January 20, 2008
We take time each year to focus on prayer because prayer is the breath of the Christian life and because almost nothing decays so fast in the fallen human heart as the desire to pray. In other words, nothing is more vital than prayer, and few things are more vulnerable to neglect.
So we must come back to it again and again and stoke the fire. So here we are coming back at the beginning of the year 2008 as we did at the beginning of 2007. And I pray that the Lord will use this message and the church Bible studies and the prayer meetings and the prayers of those who carry this burden to stir you up again to devote yourselves to prayer –
prayer in your private time with God each day over the Word,
prayer with your family at meals and in devotions,
prayer with husbands and wives,
prayer with roommates and friends, and prayer sisters,
prayer in small groups, prayer in large groups,
prayer in worship services,
and all the hundreds of prayers that ascend during the day as you walk by the Spirit and breathe out your dependence on God and he breathes into you the grace of faith and life and love and joy and obedience and witness.
Let’s look at our key passage this morning. Turn in your Bibles to Jude. Jude the second last book of the Bible is also one of the shortest books – one chapter, 25 verses. Jude identifies himself as a servant of Jesus and the brother of James.
Although Jude does not identify himself as an apostle, there is no obscurity in his purpose. He writes to exhort us “to contend earnestly for the faith”. The epistle conatins a strong warning against false teachers who reject Christ’s authority. Lets start reading at verse 17
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, "In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts." These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen
In his great mercy to me, God meets me every year at this time to stir me up to make new resolves and to be encouraged to encourage you. One of the things he did for me this year is bring into my hands last week a little book by Bruce Wilkinson, The Prayer of Jabez. I’ve read it before, but God brought it to my attention again two weeks ago, so I re-read it.
Bruce once heard a message preached on an obscure text, 1 Chronicles 4:9-10,and this message changed his life. This is the first and last time we ever hear of Jabez. He is a virtual nobody in Biblical history. But if you were going to get only a two-verse biography, what would you want written of you? Let it be this.
“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez saying, "Because I bore him with pain." Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, "Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!" And God granted him what he requested.”
That's all. He appears. He prays a great, expansive prayer. And God grants his prayer. And that's all. Bruce Wilkinson says, “Pulling a chair up to the yellow counter I bent over my Bible, and began reading the prayer over and over, I searched with all my heart for the future God had for someone as ordinary as I.
The next morning, I prayed Jabez's prayer word for word.
And the next.
And the next.
Thirty years later, I haven't stopped.
If you ask me what sentence – other than my prayer for salvation – has revolutionized my life and ministry the most, I would tell you that it was the cry of a gimper named Jabez who is still remembered not for what he did, but for what he prayed, and for what happened next.”
What are you praying in the Spirit, over and over to God in the name of Jesus that he will make of your life? What are you asking God to make of you and your time on this earth? What part of God's purpose revealed in the Bible has captured your imagination and become a passion for you so that you take hold of God day after day and ask him to use you in it?
I paused when I read this story from Bruce Wilkinson and asked myself, What prayer have I prayed most often over the last thirty years? What thing do I want God to do so much that it is there in my prayers every day? I suppose for many of us the answer to that would be prayers that our children be saved and walk in truth, and that our marriages be strong.
But what about the bigger picture? God is the God of the whole earth and all the nations and all of history and all of life and culture and all the universe from one end of the galaxies to the other. Each of us was created to have a significant place in that great scheme. What is it? What do you pray, in the Spirit, for day in and day out about how you fit into that?
I think the prayer I have probably prayed more often than any other at that level is, "Father, cause your name to be hallowed in my life and through my life." "Hallowed be thy name." "Make my life a means of people coming to reverence your name and love your name and praise and honor and cherish and treasure and glorify your name." I can recall during my early Christian days praying, "God only give me life – only keep my heart beating – if it will cause people to hallow your name. Let your name be hallowed by my life!"
