Seeking Gods agenda
Seeking God’s Agenda through Prayer
I. The Importance of God’s Agenda
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. John 15:7 (NIV)
And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4:3 (NLB)
II. The Focus of God’s Agenda
I’m praying not only for them But also for those who will believe in me because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. John 17 19,20 (MSG)
b. Our growth
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might. . . Ephesians 1:18,19 (NASB)
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:15-19 (NLB)
c. Sharing the Gospel
When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. . . . And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus. Acts 4:23-30 (NLB)
d. Glorifying His Name
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:9,10 (NASB)
III. The Results of Praying God’s Agenda
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. James 5:17,18 (NIV)
b. New England
d. Cali, Colombia
Seeking God’s agenda in Prayer
The story is told of the woman who heard a message about praying in faith from the text that says if you pray in faith you can tell a mountain, “Be removed into the sea.” It will happen.
That night she decided to put it to the test. It was an easy test since she lived in the Northwest and had a view of a Mount St. Helens in the distance from her living room window. So she screwed up all the faith she could and prayed fervently that the mountain would be removed and cast into the sea. She got down on her knees. She moaned and wept. She raised her hands. She quoted the verse back to God to make sure. She even thanked God by faith.
The next morning she got up and made her way to the living room and peered out the front window. “Just as I thought,” she said, “it’s still there.”
There is a lot of pretty dumb stuff taught about prayer. One rather popular current is the “name it and claim it” or “blab it and grab it” approach. All you have to do get anything is to claim it verbally—to speak it. The corollary is all you have to do is to refuse to verbalize something to escape it.
Let’s say you get a pink slip from work—or an F on your report card. “No. I refuse to confess that I failed or that I got fired. By faith I still have my job.” How effective would that be?
Let’s say that you have been spending more than your income for some time. Finally the jig is up and Peter has no more money to take to pay Paul. You are bankrupt. “No, I refuse to say those words.” How will that fly with your mortgage company?
Ask anyone who has escaped alcoholism or any other addiction. Refusal to face the problem is a big part of the problem. The first step toward freedom is confessing. That is biblical. “If we confess our sins. . .”
Sometimes we act as if God were a genie. An Aladdin’s lamp. Just say the right magic incantation and the Divine Genie pops out and promises to grant your wish.
Sometimes we treat God as if He were a celestial vending machine. Just put in the your money and hit the button and out comes our selection. But when you put in your money, make your selection and nothing comes out, what do you do? Hit the coin return, hit the machine, rock it, kick it, get mad at it. Same with God.
Think about it a minute. How does God decide which prayers to answer and in what way? A farmer is praying for rain because without it his crops will be ruined. The couple’s group leader and social coordinator at church are praying for a sunny day so they can have the picnic they have planned. Who does God answer.
Or, check this one out, Tony Dongy and Christians on the Colts football team are praying for a win at the Super Bowl. At the same time, Lovie Smith and players on the Bears team are praying for a win. Was Dongy more spiritual than Smith?. Were there more Christians on the Colts than on the Bears?
How does God decide who to listen to? On what basis: Does it depend on who is the most eloquent? Flowery speech, biblical or spiritual vocabulary—whatever that is. “O Thou great and holy sovereign Lord of the universe. . .”
Does it depend on who is the most emotional and passionate in prayer.
How about who believes the hardest?
Perhaps it depends on how many people are praying, kind of like a vote tally. Now don’t get me wrong. I’ld rather have more people praying for me than fewer. I was glad for the folks around the country, even some Catholic parishes, who prayed for me when I was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. But I would rather have one person who really understands what we are going to talk about today than an army who don’t.
How about who prays the loudest. I have been in some prayer meetings where it actually became a shouting match. As if God would only be able to focus on the loudest.
How about who prays the longest, or has the right wording or formula? Don’t forget to add “In Jesus name” at the end or God doesn’t hear.
Scripture makes it clear that prayer is not an exercise in trying to persuade a reluctant God to do what he would rather not do. The problem has little if anything to do with our technique but much to do with our value system, our priorities and focus.
So let’s talk first about:
|I. The Importance of God’s Agenda.|
Nowhere does God promises to answer prayers that are not lined up with his agenda, his purposes. It really doesn’t matter how many people gang up on Him to pray for something, or how long and passionately and loudly they pray, if it is not God’s agenda, it doesn’t happen.
