DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Healing Grace (Psalm 103:1-5)

One of the things I've discovered in over ten years as pastor is that everyone has hurts. Nobody sails through life untouched. Nobody really leads a charmed life. Everybody in this room has experienced tremendous hurt, and many of us still suffer from the scars. We don't all look like it, but everyone has hurts.

The worst hurts are those that don't heal by themselves. Some hurts heal with the passing of time. Some hurts leave lasting pain. Left to themselves, they never heal. I'm talking about hurts like rejection, betrayal, and injustice. These hurts, if left over time, will fester. They need healing. They don't heal by themselves.

Today we're going to talk about healing grace. We're going to talk about good news about grace to those who have wounds from the past or deep hurts that they're experiencing right now. Psalm 147:3 says, "He heals the brokenhearted, binding up their wounds."

God is on a mission to bring comfort to the brokenhearted. He desires to trade your mourning for joy; he wants to take away your despair and give you praise (Isaiah 61:3). God promises to be a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows. That's what God is like.

Today, I want us to see how God heals the hidden wounds of our lives. I was thinking this past week of all the different areas of our lives that need healing: guilt, discouragement, anxiety, and weariness. Does anyone suffer from any of these?

God brings healing at the point of greatest need. We've been looking at grace - saving grace and sustaining grace. Today we'll examine healing grace. How can we be healed by God's grace in these areas?

Psalm 103 tells us how. You need to cling to four beliefs:

ONE: GOD CAN HANDLE MY GUILT WITH FORGIVENESS

Proverbs 28:1 says, "The wicked run away when no one is chasing them." That's what you feel like when you're guilty. You feel like you're being chased. You are your own accuser.

The scene was the San Diego superior court. Two men were on trial for armed robbery. An eye witness took the stand and the prosecutor got up to begin his questioning. First he asked the eyewitness, "You were at the scene of the robbery?" "Yes," answered the witness. "You saw a vehicle leave at a high rate of speed?" "Yes." "Did you observe the occupants?" asked the prosecutor. "Yes." The prosecutor in a booming prosecutor's voice said, "And are those two men in this courtroom today?" At this point the defendants sealed their fate. They both raised their hand.

Let's admit it. At some point we have to raise our hands and say, "I did it." We all have sinned. James 2:10 says, "The person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God's laws." There's no difference. Once you've committed one sin, you're guilty of breaking God's law. You become an offense to God.

We've all sinned. We've sinned through our acts - things like lying and stealing. We've sinned through our attitudes - things like anger, lust, and envy. But we've also sinned against God through our nature - the fact that we're sinners by nature. We aren't sinners because we sin. We sin because we're sinners. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:3, "We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God's anger just like everyone else."

Because we're sinners, we've experienced guilt. Psalm 38:4 says, "My guilt overwhelms me - it is a burden too heavy to bear." Guilt is like a warning light brining our attention to something that needs to get fixed. Many of us see the warning light on our dashboard flash, but we refuse to get service until the engine falls out. The smart thing to do, however, is to deal with the problem. We need to be healed of our guilt.

Psalm 103:3 says, "He forgives all my sins." There are three things I want you to notice about this statement.

It's CONTINUAL. God doesn't forgive you just one time. He forgives you continually. The statement is given in the present tense. When you trust Jesus, he wipes your past clean. He takes care of future sins. He gives you grace for the present. His forgiveness keeps going and going and going.

It's DIVINE. If I offended my wife and asked you for forgiveness, I would be a fool. We need to be forgiven by the one we've offended. David observed in Psalm 51:4, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." We need God's forgiveness to heal our guilt. That's exactly what God offers.

It's FAR-REACHING. The Psalm says, "He forgives all my sins." There are no exclusions. There is nothing that's not covered. There's no small print. God promises to heal the guilt of all your sins, no matter when they were committed or how severe they may be.

How does God deal with your sinful acts, attitudes, and nature? He forgives them. He wipes your slate clean. He makes you a new creature. But you need to ask for this forgiveness. Acts 3:19 says, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." You need to turn from your sins and follow God. You need to come to God and admit that you're guilty, and ask him to remove your guilt. He promises to do so. God tells us in Isaiah 43:25, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more."

A father took his son and five other children to the carnival. At every ride, he handed his son a ticket, and then gave out a ticket to each of his five kids. Pretty soon he had handed out the tickets and noticed a sixth kid. He said to the kid, "Who are you?" The kid said, "I'm your son's new friend. He told me that if I'm a friend of your son, I get a ticket."

That's what God is like. When you trust in his Son, you get a free ticket. You can't buy it and you can't earn it. But it's free when you trust in Jesus. That's how you receive forgiveness of sins.

God can relieve you of your guilt today. You can have a guilt exchange with God. God can completely forgive you of all your sins - past, present, and future. In exchange, you can receive new life and a new reason for living.

How does God handle my guilt? He can handle my guilt with his forgiveness.

TWO: GOD CAN HANDLE MY DISCOURAGEMENT WITH HELP

Job 5:7 says, "People are born for trouble as predictably as sparks fly upward from a fire." Troubles are part of life. There's no end to the troubles you will probably face. Let me give you some examples.

  • A fierce gust of wind blew 45-year old Vittorio Luise's car into a river near Naples, Italy in 1983. He managed to break out a window, climb out, and swim to shore where a tree blew over and killed him.
  • Mike Stewart, 31, of Dallas was filming a public service movie in 1983 on "The Dangers of Low-Level Bridges" when the truck he was standing on passed under a low-level bridge killing him.
  • Walter Hallas, a 26-year old store clerk in Leeds, England was so afraid of dentists that in 1979 he asked a fellow worker to try to cure his toothache by punching him in the jaw. The punch caused Hallas to fall down, hitting his head, and he died of a fractured skull.
  • Surprised while burgling a house in Antwerp, Belgium, a thief fled out the back door, clambered over a nine foot wall, dropped down, and found himself in the city prison. And you thought that you were having a bad day!

Does anybody here have problems? Sure. We all have problems.

It's hard to imagine anyone having more problems than David, the man who wrote Psalm 103. You name it, he experienced it. He was the least in his family - the runt of the litter. King Saul tried to kill him. He had to run for his life for years. One of his sons raped his half-sister and was later murdered. His other son plotted against him to take away his throne, and slept with his own wives in public view. David's life was one of turmoil.

