It’s Labor Day weekend. You know what that means?
It’s time for a break.
A long weekend.
A release from the grind.
A chance to relax.
All kinds of people will get a special break. Postal workers. Governors. Judges. Garbage men. Librarians. Teachers. Dentists. Doctors. Almost everyone..!?!
Not the Walmart worker. Not the McDonald’s cashier. Neither the hotel staff that keeps things clean while we all take a break nor the gas station attendant who keeps the pumps running so we can make it to work on Tuesday. Even an unlucky few police officers are working.
But at least they get breaks at the end of the day. No one can work endlessly. That'd be impossible. eventually our bodies shut down. We need rest. no one can go without rest!
Except for maybe one. Always on the job. 24/7. 365 days a year. Never sleeps. Never rests. Never has Labor Day Off.
Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
What’s he doing? Providing you with food. Holding the sun in its gravitational spot so you don’t melt. Taking care of sparrows, dragonflies, and polliwogs.
But it’s deeper than that.
God is working on you.
He’s calling to you with his Word. “Repent! Stop sinning! Stop doing the awful work of offending me and look at the work that my Son has accomplished!"
Consider Jesus' job description: "Go to earth. Always defeat temptation. Suffer immensely. Do the work no one else could. Die and finish the work that everyone else should. Finish my plan of salvation for all people.
Your tools? A few nails. Some rugged boards. A work hat made of thorns.
Oh yes, and while you're doing this for everyone's eternal salvation, understand that most will not give a hoot about that most of their lives. In fact, they'll hate you. Despise you. Do all kinds of things that go against workplace ethics."
Sounds like a terrible job.
But Jesus did it. He did it so that you may have rest. Rest from the impossible labor of trying to please me. Rest from the burden of old sins rehashed. Rest from the fear of an eternity of punishment. Rest in knowing that you will one day rest from the sweats, aches, and pains of this world of work…in heaven.
Don’t forget to thank those working this Labor Day. Don't forget to thank the one who is working endlessly for you. Take a break from everything else, but not worshipping him. Find a church nearby your resort. Read through the Gospel of Mark and see all the work Jesus accomplished for us. Thank God in your prayers and teach your children to do the same thing.
God’s blessings as your rest on Labor Day Weekend. May the God who never rests watch over you! Amen.
The beginning of a new school year isn't a very peaceful time.
For kids, it means new teachers. New friends. A new class schedule. New classes. New people who like them. New people who don't like them.
They think, “Will I know everything I need to know? Will I remember everything I need to remember? If I don't will the kids make fun of me? Will they refuse to be my friend? Will the teachers like me? Will I like my teachers?”
After the first day, they come home, slouch in an easy chair and sigh, “I wish it was still summer vacation.”
But it's not so easy for parents either. “Do I have all the school supplies I need? Do I have enough money for all the school supplies I need? Will I like my child's teacher? Will kids be nice to my child? Will he do well in school? Will I need to help him with homework? Will I remember everything I need to know for my homework? UGH!” With a sigh, the parent slouches into the easy chair next to her child, “I wish it was still summer vacation.”
Whether you are embarking on a new school year or you are in the midst of one, school can be hectic! How will you combat this? How will you defeat the 'busy'-ness of your day to day schedule? How will you find peace amidst the fears that school brings?
Today Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”
Why We Need Peace.
I bet it was supposed to be a pretty peaceful night.
The Passover meal was a time for celebration. A time to eat good food. A time to reflect on God’s love. A time to share with family and friends.
The disciples were prepared for just that. The food was ready. All their friends were their. Their Lord, Jesus Christ was there.
The night was supposed to be peaceful!
But then, Jesus spoke.
He accused Judas of a plot to betray him, causing their friend to leave in a huff. (Jn. 13:26-28) He predicted they would all abandon him. (Mk. 14:27) He told Peter that he would deny even knowing him. (Jn. 13:38) He said that he himself would leave them in only a little while. (Jn. 13::33) He would be killed by their enemies!
