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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - A Great Opportunity - Part 1

Allen Jackson - A Great Opportunity - Part 1

Allen Jackson - A Great Opportunity - Part 1
TOPICS: Prayer, Opportunities

It's a privilege to be with you today. We're gonna continue our series on "Effective Prayer". You know, for the most part, we don't pray. We leave it as a religious ritual or something that's a part of formal religious service. I have come to understand that prayer is more important than my education, it's more important than my investments, it's more important than my life experience. Prayer is the way that I invite Almighty God into the midst of my life. I wanna get better at that, more comfortable with that, more familiar with that. I want that for you as well. Enjoy the lesson.

We've been doing a study on prayer this year. We started our year talking about "Let's Pray," and the real objective of those weeks was to allow prayer to become a part of the fabric of our lives, to let it escape the sanctuary in a Sunday-morning worship service environment and let prayer become a part of the fabric of who we are, to bring prayer into our homes, into our marriages, into a relationship with our children, into our workplace, into our schools. Wherever we go, we want prayer to be a part of that. It's too important. And so we talked about just some one-sentence prayers and some skill sets for letting prayer begin to permeate our community, and the stories that are coming back are truly remarkable. There's not a weekend that passes now that somebody doesn't bring me their "Let's Pray" stories. Don't stop. You are making a difference beyond Middle Tennessee.

Somebody brought me a story last night from another state they were in and said there was "Let's Pray" going on that had trickled from here to there, and so God is using your lives in some powerful, powerful ways. But we've taken a few weeks to talk about prayer in a little more robust way. We've been talking about effective prayer. In James chapter 5, the Scripture says that the effective prayers of a righteous man accomplishes much. Well, logically, if you can pray effectively, it's equally true you can pray ineffectively. And if an effective prayer accomplishes much, an ineffective prayer would accomplish just a little. And I don't wanna spend my time and energy praying in a way that doesn't accomplish much. Do you? So understanding effective prayer is significant, and we've leaned into that a little bit and tried to focus on that a bit and I wanna try to wrap that study up with you.

We'll come back to it a little later in the summer, but for this season we're gonna put a bow around it this weekend. But there's a reason for this. It isn't just to invite you towards prayer meetings or to make you appear more religious. We are living in a season. You know, seasons change in the earth, just like the seasons change with the weather. And the season we're living in now, I don't believe you will thrive or fulfill what God created you for unless you have a robust, effective, aware, biblically informed prayer life. You know, in times of great stability when you can count on one decade being very similar to the previous decade or the decade that follows that, you can afford to use polite little "bless me" prayers.

You know, most of us learned some of those: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep". Not a wicked prayer, not an evil prayer. It's an appropriate prayer for a very stable season. And the decades that have preceded us have been remarkably stable, some of the most stable in human history. But, folks, I believe we have begun a new season. When I look at our world and I listen to what's happening, the things that we have thought were stable and unshakable and immutable are being shaken and are changing. Values and principles and boundaries and ideas that had shaped our cultures and our civilizations and the way we interact with our world are being turned upside down.

And in this season, I would submit to you that unless we know how to pray in a meaningful way, in an authoritative way, unless we know how to address principalities and powers and unless we're aware of how to address strongholds and see them brought down in the name of Jesus, we are ill-equipped to thrive in the season that we have entered into. And so we're talking about prayer in a bit more of a focused way, in a bit more of an intentional way. We need to know how to pray effectively, not just politely. Not talking about some little polite prayer so people go, "Oh, aren't they sweet"? I'm talking about prayers that have outcomes, prayers that change circumstances, prayers that enable us to thrive or survive when it's highly probably we wouldn't if we didn't know how to pray. It's not a lesson we can complete in a single week, but it's like opening a box of awareness. And once you invite the Spirit of God to begin to open your heart in this area, he'll take you to school. It's a remarkable thing.

