Thrive Part 6: Hear our Prayer

Thrive Part Six

Hear our Prayer

Many books and even more sermons have been written on the topic of prayer than almost any other topic in Christianity. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that I heard a series from Dr. Tony Evans that started to make sense in my life. My family and I had been members of a para-church ecumenical charismatic community of believers called the People of Praise. Our meetings were considered ‘private’ because they didn’t want to biblically violate the 1 Corinthians instructions for church gatherings and order in services, but it was the kind of place where, like in any pentacostal gathering, people would speak in tongues (not biblical tongues, but a babbling “prayer language”, usually without an interpretation), be slain in the Spirit, there were occasionally legitimate healings taking place, but the were also those who needed to be healed of the same ailments over and over again week after week. I ran into issues when they would say, “We teach”, and I would respond “But the Bible says” and they would say, “But we teach.”

After all that, obviously, anyone might be confused about the true nature and purpose of prayer. This is also a place where, as I mentioned last week, people would take the LORD’s name and authority upon themselves, and when God didn’t act according to what they said his will was, the faith of individuals, like myself, would be injured and shaken. Around the time we left the People of Praise, I heard a sermon series by Dr. Evans on Moody Radio that started to make sense. The series was in essence, why God wouldn’t hear our prayer and how our prayer could be hindered. Since the early 2010s, I have seen more articles and books come out regarding hindrances to our prayer lives. You may have heard it said that God always listens to our prayers, but we can find evidence to the contrary within the scriptures. Our prayer lives can be disrupted, our prayers can be hindered, and there are times when God may not hear our prayers.

Last week, we focused read the brief passage from The Screwtape Letters, where Uncle Screwtape told his nephew, Wormwood, to have the patient focus on how he feels during prayer and what feels he is able to create within himself rather than being empowered by God through his prayer. We must all admit; God can seem far away when we pray. It can feel like I’m beating my head against a wall. My prayers feel repetitive, self-indulgent, short, and they seemingly go unanswered.

There are times when I pray, my prayers are often filled with a wish list of things I want. Instead of being a time of communion with my Savior, prayer becomes a means to an end, and that end is self. Instead of praying for God’s will to be revealed, I try to impress my will upon God. In Partners in Prayer,  John Maxwell shares ten things that act as “prayer killers.” Other writers focus on fewer hinderances to prayer. Let’s look into scripture and see what we can learn about hinderances to our prayers.

The very first should be obvious and should go without needing to be said, but most of our culture misses this one. God is under no obligation to listen to or answer any prayers of those who have not accepted his gift of his Son’s death on the cross, his burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. For God to hear our prayers, we must enter into a relationship with him. So for an unbeliever, the one prayer God is guaranteed to hear and respond to is one of confession, repentance, and surrender. As simple as, “God, I believe you to be who you say you are, and I know that I haven’t lived up to your perfect standards. I accept the forgiveness your Son, Jesus, has bought for me with his death. I want to turn my life over to your will and your ways, and I ask for your Holy Spirit’s guidance in my life from here forward.” Such is a prayer that God will always hear and respond to. It is not a sacri-magical cure-all and the exact wording doesn’t matter, but it must come from your very soul and be sincere.

Once we have gotten that far, what does scripture say about what can hinder our prayers?

1. Ignoring God’s Word

Proverbs 28:9

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.

If someone, even a professed believer, refuses to hear and heed God’s discipline and guidance, their prayers become detestable to the Lord.

This includes a rejection of the Bible’s authority as God’s revealed Word. If you reject God’s primary communication about Jesus and his work, how can you know him? You don’t love the real Jesus; your imaginary Jesus is powerless to answer prayers.

2. Loving Sin

Psalm 66:18

“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

The New Living Translation says,

‘If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.’