In his book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says: “It was common knowledge among the disciples that they would find Jesus praying during the early morning hours. When they needed Him, they knew to go to the place of prayer. When Judas betrayed Jesus, he led his cohorts to Jesus' place of prayer.
Every time the Lord Jesus faced an important decision, He prayed. When He was being tempted to do things by the world's methods instead of the Father's, He prayed (Matt. 4). When it was time to choose His disciples, He prayed the entire night (Luke 6:12). If the Son of God required a night of prayer in order to determine the Father's mind, how long might it take us in prayer to clearly determine our Father's will?
Because Jesus was so often surrounded by crowds, He knew He must find a quiet place so He could clearly hear His Father's voice. Jesus had many people seeking to influence the direction of His life. His disciples wanted Him to go where the crowds were (Mark 1:37). The crowds wanted to crown Him king (John 6:15). Satan tempted Him to make compromises in order to draw a following (Matt. 4:3, 6, 9). Jesus knew that His mission was not to attract a crowd, but to remain obedient to His Father. It was prayer that set the agenda for Jesus' ministry (Luke 6:12). Prayer preceded the miracles (John 11:42-43); prayer brought Him encouragement at critical moments (Luke 9:28-31); prayer enabled Him to go to the cross (Luke 22:41-42); and prayer kept Him there despite excruciating pain (Luke 23:46). Follow the Savior's example, and let your time alone with God, in prayer, set the agenda for your life.”
So this Sunday I want to stir you up to pray that your life, your family, your church would count for something great for Christ and his kingdom. I hope you will find articles and books to read about prayer. I hope you will think about prayer. I hope you will pray about prayer. And I hope you will plan about prayer. So many best things are squeezed out by merely good things because we don't plan a time and a way to do them. So read and think and pray and plan – and then pray this year as you never have before. Pick a prayer meeting and make it a priority. Pick a private place and make it as sacredly sure as your favorite meal, or your favorite vacation spot or your favorite anything.
Now to make the Word of God the support and power of this exhortation, I want us to look this morning at our key text, Jude, verses 20-21, "But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life."
Thomas Manton, the Puritan, has twenty-three pages of commentary on these two verses. Every phrase is worthy of a sermon. But I would like to make only one observation. Today's observation is that prayer is a means of God's grace designed to keep us from falling into disbelief, and to bring us safely to eternal life.
If the term "means of grace" is not part of your vocabulary, I would like to add it this morning, because I don't know of a better way of describing how God's decisive work relates to our dependent work. Or, to be specific in this case: how God's sovereign governing relates to human prayer. If God runs the world according to his own holy and inscrutable wisdom, why pray for him to do one thing and not another thing? Why pray at all when you know He’s in control of all things?
Consider the context of this word about prayer in verse 20. There it says that we are to "", build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit to keep yourselves in the love of God . . ." What you can see from this immediate context is that building yourselves up on the foundation of faith and praying in the Holy Spirit are the way Jude wants them to keep themselves in the love of God. Listen to it again. "By building yourselves up and praying, keep yourselves in the love of God."
Now keeping Christians safe for eternal life is what the book of Jude is really about. That is, this little letter from Jude is about perseverance – it's about how to fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12), and how to finish the race and keep the faith (1 Timothy 4:8), and how to endure to the end and so be saved (Mark 13:13). And verses 20-21 of Jude say: This perseverance is something you do. You build yourself and others up on the foundation of faith. You pray in the Spirit, and by doing this you keep yourselves in the love of God.
At the beginning, there is another truth, a deeper truth about perseverance.Look at verse 1: "Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ." Notice the word, "kept." He says, “those who are called are kept.” Here is the idea of perseverance again, only here at the beginning it is not the Christian who is keeping himself. He is being kept.
Some translations say "by Jesus Christ." Some say, "for Jesus Christ." The original Greek can mean the one as easily as the other. Both are probably true in Jude's mind. WE are kept by Jesus, for Jesus!
Who Is the Keeper?