We often quote that verse in John 15:
|If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. John 15:7 (NIV)|
We love that last part of that verse “You can ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” But we tend to sip through the first part without paying attention. There is a bit of a problem with this approach. Go back to the beginning. There is an “IF” that starts the sentence. Put a great big circle and double underline under that IF.
If is one of those defining kind of words. Some words just grab our attention. I am reminded of the Bill Cosby dialogue where he is semi conscious with local anesthetic for a surgery. “What did you just say, doc? Did you say Oops? What do you mean when you say oops? I know what I mean when I say oops? “If” should jump off the page just like the “Oops”.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you.” That if is a very little word but it is enormously powerful. It limits the rest of the verse. It says that unless what follows immediately is true, the rest of the thought, the “then” clause, is not valid. So it is important to explore what it means to remain in him and have his word remain in us.
If you remain or abide in me. If you make your home in me. If you settle down and get comfortable in me. If I am the home base you constantly return to and find in me your rest, your intimate relationship, your daily provision. If you bring to me on a daily basis everything you do outside. If you refuse to let anything or anyone distract you from Me. If you consistently seek to make my agenda your agenda.
That is extremely limiting. God says He wants it all. In another place he says, “I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice”. In another Paul says, “For to me to live IS Christ. . .”
Now as if that were not enough, he goes on, “and my words abide in you”. If you look a couple verses before that in John 15:5, you will find that the phrase “If my words abide in you” is parallel to “if I remain in you. One of the principle ways that Christ remains or abides in us is through His Word If his words find a “welcome home” in your life. If they have access to every area of your life. If you not only read, study, memorize but you meditate on his word and make it your guide, your friend, your constant companion. If you work at putting it into practice in your own life.
Last week Pastor Bobby referred to Joshua 1:8 where God says to Joshua at the beginning of his tenure as Moses successor, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”
It is a living Word from a living Person who wants a relationship with you.
|And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4;20 (NLB)|
If that is true, then you can ask anything you wish and he will do it for you. Why, because God’s agenda will become your agenda. God’s will, your will. What pleases God will be what turns you on. You will line up with God’s agenda rather than trying to persuade God to sign off on your agenda. The problem is that so much or our prayers are our agenda. James states:
So much of our prayers have to do with our own comfort and security. Sometimes it is extended to include the comfort and security of our family or our “group”. But it is still related to comfort and security. Listen the next time you are in a setting where prayer requests are invited.
Joe stands up and says, I have been having trouble with my boss lately. Pray that he will get off my back and that things would smooth out at work. Martha offers that her daughter has been making life miserable at home and she needs her to chill out. Jane asks prayer for her Aunt Gertrude’s gout. Bill shares that he is in a financial bind and needs some money next week. Sam asks prayer for his father who is in the hospital for a triple bypass.
Are any of these bad prayers? No. Of course not. God invites us to come to him with what is on our heart. The problem is not so much what we pray for, but why we pray for those things, our focus, values, and priorities—and what we do not pray for.
Now I know that Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us this day, our daily bread." It is hard to get more basic and material than that. And I know that there are dozens of instances in the Bible of people praying for things as natural as the desire for protection from enemies and escape from danger and success in vocation and fertility in marriage, and recovery from sickness, etc.
My point is not that those desires are wrong. My point is that they should be subordinate to God’s agenda, spiritual desires, kingdom desires, fruit-bearing desires, gospel-spreading, God-centered desires, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying desires. But most often, Kingdom issues are the farthest thing from our minds. We just want to be comfortable, safe and happy. thank you. Don’t disturb my routine or ask me to leave my comfort zone.
Just before Jesus said to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," he said, make it your heart's desire that God would hallow his name and that the kingdom would come and that the will of God would be done on earth. When your focus is on those great desires, then having something to eat becomes somewhat of an incidental.
The problem again is our focus, our values and our priorities. So much of our prayers are motivated by personal wants that come from what we think will make us happy, comfortable or secure. Is there anything wrong with wanting to be safe and comfortable. Obviously not. They are normal. But they are subordinate to a bigger agenda.
