Sermon - Eye-Opening Prayer Sunday January 11, 2015

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1 Sermon - Eye-Opening Prayer Sunday January 11, 2015 Here's a recent picture of Cornerstone Centre. How many people are excited about this year? Our dream has always been to make Cornerstone Centre a gift to the community. But is this the greatest gift we can give? What is the greatest gift we can give? It's ourselves. Lives being shaped and formed in God's love. That's why discipleship matters. That's why it was our theme last year and will be our theme for this year as well. That's why we developed our Discipleship Pathway strategy for making disciples. That's why we're working on assessment tools, core discipleship classes, semester groups, learning labs, training and other initiatives. But what's the context for discipleship? It's community. Biblical discipleship always requires community. You can't be fully formed and developed as a disciple unless you're part of a group that meets regularly to pray and study the Bible together, support each other in your spiritual growth and serve together. It's just not possible. So before getting into today's message, I want to talk briefly to two groups. First, if you're serious about growing in your faith but aren't currently in a group, you need to get into a group. Throughout the year, we offer new small group and semester group opportunities. Right now, we're about to run a Prayer Semester Group in conjunction with our sermon series. Here's a great opportunity to learn about prayer and actually practice different ways of praying. This is the last Sunday before the group starts, so please fill out the inserts in your bulletin and get them in today. The second group I want to talk to are those who are in small groups. As your Small Group Pastor, I just want to affirm you in your commitment to group life and cheer you on. We have an exciting and important year ahead and we want to encourage all of our small groups to do three things this year. Three things that will not only help your group to grow but also prepare us as a church for what God has in store. 1

2 First, would you consider participating in our Cornerstone prayer challenge. Nothing great will happen if we're not praying. So in conjunction with our sermon series, we've made available to you a Study Guide that you can use in your small group. It's a meaningful way your group can study and pray the prayers of Paul that we talk about on Sundays. My group started it last week, and already, at least four groups that I know of have decided to or are considering doing the study. We're also working on a prayer chain to get the whole congregation to cover our church in prayer. So look out for that opportunity and be in prayer. The second thing is to serve together. Many groups are already doing this. But we want all our groups to serve in some way together this year. We're a so that people, so we don't meet just for our own sake. We meet so that we can serve and bless others. This year, we'll have many opportunities for your groups to serve, whether in the community or in Cornerstone Centre itself. So look for those as well as come up with your own ideas. The third thing is to open up circles of community. This year, do you think we'll have more or less newcomers? More, probably a lot more. Statistics say that most new people who join a church and don't make friends or get connected in a small group within 6 months will leave the church. Wouldn't that be a shame. So what can we do? Well, on Sundays, instead of sticking with people you already know, get to know someone new. Remember, you were a newcomer at one point too. So say 'hi', introduce yourself, invite someone out for lunch or a social event or invite them to check out your small group. With all the new people we'll have, we'll need more small groups and more small group leaders. I think it would be a great goal to start up 10 new small groups this year. Ten circles of community around which people can come and connect and grow and have fun. But we need new groups and new leaders. Most of our small groups I believe, are ready to birth and multiply another group. Even though it's always a hard thing to do, birthing and multiplying is a normal and healthy sign of growth. We'll be running training for new small group leaders this year too so if you're interested, please talk to me. Plan to talk about these things at your next group meeting - okay? Deal? And I want to say thank you - for all that you're doing, for your passion and for always supporting this exciting vision God has given to us. 2

3 Okay, on to our message. This past summer, a Christian research organization surveyed over a thousand Americans who pray. They wanted to find out what people pray about. And so people were given a list and were asked to indicate all the things they usually pray for. Any guesses what topped the list? Not surprisingly, the survey found that people typically pray for their personal needs and the needs of their family. Rarely do people praise God or pray for others. The list of things people pray for is quite interesting. People pray to win the lottery (21%), for success in things they put almost no effort in (20%) and for no one to find out about something bad they did (15%). Reading this survey made me wonder, what would be the results if Cornerstone did this survey? Do most people pray mostly for themselves and their family? Do most prayers focus on things like financial security, job promotions, health, children's academic success? It's been said that our prayers reveal what we really believe about God. What would Cornerstone's prayers say about our God? What would your prayers reveal about your heart? In the 1950s, J.B. Philips noticed that Christians showed little passion in their faith. That people viewed God primarily as something to be used to make their life better. Philips wrote about this and published his work in a book called Your God is Too Small. The title itself exposes our self-centredness and lack of concern for the needs of others. It challenges us to enlarge our vision of God and what He cares about. We're in a series these days called Paul's School of Prayer. Because if we want to grow in our vision of God, we need to grow in what we're praying for and how we're praying. The prayers of Paul recorded in the New Testament are an excellent guide to showing us how we can pray more in line with God's heart and priorities. As I mentioned before, my small group met this past week to go through the Small Group Study Guide on prayer. One person shared about how some uncles of his were making life difficult for his mom. Then last Sunday, he was struck by the way Paul prayed for others to know God's will. And so this week he decided to pray for these uncles. That God would bless them and fill them with the knowledge of His will. 3