Look at the familiar doxology at the end of Jude, in verses 24-25. "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy. . ." Now we have our keeping, our perseverance attributed not to ourselves, but to someone else. Jesus. The next verse makes it crystal clear. Verse 15: ". . . to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen."
So the one who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make sure you arrive in the presence of God blameless and with great joy is "God our Savior through Jesus Christ." So God the Father is the ultimate keeper and he acts "through Jesus Christ" because the death of Jesus is the purchase price and foundation of all grace, including the grace of keeping us – that is, the grace of perseverance.
So now we have two truths about our being kept safe for eternal life as Christians. Our perseverance to eternal life is God's doing and it is our doing to keep yourselves in the love of God.
Over and over in the Bible we see this: God's decisive action; our dependant action. And both actions are essential. We work together – God and I God and you). So resist the mindset that cynically says, "If God is the keeper of my soul for eternal life (verses 1, 24), then I don't need to 'keep myself in the love of God'" (verse 20). That would be like saying, since God is the giver of life, then I don't need to breathe.
No. No. Breathing is the means that God uses to sustain your life. Praying, like breathing sustains life. This is what I mean by the term, "means of grace." Breathing is the means of grace to keep us physically alive; praying is the means of grace to keep us spiritually alive.
Therefore, prayer is a crucial and essential means of grace that God ordains to keep me safe for eternity and I am eternally secure (It’s true! And if you ever doubt your eternal security, check out Romans 8:38-39; John 10:29; Philippians 1:6). But, just because you know you are eternally secure don't think, you can spend as much time in prayerless sinning as in prayerful serving, and it won't make any difference.
Prayer is utterly crucial to your life. Jesus said in Luke 21:36, "Keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place." Pray that you may be able to stand. Prayer is a means of persevering to the end until you stand with joy before the King of the universe.
But in the meantime, consider whether your life of prayer this past year has reflected the seriousness of these verses about praying. Why pray? The answer – verse 21 – to keep yourself in the love of God. Remember what I said at the beginning of this message? Nothing is more vital than prayer and few things are more vulnerable to neglect. Take the challenge of Bruce Wilkinson and be like Jabez. Lay hold on God for some great biblical vision for your life on this earth and don't let go until you have it from his merciful hand.
In a recent book entitled, “Prayer: Does it Make a Difference”. Philip Yancy says, “If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. I have now written twenty books, and in some way or another most of them circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those two themes converge.”
In his wonderful book, “With Christ in the School of Prayer”, Andrew Murray finishes with this prayer which I will close with this morning. “Blessed Lord Jesus, Gethsemane was Your school, where You learned to pray and to obey. It is still Your school, where You lead all Your disciples who desire to learn to obey and to pray even as You. Lord, teach me there to pray, in the faith that You have atoned for. Give us grace to pray like You.
0 Lamb of God, I would follow You to Gethsemane, there to become one with You, and to abide in You as You do to the very death and yield Your will to the Father. With You, through You, in You, I yield my will in absolute and entire surrender to the will of the Father. Conscious of my own weakness, and the secret power with which self-will would assert itself and again take its place on the throne, I claim in faith the power of Your victory. You triumphed over it and delivered me from it. In Your death I would daily live: in Your life I would daily die. Abiding in You, let my will, through the power of Your eternal Spirit, only be the tuned instrument that yields to every touch of the will of my God. With my whole soul do I say with You and in You, "Father, not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
And then, blessed Lord, open my heart and that of all Your people to take in fully the glory of the truth, that a will given up to God is a will accepted of God to be used in His service. I wish all my desires, and purposes, and determinations be according to God's will. A will which, in the power of the Holy Spirit the indwelling God, is to exercise its royal prerogative in prayer, to loose and to bind in heaven and on earth, to ask whatever it will, and to say it shall be done.
0 Lord Jesus, teach me to pray. Amen.”
One last thing, and this comes from the Truth Project: Ask yourself this question. Meditate on it; take your time.
Do you really believe that what you believe is real?
And, if so, why?
I’m interested in hearing your answers!