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All Work and No Pray

Mark, Part 6  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  43:11
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Can I start by saying how grateful I am to have been born and raised in America?
I don’t say this because I believe we are God’s chosen nation or because we somehow deserve his favor. I am glad to be an American, because I am grateful for the advantages God has given me just for living here.
Historically, we have been a busy, hard-working people. We are goers and doers, movers and shakers.
That has led to great feats of engineering and amazing discoveries.
However, it also has a major drawback.
In many ways, we have become obsessed with efficiency and productivity.
Book after book and blog post after post teaches you strategies and secrets to optimize your time and get the most done possible.
Book after book and blog post after post teaches you strategies and secrets to optimize your time and get the most done possible.
There are new apps released all the time, and each one promises to streamline your systems to make you efficient so you can get more done.
Listen, there is a place for this. As Matt Perman explains in his book What’s Best Next, Christians should try to do the most good we can, which means we should care about how we spend our time.
The danger comes when we make our activity the mark of our productivity.
We can feel like
We equate busyness with godliness, and when we do, we find ourselves right where Jesus found Israel when he arrived in Jerusalem: all work, and no pray.
Our focus becomes on jumping in and doing activities, events, and programs without stopping to make sure we are actually doing what God has called us to do.
Our message this morning picks back up in .
We have said that Jesus has been journeying to Jerusalem, headed to the final showdown where he will be arrested, beaten, and killed, only to rise from the dead three days later.
Chapter 11 picks up at the beginning of Jesus’ last week of ministry before the cross.
Mark moved at breakneck pace throughout the first 10 chapters of the book. Now, he slows down to spend a third of the book on the last week of Jesus’ life.
The people are expecting Jesus to come in and take over, to become king over Israel and the world itself.
His entry into the city has some markers of a king, but we still are struck with how unusual it is.
Read verses 1-11...
Jesus rides into Jerusalem to crowds and fanfare, but unlike most kings who would ride in on a big, noble horse, Jesus rides in on a young donkey.
This entry into Jerusalem isn’t like one would expect from a king.
He heads to the temple and surveys the scene before heading back to the village of Bethany for the evening.
Here’s where things get interesting.
I will be honest that it took me a while to catch what was going on in the next few sections, until finally God used some good commentaries to help me put the pieces together.
Pick up in verse 12-14.
Hold on to this, because it is going to be important.
Now, go back to verses 15-19.
Remember, Jesus had surveyed the temple the night before, but now he comes in to set things straight.
The next day, on their way in, Peter makes an interesting observation.
Remember the fig tree? Well, Jesus’ curse worked!
Read verses 20-25 with me.
Okay, so what in the world does all this have to do with anything, and how does a barren fig tree tie in to Jesus cursing a tree when he’s hangry and throwing some stuff around in the temple?
Because Jesus is giving us a physical symbol of the spiritual state of the nation of Israel.
Beyond that, he is showing us our own issues as well.
This passage contains both a caution and a promise.
As we unpack these truths, I want to challenge you to do something different this week.
As Henry Blackaby says, “Don’t just do something; stand there!”
Never allow activity to take the place of prayer.
It feels counterproductive, but let’s look back at the passage to see what we can find.
First, let’s look at the caution:

1) Avoid empty activity.