Talk about a change in the atmosphere of the night. The tension was palpable. I imagine hearts were beating fast. Sweat was forming on lips. Insides were clenching.
This night wasn’t remotely peaceful!
That’s when Jesus spoke again.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’ (Jn. 14:27)
How is your peace level? Do you ever feel just like those disciples? You want peace. You yearn for peace, but in today’s world, it just seems hard to find.
It’s easy to see why.
When I was growing up I was frightened of the monster under my bed. In my imagination, he had three bigs eyes, two horns, and extra sharp teeth. It’s why I couldn’t go under my bed. My mom figured it was because I didn’t want to clean under it.
Made up imaginary monsters are the least of our children’s worries! Our world is filled with terrors! People shoot one another. People bomb one another. People poison one another. People hate one another. And…it’s real In the airport, you need to have your shoes checked just in case someone is trying to explode the plane with your shoes. You must pass through the metal detector at school. You better be paying attention to your surroundings…whether you are at the mall, a movie theater, or a marathon!
Not to mention how scary our own personal lives can be! The fear of losing a job. The fear of losing a loved one. The fear of a relationship falling to pieces. The fear of no one loving you!
I haven’t even begun to mention the host of scary things that we never even think of! Like the Black Widow under your pillow. Or the copper head out on the playground. Or the devil. That no good rotten scoundrel whose only desire is to muck up your life with sin. Make things a mess. And, in his own disgusting, devious mind, treat you to an eternal life with him in the bowels of hell.
To be frank, this world is not a peaceful place!
Where then, do you turn to find peace?
To be fair there are alot of different places to turn for peace. God has given us a host of blessings. Friends. Chocolate cake. A good book. Peaceful gardens.
But how long does this kind of peace really last?
Consider our options.
First, we might turn to what I’ll call “abstractions.” That is things that aren’t so much real, but possibilities. Phrases like “I’ll be alright.” “It’s for the best” or “I’ll work it out.” These are nothing more than empty platitudes. Is cancer really going to be alright? Try telling that to the person who has gone through 3 years of chemotherapy? Are the angry words of hatred that your boss screamed at you really for the best? Will the terrorist battles really work themselves out?
The truth is: You don’t know that any of these things will happen. You don’t know that life will get better. It may not! If these words are all you have, they are empty!
That kind of peace isn’t real peace at all. It’s as phony as the monster under my bed!
Next, we may turn to neutral distractions. Things that keep us busy so that we don’t dwell on the scary things of this world. Being endlessly busy at work. Picking up a new hobby of wood working. Watching marathons of Iron Chef on the food channel.
But do these things solve the problem? Not at all. Because when work is done. When you’re tired of fishing. When you’ve reached the latest episode of Iron Chef, the scary things in life are still there.
So we turn to even more powerful distractions. Ones that literally alter the chemicals in our brains. The highs produced by drugs. The mind numbing ability of drunkenness. The thrill of “no strings attached” sex. The escape of internet pornography, internet gambling, and internet romances.
These things don’t make life more peaceful either. When the drug wears off. When your immoral partner leaves. When the internet connection goes out, your problems are still there!
Brothers and sisters, we’ve got it all wrong. The world is what is causing our fears in the first place! Why then would we turn to the world to heal our fears!?!
That's like trying to heal a snake bite by injecting a syringe full of venom!
Doesn't make much sense does it? Why turn to what has left us without peace to get peace?
Because the world cannot give us real peace. Not lasting peace. Whether it's sinful or not, it will not give us the peace of a purpose in life, sins forgiven, and the devil defeated!
We need to turn outside of this world.
III. The Right Place to Turn.
It was a dark night. A group of shepherd sat on a hill. Looking up at the stars, perhaps they were filled with wonder. Where is God? Who is God? What does he wants with me? Does he know all the wrong I have done? Does he care about how awful this world is getting? Does he want us to sit around in fear?
