Allen Jackson - Realms of Authority (Jesus and Politics) - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you again. Our topic is effective prayer. Jesus said something really startling to his closest friends just prior to his crucifixion, before his passion began, he said it was better for them if he left because if he left, the Father would send them another comforter. Imagine that Jesus said it's better for you and me to have the Spirit of the living God within us than to have him physically present with us. Well, prayer is the way that we cooperate with the Spirit of God. So when we say we don't pray, we leave the Spirit of God out of the equation of our lives. We're going to explore that in a little more detail today. Grab your Bible and a notepad but most importantly, open your heart.
The topic for the weekend is effective prayer. We began our year talking about prayer, with a whole "let's pray" initiative and this is really intended to be a companion study to that whole initiative. We're going to talk this weekend specifically about some realms of authority, but the prayer idea, it is not one that we want to relegate to campus. In fact, the whole objective of let's pray was to take prayer outside the church and off our campus. How many of you had at least one let's pray moment so far this year? Now what are the rest of you doing? Just not raising your hand, right? Remember the idea? We're social creatures, right?
We have all kinds of interactions through the day, some personally, some digitally, but all kinds of ways we communicate with people and our habit when that happens is to exchange a little personal information. Even if you're buying gas or, at the convenience store, just making something quick or you're checking out at the grocery store, it's not unusual for there to be a little personal exchange. "How you doing today"? "I'm great, I'm not so great, I didn't sleep well, my kids are sick, my husband's mean". Why is that funny? Because it's so unusual. But we're accustomed to that little dial, particularly in the South, it's a part of Southern culture. You can't just walk up and say, "What do you want"?
We'd think you were from the north. But in those little polite interchanges, I suggested there was an opportunity. Our habit is to respond in kind. You do when you go to the work in the morning, before you get into your day, you have a little exchange with people and you've probably got a habit, a little patter that you use, some phrases that are probably familiar to you. And I what I suggested is we have a choice. You can empathize and you can talk about the Predators or the Titans or whatever, Vanderbilt winning football season, if you're a person of great faith. But I suggested that when someone opens their heart and gives you that little bit of personal information, there's a God opportunity there.
And if you had the courage and you would take that opportunity, you could say, "Let's pray". Don't ask, the old fashioned way, say, "Would it be all right with you if I offered a prayer"? And that's already creeping me out. And besides that, you've given all your power away, you've given them permission now to drive the whole initiative. If you just say, "Let's pray," just drop your head and before they respond, before they even know what you're doing, you only get one sentence, you get a one sentence prayer. "God help my friend, they didn't sleep well, give 'em strength today, amen. And I pray you help my friend, give 'em wisdom with their kids in Jesus's name". You can do let's pray at home before you leave in the morning. Husbands you can pray for your wife, "God thank you for my wife, bless her today, amen". Just hush while you're ahead.
Now here's the key, after you said your one sentence prayer, what are we gonna do? Nothing, we're moving on. This is where we fumble the most, we stop. "Did you feel anything"? "Yeah, I feel pretty creepy, by the way you're looking at me right now". God's the one that brings the change, you don't want to mess that up, so say your prayer and just move right on. "Did you see the Predators game seven? It was too bad, wasn't it"? "What do you think about the Titans draft? Don't you love this weather? I wish it was like this all year round. Where are we going for lunch today? Have a good day," whatever, just move right on with the conversation.
Now here's what I've discovered, we've been doing this for several months, and I've heard dozens and dozens of your stories and collected some of my own. If you'll take the courage and the faith to have that little, let's pray moment, people begin to identify you as somebody... they'll show back up for more. Have you found that? It almost, I mean, you got to kind of find boundaries around it even. I was at the gym working out and somebody brought somebody up. He said, "This person's got a problem, would you pray for them"? They said, "I know you pray". I said, "Sure, let's pray," and I did exactly what we talked about, said the little deal.