Let’s go back to what happened in the Temple.
Jesus had already stopped by to see first hand what was taking place.
At first glance, it would have been impressive.
This was the week before the Passover, so there would have been more people than normal coming in and out of the courts.
There were animals there to buy in case you couldn’t bring one from home to sacrifice.
Pharisees and Sadducees were teaching and meeting. Priests were going through the motions of sacrifices.
But, in the midst of all the noise, something was wrong.
If you came in to buy a sacrificial animal, you couldn’t just go right over and buy one. You see, your regular Roman money wasn’t any good here; you’ll have to see the money changer to get temple money.
Once there, you would pay a hefty fee to convert your money to something you could actually spend.
As you went back to buy your sacrifice, you would find the price exorbitantly high for what you were getting. I guess there has always been a tax on convenience, though, right?
Sure, the temple was a busy place.
It was a place that had been reduced to a place of empty, selfish, godless activity.
It looked nothing like the way it was supposed to be.
When Solomon dedicated the original temple, he prayed that it would be a place for all the people of the earth to come and worship the one true God. It was to be a place of forgiveness and truth and justice, a place to cry out to God for help in times of war and drought.
Just before his prayer, the presence of God filled the temple so powerfully that even the priests couldn’t keep ministering.
So great was the weight of his presence, his glory, that they all fell on their faces
Now, all these years later, that house, which was supposed to be a house of prayer for all the nations, has been turned into a marketplace of people full of all the selfishness you would expect in the world outside those gates.
Jesus had no tolerance for what the temple had become, so he began to violently expel the people from the temple courts.
Okay, so what does that have to do with the fig tree?
Go back again to verses 12-14.
The fig tree looked green and healthy, like somewhere a hungry person could go and find something to satisfy his hunger.
Yet, Jesus found it empty.
It was just like the temple.
This was the place where the spiritually hungry should have been able to come and find a relationship with the one true God, and yet instead, they would find extortion and selfishness and empty ceremonies.
They would go away hungry, just like Jesus did with the tree.
Jesus uttered a curse against that tree, and in so doing, was pronouncing judgment against Israel.
In about 35 years, that temple would be destroyed and Jerusalem would be overrun.
That was 70 AD, and it still hasn’t been restored to the place where people come to find about the one true God.
In fact, although we pray for the nation of Israel to turn back to God, they still have rejected the Messiah God promised and still are not bearing fruit.
It’s sad, isn’t it?
God’s special people, the ones he delivered from slavery, being set aside because they were consumed with empty activity.
May that never be said of us.
We are in a unique season of growth as a church, and it is an incredibly exciting time to see what God is up to.
God seems to be opening doors up for us to do ministry like we haven’t seen before, and I believe that is why God is giving us this warning at this time.
It would be easy for us to jump in and plan activities and events and programs, and look very busy.
However, if those are not saturated in God-believing prayer, they will devolve into empty activities.
If we allow our focus to be on what we do instead of who God is, our services and our programs and activities will leave people empty.
We will do them in our own strength, and it may look great on the outside, but the truth is we would be barren fig trees without a single fruit to offer a lost, dying, hungry world.
“Yeah, but we aren’t Israel, so it doesn’t work like that, does it?”
In the book of Revelation, Jesus writes letters to seven different churches, which he describes as seven lampstands.
Each church has different successes and challenges, and they are somewhat painful to read because of how close they hit to home.
In light of this passage, I want you to flip over with me to and read the first one.
This letter is to the church at Ephesus, which had been started by the apostle Paul and pastored by John and Timothy at different times.
Listen to how good they were! (verses 1-3)
They were doing great things, but what had happened (verse 4)?
Don’t miss the warning:
Revelation 2:5 CSB
Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
If they didn’t repent and do what Jesus called them to do at first, to run back to their first love and away from empty activity, Jesus was going to take their lampstand out of its place.
Since the Super Bowl is tonight, think of that as being sidelined. The church gets pulled out of the game and benched.
Why would they get sidelined? It wasn’t because what they were doing was bad. It was because they were placing their identity in what they were doing instead of who God is and what he has done for us.
Don’t make the mistake the Jews made in Jesus’ day and that the Ephesians made.
Don’t reduce your Christian life to a series of activities that you could do on your own strength and in your own power.
There is no fruit in that! Listen: the world seems to be hurtling towards hell at a breakneck pace. None of us are smart enough on our own to stop that.
No amount of programs or services or activities or groups or good intentions can feed a soul that needs Jesus!
When Jesus cursed the fig tree, it withered and died.
May that never be true of our ability to be used by God to increase his kingdom.
That caution comes with a tremendous promise, though.
Look back at verses 22-25.
In light of these verses, we must...

2) Stand in faith-filled prayer.

I have to confess that I am always nervous to preach these passages, and it is something God is working on me about.
I hesitate to preach this sometimes because so many have twisted these verses to mean something God didn’t intend.
Some treat these verses as a blank check, that God will give you any selfish thing your heart desires if you just pray long and hard enough about it. “If you speak enough positive words over your life, you can create your reality.”
That isn’t what Jesus is saying here, but in my tendency to avoid the one error, I am afraid I fall into the other.
If you speak enough positive words over your life, you can create your reality.”
There are times when I don’t pray boldly enough because I am afraid of being one of “those guys” and presuming on God.
Look at what Jesus is saying here—If we see God up to something, and we boldly join him in prayer about it, then he could even move a mountain if he wanted.
This isn’t about God giving you a Rolls Royce and a Rolex; it’s about God moving to further his kingdom in ways you thought were impossible.
It’s God repairing marriages so he gets the glory and God bringing grown children who walk away from Christ back to himself.
It’s God opening doors for ministry that we could never expect and allowing us to see him draw people to himself like we could never dream.
Instead of empty activities that only make us look good, it’s prayerfully crying out for God to show us where he wants us to join him in the lives of those who are hurting around us. When he does, it is prayerfully asking and faithfully believing that he will provide the people, money, talents, abilities, and any other resource needed to do what he calls us to do.
Listen to how Paul prayed:
Ephesians 3:20–21 CSB
Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
See, that can’t happen through empty activity for activity sake.
We can’t afford to do things like we’ve always done them because more and more people around us are farther and farther from God every moment.
We need to beg, plead, and cry out faithfully to God, seeking what he wants to do.
When we join him in that, he does exceedingly abundantly above and beyond what we could ever ask or think!
He receives the glory as the groups we host and the studies we do and the services we hold and the ministries we engage in impact lives for eternity like we could never even begin to imagine!
Don’t miss a key aspect of that, though—faithful prayer involves a forgiving heart!
We cannot expect God to bless while we hold grudges.
Why? Because God forgave everything for us!
You see, we have always been like the empty fig trees.
God created us to give him glory and honor, and we chose to do our own thing instead.
So, we were put under a curse, with no hope to ever bear fruit for him.
Because of his mercy and love, though, God sent Jesus to come and take that curse for us, dying in our place while hanging on a wooden cross.
We were cursed because we couldn’t keep God’s law without breaking it, but because of his mercy and love, though, God sent Jesus to come and take that curse for us, dying in our place while hanging on a wooden cross.
Galatians 3:13 CSB
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.
Now, you and I can bear fruit because Jesus has taken that curse away and gives us life instead.
We bear fruit not through our activity, but by staying intimately connected to Jesus, abiding and dwelling in him.
For more on that, I would encourage you to sit down and read this week.
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