Who would’ve known that God would answer any of those questions that night!
From heavens, a supernatural being. An angel glowing with joy. “Do not be afraid. For I bring you good new of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!”
Then, this majestic being was joined by a host of other beings. A divine chorus rang out: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth PEACE to men on whom his favor rests.”
Did you hear that? Peace. Peace came to the world that night.
And peace didn’t come in theform of a victorious warrior. He wasn't a witty physician. He wasn't even an exotic dietician.
Peace was a baby.
This is Jesus. He is the Prince of Peace himself. He alone brings peace to a terror filled world. A world where nothing makes sense. Where terror fills of waking moment. He comes. He whispers. “I love you. I am there for you. I went to the cross for you and will never leave you.”
Certainly, he accomplishes this. For he was the one who brought us peace with the Almighty God of holiness. The Lord who hates our sin. Jesus appease him. He died on the cross and appeased God’s holy wrath. Literally, because Jesus died you have peace with God! He solved your problem of sin.
And talk about peace? This means we have peace in knowing that the devil cannot harm us. We have peace in knowing that Jesus is more powerful. We have peace in knowing that our sins will not be counted against us. We have peace in knowing that we will not enter the eternal fires of hell that we deserve, but into the peace filled courts of the prince of peace himself!
Brothers and sisters, think about that peace! There is no terrorist. No bad guy. No monster under the bed. No amount of awful thing on earth that can change this truth: Jesus loves you! He died for you! You are his! He will bring you home to heaven!
Think again about what Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you ; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
Because Jesus’ peace lasts forever. It does not end at the commercial break. It doesn’t wear off when the substance fades. It is always true.
What Jesus did for you cannot change!
And it deals with things that worldly peace cannot. He gives peace to the guilty conscience by actually, physically, erally suffering and dying on the cross as payment for our sins! He doesn’t just distract us or numb us. He literally takes care of the problem.
And he really, completely defeats that devil! He is of no threat to us now! Turn to him and shout your peace of mind! “I am saved through faith in Jesus!”
Where to Find Peace.
Brothers and sisters, crave this peace for yourselves. Give it to your children.
But where will I find him?
In the verse right before this, Jeuss explains where His peace comes from. He says, “When the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everyting I have said to you.”
In other words. He’ll remind you of the peace you have in me.
He reminded the disciples. The disciples wrote it down. Now through the disciples’ words, the Holy Spirit reminds us. He gives us peace as we learn God’s Word!
So give that gift to your children!
It’s a new school year. There are big changes for them. New teachers. New classes. New classmates. When you combine it with all the other troubles of this world, it can be a scary place.
Give them the gift of peace. Teach them about Jesus. Tell them a Bible story. Read them a devotion.
Need help? Bring your kid to Sunday School. We are starting Sunday School for PreK-Kindergarten, 1st-4th, and 5th-8th grade on September 8th at 9:30am. Don't miss it!
Then, come to Adult Sunday School. We're studying the same lessons so that you will be ready to answer questions your kids might have. We'll also learn practical suggestions for teaching them the lesson and incorporating it into your daily routine for the week.
And...you'll get some peace for yourself!
Sometimes, therapists will talk about your happy place. When the world gets scary, they say find a happy place. You might think about sitting on a beach, sipping a margarita and listening to the Beach Boys. Or maybe you'd think of sitting by your garden in a hammock while reading the latest Debbie MacComber book.
Would you ever consider your happy place to be a dark hill with a blood encrusted wooden cross upon it?
Brothers and sisters, this is our happy place! It is the place where Jesus died. It is the place where our sin was defeated. It was the place where we were guaranteed peace in this life and the next!
Peace not of this world. Otherworldly peace.
Prince of peace --- peace.
Have you read it recently? What's your favorite verse? Where can you find this
book in the Bible?