Our prayers won’t be heard if we “cherish iniquity,” holding unrepentantly to some sin. This is loving our sin more than loving God. As we read the context of these verses, not only will he not listen and hear, he will also reject our prayers and will withhold his favor also translated “love” from us. This does not include a believer struggling with a recurring sin who regularly and humbly repents, but this is anyone who willfully harbors sin and refuses to repent. We always have the promise in 1 John to be restored and cleansed, being made righteous.

1 John 1:8-10 says,

‘If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us. ‘

To restore our right relationship with him, we go to him with a prayer of confession and repentance, and then those hinderances will melt away.

James, the half-brother of Jesus makes several points regarding prayer within his letter to believers.


3. Lack of Faith

         James 1:5-8

‘But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.’

This idea of being double-minded is a person like one with a split personality. Not only do they say one thing and do another, they are not even sure what it is they actually believe and follow the latest fads of faith and whatever suits what they want to believe rather than standing firm on what the Bible says. They are the house built on the sand that crumbles into the sea. They are incapable of hearing from God or receiving the gifts he has for them.

         James makes two points in this next passage.

         James 4:2-3

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

4. Not Asking

The first is that we don’t ask God for his help. I’ve fallen into this many times, either when I think my prayers are insignificant or selfish, or when I try to do things in my own power.

5. Asking with Wrong Motives

James’ second point speaks to our motivations. He writes this after saying that we’re too often ruled by our desires, and just as our unchecked passions may lead to quarreling and sin, they can inhibit our relationship with God, including his response to our prayers.

6. Lack of transparency with God and others

         James 5:15-16 says,

‘And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up – and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.’

James is sharing a fundamental truth about God: When we confess our sins to one another, which requires us to be open and vulnerable, God is able to heal and cleanse us. We experience a spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental relief and restoration. This is why, in 12-step programs, the fifth step is to admit our shortcomings to God, to ourselves, and to one other human being. You don’t need to broadcast this on public radio, it’s about being transparent with someone. It also helps us have a sense of accountability before someone else and before God to not repeat the same mistakes.

7. Resentment and Unforgiveness

         During the Sermon on the Mount, immediately after introducing the pattern for prayer that we know as the Lord’s Prayer Jesus says,

Matthew 6:14-15

“For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.’

Being forgiven and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin. By harboring unforgiveness in our hearts, by holding on to those resentments, we are also blocking God’s ability to forgive us and answer our prayers. By the same token, if we know someone has a resentment against us, we need to clear up our side of the street. Before Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer, after the Beatitudes, he teaches about anger and hatred, at that time he said,

Matthew 5:23-24

‘So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.’

Not only are we making ourselves right with God and our fellows by doing this, we are also potentially helping the other person overcome some resentment or unforgiveness in their life.

         These seven areas are areas of our lives that we can consciously submit to God in prayer and his Holy Spirit will empower us to have a more effective prayer life. There are other roadblocks and hinderances that can come into our lives when we pray. For instance, putting anything before God in our lives in the form of idolatry (Ezekiel14:3), living in disunity or being unloving toward our fellow Christians, dishonoring who God is, putting our will before his own, husbands should know the way they treat their wives could lead to their prayers being hindered (1 Peter 3:7), but the biggest thing that helps us is to really understand the purpose of prayer. The purpose in prayer is intimacy with God, understanding who God truly is, becoming the people God wants us to be, and following his will and ways more closely. Martin Luther said it well,  “God wants us to pray, and he wants to hear our prayers – not because we are worthy, but because he is merciful.”

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Thrive Part 5: Hotline to Heaven

Thrive Part 5

Hotline to Heaven

I seriously can’t believe we are already in the fifth and final Sunday of January. For the past four weeks, we have been talking about what it really means to thrive in this life. If you remember, to thrive means to be successful, to be prosperous, and to flourish. If we are going to thrive in this life, last week, maybe we realized that we need to redefine success and prosperity when we determine what it means to flourish. For believers in Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior, financial prosperity and success in achieving material goals should not be our first measure when we think of what it means to flourish. Many early believers were persecuted, beaten, hounded and killed for their faith; yet I would say they thrived in a manner few in the 21st century truly do.

