Impacting Cities & Communities thru Prayer
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Rande Wayne Smith
13 Ocotber 2013
Teach Us To Pray - 1
I PRAY ALONE
based on John 15:1-8
Suppose I could offer you today “how to” lessons from a famous person. Let me call out some names and you tell me what you’d like that person to teach you.
• Serena Williams (tennis) … I’d like her to help me with my serve,
• Rachel Ray (food) … I’d like to teach me recipes,
• Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough (dancing) …
(Last year’s winners on “Dancing With The Stars”) … I’d like them to teach me some moves,
• Jesus Christ … well, it could be any number of things.
Isn’t it interesting that with those other celebrities only one thing comes to mind immediately, but when we think of Jesus …
“would you teach me to walk on water?”
“would you teach me how to love my enemies?”
“would you teach me how to cast out demons?”
“would you teach me how to heal the sick?”
I would love to learn leadership at the feet of Jesus.
But interestingly, in the 4 Gospel accounts, there’s only 1 occasion when Jesus’ closest followers asked Him to teach them to do something. Only 1. Let’s read it aloud together. … “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)
What’s the 1 and only thing that Jesus’ disciples ever asked Him to teach them to do? … (pray)
Evidentially, on this particular occasion, when Jesus finished praying, there had been something so compelling, so powerful about the way He prayed that His disciples, who had been closely watching Him, said, “Hey, will you teach us how to do that?”
In fact, if we look at the verb tense, the disciples really didn’t ask … they demanded. This was said forcefully. There was a sense of urgency to it.
“Lord, you have to teach us to do this right now.”
This is the 1st week of a 4 week series … “Teach Us To Pray.” We’re going to look at 4 essential lessons on prayer … and our teacher is going to be Jesus.
Now today’s lesson is on personal prayer … we’re going to learn how to make prayer a regular habit in our daily lives. Prayer shouldn’t be a hit or miss thing. Prayer shouldn’t be just the one-liners that we throw up to God whenever we find ourselves in trouble. We need to be disciplined when it comes to prayer. And don’t be turned off by the word “discipline”. I know that “discipline” sometimes carries a negative connotation. It’s making yourself do something that you really don’t want to do.
Praying? It’s like making your bed, or shoveling snow. But let me remind you that the word “discipline” comes from the same root as the word “disciple.” And so if you want to be a disciple of Christ, if you consider yourself to be a committed follower of Jesus, then there’s got to be some measure of discipline in your life.
But, having said that, I’m not sure that the issue is really with discipline; I think our biggest problem is motivation.
What motivates you to pray?
I know that some people pray out of a sense of duty … “I’m a follower of Jesus, and followers of Jesus are supposed to pray.” If we pray for that reason … we’re going to hate it. If we pray out of a sense of guilt; if we pray out of a sense of fear … we’re never going to develop a life of disciplined prayer. We can’t pray for the wrong motivations.
So what are the right motivations? Well, let’s see what Jesus has to say. Now as I read this passage I want you to pay attention for repeating words or ideas. I know I’ve told you this before, but whenever God says something more than once in the same passage we know that’s what He wants to direct our attention to. So as I read this, listen for repetition. These are words of Jesus, as recorded by John, to you who have gathered here at Community Church. Within your hearing now, comes the Word of the Lord …
“I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will be clean and bear more fruit. You have been made clean already by the teaching I have given you. Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me. Those who do not remain in me are thrown out like a branch and dry up; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, where they are burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it. My Father’s glory is shown by your bearing much fruit; and in this way you become my disciples.”
May the Lord grant that we may engage in contemplating the mysteries of His Heavenly wisdom with really increasing devotion, to His glory and to our edification. Amen
As I read our Scripture what were some repeating words? (fruit, branches, vine, remain)
Jesus says, “Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you … and you will become a fruitful person.”
I like how some of the other translations record this thought … “make a home with me”, “stay joined to me,” “be united with me.” Jesus is talking about an intimate relationship between Him and us.
Now prayer, which is going to pop up a little later in the passage, is one of the key ways that this intimate relationship is enhanced. If we’re praying on a regular basis, not just quickie prayers, but setting aside time in our daily schedule in which to pray … we’re going to grow closer and closer and closer and closer with Jesus. And if we don’t do this, our relationship with Jesus is going to dry up. So our 1st key to praying alone is … the relationship motivation.
