Allen Jackson - Life Lived Well
We are doing a series that's really more than a single study. It is an invitation to the Lord this year built around this notion of let's pray. I don't know of anything that can add greater significance to your life as a Christ follower than making a commitment to become a person of prayer. Prayer reaches beyond time and touches eternity. Whatever you have committed yourself to achieve or become or accomplish or accumulate I'm not suggesting it's wrong or inappropriate, but for the most part those objectives are typically limited by time. When you invest in prayer and becoming a person of prayer, you commit yourself to something that will extend beyond time. Why would you give the strength of your life, the effort of your life, your intellect to something that will expire?
Again, I don't want to exclude those things. They have a place. But I would strongly encourage you to consider becoming a person who invest routinely on a daily basis energy, effort, thought in something that will stretch into eternity; and prayer offers us a unique opportunity on that front. With that in mind, let's pray. And I have suggested to you every week this notion that prayer matters, and we'll start this week with Colossians 1 and verse 9. Paul's writing. He says, "Since the day we heard about you, we haven't stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding". He said, "From the first we heard about you, we haven't stopped praying for you". He didn't say, "We prayed for you at church, or we prayed for you in small group, or we prayed for you at the beginning of the day". He said, "We haven't stopped praying for you".
And what I continue to invite you towards... this is imagination that prayer can be a much broader part of your life. Don't limit it to a formal religious service. Prayer isn't intended to be the transition between the singing and the preaching. Prayer is not intended to be the clue that the service is overrun for the restaurant. Prayer is not just a crisis response to God. Prayer is a general word. Beneath that general word, there are many, many, many specific expressions of prayer and they're not interchangeable. You can't just exchange one for another. In the Book of James it says the effective prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much. If you can have an effective prayer, you can have an ineffective prayer. So just, you know, lobbying a sentence heavenward does not mean you have prayed well, doesn't mean you've prayed effectively.
You say, "Well, I don't like that". I appreciate that. I understand we would rather not have to think about God. We'd rather God adjust to us, but that's a rather naive approach. We want to understand who God is and how we can approach him and how we can pray effectively. Look with me in Luke 7 and verse 12. It's a Jesus initiative. "As Jesus approached a town gate, a dead person was being carried out; the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, 'Don't cry.'"
Let's pause there just a moment. The compassion in this story is directed towards this woman. Jesus's disciples are approaching the town. It's the end of the day. There's a funeral procession, and they see a widow. We don't know how he knows this. We don't know whether they inquired of people in the crowd, whether it's a word of wisdom. We just don't know. But Luke tells us it's a widow and her only son has died and it's the burial processional, and Jesus is moved with compassion towards the woman. There's no suggestion whatsoever on Luke's behalf that Jesus has any compassion towards the young man. He may have. Luke just doesn't tell us about it. We don't know anything. We don't know his name. We don't know if he was in a tragic accident. We don't know if he was a scoundrel and a rogue. We don't know if he was executed. But Jesus has compassion on the woman, and he says to her, "Don't cry".
Now, watch what he does next. "He went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still". The sense is he puts his hand on the coffin to stop the processional, and then he says something. He says to the young man, "I say to you, get up". Now, I can in my mind's eye see that crowd. Not this one, that one. When Jesus puts his hand on the coffin and says, "Sit up," I can see the people carrying the coffin and the rest of the skeptics in the group rolling their eyes. "Some rabbi he is talking to people that are dead". Can you see them? I don't imagine it's like an overwhelming audience of faith. They're not all on the edge of the seat going, "This is going to be good". They're going, "What is wrong? He's been in the sun too long". "I say to you, get up". Look at the next sentence. "The dead man sat up and began to talk".
Now, Luke doesn't say it, but in my imagination again Jesus is making eye contact with every one of those people that just a moment before had rolled theirs. "Would you like to talk to him"? And he gave him back to his mother. Now, I want to ask you a question. What would the outcome in this story have been if Jesus and his disciples had stopped one village sooner that day, or chosen an alternative path and gone one village further on their journey, or maybe they were hungry and they didn't want to be bothered with the inconvenience of a processional so they bypassed that to hurry on to their dinner appointment? Any number of scenarios are plausible and possible except this one, but because Jesus was there at that point in time, and because he was moved with compassion towards that woman, and because he prayed there was a significant change in the outcome of life.
