash it together.
God wants us to pray because he wants us to achieve his purposes together.
Don Carson says in his excellent book on Paul’s prayers A Call to Spiritual Reformation Something has gone wrong in our reasoning if our reasoning leads us away from prayer; something is amiss in our theology if you theology becomes a disincentive to pray.
Prayer changes us and prayer changes things, God calls on us to be people of prayer.
The Telegraph reports on how a Christian couple, on leaving their church’s prayer meeting, found themselves coming to the assistance of Stephen Lawrence as he lay bleeding to death. Rather than ignore the cries for help from his friend they stopped, comforted and prayed for Stephen in his last few minutes on earth.
“I put my right hand on his back and left hand on his head. I could feel he was still breathing as his back was going up and down. Stephen was unconscious.
“I was praying over him in a whisper, I said things like ‘bless him Lord Jesus, heal him. Have mercy on him’.
Who knows what God may call on you to do when you next leave a prayer meeting and who knows how your prayers may be called upon to shape the eternal destiny of a victim of such a tragedy.
A great summary here from Tim Keller on what it means, in daily practise, to preach the gospel to ourselves and how we build that into our prayer lives.
I’m enjoying reading Joe Thorn’s Note to Self: The discipline of preaching to yourself at the moment.
Here’s a big insight in his introduction;
It is not just gospel that we need to preach to ourselves, but law and gospel….the believer [cannot] grow in grace apart from the preaching of both law and gospel.
What does he mean? Well we preach law to ourselves in the sense that law is
God’s revealed will and standard of righteousness…Essentially, the law shows us three things: it shows us what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s needed.
In preaching the law to ourselves we see and admire God’s will and way, while exposing and confessing our sinfulness. This leads us toward the gospel where we find our only hope of redemption and restoration. Preaching the law to ourselves breaks our pride, leads to humility, and calls us to cry out to God and depend on his mercy.
And as we do so we find that it drives us to the gospel and to Christ himself. We find our only hope in him because he alone is our righteousness, our forgiveness and our victory and so as we preach law and expose our own sinfulness so we cling ever more tightly to him.
This brings me to my main point and the question I’m sometimes asked;
If Christians are forgiven should we confess our sins?
Once we understand that we confess our sins not to secure our justification but as a means to sanctification the answer has to be a ‘yes’. The aim in confession for the Christian is not the desperate seeking out of every sin as a form of penance. But secure in our standing before God it is a means to holiness as we continue to preach law and gospel to ourselves.
So we confess because Jesus tells us to confess our sins regularly. The Lord’s prayer is our pattern for prayer. Jesus introduces it by saying to his disciples ‘This then is how you should pray’
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation.
So a crucial aspect of the Christian life calls on us to ask God’s forgiveness for our continued sin and to seek his enabling power not to sin.
Not only do we find Jesus calling on us to confess sin but the apostle John writes in 1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
We don’t just confess our sins ‘once for all time’
The present tense of the verb calls for an on-going practise of confessing rather than a once and for all.
Colin Kruse notes in his commentary how authentic Christian living involves ‘honest and ongoing acknowledgement of one’s sins.’
Confessing sins needs to be specific
David Jackman in the Bible Speaks Today series comments;
It is important here to notice the plural, sins, which implies a detailed and specific confession of our wrong thoughts, words, actions and attitudes. It includes the good which we omit, as well as the evil which we do.
Confession of that sort is of course really repentance. It is identifying what is wrong (sin) and who is responsible (us) and asking God in his mercy and grace to deal with both, through the work of Christ.
A true confession of sin asks for and anticipates forgiveness
The Christian who is in a secure relationship with God through Christ’s perfect life and death for us can confess humbly yet confidently because we know that ‘God is faithful and just’
Faithful, Jackman says in that ‘he will carry through on his commitment to forgive and purify those who confess their sins’
Just in that God is acting rightly in forgiving the guilty because we are those who’s sins have been punished through the death of his sins.
Why is it important to confess our sins?
‘There are many warnings in Scripture about the danger of concealing our sins. And many promises of blessing if we confess them.’
