Varsity Faith: Lettering in Prayer (8/23/15)


The Letter of Ephesians provides us with seven important ways to have a varsity faith. This week’s focus is on lettering in Prayer (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Audio


 

Scripture

Today’s reading comes from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 6, Verses 10-20. (NIV)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God,so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

 

Transcript

This is a very special day for me. I’m getting a little emotional. This is the last Sunday that I have to wear a thick wool varsity jacket during my sermon. I just want to offer that up as a praise to the Lord today. Thank you, Jesus!

Next Sunday, I will become a normal pastor again. But it has been fun to show off your varsity jackets each Sunday morning.

Today is a pretty special Sunday for me because today, I am wearing a varsity jacket that belongs to Hannah Travis who was part of my congregation in Lancaster.

Hannah lettered in golf at Lancaster High School and she is now on the golf team here at Ohio University. Hannah is with us today. Every Sunday after worship, I would ask Hannah for a new golf tip.

So Hannah, welcome to Ohio University and your church away from home! Would you welcome, Hannah. This is her first Sunday with us!

Today’s varsity jacket is to remind us of the importance of lettering in prayer. If we want to have a varsity level faith, we need to letter in prayer.

David Troxel tells about his eight year old son who came home from school one day with a stuffed animal he had won at the class Valentine’s party.  “How did that happen?” he asked.

“Well,” his son explained, “the teacher put all our names together, and then picked one out.  I cheated, though,” he said, looking guilty.  “I prayed.”

If only we could approach prayer with even half the confidence of this little boy!

This morning is the final part of a seven part sermon series from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians on what it takes to have a varsity faith, a mature and growing faith and today we look at one of the most vital topics of the Christian faith, prayer.

How’s your prayer life?  If you’re like me, there’s always room for growth in this area of our faith.

Paul ends his letter by emphasizing the vital importance of prayer.  He writes for us to pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.  And specifically, Paul says to pray for one another and to lift each other up.

What a powerful thought for us as we conclude this sermon series.  Just dream with me what it would be like if we would take Paul’s words about prayer to heart. What difference would it make if we as a church would dedicate more of our time and energy to praying for one another?

I was reading about a church that made prayer a big focus in their church. Three high-energy, committed women were serving on the new evangelism committee for Benton Street Church.

They were fired up to do great things for God that year. They brought in a church consultant to get some direction about what they could do first. They were thinking that this consultant might suggest a calling campaign, or a bring-a-friend to church Sunday, or maybe a direct mail marketing inviting the community to check out their church.

“No,” the consultant said. Not that. Not yet. She told them to pray for three months before doing anything! Three months! That seemed like an eternity for these three women.

The evangelism committee at Benton Street was looking for activity, for hard work, for something to do. But instead, this consultant told them to stand still and pray. Stand still for three months!

Prayer is a different kind of hard work, of course. Most of us don’t know how to do it, at least not for very long, but this evangelism committee learned.

They prayed together for one hour every week. During their board meeting, when it was their turn to report, they would say, “We’re still praying. The consultant is making us do it! And so, we’re just praying.”

People would laugh because this wasn’t what they were expecting when they hired a consultant. As the days and weeks went by, board members started giving the evangelism committee prayer requests.

After three months of doing nothing but praying, interest in evangelism had skyrocketed. By the end of the year, 65 people were helping with evangelism in that church.

New visitors were checking out the church. Twice as many people were baptized as the year before.  There was a new excitement in the church, but it wasn’t because they were doing more.  It was because this church made prayer the center for everything.

Prayer is not always the first thing that comes to our minds when faced with a problem or challenge. Like the evangelism committee of the Benton Street Church, our first thought is usually to do something, try some new strategy, like begin a new church program, anything but wait around for three months praying!

Paul tells us to pray at all times. Wait a minute. Isn’t this the same man who started at least fourteen churches, traveled on three long missionary journeys, and wrote half of the books in the New Testament? When did he have time to pray? He was always doing something.

Paul was a doer but he also knew of the importance of prayer. Bible scholars believe that Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians while he was in prison. He probably had a lot of time to pray while he was in prison.

Being alone with God wasn’t a new thing for Paul. When he first encountered the risen Christ, he was blinded and spent those first three days in prayer. He didn’t begin his mission work until three years later. He needed that time to be alone with God.

The Benton Street Church thought three months was a long time to pray. Just think, Paul waited three years!

Of course, Jesus taught us the same thing about prayer. Jesus would often get away by himself to pray, especially after a busy time of teaching and healing. Jesus began his ministry by spending forty days in the wilderness with God. During that time, he fasted and prayed.

The number, forty seems to be the biblical time frame for intense prayer. Noah was on the boat for forty days. Moses was on the mountain for forty days. The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years. Elijah was on the mountain for forty days. The disciples spent forty days with Jesus following his resurrection.

Paul understood that prayer isn’t a peripheral part of the Christian faith. Without it, we just become busy people who do a lot of busy things.

