PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

The Pleasure and Privilege of Prayer

01/17 Pleasure and Privilege of Prayer ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160117_pray.mp3

As we look at a new year together, I like to ask the question ‘What do we need to focus on? What do we need to be reminded of? What is most important?’ Two weeks ago we looked at Psalm 1 and what it has to say about the word of God and the blessings, the delights of meditating on the word. Today I would like to look at prayer. I want to look at the pleasure and privilege of prayer. My goal is that we would be encouraged to pray, empowered to pray, equipped to pray, motivated to pray, that we would treasure the privilege of prayer.

Commanded to Pray

The way we view prayer affects how we approach prayer, and how we pray (or don’t pray). We often feel that prayer is an obligation, something that Christians are supposed to do, and we often feel that we ought to do it more or longer or better than we do. We often feel guilt over our shortcomings in prayer. And in part, we are right to think this, because prayer is something we ought to do. We are commanded to pray.

1 Thessalonians 5 says

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

God’s will for you is that you pray. Pray continually. But not grudgingly. With rejoicing. Overflowing with thankfulness in all circumstances. Ephesians 5:20 tells us that we ought to be filled with the Spirit, “giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Ephesians 6 concludes teaching on spiritual warfare with “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” Colossians 4 says:

Colossians 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Romans 12 says:

Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

We are to continue steadfastly in prayer, to be watchful in prayer, to be constant in prayer. Anybody living up to this? Philippians commands:

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Paul says:

2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

Paul claims to pray constantly. Night and day. Anyone discouraged yet? Is this just Paul? In Colossians 4:12, Paul mentions Ephaphras, “one of you” who is “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers” In Acts 1:14, 2:42, and 6:4, we see the early church – the whole church – “devoted to prayer.” In Acts 16:25 we find Paul and Silas in prison at midnight, “praying and singing hymns to God.” In Acts 9:11, when Ananias was hesitant to go see Saul, the persecutor of the church, the comfort and confidence God gave that he was now converted was “for behold, he is praying.”

Jesus in Luke 18

Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

We are to always pray, be devoted to prayer, constant in prayer, characterized by prayer, continue steadfastly in prayer, pray without ceasing, and rejoice always. This feels overwhelming. Discouraging. Unattainable. And I’m supposed to rejoice?

The Privilege of Prayer

I believe the pleasure of prayer is rooted in the privilege of prayer, so we will start by looking at the privilege of prayer. An Old Testament illustration from the book of Esther will help us understand the privilege of prayer. Esther, a young Jewish girl, was taken to be the replacement queen for Ahasuerus, king of Babylon, because Queen Vashti had been banished for refusing to appear before the king when summoned. Haman, one of the king’s top advisers, had plotted the genocide of all the Jews. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, called on Esther to intercede with the king and plead for the lives of her people. She responded in Esther 4

Esther 4:11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”

Esther rightly feared for her life if she approached the throne unbidden. She did not have access to the king unless the king called for her. The king had already been counseled to do away with one queen. Even if she risked her life to approach the king without being summoned, she had no guarantee that her request would be granted. Esther was rightly terrified, but it seemed like the only hope for the Jewish people, so Esther responded to Mordecai:

Esther 4:16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”

We are told

Esther 5:1 On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, in front of the king’s quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace.

Put yourself in Esther’s shoes. She was desperate, she was risking everything, but she seemed to have no choice. I can only imaging the knot in the pit of her gut as she entered the inner court unbidden.

Our situation was far worse. Esther was the queen. The king took great pleasure in her. Imagine how much worse the situation would have been if it was the former queen Vashti, who had been banished from the kingdom, who was now seeking audience with the king. Vashti’s hopes for a hearing would be far less than zero. But that was our condition.