Is that a fair assumption? What I've been suggesting to you is that when we fail to pray we leave closed the doorways of God's opportunity. Conversely, when we do pray, we open the doors of God's possibility in our lives. I'm not suggesting you head to the funeral home this afternoon. I don't believe that's the lesson or the assignment, but I believe clearly we are told repeatedly in Scripture through these kind of scenarios that when we pray we open the doors of God's possibilities. The refusal to pray, whatever the reason, leaves those doors closed. I don't want to be that kind of a person. I want to learn more about prayer. I want to understand how to make it a part of my life and my spiritual journey. I have suggested to you a new response. Let's pray. We are social creatures.
In the course of your day you interact with dozens and dozens of people some personally, some digitally. In all kinds of ways we interact with people, and most of begin interactions begin with a brief exchange of information. "How are you"? "I'm not great. Kids were sick. My husband's grumpy. The boss is mad. I'm hopelessly behind. I don't feel good. I worked out yesterday. I'm sore. I didn't work out yesterday. I don't feel..." You know, whatever. The weather. The Titans, who they're going to draft. Let's pray. All kinds of interactions, and you've got your responses. Some of you got little phrases that are as much a part of you they're like signature phrases.
Again, not wrong. You can commiserate. You can empathize. You can carry the gossip one step further along in the chain. A lot of ways you can respond. What I've suggested is let's pray. Let's put a God opportunity into the midst of those simple little interactions in the course of your day. Why would we do that? Why would we do that? We're trying to convince people we're spiritual. We trying to pump up the notion that we know something they don't know. It isn't about us. What we're wanting to do is acknowledge God, create a God opportunity in the midst of those interactions. If we'll talk about the weather, or the Titans, or UT, or food, or our favorite television program, or who's going to get voted off "American Idol" or whatever you... why not talk about God?
Let me give you a biblical reason. Matthew chapter 10, Jesus is teaching, says, "Don't fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul". Now, I know this is Jesus, and it's in the Bible, but that seems like a strange statement to me. He said don't be afraid of people that can kill the body. I'm thinking if somebody has the means and the intent to do me permanent damage, that's probably somebody I should be afraid of. How about you? But Jesus just said don't be too concerned about that. He said it's really not that big a deal. "Don't be afraid of those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. Rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell".
He said you should really be afraid of somebody that, when they've destroyed you physically, they can destroy you spiritually. He said that's a lot bigger concern. He's helping us understand something about our lives. We tend to look at life if it's totally defined by physical things: what we feel, what we want, what we dream about, what we desire, that that should be the boundary of our existence; and he says there's something more significant than that, and then he gives us an example. He said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't fear; you're more valuable than many sparrows".
What's Jesus saying? He said sparrows are sold for a penny. They're not very valuable. There's lots of them. If some fall down, we'll get some more. They're cheap. But he said there's not a sparrow that falls to the ground without your Father knowing that it happens. I don't believe that's just a poetic statement, I believe he's stating the truth. I think Jesus spoke truthfully, that Almighty God is conscious of a single sparrow when it drops to the earth. Then he says something that changes the whole dialogue. He said you're a lot more valuable than a sparrow. He said God pays attention to you. He's keeping up with you. He even knows the numbers of hairs on your head.
You know, that's not a fixed number. Some of you know better than others, but it's a moving target. It didn't say that God gave you a headcount when you started, and he'll take an inventory at the end when you're done with your head. It said he knows the number of hairs on your head. He keeps a running tally of what's going on up there. The message is he's paying close attention. The bigger picture story is, you matter to God. Jesus was saying God loves you. You're a whole lot more valuable than the birds in the air. As beautiful as they are, as remarkable as they are, you're different. You matter to God. Do you know that? You matter to God. That notion alone will change the context of your entire existence. You're not alone.
