Pray It Again, Saul – Unappreciation Days

There are a number of ‘appreciation’ days on the annual calendar:

April 17th – Husband Appreciation Day
September 18th – Wife Appreciation Day

Some seem fairly normal:

March 9th – Employee Appreciation Day
May 6th – National Tourist Appreciation Day

Others are somewhat weird:

April 30th – Hairstyle Appreciation Day
February 23rd – International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day
September 22nd – Elephant Appreciation Day
October 3rd – Virus Appreciation Day

There are extended ‘days,’ even whole months, dedicated to appreciation:

July 3rd through August 15th – Air Conditioning Appreciation Days
May – National Military Appreciation Month
October – Clergy Appreciation Month

How does one go about creating an appreciation day?   A national day is literally an act of Congress and takes a lot of work.

The first step is to contact your local congress person. Once you have their attention, you have to create the proposal and hopefully it will get onto the congressional agenda before too many years have passed.  If you are intent on doing it and have the patience, it can be done.

Other days are created by companies, special interest groups, local governments, sports teams, and others by simply declaring it so. The vast majority of these are local, one-time events that do not capture much attention and are soon forgotten.  Official or not, a number of these take hold, and show up year after year.

As for appreciation… William James once said, “The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

I don’t think I’d go that far… But I will say that feelings of being un or under appreciated often surface when I am counseling people.  Perhaps some of you, feel un or under appreciated.  It might be in your job… Or in your marriage… Or in your ministry.

If left to fester, it will depress you… Decieve you… Defeat you.

Paul the Apostle was definitely unappreciated.  In two verses filled with emotion, he wrote to the Corinthians and said,

2 Corinthians 12:14  Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
2 Corinthians 12:15  And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.

During his second missionary journey, Paul had spent eighteen months in the Greek city of Corinth – more time than in any other city except Ephesus (where he spent three years).  He labored day and night to support himself and to strengthen the believers.  The more he loved them, the less he was loved by them.

Why didn’t they appreciate Paul?  Let me suggest two reasons:

The Corinthians prided themselves on their intellectual ability.  Paul refused to act intellectually among them.  It was at Corinth that Paul said, “for I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”  Although possessing a powerful intellect, Paul did not put it on display.  As Chuck Smith says, “Paul simply taught the Word simply.”
The Corinthians prided themselves on their open-mindedness and tolerance, even for sin.  In one famous instance, they had a couple attending their church that consisted of a man and his father’s wife.  Paul rebuked them!  He would not allow them to be comfortable in their carnality and sin but confronted them.  Some of Paul’s strongest language against sin among God’s people is in this book.

Paul was un or under appreciated… But he was not depressed; nor deceived; nor defeated. He said, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls…”

He was “glad.”  He had joy, despite their treatment of him.

“Spend” means expend, and “spent” means exhaust.  Paul expended himself to the point of exhaustion; the more he did, the less they loved him – but he did it “gladly.”

Expending yourself to the point of exhaustion for people who fail to appreciate you seems a sign of weakness.

Exactly!  Now we’re getting it!

Five times in Chapter twelve Paul used the Greek word astheneiais.  It is translated into three English words – infirmities, weakness, and weak – but it is the same Greek word.  He didn’t regret being a weakling; he rejoiced in it!

Why?

2 Corinthians 12:9  And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:10  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God’s strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness; therefore he delighted in being a weakling.

We don’t ordinarily put much value on weakness.  We don’t hire or promote people who are weaklings… We don’t vote for weaklings.  Yet here was Paul, boasting about being a weakling.

Twice in verse seven Paul uses the phrase, “lest I be exalted above measure.”  We love to measure things by using various standards.  At school you measure using test scores and grades.  At work you measure using sales and productivity figures. The standard of spiritual measure Paul used was weakness.  God’s strength can only be made perfect in weakness; when you are weak, then and only then are you strong.

That brings us back to our original thought: You are expected to expend yourself to the point of exhaustion regardless whether you are appreciated or not.

All those times you’ve thought or said, “I don’t have to take this,” or “I don’t deserve to be treated this way,” or anything like that… You’ve been wrong!

Let’s ask this: Did Jesus deserve to be treated worse than a common criminal?  Did He deserve to be beaten?  Flogged?  To be mocked, jeered, spat upon?  Crucified?

Of course not!  Jesus preeminently among all men didn’t deserve His treatment.  We deserved His treatment.

It’s never a matter of what you may or may not deserve.  It’s a matter of Who you are devoted to.

You’re devoted to Jesus.  That leads us to two final principles.

First, Paul said, “And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you.”  Let me fill-in the details of what he was saying.

Paul had refused to accept any money from the Church at Corinth for his ministerial services.  He didn’t want to burden them with his own needs.  Even so, they accused him of being in the ministry for the money.  He knew he wasn’t; and he was wise enough to anticipate the accusation and refuse any local support.

Behind his words are an important spiritual principle: Paul had died to himself and his needs in order to concentrate on being helpful to others.  He considered others better than himself – even if they didn’t appreciate him for it.

The lack of appreciation was a small thing to Paul because he wasn’t looking to receive anything from them.

You might be un or under appreciated.  So what?  The more you let the feeling fester, the more you prove that you have not died to yourself.  The more you see your own selfishness.

You feel unloved, unappreciated.  The person or people involved are therefore selfish, self-centered, thinking only of themselves, when they should see you for the saint you really are… And the minute you think that, you are just as selfish, if not more, than they are!

Paul used the example of parents sacrificing for their kids.  It isn’t as strong an example as it once was – because so many parents don’t sacrifice, won’t sacrifice, for their kids!  But you get the idea: Whether your kids are grateful or ungrateful, you go on providing for them.

Second, Paul said, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” He was in the business of soul-care; he wanted what was ultimately best for others.  Paul looked ahead to the spiritual results of his expending himself to the point of exhaustion. Not just the results in their lives, but in his own.  He knew God would approve him one day at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

In First Corinthians 4:5 Paul wrote,

1 Corinthians 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

All of this life we are living will end one day in a very real Heaven – a Heaven more real than the seat you are sitting on and the building you’re seated in.  Never lose sight of your future!

Warren Wiersbe once said, “Heaven isn’t just a destination; it’s a motivation.”

“Then each one’s praise will come from God.”  Your wife might not appreciate you… Neither do your kids… Or your friends… Or the rest of your family… Or your fellow students and co-workers… Or the believers in your Church.

