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This morning we’re looking at the topic of the church and prayer. This is not about the pragmatics or practicality of prayer (what, when, or how we should pray) but a call to our church for prayer.
Most of us would probably agree that we could all be praying more than we do; that at some point we’ve all struggled to have a consistent and passionate prayer life. And yet the scriptures are emphatically clear that prayer is to take a primary role in the life of the believer. There is a word used ten times in the New Testament, the Greek word Proskartereo which means devote or devotion. To be devoted to something is to be committed to something, to be dedicated and to give yourself fully to something. In five of the ten uses, Proskartereo is used in relation to prayer:
“These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” Acts 1:14
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:4
“Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be devoted to prayer.” Romans 12:2
Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.” Colossians 4:2
The Bible is very clear – the Bible calls the Christian to a life of consistent, persistent, dedicated, devoted prayer. The Bible calls us to be devoted to prayer more than it calls us to be devoted to anything else. Christians are not just called to be devoted to individual prayer, but also to corporate prayer, gathered together. In Acts the church was constantly gathered together and united as they prayed together. In the Lord’s Prayer, we see this too:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Matthew 6:9
The word “Father” is always emphasized in the first line of the Lord’s Prayer and rightly so – Father gives us an incredibly vivid description of the relationship between the Christian and God because of Jesus. The child has intimacy and access to the Father. But what is the word before Father? It’s “Our” – when Jesus gave the model for prayer, He didn’t say “My Father” but “Our Father in heaven.” Jesus prayed in the plural tense, signifying that there is to be a corporate component to our prayer lives. Prayer is not just us and God; the clear teaching of the New Testament is that the normal Christian life is a life of prayer, a life devoted to both individual and corporate prayer.
Remedy’s DNA is three-fold: theological, missional and relational. Equally important is the deep conviction that God moves through prayer. We believe that prayer moves the hand of God which moves the hearts of men. Charles Spurgeon said, “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.” We have made it our aim as a church to be devoted to prayer.
We’re grateful for the resurgence in recent years in America of biblical, gospel teaching but as a whole, the Western church has largely neglected the value of prayer. It is easy to gather a group of Christian men for a men’s conference or a group of women for a women’s conference. It is easy to get Christians to show up for a mid-week Bible study, but it can be difficult to get Christians to gather for prayer. It is difficult to gather Christians just to pray.
The church is always to be centered around God’s word and may we never depart from God’s word and the truth contained within it. But equally important to a devotion to God’s word is a devotion to prayer.
“Where are the plethora of books and blogs posted, conversations had and conferences held on prayer and fasting in our day?” (D.A. Carson)
“The greatest hindrance to the advancement of the gospel in our day may be the attempt of the people of God to do the work of God apart from the power of the Spirit of God. The greatest barrier to the spread of the gospel may not be the self-indulgent immorality of our culture but the self-sufficient mentality of the church evident in our prayerlessness.” (David Platt)
If God be near a church, it must pray. A prayerless church is a prideful, puny and pitiful church. Lives are busy, life is hard, and many in this body are going through painful times but that does not negate the fact that God has called us to gather together and pray. Do we want to reach this city? Do we want Jesus to save this city? If so, then we must pray, individually and corporately. We cannot save Lodi. We’re not clever enough; we must pray because prayer moves the hand of God which moves the hearts of men.
If we could see the spiritual darkness at work in this city, we would run to times of prayer and beg God to save this city, to push back the darkness. There are thousands of Muslims in this city that worship a false God. There are thousands of students in this city whose lives are marked by emptiness, not godliness. There are hundreds of people in this city who gather at church every week and think they know God but they do not; they are living a life of religion and morality. If we want God to work, we must pray. “God can do more in five seconds than we can do in five years on our own” (Piper).
God is calling us anew and afresh to a life of dependence marked by prayer. He wants to do it – we cannot make disciples in the nations and among the neighborhoods by more of our own might; we need God. We need to fall on our faces and plead with God to show His power among the people. We’re called to a more fervent, devoted desire for prayer. But we can’t be motivated or called into prayer by guilt. Guilt does not compel us to follow and obey Jesus, it’s not His threatening or rebuking hand that compels us but His gracious hand.
