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TEXT: Romans 8:26
SUBJECT: The Gospel Changes Everything #9: Prayer Life
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our Sunday afternoon study of how The Gospel Changes Everything. The Gospel is good news-the announcement of what God has done, and is doing, in Christ to set the world right. That the world needs to be 'set right' requires no proof-things are not the way they're supposed to be, and not the way they will be!
But how does the change occur? How does God fix broken people? Devout Jews say He does it by Torah, what we call His Law. The Law tells us what a good life is and inspires us to live it. No one lives it perfectly, of course, but the Law also provides forgiveness to the people who want it and resolve to do better next time. This is the hope of Judaism, and what Peter calls-
A yoke.which neither our fathers nor we could bear.
The Law will not fix the world, and it will not fix your life. The Ten Commandments will not do it and neither will the Sermon on the Mount or the practical teaching we find in the Epistles. No man ever loved his wife as Christ loves the church because the Bible told him to! If he loves his wife at all, it's because of the Gospel, because Christ loves the church, of which he is a member.
It is the Gospel that changes everything. What the Law tells us to do, the Gospel enables us to do. This includes the thing-I believe-that more Christians struggle with more often than anything else.
THE PROBLEM OF PRAYING
Do you have a good prayer life? In a lifetime of going to church, I have known only one person who would say, 'Yes, I do'. Whether she did or not, I don't know, but she said she did, and I'll take her word for it. The rest of us say, 'No we don't have a good prayer life'. Some of us hardly pray at all; others pray only in emergencies; some pray every day, but tell me their prayers are shallow and repetitious and half-hearted; and others pray inconsistently-hot for a day or two and then cold for a week, then hot for a week and cold for a month. Like Reuben, we're-
Unstable as water.
Most of us get used to a poor prayer life, but we never approve of it. When we think of how little and badly we pray, we're ashamed of ourselves, and when we hear a good sermon on prayer, we say, 'I'm going to do it this time'-and then we don't.
How do we change our prayer lives? Let's go back about 300 years to Oxford University, to a small room with a handful of young men in it. The leader of that room was John Wesley; his brother Charles was there, a boy named George Whitefield, and some others whose names I don't know. They called themselves, The Holy Club, but not because they were conceited. Holy was not what they thought they were, but what they wanted to be.
Prayer is a big part of holiness, and using devotional books, both Catholic and Protestant, they resolved to pray without ceasing. They got up at three or four in the morning and prayed till breakfast. What spare time they had during the day, they sneaked off to quiet places to pray for another hour or two. They also prayed for a few hours at bedtime. And, of course, if they woke up during the night, they logged more time in prayer. The young men prayed for six, eight, ten hours a day. And what makes their story interesting is.
Not one of them was saved! They were talking with their eyes closed and their heads bowed and their hands folded, but they were not praying, or, at least, not praying well.
Had the young men known their Church History better, they would have known how futile their efforts were. Two hundred years before, Martin Luther did everything they did-and a lot more-only to find the same failure and frustration.
Discipline, self-denial, and accountability are good things, but they will not change your prayer life. Because all these things are Law, and the Law gives us everything we need to keep it-except the desire to keep it.
What the Law cannot do, the Gospel can do, and does do.
THE GOSPEL AND YOUR PRAYER LIFE
How? Much can be said here; this is what occurred to me.
In the first place, the Gospel says God's love for you does not depend on the quality of your prayer life. Do I need to quote the verses?
We love Him because He first loved us.
God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
The Lord did not set His love on you or choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you.
Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore, with lovingkindness have I drawn you.
God is not a silly girl whose heart can be won by a sweet-talking man. God is the sweet-talking Man who woos and wins us by His Gospel. We're the silly girl, and if we answer Him with a string of 'you knows' and 'likes' and other inane babbling, He still loves us. Prayer is the answer to God's love, not a way of obtaining it, keeping it, or increasing it.
You haven't prayed much lately, and now you wonder if God loves you enough to hear your prayer. But, does the Bible say, the proof of God's love is in the warmth of your prayers? Or is the proof of His love outside of yourself-
On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame?
In the second place, the Gospel says your acceptance with God does not depend on the quality of your prayer life. Does the Lord accept us because we pray long and beautiful prayers? He doesn't. The publican blurted out-
God, be merciful to me, the sinner!
And went home justified. The fallen woman prayed only with her eyes, washing the Lord's feet with her tears. And was loved much. Why does God accept you or anybody else? Paul knows, Ephesians 1:6-
He has made us accepted in the Beloved.