But you have an appointment to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ.  When you do, you want to hear His praise; you want to hear these words:

“Well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21).

A life that does not hear those words cannot be considered successful.
For Paul to hear those words from the Lord meant a long period in his life spent being unloved and unappreciated.

It may mean the same for you.  The next time you feel un or under appreciated; the next time you hear yourself starting to say, “I don’t deserve this,” rejoice and be glad!

Then begin to consider others better than yourself – even if it is those who should love you more.  Die to yourself; it’s a decision.  Expend yourself to the point of exhaustion.  Think ahead to your appointment with Jesus and His evaluation of your sacrifices.

Pray It Again, Saul (Philippians 1:3-6)

One of the regular bits on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon is him writing out Thank You Notes.

Thank you, emergency row on a plane, for making me lie every time the flight attendant asks me if I can function in case of an emergency.

Thank you the word “moist” for being the worst word ever.

Thank you, slow walking family ahead of me on the sidewalk.  No, please, take your time, and definitely spread out, too, so you form a barricade.

The apostle Paul inserted “Thank You Notes” in his letters.  With the exception of Galatians and Second Corinthians, all of his letters begin with a mention of his thanksgiving.  Paul was thankful for what God had already done for the believers, and for what God had promised to accomplish in them.

Rom 1:8  First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

1Co 1:4  I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus,
1Co 1:5  that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge,

Eph 1:15  Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,
Eph 1:16  do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers:

Col 1:3  We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Col 1:4  since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints;
Col 1:5  because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel,

1Th 1:2  We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers,
1Th 1:3  remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father,

2Th 1:3  We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other,
2Th 1:4  so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure,

Our text tonight is from his letter to the Philippians, where Paul states his thankfulness for their “fellowship in the Gospel.”

We’re taking a look at some of the recorded prayers of Paul.  It’s hard to have a definite list, because sometimes he is praying, whereas other times he’s talking about how he prays.
Believing we are being Spirit-led in the texts we choose, we’re looking at his prayers in chronological order; and that takes us from the Thessalonians letters we’ve already looked at to Philippians.

On his second missionary journey Paul visited Philippi.  Through his ministry there several people trusted Christ as their Savior. Some of these were Lydia and her family and the Philippian jailer and his family.

Soon after Paul’s visit a local church was established in Philippi. The church often helped the apostle in different ways so this epistle was written to acknowledge their help, as well as to help them.

Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter – probably in Rome.  The believers naturally were concerned.  Nothing wrong with their concern, but they ought to have remembered that when Paul was in prison in their own city, he and Silas prayed and praised and, at midnight, an earthquake shook the city, opening up the prison’s cells.

They stopped the jail or from committing suicide, and convinced the prisoners not to escape.  The jailor and his family were saved.  Paul and Silas returned to their cells.

In the morning, when the city officials thought their prisoners had learned their lesson, Paul dropped that he was a Roman citizen.  The city officials had broken several laws in detaining them; their careers, if not lives, were on the line.

Paul was a prisoner, for sure, but not of Rome.  Never of Rome.  He was a prisoner of Jesus Christ.  He had resolved in his heart that whatever he encountered in his life, it was for the furtherance of the Gospel.

Prison gave Paul opportunity to write some of his letters – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were prison epistles.  And it gave him extended prayer times.

Let’s see what he was praying for regarding the Philippians.

Php 1:3  I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,
Php 1:4  always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy,
Php 1:5  for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,
Php 1:6  being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

Hard to say exactly what he was praying for.  It doesn’t read like a prayer-list.

What we can glean is something we haven’t yet mentioned in this series, and that is what we might call the tone of his praying.

From one quick reading of these verses we can see Paul was thankful, joyful, and confident in his praying for them.

Let’s keep that in mind as we dig in a little deeper.

Php 1:3  I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,

You’re too young to remember Bob Hope; but I’ll ask anyway.  What was his signature song?  Right – Thanks for the Memory.

Paul thanked God for the memories he had of the Philippians.  They loved him; they put that love in action, caring for him, and sending him support.

Paul didn’t merely receive a one-time gift from the Philippian believers; he received gifts from them on a number of occasions. Even when he was in another city, the Philippians continued to send material support.

It wasn’t the money that made the good memories, but the thought behind it.

Here’s something to ponder: Are you remembered by others with thankfulness on account of your being a help to them?

Paul referred to God as “my God.”  It’s a term of endearment, and of intimacy.  Of course God was the God of the Philippians believers just as much as He was Paul’s God.  But they – and we – should all have an intimate relationship with Him.

This is one reason why I get frustrated, then angry, when folks erect barriers to our worship of God, then act as though they feel closer to Him.  Currently there is a movement to return to the liturgies of ancient church groups.  Robes and rituals.  To me, they are a new veil, separating you from immediate contact with Jesus.

The tone of Paul’s prayers was thankfulness.  Wherever God is at work in people, we have cause for thanksgiving.  It’s no easy thing for a hard heart to be penetrated by grace and for a persons freed will to choose the Lord.

Php 1:4  always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy,

The words for “prayer” and “request” mean the same thing.  They are translated from the same word.  Paul was making specific requests for them.

He undoubtedly prayed for them as a church, but he also prayed for “all” of their requests, as individuals.

In the age of smartphones, folks are split over just how rude it is to be noodling on your device while talking to someone.  Jerry Seinfeld has a routine based on this.

I actually don’t mind, because we are totally capable of multi-tasking.

If you’re a believer, you can do something like that, but without it being observable.  You can silently, secretly, be praying for someone while they’re talking to you.

I do it anytime I’m in a counseling situation – since I want to say what God wants them to hear.

Just don’t move your lips!

Paul tells us he made his requests for them “with joy.”  To have “joy” when making a request, you must believe that God will do what is best for the person, regardless your personal wishes.  Whatever His answer – “yes,” “no,” or “wait” – you believe all things work together for the good for those who love the Lord.

Php 1:5  for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,

“Fellowship” isn’t just friendship on a deeper level because we are all believers.  Don’t get me wrong: friendships are great, and friendships with believers ought to be profound.

But our fellowship is “in the Gospel.”  It is based on the common salvation we share, and in our participating in THE fellowship of the gathered saints, and in our desire to work together to see that the Gospel is shared.

I need to remind myself that I don’t need to be on a missions trip in order to be on a mission trip.  My whole life is a mission trip, to fulfill the Great Commission.