So that's the goal for the weekend, and I want to simply start by talking about the opportunity of prayer because I think we often dismiss it. If you're a religious person, if you're in church on a beautiful summer Sunday morning, you're probably religious on some level. You know, you know prayer belongs at church. It's how we begin the service, it's typically how we end the service, so you know you can run to the restaurant. It's like our unofficial way of saying, "We're done now". But I don't know that we ever really think about prayer as being meaningful. Prayer is kind of our last-ditch hope-so if-nothing-else-works attempt to do something, right? "Well, I've tried everything else, so I might as well pray," you know? But we don't really pray with any expectation and we don't pray with any enthusiasm. We never thought about there being any rules for prayer or boundaries for prayer or a way to pray appropriately.

It would be like going to the doctor and the surgeon say, "Well, you know, I don't know what else to do. I guess I'll just cut on you". "Have you ever done it before"? "No, but it just sounds like fun". I'm getting out of there, aren't you? Well, prayer is an opportunity. It's a window that you open for Almighty God to be engaged in the activity of your life. And when you don't pray, you leave that window closed. So I wanna remove the notion that prayer is some sort of a luxury item or some sort of a desperate option and suggest to you that it should be integrated into the fabric of your life. Every aspect of your life: your home, your marriage, your parenting, your business, your investments, your recreation, your friends. All of them should be engaged with prayer.

If there's some segment of your life where prayer's not welcome, I would change the segment. If my friends don't like it when I pray, I would either talk to my friends or get new ones. Prayer is too important to leave on the sidelines. I want to start in Acts 16. We looked at this larger context in the last couple of weeks. Paul and Silas and the team traveling with them are in Philippi. It's the city to which the book of Philippians is gonna be written some years later. They ended up in Philippi because of a supernatural event. They weren't planning to go there. Paul went to sleep and in the night he had a vision, and a man was beckoning him towards Philippi, so when they awakened in the morning he got his team together and he said, "Change the tickets. Pay the change fees, we're flying to Philippi," Living Bible.

And they get to Philippi, and they get into the marketplace, and a woman follows them through the market. She has a spirit of divination by which she can anticipate the future. She's a slave and her masters are making a great deal of money. Her predictions are accurate enough that they're accumulating an enormous amount of money. Do you imagine that there are demonic spirits that can anticipate the future better than you can? Well, day after day, when they go through the marketplace, this woman sees them and she says, "These men are servants of the Most High God, and they've come here to tell us the way to salvation".

That's a true statement. That spirit knew more about who Paul and Silas were than anybody else in the marketplace. That's an interesting insight, but it's a pretty annoying way to go to Publix, isn't it? I mean, it'd be hard to check out the produce with somebody screaming about you the whole time you're doing it. "That person is a servant of the Most High God". "Could you just knock it off a bit"? And finally, Paul turned one day and said, "In Jesus's name you come out of her". And she was delivered from that evil spirit. The outcome of that remarkable event was a riot, and the result of the riot was an arrest. And Luke, that traveled with him, said that they were beaten severely. He was a physician. And then they were put in the innermost part of the prison and their hands and feet were fastened in stocks, in chains. And he said, "Well, what's the big deal"?

I don't know about you, but if you have a supernatural event, if God says, "I want you to go here," and he intervenes supernaturally to give you the direction and when you get there, there's a miraculous deliverance and someone finds freedom, I'm expecting the outcome of that is a party and cake. I'm expecting there'll be some celebratory something, music and smiles and applause and hugs and tears, and "Won't you stay a little longer"? How about you? But in this case, the result of all that God activity is a riot and an arrest and a beating and imprisonment. And that's when we get to the verse you've got in your notes. I just gave you the punch line.

It's Acts 16 and verse 25. Says: "About midnight Paul and Silas," they're in prison. "At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them". Now I know that's your Bible and you act like that's normal but, folks, that's not. That's weird. It's midnight. They've been beaten severely. They're in prison for doing good. They haven't been stealing cars. They weren't trying to hack into the bank's accounts. They're in prison. Their backs are open. They're in pain. It's uncomfortable.