David was brutally honest with God about how he felt . He let God know whenever he was experiencing a time of trouble. And time after time, David found that God was able to rescue him from discouragement. In Psalm 103, he writes:

He heals all my diseases; He ransoms me from death. (Psalm 103:3-4)

It's possible that David was talking about literal diseases and literal death. But it's more likely that David is talking about flat out problems and adversities - things that we all experience. Can God handle your problems? You better believe it!

You might have come extremely discouraged today. God can handle your discouragement. God can provide healing from whatever it is that is dragging you down.

This past week I heard a testimony from a man in a wheelchair. His mother was killed when he was a kid. His father never knew how to show him love. He dived into a river and became paralyzed. He became enslaved to drugs and alcohol. It takes him an hour to get out of bed. He couldn't feed himself or go to the washroom by himself. Can God handle his problems?

Two years ago he gave his life to Jesus Christ. He's exchanged his bitterness and his hurt for God's love. He's adopted 11 children and has 4 foster children. It still takes him an hour to get out of bed. He can now make his own sandwich. But most importantly, he's found that God is bigger than his problems.

God's promise is that whenever his people are in need, he will help. That's how God heals us from discouragement. He promises to come to our rescue. David said in Psalm 18 that when we cry out to God, he hears us from his sanctuary and comes to our aid.

God can handle whatever discouragement you are facing with his help.

THREE: GOD CAN HANDLE MY ANXIETY WITH HIS PROVISION

I have an annoying tendency. I worry. And the worst part is, I worry about all the wrong things.

A man was driving on the 401 in his BMW when he was hit by a truck. His car was totaled and his arm was severed. The trucker came to rescue him and he heard the man cry out, "My car! You totaled my BMW!" The trucker said, "Are you crazy? Why are you worried about your car? You've lost your left arm." The man said, "Oh no, don't tell me my Rolex is gone!"

A lot of us worry about our needs being met, and we go past that to worry about our wants as well. We look at our houses, our cars, our toys, and we worry. We wonder whether or not God will supply our needs. And sometimes we end up worshiping our possessions rather than God.

Anyone here ever worry? David says of God:

God surrounds me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. (Psalm 103:4-5)

God promises to meet our anxiety with his provision. He promises not only to meet our basic needs, but to meet our deepest needs - to provide us with his love and tender mercies. Our God is a God who provides. I've found this to be true in my own life.

A few years ago, Charlene and I were at the end of our rope. We had one child and were living at a pace that was out of control. Charlene especially was approaching burnout. She was in an unfulfilling job that was pretty close to killing her. At Christmas 1997, we went on holiday. Charlene told me, "I have to quit. I'm not going back."

How did I respond? Being the sensitive husband that I am, I looked around at our house, our car, our bills. Inwardly I said, "You have to go back." I believed that God could answer her prayers, and yet I was doubting God. I was doubting his healing grace. I believed in my head, but I wasn't believing with my heart.

In January 1998, God provided a replacement for her income that allowed her to take a leave of absence from her work. Later in the year, God provided her with a financial package that allowed her to leave that job. At the same time God provided in other ways so that we could live without her income. We have discovered that God surrounds us with love and tender mercies. He fills our lives with good things.

Psalm 107:9 says, "For he satisfies the thirsty, and fills the hungry with good things." God can take care of you. He will meet your needs. Psalm 34:10 says, "Even strong lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will never lack any good thing."

If you're anxious this morning about having enough, God promises to meet your needs. He wants to surround your life with love and mercy; to fill your life with good things. God can handle my anxiety with his provision.

FOUR: GOD CAN HANDLE MY WEARINESS WITH HIS REST

I have a confession to make. I'm tired. On Friday night, Ed and I boarded an airplane at 3:00 in the morning Toronto time and flew all night. Ed slept; I didn't. It's beginning to catch up to me now.

It's very easy to get weary. The most dangerous kind of weariness is soul fatigue.

Psalm 103:5 reads, "My youth is renewed like the eagle's!" Isaiah 40 says:

29He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak. 30Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will give up. 31But those who wait on the LORD will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Notice that everyone sometimes gets tired. Even the strongest people get tired at times. But God's power and strength never diminish. He is never too tired to help and listen. He is never to tired to help those who are worn out or discouraged. The one who watches over us never gets tired or sleeps.

I talked with a man this past week. His life was a mess. One day he drove by a billboard that said:

28Then Jesus said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

There was no church name or advertiser on the billboard - just the promise of Jesus to weary people. At that moment, he knew he needed Jesus. He knew that only Jesus would be able to give him what he really needed. Rest from his sins. Rest from excessive religious demands. Rest from a general soul weariness. Jesus offers rest from all of that.

You may be exhausted this morning. Jesus offers you rest from that. He invites you to come to him and to receive his rest. He says, "Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls." Acts 3:19 says:

19Now turn from your sins and turn to God, so you can be cleansed of your sins. 20Then wonderful times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will send Jesus your Messiah to you again.

Now we need to take some action steps. There are two things we need to do this morning. The first is to admit our need for healing. We all need healing in at least one area this morning. Just where you're sitting, I'm going to ask you to choose one of the four areas we've looked at this morning and to write it down. It could be guilt, discouragement, anxiety, or weariness.

Then we need to ask God to provide whatever we need. If your need is guilt, pray for God's forgiveness. If your need is discouragement, then pray for God's help. If your need is anxiety, then pray for God's provision. If your need is weariness, pray this morning for God's rest.

Let's talk to our God.

Lord, we're all struggling in different areas. Thank you that no matter what our struggle is, you can meet our need.

Thank you that for those who struggle with guilt, we can find forgiveness in you. Thank you that we can come to you and say, "Dear Father, thank you for your grace that no matter what I've done in the past, I can be completely forgiven. Father, I pray for your forgiveness today. I confess my sins. I receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life offered by Jesus Christ. I give my life to follow you from this day forward, and thank you that the record of my sins has been destroyed."

Thank you that when we struggle with discouragement, you provide your help. You rescue us from the pit. You can help us no matter what we're going through.