Let’s make sure our fellowship is around the Lord and, if we do, we won’t be able to keep from sharing Him.

Php 1:6  being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

“The Day of Jesus Christ” in this context is the day you die, or you are raptured.  In those moments, you’ll be completed; finished; fit for eternity.

Paul was “confident” because God was the One Who is responsible, ultimately, for transforming each of us into the image of His Son.  We therefore pray with confidence knowing that everything else God said He’d accomplish will happen.

Our prayers, obviously, ought to take into consideration that God is working in the believer to transform him or her.  Thus it isn’t always appropriate for the trial to end, because God can use it.

I pray for folks to be healed, believing God can do it.  But I an excited to see Him at work if He withholds healing.
I don’t know how much suffering we might need to endure prior to the Rapture, but I know that my future is secure, and the future of the earth is already written out.

If I’m confident Jesus will return during Armageddon to save the world from destruction, I ought to be confident He is with me in my battles; because He is.

I am confident that the Gospel is the power of God to salvation.  I am confident that I can announce to a sinner that God forgives their sin, and saves them, by virtue of the Cross, and in light of the resurrection.

I am confident that the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of the Lord when He comes to rule and reign.

I’m confident mankind will not obliterate itself because I know the Lord will stop that from happening.

We are a supremely confident people.  We ought to pray with confidence, tempered by the Lord’s will.

And we ought to have a general, overruling confidence, that God is at work – always, in every circumstance.

Thankful… Joyful… Confident.

Am I?  Are you?  Listen to your prayers, to their tone, and you’ll know.

Play It Again, Saint (Colossians 4v12-13)

It’s the last few days of 2013 and we are prone to be thinking about looking back and making lists.

I came across a list of 37 Things You Will Regret When You’re Old.  Among the regrets are: not traveling when you had the chance… not learning another language… not wearing sunscreen… and neglecting your teeth.

Obviously is wasn’t very scientific.  Nor even marginally spiritual.

What about possible spiritual regrets?  Billy Graham has been looking back over his amazing life and ministry.  Here, in his own words, are the biggest regrets of Billy Graham’s life and ministry.

Although I have much to be grateful for as I look back over my life, I also have many regrets.  I have failed many times, and I would do many things differently.

For one thing, I would speak less and study more, and I would spend more time with my family.
I would also spend more time in spiritual nurture, seeking to grow closer to God so I could become more like Christ.

I would spend more time in prayer, not just for myself but for others.

I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth, not only for sermon preparation but to apply its message to my life.

And I would give more attention to fellowship with other Christians, who could teach me and encourage me (and even rebuke me when necessary).

About one thing I have absolutely no regrets, however, and that is my commitment many years ago to accept God’s calling to serve Him as an evangelist of the Gospel of Christ.

One thing I find fascinating about Billy Graham’s regrets is that, after he mentions his family, he lists the four things we commonly counsel all new believers to do in order to grow in their relationship with Jesus: Pray, read and study the Bible, fellowship with other believers, and share their faith with nonbelievers.

As we embark on another new year, and inevitably think about resolutions and goals, those four remain as the pillars of your spiritual life.

They are all simple; all doable; all within your reach.  You just have to believe that these really are the things you ought most, or foremost, to be pursuing on a daily basis.  Otherwise life interferes and you’ll find yourself putting these priorities on the shelf because of other urgencies.

I want to look at a character in the Bible, a man, who can inspire us in several of those crucial areas.  His name is Epaphras.

Epaphras’ name is mentioned only three times in the Bible (Colossians 1:7; 4:12; Philemon 23).  There are six verses that actually make reference to him (Colossians 1:7, 8; 4:12-14 and Philemon 23).

He was a native or inhabitant of Colossae (Colossians 4:12).  Most likely he founded the church in Colossae and maybe two others as well.

We learn the most about him from Colossians 4:12-13.

Colossians 4:12  Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
Colossians 4:13  For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis.

Epaphras is thought to have founded the church at Colosse because in chapter one he is said to have brought the Gospel to them.  He may have founded the other two churches mentioned as well.  He certainly was active ministering to the saints at Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis.

The verses in Colossians reflect that Epaphras had been sent by the believers at Colosse to Paul, who was in prison at Rome, to discuss matters pertaining to the church.

Or he may have gone on his own to consult Paul about how to deal with certain heresies that were creeping in to the churches.

Paul called special attention to Epaphras as someone who prayed, saying that Epaphras was “always laboring fervently… in prayers.”

We want to look at Epaphras “laboring fervently… in prayers,” but before we do, in order to be well-rounded, let’s review the other descriptors Paul used about him.

Paul said to the Colossians that “Epaphras… is one of you.”  First of all, this tells us he was either a native of Colossae, or that it was his hometown.

Secondly, and on a more spiritual level, it tells us that even though Epaphras had brought them the Gospel, had founded the church and was their teacher and leader, he acted as “one of them,” not over them.

I just can’t stand folks who are always blowing their own spiritual horn, drawing attention to their supposed spiritual disciplines.  A lot of people think serving is leading.  They are always the head, in charge, in control.  You never see them doing anything menial.

If you look at Jesus you see that leading is serving.  It’s seeing the need and meeting the need – whatever that might be at the moment.

The night before He was crucified Jesus stooped to wash the feet of His disciples.  It was a task that needed doing, but since it was the duty that fell to a lowly servant, the disciples all ignored the basin and the towels.  So Jesus, their Lord and Master, took the task upon Himself, forever giving us the model for true servant leadership.

There’s another insight to draw from this term “one… of you.”  It supposes that there is a group of people who meet regularly together, who know each other, who care for each other.

Are you “one of us?”  Do you meet with us regularly enough to get to know others and care for them?

Epaphras was next called “a bondservant of Christ.”  This is the Greek doulos, which can have several translations, all the way from slave to voluntary servant.

We can get lulled by that word “voluntary.”  If I’m a volunteer, normally less is required of me and I can more-or-less set my own pace and agenda.  I might show-up; I might not.

In the Old Testament, you could ‘volunteer’ to remain a slave.  An Israelite might become an indentured servant, or a slave, to another Israelite in a variety of ways.  After six years of service, however, he must be set free.  Occasionally a servant wanted instead to remain in his master’s household as a slave.  It usually happened this way:

Exo 21:5    But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’
Exo 21:6    then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.

