Learning To Pray: Travailing Prayer

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Two small boys walked into the dentist’s office. One of them said bravely, “I want a tooth taken out and I don’t want any gas, and I don’t want it deadened . . . because we’re in a hurry!” The dentist said, “You’re quite a brave young man. Which tooth is it?” The boy turned to his smaller friend and said, “Show him your tooth, Albert.” The world is full of volunteers like that. We’re anxious to have something happen — to someone else! We don’t mind God changing the world — as long as He doesn’t bring any pain into our lives.

Remember that old poem, “I walked a mile with pleasure; she chatted all the way; but left me none the wiser for all she had to say. I walked a mile with sorrow, and ne’er a word said she; but, oh! the things I learned from her,when sorrow walked with me.

Travailing prayer is prayer that comes in the time of crisis. C. S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures . . . but shouts in our pains.” Our last three sermons on prayer have come from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden which is in crisis. Luke describes it this way, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Now, the crisis heightens and the trauma is very real at the crucifixion. Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Paul writes to the young Hebrew Church and says (5:7), During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. That is Travailing pray!

The question is, “Is a prayer in crisis more powerful that any other prayer?”
God hears all prayers! The prayer of the sinner. The prayer of the unbeliever, if there is such a thing. Furthermore, God knows our need before we even ask. So, why are travailing prayers so different and so powerful?

(Gen 21:8-19) The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

God does permit us pain but then he gives us also the strength to bear it. God does allow us problems but then he gives us also the wit to solve them. God never allows us darkness but that he gives us faiths that there will also be a morning. And when he gives us mud he also gives us children to play in it.

Severe trials come at a cost, but they also have great rewards. Take away my capacity for pain and you rob me of the possibility for joy. Take away my ability to fail and I would not know the meaning of success. Let me be immune to rejection and heartbreak and I could not know the glory of living.

I believe that God has a heart for those who are in trouble. King David said of God, “…for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” Prayer is not a matter of getting what we want the most. Prayer is a matter of giving ourselves to God and learning his laws, so that he can do through us what he wants the most.

Think of the last thing you prayed about–were you devoted to your desire or to God? Determined to get some gift of the Spirit or to get at God? “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The point of asking is that you may get to know God better. “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Keep praying in order to get a perfect understanding of God Himself. The reason travailing prayer is so powerful; it is so pure!

What Is A Saint?

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Three boys are in the schoolyard bragging about their fathers. The first boy says, “My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a poem, they give him $50.00. The second boy says, “That’s nothing. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a song, they give him $100.00. The third boys says, “I got you both beat. My Dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, he calls it a sermon. And, it takes eight people to collect all the money!”

What do we call a person who loves and believes in Jesus Christ? Today, we often refer to them as Christians. In the New Testament they struggled as well to be able to identify themselves and each other. In the gospels the writers called them “disciples.” Disciple means student or one who learns. It was not uncommon for the religious leaders to have a group of students around them called “disciples.” Paul was known as a disciple of Gamaliel. John the Baptist had disciples, as did Jesus. In the Book of Acts, Luke lets us know that for many years believers where referred to as “The Way.” A clear reference back to Jesus’ words, (John 14:6-7) “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. It is at Antioch that the believers are first called “Christians.” (Acts 11:26)

However, one term has been used for the “God fearing” person throughout Old and New Testaments, SAINTS. A saint was a person who believed in one God. The term meant a “godly one” or a “holy one.” We have almost lost the term today because we view a saint as a sinless or perfect person. In the Catholic tradition when a person meets certain criteria they are made a “saint.” They are viewed a being perfect and closer to God. Saint as found in scripture wasn’t so much an accomplishment (something that I have done) as it was a gift given to us.