Thank you that you provide for people in need. You not only meet our physical needs, but you surround us with love and tender mercies. You fill our lives with good things.

Thank you that you provide rest for the weary. We come now to find our rest in you.

Thank you for your healing grace. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Saving Grace (Ephesians 2:1-9)

Complete these common phrases for me:

If it sounds too good to be true...it is

There's no such thing as a free...lunch

No gain without...pain

God helps those who...help themselves

Everything we're ever taught tells us that you get what you earn in life; that there's no such thing as a free lunch; that you make your bed and then you lie in it. Everything in our lives is predicated on performance. If you want a promotion, you work for it. If you want to make a big purchase, you've got to pay for it. If you want a sales award, you've got to post the numbers. If you want to succeed, you've got to make it happen.

Most of us become pretty good at making it happen. We earn a respectable living and live in respectable houses. We live with heat on in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. Our fridges are full of food. Our cars are full of gas. We think that we can make it on our own. We've worked for it.

We call this the Protestant work ethic. The only problem with the Protestant work ethic is that God doesn't operate on the Protestant work ethic. It's difficult to relate to the way things work spiritually because we're so used to earning our own way.

We're going to look at something so rooted in God's character that we can't possibly understand Christianity unless we understand this. Ephesians 1:4 says that this has been God's plan from before the creation of this world. It is the heart of our relationship with God. It's called grace.

What is grace? Grace is a multi-faceted diamond. There is no single definition of grace to describe what grace is about. Over the next few weeks, we're going to look some different aspects of grace.

One definition of grace is "God's unbelievable accepting of us." Somebody else has said that "Grace is the completely undeserved, loving commitment God has made to us." Another definition: "God's love in action." Or "Grace is the face God wears when he looks at my failures."

We're going to look at many types of grace over the next few weeks. Next week Pastor Ed will help us look at sustaining grace - how God gives you the power to keep on going when you want to give up. We're going to look at healing grace - how God does miracles in your life. Then we're going to look at liberating grace - how to break free from perfectionism. Then we'll look at transforming grace - how our lives can be transformed by the power of God's grace. Finally, we'll talk about growing in grace and living in grace - how to become what we're meant to be.

Today, though, we're going to start with the foundation, which is saving grace. We're going to look at five aspects of saving grace from Ephesians 2. This is foundational to being a follower of Jesus. You can't understand the Christian life unless you understand what we'll talk about today. This is Christianity 101.

I've built an acrostic to help us talk about grace today - G.R.A.C.E. What is grace?

G - GIVEN TO THOSE WHO NEED IT

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins... (Ephesians 2:1)

If you ask the average person how they will get to heaven, you will hear a variety of things. But I believe you could summarize what they have to say in one sentence: "You have to earn your way." In other words, you have to be a moral person. You have to do more good things than bad things. You need to live a certain lifestyle, and then maybe God will let you into heaven. It's all based on what we do - on works.

The only problem is our condition. We're dead. What Paul says in Ephesians 2:1 is true of everyone. Our natural spiritual condition is death. What can a dead person do to earn their way to heaven? Not very much.

In 1992, a Los Angeles County parking control officer came upon a brown El Dorado Cadillac illegally parked next to the curb on street-sweeping day. The officer dutifully wrote out a ticket. Ignoring the man seated at the driver's wheel, the officer reached inside the open car window and placed the $30 citation on the dashboard.

The driver of the car made no excuses. No argument ensued - and with good reason. The driver of the car had been shot in the head ten to twelve hours before but was sitting up, stiff as a board, slumped slightly forward, with blood on his face. He was dead. The officer, preoccupied with ticket-writing, was unaware of anything out of the ordinary. He got back in his car and drove away.

That is our natural condition. People might say we need a citation. We need to try harder. But the reality is that we're spiritually dead. There's nothing we can do to earn our own way to heaven. It's no use even trying. The most vital part of ourselves - the spirit - is dead to the most important factor in life - God.

Paul continues:

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

You could take a look around you and rate people on a moral scale. Let's all recognize that some people are better than others. There are moral, kind, and law-abiding people. Then there are criminals. You and I are probably a lot better than a lot of criminals. But on God's absolute scale, nobody here is good enough to earn salvation.

At first Paul seems a little harsh. Our society believes that evil deeds lie at the edge of our character and never penetrate to the core. Basically, we're told, people are good. We have a sliding scale of goodness.

But the Bible teaches something different. When we lift our gaze to the ultimate standard of goodness - to God himself - even what appears to be goodness on an earthly level is corrupt to the core. I and everyone else am depraved and corrupted in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is untouched by sin. You name it - our minds, bodies, and wills are affected by evil. As Paul writes:

10 As the Scriptures say,

"No one is good—

not even one.

11 No one has real understanding;

no one is seeking God.

12 All have turned away from God;

all have gone wrong.

No one does good,

not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)

A man asked a pastor one time, "What can I do to be saved?" The pastor replied, "You're too late!" That kind of shocked him. Then the pastor continued, "You're about 2000 years too late! What needed to be done for your salvation has already been done and you can't do anything about it."

That's the fundamental difference between Christianity and every other religion. Christianity is the only religion built on grace - on what God does. We don't have to earn God's approval. In fact, we couldn't even if we tried. In other religions, there's always something you have to do to earn God's pleasure. In Christianity, there's nothing that you can do. God does it for you.

That's the first thing we need to understand about grace. It's given to those who need it. We all need it. As C.S. Lewis said, "Think of me as a fellow-patient in the same hospital, who, having been admitted a little earlier, could give some advice."

You're not getting to heaven based on what you do. You can't earn salvation. You're going to go to heaven because of what Jesus did for you. You're going to go to heaven, it's because you realize that grace is a free gift to those who need it.

The second thing about grace is this:

R - ROOTED IN GOD'S CHARACTER

4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even whe n we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

If God had chosen to destroy every human being, he would have been justified. If God had decided in his justice to send every single one of us to hell, no problem. God would have been within his rights. He wouldn't have been doing anything wrong. But there's an aspect of God's character that is so rooted in who he is, that God didn't do that.

The picture so far has been on us, and it's been bleak. But in verse 4 the emphasis switches to God. Why did God act? He acted because of his great love. He acted because he's rich in mercy. He acted because of his grace. He acted so that in coming ages, he might show the incomparable riches of his grace. He acted because that's his character. Grace is rooted in God's character. It's a reflection of who he is.