That is what it means to be a voluntary servant.  They were called bondservants – and that’s what we are.  Jesus set us free from sin and death, but we voluntarily submit to Him as His bondservants.

On a practical basis, the Lord allows us to choose our level of commitment as His bondservants.  We can be as flakey or as faithful as we determine.

Best be faithful, for that is the true mark of a servant and it will be the basis for your rewards at the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ.

No one wants to hear Jesus say, “Weakly done, my flakey servant.”  No, we long to hear, “Well done, My faithful servant.”

Epaphras “greet[ed]” them from Rome.  He was thinking about them so much that he asked Paul to send his love in the letter he was writing.  He interrupted Paul, as it were, inserting himself into the letter, to be sure they knew they were on his heart and mind.

Epaphras “[had] a great zeal” for the Colossians, and for the Laodiceans, and for the Hier-apolians.  (I’m guess that’s what they were called!).

What does that mean, to have “zeal” for someone in Christ?
Bear in mind in the first century there were a group of people called ‘zealots.’  The Bible dictionary defines them saying they were,

… member[s] of a radical, warlike, ardently patriotic group of Jews in Judea, particularly prominent from AD69 to 81, advocating the violent overthrow of Roman rule and vigorously resisting the efforts of the Romans and their supporters to heathenize the Jews.

Epaphras wasn’t a zealot, but he was just as zealous (if that makes sense).  He was passionate about furthering the Gospel, not by the sword but by the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  He was all about the Gospel.

We all have other passions besides the Gospel.  Sports, hobbies, activities, politics (to name a few).  We can be passionate, in a good way even, about many things.

But I shouldn’t have to even point out that Jesus Christ and the Good News about Him must control and overrule every and any other passion we might have.

Which brings us to Epaphras’ “always laboring fervently… in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”

“Laboring fervently” is one word in Greek, agonizomai.  As you might suspect, we get our word agonize from it.

Agonizing isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It was used, for example, of someone contending for a victory in the public games.  It was used a lot to describe wrestlers contending to win the prize.  It indicates a straining of every muscle, every nerve, towards the goal of victory.

The connotation, therefore, is extremely positive.  Epaphras labored fervently in prayer the way an athlete labors fervently in his sporting contest.

So, yes, we could say that prayer is hard work.  But we should think of it as a joyful and purposeful work – as the kind of work we want to do and choose to do in order to excel.

Notice next what Epaphras prayed for.  He prayed for the believers to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”

In passing, I read one commentary that said, “Epaphras was much on his knees so that others could remain on their feet.”
I like that.  It reminds me of another quote, this one by Charles Spurgeon, who remind Bible teachers like myself,

A certain preacher whose sermons converted many souls received a revelation from God that it was not his sermons or works by all means but the prayers of an illiterate lay brother who sat on the pulpit steps pleading for the success of the sermon.  It may be in the all-revealing day so with us.  We may believe after laboring long and wearily that all honor belongs to another builder whose prayers were gold, silver, and precious stones, while our sermonizings being apart from prayer are but hay and stubble.

By the way, have you ever heard someone say of a pastor that they got nothing out of his teaching?  It may be that they put nothing in to receiving the teaching.

“Epaphras prayed they would be “perfect and complete.”  “Perfect and complete” are an ongoing process.  You are becoming perfect; you are headed for completion.  God has begun a good work in you and He will perform it until you awaken in the likeness of Jesus when you see Him face-to-face.

Epaphras thought first-and-foremost about a person’s spiritual life and them maintaining a forward trajectory in it.  He was concerned about what you ought to do in order to become perfect and complete.

And that’s why the verse references “in all the will of God.”

It’s probably still popular, but I seem to remember a few years ago  it being wildly popular to play poker, especially Texas Hold ’em.  Occasionally a player makes the bold move of going ‘all-in.’

If you are a Christian, you need to be all-in.  There’s no part of your life that doesn’t belong to Jesus; there’s no part that you can hang on to for yourself.

Why would you want to hold back?  The Lord died to save you from sin and self and to set you free to serve Him to become everything you were created to be.

God is your Father and has only your very best interests and future in mind.  If He has set a boundary in His Word, it is for your good.  If He has given you a rule, obeying it will bring joy, not grief.

God has set very definite boundaries, for example, with regard to human sexuality and marriage.  It’s one thing that our modern society and its laws rejects those boundaries; it’s quite another that believers in Jesus do the same.

We are normally not as bad as the worst sinners in the area of sexuality and marriage; but Christians are busy managing sin in these areas rather than refraining from it.

A. W. Tozer once said, “the difficulty we modern Christians face is not misunderstanding the Bible, but persuading our untamed hearts to accept its plain instruction.”

Epaphras saw God at work in every believer’s life to perfect them and make them more like Jesus.  God was at work building for eternity.  He prayed for them accordingly.

Epaphras labored in prayer for the saints.  Three churches are mentioned: Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea.  There is solid reason to think that two out of the three churches were vibrant and victorious.

Can you guess which one wasn’t doing well?

Well, of course you can, because late in the first century Jesus wrote to the church at Laodicea and strongly rebuked them.  It was to the Laodiceans that the Lord said, through the apostle John,

Revelation 3:15  “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.
Revelation 3:16  So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.

This “cold or hot or lukewarm” comment gets a lot of attention.  I came across well-documented archaeological information about the water in Hierapolis and in Colossae.

Hierapolis was a prosperous trade center built around natural hot springs that were considered a source of healing power in the Roman period.

Colossae was blessed with a constant supply of cold refreshing water of that came from snow-and-rain-fed streams that rushed down from the peak of nearby Mount Cadmus.

There is evidence that the city of Laodicea piped both hot water from Hierapolis and cold water from Colossae.

So when Jesus said to them, “You are neither cold nor hot,” the Laodicean’s would have understood it to mean that they were unlike the vibrant, victorious believers in Hierapolis and Colossae.

It puts us on notice that the Christian life is not automatic.  There’s no autopilot or cruise control.  You can grow like the believers in Hierapolis and Colossae; or you can blow-it like the Laodiceans.

Which brings us full circle back to where we began – talking about regrets as we look back over our lives.

Billy Graham is not the only spiritual giant to list all or some of those same regrets.

What about us?  What about you?  Do you regret not spending more time in prayer?  Or reading and studying God’s Word?  Or fellowshipping with the saints?  Or sharing the Gospel?

Of course we do!  So let’s do something about it.  This year.  This week.  Today and everyday.