In other words, we are accepted because we are in union with Christ, and we enter that union by the quality of His grace and not by the quality of our prayers.
In the third place, the Gospel says your standing before God's justice does not depend on the quality of your prayer life. Everyone is a sinner, but some sinners are declared 'not guilty' at the Bar of Divine Judgment. How come? Not because they prayed better than anyone else, but because, Romans 8:34-
Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died.
In the fourth place, the Gospel says your place in God's family does not depend on the quality of your prayer life. Christians are not only servants of God, we are His family. Of all the moving things Jesus ever said, none touches me more than John 20:17-
Go to my brethren and tell them, 'I ascend to my Father and to your Father'.
The Lord says His Father is also our Father. Does our Father want to hear from us? Sure He does, every loving Father does. But does a loving father cut off the child who forgets to call him? He doesn't-and neither does our Father in heaven. The Prodigal ran away from his father and stayed away, for months or years, it seems, but when he came back with a broken apology, he was welcomed back-not as a slave, but as a beloved son. If we don't gain our place in God's family because of the quality of our prayer lives, we don't lose it, either.
In the fifth place, the Gospel says your forgiveness does not depend on the quality of your prayer life. Should we confess our sins? We should, as fully and contritely as we can. But our pardon does not depend on our confession, for if it did, no one would be pardoned, because the most conscientious man in the world-even the most neurotic-does not even know all of his sins, no less confess them all. Yet he is forgiven. Because Christ died for him, Colossians 1:14-
In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins.
The Gospel says we are loved, accepted, justified, adopted, and forgiven regardless of the quality of our prayer lives. And knowing this, ironically, will improve the quality of our prayer lives. Because they fill us with love for God and because they give us freedom to come to Him-
Just as I am, without one plea,
Except Thy blood was shed for me.
The Gospel takes us off the treadmill and allows us to walk with God. We're not trying to win His favor by praying often enough and warmly enough and long enough and with enough tears. We have His favor because of what Christ has done for us, and having that favor, we also have-
The spirit of adoption by which we cry, 'Abba, Father'.
TWO MORE THINGS
In the sixth place, the Gospel gives us the Holy Spirit who enables us to pray even when we can't find the words or the heart to do it. When I struggle to pray (which is nearly every day), I find great comfort in the verse I read at the start of this sermon, Romans 8:26-
Likewise, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
I would be lying to you if I said I could explain this verse with any fullness, but here's a surface thing. I once talked to a man who did a lot of translating in business. Millions of dollars depended on him 'getting the words right', but he had to do more than that: he had to communicate what the Americans meant, and this took more than saying, 'X in English means Y in Japanese'. Tone of voice, gestures, and other non-verbal cues had to be factored in so the Japanese businessmen would really understand their American counterparts.
The Holy Spirit lives in us, is closer to us than we are to ourselves. This means, when we mumble and groan and cry and don't know what to say, He knows what we mean, and He communicates it to the Father. Because He is the Holy Spirit, we can be sure our prayers through Him are heard with sympathy and approval.
How come we have the Holy Spirit? Galatians 4:4-6-
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons, and because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father'.
So, we can pray because we have the Holy Spirit, and we have the Holy Spirit because.we try hard to pray? Because God's Son redeemed us. The Gospel provides the Holy Spirit who makes prayer possible, and turns bad prayers into good ones.
In the seventh place, the Gospel changes our prayer lives for the better by getting us out of ourselves and causing us to pray bigger and wider and deeper prayers.
I think newlyweds ought to spend one year 'in themselves'. There is so much to explore and find and love and share! But, if the couple never get out of themselves, they run out of things to say, and end up losing the intimacy they were so keen on keeping. You're not big enough to be your wife's whole life, and if you insist on being that, you'll smother her!
God knows this, and this is why He told Adam and Eve-a sinless couple-to be fruitful and multiply. What, bring kids into the world to trash our love nest? They don't trash it; they furnish it. They make the couple's life together richer, deeper, and wider.
This is what the Gospel does for our prayer lives. It gives us more to pray about that our own needs and problems and wishes. It tells us Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Head of the Church, and the Prince of the kings of the earth, and so it broadens our vision to pray for the church and the world, for our leaders, in short, for everyone and everything. This keeps your prayer life from becoming stale and ingrown.
Do you have a good prayer life? I bet you don't, and I bet you've tried a hundred things to improve it, only to find they didn't, at least not for long. Why not turn to the one thing that will? Not because it's a secret formula, but because it's the one and only-
Power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
And, that is the Gospel.
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