Did you even know Haggai was a book of the
Careful now. When you're looking for it, don't blink. It's
38 verses long. Two chapters. Two pages.
But there are some powerful words of the Lord in this tiny book. Words that have a lot to say about our final cross. Words about the Cross of Giving.
Haggai was a prophet who preached to the Israelites who had returned from around a 70 year exile from their native
Think about that. A group of people who had lived in a foreign land for 70 years. Most were probably born in Babylon and had never seen their homeland. The few that had would have had foggy memories at best. This homeland was the stuff of dreams. They had heard stories about the land of milk and honey, but had never used either of them in their breakfast bowl of Corn Flakes. They had probably heard of the strong wall that surrounded Jerusalem, but had not so much as a memory of what it might have looked like. They had listened to accounts of the beautiful temple of the LORD, but these exiles could only imagine what such a temple might have looked like.
They had nothing of their own heritage. Instead, everything they had grown up Babylonian. Babylonian architecture. Babylonian stores. Babylonian marketplaces. The Israelites in captivity ate Babylonian food, lived in Babylonian houses, sat at Babylonian tables...while they dreamed of one day having their own homes again.
Then, things changed. By the decree of the Persian king who had defeated the Babylonians that enslaved them, they were suddenly freed. They were sent back to their homeland. Their dreams would become a reality.
And that's what happened. They went back to Jerusalem. They rebuilt the citiy. They built their own homes. Their own lives. And they personalized it: Maybe, one built a fine archway for the door of his house. Another might have constructed a large living area with an open concept that stretched to the kitchen. Maybe, a few even made sure that they had their own man cave--complete with a table for having a grainy beer and talking about the last chariot race!
After much hard work, I imagine they were feeling pretty good about themselves. Things were starting to shape up. They had everything they wanted. Their homeland was their home again! They had made it just as the memories that had been passed down had described.
But their memories betrayed them.
"This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’"
They had forgotten about something very important. Do you see what it
was? HINT: It wasn't a half bath, a guest bedroom, or even a wine cellar.
It was The LORD's house.
Make no mistake, this wasn't an "Oh, it slipped my mind because I was busy," type forgetting. They had forgotten because they were too concerned with THEIR OWN houses. Look at what God describes through Haggai in verse 4:
“Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, "a feature of royal houses,"
while this house, My house remains a ruin?”
It's easy to see how this might have happened. One says, "I could help with the temple, but first I need to make sure that the dining room table is gets finished before the party this weekend." Another says, "And I know, I did sign up to help lay the foundation for the temple, but...I really need to get this new grill pit set in place." Even another says, "I know someof the ladies were starting to talk about collecting jewels for the temple, but I can't give them mine. I haven't finished bejeweling the back foyer. I'd like it to look nice when I go out to do laundry!?!"
These people didn't care about anything but their own home. But God wanted them to care about his house.
Maybe, you see the connection. We too are often more concerned about our houses than God's house!
But Pastor, you're thinking, I know there was a "work on the Preschool Day yesterday," but...we aren't adding on to this building right now! In fact, we haven't done anything with this church for quite a while now. How could I possibly be forgetting about building God's house, if we aren't in the middle of a building project?
In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to a group of Christians in which he describes his own building project. He says, "We are co-workers in God’s service; you are...God’s building. 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ!"
If you are wondering, Paul had no history in the construction business. He grew up a
scholar. I don't even think he would have known how to use a trowel.
Yet he called himself a builder. Why? Because he was building God's house. He was adding to God's kingdom. He was using God's Word to add new believer after new believer as stones in the house of the Lord!
Brothers and sisters, this is exactly what God has called us to do in North Raleigh. He has called us to build his home! That doesn't mean a new narthex. It doesn't mean a Megachurch like movie theater. It doesn't even mean a Gothic like cathedral.
It means God wants us to share his Word. This is how he builds his house. A house of believers built on the foundation of Jesus!
