Monday, April 26, 2010

A Message on Prayer

We had an incredible message on prayer Sunday, by a man named Fred Faller who is an engineer from our church in Boston.  I'll relay what I noted down of his message, using his 1st person.

Mark 9:14-29

The Healing of a Boy with an Evil Spirit
 14When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16"What are you arguing with them about?" he asked.
 17A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not."
 19"O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me."
 20So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
 21Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?"
   "From childhood," he answered. 22"It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
 23" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."
 24Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
 25When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again."
 26The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
 28After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"
 29He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer."

The purpose of the message is to render prayer more important in our hearts.  It's to help you in your prayer life.  Every time in history that a revival occurs in the people of God, it starts with prayer - with them turning back to prayer.  There's no secret to it, it just requires a desire to begin.

I've been a Christian for 31 years and I've found that it's as hard to get a Christian to pray as it is to help a non-Christian to become a Christian.  (I didn't believe this statement at the beginning of his message, but I did at the end).  It's especially hard for men.  I don't know if it's because they have a harder time asking for help, or if it's because women are more aware that they're not in control of their lives.

Re-read the gospels with the view that every time a man had a conversation with Jesus, that it was a form of prayer - that they are talking to God.  It's eye-opening.

Now this man in Mark went everywhere to find Jesus.  They didn't have cars, and Jerusalem was big.  Even the Pharisees had to bribe someone eventually to give up Jesus because they couldn't find him in their city.  So this man looked all over and found some disciples of Jesus.  He wouldn't have done that if he didn't believe.

Sometimes as a Christian, as a disciple, you expect change to come, but the demons are still there.  You can go for years and still be chased by the same demons - the same struggles.  We can even go to others for help ... but in this passage, the disciples could not draw out the demons.

When challenged by Jesus' words, "If you can?  Everything is possible for him who believes." (italics mine), he prayed for help in overcoming his unbelief.  This is the simplest prayer we can offer up.  After all that effort, this man was still doubting.  Sometimes I'll realize as I'm praying that at the very deepest level, I don't believe.  And that's when I need to pray for help to overcome my unbelief.  When he prayed this prayer, Jesus acts.

Jesus didn't correct their technique and say the way they prayed was wrong.  He simply said that some things can only come out by prayer.

What's interesting is that Jesus didn't pray in the instance before healing the boy, and that was because he prayed all the time.  He prayed in the morning, throughout the day - all the time.  When the time came where he needed it, the power was already there to cast out the demons.  In baptism, we're promised only two things - forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  God initiates a relationship with us, but we're still a baby and prayer is something learned.

When I was about 18 years as a Christian, 42 years old at the time, I was running from demon to demon.  I had just come out of the ministry and I had been hurt by a lot of things (had also hurt people).  There were unresolved issues and I was a mess.  At the time I was discipling (giving spiritual guidance to) a brother and he used to work the night shift.  When he was done, he would go to a park and pray for 2 hours before going home to sleep.  He challenged me on my prayer life, that I needed to pray more.  I told him I did pray, but he said it was not enough.  I felt frustrated, like I couldn't do what he wanted me to do.

At the same time, I was having back problems and had to see a chiropractor regularly.  I asked him if there was anything I could do to correct the problem on my own, and he said to walk for an hour each morning, carrying nothing, and swinging my arms gently.  I was an engineer and spent each day sitting in my car or sitting in my office.  I started to do that, but it got very boring.  At the same time that all this was happening, I read this book "Answers to Prayer" by this guy in England who wrote about a lifetime of answered prayers that he had offered up.  

So I decided to use that hour to pray to God.  And I realized that I could complete all the things I wanted to pray about in 15 minutes or so.  That meant that I started praying for all sorts of things I never thought to pray about before.  I started praying for all the people I felt hurt by, and I got this strong feeling that I needed to call them.  So that night (feeling a little foolish) I would call someone I hadn't spoken to in 5 years and say, "do you remember when this happened?" and they almost never did.  I realized that they hadn't meant to hurt me and I started healing from all these things I had been carrying around with me.  When I had tried to take all my demons to the disciples, they couldn't heal me - it was only when I took them to Jesus did I start to see healing.

And my life was being transformed in ways I hadn't counted on.  My wife and daughter started getting along better - they had been fighting before and would want me to mediate the minute I walked through the door, but I never knew what to do.  My life changed dramatically in every area.  God always wants what's best for us, and he wants a relationship with us that goes beyond baptism.

Luke 18:1-8

The Parable of the Persistent Widow
 1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' 4"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' "
 6And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

In Luke 11, the disciples as Jesus to teach them to pray.  It's interesting that they don't ask him to teach them how to pray.  That's because there's really no proper technique for having a relationship with God.  It takes desire and actually starting to talk to him.

Jesus is saying here that it's worth it to pray.  The investment is a good one.  If the unjust judge is going to answer the widow's prayer just because she is bold, how much more God who wants what's best for us.

Matthew 6:5-8

 5"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

I used to think that if God already knows what I need before I ask him, why bother praying?  But prayer is not about informing God what I need, it's about a relationship.  Look, if my child comes to me and asks me for a sandwich, of course I'm going to give it to him!  But it completely different if my son comes to me and says, "will you take a walk with me?  I want to tell you about my life."  That is such special time between you and God, where you share your heart with him and He's able to answer you more specifically as you express your desires more deeply.

In Matthew 7:23, Jesus never said that the followers didn't drive out demons or prophesy - he never said they didn't do those things.  He said the problem is - I never knew you. We can know so much in the Bible, but not take time to know our God.

Philippians 3:7-11

 7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

This man was even in prison for his faith - he had been beaten, flogged, starved several times, but all his acts are meaningless to him.  After all these years as an apostle, he still considers it most important to know Christ.

We live by what we believe.  If the gas gage is low on our car, we stop and get gas because we believe that it will be mightily inconvenient to run out of gas.  We expect certain things based on our experience and beliefs, and so we act on them.

Do you believe in prayer?

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