Two things stick out in this passage. The first is the extent of God's grace. Paul uses words like rich in mercy and incomparable riches of his grace. You can't exhaust God's grace. You can't be too bad for God's grace. God's grace is always greater than our sin. Romans 5:20 says, "Where sin increased, grace increased all the more." You can never outdo God's grace.

The other thing that comes out is how central grace is to God's character - so much so that the entire Bible is about God's grace. If you want a theme for the Bible, it's this: God's grace. The entire Bible is about the God of grace reaching out to people who didn't deserve it. Ephesians 1:5 tells us that it was part of God's eternal plan. It gave him great pleasure. That's who God is.

God knows how bad things are with us, and yet he changes them. Where wrath should have come, mercy comes instead. The wealth of God's mercy and love are not limited. They're part of his character. They're extended to even the worst person who opens to the Gospel message. God is for us. We are the objects of God's love.

That's God's nature. Grace is rooted in God's character.

Not only is grace given to those who need it and rooted in God's character...

A - ACCEPTED BY FAITH

Grace is accepted by faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9not by works, so that no one can boast.

You and I feel like earning our own way to heaven. Yet this passage tells us that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith." We don't earn grace. We just receive it. The whole of salvation is something we receive. We can take no credit for it.

There's even a temptation to think that faith is the contribution we make in order to go to heaven. The reality is that faith itself is a gift from God. We're saved by faith.

This is so important that Martin Luther once declared that this is the article upon which the church stands or falls. How are we made right before God? Not through penance. Not through good works. We're saved by faith - by clinging to Christ alone for salvation. It's a free gift.

What is faith? Faith involves three things:

It involves UNDERSTANDING. This part is factual. You need to understand grace. You need to understand that Jesus offers forgiveness of sins. You need to understand that he offers eternal life. You need to understand that Jesus came to remove your guilt and that you were made to enter into a relationship with God that will last forever. The Gospel is so simple that that's all you need to understand.

It involves AGREEMENT. Satan has an understanding of salvation, but he's not a follower of Christ. It's not enough to believe. You can believe that 7 times 6 is 42, or that Bern is the capital of Switzerland, but it makes no difference to you. Faith means taking the next step: of admitting that you're a sinner in need of salvation, and that Jesus has paid the penalty for sin, and that he offers salvation to you. You need to make your understanding personal and agree with the Gospel.

It involves TRUSTING. Faith isn't just about beliefs. It's about a person. Once you get to know a person, and the more we see in that person a pattern that is trustworthy, the more we find ourselves trusting that person to be and do what they say. Faith involves trusting Jesus in the same way. It's a matter of entering into a relationship with him.

In John 3:16, Jesus said, "whoever believes in him [meaning Jesus] should not perish but have everlasting life." Jesus didn't say, "whoever believes him." That would just be factual. He said, "whoever believes in him." In the original language, the sense is believing into. It's much more than an intellectual assent. It's trust. It's a relationship.

Have you come to trust in Christ personally, or are you still at the point of intellectual knowledge and even agreement with the facts of salvation, without ever having put your trust in Christ? It's not enough. You're saved by grace through faith. What's holding you back?

Grace is ready for you. It's given to those who need it. It's rooted in God's character. It's accepted by faith. It...

C - CAME THROUGH CHRIST

Ephesians 2:7 says, "God can always point to us examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us through Christ Jesus...He created us new in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago."

John 1:17 says, "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Moses gave the law. The law came in the form of cold stone tablets. Nobody was ever saved by the law. On the contrary, the law just condemned us. It showed us how far we had fallen from God's standards of holiness. Moses gave us a system of bookkeeping - figuring out how many things we had done wrong. As somebody has said, nobody was ever saved by good bookkeeping.

Jesus was different. He brought grace. Instead of bringing grace through cold stone tablets, he brought it in the form of a person. Jesus came not to give the law, but to fulfill the law. He came to bring us grace. He came to bring us life. Ephesians says it's not of yourselves; it's a gift from God.

Jesus said himself:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:17-18)

That's the entire reason Jesus came. He came to bring us grace. He did for us what we couldn't do. It's the only way that you can have eternal life. He paid the price. You didn't. The Buddha didn't. Jesus did.

Grace is free, no doubt about that. But it is not cheap. It cost Jesus Christ His life. He paid for your ticket.

There are many things that you've done wrong. Jesus came to this world to take your tattered life - all the mistakes, all the hurts. In exchange he gives you his life. He gives you a fresh start. He makes you into a new creation.

Galatians 2:21 says, "If we could be saved by keeping the law, then there was no need for Christ to die." If you could be saved and could get to heaven on your own merits, the cross was a waste. If you could have gotten to heaven without any help from God, Jesus wouldn't have come and died on the cross for you. He wouldn't waste Himself like that. But there was no other way. You're either going to get into heaven in Christ, or you're not going.

Grace is available to those who need it. It's rooted in God's character. It's accepted through faith. It came throu gh Christ. And finally, it's...

E - EXTENDED THROUGHOUT ETERNITY

We'll never outlive God's grace. God's plan is to continue to give us grace throughout eternity. That's partially hidden in verse 8, where it says, "God saved you." In the original language, Paul points to a past event that has continuing results. We'll never outlive the effects of God's gift of saving grace.

Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." This is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. With God, the best is yet to come. The gift of God is eternal life that begins now and continues throughout eternity.

There's only one catch to this gift. You have to accept it. Although Jesus makes this gift available to everyone, it's effective only to those who receive this gift.

If you're a follower of Jesus Christ this morning, you can't take any credit for it. Your salvation is not a result of anything you've done. It's simply by God's grace. You won't get to heaven and hear people outdo each other with stories of how they got to heaven. It's all of grace. All we can do is be thankful for it.

Isaiah 30:18 says, "The LORD longs to be gracious to you." That's his desire. It is his nature to bless undeserving people. He's waiting for you to accept his grace. He enjoys being gracious. He's not mad at you. His heart's broken for you but he wants you to come home.

God's amazing grace is available right here and right now. Today. That's why He brought you here. You're not here by accident. He brought you here. If you have never received that saving grace gift, what are you waiting for?