God has an agenda that goes way beyond the confines of those things. You have often heard us say that God is more interested in our growth than in our comfort. His agenda and purposes include but are not limited to that. Remember how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. “God, if there is any other way, please release me from this experience.—but not my will.”
This brings us to the logical question, What, then, are the things that God specifically declares are his agenda and what are some examples of what Jesus, Paul and others prayed for?
|II. The Focus of God’s Agenda|
|A. Unity of the body of Christ|
Let’s begin with Jesus himself. We have already mentioned the prayer the Lord taught his disciples. But in John 17 we find Jesus’ own prayer. It was on the last evening before his crucifixion. Jesus had celebrated the Passover with the disciples in the upper room. They walked together through the city, out the gate on the east side of the city, down across the Kidron valley and began the assent up the Mount of Olives on the road back to the little town of Bethany where Jesus had been spending the nights that week.
Partway up, he turned off the main road into a grove of olive trees known as the Garden of Gethsemane. He left eight of the disciples and continued deeper in the grove. Then he left the other three with the admonition to be alert and to pray. He himself went further on and began to pray.
We have already mentioned the part of the prayer where he begs the Father to release him from what was coming but submits willingly to the Father’s will. John focuses on another part of the prayer where he prays for the disciples and for all who would come after. That includes you and me if we have committed our life to him.
Listen to what he says in John 17
|The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. So that the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. John 17 19,20 (MSG)|
Now that is pretty clear. For Jesus, the goal is for us to be of one heart and mind, just like He and the Father are of one heart and mind.
He declared, “I never do my own will.”
He said, “My bread and butter is to do the Father’s will.”
He said, “I and my Father are one.”
Now I am not suggesting that we can be one in exactly the same way aw the Trinity. But a similar kind of oneness of attitude, values, purpose and priorities is the goal. How often do we pray for that. Or is is more, change him so he agrees with me.
Another of God’s important agenda items is. .
|B. Our growth|
Now let’s consider the apostle Paul. If Jesus is our absolute model, Paul is certainly our relative model. In several of his letters Paul tells people how he prays for them.
There is much similarity. We will look at his prayer recorded in Ephesians chapter 3. It is representative.
|I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:15-19 (NLB)|
Now you have to understand that Paul was in prison when he wrote these words. He was on trial before the Emperor Nero, rumored to be more than a little loco.
Think for a moment what would be your fervent prayer if you were under arrest and chained to one burly, rough, sweaty pagan Roman guard after another. Your hung on the whims of one capricious egotist who only cared for himself. I suspect that my focus in prayer in that situation might have been just a bit different.
How do you think things would change at Living Hope Community Church if we began to seriously pray these kinds of things into each others lives. Do you think it would make a difference?
Let’s move on to another clear part of God’s agenda.
|C. Sharing the Gospel|
Just before leaving his disciples for the last time and ascending to heaven, Jesus gave what we call the Great Commission. In his final words to his followers he told them that their job—and ours by extension—was to make disciples. To share the Good News, to build others in the faith, and to send them out to join in God’s great program to change the world.
They took him at his word and began to spread the word wherever they went. They caused such a stir that Peter and John were arrested and beaten. When released, they went right back to report to the rest of his followers. It would be interesting to reinact that meeting. Perhaps that is the drama we should have some time.
Think getting sacked from a job because you refuse to be dishonest. Think being in a required university class with an atheist prof who makes it clear anyone foolish enough to believe in that “Christianity garbage” doesn’t deserve to pass.
I can see them now, dragging into the room, eyes filled with tears, heads down, spirits broken. Here they had just been obeying the Master and He let this kind of thing happen to them. This was just not fair, It doesn’t make any sense. Why would God allow them to be arrested and beaten?
That’s not exactly how Scripture reports it in the book of Acts Chapter 4. Let’s look at this passage. This is rather long but it is worth the read:.
|When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— you spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant, saying, ‘Why were the nations so angry? Why did they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepared for battle; the rulers gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’ In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will. And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus. Acts 4:23-30 (NLB)|
Wow. Not only did they not question God, they did not even ask for protection in the future from similar injustices. Their concern was for Kingdom purposes, God’s agenda. The expansion of God’s kingdom. Carrying out God’s purposes. In the next chapter it even says that they were “rejoicing that they were found worthy” to suffer for His sake.