Between the time it was announced that I would be your pastor back in February until the time we actually moved here to Athens, it felt like an eternity. Those four months felt really awkward.

I still had a lot of things to do at the church I was serving, but at the same time, I was curious about getting started here. That’s a weird place to be when you are in between churches.

Whenever a move is announced, the District Superintendent reminds the pastor and the church who will be receiving that new pastor to not engage in any type of ministry until the pastor officially begins at the new church. That all makes perfectly good sense even though it’s difficult to be patient during that time of transition.

And since I am a doer and like to keep busy, I was finding it difficult to just chill out during those four long months of waiting. It was during the beginning stages of that awkward waiting period that it dawned on me.

This was an opportunity to spend time praying for you and preparing for the transition. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think about you or pray for you. There were times when I would just mentally picture the people of our Leadership Board. I would visualize each person from that late January introductory meeting and then pray for each person by name.

Sometimes, it would take some time for me to remember a name, but the more I prayed, the more I was able to get the names right. And then I would pray for the congregation and the ministries and programs of the church. Your church’s Facebook page helped me to see what you were up to during those four months.

I read about the concerts that were taking place here at the church, your fun Caberet evening back in February, the annual Good Works Walk that you hosted even though it was really cold and snowy that day, the accessibility improvements that you were able to make to the front of the church, the early Growing Tree pre-school enrollment announcements, and the updates on Lara Pickett who passed away just a month after we met over a conference call during my introductory meeting here at the church.

When I saw the announcement about her death, I remember feeling so humbled that even in her weakened condition, she wanted to meet her new pastor even if it was over a conference call. That memory will always stay with me. On one level, I didn’t know Lara, but on the level of prayer, I think I did know her.

Yes, you have been in my prayers from the end of January through this very moment and I will continue to pray for you and for us as we share in ministry together. Lord knows that I need you to pray for me!

During those four long months, I was reminded that prayer isn’t just window dressing. Prayer should be at the heart and soul of everything we do in the church.

When we gather for worship, let’s remember to pray. When we come together for a church meeting, let’s remember to pray. When we eat together, let’s remember to pray. When we don’t know which direction to go, let’s remember to pray.

When any of us are hurting or down, let’s remember to pray. When any of us are filled with joy, let’s remember to pray. When Penn State has their first game in two weeks, let’s remember to pray.

Hey, Paul tells us to pray for every occasion. I’m just being biblical, here!

We have spent these past several weeks this summer walking through the Letter of Ephesians. I think it’s fitting that we conclude this series with this focus on prayer. Paul ends his letter by emphasizing prayer but remember, he also started this letter with a prayer.

There must be something about this thing called prayer. It’s something we are called to come back to again and again. Prayer is what makes the difference in everything we do. It reminds us to not trust in our own strength, but in God’s guidance and direction.

Prayer is mysterious. It opens doors that we never knew even existed. One of the great Christian leaders of the twentieth century, William Temple declared that whatever else one might say about whether prayer worked, he had noticed that when he prayed, “coincidences” happened; and when he stopped praying, the “coincidences” stopped happening.

The same thing can be said of the golfer who, when someone accused him of being lucky agreed, but commented that he’s noticed that the more he practiced, the luckier he got.

Paul viewed prayer in the same way. Prayer is something that we are to practice at every opportunity. In the quiet of the morning when you wake up, as you face a difficult decision at work, when you gather in this place to worship, and when you attend that church meeting.

If we want to have a varsity faith, a mature faith, Paul says that we need to letter in worship, unity, growth, spiritual gifts, kindness, a Spirit-filled life, and prayer. The more we practice these spiritual disciplines, the more we will be the people and the church that God has called us to be.

Several years ago, I remember reluctantly getting into my car to come to a church meeting one evening.  I knew that it was going to be a controversial meeting and most likely a very long one as such meetings go.

I had worried about the meeting the entire day. I felt anxious about it because people were let’s just say, passionate about their differing points of view.

But when I made the turn to come into the church entrance, I felt this tug at my heart to say a prayer.  And so I prayed.

“Dear God, thank you for reminding me to pray to you before going into this meeting tonight.  You know how concerned I am about this meeting.  I pray for the chairperson tonight that he would be guided by your Holy Spirit.  I also pray for the committee members that they too would be open to your Holy Spirit so that we would move into the direction that you would have for us.  I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

After I said the “Amen” I got out of the car and headed in for the meeting.  It was a strange feeling.  The anxiety and the concern that I had felt during the day was no longer there.  And now in place of that anxiety and concern was God’s peace and assurance.

While there were some tense moments during the meeting that night, I was amazed at how clearly God was leading us and guiding us in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if left to our own strength and preferences.

As we were leaving the meeting that night and heading out to the parking lot, one of the committee members turned to me and said, “You know, even with all of the difficult issues we had to discuss tonight, that was one of the most positive and productive meetings we have ever had. Someone must have been praying.”

     I smiled in agreement as we continued to our cars.

And just to think, that earlier that day, I didn’t think we had a prayer.