Prayer: Depending on God to Make Disciples
Passage: Galatians 4:4–4:6, Matthew 5:1–7:29
Sermon from Galatians 4:4-6 and Matthew 5-7 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Series: Disciples Making Disciples (Part 6 of 6)
Delivered on July 19, 2015
There are times with this church body that I enjoy more than others, and one of those times is when we pray together. I love it. I love hearing the church cry out to God, to move us and fill us and empower us to do his will. And we’ll get to do that for a longer than usual period today.
Series Recap and Introducing Prayer
Before we get there, though, we need to draw our series on disciples making disciples to a close. We’ve discussed the Son of Man’s kingdom and his mission to seek and save the lost. We’ve discussed what our own role looks like in that mission in terms of evangelism and the local church and teaching one another—all of which are bound up with making disciples. And then last week we discussed what making disciples—or better, what following Jesus—will cost us: it will cost us laying aside our ways to take up a cross in the path of obedience and love.
But we need to be very careful lest we put any confidence in the flesh as we move forward with making disciples. We don’t want to repeat Israel’s stubbornness, and have the Lord come to us saying, “Oh, [you] stubborn children, who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin” (Isa 30:1). Rather, we want to trust that “‘not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zech 4:6).
Only God makes disciples. Yes, he certainly uses us, but only God changes the soul. Only God advances his kingdom on earth. Only God can change us to be the kind of people he calls us to be. Only God can overcome our fear in evangelism; only God can strengthen us to love one another; only God can make us competent to teach his word to others; only God can strengthen us to take up our cross daily. And therefore, we’re closing our series with prayer, depending on God to make disciples.
Prayer in the New Testament
Throughout the New Testament prayer stands as one of the central themes. As soon as God saves people, we see them devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:41-42). Central to the church’s life was constant dependence on God in prayer (Rom 12:12; Col 4:2; 1 Thess 5:17). The apostles ask for all kinds of prayer: prayers for conversion (Rom 10:1), for wisdom (Jas 1:4), for boldness (Acts 4:29-31), for daily bread (Matt 6:10).
Prayer is even seen as the means that God ordains to achieve his purposes. God achieves his purposes, not apart from prayer but through the prayers of his people. And so we find prayers for the word of the Lord to speed ahead and be honored among the Gentiles (2 Thess 3:1), or prayers for the church to bear fruit in every good work (Col 1:9-10), or prayers for God to tear down spiritual strongholds and keep the gospel marching on (Eph 6:16-18). Even the book of Revelation depicts our prayers being stored up in bowls of incense; and when they rise before God, he enacts his purposes in judgment and salvation (Rev 5:8; 8:3-4).
Today, we will participate in this God ordained means of carrying out his purposes. We will cry out, “Father, let your kingdom come, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). We will come together as a family and commune with God in the relationship he initiated with us through Jesus Christ.
God's Initiative in the Gospel & Christian Prayer
That’s what prayer is—Christian prayer at least. Christian prayer is dependent, spiritual communion with God in the relationship he initiated with us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
This is what makes Christian prayer different from the prayer we find in other religions of the world. In and of itself, the act prayer isn’t unique to Christianity. Jewish people pray. Muslim people pray. Lots of people in religions contrary to Christianity pray. And because God is omnipresent, we can even say that he’s aware of those prayers, however contrary to his will they may be (cf. Acts 10:4).
But what’s unique to Christian prayer is that it’s rooted in the true God initiating a Spirit-filled relationship with us through his Son Jesus Christ. It’s not a mindless escape from reality. It’s not some kind of absorption into divine things by contemplation. It’s not a ritual, a work forced on us from the outside—five times a day, facing the East, with no intimacy or assurance of being heard. Christian prayer grows out of the personal communion that God wins for us at the cross of Jesus Christ.
According to the Bible’s storyline, people don’t have this kind of access to God naturally. At one point we did—Genesis 1 and 2? Originally, people had unhindered access to God’s presence and provision. We were all made for communion with our Maker and intimate dependence on him. And then Adam rebelled and the entire human race with him fell into sin and out of fellowship with God (Gen 3:1-7; Rom 5:12-14). And so we are born into the world dead in sin and we’re naturally God’s enemies (Eph 2:1-3; Jas 4:4). We prefer self-rule and self-sufficiency (Rom 1:18-32).
