This week we continue to look at “engaging with our community”. If you missed last Sunday, we began this new section of our whole church initiative by first recognizing that there is a gap between the church and the community. Somehow over the last 100 years the two have separated and our job now is to somehow bridge that gap so that we can again engage with our community and bring them to the saving knowledge of Christ.
So last week we looked at two stories in the Bible – the first was the Samaritan woman at the well and second was Jesus having dinner with tax-collector Matthew and his disreputable buddies. And through those stories we learned two lessons.
Jesus met people where they were. He didn’t wait until they came to the temple or the synagogue – He went to them. We need to do likewise. If the people aren’t coming to our church, then let’s take the church to them. Let’s be the church in our community.
Jesus had compassion on them. He didn’t see them as lepers to be avoided, but as lepers to be healed. And so we need to have that same view of our community. We need to go to them and have compassion on them, show them God’s love, and treat them as pre-Christians. As friends who are not yet believers, but will soon come to know and love the Lord Jesus.
So that was last week. Today I want to take things a little further and a little more practical. And a couple of the questions that I want to begin to address are: What are the actions that we need to put in place in order to bridge that gap between church and community? What are the first steps we need to take in order to win our community for Christ?
First of all, we need to understand that this is a spiritual battle.
“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.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV
Satan is the adversary here. Not unbelievers. They have been taken captive – Satan has blinded their minds to the truth. This is a spiritual battle.
That means it doesn’t matter how great our efforts are, or even how clear our message is, if God is not at work in the hearts of unbelievers, they will not be able to see the truth. But the good news is, on the flip side of that, no matter how feeble our efforts are and how poorly we present the message, if God IS at work in the hearts of unbelievers, then nothing will stop them from seeing the truth of the Gospel.
That’s why our first and most powerful strategy in reaching our community for Christ is prayer. Because only God can open the eyes of the spiritually blind. Yes, He certainly uses us in the process through our words and deeds, but it is He who changes the heart. That’s why…
“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16
We talked a little bit about this verse when we talked about engaging with God. And it’s not that our prayers are magical or anything special, but for whatever reason, when God’s people pray, God seems pleased to answer and to act on our behalf for his glory.
“14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15
So it seems that the only catch to having answered prayers is that we have to pray for things according to His will. We need to ask God to do the things that He already wants to do. If we do that, consider it done. That’s why the prayer of a righteous man is so powerful and effective. Because He is praying and asking God to do the things that God is already eager and willing to do. It’s like God is just waiting for an invitation to step in and do great and marvelous things.
So, how do we know what God’s will is? Well, thankfully, God’s given us a little book called the B-I-B-L-E. The Bible.
I’m not sure how many of you have seen this acronym before, but I think it’s rather fitting. Bible – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.
It’s in the pages of the Bible that we find God’s will. He’s spelled it out for us. It’s almost ironic that all those deep questions that everybody asks like “What’s the mean of life? Is there life after death?” – all those questions are very clearly answered in the Bible.
So what is God’s will for our community? How do we pray for our community according to the will of God? I think we’ll find the answer in 1 Timothy.
“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:1-5
This passage lays out five ways that we can pray for our community. First of all, according to verse 4, it is God’s will for everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. So this is probably the most obvious way to pray for our community.
Pray for their Salvation.
Pray that they would understand the truth.
Don’t forget – these people are captives. They are blinded by Satan. There is no way that they can see the truth unless God removes those blinders from them. God may use our witness or our words to do that, but our words and witness apart from God can do nothing.
But since we know that it is His will that they be saved and understand the truth, and since we know that God hears our prayers when we ask according to his will, then let us earnestly pray for the salvation of our community. Let us pray that God would intervene in their lives and remove Satan’s blinders so that they would understand the truth – the truth that there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity – the man Jesus Christ.
This is probably one of the most important things we can pray for as a church – for the salvation of our community. But this passage also lays out a few other ways that we can pray as well.
In verse 1:
Ask God to help them.
Intercede on their behalf.
Give thanks for them.
These are ways we might pray for each other, but how often we do pray that way for the lost? For our unsaved neighbors? For those who maybe don’t like us? For those who are blatant sinners? Do we ask God to help them, intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them? And yet this passage clearly states that is exactly what we are to.
Now when I was preparing this message, I got stuck on that point there for quite a while. Because from the way this passage reads, it almost seems like praying this way for our community (asking God to help them; interceding on their behalf, and giving thanks for them) just might lead to them becoming saved and understanding the truth. That’s just how this passage struck me. So I dug a little deeper and found a few other verses.
27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.
35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.
Luke 6:27-28; 35
As I read and re-read that verse, it really struck me. How does God treat sinners? Here’s a hint… “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. So it’s no wonder that we are called to do the same. To pray blessings on our community, to ask God to help them; to intercede on their behalf, and to give thanks for them. That’s doing exactly what Jesus would do. That’s living out the Gospel right there. When we pray like that for our community, that’s literally preaching a sermon – proclaiming the Good News that Jesus died for sinners like you and me and everyone else.
So this morning, I want to preach a second sermon – not to you guys, but to our community. I’m going to invite you to join me. I want us to step outside for a few moments, get out of our walls so that we can actually see the community around us, and I want us to pray blessings on our community. So get up out of your seats and let’s go outside and do some praying.