They're in a very difficult spot, and at midnight Silas looks at Paul and said, "The next time you think God tells you to go somewhere, why don't you just go by yourself, big boy"? Or Silas looks at Paul, say, "May I make a suggestion? The next time we're in the marketplace and there's a heckler, could you just dial it back a notch or two? Could you just lose the 'Come out of her,' kind of stuff? Somebody comes to you privately and asks for prayer, have a polite little prayer, but could you just dial back this stuff? Look what you've gotten us into. What are you...that's the last time I'm traveling with you, buddy".

Wouldn't that be more normal? Oh, look at y'all. We had some friends of the church here last night, the Bouchebbes, they come from Kenya. They've been friends of our church and partners in ministry for almost 2 decades. Suppose I asked you to go to Kenya with me. We're gonna fly to Nairobi and we can catch another flight out into the...they live in a pretty remote area. Let's go. And you say, "Absolutely". So, off we go. We get there and we pray for somebody. Big miracle. By the middle of the afternoon, there's a riot. We've been arrested, you've been beaten unconscious. You wake up at midnight in jail. Are you gonna look over at me and go, "Let's sing a hymn, Pastor". I don't think so. I got a feeling whether you say it out loud or not, you're going, "This is the last trip I take with this clown".

I'm telling you, it's in the book, but it's not typical. At midnight, Paul and Silas are praying. The other prisoners are listening to them worship the Lord, and the next verse, some of you know, it says there's an earthquake, that God shook the jail, the doors swing open, their chains fall off, they're free. They're free. But nobody leaves. Not Paul, not Silas, not the other prisoners. The jailer senses the earthquake, comes to see and the doors of the jail are open. It's dark. By Roman law, if you're in charge of a prisoner and they escape, you'll be executed in their place. He didn't wanna face the humiliation of that execution. He pulls his sword to kill himself, and Paul says from the darkness, "Don't harm yourself. We're all here". And the jailer said, "Dude, turn on the lights".

Dude is a word in The Living Bible. And Paul and Silas tell that jailer about Jesus, and he and his whole household, the Scripture says, accept him as their Lord and are baptized that night. The sun comes up and the magistrates of the city send a message to get those two scoundrels from the innermost part of the jail out of town. They're not welcome here. And when the message comes, Paul says, "I have a message for the magistrates. I'm a Roman citizen and they have broken the law. They arrested me, condemned me, had me beaten and imprisoned without due process. You tell them, I'm not going anywhere until they come see me". He called the magistrates to his new office.

Now I wanna ask you a question. What happens if Paul and Silas don't pray? The whole story's different, isn't it? Everything's different. You see, when you pray, you open the doorway of God's possibility in your life. Now, most of us are willing to pray in a point of crisis or in a time of desperation. But Paul and Silas prayed at a time where everything else about their circumstances said, "Complain or criticize or talk about injustice". Think of all the things they could have done, other than giving glory to God. This is not a beginner's prayer. This isn't Prayer 101. This is a little window into prayer when your circumstances aren't what you want. This is a little window into an attitude towards God when your comfort and your convenience are not the gods that are being worshiped.

See, what usually sparks our prayer life is when our comfort and convenience is threatened. "I'm not getting what I want and I'm not happy about my circumstances and this is gonna be inconvenient for me. God, you've got to do something". And Paul and Silas are in the middle of a circumstance that is God-initiated, God-directed. He sent them there. He confirmed the assignment with the supernatural deliverance of a woman, and the outcome of the miracle is they're beaten and imprisoned and in spite of that they're giving glory to God and there's another miraculous deliverance and another expansion of the kingdom of God.