So, how much have you cared about that house lately? How much have you cared about telling
others about Jesus?
Think about it: Have you been too busy worrying about your own agenda of moving up in the work world so you might one day achieve the American dream of owning a charcoal BBQ with your own back yard, that you've completely forgotten and ignored God's call to give others the news about Jesus? Have you decided that you can't give money to help spread God's Word, because you think it's more important to spend that money on a 70" HD Television? Have you decided that you won't give any of your time to help your fellow Christians spread God's Word, because you need to give all your extra time to yourself?
If that's your attitude, then God's Word today says: "You're wrong. You're sinning. You've totally forgotten who gave you all that stuff in the first place.
Look at what God told the people of Israel. “Give careful thought to your ways. 6 You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
In other words, "All you care about is your "dream home." But did you notice something? You don't have it! Why? Because you aren't the one who gives yourself a dream home...I am. And if you don't want to use the gifts I've given you to build my
I'll just stop giving you things."
It's kind of like a mom who gives her child a straw. You're supposed to use that straw to suck milk out of. BUT kids are smart. They find out soon enough that it's way more fun to blow air into the straw. They make bubbles.
What does mom do? She threatens to take the straw away unless her child uses it for the purpose that she gave it to them!
God gives us everything! Brothers and sisters, if we won't use what he gives us for what he tells us, why would he keep giving it us? Isn't that exactly what he told the Israelites in verse 10? "Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”
Brothers and sisters, the same threat is for us. If we don't use the gifts he has given us to build his house...to spread his Word, then don't be surprised if he takes his gifts away from us. And I'm not so much talking about earthly gifts. There are lots of rich unbelievers. I'm talking about the spiritual gifts we hold dear. We could lose them. The gifts of forgiveness. Eternal life. And Salvation.
Repent from this attitude. Repent from caring about your house, home, and life...more than God's!
This is what the people of Israel did. From their political leader, to their religious leader, to the average laymen. They heard God's threat and repented. According to verse 12, "they obeyed the voice of their God and the message of the Prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD."
Hearing their repentance, God immediately began giving again. This time. He gave a message: 13 "I am with you,” declares the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, we have the same giving Lord. To the repentance, he gives forgiveness for our sins of not being concerned about God's house. He gives forgiveness for being more concerned about our own houses. He gives forgiveness for not using his gifts to build house!
And he gives us salvation. This salvation is the promise of deliverance from this society of greed, disappointment, and failure. It is the saving from that greedy, lying devil named Satan. It even defeats the terrifying selfishness of our own heart and brings us into the selflessness of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jesus who gives, has given, and will give us eternal life.
I'll tell you what. Whatever kind of a dream home HGTV has instilled into your mind, whatever kind of home you hope to raise your children in, whatever kind of getaway you hope to retire to, it is nothing compared to the riches of heaven. There is no place more beautiful, more peaceful, more glorious than the marvelous home. A home that's free.
A home that's yours. A home that's God's.
Think about that. God promises you a place in him home! This is true because, through faith, God has built us into his house!
Now, my dear friends, he simply asks you to join in the building. Join in the giving of your money to buy books that tell about Jesus. To buy flyers that tell about Jesus. To pay for outreach programs, pastors, and teachers that tell people about
I'll tell you what. There was a young child I met with not that long ago. This child was having trouble in school. I asked her if she knew about Jesus. She didn't. So I brought over a piece of artwork that your gifts provided. I spent time telling her about Jesus since your gifts have made it so that is all I spend my time doing. I handed her mother a book that your gifts have provided so she could keep telling her child about Jesus.
Guess what. Three days later. This child was up front for a children's lesson. When I asked what Jesus did on the cross, do you know what she said?
He died for my sins.
Guess Jesus just added a new addition to His house. Isn't it amazing that he used your gifts to do it?
Fellow construction workers, we are in the midst of a gigantic building project. We are building God's house! God bless our gifts as we keep on building. Amen.