‘Moreover, what is required is not a general confession of sin but a particular confession of our sins, as we deliberately call them to mind, confess and forsake them (cf. Ps. 32:1-5; Pr. 28:13)
Joe Thorn writes;
The deepness and consistency of your repenting will have a direct impact on the liveliness of your faith and the brightness of your confidence. This is not because you repent so well, but because in repenting you know the darkness and trouble of your own sin, and the great work of grace in Jesus that overcomes it all.
What might it mean for you to confess your sins?
It means making the time to preach the law to yourself so that you know God’s will in every area of life.
It means you need to examine your life and consider where you are disobeying Jesus
It means seeking out sins you’ve committed in breach of God’s law where you have done what you ought not to have done.
It means seeking out sins of omission, those very things we have failed to do that we ought to have done.
It means being specific.
It means looking at all of life. Church, family, work, as well as our relationship with God.
It means a true repentance. Not just saying sorry but seeking God’s transforming grace to change.
What is the result of confessing your sin?
Quite simply the daily recognition that I need Jesus more than I needed him yesterday
Check out this fantastic insight from Glen Knecht a pastor who visited the Ukraine after the collapse of communism;
How mistaken the Communists were when they allowed the older women to continue worshipping together! IT was they who were considered no threat to the new order, but it was they whose prayers and faithfulness over all those barren years held the church together and raised up a generation of men and young people to serve the Lord. Yes, the church we attended was crowded with these older women at the very front, for they had been the stalwart defenders and maintainers of Christ’s Gospel, but behind them and alongside them and in the balcony and outside the windows were the fruit of their faithfulness, men, women, young people, and children. We must never underestimate the place and power of our godly women.
I had the privilege of preaching from 1 Timothy 2 on Sunday evening. It was a humbling experience because it reminded me of how little time I, and the church I serve, give to prayer and in particular prayer for the world.
Philip Graham Ryken’s Reformed Expository Commentary on 1Timothy had some challenging things to say on Paul’s charge to pray for the nations and their leaders. Here is Ryken on prayer;
Pastoral prayers ought to be large, expansive, and wide-ranging. They should include the great issues of the day and the vast nations of the world. Intercession should be made for renewal, revival, and reformation in the church. Prayer should be offered for missionaries, evangelists, and church planters. The sufferings of the persecuted church and the desperation of unsaved humanity should be brought weekly before the throne of grace.
The God who rules the world wants his peopel to pray for the world. Therefore, every church should locate itself at the center of something God is doing in the whole world.
What is of special importance in Paul’s instruction to Timothy is that the church should pray for world leaders who are NOT Christians.
The early church took this responsibility seriously. Consider how Clement of Rome prayed for the rulers and governors of the earth in the early second century: “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, that they may blamelessly adminster the government which you have given them….Lord, direct their plans according to what is good and plasing in your sight, so that by dievoutly administering in peace and gentleness the authority which you have given them they may experience your mercy.’
These world leaders, at the time of Paul’s writing to Timothy were without exception non-Christians and often hostile to Christianity. Calvin notes of the leaders at the time of Paul’s writing that they were all ‘enemies of the Gospel, persecutors of the poor Christians, murderers and wicked men.’
So by praying for the nations and the leaders of the nations we fulfil Christ’s command of Matthew 5:44
‘I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’
And when we do pray in this way? We remember that ‘this is good and pleases God our Saviour. Who wants all men to be saved.’ v.3-4.
So why not recommit to prayer for the nations. Prayer in church services, in your small groups, with your family and in your own personal prayer life. Operation World is an obvious resource and now a new resouce called ‘The World Prayer Map’ provides an interactive map of the world with detailed prayer points.
That God should be pleased when we pray is reason enough to pray. That the nations need our prayers is further reason still.
The God who rules the world wants you to pray for the nations of the world.
It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business in the morning and the last in the evening. Guard yourself against such false and deceitful thoughts that keep whispering: Wait a while. In an hour or so I will pray. I must first finish this or that. Thinking such thoughts we get away from prayer into other things that will hold us and involve us till the prayer of the day comes to naught.
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