Prayer:

In the coming weeks we're going to look at God's Restoring Grace, His Sustaining Grace, His Healing Grace, but first you've got to settle the foundation of Saving Grace. Why don't you pray this prayer in your heart? "Dear God, I realize that I can never be perfect enough to earn a place in your perfect heaven. I realize that the only way I'll get in is by your grace. Forgive me for thinking that I could be good enough. Forgive me for my pride that thinks I can earn my way into heaven. Thank you that you give me what I need, not what I deserve. Thank you for Your forgiveness and I ask for it today. Jesus Christ, thank you for paying for my salvation on the cross. By faith, I accept your grace today. I want you to guide my life from this day forward. In Your name I pray. Amen."

Praying Like Jesus

In my squash-playing days, I liked to go and practice by myself. I would hit that ball around the squash court until I convinced myself that I was a good player. It didn't take much work to convince me - it was self-evident that I was a gifted squash player. Bring them on!

And so I began to play real people. I remember playing an older gentleman. I was 18 at the time; he was in his fifties. Piece of cake! I just hoped I didn't give him a heart attack. Well, as we began to play, he walloped me. I was massacred! I walked away feeling quite a but humbler about my squash-playing abilities.

I've since learned some basic guidelines about playing athletic sports. If you want to be proud, play a lesser player. If you want a good game, play someone with equal abilities. If you want to improve, play somebody a little better than you are. If you want to be utterly humiliated, play an expert.

You'd think it would be that way with prayer. Today we're going to talk about praying like Jesus. In comparison to Jesus, the best prayer among us is nothing more than a praying amateur. You and I could expect to be decimated by the example of Jesus. Surely we could never have a prayer life like Jesus.

Well, yes, in many ways we'll never measure up to Jesus. And yet the Spirit's entire job is to make us more like Jesus. Romans 8:29 says that God has chosen us to be "conformed to the image of his Son." So we're supposed to pray like Jesus.

I was surprised what happened this week as I looked at Jesus' prayer life. Instead of feeling unworthy and guilty, I became filled with a sense of hope. Jesus didn't come to overwhelm us with guilt; he came to bring us life and hope. And that extends to our prayer life as well.

If you came expecting to hear words that would make you feel guilty about your prayer life, that's not what you're going to hear today. But if you came ready to receive some hope, this morning is for you. There are four essentials to praying like Jesus. Two have to do with God; two have to do with you.

ESSENTIAL ONE: UNDERSTAND GOD'S APPROACHABILITY

I sometimes struggle with approaching God. He is holy and sovereign. He can seem so distant. It's hard to believe that God is approachable by me.

Some of you know the Old Testament system of sacrifices. For hundreds of years, nobody had known direct access to God. Quite the contrary! In the Old Testament, with the sacrificial system, if a person marched into the presence of God in the Temple, they'd be killed. The average person was represented by a priest. The priest would help them pay confess their sins, pay penance, and make animal sacrifices. The average person had no direct access to God. They would need to go through a priest.

Not only that, but the priest couldn't approach God directly either. If the priest tried to approach God, he would be killed. The priest had to approach God through the High Priest. Once a year, at just the right time, and after all the right ceremonies, the High Priest could enter a place in the Temple called the Holy of Holies. It had to be done in just the right way, and for only a brief period of time.

God had become so remote in Jesus' day that the people addressed God as "Sovereign Lord," "King of the Universe," and so on. Their Scriptures had referred to God as Father, but over the centuries, they had lost the sense of God's intimate fatherhood. They saw God only as a remote, distant, faded figure who had once guided their ancestors. Approaching God was complicated to them. You couldn't just rush into God's presence. They couldn't dream of approaching God in intimate terms.

Jesus turned their worlds upside down. After hundreds of years of high priests and rituals, Jesus said in Matthew 7:

7"Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. 8For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks.

No red tape. No high priests. No rituals. Just come anytime, anywhere, and God is there ready to hear you.

What's more, Jesus said:

9Pray like this: Our Father in heaven... (Matthew 6:9)

Jesus called him Father. Unbelievable! To call God "Father" would have been near blasphemy for the people of that day.

The word that Jesus probably used was Abba. It was an Aramaic word used by children to address their fathers. It's not quite as familiar as "Daddy," but it is a little more familiar than "Father." It's a term of intimacy that a child would use to address their father. It was an intimate and personal term.

It's one thing for Jesus to pray with such intimacy. Jesus was indeed the Son of God. God had told him, "You are my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with you" (Luke 3:22). Jesus had an established, intimate relationship with God. He could have told us to keep our respectful distance.

What sort of an established relationship do we have with God? The Bible tells us that those who follow Jesus Christ are adopted children of God. Paul writes in Romans 8:

15So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family—calling him "Father, dear Father." 16For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children. 17And since we are his children, we will share his treasures—for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too.

In Roman culture, the adopted person lost all their rights in the old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate child in the new family. The adopted child became a full heir to the new father's estate. We are adopted children with all the rights of being a child of God. We are not slaves; we're the Master's children. That's our position, and nothing can ever change that. We can be intimate with God.

If you haven't begun to follow Jesus yet, one of the greatest things you'll gain by following him is this intimacy with God. When God is your Father, it means that you no longer have to be scared by him. He's not a fearful deity any longer; he's your Father. It means the end of uncertainty in your life. If earthly fathers go out of their way to help their children, won't God love, protect, and help you? It settles the issue of loneliness. No matter if friends, family members, or even the rest of the world abandon you, God will never leave you or forsake you. The minute you begin to follow Jesus, all these benefits are yours.

My father wasn't around much when I grew up, except for Saturdays. And yet now that I'm a father, I can relate to this passage. I want my children to respect me. Yet I don't want them to approach me as being aloof or unapproachable. Nothing thrills me more than when my children want to be held by me; to be with me. God is like that. He is eager to lend his ear, his power, and his eternal blessings to his children.

You and I have no idea how approachable God is once we've been adopted as one of his children. God is easier to talk to than your kid's principal or your bank manager. Jesus is inviting us into a covenant relationship, in which we can have an audience with the C.E.O. of the universe, without having to bother with a priest, appointment secretary, or any red tape We can walk in directly and ask, seek, knock.