You've probably seen it before.
An elderly couple folding their hands and bowing their heads at a restaurant.
A young mom dismissing herself from conversation to join her daughter in reciting a poem before bedtime.
A small group of people gathered at a gravesite holding hands and listening to the leader speak his peace.
A larger group of people gathered together on a Sunday morning some kneeling, some raising their hands in the air, others meditating on the phrases spoken by the preacher.
It's called prayer.
Today we're going to delve into the topic of prayer. Take a look at the outlines in front of you. We've got a bunch of contemporary definitions of prayer. Think about them and then underline which one you think is the best definition.
A way of getting in touch with yourself.
Meditation that's good for the body.
A way of saying, "I'm sorry that happened."
A supernatural conversation.
Take a look at that first definition. "A way of getting in touch with yourself." Certainly, that happens during prayer. Because during prayer a person is releasing their own thoughts and desire, which means you must think about your thoughts and desires in order to express yourself.
In other words, you must get in touch with yourself.
But is that all prayer is? If so, then what's the difference between prayer and taking an online quiz about Which Twilight character best represents your personality? Doesn't that get you in touch with yourself? Or what about watching a preseason football game? Guys, doesn't that get us in touch with our natural desire for competition?
Prayer is more than just getting in touch with yourself.
Some may have picked number two. Prayer is "meditation that's good for the body." Again, that might have some truth. It might calm our nerves. It might settle the stomach acids that stress has brought into our abdomen.
But I don't know any doctor that prescribes for you prayer as the solution for a better health. And when you're praying to get over the common cold, I don't know anyone who says, "Dear nose, please calm down. It's just a few germs. Surely, you can stop running for a few moments while I give this presentation. Amen."
Prayer is much more than meditation for the body.
Number three is probably the most common. After a tragic event happens, all kinds of people will come up to the person to whom this event happened and will say, "My thoughts and prayers are with your family." But what they really mean is "I'm not actually going to pray for you, but it is politically polite for me to say that I will pray for you, so I just did!"
How many times when people say that are they actually praying? Even atheists say this. They don't pray to anyone!
Unfortunately, number three is all that people often mean by prayer, but prayer is so much more than that.
Take a look at that last one. Prayer is a supernatural conversation. At first glance it might seem kooky. A bit strange. It makes you think, "Do people really believe that?"
And yet, that's exactly what prayer is.
Take a look at the Old Testament lesson. Abraham had some visitors. One of these visitors just so happened to be God. And God, is hanging out with Abraham, and he reveals to Abraham that he will soon bring wrath and destruction on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for all of their sins.
But Abraham's nephew lived there. A lump appeared in his throat.
Suddenly, Abraham finds bargaining with the Almighty, all powerful, God of the universe. "If I may be so bold, what about if 50 followers are found?...how about 45? 40? What about 30?...Don't be angry, but what about 20?...Last time, God...what about 10?"
Philippians 4:6 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God!"
Isn't that exactly what Abraham is doing? He's having a conversation with God. He's releasing his deepest requests and desires. He's talking to him. He's...praying!
It's a strange thought, and one that maybe it hard to grasp. Why? Because God Almighty is not in visible form with us. But this is exactly what prayer is! Our Lutheran catechism defines it as, "An act of worship in which we speak to God form our hearts."
This is supernatural! We're talking to THE SUPERNATURAL! The Almighty! The Creator of heaven and earth. We're bowing before the ruler of heaven and earth and presenting our requests to him!
Wow. We have an audience with the king!
Considering what prayer is, doesn't it become scarier? It's an attempt to communicate with the king of the Universe!
My first thought? "I'd better be careful to approach him at the right time, so as not to offend him and earn his wrath!"