I understand that this sounds pretty basic, but I also recognize that many of us, me included, often approach prayer with a transactional rather than a relational view. We’re in it for the transaction.
We give God something He wants, namely prayer, and in return we get from God something that we want, the answer to that prayer.
We view God as a cosmic vending machine. When faced with a problem, we put in our coins, (we pray), we pull the lever, and watch to see if our candy bar comes out. And that candy bar can be, depending on what we’re praying for: money, healing, the return of a wayward child, a job ….
Jesus says … wrong view of prayer. It’s not about a transaction, it’s about a relationship. “Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you.” That’s what we’re to be aiming at.
This whole metaphor, branches in a grapevine, suggests a connection, intimacy.
By the way, Jesus didn’t make this metaphor up. This was a popular O.T. image. The grapevine or the vineyard is ancient Israel, God’s people.
“Israel is the vineyard of the LORD Almighty;
the people of Judah are the vines he planted.
He expected them to yield a crop of justice,
but found bloodshed instead.
He expected righteousness,
but the cries of deep oppression met his ears.”
God’s people wandered away. They didn’t produce fruit, they produced garbage.
Jesus wants to change all that. Jesus wants to create a people who stay intimately connected with God, who draw their spiritual nourishment from Him, whose lives produce rich fruit. Jesus is all about relationships.
The reason we’re to carve out a chunk of time every day to engage in prayer isn’t to get more from God, but to get more of God. Do you see the difference? The reason we pray isn’t to get more from God, but to get more of God. It’s not for the sake of the transaction … it’s for the sake of the relationship.
And so if prayer seems somewhat boring to you … maybe you’re not in it for the relationship.
Just imagine how horribly insulting this must be to Jesus.
Picture a couple at marriage counseling. They have some problems. They need some help. And after the 1st session the counselor tells them, “You need better communication. Communication is the key to a good marriage. So here’s your homework assignment. Before we get together next week, I want you, every day for 20-30 minutes, to sit down and talk. I don’t care what you talk about. You’re just to sit down and talk with each other.”
And the husband looks bewildered at the counselor, “are you kidding me? 20-30 minutes a day! Can’t we shove it all into one day, a Friday night date, and not have to do it during the week? It’s not like we’re not talking to each other. I tell her what I want for breakfast. I ask her to pick up stuff at the store. I remind her about a program she wanted to watch on TV.”
Wouldn’t you like to just smack that husband across the head?
But isn’t this how we often approach prayer? “I pray. I talk to God. I tell Him what I want.”
I’m not suggesting that prayer has nothing to do about making requests. Scripture encourages us to make our requests to God. (Philippians 4:6) But I want to underscore the fact that Jesus says that prayer is primarily about a relationship … remaining in Him and having Him remain in us.
The 2nd key to praying alone is … the desperation motivation. “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me. Those who do not remain in me are thrown out like a branch and dry up; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, where they are burned.”
“You can do nothing without me.”
In the original Greek text it’s stated even more strongly. Jesus uses a double negative, something we don’t do in English. Jesus literally says, “Apart from me, you cannot do nothing.”
And you know … I’m not sure if we really believe that. At least we don’t pray as if we believe what Jesus says. We pray on the basis of the fact that we believe there are some things we can do without His help. And so we don’t pray about those things. But there are other things which seem a bit beyond us, and so we go to Him with those in prayer.
We create these imaginary lists and there’s a line somewhere in the middle; and everything above the line are things we can do on our own, and everything below the line is a little more difficult, and so we pray about those things.
We get a cold … what do we do? We go to the drugstore and get a decongestant. But if the Dr. tells us that we have heart disease … woo, we better pray about that. There’s a line there.
If it’s above the line … we can handle it ourselves. If it falls below the line … oh, oh, we better pray.
Jesus says, “You can do nothing without me.” “You can do nothing without me.” “You can do (say it) nothing without me.”
We have to stop treating prayer as a last resort. How often have you heard someone say, “Well, there’s nothing else we can do, so I suppose we should just pray”? What kind of a perspective is that?
It assumes that we’ll do everything we can, and then when we’ve run out of options, then we’ll pray. We far overrate our own capacity to take on any challenge. We have to wake up to our desperation that without Jesus … we can do nothing.