4 And as he prayed, the bitterness went away. God then brought to mind the passage about working to restore relationships before coming to Him in worship. And he said that his heart opened up towards his uncles and he began to see that they must have their own side to the story too. When we begin to pray the priorities of God, God changes us and gives us new perspectives. That's our hope for this series. That as we study and pray Paul's prayers, that God would enlarge our vision of who he is and what he cares about. Today we're looking at Paul's prayer for the Ephesians. Most of the people Paul prays for in his letters were people living below the poverty line. These were people under constant threat of persecution, danger and disease. But what's interesting is that Paul never prays for the things that we would pray for. He doesn't pray for food and security. He doesn't pray for physical protection or for a better emperor. Not that it's wrong to pray for things. In his letter to Timothy, Paul tells him in fact to pray for peace, good government and for the needs of the world. But when Paul is passionately praying for those he loves, he doesn't focus on their material and economic circumstances. Paul prays for what he believes is the most important thing people need. More important than health, protection and even food. Paul prays for people to know God better. That's the heart of his prayer. That people would know God better. In our culture, when we think about knowledge we normally associate it with information. Reading books, having degrees and scoring high on an IQ test. But in that culture, knowledge wasn't about information. It was about relationship and experience. It was profoundly intimate and personal. When Joanne and I were dating, we came up with this idea called Snatch cards. Don't laugh, but a Snatch card is something you use in the event that an alien abducts or snatches the other person. A Snatch card is kind of like a way of making sure the person is who they say they are. 4

5 For one birthday, I wanted to do something special for her. So I decided to actually make our own set of Snatch cards. I couldn't bring them today because I don't know where she put them. But I did find the electronic copies on my computer from 11 years ago. You can't pass the Snatch card test by knowing about someone. You need to truly know them personally and intimately. Know their heart and passions, share moments and memories together, experience their love and presence. And that's what Paul prays for these people. Not that they would just know about God. But that they would personally know His love and presence in a deeply intimate and life-transforming way. How do you get to know a holy and infinite God better? On our own, we can't. That's why we need the Holy Spirit to reveal God to us and enable us to draw close to God. That's why Paul prays for the Holy Spirit to give them wisdom and revelation. Last year, we did a sermon series called Navigating Discipleship Roadblocks. We talked about things like greed, anger and fear. There will always be some struggle we're fighting if we're going to live the life God is calling us to live. But I wonder, do some of you here really want to live that life? Because whenever I talk to or observe people who are spiritually stuck, what I notice is that the issue isn't that they don't know what they should be doing. Because they usually feel guilty that they're not praying or reading their Bible or attending worship service. The issue isn't having available resources. People have all kinds of books and apps including many resources we've made available to the church. I don't think the issue is even not having the time or discipline. Because you know what? Many of you spend lots of time on your hobbies, fitness and careers. You'll prioritize your life around these things and make a plan to get better. So it's not that people lack the knowledge or means or even the time and discipline. But for some people here this morning, I wonder if the issue is that deep down you really don't want it that much. That if you're honest, you just don't have the desire or even the intention to grow in your faith. 5

6 In fact, the reality is that apart from God's work in us, we are all spiritually dead. We don't naturally want to pursue God. We don't naturally want to welcome the stranger, or give generously, or forgive our enemies. Like Adam and Eve, our fallen human nature wants to hide from God and run away. So we need God to act to change our hearts. That's why after Paul prays for the Ephesians to know God better he adds this request: I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened... In the Bible, the heart refers to the control centre of your entire self. That's why the writer of Proverbs says: Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Prov 4:23) The heart is where you find your deepest desires, hopes and intentions. Like a CEO commands a company, your heart organizes your priorities and directs all your thinking, feelings and behaviours around its deepest desire. Is your deepest desire to live for God? Because apart from God, our deepest desire is to actually to live for ourselves. But through the Holy Spirit, we receive the grace of God that makes our once spiritually dead hearts come alive again. And God gives us new desires to love Him and love others. That's why it doesn't matter if we have the best preaching, the best programs and even the best building facility. None of that matters if God isn't working through His Spirit changing hearts, stirring up new desires and leading people to new life. To have the eyes of your heart enlightened, means that the truth of all that you have in Jesus moves you so profoundly, grips you so tightly, penetrates you so deeply that you can't help but desire God and desire what He wants for you. Paul highlights three of the blessings we have in God. First, we have a hope that can't be taken away. I pray that... you may know the hope to which he has called you... (v. 18) 6

