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Tag: prayer

Unguarded Discipleship

Have you ever wondered why you’re still here? I’ve often thought “Wouldn’t it be nicer if God would just teleport us to heaven the moment we accepted him as our Saviour?” We could be done with sin once for all and we could immediately enjoy the wonders of being with our Creator. That would be way better than staying here on this sin-soaked planet – enduring the pain and the hardships of life.

The Apostle Paul wrestled with this very thought of how it would be better to go and be with the Lord, but at the same time, he knew that God had a purpose for him to remain. He writes in his letter to the Philippians:

I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. 25 Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. Philippians 1:20-25

Paul recognized that he had a job to do. He had a purpose on this planet – and that was to make disciples – in Paul’s words, his job was “to help people grow and experience the joy of their faith.”

And our job is no different. We read in Matthew 28:18-20:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

God has chosen for us to be part of his plan of redemption. We are to be his messengers of this Good News. We are to be disciples who make disciples.

Last week we defined a disciple as:

One who is following Jesus, is being changed by Jesus, and is committed to the mission of Jesus.

Those three elements are key to true discipleship. And the big question that we’ve been trying to tackle for the last several weeks is: how do we become and how do we make those kind of disciples as Jesus commanded us?

If that’s one of the main tasks that Jesus has given us to do, if that’s a major reason why we are still on this planet, then how do we do that effectively? How, in 2017 here in Canada, do we make disciples who are following Jesus, are being changed by Jesus, and are committed to the mission of Jesus?

Well, the Bible doesn’t give us a checklist to follow or a no-fail formula for disciple making – but it does give us all kinds of examples in the New Testament and in the old, of people making disciples – helping others trust and follow God.

And so for this message series, we’ve categorized those examples into 5 different contexts. These are five types of relationships in the Bible where we can see discipleship happening.

And so far we’ve looked at the public context, the social context, and the personal context.

And I don’t want to take too long to give you a full recap, but here are the keys points for those three contexts so far.

  • In the public context, disciples can be made in a crowd through teaching, preaching, and inspiration. A good modern example of this would be the Sunday Morning service. It is here that we are we are motivated, persuaded, encouraged, influenced, moved, stirred, spurred on, energized, and awakened in our journey with Jesus.
  • In the social context, Christianity is caught, more-so than taught as we see first hand from others what it looks like to follow Jesus. This sort of discipleship happens within a community – usually 20-70 people. For us this would include many of our church functions outside of the Sunday service – such as backyard BBQs or serving together in the town’s Fall Festival or our Mother’s Day brunch.
  • Then last week we looked at the personal context. If, in the public context we can be discipled by strangers, and in the social context by acquaintances, then in the personal context, we are discipled by friends who support and challenge us. These family-like relationships allow us to practice things like forgiveness and mercy and patience and all that other good stuff as we learn to love others like Jesus did. This is the kind of discipleship that happens in families or small groups of 4-12 people.

And now today we want to look at a fourth context – the Transparent Context.

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The Humbling Element of Fasting

Well, this week our church did something a little bit unusual – something that has never done in this church before. In fact, as far as I can remember, I’ve never been part of a church that did anything like this. But on Wednesday over the lunch hour, together as a church family, we fasted. Instead of eating our normal Wednesday lunch, we instead, spent that time fasting and  praying for our community. Which was really pretty cool, and if you didn’t get a chance to join us this time, I’m sure we’re going to be doing this again… But for those of you are just joining us today, let me give you some quick background to all this.

Over the past couple of months we have been looking at the spiritual disciplines – or the healthy habits of Christians that help us draw near to God and that help us grow deeper in our relationship with Him. They change our understanding of who God is and how He’s working in our world.

We looked first of all, at how we can see glimpses of God in Creation. God’s fingerprints are everywhere around us – in the vastness of the galaxies or the complexity of our DNA or in the wonder of a baby being born or simply in the beauty of a sunset. We see the evidence of God everywhere.

But of course, while the heaven’s do declare the glory of God, His creation doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about what He has done. That’s why God has given us His Word – the Bible. And so we spent several weeks looking at how we know that the Bible really is God’s Word and how reading and understanding it changes us as we learn more about who God really is and what He’s really like.

