God has called every believer to live the victorious Christian life, but very few believers live in joyous victory. For the most part, the American church is losing ground because individual believers are losing ground in their spiritual lives. Many Christians are living defeated lives, just trying to get by. We see so few believers walking in victory. In the tenth chapter of the book of Hebrews, the Lord gives us a Divine prescription for spiritual victory. He gives us three specific exhortations that will allow us to walk in victory in our Christian lives if we will apply them. We are going to look at these three exhortations in Hebrews 10 to gain some practical insight into the victorious Christian life. We are not going to exegete this passage, but we are going to expound upon these three points: worship (10:22), endurance (10:23), and fellowship (10:24). Today we will concentrate on the first point, worship.
If we are going to live the victorious Christian life we must be worshipers. Hebrews 10:22 gives us the first exhortation: "Let us draw near." The command is expressed in the Greek verb proserchomai, which means to approach to worship. How do we draw near to God? What does it mean to draw near to God? Positionally, we are already united with Christ. One writer put it this way: "Closer to God I can never be, for in the person of Christ I am as close as he." The call to draw near in our text is a call to communion to believers who are already in union with God. Drawing near speaks of our experiential relationship with God. We as believers are joined to God by faith through Jesus Christ. Our communion is based upon our union.
God has given us a picture of union and communion in marriage. When a man and a woman get married, they enter into a relationship, a union. As the years pass, their relationship, their communion, may be good or bad. But whatever their experience, the fact of their union remains. In a similar way, we enter an eternal union with God at salvation, but our communion is based upon a living, active faith. We can drift in and out of communion with God, just as we can drift in and out of communion with a spouse. I John 1:6-9 gives us the condition of fellowship.
1 John 1:6-9 (NKJV) "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness [disobedience], we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Willful disobedience breaks our communion with God; when we are in communion with God we are constantly cleansed by Christ's blood. This is a beautiful description of the intimacy and fellowship that our union in Christ should bring.
The Bible indicates from its earliest chapters that God desires our communion. In Genesis 3:8&9, we see God in the garden of Eden calling out to Adam that He might have fellowship with him. In Revelation we see God calling out to the church of Laodica to fellowship with them. Hebrews 10:22 tells us that fellowship or communion with God is part of the Divine prescription for spiritual victory.
How do we draw near to God? A clue to the answer is found in human relationships: how do we draw near or have communion with a spouse? We must spend time together and communicate with each other. How do we spend time with and communicate with God? We commune with Him through His Word. How well do you know the Word? The written Word teaches us all we need to know about the living Word. Through His Word we learn about God's character and will. Many believers are very confused on both of these issues and as a result the storms of life batter them. Psalm 73 is a cry of frustration to the Lord in the middle of difficult circumstances:
Psalms 73:1-5 (NKJV) "Truly God is good to Israel, To such as are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, When I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death, But their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, Nor are they plagued like other men."
Psalms 73:13-17 (NKJV) "Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, And washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, And chastened every morning. If I had said, "I will speak thus," Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children. When I thought how to understand this, It was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end."
Psalms 73:28 (NKJV) "But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, That I may declare all Your works."
This man was very hurt and confused by his experiences in life until he `went into the sanctuary of God'; this is a word picture of drawing near to God. As he studied the Word, things became clear to him and his strength and stability returned; he regained a proper perspective. He concluded that it was good for him to draw near to God. We are no different than the Psalmist: if we don't draw near to God, the situations of life will destroy us. Believer, read the Word, study it, listen to teaching on it, memorize it, and meditate upon it. Draw near to God through His Word, spend time in communion with Him as you let Him speak to you.