I think one of the most destructive ideas that's ever been fostered on us, and it has enormous traction in contemporary American culture and life and thought, it's this idea that a human being is just an expression of matter that's made its way to the highest rung on the evolutionary ladder, but you're really nothing more than the outcome of a blob of protoplasm that washed up on some beach out of the primordial ooze a few billion years ago. No real significance to you. Nothing unique about you. Whoever you are and whatever you are, you're just sort of a cosmic hiccup hurtling through space on this planet. If we can just find the other planets, there's got to be something like you or better than you or smarter than you someplace else. We just haven't found them yet.
So the best thing you can do is enjoy the days you've got. Eat, drink, and be merry. Squeeze all the juice out of life 'cause when you're done with it there's nothing left but the rind and you're finished. It's a lie from the pit of hell. My Bible says that from the very foundations of the earth God looked forward and imagined you, that he watched you when you were being knit together in your mother's womb, that you were created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance of the beginning of the world for you and me to do. When he made you, he made you unique. There's never been another one like you. There'll never be one who follows that is a duplicate. You are unique, uniquely crafted with skills and abilities and gifts and insights hardwired to be an ambassador for Almighty God on planet Earth.
We've got to acknowledge something along with that. We're descendants of Adam and Adam is the father of a race of rebels, and we are fundamentally at our core rebels. Even as Christ followers we have an Adamic nature, an earthly nature, a carnal nature that stands in rebellion to God. We see the outworking of that rebellion in the world all around us. We see it in the mirror, and we hear it come out of our mouths if we'll listen. We are reluctant to yield. But Jesus spoke into that narrative, giving us a motivation and incentive for cooperating with God. He said you're a lot more valuable than the birds. God knows you. He cares about you. He loves you. He's watching over you.
Folks, we're not just religious folk. We're not just here to learn a set of rules or learn when to sit and stand, to get through a service without embarrassing ourselves. There is a God. We want to understand how to interact with him, to let his purposes break forth in our lives; affect our relationships, our marriages, our imaginations of ourselves, of what we can do with the resources that God entrusts us, how our lives can make a difference because we are creatures of eternity. When our countdown clock in time expires, we're not done. The earth suits we've got, they may be wearing out a little bit and fraying around the edges, but we are created for something more than this.
And Jesus said to us, "You matter. Don't be afraid of somebody," he said, "that could just break you physically". He said that's not such a big deal. There's more than this, and he said God loves you. If you've never made Jesus Lord of your life, I don't want you to miss that today. In fact, I want t... let's pray. I want to lead you in a little prayer. I'm going to ask you all to pray. Just bow your heads for a minute. We're just going to make a profession of faith. You can close your eyes, forget who's around you. They don't count for just a second. I want to invite you to repeat a little prayer with me. Just say it out loud. If you prayed it before, it won't hurt you.
Almighty God, I'm a sinner and I need a Savior. I believe Jesus is your Son, that he died on a cross for my sin and that you raised him to life again that I might be justified. Jesus, forgive my sin. I forgive anyone of anything they've done to me. I set them free. Jesus, be Lord of my life; Lord of all that I am, all that I have, all that I'll ever be. I want to live for your honor. In Jesus's name, amen.
Hallelujah. If you say that prayer and you mean it, the supernatural power of God goes to work on your behalf. That's the truth. With your affirmation of that set of simple truths, something supernatural happens that only an Almighty God could do for you. You change kingdoms and the outcomes are more significant than if you exchanged your blue US passport for an Iranian passport today. The outcomes are more significant than if you moved your citizenship from the United States of America to Russia. You changed kingdoms for eternity with that statement. It's tremendous what happens to you.
Now, we have to learn to live it out. It doesn't deliver us from a broken world, doesn't deliver us from pain or trauma or suffering or heartache or heaviness, but it changes our destiny. We need to finish Jesus's passage. In verse 32 he said, "Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will confess him before My Father who's in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven". Don't turn the page just yet. I want you to keep the context of that verse. It won't help me finish more quickly if you turn the page. They've been trying all weekend. "Hurry. Please, God, help him".
I don't believe that last statement by Jesus was a threat. I don't see him wagging his finger at us going, "If you don't acknowledge me before people, I won't acknowledge you before my Father". That's not the way I understand it at all. It's in a context he's helping us understand what to fear and what not to fear; of telling us how valuable we are, how much God loves us. And then he makes this statement. He said, "Listen, if you can acknowledge me before men, I can acknowledge you before the Father. I'll show you how to expand your relationship with the Father". He said, "Learn to acknowledge me before people".