And while God communicates to us primarily through His Word, He has given us the ability to communicate with Him primarily through prayer. And so we spend a few weeks looking at why would should pray. Why pray to a God who already knows everything we need and who has already promised to provide it? We saw how prayer is an invitation for God to be active and involved and sovereign in our lives. It’s actually an act of worship when we pray.

And then most recently, for the last two Sundays, we’ve been talking about fasting. And fasting isn’t nearly as common-place these days as prayer or Bible reading – although I think it should be because it is an excellent way for us to draw close to God.  Fasting is a way for us to focus on the most important things in life – not just the urgent things in life. When we give up food for a certain amount of time, to instead focus on God and our relationship with Him, our hunger reminds us how desperate we are for Him – and how much we depend on Him every moment of every day. It also reminds us that this life here and now is not all there is! We are looking forward to the day when this life is over and we can see Jesus face-to-face and can spend the rest of eternity with Him – feasting and celebrating and being fully satisfied for the rest of all time! Fasting is such a good reminder of that.

And so that’s why on Wednesday, we decided to fast together as a church. I know that many Christians have never fasted before. It’s a relatively new practice for me as well. And so this was really an experiment in fasting and I hope you’ll continue to experiment with it!

Now today I want us to look at one more aspect of prayer and fasting. And by no means, have we covered it all! The more I learn about fasting, the more I realize how little I know. So far, we’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at how fasting impacts us – how it changes our perspectives and reminds of things that we are usually quick to forget. But today I want to focus on how fasting impacts our prayers.

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Fasting with Eternity in Mind

I hope that our brief introduction to fasting last week left you hungry for more – in both senses of the word. I hope that you’re hungry to learn more about fasting and I hope that you’re hungry because you actually tried fasting. And if you did, I’d sure be interested in hearing about your experience.

Now, I know we read that verse last week about how we aren’t supposed to make a big show about our fasting – we’re not to try to look miserable and disheveled so people can tell that we’re fasting. Fasting is supposed to be something just between you and God. But that’s not to say we should never talk about our experiences in fasting.

Jesus is just telling us not to fast with the wrong motives. We’re not supposed to fast just to try to appear righteous to everyone else around us. We need to do it for the proper motives. But He’s not saying to never talk about it. And maybe that’s why fasting is so foreign to us – because the handful of Christians who do fast, never talk about it.

So if you’ve tried fasting before – even if it was just once – I’d love to hear about it! I think it would be awesome to see fasting once again become a normal, expected part of the Christian life (much like Bible reading and prayer). And to not see it just some foreign, strange ritual they did back in Bible times.

Because fasting is such a healthy habit! We talked last week about how fasting reminds us how desperate we are for God. The hunger we feel in the pit of our stomach when we fast is a physical reminder of a spiritual reality. Our body’s physical dependance on food reminds us of our spirit’s dependance on God. Like Jesus says in John 6:35…

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

Jesus is saying that apart from God we have no life. He is the source of life. He gives us everything we need to live abundantly and eternally. We are absolutely dependant on Him. And fasting is a great way to remind ourselves of that.

And that’s just one of the benefits of fasting! That’s probably a good enough reason in itself, but today I want to dig a little deeper and point out even more reasons why fasting is such a healthy habit. There are several reasons I think, why this spiritual discipline has been practiced by the men and women of God for centuries.

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An Introduction to Fasting

I want to begin today with a clarification:

Christianity is all about our relationship with God. It’s not about following the all rules in the Bible or becoming a better person or going through certain rituals or ceremonies. We may do all those things, but don’t confuse the cause for the effect. All those things we do (like going to church, obeying the Bible, even taking communion or being baptized – those are all the effect – not the cause.

We do those things in response to God’s incredible love for us. We can never cause God to love us. There is nothing we can do to earn his favor or His acceptance. There’s nothing we can do to deserve forgiveness or the promise of eternal life. But yet we have all those things because of God’s incredible love for us.