Well, somebody told somebody. When I'm at the gym, I'm not in uniform. I mean, I'm like in shorts and a t-shirt. Don't think about it, it'll mess with you, but that's just... But you know, now I get interrupted at the gym. Somebody came and got me off a piece of exercise equipment the other day. They walked up and said, "Are you Pastor Jackson"? And I'm... you know, trying to find air and I'm sweating like a sprinkler and I said, "Yes"? And they said, "I hate to interrupt". And I thought to myself, no, you really don't, didn't you see the sweat flying and the...? So I turned the equipment off and I got off. We're standing right in the middle of the gym. There's people running and climbing and lifting and grunting and the whole bit and here we stand. And they said, "I've got a", they told me the problem and they said, "Would you pray with me"? And I said, "Sure". I said, "Let's pray". And when I said, "Let's pray," they got down on their face on the carpet, in the middle of all the stuff.
So you know, I had dropped my head, and when I dropped my head I saw them dropping. So I thought I'm not gonna be outdone, so I'm down on the carpet too, right in the middle of the equipment and then... we had a let's pray right there. If you'll open that door... Yay God. But here's the other thing that I have observed, if you crack that door and you start to have that simple prayer with some people, you very quickly become aware of how inadequate you are, don't you? The needs in people's lives are incredible, the stresses they carry, the pressures they feel, the burdens they bear, and you become aware that let's pray isn't some trite, throw away line so you can appear spiritual and fool some more people. It's not some pseudo religious mumbo jumbo. You become aware you're inviting Almighty God into the lives of people.
And what it's awakened in me is a desire to pray more effectively. See if the only tool you have in your toolbox is a hammer, everything you look at looks like a nail. And if your prayer life is underdeveloped, if your imagination of what prayer can be and what spiritual authority is, is underdeveloped, you're not really fully equipped to address the things that God could bring to you. So with our willingness to open that doorway, I pray what is growing in our hearts is a desire to learn to pray more effectively. Where we used to say, you know, I don't pray, or you know, prayer's not, you know the women pray, or if I get really desperate I pray. Or I'm not verbal or I'm not an extrovert. We had all kinds of reasons why we didn't. When we fail to pray, we close the door on the possibility of God in our lives.
And folks, we're living in a season where we desperately need God's possibility to be a part of the fabric of the world we're living in. We're having trouble sorting out which bathroom to go to. We need God in the midst of this thing. That's the truth. And this isn't about some politician or political parties, not about better sermons. This is about you and I owning our faith in the fabric of our lives, where we work. If you don't care enough about the people you work with to pray for them, we need to face the truth that all we're doing is going to work to make a buck. If you live in a neighborhood, and you don't care enough about the people that live in the houses next to you to have offered a prayer for them, if you do a let's pray moment when you get the mail, I promise you, if you'll pay attention for the next couple of weeks, they will accidentally schedule another opportunity with you down at the mailbox. We've got a God assignment and God will help us with it if we'll open our hearts, which gets us today's lesson.
Look at James 5, it says, "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much". Logically, if you can have an effective prayer, you can have an ineffective prayer. And if an effective prayer accomplishes much, an ineffective prayer will accomplish? Not so much, So I don't wanna pray ineffectively, God will help us, we can learn. There's no shame in saying, "Hey, I'm not great at that". We can learn, God will help us, that's what the Holy Spirit is about. We've been in church a long time, but we haven't always learned to be Christ followers, and that's what this is all about.
I wanna start with a notion, the Scripture teaches us that you are a spirit, that you have a soul and you live in a body. You're a spirit, you have a soul. Your soul is your mind, your will and your emotions. And you live in a body. Your body's what gives you authority on planet earth. When your body quits working, you don't have anymore authority here. You're not done here, when your body quits, your spirit is eternal, it steps right into eternity. Your existence goes forward, you're just done with your authority on planet earth. So living with this notion that we are a spirit, we have a soul and we are a body, is a very significant step for developing a meaningful spiritual life and understanding the realms of authority in your life, because they intersect and they overlap. They're not always distinct, we're complex beings. Goes back to the very beginning of the story.
Look in Genesis chapter 2 and verse 7. It says, "The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being". it's the culmination of the creation narrative. The creation of human beings was different from all the other aspects of creation, God spoke our world into existence. It says God spoke and the the dry land land separated from the heavens, and God spoke and the things that swim in the waters came into existence. Or, God spoke and the things that fly through the air came into existence. Or God spoke and things that crawl up on the dry ground came into existence. But when it came to human beings, it says that God formed us from the dust of the ground and breathed into us his Spirit and we became a living being.