Let me give you another story. You know this one, I hope. It's from the book of Jonah. Jonah is one of the minor prophets in the Hebrew Bible. Minor, not because his story is insignificant, because the book is smaller. Jonah's the big fish story in the Bible, you remember it? Jonah's a prophet. The Scripture says the Word of the Lord came to Jonah and said go to Nineveh because I'm gonna destroy that city. It's so wicked. But I want you to go tell them I'm gonna destroy them if they don't change. Well, Jonah doesn't want Nineveh to repent. He wants them to be destroyed so he doesn't wanna go to Nineveh. So he goes the opposite direction. He books a Mediterranean cruise, and God said, "I don't think so. I told you to go to Nineveh".

So God creates a storm which totally trashes the cruise which really bums out everybody on board 'cause it's a no-refund cruise. Do you have an imagination that if God tells you to do something, he didn't present you with a smorgasbord of options? See, I think we've kind of crafted God into a heavenly Santa, some sort of a benevolent uncle or somebody that would just, you know, "Oh, shucks. Oh, well, if you don't want to go to Nineveh, how about going to Greece? Just travel and have fun". That's not the way I understand. When God gave us ten commandments he hasn't reduced those to, like, ten hints.

And so Jonah's going in the opposite direction and God said, "I don't think so, big boy. Have a storm". And those sailing with him understood there was something remarkable happening, not natural happening. They cast lots and said, "What's the problem"? And the finger pointed at Jonah. And they very apologetically threw him overboard. Then the storm ceased. And the Bible says, you know what it says, that God prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And that's what you have in your notes. It's Jonah 2, verse 1. Says: "From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. And he said: 'In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry".

Some of you know the outcome of this story. It says God caused that fish, after Jonah prayed, to spit him up on the shore. And in a remarkable gift of understatement, the Bible says: "A second time the Word of the Lord came to Jonah and said, 'Go to Nineveh.'" And Jonah said, "I hear it's pretty this time of year". And off he went. And Nineveh repents and Jonah's mad about it. He knew they would. What a happy man Jonah was. But I wanna ask you a question. What would have happened inside that fish if Jonah hadn't prayed? What would have been the outcome of this story if Jonah hadn't prayed?

Suppose Jonah had just been mad at God and he'd sulked, he'd withdrawn, he'd have pouted? Suppose he said, "God, you're not just. You're ruining my cruise. I had plans, God, and you interrupted them and I didn't want you to interrupt them. I wanted to do something else". Suppose Jonah hadn't humbled himself. What would the difference in the story have been? Well, in my opinion, God would have sent another prophet to Nineveh, and Jonah's story would have ended in the belly of a whale.

Folks, when you pray, when you pray, when you open that window of possibility, you change the possibilities of what God can do in your life. Now there are enough of us gathered here this morning, there are some of us in that Paul and Silas place, we've been following the Lord the best we know and we find ourselves in a place that's uncomfortable and inconvenient and unanticipated and unjust and we don't like it. And we've been telling God we don't like it. We've been telling the people around us we don't like it. We're heavily invested in "I don't like it". And I'm gonna invite you in a minute to do with me what Paul and Silas did, to pray and give thanks to the Lord. We're gonna honor the Lord. We're gonna trust that he directed us to this place and he will direct us through this place with an outcome that will glorify him and enable us to lay up treasure in heaven.

Would you be willing to do that? Some of us are in that Jonah spot. We find ourselves in a belly of a whale, and we're here because we didn't wanna cooperate with God. We wanted to go our own way. We didn't wanna say we're not God's people, we just didn't wanna be bothered with doing what he wanted us to do. You ever been there? I mean, I don't wanna say I'm not a Christ follower. It's not like I wanna burn my ticket to heaven. I just don't wanna be too bothered with being godly. Can I be a Christ follower and do my own thing? No, that's why we're called Christ followers. And if you're in the belly of the whale I wanna ask you if you'd be willing to repent like Jonah did and say, "Lord, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for demanding my way. I'm sorry for ignoring you. I wasn't confused, I wasn't distracted, I wasn't caught up in the moment. I willfully, purposefully, intentionally ignored what I knew to be right and did what I wanted to do".