Salvation is threefold and consists of Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. Justification is the past tense of salvation, Sanctification is the present tense of salvation, and Glorification is the future tense of salvation.
Justification is a positional reality for all who have become Christians.
Justification establishes Christians with the righteousness of Christ. A African man worked for a missionary in Liberia who caught him stealing clothes from her house. The man asked her forgiveness and promised he would never steal from her again. The woman forgave him and allowed him to continue to work for her. About a month later she caught him stealing from her again. When she accused the man of stealing from her, he accused her of hypocrisy as he said, “What kind of a Christian are you? If you forgave me before, then why do you now remember that which no longer exists?” This clever excuse highlights a truth of forgiveness. Loving forgiveness does not look for past faults. Justification initiates us as new creations in Christ. Sanctification is the practical activity of all Christians. Sanctification continues to cleanse Christians in their daily living. Glorification finalizes Christians in the perfection and power of Christ. Sanctification separates us into conformity with Christ. And Glorification is the future expectation (hope) of all Christians. Glorification completes us as co-heirs with Jesus Christ.

We shy away from words like saint when we find it is connected to words like holiness. Perhaps because we misunderstand holiness? We think it means that we live a perfect life and we feel flawed. Holiness means that one belongs wholly to God. To be holy means that we are being set apart as God’s own possession. When this begins internally, with the heart, the transformation becomes something that affects the total person. In other words we become like the one who owns us!

Believers are called “saints” (Rom 1:7) and “saints in Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:1) because they belong to the One who provided their sanctification. After a series of meetings had finished, the evangelist Billy Sunday was helping the workmen take down the tent. A young man who had been in the meeting the night before came up to Mr Sunday and asked him earnestly, “What must I do to be saved?” Sunday said, “You’re too late,” and kept on working. “Don’t say that,” exclaimed the young man, “for I desire salvation; I would do anything or go anywhere to obtain it.” “I can’t help it,” Sunday replied. “You’re too late; for your salvation was completed many years ago by Jesus Christ, and it’s a finished work. All you can do is simply accept it. You have done nothing and can do nothing to merit salvation. It is free to all who will receive it.”

The saints are also those to whom the privilege of revelation (Col 1:26; Jude 3) and the task of ministry (Eph 4:12) are committed. What did Jesus accomplish when He cleaned the Temple out of the money changers? There was no doubt that He was in the right, for He wasn’t arrested. However, the money changers were back in business the very next day. It showed us that Jesus has a passion for righteousness and holiness.
Was clearing the Temple more for His sake or ours?

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? Here we are in the first century Church and they are arguing and fighting. Yet, Paul continues to call them saints! And reminds them that they will one day judge the world. In fact scripture reminds us that we will be greater than the angels.

After the prayer of confession and the assurance of pardon the worship leader says, “In Christ’s name, you are forgiven” and the congregation responds, “In Christ’s name, you are forgiven.” One of the mothers of the church shared her embarrassment with me when she discovered her 5 year old son at the local super market going from shopper to shopper proclaiming, “In Christ’s name, you are forgiven.” The children seem to always get it right. That is exactly where Christ’s forgiveness should be proclaimed. If Jesus were among us today that is probably where he would be, not at church but at the market. Perhaps the church would do better if rather than being embarrassed by our children, we learned from them.

What Is Sin?

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The Hebrews had a saying, “The man who knows his sins is greater than one who raises a dead man by his prayer.” God is all-powerful. God is all-good. Terrible things happen. You can reconcile any two of these propositions with each other, but you can’t reconcile all three. The problem of evil is perhaps the greatest single problem for religious faith. There have been numerous theological and philosophical attempts to solve it, but when it comes down to the reality of evil itself, none of them are worth much. When a child is raped and murdered, the parents are not apt to take much comfort from the explanation that since God wants man to love him, man must be free to love or not to love and thus free to rape and murder if he takes a notion to. Christian Science solves the problem of evil by saying that it does not exist except as an illusion of mortal mind. Buddhism solves it in terms of reincarnation and an inexorable law of cause and effect whereby the raped child is merely reaping the consequences of evil deeds it committed in another life. Christianity, on the other hand, ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all. It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene — not even this — but that God can turn it to good.