Human beings are not just the highest rung on the evolutionary ladder. You're not just the most fully developed primate on planet earth. In fact in Genesis chapter 1, that's very near the beginning of the story. It says, "God said let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image in the image of God, he created him, male and female he created them". Human beings are the image bearers of Almighty God, the Creator of all things. It's a distinction that the human being carries over all the rest of creation. It brings a dignity to every human life, no matter how young, how old, how strong, how weak, how accomplished, or how inept. Every human being represents the image of Almighty God. It separates a baby from a puppy.
Now I grew up in the home of a veterinarian, I have a healthy appreciation for living things. And we have a responsibility as stewards for the earth and the things in the earth. But we are not the same as the other things upon the earth. The Book of Genesis in the first chapters introduces us to the primary themes of the story of the Bible. And at the beginning of the story, the heart of the story, is the unique relationship between Almighty God and Adam and his descendants on planet earth.
This book is the story about God's concern, his desire for a relationship to interact with Adam and his descendants. He created the earth and everything that is in it, for human beings. It's a remarkable thing, it's a phenomenal story. You matter to God. There's something about that that will bring a dignity to your life that will cause you to stand a little straighter, to view the assignments of your life with a greater sense of purpose. You're not accidental. You're not just a mass of protoplasm that accidentally collided with planet earth as we hurdle through space. You were imagined by Almighty God.
Now we are complex beings, I said you're a spirit, that you have a soul and you live in a body. And God designs you to have a sense of satisfaction for every aspect of your person. For your body, we call that pleasure. For your soul, for your mind, your will and your emotions, we call it happiness. And for your spirit, we call it joy. God is not opposed to pleasure, he created you with the capacity to experience pleasure. It's good to say that out loud in church, place gets quiet. God's not anti pleasure, God's not anti happy, he created you with the ability to recognize it and experience it and enjoy it, in the same way he created you with the spiritual capacity to know joy, that will sustain you.
The challenge is keeping those things in their appropriate balance in our life, because if we get out of balance and any one of those becomes disproportionate, we become unhealthy. If our life becomes totally enmeshed, immersed, in the pursuit of pleasure, if we would rather have pleasure than anything else in our lives, it becomes a destructive tendency. If our objective is the pursuit of happiness, we just want to be happy, whatever makes me happy that's what I'll do. It's what I'll commit myself to, no matter what the consequences are, it's a destructive pathway. Don't be weird, we get this fundamentally. Physically, you understand our bodies are the most remarkable things. It was a study of the basic sciences that really led me to a commitment of faith in my life, that helped gave me the courage to take the steps towards ministry.
I was so in awe of the precision and the exactness and the interdependency of all the systems that are in a human body that allow us to thrive. Your immune system, the complexity of it, the things that it defends you from on a daily basis, that we're totally impervious to. But having said that, your body, to be healthy, is dependent upon a certain equilibrium, a certain balance of things, and if those things get out of balance even in some seemingly rather minute ways, you begin to function less efficiently and less effectively. It'll make you sick, and if they get far enough out of balance, it'll destroy you, it's fatal, terminal. You don't have to be conscious of it, it's just that equilibrium's important. Well, if that's true physically, it's true with your whole person. A healthy balance between your body, soul and spirit is necessary to be healthy people. Different realms of authority.
Now, just as there's a satisfaction for every part of your person, there is a responsibility for every part of your person. You have a spiritual God-given responsibility for how you care for your body. The Scripture says that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That's a startling assertion of Scripture. No other religious system in the world comes close to such a thing, that the creator of Heaven and earth would occupy his creation, that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in you. You are the temple of the living God. You understand, that brings a meaning and dignity as significance to you as a person? Don't say, "I'm too short or too tall or my nose is too long or my ears are too big or my eyes are the wrong color," God said you bear his image, and his Spirit dwells in you.
Now, if you've been around church very long, this one or any church, you probably have a sense of what's appropriate for church. You probably have a sense of what's appropriate to put on these screens, and what would be inappropriate to put on those screens. May I suggested if it's inappropriate for these screens, it's probably inappropriate for these screens. You probably got an idea of appropriate clothing to wear to church. Well, why would you have clothing that's not appropriate to wear to church? You're God's people wherever you go. Now, I got stuff for the gym, I got that, but I mean just in general. You don't wanna have a vocabulary for your church friends and another vocabulary for your other friends. We are the temple of the Living God, God doesn't stay in this building.