  • So when I read the Bible, it’s not because I’m trying to earn God’s approval by doing that. It’s because I want to know more about this God who created me and who loves me – I want to know who He is and what He’s like.
  • When I take time out of my day to pray, it’s not because my prayers somehow give me better standing with God. I pray because God is my heavenly Father who cares about me. I want to tell him about my victories and my failures and my struggles. I want to cry out to him for help. I want to thank Him for his goodness. I pray because I know my heaven Father loves me.
  • Even in things like communion or baptism. Those things don’t change our standing with God. I’ve been baptized because I want to make a public declaration that Jesus loves me. He died and rose again for me. And because of that, I’m committing to follow Him for the rest of my life. That’s why I’ve been baptized.

In all of the things that we do as Christians, God’s love is the cause – all of our actions are the effect.

And that’s so important to remember as we talk about these spiritual disciplines.

We’ve spent the last several weeks talking about the Healthy Habits of Christians. These are the things Christians have done over the centuries – not because they earn us salvation or God’s love or God’s approval or anything. We do these things in response to God’s incredible love for us. This is how we get to know Him and trust Him more.

And so far, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about just two of most common spiritual disciplines. We started by looking at reading and studying God’s Word and then after that, we spent some time talking about prayer. I think almost every Christian today would say that they’ve practiced those two disciplines at least a little bit. It’s probably pretty tough say that you’re following Jesus if you’ve never talked to Him and you’ve never read His Word.

But today, we’re going to talk about a spiritual discipline – or a healthy habit – that probably most Christians have never practiced. Which is a real shame, because this healthy habit is an incredibly effective tool in helping us draw near to God.

Which is, of course, the point of all these spiritual disciplines. They help us draw close to God. That’s what the Scriptures do. That’s what praying does. That’s what all these healthy habits do – they help us draw near to God – to know Him and to grow deeper in our relationship with Him. And that’s what our next healthy habit helps us do as well. So hopefully, by the end of the message today, in addition to your Bible and prayer, you’ll have another tool at your disposal to help you grow deeper in your relationship with God.

The healthy habit that I want to talk about today is the habit of fasting. And like I said before, probably most Christians today have never practiced this spiritual discipline. Fasting is just not something we North American Christians have had much experience with. But when you look over the scope of history – we are the odd ones out. Fasting has been practiced since the time of Moses.

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The Invitation of Prayer

When I first decided that we would go through a sermon series on the spiritual disciplines, I had in mind a series of about six messages. One on the Bible, one on prayer, one on fasting, one one worship, and a couple other ones in there as well…. But it certainly seems that God had something more in mind.

As it is, this is now message #8 and we’ve really only talked so far primarily about the Bible and about prayer – just two of the many healthy habits that we want to look at. But I think it’s been good! At least, it has been for me anyway. Particularly when it comes to prayer. Prayer has never been something that I’ve felt has been one of my strong points. Of course, as Christians we know that prayer is important – and so I’ve certainly tried to integrate prayer into my personal life and my family’s life and our church life, but honestly, it’s never been something I just naturally do. I really have to make that effort.

And I think a big part of my struggle has come become of how I understood the purpose of prayer. I mentioned in last week’s message – why do we pray when God already knows what we need and has promised to provide it? Can’t we just trust Him? When you think about it that way, it almost seems like praying for three hours each day like Martin Luther is almost a lack of faith! Why must you pray so much – can’t you just trust God? And so for much of my life, I’ve convinced myself that I have more of an ‘attitude of prayer’. Maybe I don’t always put words to my prayers, but I have this attitude of just trusting God.

And it’s great to have that kind of trust in God, but I think that still misses the point of prayer! So these last few weeks have been really good for me as I’ve dug into the whole question of why do we pray? What’s the purpose of prayer?

And I know that I haven’t fully answered those questions yet in these messages, but I hope that as I’ve been sharing what I’ve been learning, I hope that God’s been stirring up a desire in you to learn more about the why and how of prayer in your own life.

So this morning, I want to share with you yet another aspect of prayer for you to think about this week. And for me, this is really what has helped me understand why God invites us to pray.

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