That's the first essential to praying like Jesus. Understand God's approachability.

ESSENTIAL TWO: UNDERSTAND GOD'S BENEVOLENCE

Jesus said again:

7"Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. 8For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks.

A lot of people think that God is a cosmic grouch. They picture God in heaven frowning every time he sees someone smile. He loves to reign on parades. He is most pleased when we are displeased. For these people, prayer is overcoming God's reluctance.

Jesus says something different. He says that God loves to give people what they ask for; he loves to let people find what they're seeking; he loves to open the door to those who stand outside knocking. That's God's inclination. He's inclined to answer the prayers of his people.

Not only is God righteous and holy, he's kind to the core. He loves to meet needs, provide resources, give love to love-starved people, surprise people with his goodness, stun them with his grace. He loves to heal, and renew, and restore, and guide and save people. He does this with great joy. That's what he's like, Jesus says. Get to know him.

Jesus even tells a story in to illustrate this point more:

9You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

You and I have heard of bad dads. A bad dad is a dad who plays cruel tricks on his kids. A bad dad would find a stone that looked like a loaf of bread and give it to his child in a breadbasket. A bad dad would find a poisonous snake in the field, put it on a plate and cover it, and then wait for his daughter to ask for a fish sandwich. We can't even imagine a dad that bad. We all know that a parent's heart is tenderly disposed towards a child.

Well, Jesus says, if you have that streak of evil in your heart and are still good to your children, imagine how good a dad would be if he were perfect. And then, Jesus says, that's my Father. He's perfect. He would never do anything to harm his children. Our heavenly Father only gives good gifts. James wrote later:

17Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven's lights.

Some people choke at the notion that God is kind to the core. Some believe that the only way they can get a smile from the stern face of God is to knock themselves out, to deny any and all forms of pleasure, to beat themselves up for real or imagined infractions, and then when they lie in a pile of exhaustion and self reproach, they say, "How's this, are you happy?"

Some of us believe we have to be at peak spiritual performance before God can smile on us. Any spiritual performance junkies here? Some of us have a notion that God is stern and judgmental, who hates when people have fun, who is never more pleased when people are rigid and joyless. Jesus says, "I wish you knew God, he's approachable and he's benevolent to the core." As somebody has said, "Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of his highest willingness."

It's essential that you understand God's approachability and his benevolence. Those two essentials have to do with your understanding of God. The next two essentials have to do with you.

ESSENTIAL THREE: UNDERSTAND OUR NEED

I'm amazed as I read the Gospels of how many times Jesus prayed. Mark 1:35 says:

35The next morning Jesus awoke long before daybreak and went out alone into the wilderness to pray.

Jesus prayed at his baptism (Luke 3:21), before he chose the twelve disciples (Luke 6:12), when the crowds increased (Luke 5:16), before he asked the twelve for their confession of faith (Luke 9:18), and at his Transfiguration (Luke 9:29). Jesus prayed so much that the disciples asked him in Luke 11, "Lord, teach us to pray." They never asked him to teach them how to do miracles. They asked to be taught how to pray.

Jesus seemed to pray when life became the most hectic. When events circled Jesus, Jesus circled his wagons around the courts of God.

I've come to realize that if Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, had to depend on prayer while on this earth, how much more do I need to pray!

Jesus said two things that especially convict me about our need for prayer. In John 15, he said:

5"Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

Every week I attempt to do many things for God. I attempt to be a loving husband and a kind father. I attempt to be a good pastor. And yet Jesus says, "Apart from me you can do nothing." Separated from Jesus, I can't produce any fruit in my walk with God. That's why I need prayer.

Jesus also said in Matthew 26:41:

41Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!"

Every day we are tempted. Even Jesus was tempted while he was on earth. He knew that there's only one way to withstand temptation: through prayer. The only way to overcome temptation is through prayer. You can't overcome temptation on your own strength. You can't resist it alone! Through prayer, God's strength can shore up our defenses and defeat Satan's power.

I think that one of the keys to Jesus' effectiveness was his prayer life. We'll never be the Son of God, but that just means we need more prayer than he did. We need to comprehend how much we need him. That's the third essential.

ESSENTIAL FOUR: UNDERSTAND BOLDNESS

If you examine all of Jesus' teaching about prayer, I believe that this is the issue that comes up the most. Jesus wants us to understand one thing about prayer. Jesus wanted us to be bold and persistent in prayer. Jesus told two similar stories to get his point across: the stories of the persistent widow and the story of the friend at midnight, which was read for us earlier. Let's talk for a minute about the story of the friend at midnight.

When Jesus told this story, houses were nothing like what we're used to. Houses were small, usually consisting of one room. It would be your living room, dining room, and bedroom all in one. A house had one door, which would be left open all day. But at night, the head of the family would close the door and slide a wooden bar through the rings of the door and the wall to keep out intruders. Then, mats were spread out and were used as beds on which the family slept all in a row. If you have children, you can imagine how little you'd like to disrupt your entire family in the middle of the night. That's the backdrop for the story that Jesus tells.

A man ran out of bread. I can imagine that he just had the last bite at suppertime. You know the embarrassment of company coming when you've got nothing to serve them! Bread was not as readily available then. There were no 24-hour convenience stores. Bread was baked each day to meet their daily needs.

In that culture, hospitality was held in high regard. A visitor was welcomed and cared for, no matter when they came. To refuse to serve a guest would be an embarrassment not only to your own house, but to the whole village. So imagine the dilemma of having a friend arrive at midnight - traveling late to escape the heat of the day - and to have nothing to serve him?

So the man goes next door and asks the neighbor for help. The neighbor, not surprisingly, doesn't want to wake up his whole house. He says, "Don't bother me. The kids are asleep. The door is locked. I can't help you!"

But the man doesn't give up that easily. He knocks and knocks, until the neighbor decides that it's better to risk waking up the kids by getting up, than to have the kids woken up by all the knocking.

What's the moral of the story? It's not that God is reluctant or sleeping. It's not that you're bothering God with your requests. It's this: if you can get a sleepy neighbor to respond to your requests for help, even though he didn't really want to, how much more will God answer your requests?