I don't think we've really done a good job of this in American Christendom. We've kind of packaged Christianity and we focused it around some significant events, repeating a prayer, the altar of a church, maybe getting dunked in a pool; and those both have value and merit and they're biblical. I don't want to diminish them. But it's almost we've had the imagination if you do that, then you can live your life on your terms, your dreams, your objectives, your goals, your relationships. You've done the God business. Why be bothered with it any further? I don't believe that's what God really is inviting us towards. Jesus is saying, "Acknowledge me before men. I'll acknowledge you before the Father". There's a relationship being opened up to us in there.
Sometimes we pray some awful things about one another. This is not about how smart you are. This isn't about your discernment. This is as close to not about us as we can make it and still be there present making a difference. We're inviting God into the circumstance. We don't need people to think we're spiritual. It's better if they think we're normal. We've spent too much time trying to convince people we're spiritual when they know the real truth. That's another lesson, isn't it? Heaviness. People carry some tremendous loads, tremendous loads. "Father, lift the despair and bring your hope to us today in Jesus's name". Weariness. People get tired. "Help carry our burden through this day. Give us a sense of your rest in Jesus's name". There's a whole new category. We'll talk about it more this year. But prayer is not just for when you have a problem or you're stressed or in need.
Let's pray works when you're celebrating. If your co-worker comes up and say, "I won the lottery, $683 million," "Let's pray. Lord, give my friend a spirit of generosity in Jesus's name. And here's pastor's phone number. He wants to talk to you". You want to pray celebratory prayers. When God has shown up and done something good, "Yay, God". If you're praying more than the Father, "Thank you. Thank you for the place we work. Thank you for my family. Thank you for a beautiful day. Thank you for a soccer field where our kids can play. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for the freedom to vote. Thank you that we can recreate with things like the Titans and UT. Thank you, God. You blessed us". Let's let gratitude grow in us. Start to give expressions of gratitude and thankfulness more than we complain. Let's pray. It makes a difference.
Now, I brought you a character study that we'll do another time. It's a man by the name of Daniel. Everything in Daniel's life was locked down for defeat. The nation he was born into was destroyed before he was a mature man. Everything about his life was disrupted. He's a slave in a foreign country with no hope of returning home, no hope of independence, no hope of autonomy, no hope of self-determination. He is a slave for life. Everything he's dreamt about is gone. The plans his parents held for him are not going to fill his future. He has every reason to be angry, bitter, filled with despair. I mean, every reason, and he's not. And the single characteristic that stands out of Daniel above all the rest is, he was a man who prayed. He has this relationship with God, and God responds to him with amazing things.
Daniel prays himself into a lions' den and out again. And before the Book of Daniel is over, God sends an angel that says, "Even God highly esteems you". And God gives Daniel insights and revelations not just for himself and his generation. He gives him insight into the end of the age before the Messiah returns so that the people in that season will be prepared. God trusted Daniel so much to give him insight into what was coming hundreds of years down the road. Wow. Prayer will bring significance to your life. There's a workmanlike quality to prayer. It's not just an excuse for me to wear flannel, it's a part of your daily routine.
When you see someone who consistently has outcomes to prayer, know two things for certain. It's not that they found the special sauce. Two things. They spend time routinely praying, and they spend time routinely with their Bibles learning about the character of God. You can do this. It will bring meaning and purpose and significance to your life no matter the circumstances, no matter the pain, no matter the disadvantages, no matter the hatred, no matter all the reasons that you think would disqualify you or limit you from finding your potential. It's a lie. God will help you find your potential. You seek him. You seek him. I brought you a prayer. We'll close with that. If you'll stand with me, we'll read it together. Have you found it? Let's read:
Heavenly Father, give us a spirit of prayer and intercession. Open our hearts to the reality of Your Kingdom and purposes. Give us boldness as we live for You. Manifest Your glory in our midst that others may see the majesty and glory of our God. May Your name be praised and Your purposes break forth in this generation. In Jesus's name, amen.