When I was in college, I remember I once needed to have a conversation with the Dean of Students. I went to his office, but he was not in. I came back another time and his secretary said that he was gone for the day. I came back a third time and she said, "His office hours are 9am-Noon." So, I worked really hard to get there during those hours. I knocked on his door. And he said, "Do you have an appointment? I'm kind of busy. Why don't you make an appointment."
Is God like that? Is he only available on Sunday from 10:30am-11:30ish? (It's why you all want me to hurry up so that we can get a few prayers in the alotted time.) Is God available only from Noon-one when we have lunch? Too bad for those who take a late lunch. You forfeit your prayer rights. Is he in bed at 10pm? So you better say your prayers before them? And...Oh, yeah, that's Eastern time zone, so all the other time zones are out of luck!
Not at all!
Look at what the Apostle James encourages us: "13Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and oil them with oil in the name of the Lord."
Did you catch that? We should pray In trouble. In health. And with others!
In other words. In fact, in the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "pray continually."
God doesn't get tired. He's eternal. He doesn't go to bed. He never rests. He is always there to listen to you. To hear you. To give ear to your hearts desires and wishes!
What an incredible God we have! One who, though he is busy keeping the laws of the entire universe in check and listening to prayers of many people around the world...still has time to hear your own thoughts and desires.
Of course, it's usually the other way around. God has time for us, but we don't feel like we have time for him.
But maybe this is because we don't have a lot of faith in prayer.
It's kind of like calling the computer company for help. You push a bunch of buttons to get connected to the tech department. You talk to a gentlemen who reads to you the trouble shoot manual. He names as solutions everything that you've tried already. Then, he says, "I think you should send the computer to an expert."
Was that of any value?
What about God? Is it of any value talking to him? Certainly, our sinful nature begins to think that it isn't of benefit. THe devil wants us to think, "He's not listening. He doesn't care. And he won't be there for you!"
But James says differently, doesn't it? He says, "And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven."
Why? Because God is good.
This is what Jesus was getting at in the Gospel. He tells the parable of the friend, who wants to go to bed. Who wants to be left alone. And yet, you keep on knocking! You ring the doorbell. You shout at him. Even thought he wants to go to bed and even though he is angry at you and would rather knock your teeth out, Jesus says, "He will come and help you because of your persistence."
If that's what happened when you ask for the help of the neighbor who's upset with you, how much more so when you ask for the help of the God who loved you so much to die for you? It's why Jesus says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." He's not talking about conversion here, (as some might say), but of prayer. Prayer of those who already believe. He's saying, "I, who love you so much to die on the cross and take away all of your sins..even the sinful attitudes that say, I don't think he's really listening. I, that God, that Jesus, am listening to you. I died for you. Why wouldn't I listen to you?
Think about that: Why wouldn't he listen to you?
I could think of a whole list of reasons.
4. How do I know I'm heard?
Which leads us to the last question of this morning? How do I know I'm being heard.
Again, picture us in that palace. We are approaching the Almighty God of Heaven! The One who hates evil and punishes it with fire. How confident are you that, in your sins, he'll welcome you as an old friend? Considering all the times your lips have cursed others in his name and cursed Him in your name, how do you think he will respond to your request to be heard?
I'm not so positive either.
I suppose we might think it's because we need to perform special ceremonies. We need to cross our heart in the right direction. Pray our prayers at a 76point degree angle, because some scholar says that's the angel that Jesus' head was at when he bowed his head and died. We might even think that we have to pray it in Latin or some other fancy sounding language.
Or maybe we think we need to shout! Loudly dancing. Loudly screaming. Like a rain dance. Thinking that we have to get God's attention away from all the other people who are praying all over the world and get him to put his ear over Raleigh, NC.
Or maybe we think we need to pray in a holy place. It's why people set up altars. It's why people come to church. Surely, the living room won't do? Or a car? Or the McDonald's play area?
But none of these things can ensure that God will hear us.
Why? Look at James. he says, "The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective."
So, if you want God to hear you. Don't sin.