Jesus Himself, in His humanity, models this dependence upon the Heavenly Father for us. Jesus was constantly telling His disciples, “I don’t do anything on my own.” (John 5:19) And this is the 2nd Person of the Trinity speaking. But in His humanity Jesus says, “Everything I say, everything I do, has to come from the Father.” (And that’s why we see Jesus constantly retreating to places of prayer.) (Matthew 14:23)
We read the 4 Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and He’s always praying. Isn’t that interesting? The Son of God … He’s always praying.
In fact, the Gospel of Luke is referred to as the “Gospel Of Prayer,” because every time we turn the page, we find Jesus praying about something.
Jesus’ ministry is inaugurated at His Baptism, and as He comes out of the water, He’s praying. (Luke 3:21)
Jesus heals a leper, and He prays. (Luke 5:16) He’s praying as He chooses the 12 Apostles. (Luke 6:12) And when the other Gospels say Jesus was in Caesarea Philippi, Luke adds the phrase, “Jesus was praying alone there.” (Luke 9:18) He was praying at the transfiguration. (Luke 9:18) And before Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He’s found praying. (Luke 11:1) He prays in Gethsemane, (Luke 22:41) and He prays on the cross. (Luke 23:34,46)
Jesus was always praying because He realized how dependent He was on His Heavenly Father.
So if Jesus Christ, the Son of God, found it necessary to get alone, to be dependent upon Him, in prayer, how much more do you and I need to carve out time in our daily schedule to meet with God in prayer?
The fact is, some of us are not just desperate enough.
I remember Ron and me talking about prayer last summer, and what motivates us to pray. And after thinking about it for a while my answer was … desperation.
Are we desperate enough to make prayer a part of our daily schedule? Let’s get real practical here. When and where in your day can you carve out time to pray? I’m not talking about quickie prayers. I’m talking about a chunk of time every day. If you’ve never done this before, start with a block of 10 minutes. Where can you fit 10 minutes into your day to pray? Because you want a relationship with Christ that grows, and you know that you can do nothing without Him.
So start with the “when.” Maybe it’s the 1st part of the day. You get up early, read the Scriptures, and pray before anything else interrupts your day. So to do that this week you’ll have to set your alarm 10 minutes earlier to squeeze that in.
Or maybe you have some alone time in the middle of the day, that’s the best time for you. Maybe you like to do this at bedtime. When is the best time for you?
And then where will you do it? Is it in your comfortable chair where you read your Bible? Will it be somewhere outside? Is it in your car when you’re driving? Where’s the best place for you to pray?
If you don’t determine right now, when and where you’ll carve out time to pray … you probably won’t do it. Are you desperate enough to really pray?
Here’s a 3rd key to praying alone … the fruitfulness motivation. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it. My Father’s glory is shown by your bearing much fruit; and in this way you become my disciples.”
God wants us to bear much fruit. What does that mean? If we trace the word “fruit” in the Scriptures, with respect to what our lives are to produce, we discover several ideas.
Sometimes Scripture uses the word “fruit” to speak of the character God wants to produce in us. Paul calls it the fruit of the Spirit … “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Sometimes when Scripture uses the word “fruit,” it’s speaking of good works that are done in Jesus’ name. “You will live the kind of life that honors and pleases the Lord in every way. You will produce fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:10)
When we use our spiritual gifts in ministry, the ones that God has given to us … that’s called fruitfulness.
Another way that Scripture uses “fruit” is to speak of the people we introduce to Christ. They’re our “fruit.”
And a 4th way is how we find it here in John 15. Fruitfulness means answers to prayer. Jesus says, “Pray about everything and God will give you what you ask for.” And in the next sentence He calls this the fruit that brings glory to God. In fact, I would dare say that the fruit of prayer kind of encompasses the other meanings as well.
We’re praying about Godly character … “God make me a gentler person.” And when He does, the fruit is not just the gentleness; it’s also the answer to our prayer. If we’re praying for a lost friend … “God, bring Jason to faith” … and Jason comes to faith, Jason is not only our fruit, but our fruit is also the answer to the prayer for Jason’s salvation.
And according to Jesus, God wants us to be fruitful people. In fact there’s a fruitfulness progression in this passage. (By the way, this is why it’s good to bring your Bible to Church so that you can make notes in it. The Deacons want me to encourage you to begin doing this.)
Verse 2, Jesus says that God, the gardener, breaks off every branch in us that bears no fruit. Circle “does not bear fruit;” that’s where it begins, fruitlessness.