Sin in the Bible is a falling away from or missing the right path. The underlying idea of sin is that of law and of a lawgiver. The lawgiver is God. Hence sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God. The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves. The being and law of God are perfectly harmonious, for “God is love.” The sum of all the commandments likewise is love; sin in its nature is egotism and selfishness. Sin is actual disobedience.

Some would argue that “original” sin has affected all of us. A term used to denote the effect of Adam’s sin upon the moral life of his descendants. It is formally defined as “that whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil.” The reality is that all of us freely choose to sin as Adam chose to sin. Just as a child created in the image of his/her parents freely choose to be disobedient, we who are created in the image of God choose to be disobedient. Now we understand why there is not degrees or difference seen in sin, other than Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. You and I see some sins as worse than others! Murder is worse than lying. Stealing is worse than disobeying parents. Adultery is worse than not honoring the Lord’s Day. God sees only one sin, disobedience.

So, Paul writes, “I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. Paul is saying that you were not a Christian. When living this way you had no redemption for your sins. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul is saying that we obeyed from the heart the pattern of teaching unto which we were given over. They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.
The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.”
He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs.
The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him.

We may not experience the demonic invasion that this man did, we can, however, be possessed by harmful and destructive character traits, unclean attitudes and thought patterns can take up residence within us. When Christ comes how will He find us? Will Christ find me a zoo of lust, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds? My name was Legion.” And like the demoniac, the cure for us is to run to Jesus, bow down before Him and allow Him to cast out whatever may possess us.

In the last congregation I served there was a family who had a little boy who was born with a severe handicap that would cause him to go into very violent seizures without any warning. The father would usually be the one holding their son during worship services and I remember on one particular occasion when the little guy started into a seizure, seeing the father get up with their son and with a strong yet gentle love carry the boy to the back of the sanctuary where he held him close to his chest and rocked him, whispered to him and did all he could to help his son through. One thing I noticed most of all was that there was not the beginning of a show of embarrassment or frustration in that father’s face — only love for his hurting son. Can’t we just hear God speak to our own heart in so many words say “That’s just the way I love you through your imperfections. I’m not embarrassed to have people know that you are my son.” I have come to know that it’s in my times of greatest frustration that my Father draws me close and weathers the storm with me.
How good it is that with all of our faults we have a savior who is “not ashamed to call us brothers.” That’s Love!

Let’s Define Heaven

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John writes (1 John 3:2) Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. I haven’t lived at home since I was 18. That is a long time ago. There is something very special about going back home to visit my mom. My children think it is so funny where and how dad grew up. Old photos.
The drug store that still sells them candy at a discount. The old court house that they can climb on, etc.

An old missionary couple returning to America after years of ministry in Africa, were arriving in New York to retire with no pension, their health broken, discouraged and afraid. The couple discovered they were on the same ship with President Teddy Roosevelt, who was returning from one of his big-game hunting expeditions. All through the journey they observed passengers trying to catch a glimpse of the President, while no one even knew they existed. When the ship docked in New York, the mayor and other dignitaries were there to greet the President as a brass band played in his honor. No one noticed the missionary couple as they slipped quietly off the ship, found a cheap apartment on the east side, and hoped to find some way to make a living. That night the man’s spirit broke. “This is all wrong!” he cried out. “We have given our lives in service in Africa and no one even cares, but this man comes back from a hunting trip and everybody makes over him. It isn’t right! God isn’t treating us fairly!” Patiently, his wife responded, “Why don’t you go into the bedroom and tell that to the Lord?” A few minutes later he emerged from his prayer room, now with a completely different expression. “What happened?” his wife asked. “The Lord settled it with me,” he said. “I told Him how bitter I was that the President should receive this tremendous homecoming, when no one even met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put his hand on my shoulder and simply said, `But you’re not home yet!”