What would happen to Living Hope Community Church if we got really serious about God’s program and began to seriously pray and act on it?
Let’s return to the prayer Jesus taught His disciples which we mentioned before. It is found in both Matthew Chapter 6 and Luke Chapter 11. The first few phrases of that prayer kind of sum up everything we have been saying.
His agenda is . . .
|D. Glorifying His Name|
Most of us can probably repeat this from memory. But let’s read it aloud together in unison
|“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:9,10 (NASB)|
Take a close look at that. As we said before, he does get down to asking for daily bread—but that is after first settling the issue of focus and priority..
He starts out with “Our”. Prayer is importantly not just an individual matter. It is also a community, a body, a fellowship, a church matter. He is our Father, not just my Father or your Father. It is assumed that there is more than one praying. In another place he says, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name.” And again, “If two of you agree, I will do it.”
Then it is addressed to “Our Father”. That recognizes a special unique relationship. It is a relationship that indicates dependency. It indicates closeness A father is the one who begets. A father is one who decides. A father is one who takes responsibility for and provides for. “Our FATHER”.
From there He moves immediately to a recognition of the greatness of God and the petition that this greatness be recognized by all. “Hallowed be Your name.” To hallow something is to set it apart. To make it important. To recognize it as holy and special and unique. So that is part of God’s program—for his name to be lifted up and treated as most special. It is the opposite of using his name in vane. It is also the opposite of saying, “I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus”, and then living as if He really didn’t exist or wasn’t of very great practical relevance in our daily activities and decisions.
Finally, in this opening part of the prayer he really gets down to business. “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That is a heavy, Do we really want that? Do we really want God to eliminate and destroy all evil—even the evil that still lurks just under the surface of our lives? Do we really want him to put an end to all lies, even the little white ones? Do we really want him to judge all adultery, even the mental or emotional variety? Do we really want him to eliminate and root out all forms of idolatry or evil from our culture--all the things that displease or displaces him in our own lives?
Just think how that would change the way we used our time and money. How it would change the way we treat people. I’m not sure how ready we are for that. Perhaps in a few years after I’ve had my fun, or after I reach my next goal, or get married, or. . .
These are just a few of the clearly expressed items in God’s agenda. Items that are very high on his priority list. What would it be like if these issues were on the very top of our agenda as well as God’s? What would happen if we began to seriously pray God’s agenda?
Is there a possibility that this kind of prayer would significantly change our family, our church, our community, our city, our world? I think history might give us an answer to these questions. So let’s take a look at some situations where people have prayed that way.
|III. The Results of Praying God’s Agenda|
Let’s take a biblical example first.
|Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. James 5:17,18 (NIV)|
Maybe you remember the story. Israel had gone way off base and made the pagan, immoral and brutal Baal worship the official state religion. God sent Elijah with a message to the king. No more rain!!! Three and a half years passed. This is not just a season or a year with a deficit in rainfall. We are talking three and a half years with NO rain. No crops. No grazing for livestock. Total economic collapse. Think the Great Depression. Finally God sent Elijah back with a challenge. Call the people to a great assembly. Have the pagan priests build an altar and put a sacrificial animal on it. I will do the same. The God who answers by sending fire to burn up the sacrifice is the true God.
Of course the God pagan god did nothing all day and in the afternoon Elijah prepared his offering, prayed and God answered with fire.
Then he told the king, get back to the city fast for it is going to rain like you’ve never seen. He went up on the hill and prayed. Seven times he asked his assistant to go check. Finally on the seventh time his servant reported just a small wisp of a cloud. In a few minutes the sky was black and there was a drenching downpour.
Note that in the illustration, Elijah knew what God was going to do. He didn’t just invent something and ask God to do it. God had already clearly communicated His agenda.. So he was able to pray, and pray with faith.
Let’s move a little closer in history.
b. New England
The effects of the Second Great Awakening had worn off by the mid 19th Century and the spiritual and moral vitality in the U.S. was again at a very low point. In a number of communities and cities prayer movements began to spring up. The fall of 1857 was a critical time with a financial crisis building and the Civil War looming. In New York City, Jeremiah Lamphier called for a lunch hour prayer meeting on Sept. 23, 1857 to be held at the Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street. It was attended by 6 people The second week 20 came. The third week 40. Soon the meeting was full and they made it daily. Within six months 10,000 people were gathering daily for lunchtime prayer filling most of the churches in Manhattan. Even some of the theatres opened their doors for prayer at noon.