I'm gonna ask you to stand with me in just a second. We're not gonna take very long. I'm gonna ask all of you to join with me in taking a moment to give thanks to the Lord. I'm expecting God to bring an earthquake in some of your lives. You can stand. Some of you got anxious. We did this last night and I rather naively said, "If you're in this place and you need a God event, why don't you stand"?

I did it twice and about 90% of the people in the room stood, and being a man of great discernment I recognized that all of us need a God event in our lives. Different, I don't wanna just talk about prayer. I wanna learn to pray with you. I'm gonna take just a moment and invite you, let's give thanks to the Lord. Just quietly in your voice. How many have at least one thing to be thankful for? Me too. We have food to eat and clothes to wear, a place to worship, it's air-conditioned, hallelujah, no hand fans. You don't think that's a good thing, we can turn it off. You'll be worshiping the Lord when it comes back on. We got so many blessings we don't even recognize them.

I understand your comfort and convenience are encroached upon by things. Sometimes, serious things. I've prayed with people this weekend for horrific diagnosis and tremendous challenges. I'm not making light of that. But if we can thank the Lord that he's watching over us, God will shake heaven and earth to help us. And some of us are stubbornly standing in our own rebellion and it's not a good place. And it's not gonna bring a good outcome. You will forfeit God's best for you if we can't humble ourselves and repent. So we'll start with just a few seconds of giving thanks and then I'm gonna pray a prayer of repentance and if that's your place, you agree in your heart, say, "Lord, that's me. I'm sorry. I will change my attitude, change my direction, change my behavior". All right, you with me? All right:

Lord, we come this morning to say thank you. You have blessed our lives. Lord, you've been good to us and we lift our voices and our hearts and our hands to you to say thank you for the food we eat and the clothing and the shelter, Lord. You have called us out of darkness into the kingdom of your Son. You have forgiven our sins. You have delivered us. Lord, you bring direction to our life. You've given us a community of believers in which we can stand and worship together and learn together. We praise you for it today. Lord, in the midst of discomfort, in the midst of injustice, in the midst of things that are not fair and things that are inappropriate, we still lift our voices to you in praise and thanksgiving and prayer to honor the God who watches over us. You're the just judge of all the earth. We entrust ourselves to your care, Lord. You orchestrate deliverance, you bring freedom. We praise you for it today, Lord.

We are not discouraged or disheartened. We will not turn away or relent. We bless your name for you are King and Creator of all things. We worship you. And Lord, we come in humility this morning with humble hearts and repentant spirits to turn away from our own will and our own way. Father, forgive us when we have heard your direction and we've known the truth and we've known right and we have chosen wrong. Lord, we've justified it, we've excused it. But in reality, we are rebels and we come today to say we are sorry, forgive us. In humility, Lord, we ask for your direction. Give us the wisdom to choose your path. Forgive us. Holy Spirit, we invite you in. Uncover every rock, Lord. Turn over every stone that has led us down this path of destruction.

We choose your way today, and we thank you for it. Lord, I thank you for your people. I thank you for your presence here, for the Spirit of the living God that watches over us, that greater is he who's in us than the spirit that's in this world. And in Jesus's name I renounce every spirit of oppression and heaviness and darkness that has settled upon your people. In Jesus's name, your power be broken over our lives, our homes, and our marriages and our children and our businesses. In Jesus's name, get out. Your power is broken over our lives. We've been set free to serve a living God. Let freedom come this day and liberty come this day. Let our eyes be opened and our ears unstopped and our hearts softened to the invitations of a living God. May they seem pleasant to us and glorious to us and not burdensome. We thank you for it. I thank you for this our freedom. In Jesus's name we pray and believe, amen.

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