On January 1st, I asked us as a congregation to make a resolution to take it SLOW this year. That we would resolve to Serve, Love, Obey, and Worship to thrive in our faith in Jesus and impact our community and our world for Christ. We’ve talked about four ways, four phrases that help guide us when it comes to living in a right relationship with God and our fellows here on earth. To have faith, do good, show love, and do the next right thing. Then for the last two weeks, we talked about how confession and repentance open the doors for the flow of the Spirit to flow through us and out into the world. We don’t want to quench or grieve the Spirit but instead open up the flood gates of heaven showing love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, contentment, and joy, and restoring our brothers and sisters in gentleness and humility by bringing one another into closer fellowship with our God.

This morning, going to start talking again about our Hotline to Heaven, PRAYER!

I said before, second to our salvation, the most important part of our relationship with God is our prayer life… From the beginning of time, God has been trying to commune with his creation. He takes great join from being able to have a relationship with us. So much so, he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, to die as an atoning sacrifice to cover our multitude of sins with his Son’s righteousness. Added to that, he gives us his indwelling Holy Spirit so that he can be in the closest possible fellowship with us, living within us… Yet, we commonly neglect talking with, fellowshipping with, communing with our Father in heaven.

I’ll remind you of Commissioner Gordon’s red bat phone in his office in Gotham city. Whenever there was a big problem, Gordon would ring up Batman and Robin to come and save the day.

We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Paul tells us,

Romans 8:26-27 NET

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.

This issue is so important, in CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Uncle Screwtape writes this to his nephew, the young tempter, Wormwood…

“Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself, we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so.  The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.  Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by their own wills.  When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them instead start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing.  When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave.  When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven.  Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling…”

Jesus taught on this subject himself in a very famous passage of Scripture. And, yet, we still missed the point… He said, Matthew 6:5-8 NET

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.  When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

In the following verses, come what we know as the “Lord’s Prayer”, which is meant to be a template for how to pray that he gave to his disciples, but in our humanity, we turned it into another thing to mindlessly recite… he just finished telling us not to do that, not ‘babbling repetitiously’. He was trying to give us a pattern for how to start a conversation with God.

Last year, I gave these two patterns that you can use to pray that follow Jesus’s example to his disciples…

PRAY – Praise Repent Ask and Yield

ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication

God wants a relationship with us. He is not a celestial vending machine we plug our prayer quarters into and make our selections of what we want. He is not a genie in a bottle waiting for us to rub the prayer lamp to grant our next wish. He is a heavenly Father with a deep desire for a relationship with his kids. He wants us to pick up the phone and call him frequently. He does want to meet our needs, but what Father only wants a call from their kids only when they want something???

If we turn to Exodus 20 we find the Ten Commandments. The first ten of 613 dos and don’ts given to the nation of Israel that would define them as a people set apart by God for God himself. A people he has called to look and act completely different from an other society on earth. A people that were supposed to draw other nations into a relationship with God by demonstrating his glorious power through them. This is also the beginning of the Law of Moses that Jesus came to fulfill. And in Exodus 20:7 we find the 3rd Commandment which you may have heard,

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

That is the King James Version. Most people have since interpreted that to mean something along the lines of don’t say “GD” or curse in some other way. But that is not truly the intent of the command. The New Living Translation captures the intent a little better, it says

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

The heart of this commandment, while we shouldn’t misuse his name in our casual speech, frustration or anger, goes way deeper than something as superficial as that… In ancient times, to take someone’s name or use someone’s name, was to use that person’s power and authority for yourself. In our modern world, we would consider it identity theft. And when it comes to the identity, power, and authority of God; to misuse his name is to insert or pass off something as his will and ways when he would have nothing to do with it.