There was a time in the life of the disciples where they also grew sleepy in prayer. Jesus is hours away from brutal crucifixion on the cross and has drawn away to pray with Peter, James and John:
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26:36-46
This is a bad day in the life of the disciples, specifically Peter who fell asleep three times when Jesus urged them to stay awake with Him in prayer. But Peter’s day would only get worse:
While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. Matthew 26:47-56
Peter was sleeping while praying and then fighting when he should have been submitting. Then all of the disciples deserted Jesus and ran away; Peter’s day went from worse to completely dark:
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:69-75
This was a dark moment in the life of Peter; he was completely and utterly broken, and this is the last picture we get of Peter until after the resurrection of Jesus. He went outside and wept bitterly; he has failed Jesus in every way possible on this day; he’s completely and utterly broken. This passage gives us a taste of the brokenness of Peter and can encourage us because some of us are there – we feel like spiritual failures. How does Jesus respond? We see His response when He appears to the disciples:
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. John 21:4-7
The disciples knew it was Jesus before them because it was almost identical to what He had done when He first called them to ministry (Luke 5:1-11). When Peter heard it was Jesus, he plunged into the sea. Now the disciples were about to encounter Jesus after their monumental failures:
The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. John 21:8-9
John said that the disciples saw a charcoal fire. This is significant because the only other time a charcoal fire is mentioned in the scriptures was when Peter denied Jesus three times while standing by a charcoal fire. As Peter lays eyes on the charcoal fire, his mind went back to the day he denied Jesus and his emotions are stirred up. The grace of Jesus is evident here:
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” John 21:10-12
Three days earlier, Peter had betrayed and failed Jesus in every way possible, yet Jesus invites them to breakfast. He provides food for them and the warmth of a charcoal fire. Jesus served them breakfast: “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish” (John 21:13). Jesus was always serving; even when He was as hour from death, He took a towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-14). Jesus gave a parable about His coming return, and said:
and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. Luke 12:36-37
Jesus will serve us upon His return. Some commentators refuse to comment on that parable because it’s so lofty and weighty that our King of Glory will come again and serve His church. Why does Jesus serve? Because it’s who He is! He loves to serve His people and gets great joy in serving His bride. In Peter’s failure, Jesus provides breakfast. Now the moment of truth comes as Jesus addresses Peter:
When they had unfinished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” John 21:15
Jesus doesn’t say, “Peter promise not to fail me again” or “Peter, do you promise not to fall asleep during prayer?” or “Do you promise not to deny me again?” or “Do you promise not to desert me?” Jesus knew better than to ask Peter not to fail Him again so instead He asks three times, “Peter, do you love me?” This is the word for us this morning: Jesus is more jealous for the love in our hearts than He is zealous for our works. He knows that if He has our hearts, He has everything else. The exhortation today is not fall more in love with prayer, but fall more in love with Jesus!
If Jesus is the love of your life, you’ll want to spend as much time with Him in prayer as you can. The more in love we are with Jesus, the more in love we’ll be with people which means the more time we’ll want to spend pleading for them in prayer.
The significance of Jesus asking Peter three times, “Do you love me?” was that He was completely and fully restoring Peter. Peter denied Jesus three times, so Jesus lovingly and gently asked him three times, “Do you love me?”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” John 21:17
Peter was grieved. He had been fully and completely restored in a loving and gentle way, yet he was still grieved. There’s a difference between grief and guilt; between grief and shame. There’s a difference between grief and condemnation and we must learn to distinguish the voice of our enemy from the voice of our Savior. The voice of our advocate from the voice of our adversary. Our adversary wants to condemn us and say, “You are a failure.” Jesus our advocate says, “I love you in your failures.” The adversary would say, “You are faithless” but our advocate says, “Even when you are faithless, I am faithful.” Our adversary wants to speak words of ruin but our advocate speaks words of restoration.
Grief is not a bad thing; sorrow over our prayerlessness is not a bad thing. Paul said, “Godly grief leads to repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). We need to feel grieved over our prayerlessness and that we’ve grown lazy in our prayer; we’re called to repentance. In our failure and apathy, we can run to Jesus. His grace beckons us.
Peter was restored by the grace of Jesus and it became the herald of his life. Peter went on to make huge claims about grace: “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10); “may grace and peace be multiplied to you” (2 Peter 1:2); “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
May the knowledge of God’s grace be multiplied in our lives and may it lead us to unwavering, never-ending, fervent, and passionate prayer and affection for Jesus. Repentance is a beautiful thing and some of us need to repent. We’ve grown lazy in prayer and Jesus is not angry or scolding us but saying, “Come to me. I long to meet with you and I long to work in this city through your prayers.” Let’s ask the Lord together as a church, as a body, to light a fire in our hearts for Him in the area of prayer.