It makes sense when you think about it. This is God the Almighty! And as we hear this, maybe our worst fears are confirmed, God can't hear me. He won't hear me. I'm too sinful. There's nothing I can do to get his attention or deserve his attention.
And when you've gotten to that understanding. You're where you need to be.
Because there is no way for us to grab God's attention on our own. Our sins have caused a dark barrier of sound proof glass to separate us from God.
And if you think you can keep living in your sins and talk to God, know that he won't listen. He won't hear.
In Isaiah 1:15 God says, "When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen."
How then will we get the Almighty to hear us?
"God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)
Did you see it? God made Jesus, who was righteous, to be our sin. It's why Jesus cried out on the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Because God wasn't listening to him. God had abandoned him. Not because of his sins, but because of our sins.
Then, it says, "We might become the righteousness of God." The righteousness of God.
This is what faith in Jesus does. It clothes us in righteousness. It makes us the 'righteous person' whose prayer is powerful and effective. It gives us an audience with the King of glory.
In short, Jesus alone ensures that we are heard by our heavenly Father.
Think back to that palace scene. As the angry King gets ready to banish us from his presence forever, Jesus comes running in. "My Lord," he says, "Listen to them. I know they have sinned, but I was punished for it already. They have been cleared. Treat them as your dear child."
And God smiles.
And he does.
So my dear friends. Pray! Talk to God. Talk to him often. In the morning, afternoon, in the evening, when in trouble, when in health, with others, and by yourself. Talk to him because God promises to give good gifts to those who talk to him. Talk to him because God tells us to talk to him. Talk to him confidently. Knowing that he will hear you.
But what if I don't get what I want?
Think of the Lord' prayer. Jesus tells us to pray that God's will be done. That prayer means this: We recognize that God knows more than we do. He knows better than we do.
In faith then, we pray that God do what's best. Just as Jesus said, "You fathers, wouldn't give your sons a snake when he asked for bread? Neither will God your Father."
He also won't give us snakes when we ask for snakes. He still gives us bread.
After all, he gave us the gift of his Son. There's no better gift than that.
Dear Lord, help us to pray aright to you! You are our king. I will exalt you. Amen.
"Turtles are a lot like us."
I looked over at my young preschool friend as he watched the classroom pet with wide open eyes.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"They get scared alot."
Sure enough. The turtle, "Mr Sunny," looked frightened. Intimidated by the two large sets of eyes glaring at him early in the AM, he was shrinking back into his shell. A tiny thing. This shell was his fortress. His escape from the scary world around him.
Humans don't have shells. But we do get frightened.
Where do we turn?
Psalm 18:2 says, "The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."
Here's the thing about our refuge. He doesn't break. He's impenetrable. He's much stronger than the body structure of our reptile friends. In fact, he's stronger than anything else our flimsy human hands have to offer. He is the source of real protection and comfort!
How do I know?
Do you know anyone else able to offer full and complete protection from the eternal consequences of sin?
Anyone else able to keep you safe from the dread of eternal death?
Is there anybody who can save you from the eternal fires of hell besides Jesus Christ our Savior?
Titus 3:5 "He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy."
Do you see it? Total and complete protection is a God only specialty.
When the events of the world frighten you with economic downturn, gang violence and terrorist threats, run to God. Find refuge in his all powerful arms.
When your body is weak and taxed with a life changing or threatening disease, turn to the Great Physician. Hear of how he healed your soul from it's sin sick state.
When your friends turn against you and your coworkers attack you, hide in your Almighty friend. Hear of his eternal love for you that means he will never leave you nor forsake you.
When the devil whispers that your sins are too much for you to overcome, retreat to your Savior. Hear of his sacrifice on the cross and the complete forgiveness he won for you.
Brothers and sisters, there's no shame in being a turtle. When life gets your down, retreat. Run to your fortress. Hide in the Almighty.
And find peace. Amen.