When we leave we take him with us. And so we have a responsibility for how we care for the temple. How you take care of your body as an expression of worship. Worship isn't about what you do when the music plays and the singers sing, or the Scriptures are opened or when you come onto worship as who you are 24/7, your relationship with Almighty God. We also have a responsibility for our soul, for our mind, our will and our emotions. The Scripture says they we're to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Jesus. We're responsible for our thoughts and it's not that we don't have ungodly or immoral, or even inappropriate thoughts, but we don't want to grab 'em, entertain 'em, feed 'em, camp out with them. We are responsible for that.
The Scripture says to not let the sun go down when you're angry. We're responsible for our emotional health and well-being. You can't just say, "Well I'm an emotional being". God created us with emotions, they're not wrong or bad, they're not a weakness but we're responsible for the care and feeding of them. If you take emotional liberty, it will be destructive in your life. We're responsible for our spiritual well-being. The Bible says, "Above all else, guard your heart".
Before you guard your home, before you guard your kids, before you guard your retirement, guards your heart, the center of your spiritual life. It's essential because without that, everything will go off the rails. Jesus said no one can participate in the Kingdom of God unless you are born of the Spirit, that unless you accept responsibility to participate in a spiritual birth in your life, you'll forfeit the Kingdom of God. We are responsible for our cooperating with God's purposes, for our body, our soul, and our spirit. And if we ignore that, no matter how much we sit in charge or how heavy the Bible we carry, we will forfeit the well-being that God intends us to have. Effective prayers. Effective prayers deal with all those aspects of our lives. We can pray for our physical well-being. We can pray for our mental and emotional well-being. We can pray for spiritual things. And if we don't have a meaningful imagination of an authority to pray in those different realms, we are forfeiting what God could do in us and through us.
Now, I wanna tack one more idea onto that and it has to do with this idea that there is opposition to the purposes of God in your life. I've already mentioned that those early chapters of Genesis lead us to the fundamental principles of the story of Scripture. And in the first chapters of Genesis, we're introduced to an adversary to the purposes of God in the earth, aren't we? In the garden we are introduced to a person that entices Eve and Adam into rebellion against God. It's a startling intrusion into the story. God has put them in the midst of this marvelous place, all of their needs provided for in perfect harmony with him and we're introduced to this adversary. And he's successful. Adam chooses to rebel against God.
The Scripture says Eve was deceived, not Adam, he rebelled. "I'll go my way". Well, it's important to know that there is opposition to the purposes of God in your life. Sometimes I think we we wanna imagine we're a little too sophisticated to believe in that. We don't wanna get bogged down with the negative and we don't wanna be heavy, we don't wanna think about dark things, so let's just talk about happy stuff. Well I'm up with that. I don't have any problem with that, but if we ignore the truth, it's not wise.
Now I don't wanna frighten you, I don't wanna make you uncomfortable. I don't want you to live in fear. The Scripture says that greater is he who is in you than he who's in the world. So this isn't a frightening topic. On the other hand, I don't want you to be surprised at difficulty in life, to think that you're unique or somehow you're singled out, or you're being unfairly picked on when there's opposition or there's difficulty, Jesus said in John 16, in this world you'll have trouble. I've been a Christ follower for a while now, I still act surprised, don't you? How many times you think about, "Well God I don't know why is this happen to me? I'm such a good boy". Jesus said in the world you're gonna have trouble, and we still just act shocked. How could that happen to me? I'm such a fine, fine person, went to church this Sunday, endured that endless sermon, read those notes. It's a cotton-picking library he hands out. "Don't be surprised," Jesus said, "But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world".
Learning to lead spiritually aware lives changes everything. We've learned how to be churched people, we've learned how to be religious, we've even learned how to sit up and be nice if we think somebody's watching. What we really want to learn is how to live spiritually aware, alert to the world around us. Let's ask God for his help:
Heavenly Father, I thank you that you love us. I thank you for the great provision you have made for us through Jesus. And I thank you, Holy Spirit, that you live within us to guide and lead and direct. Give us understanding hearts. Open the eyes of our understanding in Jesus's name, amen.