There was a woman in a Bible study who kept asking for an unspoken prayer request. My friend, being a discerning individual, would only pray for God’s will to be done, and not agree with her in prayer not knowing what he was praying for. He came to find out, she was praying that a man she was lusting after would leave his wife and family to be with her. That is taking God’s name in vain. Another instance I heard about more recently was a man who was struggling in his marriage who met a younger woman. He claimed God put her in his life after praying, for him to have an affair because she made him feel better about himself. God doesn’t endorse or approve of adultery in any instance, he was taking God’s authority and misusing it.

There is a very popular song on Christian radio right now that is one of those scattergun prayers, a very well-meaning woman singing a beautiful song with a terrible sense of theology and application fuel by misunderstanding and poor teaching. And have you ever watched a prayer or healing service where the preacher, pastor, whomever rattles off every possible ailment, illness, discontentedness, financial problem, on and on without praying directly for any one particular person or purpose? That is not God’s purpose in prayer. That is a whole lot of taking God’s power and authority upon yourself and misusing his name. What happens to people’s faith when that behavior is going on and they aren’t getting the results they are looking for?

Even in the life of Paul, he tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s thorn wasn’t removed. Whatever problem, temptation, or torment Paul was experiencing; he didn’t give in to it. But instead, God’s strength and power were perfected in Paul’s weakness. When the going gets tough, God will strengthen us in his will to get going. But sometimes, the going gets tough because it isn’t God’s will and we get going leaving God behind.

When God answers a prayer, an answer to prayer from God through the power of God in the will of God will never violate or contradict the will of God as expressed through the word of God that was written through the power of the Spirit of God.

There are many purposes and practices associated with prayer and next week we will look at more of them. One such purpose Paul tells us is the cure for anxiety is prayer… Philippians 4:6-7 NET

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

James the brother of Jesus, who was know as James the camel kneed, because his knees were so callused from constant prayer tells us, James 5:16 NET

So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.

The point is, if we want to thrive, if we want to have a vibrant and fulfilling faith, and have a true relationship with our heavenly Father through his Son, Jesus, we need to be deeply in touch with him in prayer through the Holy Spirit that is right here, in us, all the time! When we pray, we also need to take time to listen, he will answer, through intuition, through other people, through signs, through his Word, through peace that surpasses all understanding, through healing, through all sorts of other ways, if we are praying according to his will. And, as Romans 8:26-27 says, the Spirit will express his will in prayer through us in ways we can not express for ourselves, and he knows all our needs… we just need to pray!

It all begins with our prayer of confession and repentance, turning our lives over to the care of God through the sacrifice of Jesus… that prayer can enter us into or restore our fellowship with our Creator and our Father.

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Thrive Part 4: Guard your Heart

Thrive Part 4

Guard your Heart

Anyone else have a crazy week? Yup, me too. Welcome back. You may not know this, but after preaching and working around ministry for a while, talking to a lot of pastors in a lot of different settings, and watching various congregations grow and shrink I’ve learned something. The two hardest topics to prepare for and preach, and then follow up on are, can you guess? …repentance and money. Can you guess the reason? No one likes to hear about repentance because it means acknowledging and submitting to God’s way of doing things and as humans, we always think we know better than God. We make excuses for ourselves, we rewrite the text or it’s application to suit ourselves, or we throw the text and it’s meaning right out the window because “God just wants us to be happy…”, right? So, I’ll say it again, welcome back; not everyone is eager to return to a church that preaches on repentance.

No one ever wants to hear about money either. Don’t worry, that’s not our topic today…

We started our series on what it means to Thrive in our lives. Really thrive. If you read the scriptures, read through the book of Acts, and follow everything Jesus and his early disciples went through. By modern sensibilities, it would be hard to say they were thriving. They didn’t own cars. Most of them left everything, family, friends, houses, jobs behind to follow Jesus. They slept wherever someone opened a room to them. Ate wherever they were invited in. They were persecuted. They were plotted against. They were beaten, flogged, shipwrecked, despised, and run out of towns. But they had a vibrant, thriving faith that attracted new believers to them in droves. They performed miracles, met physical needs, and most importantly, saved souls. Even in need, they were content and joyful, tried to be at peace with everyone, did good at every opportunity, devoted themselves and all they owned to following Jesus.