God speaks to us through His Word; we speak to God through prayer. Prayer is an important aspect of our communion with God, but it is a great weakness in our spiritual lives. In this particular body of believers, Faith Bible Church, we have low attendance at prayer meeting which demonstrates a lack of caring about corporate prayer. If corporate prayer isn't important, then our personal prayer lives probably aren't that lively either. Why is prayer such a low priority? The primary reason many of us have a weak prayer life because we don't believe our prayers will do anything anyway. We may think that God will do what he wants to do, so there's no sense in praying about it. If we don't believe that prayer actually works then we are not going to invest much time in it.
Where did we get the attitude that prayer isn't important? Certainly not from the Bible; in the gospels, the example and teaching of Jesus show us the importance of prayer. If we think that prayer isn't important, we are using our human wisdom to rationalize certain truths of the Bible. For example, we know that God is immutable; Malachi 3:6 says, "I am the Lord I change not"; we read in James 1:17, "With [God] is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." With God's immutability in mind, we look at verses like Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV):
"In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,"
Ephesians 3:11 (NKJV) "according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,"
These verses tell us that God has an eternal purpose and that he works all things according to that purpose. So we rationalize away the need for prayer: we are not going to persuade God to change His eternal purpose. Daniel 4:35 says,
"All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done?"
We can't change God's purposes; if our prayers could shape God's policy, then the Most High would be subordinate to the will of man and that's a terrifying thought.
Perhaps our perspective on the purpose of prayer is faulty: is the purpose of prayer to advise God?
Romans 11:34 (NKJV) "For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?"
Since God is omniscient and immutable and his purpose is eternal, what is the purpose of prayer? We are to pray because the sovereign God has commanded that we pray. The Bible is clear on this command:
Luke 18:1 "men ought always to pray"
Romans 12:12 "continuing instant in prayer"
Ephesians 6:18 "praying always"
Colossians 4:2 "continue in prayer"
James 5:16 "pray one for another"
Now if God commands us to pray and we don't pray, we have sinned, as 1 Samuel 12:23 makes clear:
"Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way."
Now some may say, "I know it's commanded, but I don't understand why I need to pray. I can't figure out how my prayers fit into God's plan, so I'm not going to respond to his command." That is the height of arrogance. You may never have verbalized that but that's what you are really saying by neglecting your prayer life.
Prayer is not intended to change God's purpose. God has decreed that certain events shall come to pass, but he has also decreed that these events shall come to pass through the means he has appointed for their accomplishment. For instance, God has elected certain people to be saved, but he has also decreed that these ones shall be saved through the preaching of the gospel. The gospel is one of the appointed means for working out the eternal counsel of the Lord; prayer is another. God has decreed the means
as well as the end, and among the means is prayer. Even the prayers of his people are decreed in his eternal plan.
Why should we pray? The majority of people who believe in prayer would say, "In order that we may obtain from God the things that we need." While this is one of the purposes of prayer, it is only secondary. The primary purpose of prayer is to glorify God:
John 14:13 (NKJV) "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son."
We are to pray because prayer gives glory to God. In petitioning
God for rain, Elijah was confessing God's control over the elements and God was glorified when He caused it to rain. In praying to God to deliver a poor sinner from His wrath, we acknowledge that salvation is of the Lord.
God requires that we worship him, and prayer is an act of worship. Prayer more than anything else in the Christian life
emphasizes our utter and complete dependance upon God. Recognizing our dependance on Him gives Him glory; this is the importance of prayer. Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon in Boston on July 8, 1731 entitled, "God glorified in man's dependance." In the opening paragraph he said, "There is an absolute and universal dependance of the redeemed on God. The nature and contrivance [fashion] of our redemption is such that the redeemed are in everything directly, immediately and entirely dependant on God. They are dependant on him for all and are dependant on him in every way." Nothing in our Christian experience manifests our dependance on God more than in prayer. To not pray is to say, "God, I'm independent, I can do it myself." That is pride, and pride is a sin as the Scripture teaches.
Psalms 10:4 (KJV) "The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts."
Proverbs 29:23 (KJV) "A man's pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit."
