Sunday, August 14, 2016

Series: Without Ceasing - #1. PRAY

We live in an awesome time!  Think of the changes the last several decades have brought:
Information (Internet) changed business and communication.
Political upheaval – We have seen the fall of communism.  We’ve seen Bush-to-Clinton-and back!  We have seen the race and gender barriers lowered; Mr. Obama is the first African-American (or minority of any kind) to serve as President.  Wow!  Can anything top all of that?  Hmmm?
Medical/ethical dilemmas like what to do about AIDS and Ebola, stem cell research and other assorted worries. 
ECONOMIC worries are on a roller coaster ride. 
And…There’s nothing left to eat that’s safe, except liver and okra!
Are we doomed?  Is there an answer?
·       Some would say, “No – just hang tough, get what you can, and be yourself.  You’ll get by.”
·       On late-night TV the talking head says, “Of course there’s an answer; just send me $500 – I’ll send you a prayer cloth, and soon you’ll be rich.”
·       On the streets, in the boardroom or classroom it’s, “Here, have a drink/snort/smoke, and you won’t worry about all that!”
Well, what does God say about all that?  The apostle Paul has a real solution for the gloom and doom crowd.  He tells us that the answers to are we doomed and many more (in fact, all) of life’s nagging questions are found in prayer; specifically, true prayer – without ceasing…
What does that mean?

Years ago I stood at the Grand Canyon…and got a little dizzy.  It is quite awesome to stand, looking out over that incredible hole in the ground.
My mind wandered to the old story of the famous acrobat, who attracted a huge crowd to watch him walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls.  He nimbly and skillfully passed over the waters below, suspended by a thin line – and, without a safety net!
He did it a second time – easily, with a smile on his face.  “Bravo” yelled the crowd.  The performer spoke to the onlookers, “How many believe I could do this carrying someone on my shoulders?”  All hands shot up; “We believe, we believe.”  “Who would like to be first?”  The crowd went home!
Shouting Bravo when you have no intention of climbing on the man’s back is what I call “praying with a net.”  It is saying, “OK, I’ll pray about this, but if I get uncomfortable in this process, I’m gonna bail…I’ll go with something I can see.”  That something you can see is the safety net.  It is trusting in yourself as the one who can handle the problems if God won’t.
That is not the kind of prayer God wants to hear.  He wants to hear prayers offered by people who have no safety net – just faith in God.
What does it look like when somebody is ready to pray without a net?  What “marks” can you notice in a prayer ministry that is net-less


A dear friend, Donna Smith, once told me, I never say Amen I always have so much to pray about.  That’s probably good advice; when you’ve got God on the line, you wouldn’t want to hang up the phone!
Praying constantly involves intentionality.  There must be something of a decision to organize your life around the things of God.  There must be a readiness to respond to the leading of God. 
If not, you’re operating with a net.
Without intentionally linking yourself to God, you’re at the mercy of the happenstance of life.  Actually, you have no net – it just seems like you have one. 
Place a Styrofoam cup on the centerline of a highway; the first car that passes will cause it to jump in that direction.  As another car passes on the opposite side, it will be snapped-back the other way.  If two cars pass at the same time it will not know which way to jump.
Intentional praying is when you link yourself to God constantly, allowing Him to determine the outcome of things.  It means you relinquish control. It is like taking that Styrofoam cup off the centerline on the road, and placing it in God’s truck.  You’ve made a decision about your direction – you’re going with God. 
That’s hard, isn’t it? Doing things God’s way is hard, isn’t it?   Actually, in the long run, that is the easiest way, because it’s God’s way, and His yoke is easy, His burden light.[1] 
Constant prayer – without a net – is no burden…it is the joy of being close to the Lord.  He is the source of beauty, love, health and joy.  What’s burdensome about being near THAT all the time? 
Constant prayer, and…


Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.  James 5.13-14(NRSV)
Pray for the sick – well, we’ve got that one down. 
We pray for the sick constantly here – and God in mercy and grace has responded with healings!  But, while we’re praying that our loved ones get better physically, we should not forget the other needs, emotional healing, spiritual healing, and relationships.
There is more spiritual virus affecting this world than any strains of AIDS or Ebola.  If we are going to pray without a net in today’s spiritual warfare of morals, worldview and culture, we will have to take a stand. 
It’s never hard to get people to agree to pray for someone battling against cancer, or a heart attack.  But these are minor, incredibly minor, compared to the spiritual diseases of abortion, sexual perversion, cruelty and oppression.  The apostle Paul showed us the bull’s-eye.  He said,
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.   Ephesians 6.12 (KJV)
The reason Paul told us to put on the whole armor of God is because you need it when you pray for healing against the real sicknesses that can hurt people – the kind that can kill the spirit, and consign the soul to hell.
Constant prayer, Healing prayer, and…


Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.  James 5:16(NRSV)
The net drops quickly when we confess our sins to each other, seeking each other’s forgiveness.  That’s when we get help – real help – when we drop the fences, the walls.  To repent is to ask God to clean our slate; we can then offer that clean slate back to Him, so He can begin to write our new future.
Repenting means, in a literal sense, turning around.  It means a complete change of attitude towards sin…and a complete change of actions.  What we purpose in our heart becomes what we live out each day! 
Paul said the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.  That could be restated…The man who has a clean slate, and goes to work praying…  If you want to be part of a net-less prayer ministry, cleaning the slate is a daily necessity.  God uses cleaned vessels. 


Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.  My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.   James 5:17-20 (NRSV)
Intercession and reconciliation – that’s the ministry of the body of Christ. 
Abraham was the beginning of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people.  They were to intercede, bring God’s message to the world.  The New Testament church’s calling is the same; we are to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world.  That’s not easy!
Intercession is standing in the gap – for the lost, the sick, the needy.  When you stand in a gap between God and the people God has told you to help….there is no net!
Intercessory prayer hands the net to God.  It is when you do what William Carey[2] the father of modern missions said,
Attempt great things for God; expect great things from God.
It is like a small child turning over his security blankey to Dad, trusting that Dad won’t hurt him.
That Charlotte, NC farmer in 1934 had spent a good deal of time battling a stubborn farm during the Great Depression.  Raising a family was tough work then – as it is now – only in a different way.  The Depression had spread spiritual apathy in the city.  But, when asked, the farmer lent out one of his pasture fields to some business leaders for a day of prayer.  A man named Vernon Patterson lead the prayer:  O Lord, raise up from Charlotte someone to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Those businessmen erected a tabernacle of pine beams in the city.  For the next eleven weeks an evangelist by the name of Mordecai Ham shattered the complacency of church-going Charlotte.
The farmer who lent his pasture for the original prayer meeting was named Franklin Graham.  During the revival, Franklin’s young son, Billy, responded to Christ, and committed his life.  These days we call him Dr. Graham.  Only eternity will reveal how many souls were touched for Christ beginning with one farmer willing to let go of a field for a while, and one businessman willing to pray without a net for the sake of the gospel.
So, praying without a net looks like this:  we pray constantly for healing as we personally repent of our sins and intercede for others. 
Got it….but….

How can I get rid of the net?

Preacher, I want to trust God that way.  I really want to pray without a net.  How do I do that?  Answer:  You just do it.  Really!
·       Do you remember what happened when Mrs. Job looked her man in the eyes and said you’ve lost it all, children, possessions, reputation and even your health – why don’t you just curse God and die?  He said, though he slay me I’ll worship him.  That was Job, handing God the net.
·       Do you remember Naaman the Leper?  God’s prophet said, Go dip in the Jordan River seven times to be healed.  Naaman grumbled, but he went.  Each time he bobbed up in the water, it was Naaman saying, Here, God of Elisha, take my net.
·       Do you remember how an angel told an unmarried 13 year old girl she was going to have a baby?  And Mary, the virgin mother of our Lord, said, I have no net.  Let God rule in my life.
·       The big fisherman, Peter, knew something about nets.  Outside Pilate’s house the night Jesus was tried, then crucified, he protected his identity – I don’t know Jesus” – a net!  After the crucifixion, he went home to do some fishing – back to the nets.  What happened?  He had a meeting with Jesus, the resurrected Lord of the universe.  And Peter found out he was forgiven.  All that cowardice and backpedaling…forgiven.  Peter just gave up his nets.
Most pictures I’ve ever seen of Jesus have his hands extended, palms up.  I’ve been told it is to show us his nail prints. 
I’ve been told it means, Come unto me….
Today, for us, it should mean, give me your net


[1] Matthew 11.30
[2] 1761-1834

[i] Title image:  ©2004 Dustin M. Ramsey (Kralizec!), via Wikimedia Commons

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