I said last week that Paul’s letter to the Romans was the most complete treatise on what it means to live apart from Christ, why we should come to faith in Christ, what the results of coming to faith in Christ are, what living life in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit means, and on and on. Why is Romans so different from Paul’s other letters? Because Paul had never been to Rome. Unlike Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Philippi; Paul didn’t plant the church in Rome. He didn’t know if they had a firm grasp on what the Gospel meant. Paul’s letters to the other churches and to individuals were always in response to various issues he heard were going on and reminding them what he had taught or clarifying misunderstandings the churches may have had regarding something he taught. Paul was always very concerned that the believers in the churches had a firm foundation and grasp on the TRUTH. He wanted to make sure they never fell victim to falsehoods or traps laid by the enemy of our souls, Satan. In order for those churches to thrive, Paul wanted to make sure they guarded their hearts and held tight to the TRUTH of what they had been taught.

         Proverbs 4:23 NLT

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

When Paul told Timothy in his second letter to the young elder in

2 Timothy 3:16-17

‘Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.’

Paul would have been thinking about what we know of the Old Testament, but Peter lumped Paul’s writing in as inspired by the Holy Spirit as well when he wrote in 2 Peter 3:15-16. Peter acknowledged Paul’s letters as well as the other scriptures would be twisted and corrupted by the ignorant and unstable. It’s important that, in order to thrive, we hold tightly to the TRUTH God has given us. It’s also why we see Paul quote or make allusions to the Old Testament over 70 times even though he is writing to a largely pagan and gentile audience in Romans. But why? Why is Paul so concerned about how the Romans are living? Because how we live has a great impact on our witness to the world as the church.

How we live and what the world sees is why Jesus calls his disciples the salt of the Earth and a light on a hill. We, as the church, should be counter-cultural. We should be right side up, even if the world itself is upside down. And Paul and other biblical writers give instructions on how to help one another live upright and godly lives. Last week, we read through part of Galatians chapter 5 ending in the fruit of the Spirit. Paul continues in chapter 6…

Galatians 6:1-5

‘Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else. For each one will carry his own load.’

There is a huge difference, although we don’t see it in our cultural rhetoric, between judgment and correction within scripture. Even in Jesus example of the plank and the speck, in Matthew 7:5 he says, ‘FIRST remove the plank, or beam (imagine a floor joist), from your own eye, and THEN you can see clearly to REMOVE the speck from your brother’s eye.’ It never says we shouldn’t help one another out or call one another on our shortcomings, but we absolutely must do so in love and grace, humility and gentleness, making sure our own sandbox isn’t being used as a cat box before helping our brothers and sisters in Christ clean up theirs.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says,

‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. ‘

Jesus himself died so that we can be free from the power of sin and death over our lives. But we can be blind to our own shortcomings and wrongdoing. I have a friend that has always said we must learn right before we can do right. In order to guard our hearts and minds against the schemes of the devil, we must learn the truth in order to recognize the lies. This is also why Paul writes to the Ephesians to be strengthened and put on the full armor of God. Listen to Ephesians 6…

Ephesians 6:10-18

‘Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.’

We can easily, and we will someday do a full series on the armor of God, but the point made to the Ephesians, to whom Paul is writing through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, is to guard themselves. Truth, righteousness, being ready share the Gospel, our faith shielding us, minds on our salvation, and the word of God, breathed out by Holy Spirit into its authors, in hand and parry and defend against the lies thrown at us. And prayer.