Verse 4, “You cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Circle “fruit.” We’re making a progression. We’ve gone from no fruit to fruit.
Verse 8, “My Father’s glory is shown by your bearing (say it) much fruit.” We’ve gone from no fruit to fruit to much fruit. Circle “much fruit.” But we’re not finished.
Verse 16, “You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures.” (John 15:16) In other words, fruit that is of eternal value. Circle “fruit that endures.”
God wants us to be fruitful. God wants us to go from no fruit to fruit to much fruit to eternal fruit, and the way that that happens is through prayer. God delights in answering our prayers, because He delights in our becoming fruitful people.
What if I asked you today … tell me about some answers to prayer in your life recently? Would you be able to reel off 5 or 6?
Because if you can’t … then maybe it’s time that you get serious with prayer so that you can “bear much fruit” for God’s glory.
In fact Jesus says that this is how we show that we’re His disciples … by bearing fruit, (answers to prayer). An unfruitful follower of Jesus is an oxymoron. It’s a contradiction in terms. No such thing.
Jesus says that if we’re not bearing fruit it’s because we’re not completely connected to the vine. We think we are, but we don’t really have the relationship with Him that we think we do … because if we did we’d be bearing fruit. “Those who do not remain in me are thrown out like a branch and dry up; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, where they are burned.” (John 15:6)
Fruitfulness is a big deal to Jesus. He wants our life to be fruitful.
He wants us to be praying about stuff and seeing answers.
Look again at this promise, it’s amazing. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it.” Wow!
Okay, wait a second, does that mean that I can ask God for the Bears to win the Super Bowl this year, and He’ll be obligated to do it? Don’t forget the 1st part … “If you remain in me and my words remain in you.”
If we’re hanging out with Jesus, and we’re spending time with Him, His words are in us, and we’re reading the Book, we’re studying the Book, we’re applying it to our life … then what kinds of things do you think we’re going to pray for?
We’re not going to pray for a black Jaguar. If we’re hanging out with Jesus and His Word, we’re going to ask for things that please God, that honor God. And God’s going to say, “I’ve been waiting for you to ask that. I’d just love to give it to you.”
Does this mean that God never says “no”? At times He says “no” to even “good” requests for reasons known only to Him.
Now I recognize that there are always those who are confused by this.
The moment I start talking about prayer there will be those who say, “I’ve just given up on that. There’s this thing I’ve been praying about and God’s never responded … and so I just don’t pray anymore.”
My response is always, “Really? God didn’t give you one thing? Because as I read Jesus’ words in John 15, I’m told that there are many things that God wants to say ‘yes’ to … if we’ll just ask Him.”
“You do not have what you want because you do not ask God for it.” (James 4:2) Period. End of sentence.
We don’t pray. This fruitfulness motivation ought to drive every one of us to carve out time daily to meet with God and lay it all out before Him because He’s just so eager to give us positive responses.
I try to imagine standing in Heaven, and Jesus says, “Rande, come with me, I want to show you something.” And He takes me over to this huge warehouse complex, which takes up acres and acres. We walk inside, and there’s an area called “the Rande Smith Section.”
There’s row after row, shelf upon shelf, of packages. Little packages, big packages, all different shapes and sizes, and they all have my name and address on them. And I glance at Jesus, “what’s all this?” And He looks right at me, “This is what I wanted so badly to give you … but you didn’t ask. You didn’t pray for it.”
So what does God want to give us? … He wants to give us life - “life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10) He wants to give us peace. (John 14:27) He’s just waiting for us to pray. Just pray.
Carve out time. Stop living by the quickie 1 liner method. That’s wonderful throughout the course of the day if it’s built upon a prayer life that’s a chunk of time.
So when and where will you meet with God for prayer? Where will you carve out that 10 minutes of time?
Don’t do it out of a sense of duty. “Well, the Pastor’s preaching a series on prayer so I ought to do this.” Don’t do it out of guilt. Don’t do it out of fear. Do it because you want a deeper relationship with Christ. And you remain in Him and He remains in you, when you hang out with Him in prayer, that’s how you grow in this relationship.
Do it because you’re keenly aware of your dependence upon Him, and you can do nothing without Him. Not even the smallest thing is effective when done without Him.
And do it, finally, because you’re convinced that God has so much more in store for you, and He’s waiting to give all of it to you if you’d only pray.