But the key is found in verse 8. Verse 8 says, "because of the man's boldness [or importunity] he will get up and give him as much as he needs." The word boldness or importunity means "a lack of feeling shame." It means shameless and persistent. It's the sort of prayer that Jesus teaches. He wants us to be bold and shameless in making our requests.

Hebrews 10 tells us:

19And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven's Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.

21And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God's people, 22let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ's blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

God expects boldness from his children when it comes to spiritual requests. God wants us to be bold - even shameless - in coming to God for all that we need. He desires prayer with nerve. He wants mountain-moving prayer. The response, of course, is up to him, but this is the sort of prayer that he is looking for.

Let's come with intensity and knock on heaven's door. We can be bold because he cares. We can be bold because God is approachable and benevolent, and because we need him so desperately. And when we pray this way, we're praying just like Jesus.

Father, thank you for the privilege of approaching you with boldness. Thank you that you're not a distant deity. You're our Father. We're your adopted children. You've given us all that we have.

Thank you for your benevolence. Thank you that your heart is tenderly inclined toward us.

Father, we need you. There's nothing good that we can produce apart from your power. So give us boldness to come into your presence and ask for what we need.

I pray today that we would not feel guilty about prayer. Instead, make us hungry to pray. Give us the hunger to pray as Jesus did. In his name I pray, Amen.

Mountain-Moving Prayer (Mark 11:12-25)

What makes you really angry? There are some people who are a little like nitroglycerin. They're always ready to blow. The slightest provocation, and watch out! But there are others of us who need to be pushed to the wall before we ever get angry.

Aristotle said something interesting. "It is easy to fly into a passion - anybody can do that," he said, "but to be angry with the right person to the right extent and at the right time and with the right object and in the right way - that is not easy, and it is not everyone who can do it."

If there is anyone who could be angry with the right person to the right extent, at the right time and in the right way, it would be Jesus. We're going to look today at what made Jesus angry. It may surprise some of you that Jesus got angry. But it's in Scripture. There are some things that make Jesus very angry.

Please open your Bibles to Mark 11. It's found on page 1143 of your pew Bibles. We're going to take a back-door look at the subject of prayer, because there is an important and connection between what makes Jesus angry and the subject of prayer.

As we begin to read Mark 11, it's the last week of Jesus' life. Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem, and had already spent part of a day looking around in the Temple, before traveling to a near-by town to spend the night. On the Monday of that week, we read of one of the most puzzling stories of Scripture. Jesus got mad at a tree. Read verses 12 to 15 with me.

12The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

I've been known to curse inanimate objects. So have you. That's not too surprising. But it's a little surprising to see Jesus get so upset at a tree. What's behind his fury here?

The story begins normally. Jesus is hungry, and so he looks around for something to eat. Noticing a fig tree, he examines it to see if it has any figs ready to eat. Fig trees usually leaf out in March or April, but don't produce any fruit until June. This tree had plenty of leaves, but as Jesus examined it more carefully, it had no fruit. That's not too surprising - it wasn't time for the tree to bear fruit. So why would Jesus get angry at a tree for not having any fruit - especially when it wasn't yet time for the tree to bear fruit?

I'll tell you why. We make three discoveries in this passage, and here's the first one.

ONE: OUR PROBLEM IS LIFELESSNESS

I've read the Gospels a number of times. Jesus didn't get angry too often. Whenever he did, his anger was directed at one thing: the appearance of religion without any substance.

Why would Jesus get angry at a fig tree? Some people think that Jesus was simply being petulant. But Jesus was using the fig tree as an illustration. The fig tree looked good from a distance, but when you got up close it was fruitless. It looked promising but it never lived up to its promise. It had all the style and none of the substance.

Look at verses 15 to 17.

15On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written:

"‘My house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations'?
But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'"

The Temple looked good from a distance. It was the holiest place in the world. It was where God lived. Jews called it the "gate of heaven." But when Jesus looked closely, he saw made his blood boil. He announced God's judgment on the Temple. He drove the merchants and moneychangers out of the Court of the Gentiles. The place of worship and prayer had become a place of extortion, preventing Gentiles from coming to God in prayer.

In the year 70 AD, the Temple was destroyed. But on that day some forty years earlier, Jesus announced God's judgment on the Temple. God can't stand religious life with no substance. He can't stand a tree that has leaves but no fruit. He can't stand a Temple that looks good but is rotten inside. He can't stand a church that says the right thing but has no spiritual passion to back it up.

I had the benefit of beginning to follow Jesus at an early age. Back then there was no pretending. I remember how I used to go through Bibles as a kid. The pages would fall out. Eventually I wouldn't be able to read the pages because the were underlined and highlighted too much. If God said something, I believed it. I wasn't perfect by any means, but I had a hunger and a simple faith in God. There was no slippage between who I appeared to be and who I really was.

Things changed. I won't get into all the details, but the year that I entered seminary, I had to make some serious decisions. If you asked anyone at church what I was like, you would have heard me described in glowing terms. But if you asked certain people at work what I was like, you would have heard different things. I was embarrassed by what they knew. I guess I had begun to pretend a little in my spiritual life. There were more leaves than fruit, if you know what I mean.

You would think that things had changed, but they didn't. In year two of seminary, I began meeting with one of my professors to be mentored. He began to ask me about my devotional life. You can appear to be all spiritual, but when someone asks you about how much time you're spending with God in prayer and how much of God's book you're reading, it's pretty hard to hide. I was just a few years away from becoming a pastor, and I had no devotional life to speak of.

It's pretty easy to pretend. At one time, figuratively speaking, we might have had lots of leaves and lots of fruit. But a lot of us have lost our fruit. We appear to be alive but we're lifeless. We have style but there's no substance. And it makes Jesus angry.

Writing to a church, Jesus said in Revelation 3:

"I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. 2Now wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is at the point of death. Your deeds are far from right in the sight of God. 3Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly and turn to me again. Unless you do, I will come upon you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.

Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel that your problem - our problem - isn't heresy but apathy? Do you ever feel like you're farther away from God than you used to be? That's my problem. It's your problem. We appear to be more alive than we really are.

Jesus gives us a solution, and it's our second discovery. Not only is our problem lifelessness, but...