7 Fifteen years ago, our world had Steve Jobs, Johnny Cash and Bob Hope. Fifteen years later, our world has no jobs, no cash and no hope. Think about the problems in the world. Does the world even offer any basis for hope? No. There's only meaninglessness. Paul himself knew great suffering and loss. Yet we never see him pray this prayer: May a meaningless universe fill you with resignation so that you can accept the evil of this world with surrender. Instead he prays May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:13) Hope, he says does not disappoint (Rom 15:5). Hope can never be taken away. Why? Because Jesus addressed the meaningless of our world and took on the problem of evil. His work on the cross changed the course of history. And now, God's future has been set in motion. This future where all things are restored and made new, the new heavens and earth coming together, God bringing justice and peace and making everything right again and living with his people - this hope is the basis from which we can live God's future today. We can live this future now - even with our present struggles and challenges, because of hope, because hope changes everything. Jim Elliot was a Christian missionary killed on the mission field in the jungles of Ecuador who famously said, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." Hope changes everything and can never be taken away. In God, We also have a destiny to live into. I pray that... you may know the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people... (v. 18) Notice what this verse doesn't say. It doesn't say that you may know the riches of your glorious inheritance. It says that you would know the riches of God's glorious inheritance in his people. What is God's inheritance? It's his people. It's you and me. 7

8 A story is told about a man looking for a wife in a small African tribal community. The custom was that if you wanted to marry a woman, you had to pay the father in cows. The more desirable the woman, the more cows you would offer. The average rate for a wife was 2 to 3 cows. For a very beautiful and smart woman, you might pay 4 or 5 cows. The most cows ever paid for a woman was 6 cows. One day, the community was all a-buzz when they found out this man had paid 8 cows for a wife! The woman was actually considered quite ugly! Even 2 cows would have been high. For even the most beautiful women in the community, no one had ever paid more than 6 cows. This 8 cow price rocked the community. Over time, as the buzz died down, the woman became more beautiful, more gracious and more kind every day. In fact, people who met her would say here is an 8-cow wife! Because that day, something changed for this woman. When she learned that someone had paid such an extravagant price for her, she simply became the person she was destined to be. Now, all the weird chauvinistic stuff aside - You and I are God's inheritance, his treasure, his delight. God places such great value on us, not because we have intrinsic worth or beauty. But because we have been identified with Christ. If you are in Christ, when God sees you, he sees Jesus. Jesus' righteousness has been reckoned to you. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. [b] 10 So you also are complete through your union with Christ... (Col 2:9-10) Turn to the person beside you and tell them, "You are an 8-cow wife." And so now you don't need to prove yourself. It doesn't matter whether you're a 2- cow, 4-cow or 6-cow person. It doesn't matter if you're a 4-cow person and someone's 6-cow. It doesn't matter if you're a 4-cow person and someone's 2 cow. It doesn't even matter if you think you could have been a 6 cow person but the tragedies in your life downgraded you to a 2 cow person. None of that matters. Because you didn't have to do anything, but Someone has already paid 8 cows for you. You simply need to see yourself as God sees you and live into your destiny, live in line with your new identity. The final truth Paul prays is that we would know that our lives are energized with resurrection power. 8

9 I pray that... you may know his incomparably great power for us who believe. (v 18-19) We'll talk more about this next week, so I won't say much here. But I will say this. When Paul thought about how to describe God's power, he thought of the most dramatic and significant event the world has ever known. Paul thinks about the defeat of death, the destruction of sin, the reclaiming of God's rule over his creation. Paul thinks about the resurrection of Jesus. The Bible describes Christ's resurrection as the firstfruits. The first taste of what's to come. Which means that others will follow. You and I have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and defeated sin. God gives us this power to know him better and to live the life he's calling you and he's calling me to live. Let's pray. 9

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