We must remember that Galatians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians were all written around the same time, while Paul was sitting in prison, and so these letters are also very closely related to one another. They were all also written to churches planted in pagan areas that Paul had intimate ties with, and he knew their struggles. And through God’s Spirit wrote in Philippians chapter 4,

         Philippians 4:4-7

‘Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’

I do not believe that it is through sheer coincidence that after speaking about guarding ourselves with the full armor of God in Ephesians 6 Paul ends those instructions with an instruction to pray and that after telling the Philippians to always rejoice and not be anxious and before sharing the secret to contentment Paul also tells the Philippians that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard their hearts and minds through prayer. Then Paul tells the Philippians,

‘I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one (Jesus) who strengthens me. ‘

Philippians 4:12-13

It is First and Finally, Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, was raised to new life to bring us eternal life in a relationship with His Father and giving us his own Holy Spirit inside us who gives us all the strength we need. He has given us the TRUTH of his Word written through his powerful Spirit to guide us and given us one another to lift each other up in love and grace and humility and gentleness to live lives filled with peace, contentment, and joy. So, let us guard our hearts to live lives where we can truly thrive.

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Thrive Part 3: Live by the Spirit

Thrive Part 3

Live by the Spirit

         Have you ever picked up a device, tool, opened up a smart phone, tried to turn on your computer or television, and it just doesn’t work? We live life by faith all the time without even realizing it frequently. We walk into a dark room and flip a switch on a wall or pull a cord, and we expect the light will come on. We have faith the electricity is powering the house properly and the bulbs are in good working order. When the light doesn’t come on, we know there is a problem. Then we start troubleshooting to find the problem. Is it just this bulb or is it the room? Is it just the room, or is it the whole house? Is it just this house or the whole neighborhood? Then we deal with the parts of the problem that we can address… If it’s just the bulb, we change it. If it’s the room, maybe we reset the breaker. If it’s the whole house, we’ll check the breaker and then call the power company. We take action to fix the problem whatever it might be.

         With certain devices, it can be more complex. A computer or other technological device like a phone or tablet, not only needs electricity, but it has a basic input output system, then an operating system, then the individual programs to run each operation or series of operations to get the desired result. Troubleshooting those problems can sometimes take weeks or months. Writing new programs and development is a whole career that can take years and then you are always working on different versions to improve or upgrade the experience. Not unlike our lives…

         We started a series called “Thrive.” As a congregation and as individuals we should want to thrive. To thrive means to prosper, to be successful, to develop, and to flourish. We want to thrive as a church. We want the Body of Christ to thrive. We want our community to thrive. We want our families to thrive. It is natural for us to desire those things. And as the Body of Christ, we started off with a resolution to take it SLOW. To Serve, To Love, To Obey, and To Worship. Serve, love, obey, and worship to develop as a thriving congregation and impact our community and the world for Christ. In our efforts to thrive, we looked at those four short phrases last week that can wrap up how we can live in such a way as to remain right with God and right with others. To have faith, do good, show love, and do the next right thing, but just like a house without power, or worse, troubleshooting a faulty computer; in order to thrive, we need to be properly plugged in.

         As believers in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are given the gift of God’s very own Holy Spirit living and abiding within us. There are a lot of similarities between our existence as human beings and the computer systems that we have created. So much so, we continue to use ourselves as a pattern to develop more and more complex machines, artificial intelligences, and robots. All those things still have a basic input output system, operating system, and programs; but if we break it down; our lives, and especially our spiritual life has a similar structure.

         Our lives in Christ are powered by his Holy Spirit living inside of us. His Holy Spirit inside us is what defines us as children of God. Romans 8:14-16 says,

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.

To live a life filled with God’s Holy Spirit’s power and authority within us is the only way for a Christian to thrive. Paul, throughout all of his letters, writes about living in and relying on Holy Spirit’s power to live godly lifestyles, to practice righteousness, to fight against the desires of the flesh, to guard against the works of the devil and escape temptation. However, if we continue to live as we once did, we can grieve or quench Holy Spirit’s power in our lives. Don’t quench the Spirit, Don’t grieve the Spirit, Don’t short circuit Spirit’s power in your life. The power in the life of a Christian runs on Holy Spirit power, and so we must remember that Holy Spirit’s effect in our lives is controlled by a basic input output system and an operating system.