The primary purpose of prayer is to glorify God. The secondary purpose of prayer is to seek from Him the things we need, but prayer is not a means of furnishing God with the knowledge of what we need. "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8). Prayer is designed as a confession to our Father of our sense of need. God requires that his gifts be sought for. He designs to be honored by our requests, just as He is to be thanked by us after He has bestowed His blessings.
Should we ask God for things that He has promised to give us or for things which he has commanded us to do? Ephesians 5:18 commands us, "And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit." This is a command so should we pray for the filling of the Spirit? Look at the pattern established by God for the people of Israel.
Jeremiah 29:10-11 (NKJV) "For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
The Lord promises to release them from captivity after seventy years, but He does not say, "There is therefore no need for you to pray to Me for your release". He does say, "Pray!"
Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive." (Jeremiah 29:12-14)
God told them that he was going to bring them back from captivity, but he also told them that they were to pray for their deliverance. Jesus provides another example of praying for something He knew God would do. Did Jesus know for certain that after his death and
resurrection that he would be exalted by the Father? Yes! Yet he still prayed for it in John 17:5: "And now, O Father, glorify Me
together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was." Jesus Christ demonstrated His dependance on the Father through prayer.
The primary reason for prayer is to glorify God and God is
glorified when he answers our prayers. Through prayer, believers demonstrate their total dependance on God. When someone you have been praying for comes to Christ, what is your first response? "Wow, am I ever a powerful prayer warrior!" No, your response is, "Thank you, Lord," and God is glorified, he is put on display.
Psalms 50:15 (NKJV) "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
2 Chronicles 20:1-9, 12, 24-26 gives us a beautiful picture of a totally dependant Christian life. Verses 1-4 show us a national emergency and the king is frightened, so he immediately turns to God for help. Verses 5-9 recount the kings prayer wherein he acknowledges God's sovereignty and confidence in His response. In verse twelve, the king says, "I don't know what to do! My eyes are on You." Verses 24-26 tell how God fought the battle for them and blessed them with abundant spoils. The account ends by saying, "They blessed the Lord." God was glorified through their prayers.
What if they had not prayed? Would God have still delivered them? I don't think so! The arm that reaches out in the strength of the flesh is often destroyed. God answers when we call:
Romans 10:13 (NKJV) "For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved [delivered]."
Psalms 145:18-19 (NKJV) "The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them."
Believer, prayer is effective! God has promised to answer our prayers and they are a means to His appointed end.
John 14:13-14 (NKJV) ""And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. "If you ask anything in My name, I will do it."
John 15:16 (NKJV) ""You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you."
John 16:23-24 (NKJV) ""And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. "Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full."
God has promised to answer our prayers, but the promise is conditional. What is the condition for answered prayer in all these verses? The prayers are to be "In Jesus' name." What does that mean? Is it a formula to tack onto the end of a prayer to guarantee an answer? "Dear God, I want a new BMW, and a $500,000 house. Please give them to me quick. In Jesus' name, amen." Will that prayer be answered? In the Bible, a person's name equals all that a person is; a person's name is linked to the person's character and perogatives. Thus to pray in Jesus' name is to seek His will and submit to His authority. When Christ said to pray in his name, he was saying, "Pray prayers that are consistent with who I am and my purpose, my will, my person." Prayers that are consistent with the person and will of Jesus Christ will be answered.
Sometimes a believer does not know God's will so he says, "Lord, thy will be done: You answer to bring glory to Yourself." To ask in the name of Christ is as though Christ was praying. We can only ask God for what Christ would ask. To ask in the name of Christ, is therefore, to set aside our own will and accept God's will. Our prayers are too often selfish and self-serving, but a prayer prayed that is consistent with the person and will of Jesus Christ will be answered.
In 1540, Martin Luther's dear friend and assistant, Frederick Myconius, became sick and was expected to die within a short time. On his deathbed he wrote a loving farewell note to Luther with a trembling hand. Luther received the letter and instantly sent back a reply, "I command thee in the name of God to live. I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church. The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will and may my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God." These words may seem shocking to us, but the sequel is even more shocking: one week later, Myconius recovered. He died two months after the Luther died.