Which gives me a nice segue to invite you to pray with us more this coming week and year.

First consider these insightful and challenging comments about the corporate prayer activities of a church.

As prayer meetings fail in a congregation, so will the ministrations of the pastor become unfruitful, the preaching of the word fail to convert sinners and promote holiness in the professors of religion (J.B. Johnston).

This much is sure in all churches, forgetting party labels; the smallest meeting numerically is the prayer meeting.  If weak in prayer we are weak everywhere (Ravenhill).

Do our churches that have a prayer meeting have a weekly prayer meeting or a weak prayer meeting (Forsyth).

A congregation without a prayer meeting is essentially defective in its organization, and so must be limited in its efficiency (J.B. Johnston).
The prayer meeting ought to be the most important meeting in the church (R.A. Torrey).

Here is a partial list of ways you can participate in corporate prayer with us:

Every Sunday, before each service, the Prayer Room is open and available upstairs for you and your family to pray.  We have communion elements in the room as well.  I’ve often hoped that occasionally (at least) someone or several individuals would spend the entire service in prayer.

Every service one or two of our guys are up front to pray for you.  Let them!

Email us at prayer@calvaryhanford.com  to share your requests and the updates.

Fill out Prayer Cards anytime you are here; take a few, fill them out and bring them back.

At least twice a month, on Wednesday nights, we have a time of participation during which you are encouraged to pray openly.

Most every Saturday evening we meet in the Cafe for prayer from 6pm until 6:45pm.

And, as you heard announced, this Friday we invite you to join us during the hours of 10pm until Midnight in the Fellowship Hall.

For a moment, let’s consider all the prayer opportunities I listed as ‘prayer meetings.’

Charles Spurgeon said of prayer meetings,

The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings.  So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people.  If God be near a church, it must pray.
And if He be not there, one of the first tokens of His absence will be a slothfulness in prayer!

Let’s do some prayer-math:

Every Sunday in 2014 you will have at least two opportunities to pray – one before, and one after, the service.  That’s 104 possible prayer times.
Every Sunday and Wednesday you can grab a Prayer Card or cards and hand them to us.  If you came both Sunday and Wednesday, and only filled out one card each service, that’s another 104 prayer opportunities.
At least twice a month on Wednesday nights we pray; that’s another 26 opportunities in 2014.
It’s not inconceivable you could email requests twice a week, for another 104 opportunities.
Then there are the 52 Saturday’s we will pray in 2014.

Conservatively, you will have close to 400 corporate prayer opportunities over the next 365 days.

We are not into numbers; nor do we keep attendance or statistics.  I mention these numbers for our own individual perspective.  If, at the end of 2014, I look back and see that I had 400+ opportunities to pray for myself and others, and I availed myself of none… or one… or even a dozen; what does that say?

It should say I have regrets.

Should The Lord not return… let’s be able to look back, at least on our corporate praying, with no regrets.

Meet, Pray, Love (Habakkuk 3v1-2)

We are taking a break from our verse-by-verse study through the Gospel of Matthew this morning.

Our text will be two verses from the Old Testament – Habakkuk 3:1-2.

Our topic will be prayer, especially meeting together to pray for revival.

The title of our message is, Meet, Pray, Love.

I feel a little bit like Naaman must have felt when he visited Elisha.

For those of you who’ve not heard the story of Naaman, let me briefly summarize it.  Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army.  He also suffered from leprosy.  On one of Syria’s frequent raids of Israel, a young Israelite girl was captured and became a servant to Naaman’s wife.  The girl told her mistress about the prophet Elisha, and that he could heal Naaman of his leprosy.

When Naaman arrived Elisha refused to see him.  Instead he sent a messenger to him telling him to “go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.”

Naaman was offended.  The Bible recounts it like this:

2Ki 5:11    But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’
2Ki 5:12    Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.
2Ki 5:13    And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
2Ki 5:14    So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

I said that I feel a little bit like Naaman, and here’s why.  This past week I was with over a thousand Calvary Chapel pastors and their associates at the annual Senior Pastor’s Conference in Murrietta.  More specifically I was with Geno and Alex from our fellowship and with Jacob and His worship leader, Chris, from Calvary Tulare, and John and his associate, R.C., from Refuge Sanger.

As always, I expected God was going to speak to me; to show me something – something powerful, something profound, something prophetic.

I can summarize what God showed me in one word: Pray.

Really?  That’s it?  I had to go to Murrietta and sleep in a room with five other guys, sharing one bathroom, for that?

The Murrietta campus features natural hot springs.  The water smells like sulfur – like rotten eggs.  I could honestly say to The Lord, “is not the water of Hanford just as smelly?”

I pray; you pray; we pray.  Still God is encouraging us to prayer.

That certainly means to pray more.  But I think it also means to pray first and foremost, to pray as if we understood it was more effective than anything else we might do.

If God tells me, tells us, to pray, what should we do?

I’d like to see the Holy Spirit move on our hearts to emphasize prayer.  To make prayer our first and greatest resort.

We’ll be doing some things to accomplish that as a congregation.  To begin to encourage us I want to look at two verses in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk.

Hab 3:1    A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, on Shigionoth.
Hab 3:2    O LORD, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy.

Let me just give you the two points I’m going to organize my thoughts around: #1 If We Are To Emphasize Prayer We Need To Be Renewed In The Fear Of The Lord, and #2 If We Are To Emphasize Prayer We Need To Be Revived In The Faithfulness Of The Lord.

#1 We Need To Be Renewed In The Fear Of The Lord

Habakkuk was a prophet who served the Jews just prior to the Babylonian invasion and captivity in the sixth century BC.  He is famous for asking God to do something to revive the Jews, who he recognized to be sinning.  God tells Habakkuk that He is going to do something but that Habakkuk won’t like it.

Habakkuk wants to know and when God reveals that His plan is to give Judah over into the hands of the Babylonians for a time of judgement, Habakkuk retreats to a time and place of prayer.

Hab 2:1    I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am corrected.

He pictures himself as a watchman on a wall, expectantly waiting for the coming of, not the enemy, but of The Lord, to answer him.

God does answer him, in the remainder of chapter two.  Habakkuk responds with more prayer, in chapter three.