The impact continued throughout and after the Civil War. Hundreds of thousands were swept into the kingdom. The newspaper reports estimated that at one point 100,000 people a week were being converted. The entire nation was called back from the precipice.
As the twentieth century dawned, religious ritualism and formality characterized the church in Wales. Doctrines had replaced devotion to Christ.
In the fall of 1904, the 26-year-old Evan Roberts sensed that God had told him to return home from a ministry training program. On the evening of October 31, 1904 he and 16 young people gathered at the village chapel. Their fervent persistent and passionate prayer was “Lord bend me”.
From this small nucleus, a revival sprang which swept through the hills and valleys of Wales. During the next nine months Evan Roberts led a whirlwind revival campaign through the coal-mining valleys of South Wales and the slate quarries of North Wales. Thousands were swept into God's kingdom. Welsh society was profoundly affected.
News reports documented that alcoholism and family abuse all but disappeared. Nightclubs, bars, and theaters closed down for lack of clientele. It was reported that mules used to haul ore in the mines went on strike. They did not understand the cleaned up vocabulary of the miners. So many stolen tools and materials were returned by workers that come companies had to build a places to store them. Attendance at political campaigns and union halls declined. Later, conversions declined because the majority were was already saved. Chapels were filled. Prayer and praise echoed in Welsh homes. Hymn singing filled the streets.
d. Cali, Colombia
Cali, Colombia was in the grip of the Cali Cartel. Life was cheap. Murder was an everyday thing. The going rate to hire a hit man was the equivalent of our $10. It was almost the kiss of death to hold any kind of political office not controlled by the cartel. A number of pastors were executed. One of the most well known was Julio Cesar Ruibal, a good friend of my boss, an evangelist and pastor who was gunned down as he left a meeting of pastors in December of 1995.
He had worked hard to bring the church in Cali together. They began to hold monthly all night prayer vigils which grew to fill and then overflow the largest facility in the city, the 40,000 seat stadium. Within months the heads of the cartel had been captured, the level of violence had been drastically reduced. A new atmosphere was evident in the city. There is much work to be done but it is not the same city as it was in 1995.
In Uganda Idi Amin and his henchmen were spreading government sanctioned terror. It led the world in AIDS with over 40 percent of the population affected. It was decimating the population. Many villages literally had no people between 10 or 12 and 35 or 40. Islam was growing rapidly and viewed Uganda as the door to capturing southern Africa.
Some of us heard a Ungandan pastor who spoke at a prayer rally sponsored by Mission Miami last Spring. Pastor Senyonga recounted how God responded to a church that was reduced to nothing but desperate prayers And to do that they had to hide in the jungle in small groups. Today, as he tells it, Islam is in retreat and is losing adherents to the churches. AIDS has not only plateaued but has dropped dramatically to less than 10%. People complain that they cannot escape from the Christian influence.
These are only a few sample stories of how God has responded to people who have gotten serious and united in seeking His agenda. We could give a bunch of other examples both from the Bible and from church history.
What can I do? Perhaps you already know God and have considered yourself a praying Christian. But this morning you would have to say, my concern has been very little for God’s Kingdom and agenda. Confess that to Him and ask Him to change you.
You may be here and you have never really consciously committed yourself to receive His forgiveness and become a follower of Jesus. That is the very first step in seeking God’s agenda in prayer. Open your heart to Him now. Talk to Him right now in the quiet of your own heart and tell Him that you need his forgiveness and transforming power and that you want to become his follower. You want him to establish His kingdom and accomplish His agenda in your life.
We have set aside the evening of the first Wednesday of each month to pray together. We have already celebrated the prayer service for this month. But commit yourself to setting aside the first Wednesday evening of next month to seek God’s agenda in prayer.
Take a prayer calendar and pray for the leaders of South Florida.
Lord, we know so little about.
Response card. Mark Follower if you prayed to become a follower of Jesus.
God’s agenda if you are committing to learn to seek God’s agenda in prayer.