If Heaven is to be home for the believer, what is home going to be like? It is probably John in the great Revelation that gives us the most vivid description of Heaven. After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here. Before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. Before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. What Heaven is like is beyond our words!

What do we know about Heaven? We know that in Heaven we will see God, face to face. To be cleaned of all of our sin. To be able to ask all of those questions that we have longed to understand. To confirm that there is only one God! Paul wrote, I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. We know that Heaven is free of all evil. The Rabbi’s tell a story of the difference between Heaven and Hell. Both are described as a room with a big banquet table filled with food. They both have to eat the meal with long handled spoons. The difference is that in Heaven they feed each other and are happy.

Jesus told us that (Matt 22:30) At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. While there are not relationships as what we have on earth, it is important for our peace of mind to understand some things (Matt 17:1). After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” We will know each other in Heaven!

The best love stories do not have happy endings, because the best love stories never end. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.
I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.

There is a little story of a shepherd and his sheep and of his efforts to get them to cross a stream of water. The frustrated shepherd tried repeatedly to lead them across, but always to no avail. The sheep were fearful of the swift water so they wouldn’t follow. He then tried to drive them across, but this failed as well. Finally, the shepherd picked up a small lamb in his arms and with the little lamb held tight, he waded across the water. The mother, hearing the bleating of her little lamb on the other side of the stream, walked into the water and on over to the other side. The other sheep quickly followed.

For the Christian, heaven is no longer some strange hazy place — Jesus is there.
Heaven is no longer far off and removed — our Christian loved ones are there.
Heaven has substance — a face, someone we know and love!

Learning To Pray: Intercessory Prayer

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The young minister’s son was intrigued by what his father did every Sunday morning during the offertory. Finally he asked, “Daddy, why do you always close your eyes when the organist plays the organ and those mean-looking men make everybody put money in their wood frisbees?” The pastor told his son that he was praying. He said, “I ask God to make me a good preacher.” The little guy solemnly asked, “So why doesn’t He?”

A few years ago a fascinating experiment was conducted on the power of prayer.
Dr. Randolph Byrd, a cardiologist with the San Francisco General Medical Center’s Coronary Care unit, did a scientific study on prayer involving heart patients. Nearly four hundred patients participated in a ten-month, double blind experiment that was scientifically controlled and documented. The patients were divided into two groups with no statistical difference between group A or B. The patients were not told which group they were in. Group B received no prayer support. Each patient in Group A had two people praying for them. Those who prayed for the patients were scattered throughout the country and did not know the patient’s name – only the person’s medical problem. When the results were tabulated, the findings revealed that patients in Group A did as well or better in virtually every comparison.

The conclusion drawn by those who analyzed the study was: “Intercessory prayer appears to have a beneficial effect in patients in a Coronary Care Unit.” Intercessory prayer is praying for someone else. You are not praying for yourself, someone else is the intended beneficiary. Paul writes to the Church at Ephesus and says, And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. Perhaps the greatest prayer that can be prayed is intercessory prayer. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. This is intercessory prayer!

We are the benefactors of intercessory prayer ourselves. (Romans 8) In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. As a Christian, the Holy Spirit becomes an intercessor for us and prays for things that we need that we are not even aware that we need.

The highest calling for Christians is the ministry of prayer. One of the spiritual gifts is the gift of prayer. In our text this morning we hear Jesus praying for the believers. His intercessory prayer They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. Dying on the cross He thinks about those who are responsible for taking His life. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. To pray for or on behalf of someone else is intercessory prayer.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not always know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us! The Bible says with groans, that words cannot express. Some would call that a Heavenly Language, others may say with information that is beyond our understanding. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

All of us as Christians can be participants in intercessory prayer. The Apostle James understood that power in prayer. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. This was to help the Church to know what to pray for. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:15-16)

Praying for someone else is the greatest gift you can give.