In order to pray effectively, we must want what God wants.
1 John 5:14-15 (NKJV) "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him."
There is much about prayer that we don't understand, but we do know that prayer is commanded, it is effective, and it glorifies God. Since all of this is true, shouldn't we spend more time praying, both personally and corporately? If we want to glorify God at Faith Bible Church, then we had better spend time together in prayer.
Now that we understand the importance of prayer, what are the
ingredients of prayer? What should our prayers consist of? The key elements of prayer are confession, thanksgiving and praise, and petition.
1 John 1:9 tells us that confession of sin restores fellowship with God which is essential to prayer. It is healthy to begin our prayers with confession of sin, because it reminds us that we don't deserve anything. It humbles us before a Holy God. When a believer goes into the presence of God, he has to realize that the only reason he is alive is because of God's great compassion, mercy and grace. Lamentations 3:22 emphasizes this truth: "Through the Lord's
mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not."
Philippians 4:6 gives us the next ingredient of prayer: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God." A better translation of "with thanksgiving" would be "after thanksgiving." In other words, instead of crying out to God with dissatisfaction and discontentment, go to God with thanksgiving. Why? A grateful heart gives us the correct perspective on our requests.
We should be thankful to God for his pardon, provision, and
promises. Maintaining a grateful spirit is impossible unless we are aware of what we deserve: hell. Thankfulness to God recognizes that God, in his goodness and faithfulness, has provided for us and cared for us, both physically and spiritually. It is a recognition that we are totally dependant upon him, and that all we are and have come from him. Thanksgiving promotes contentment by focusing our thoughts on the blessings God has already given us.
After thanksgiving and praise comes petition which consist of prayer for our needs and the needs of others. The prayers of the Bible are very different from our prayers today. Here is a sample of biblical prayers: what are the petitions?
Ephesians 3:14-21 (NKJV) "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through HisSpirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height; to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
Paul's petitions for the Ephesian church are for their spiritual well-being. What did Paul request them to pray for himself?
Ephesians 6:18-20 (NKJV) "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints; and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak."
Paul doesn't ask them to pray for his release, but for boldness!
Philippians 1:9-11 (NKJV) "And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."
Colossians 1:9-12 (NKJV) "For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light."
Did you notice that these prayers were all for spiritual things? What do we spend most of our time praying for? "Lord, change my circumstances!" We don't consider that there is a purpose for our circumstances: they are part of God's providence to mature us. We really need to pray for spiritual strength and spiritual growth that we might glorify God in the circumstances: Lord, change me!
The Bible clearly teaches that we are to live our lives to glorify God and prayer glorifies God. May God work in our hearts that we may become a praying people. Why is it so difficult to discipline ourselves to pray? We find it very difficult to find the time, yet prayer ensures that we are working in the power of the Spirit rather than the flesh.
As Christians, the goal of our lives should be Christ-likeness and if were in communion with God will live as Jesus lived: "He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked." (1 John 2:6). Prayer was a vital part of Jesus' walk:
Mark 1:35 (NKJV) "Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed."
Jesus displayed a regular and intense prayer life; shouldn't we do the same? Don't allow your human wisdom to rationalize away your prayer life.
If we are going to be a church that brings glory to God, we must first be a people that glorifies God. If we are going to live victorious Christian lives we must begin by drawing near to God. The call to draw near is a call to worship God, and we worship him through the study of his Word and prayer. Pray that God would teach you; read and study prayerfully with dependance on God for understanding. We will pay a price if we neglect communing with God through prayer.
There are two more ingredients in the victor's triad, endurance and fellowship. The elders of Faith Bible Church have been learning some things about fellowship, as a direct result of prayer, and I am going to share with you next week some of the things God has been teaching us.