We read in Genesis 3

Genesis 3:8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

…23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Mankind had been banished from the presence of the Lord. You see, God had given us everything good we could imagine, provided for all our needs, fulfilled all our desires, and we enjoyed sweet fellowship with him. There was but one rule, a test really, to demonstrate whether we would be faithful to him. But we sided with his enemy, doubted his goodness, and committed high treason. So we were cut off from his presence, banished. Isaiah 59 says

Isaiah 59:2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

Even this separation was mercifully less than we deserved. God had promised that the wages of sin is death, and yet he accepted the death of a substitute, promising one day to crush the skull of the enemy and bring us back to himself. This is what Romans teaches. Although God’s righteous wrath had been revealed against all mankind because of our failure to honor him as God, he sent his only Son Jesus to be our substitute, to bear the punishment we deserved, so that we could be declared righteous, as if we had kept God’s law perfectly. Although we had made ourselves his enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. Romans 5 says

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Think of this. Savor this. Treasure this. Access. We have access, not to an earthly king or president, not access to a human political ruler, but to the King of kings, to the throne room of the all sovereign Creator of all things, to the one who spoke all that is into existence, access to the God who rules all things! ‘We have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.’ We stand in grace, God’s free and unmerited favor poured out on his enemies, giving access to himself, to his throne. This, friends, is cause for rejoicing! This is a high honor indeed! Listen to Ephesians 2.

Ephesians 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

We are reconciled to God through the cross. Jesus himself is our peace. We have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Through Jesus we have access in the Spirit to the Father. Access to the Father! Brought near! Look over at Ephesians 3. In Christ Jesus our Lord,

Ephesians 3:12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

Through our Lord Jesus, we have access. Not a timid, hesitant, halting, fearful access, but confident boldness, a frank openness, blunt, fearless, unreserved freedom, total unhindered freedom to speak in his presence. This is the blood bought free access we have through Christ with the Father!

Look over with me to the book of Hebrews. Hebrews points us to Jesus, our great High Priest.

Hebrews 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

We can with free and open confidence draw near to the throne of grace. What a title! The throne of grace! The place where we find, not justice and judgment for all the wrongs we have done, but gracious pardon and acceptance extended to the undeserving. The throne of grace, where we find all the blood-bought blessings we do not deserve, where we find mercy that releases us from the burden of guilt. We go confidently, because nothing is there for us but grace to help in time of need. There is no condemnation there, no judgment, no rejection. There is help. We are needy. We come with confidence, we come to receive, because he is the gracious giver of all good things, and because in him we find the help we desperately need.

In Hebrews 7:19, a better hope is introduced, a better hope than the law, which made nothing perfect, Jesus, our better hope, through which we draw near to God. Jesus is the better priest of a better covenant, he lives forever,

Hebrews 7:25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

We have access to God, we draw near to God through Jesus, who always lives to make intercession for us. Brothers and sisters, Jesus is continually, before the presence of his Father, praying for us, interceding for us. Did you know, loved one, that even when you or I are prayerless, Jesus is praying for us? Jesus does not just save us part way. Jesus is the great High Priest who saves fully, completely, to the uttermost! In Hebrews 10

Hebrews 10:17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

In Jesus our great High Priest, we have received forgiveness. We have confidence to enter by the blood of Jesus. Let us then draw near, with a true heart, in full assurance of faith. Let us draw near to God. Boldly, confidently, enjoying free access.

The Pleasure of Prayer

I started by saying that I believe the pleasure of prayer is rooted in the privilege of prayer. Now that we have looked at the privilege of prayer, I probably don’t need to even finish this sermon, because the pleasure of prayer should become self-evident. We have access to God. Our God is incalculably good. Gracious, merciful, eager to help. To know him is to know life.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 21:6 says ‘you make him glad with the joy of your presence.’

Psalm 4:7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.

Psalm 36 says:

Psalm 36:7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

Listen to the Psalmist in Psalm 73:

Psalm 73:25 ​Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 ​My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. … 28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Nothing in heaven or on earth compares to God. You are my portion. It is good…it is good to be near God. And through Jesus we have access to God!

Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

If you have not experienced the pleasure of prayer, I would invite you to taste. Come. Take refuge. Taste. Develop a hunger and thirst for him.

Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

So my advice to us is to go. Remind yourself of the inestimable privilege we have through the blood of Jesus, and go. Recognize your need and go boldly. Go confidently. Go with reverence and worshipful awe, but go. Go with the blood bought confidence that belongs to you in Christ Jesus. Push open the doors, throw back the curtains, and approach the God who has made himself approachable. He invites you in. He has paid the way. Enter and enjoy!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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January 17, 2016 - Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , ,

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