Hab 3:1    A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, on Shigionoth.
Hab 3:2    O LORD, I have heard Your speech and was afraid

It’s “a prayer,” insinuating that prayer had become a much more constant activity of “the prophet.”  Let me put it this way.  You’d think that the most regular, most prevalent, activity of a prophet would be to prophesy.  But prayer is what we get most from Habakkuk.

There are various opinions on “Shigionoth.”  It seems to refer to a distinctive type of music, sung in a spirit of victory and excitement.

Is there victory and excitement in my praying?  Sometimes, even a lot of times, not.  It seems to me that God isn’t doing anything in response to my prayers; that He isn’t answering them, one way or another.  I therefore find it had to rejoice.

If anyone should find it hard to rejoice in prayer, it ought to have been Habakkuk.  Things were going to get tough in Judah.  Nevertheless Habakkuk would be able to say,

Hab 3:17    Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls –
Hab 3:18    Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
Hab 3:19    The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills…

Bottom line: Habakkuk realized God was working powerfully in the lives of His people.  He would use Babylon to save a remnant.  He loved them too much to simply abandon them.

I must believe God is always at work.  Especially when I can’t see Him working; when it seems He is doing nothing, or even allowing things to get worse.  He is God and must act according to His nature, which is to convict, to save, to restore.  His timing is affected by many factors, e.g., the free will of those I’m praying for and about.  But I must believe God is there, prompting, revealing Himself, because that’s who He is.

His realization God was at work gave birth to the opening line of his prayer: “O Lord, I have heard your speech and was afraid.”

Habakkuk had “heard” the “speech” about the coming of the Babylonians to conquer the Jews.  It seemed utterly foolish to most of the Jews, trusting as they were in their heritage to save them.

We have heard more speech from The Lord than any generation in the history of the world.  He is coming imminently for His church, and soon in His Second Coming.  We should have a sense of urgency about us, mingled with awe and expectation.

And with fear.  Emphasizing prayer will have little effect in our individual lives as Christians or our corporate life as a church unless we have a fear of The Lord.

We live in a time when I think it is valid to ask, “Whatever happened to the fear of The Lord?”

Looking at America, there is no fear of The Lord.  Men have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and they worship and serve created things rather than their Creator.

The current national obsession to recognize and to legalize alternative marriages is a good example.  God gave marriage to mankind, and He has defined it as the union of one man and one woman for life.  To redefine it according to our own standards shows a profound lack of the fear of The Lord.

What is worse, however, is that there seems to be a profound loss of the fear of The Lord in His church.  It can be shown, statistically at least, that the church is no better than the world in certain areas of sin, e.g., divorce and sexual sins like fornication, adultery, and pornography.

Used to be we all believed the bumper-sticker theology that, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”  Not so much anymore. Professing Christians, who know what God has said, simply revise His Word to accommodate their sin, rather than repenting of their sin to accommodate His holiness.  Christians seem content to live with compromise, at best, and disobedience, at worst.

In the Book ofActs, in chapter nineteen, the apostle Paul was used by God to perform many miracles.  Those miracles, coupled with a failed exorcism by some nonbelievers, caused a fear of The Lord to prevail in the city of Ephesus.  Acts puts it like this:

Act 19:18    And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.
Act 19:19    Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.
Act 19:20    So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

Were these folks believers who had been dabbling in the occult?  Or does it mean that they were recent converts who, when they got saved, brought forth and burned their books?

Either way, the practice of the occult – so common in their culture – had no place in the life of a believer who feared The Lord.

This episode caused Bible commentators William McDonald to say, “Perhaps if modern Christians would burn their trashy books and magazines, the Word would prevail much more.”

I don’t know if there are things in your life that should be brought forth and burned.  Likely there are in at least some of our lives.  Bad habits, even sinful habits, tend to creep in to our lives disguised as Christian liberties.

If we want to really emphasize prayer, then those things need to be burned.  Better we burn them now than they burn-up when we stand before The Lord.

The fear of The Lord is an absolute prerequisite to prayer.  Without it Habakkuk could not have received God’s word about the coming judgment on a way that caused him to rejoice.  But with the fear of The Lord came the joy of relationship no matter the circumstances, knowing that, ultimately, God really was working all things together for the good of those who love Him.

#2 We Need To Be Revived In The Faithfulness Of The Lord

Habakkuk used the “R” word.  He said, “LORD, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy.”

Revive, or revival, is something every believer has prayed for or does pray for.  My research is correct, the word can mean to make alive or to restore to life.

Revival is making alive those who are dead. Those who are dead are unbelievers – described in the Bible as “dead in their trespasses and sins.”  They are spiritually dead and need to be made alive by God.  We would call this aspect of revival, evangelism.
Revival is also restoring the life of those who are alive.  These are believers whose walk with the Lord lacks vitality.  They have the Holy Spirit; but the Holy Spirit does not have them!  Leonard Ravenhill is quoted as saying, “Evangelism affects the other fellow; revival affects me.”

If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, you need revival: You need to be made alive by God.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you might need revival: You might need to be restored to a walk that has vitality.

Historically, revival is accompanied and accomplished by prayer.  It’s been said,

It will generally be found, that when God is about to bestow any remarkable favor upon a person or people, He previously pours out upon them a spirit of earnest supplication for it.

So remarked a pastor in Philadelphia, around 1856, during a time of great revival.

Matthew Henry said, “When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is set them a-praying.”

I hear a lot of talk about America returning to its Christian foundations.  I agree!  But how are we to accomplish that goal?
Listen to this account by revival historian J. Edwin Orr.

Not many people realize that in the wake of the American Revolution (following 1776-1781) there was a moral slump. Drunkenness became epidemic.  Out of a population of five million, 300,000 were confirmed drunkards.  Profanity was of the most shocking kind.  For the first time in the history of the American settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault.  Bank robberies were a daily occurrence.

What about the churches?  The Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining.  The Baptists said that they had their most wintry season.  The Presbyterians in general assembly deplored the nation’s ungodliness.  In a typical Congregational church, the Rev. Samuel Shepherd of Lennos, Massachusetts, in sixteen years had not taken one young person into fellowship. The Lutherans were so languishing that they discussed uniting with Episcopalians who were even worse off.  The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Samuel Provost, quit functioning; he had confirmed no one for so long that he decided he was out of work, so he took up other employment.  The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church ‘was too far gone ever to be redeemed.’  Voltaire averred and Tom Paine echoed, ‘Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.