         Earlier this week I posted on our Facebook page the content of Jesus’s first public sermons; he said in Matthew 4:17

         Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.

The most basic message from the beginning of the Gospel is to repent. 34 times in the New Testament repentance is talked about… To repent literally means to change your mind. Change your mind from what you think about and do to what God says you should think about and do. Acts 3:19 says,

Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out…

To repent is closely tied to the idea of confess we find in 1 John 1:9 where we are told,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

Where repent means to change your mind, confess literally means to say the same thing. To confess our sins means we say the same thing about our sin that God says about our sin, then repent means to change our mind about our sin to agree with what God wants us to think about our sin. The basic power of Holy Spirit’s operating system functioning properly in our lives starts with confession and repentance. If we do not confess and repent, God is under no obligation to impart his Holy Spirit to us. The same Holy Spirit that God breathed into the scriptures themselves is the same Holy Spirit that empowers believers to live according to the precepts that God has given us. Of course, we have mercy, of course we have grace, of course we have forgiveness when we mess up, but that is not an excuse to not surrender our lives to the control of God’s Holy Spirit living inside of us.

We must notice, IF we confess, HE, GOD through JESUS, is the one who forgives, he is also the one who cleanses!!! We can’t cleanse ourselves! We open ourselves up to be cleansed through confession and repentance, HE DOES THE WORK through the power of his Holy Spirit.

Romans is Paul’s most complete treatise from start to finish on the state of mankind without God, the effect of salvation, living in through the power of Holy Spirit, living holy lives, and how life within the church should function tied into one letter. He chases down a few rabbit trails of course, because Holy Spirit is writing through him to the believers in Rome whose societal norms were so contrary to God’s laws for the Jews; they had no basic understanding of sin in the first place.

When we compare ancient Rome to today, living in Rome would have been much like living in any big city in America minus the technology. Particularly some of the more ‘modern and enlightened’ self-indulgent areas like L.A. Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Paul tells the Romans what judgment God had made on those who chose to claim he didn’t exist despite all the evidence he has left them, and those who chose to worship the creation rather than the Creator himself, and Paul says in Romans 1:26-2:5

For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them.

Therefore you (believers in Rome) are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things (all those things he just listed). And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed!

The problem for these believers in Rome who had grown up in such a perverse society was, after coming to believe in God and salvation, they continued to do the things that they had been doing. We find a similar situation in Corinth when Paul writes to them. They are believers in Jesus, but they continue to live as though they have not been saved. Paul says in Romans 6:1-2

What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

He continues in verse 12,

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not!

When we continue to allow sin to rule in our lives, we can cause our connection to God’s Holy Spirit to short circuit. This is why in Romans 12:1-2 Paul says,

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.

Being transformed is the act of God doing the work in us, we are being actively changed by God. He does the work in and through us. Paul describes this scenario in Galatians 5, because again, he is writing to a pagan relativistic society, he reminds them; Galatians 5:16-25

But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery (which is getting high for the sake of enlightened thinking), hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.  

It is living by in Holy Spirit’s power that we thrive. It is by living according to indwelling Holy Spirit’s power that we produce the fruit of the Spirit. By the way, even in the original language, it is THE fruit, singular, one fruit, of the Spirit is multifaceted. THE fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit is a multifaceted fruit that produces many Spirit-filled attributes. Those attributes are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. His Holy Spirit in us produces all of these things together and simultaneously. If I am lacking in any one or more of these attributes it means Holy Spirit is not fully in control of my life. The more I thrive in my faith, the more our congregation thrives, the more these attributes will burst forth and shine in and through us.

         The meditation of our hearts should be, where in my life am I refusing to acknowledge and repent of my wrongdoing before God? I am willing to submit, to God, for him to cleanse my life?

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