TWO: THE SOLUTION IS PRAYER

What's the solution to lifelessness? Prayer. You may think that prayer is only for the spiritual elite, but it's not. It's for those who have leaves but want the fruit. It's for you and it's for me. It's for those who want a fresh encounter with God.

Read what happened in Mark 11:20:

20In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"

22"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. 23"I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Jesus had just performed a miracle unlike any other. It's the only destructive miracle he performed. It's the only time that his miracle involved making something worse rather than better.

The disciples were amazed. For a tree to shrivel up in the space of one day was unheard of. What had Jesus done? He had taken away the tree's false advertising. There was no more pretending. It has looked great but been unfruitful the day before. Now it looked like it actually was.

What would you expect Jesus to say next? I would have expected him to address barrenness and corruption. I would have expected Jesus to expand on why God was judging Israel. But he doesn't make that application. Instead he talks about prayer. Why does he do that?

Certainly, part of the reason is to explain how he was able to curse the fig tree. The disciples were amazed that Jesus could do it. Jesus wanted to let them know how he was able to do such a miracle. But there's more.

The reason Jesus talks about prayer is because prayer is the antidote to lifelessness. Jesus was explaining how to be different from those who participate in lifeless religion. He was explaining how his kingdom really works. As opposed to those who participate in the ritual of religion, his kingdom is based on faith in God that overcomes insurmountable odds. Do you want to know how to overcome lifeless religion? Begin with prayer.

Jesus said, "If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him." Jesus was referring to a specific mountain. It's possible as he spoke that he was either referring to the Mount of Olives or the Temple Mount. It's just possible he was saying, "If you really have faith in God, you can oppose the current religious system. You can stand up against the apathy that you see around you. The world can be remade. But it's going to happen through prayer."

It's as if Jesus was saying, "Out with the old institutionalized religious establishment. In with my people - people who will specialize in faith-borne prayer." The antidote to lifelessness is prayer.

What can prayer do?

Prayer can revive your heart. We all feel spiritually dead at times. If you don't right now, you will one day. Prayer can change that. Somebody once said to Jesus, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" Jesus honors a prayer like that.

Prayer can overcome obstacles. Jesus said you that mountains can be moved with prayer. In the Bible, a mountain often signifies an insurmountable obstacle. God can do the impossible. With God, anything is possible.

Prayer can remind you who's in charge. Sometimes we think that it's up to us. People have twisted this passage to make it sound like we need to get enough faith and then we can make things happen. But the amount of faith isn't as important as the object of our faith. Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, ""I assure you, even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." There is great power in even little faith, as long as the faith is in God. It's God's power that makes the difference.

I'm pretty sure that you have obstacles in your life. I'm pretty sure that you need a fresh encounter with God. You and I need our hearts revived. We need to be reminded that God is the one who makes the difference. Prayer can do that. Prayer is the antidote to lifelessness.

Our problem is lifelessness. The solution is prayer. There's one more discovery we make in this passage.

THREE: THE WAY TO PRAY IS WITH AUTHORITY

Jesus said in verse 24:

24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

There are two conditions to effective prayer. One is that we pray confidently. The second is that we pray with a forgiving spirit. This morning I'd like to focus on the first condition. We need to pray confidently and with authority.

There are different ways to pray. We're always to pray submissively, submitting to God's will rather than ours. There are times that we don't know what God's will is. Our will might even be opposed to God's will. That's when we pray very clearly saying, "Not my will, but yours be done."

But there's also a time for authoritative prayer. Ordinary prayer proceeds from earth to heaven. We ask for forgiveness; we pray for healing; we give thanks. But authoritative prayer is different. We bring the resources of heaven down to earth.

When we know what God's will is, but need the power to do God's will, it's time to pray authoritatively. When we need to engage the enemy, it's time for authoritative prayer. We know what God's will is. We just need to pray God's resources into the situation. Richard Foster writes:

How do we do it? We do it by coming against every "mountain" that hinders our progress in God. We command all kinds of fears to leave and never return. We stand against evil thoughts and suspicions and distortions of ever sort. We bind the spirit of anger and jealousy and gossip, and release the spirit of forgiveness and love and faith.

How do we do it? We do it by demon expulsion. Wherever we find evil forces at work, we firmly demand that they leave. We are in charge, not them. In the ministry of power we take authority over whatever is opposed to our life in the kingdom of God. (Richard Foster, Prayer p. 256)

We can pray God's power into Richview. We know what God's will is for our church. There's not a question of whether or not God wants to move among us. There isn't much of a mystery about whether or not he wants us to be evangelistic. But we need his power.

A pastor once stood in front of his church and said:

Brothers and sisters, I really feel that I've heard from God about the future of our church....It's not fancy or profound or spectacular. But I want to say to you today with all the seriousness I can muster: From this day on, the prayer meeting will be the barometer of our church. What happens on Tuesday night will be the gauge by which we will judge success or failure because that will be the measure by which God blesses us.

If we call upon the Lord, he has promised in his Word to answer, to bring the unsaved to himself, to pour out his Spirit among us. If we don't call upon the Lord, he has promised nothing - nothing at all. It's as simple as that. No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend on our times of prayer. (Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire p. 27)

C.H. Spurgeon, the great British preacher from a hundred years ago, said in his church:

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 the amount of divine working among the people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he is not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.

If God is going to bless Richview in the year 2000, it's going to be because of prayer. If God is going to get rid of deadness in our hearts, it's going to be because of prayer. If we are going to see God move, it's going to be because of prayer. "Herein lies the Church's power against the world" (Andrew Bonar).

I hate the deadness in my heart. God hates any deadness he finds in the church. He's given us the antidote: it's prayer. And he's called us to pray authoritatively. Will you?

Father, prayer isn't a gimmick. It isn' t just the pastor's vision. It's the antidote to deadness within our souls and within the church. It's a command of our Lord.

Jesus said, "I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." We believe that. And so we begin a week of prayer, asking that you would awaken our hearts. Turn us into a spiritual powerhouse. If we don't call upon the Lord, he has promised nothing - nothing at all. But if we call upon the Lord, he has promised in his Word to answer, to bring the unsaved to himself, to pour out his Spirit among us.

Lord, I don't know what you have planned for this coming week, but you have called us to prayer. May we be found faithful. In Jesus' name, Amen.