Sermon Notes: Sunday 15 November 2020

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests’

As you know we have been looking at the armour of God for many weeks, and taking each piece in turn to discover what it is that we are being clothed in when we put on this armour.  As we done this, we have seen that the armour is the gifts of God to help affirm us and assure us and indeed make us more resilient against life’s challenges.  And so, we put on salvation, righteousness, peace, truth, faith and as we are clothed in these gifts of God, we are set on a foundation of God that cannot be shaken.  So it is no power of our own that makes us resilient and strong, but the power of God at work in us that helps us to stand strong.

After using each piece of armour to display or explain the work of God and the strength of his power for us, Paul continues, and it is on this verse that we are going to dwell this Sunday,

(v18). ‘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.’

So, standing in your armour, equipped and ready for battle… pray!  Pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

I don’t know what this passage or verse might summon up in you, but for me, it summons up this real sense of power, of readiness, and of battle.  An image that as we come to pray, we are battling against the spiritual forces at work in this world.  As we pray in the Spirit that means that our prayers unite us with God and his work around us.  Our prayers our partnership with the Spirit of God, that’s what makes them more than words, that’s what makes them have power because God’s Spirit is found in them.

There’s a song in our mission praise books and it says:

‘In heavenly armour we’ll enter the land,

The battle belongs to the Lord;

No weapon that’s fashioned against us will stand

The battle belongs to the Lord

We sing glory, honour, power and strength to the Lord.’

The battle of this world belongs to God, but here we stand dressed in a heavenly armour ready to partner with the Spirit of God in prayer and to do battle against powers of darkness, against illness and stress, and covid-19!

Do we realise that each of us possess the opportunity to partner with the Spirit of God as we pray?  That each of us are gifted with an armour that fits us for battle?  Are we in a posture of battle, or have we become complacent or weary?

Corrie Ten Boom, well known for her work at helping Jews escape from the Nazis, offers the challenge: ‘Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?’  An interesting question, don’t you think?  Is prayer just something you call upon in trouble, or does prayer form the basis of your day to day living?

Martin Luther, the German theologian, he speaks on prayer and says, ‘To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.’  Prayer is our life source, our constant conversation and connection.  We cannot possibly know God with any depth if we are not conversing with him in prayer.

Or how about Mother Theresa, well-known and revered for her generosity and care of the worlds most vulnerable.   She said, ‘God shapes the world by prayer.  The more praying there is in the world, the better the world will be, the mightier the force against evil.’  Do you hear the sense of battle in those words?

Or how about the greatly respected evangelist Billy Graham who says, ‘to get the nations back on their feet, we must first get down on our knees.’  Again, there is summoned in these words on prayer, a sense of power, a posture of readiness for a battle in the name of the Lord.

I think we can sometimes be guilty of underestimating the power of prayer, or of not acknowledging that as we pray, we do battle against the darkness and evil of our world.  Prayer is our privilege as our words are partnered with the Spirit of God to beckon change, to call on mercy, to believe in healing.  No wonder the Psalmist in Psalm 116 says, ‘I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy.  Because he bends down his ear to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!’

Scripture invites us into a constant conversation of prayer with God, trusting that the Spirit comes and intercedes along with us, often giving us words to even pray.  It also invites us into a prayer life that is persistent and relentless in passion and in power, and I worry sometimes that we have not grasped that to its fullest.

I want us to think briefly on a few old testament examples of persistent prayer, they have struck my mind quite recently as a bit of a challenge to my own prayer life and to our corporate prayer life.

The first one is Moses.  We are familiar the story of Moses, of his beginnings in the palace in Egypt to being called by God as an older man to lead a revolution as he demanded freedom for the massive nation of Israel to be free from slavery in Egypt.  This was a colossal movement of people, he was given no easy task, but he led the people, he interceded for them before God, he pleaded for their forgiveness time and time again, and listened to their endless stubborn grumbles.  Now Moses wasn’t perfect, but he had a close relationship with God, and he spent much time in prayer and conversation.  In Exodus 17 there is a battle against the Amalekite, and Israel comes under attack.  Here’s what happened:

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

In this context Moses is interceding for the army of Israel.  As he stands with his hands raised, it’s a calling upon God’s power for his own people so they can have victory.  Moses stands in the gap between the people and God and claims that power of God for the people.  The image of Moses, weary from this intercession, having his hands held high by Aaron and Hur, well, it paints a picture that we need to take note off.  For it shows a persistence and a relentless of calling on God until the battle is won.  It shows the power of coming together with a united vision, as these three men stand up on the hill, beckoning the power of God, refusing to give up until God’s people have won out.

Imagine the discomfort and physical pain that Moses would have been in.  Yet he did not relent.  And through Moses’ partnership with God in prayer and intercession the people of God had victory because the power of God was at work for them.  Moses did not relent.

It’s a bit like Jacob, in Genesis 32 where it talks about this encounter of Jacob and God and Jacob’s wrestling with God through the night, and Jacob is relentless, he says ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’  There’s a persistence in his pursuit of God’s ways and God’s blessing.  Jacob does not relent.