Take the… colleges at that time.  A poll taken at Harvard had discovered not one believer in the whole student body.  They took a poll at Princeton, a much more evangelical place, where they discovered only two believers in the student body, and only five that did not belong to the filthy speech movement of that day. Students rioted.  They held a mock communion at Williams College, and they put on antiChristian plays at Dartmouth.  They burned down the Nassau Hall at Princeton.

They forced the resignation of the president of Harvard.  They took a Bible out of a local Presbyterian church in New Jersey, and they burnt it in a public bonfire.  Christians were so few on campus in the 1790’s that they met in secret, like a communist cell, and kept their minutes in code so that no one would know.

How did the situation change?  It came through prayer.  Dr. Orr goes on to explain,

In New England, there was a man of prayer named Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor, who in 1794, when conditions were at their worst, addressed an urgent plea for prayer for revival to pastors of every Christian denomination in the United States.  All the churches adopted the plan until America was interlaced with a network of prayer meetings, which set aside the first Monday of each month to pray.  It was not long before revival came.

That, folks, is our history; that is our heritage.  We have a romantic notion of what our nation was like, religiously, at its founding.  We need to have a more realistic notion.  From the very founding of our great nation we have needed revival.  It came through prayer as God moved on the hearts of men and women – transforming them into new creatures in Jesus Christ.

If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing spiritual can be accomplished apart from revival.  We cannot reform society.  Hearts must be transformed.

All of this comes as we pray.  None of it unless we pray.

Right away we have a tendency to get in the way of revival.  We read something like this and can think we need to contact every church in town, every church in America, and start a prayer program.  Give it a name.  Start compiling numbers.  Guilt folks into attending. Probably take an offering!

No, what we need to do is, individually, begin emphasizing prayer. Sure, we need to meet together, to pray, more.  But without an emphasis on prayer that permeates our entire walk with The Lord, meetings won’t accomplish much.
In 1963 R.A. Torrey wrote the following:

The great need of the church today, and of human society as a whole, is a genuine, God-sent revival.  Such revivals as far as man’s agency is concerned always come in one way – by prayer.

We’re going to do a few simple things to encourage prayer.

In the following weeks we will, for example, suggest a book or two on prayer that we can all be reading together.
I’d like to see us have our Friends at Midnight prayer meeting become more than an annual event.
We will continue to pray on Saturday evenings.
We will incorporate more corporate prayer on Wednesday nights at IGNITE!

I’m sure we will be led by God the Holy Spirit in other ways.  Just as I’m sure that we face opposition to praying that will tend to discourage us and get us to quit.

Our movement, Calvary Chapel, is a revival movement.  It was born in the 1960’s, known as the Jesus Movement.  There’s an article on the wall in the Café that gives an overview of the Jesus Movement.

It’s not just our past history; or, at least, it doesn’t have to be.  It can be our future as well.  It can be our future because God is faithful.  He is faithful to revive.

We’ve been meeting together since 1985.  Our prayer must become Habakkuk’s prayer, “O Lord, revive your work in the midst of years.”

Friends At Midnight (Luke 11v5-13)

Introduction

I don’t know how it was for you growing up, but if I ever asked my mom for something the words I never wanted to hear were, “go ask your father.”

“Go ask your father” in parent-speak translated to “No!”

Jesus had just given His disciples what we call the Lord’s Prayer.  It was really a model, or a pattern, for them to follow when they prayed.  It was a form for prayer rather than a formal prayer.  In the verses that immediately follow the Lord’s Prayer it’s as if Jesus was saying, “now go ask your Father!”  Except that, in this case, you want to hear those words; they do not mean “No!” but seem to mean “Yes!”

To emphasize that your heavenly Father wants to say “Yes,” Jesus told two brief stories:

In the first story a friend goes at midnight to ask for bread for a needy traveler.  The answer is “Yes!” and he is given the loaves he needs.
In the second story you ask your Father to give you the Holy Spirit and again the answer is “Yes!”

Why, then, does God the Father seem to be saying “No!” to so many of our requests?  Maybe we can find the answer here.
I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Ask & Your Father Will Give You Bread To Feed Others, and #2 Keep On Asking & Your Father Will Give The Holy Spirit To Fill You.

#1    Ask & Your Father Will Give You
    Bread To Feed Others
    (v5-8)

Do you see that?  Do you see that the friend goes to ask for bread, not for himself, but to feed someone else?

Jesus was telling His disciples, and He is telling you, to “go ask your Father” for the needs of others, then set before them what He provides.

Let’s work through the verses to see how we come to that conclusion.

Luke 11:5  And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves;
Luke 11:6  for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’;
In Bible times people often traveled in the evening or at night to avoid the intense heat of the Middle Eastern day.  One such weary traveler arrived at his friend’s house at about midnight.  It seems he had come unexpectedly; but that did not excuse the host from exercising hospitality.

Showing hospitality was more than just a common courtesy.  The way you showed and showered hospitality upon guests, whether invited or unexpected, was a measure of your character.  Your reputation was at stake.  As Rocky Balboa once said, “They don’t remember you – they remember your reputation.”

Put yourself in the story.  You are an average family living in a one-room structure that also serves as the barn for your livestock.  You and your family are already asleep.  You went to bed thankful that God provided your daily bread, but you have nothing left over.  Suddenly there’s a knock on your door.  You answer it, and it’s a friend on a journey.  Regardless the time; regardless your poverty; regardless your lack of bread; you must show hospitality.

When was the last time you ran out of bread in the middle of the night, and went next door to ask your neighbor for a few loaves?

Probably never!  But what if your situation was an emergency and you needed help?  Would you hesitate to go next door?

You must bear in mind that the situation Jesus was describing was, in fact, an emergency – a social emergency.  Your reputation was on the line.  So, you get up and go quickly to your neighbor to ask for bread.

The disciples would see nothing unusual about this; it happened all the time.
Luke 11:7  and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’?
Luke 11:8  I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
Our understanding of these two verses is critical to properly interpreting the story.  When we read them, we add our own biases.  We think of ourselves, in modern America, bothering a neighbor in the middle of the night for a few slices of bread.  As we’ve already said, this was far more serious – Hospitality 911.

The real sense of these words, a better reading of them in context, is something like this: “Do any of you even for a moment think that your friend won’t get up to help you?”

So, you see, the point of the story is not at all that the friend wouldn’t respond unless you kept knocking like crazy.  He was more than willing to respond.