And God hates our self-rule and self-sufficiency, because it doesn’t honor him for who he really is—as the all-sufficient provider—and it doesn’t admit how needy we really are—as wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked sinners (cf. Rev 3:17). And unless anything changes in this relationship with God, we will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord (2 Thess 1:9)…
But God, because he is rich in mercy, he sends his only Son—this Son, who alone knows perfect communion with the Father—he sends him to become a man, to live the life we should have been living, a life of constant dependence on and obedience to the Father (John 5:19; 1 Pet 2:23). And with that dependent obedience to the Father, Jesus Christ becomes the perfect sacrifice we need to take away our punishment (Rom 3:25-26; Gal 3:13) and reconcile us to God (2 Cor 5:19; 1 Pet 3:18). Jesus does this on the cross.
And then three days later, Jesus rises from the dead that we might have ongoing access to the throne of grace (Heb 12:22-24). And then he ascended into heaven to give us the Spirit that we might desire to pray (Gal 4:4-6), know how to pray (Rom 8:26), and conform our lives to God’s will when we pray (Col 1:9-10).
One great example of God initiating a relationship with us through Jesus Christ so that we then enjoy communion with him in prayer, is Galatians 4:4-6. It says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” So, God’s law stared us down and said, “Guilty!” We were under the law’s curse, because of our sin (cf. Gal 3:10-14). And knowing this, God still sent his Son to live under the Law, to fulfill all its demands perfectly for you, and then to suffer as your blameless substitute, that the curse you deserved might fall on him instead. This is redemption.
And then read what happens as a result of this redemption: Verse 5, “[All that happened] so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” That’s prayer!
Prayer describes the communication between forgiven and adopted children with their Father. Christian prayer is the language of God’s blood-bought, Spirit-filled children, who know Daddy loves them and has promised to help them, even when it costs him his only Son. It’s dependent, spiritual communion with God in the relationship he initiated with us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Glimpses of Our Father in Relation to Prayer from Matthew 5-7
So now, very briefly, I want to show you what our Father is like before we pray together. And here’s where Matthew 5-7 will come in handy, if you want to turn there. We’ve been mostly in Matthew the last six weeks, and we’ll end there today, looking at the kind of Father we have.
Our Father is merciful to sinners
First, see that our Father is merciful to sinners. This is from Matthew 5:43-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” People do not deserve for God’s sun to shine on them, or his rains to fall on them, but he does it. Every day God does it. When the sun comes up, that’s mercy to a world of enemies. So, we pray to receive more mercy from God and for God to show mercy to others in Christ.
Our Father knows what we need
Second, our Father knows what we need, even before we ask him. Matthew 6:7-13, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”
We’ve covered a lot of territory the last six weeks on disciples making disciples. Some of you have fears, anxiety, worries, uncertainty about what the future holds for you. Others of you don’t know the first step to take. Others of you hardly want to take any steps. Hear this: the Father knows exactly what you need, even before you ask him this morning. Talk to him about it. Cry out for help. He knows.
Our Father rewards those who ask him with good things
Lastly, the Father rewards those who ask him with good things. Matthew 7:7-11, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” God is a rewarder of those who seek him. He may not always give us what we want when we want it, but all that he does give us are good things. So, let’s not shy away from asking him now.
Instructions on Praying Together
Here’s what we’re going to do. Each of you should have a prayer guide. We’re going to get into some clusters of about 4-5 people, and we’re going to pray together through the things listed here. Branch out if you want to; I just wrote these out as a guide from Scripture. Now, the way you will know when you need to move to the next part of the prayers is that several people will be coming up periodically to pray. And when they start praying, listen to them for a few minutes and then join them in praying through that next part. I’ll kick it off with part one, then when you hear Roberto start praying you’ll move to part two—taking up our cross—then you’ll do the same when you hear Jessica and then Jhun. So, go ahead and get in your clusters, and I’ll start us off.
More in Disciples Making Disciples
July 12, 2015Cross Bearing: Losing Your Life to Make Disciples
July 5, 2015Teaching: Elements in Making Disciples
June 28, 2015Local Church: Partners in Bringing Disciples to Maturity