Or what about Elijah.  We read about him in 1 Kings, such a great prophet.  Elijah has prophesied drought in the land, he is despised for it and threatened.  The people struggle heavily under this drought for three years and their famine is severe.  And then God Elijah to prophesy that he is sending rain.  There’s this show down in chapter 18 between Elijah and the 450 Prophets of Baal where Elijah spectacularly calls on the power of God to shame the prophets of Baal, its one of my favourite passages, I just love the show of God’s power in it.

After this showdown, were the people are on their faces because they have seen God’s power, Elijah turns to Ahab and says:

‘41 …, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. 46 The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

So Elijah has this showdown, but he doesn’t revel in the glory of it rather, he goes up Mount Carmel, he gets down on his knees and he intercedes and he persists until the rain the Lord has promised comes.  He does not relent in his seeking and calling upon the Lord until the Lord comes and shows himself to the people once again.

Elijah does not relent.  He pursues God in prayer, he beckons and he pleads and he does battle as he partners with God in prayer and the power of God is released.

Do you see in these examples, the sense of battle, the sense of readiness to call on God, the sense of posture which seems to add an intensity to their prayers.  Moses with his hands raised, Jacob with his physical wrestling, Elijah on his knees and face to the ground.

And I can’t help but hear the Spirit of God says, this is what I invite you into.  A conversation of prayer, a posture of battle, a relentlessness is calling on the power of God for the good of his people. 

I can’t help but hear the Spirit of God whisper, ‘join in.  In that heavenly armour do battle with me against the powers of this world’.

James 5:16 tells us the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective… why, because as they pray, they pray in the spirit and beckon the power of God, and they trust God is faithful.

As we continue to journey through this COVID season, and deal with all the other challenges around us that COVID has certainly impacted too, I can’t help but sense an attitude of weariness among us all.  Now a weariness that is justified in many ways, as we are tired of this new normal, and we are missing being able to see family and friends in the way we did.  We are growing increasingly lonely and isolated, and are hearts are heavy with fear of getting sick or for those who are sick.  It feels like there a lack of joy in this season, and an abundance of worry and uncertainty…and it feels like we can’t yet see light at the end of the tunnel.

And so, I sense weariness, I sense frustration, and I sense a lot of self preservation.  And so, in comparison to the first time we were locked down where there was a great spirit of generosity and kindness to neighbours, and a real sense of appreciation to the NHS staff in which we wanted to encourage and lift them up… well, this time it feels like we have slowly lost sight of each other, and are only worrying for ourselves.  We’re becoming complacent, we are becoming fed up.  And although I understand that in so many ways, and echo it often… I have felt so burdened these past few weeks that this is not the people that we are called to be.

We are called to be a people who are relentless against the darkness of this world. We are called to pray with the same passion and persistence as if this was the very first day we were hearing news about the pandemic.  We are to have a posture of prayer that does battle because we have a privilege to join with the spirit of God to call on God to come and to change this world.

Our words of prayer are not to be polite sentiment they are to be powerful proclamation that our God is good and that our God is going to move and bring change.

And as we pray power, we summon joy into this joylessness. 

Our passage from Romans 12

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’

Do you hear the sense of battle?  Do hear the call to relentless prayer?  Prayer that persists in calling on God to change the challenges before us.  Prayer that calls on God to show himself in powerful ways to people who are blind to see him.

I want to call us to prayer.  I want to call us to shake ourselves, to shake off the weariness and perhaps joylessness and to commit to pray.  And not prayers of polite sentiment, but prayers of powerful intercession.  Prayers that cause us to raise our heads and say Lord, we will not quit until this battle is won.  Prayers that cause to fall on our knees face to the ground and say, Lord we are coming back to this day after day until we see change.

Paul says, ‘Pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.’

And so this week I invite you into a very intentional rhythm of prayer to pray for our world particularly in relation to COVID.  We are going to use our Facebook to facilitate this, and each day from Monday to Friday there will be 4 videos posted to help prompt in our prayers. 

At 8am there will be a psalm to call into a meditation on the word of God.

At 1pm there will be a video of a local person working in the midst of COVID, they will share their challenges and call us to pray specifically for them.

At 6pm there will be a video of a message from someone in another country and they will invite us to have a wider understanding of the challenges across the world, and we will plead to God on their behalf

And then at 10pm there will be an evening reading and prayer.

I encourage you to intentional watch these if you can.  You can still access our Facebook page even without an account, and there will be a link from the website.  I invite you into a posture of prayer this week that does battle.

If you don’t have access to the internet, I still invite you to make a point of stopping for prayer at those 4 times, and praying in the spirit all kinds of prayers and requests for this world.

Then on Saturday morning we will have another prayer breakfast on zoom together to sense together if the Spirit has prompted or spoken to us in any way and to unite our voices in prayer together.

We will enter in and really pursue this week, and as we do, we say yes to God, to join with him in the battle of darkness.  And though I’ll only post these videos for a week, I want us to recognise that this is a relentless prayer that I want us to pursue long after… that we are going to keep in this battle until the Lord has done it… like the words of Jacob, we will not let go until God has blessed us.  We will not let go until the hold of COVID in our world is done.

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests.

In your heavenly armour, join this battle and pray, and pray and pray some more.  Relentless, passionate prayers.  For God’s will, will be done.  And God’s kingdom will come… so let’s call it forth people of God.  Amen.

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