That is a very different read than we usually have on these verses.  Let me answer the two concerns (or complaints) you might have about reading it this way:
First, in verse seven, doesn’t he answer from within and tell the friend outside that, if he gets up, he’ll disturb the whole family?  Doesn’t he try to get rid of his friend?  Not really!  The force of Jesus’ words are that you can’t imagine him answering you that way.  Remember, this was another simple, one-room dwelling.  The animals were stabled inside, and the family was all bedded down.  The whole family, and the stabled animals, were already disturbed, as soon as the friend knocked.
Second, in verse eight, doesn’t it say that it was because of his “persistence” that he will rise and give him as many as he needs?  Sure it does; but “persistence” doesn’t necessarily mean his persistent knocking.  One commentator put it like this: “The word importunity… means shamelessness, boldness, impudence, audacity.  It does not mean persistence as many in the church think – that we have to keep praying the same prayer – asking for the same thing – until God gives it. Its simple meaning is that as the man who shamelessly dared to ask his friend at midnight to meet his needs, and got what he asked for, so too believers who shamelessly through prayer ask, seek, and knock, will also get what they ask for from God.”

This story is not teaching you that if you will be persistent enough in knocking on Heaven’s door that God will finally get disturbed enough, or see how serious you really are, and be obligated to answer you.  It is teaching almost the very opposite – that God is more than willing to give you the bread you request from the get-go!

When you “go ask your Father,” the answer is “Yes!”   Why, then, does our Father seem to be saying “No!” to so many of our requests?

Let’s make a spiritual application of the story.  You are the man who has no food left over.  Will you admit your poverty?  Your spiritual poverty?  Will you humble yourself and admit that, apart from God, you have nothing to offer anyone?  It is an important first step.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”  Heaven and all its resources are available to you but only if you admit your total dependence upon God.
All the people you know are on a journey at night.  Their life on earth is a journey during which the Lord wants to reveal Himself to them.  But it’s night – it’s dark, in the sense that this world is dominated by sin.  Sin has brought disease, disaster, and death.  Sooner or later, your friends will have a midnight experience for which they need help.

You “go ask your Father.”  Only His ‘household’ is not a poor, one-room dwelling.  His ‘household’ is heaven, and He is over the earth.  He can give you all you need to set before your needy friend.

What do they really need?  Most often, what they really need is spiritual bread, spiritual food – not the physical or material help we ask for.

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel a paralyzed man was brought to Jesus.  Instead of healing him Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven.  He went on to heal the paralytic in order to show that He was the Son of God with power on earth to forgive sins.  But it was spiritual healing, spiritual help, that was most significant.

You can declare to people that Jesus can and will forgive them of their sins.  It is the greatest need they have; and you have this food to set before them.  God may give you gifts, or other resources, to help them physically.  But the bread, the food, they need, is to know God.

I don’t know about you, but this reading of our verses sets me free to enjoy talking to my Father in heaven.  It relieves me of being a brat-child, always disturbing Heaven with my continual request for non-essentials.  It focuses my heart’s attention on others.

#2    Keep On Asking & Your Father Will Give
    The Holy Spirit To Fill You
    (v9-13)

The Holy Spirit is a Person and He is God.  When you become a Christian, God the Holy Spirit comes to live in you.  If He is already in you, why are you supposed to ask God the Father to give Him to you?

The only answer I can see is that even as a believer who has the Holy Spirit you continually need a greater experience of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Luke 11:9  “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
Luke 11:10  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
The verbs used mean, “Ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking.”

Is there a progression in the three verbs, in the sense that you get more and more intense as you go from asking to seeking to knocking?  You certainly read it that way if you interpret “persistence” earlier to indicate that you might meet with resistance.  But clearly God is not reluctant to give you the Holy Spirit.

Ask, seek and knock might refer to different situations you might find yourself in that require the abundance of the Spirit:

You “ask” and He is given seems to be a general statement.  As you are praying, talking to God, keep on asking for the Spirit in your life.
You “seek” and He is found would seem to indicate a waiting on the Lord for His spiritual help rather than pressing forward thinking you’ve got it under control, or that you know what to do.
You “knock” and it will be opened stresses obedience to the Spirit once He shows you the door that He is opening.

You are promised that your Father wants to and will give you the Holy Spirit.  To reinforce this promise of the Spirit, Jesus tells another little story:

Luke 11:11  If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?
Luke 11:12  Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
This is similar to parents jokingly saying that they sent their kids out to play on the freeway!  It is immediately understood that you would never do such a thing.  Neither would your heavenly Father.  If you ask, especially for the Holy Spirit, He gives Him to you.

The illustration suggests a sense of fullness.  The father gives his son a three course meal – bread, fish, and eggs.  Your Father in Heaven wants you to have a sense that your serving others is filled with the Holy Spirit.  In other words, it’s not your wisdom or insight that you are setting before them as spiritual food, but rather those things that are suggested to you by the Holy Spirit as you yield to His influence.

Luke 11:13  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

You are already a son; God is already your Father.  The person in this verse is born-again, a Christian, who is told he or she can have a greater, fuller, experience with the Holy Spirit.
Why don’t we have a greater, fuller experience with God the Holy Spirit?  Two things come to mind – our backgrounds and our biases.  We need to forget our backgrounds and our biases and take God at His word.

Some of us tend to be more conservative when it comes to our understanding of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.  We believe that because the Holy Spirit indwells us we don’t need to ask, seek, and knock for Him.  We think that our personal study and discipline are all that is required to live the Christian life.  We think we can memorize all the right answers to the needs of others.  We ask our Father to bless our wisdom and insight rather than asking for, seeking for, even knocking for, His.
Others of us tend to be more charismatic when it comes to our understanding of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.  We believe that the Holy Spirit indwells us but we only believe He has filled us if we speak with tongues or prophesy or experience some other outward experience of His presence.  With regards to the needs of others we are reluctant, or we refuse, to tell people that God’s grace is sufficient in their suffering.

Neither extreme is healthy!  You can, and should, ask your heavenly Father to give you the Holy Spirit.  But His fullness is not to showcase your gifts but to reveal the Giver.
Conclusion

“Go ask your Father.”  He will delight to give you two things:

The spiritual food that your night-traveling ‘friends’ really need, and
The fullness of the Spirit that you need in order to set the food before them.

This Friday, January 27th, from ten til midnight, we will gather as the Friends at Midnight.  We will approach God as our Father for the needs of others and for leading for our church.  Be part of it!