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TEXT: I Chronicles 16:11

SUBJECT: Rules for Young Christians #1: Daily Prayer

My wife and kids tell me I repeat myself. I took this for a vicious lie until they started finishing my stories and not laughing at my jokes. Then I knew they were telling the truth: I do repeat myself.

I've never been good at breaking bad habits, and here's one I don't need to break, because I can sanctify it or put it to good use. If repeating yourself was good enough for Peter, it's good enough for me. Near the end of his life, the Apostle got back to basics-not because he had nothing new to say-but because the old things needed saying again-

I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you.Moreover, I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease.

What was true of the saints in the First Century is equally true of us. We need reminders; from time to time, we need to go back to the things we learned when we were new in Christ, and learn them again. To help us, I have recruited an old friend of mine, Brownlow North.

The name is unknown today, but 150 years ago, he was a hero in Ireland. Born into a wealthy family he lived the life of a playboy until he was forty-four years old. Then God saved him, and shortly thereafter, called him to preach the Gospel. Which he did with amazing power. In 1859 thousands flocked to God under his ministry, and needed help in living the Christian life. They were newborn babes in Christ, and like other babies, they needed to grow. North helped as many as he could personally, but no man has the time to help that many people face-to-face, so he published a tract called Six Rules for Young Christians.

We studied them some years ago on Wednesday nights, and I want to do it again over the next few weeks, using the format we've gotten used to on Sunday afternoons: 15-20 minutes of formal teaching, followed by discussion, and ending no later than 3:00.

I also printed the Six Rules, and I hope you'll pick up a copy to preview the next studies and to apply them to your own life. I've been a Christian for forty years, and I have not outgrown them; and neither have you.

NO MAGIC SPELL!

How do we mature in Christ? Looked at from one angle, maturity comes directly from God in virtue of our union with Christ. In this way, the soul is something like the body: it matures when the time comes, and the time comes when God gives the signal. I had a friend who shaved in the sixth grade (he also drove a car!). I didn't shave regularly till I was out of college.

Why did he mature so much earlier than I did? You could say he did it for hereditary reasons or physical or biological, but these things, like the rest of creation, is under the Lordship of God, and this means: He matured sooner than I did because the Lord caused him to!

What's true of physical maturity is also true of growing up spiritually because God causes us to grow up in Christ. This, like every other part of our salvation is of the Lord and altogether by grace.

Thus, nothing I say today or over the next few weeks should be taken as: If you do these things, you will grow in grace, as if the mystery of sanctification could be reduced to mechanics. Of his own ministry, Paul said-

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.

. We must beware of trusting 'systems' as if God is obliged to make us grow if we follow Twelve Steps, Seven Promises, or Ten Commandments! As helpful as they can be, 'systems' can also become idols. The brazen serpent was the gift of God to Israel in the wilderness. Centuries later the people began worshiping the serpent, and good King Hezekiah, smashed it. And bully for him-

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me!

Not images or paintings; not books or seminars, not even Six Rules for Young Christians.

If we mature in Christ, it is because of God's grace, the death and resurrection of His Son, and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

OUR RESPONSIBILITY

This does not mean that God 'zaps' us with holiness. He can if He wants to-and I know of one case of Him doing just that-but, most of the time, He uses means to achieve His ends.

When He gave Israel a land flowing with milk and honey, He did not tell them to sit back and enjoy its riches. He told them to till the land and He would bless them with plentiful harvests and healthy livestock. What applied to them in their inheritance applies to us, too, in ours. We must pursue holiness with everything we've got, and as we do that, we find God-

Working in us, both the will and do of His good pleasure.

The Rules for Young Christians are heavy on human responsibility, but always in the context of God's enabling grace. If I forget this part, you remember it. The hymn has not only got the doctrine right, but also the order-

Trust and obey.

We follow the Rules, not to win God's favor, but because we already have it, for Christ's sake.

THE RULE

Brownlow North's first rule cannot be emphasized too strongly. Here it is-

Never neglect daily private prayer; and when you pray, remember that God is present and that He hears your prayers.

THE DUTY

The Bible teaches us to pray often. The best known verse, to me anyway, is I Thessalonians 5:17-

Pray without ceasing.

I used to wonder what this means-'without ceasing'. Surely God is not telling us to pray every waking moment, is He? No He's not. To do that is to neglect other things He wants us to do. Does it mean 'stay in a prayerful state of mind all the time?' I'm sure God wants us to do that, but if this is what He is commanding here, I think He would have said so.

It means 'Get into the habit of praying, and don't fall out of it'. For most of us, this means two things: Set aside some time to pray every day, and when you've only got a minute, or five seconds, offer quick prayers to God all through the day.

The Psalmists had set times for prayer-

My voice you shall hear in the

Morning, O Lord;

In the morning I will direct it to

You,

And I will look up.

Evening, morning, and at

Noon

I will pray and cry aloud,

And He shall hear my voice.

Seven times a day do I praise you

Because of your righteous

judgments.

As for those quick prayers, Nehemiah stands out. He was the king's cup bearer, and the court had no place for long faces. One day, without knowing it, Nehemiah came to work with red eyes and slumped shoulders, and the king called him on it. This terrified Nehemiah, but he spoke up for his people and the city he loved that was in ruins. The king was moved by the appeal, and asked how he could help-

What do you request?

So I prayed to the God of heaven.

How long do you think that prayer lasted? Kings are not known for their patience, so I guess it lasted maybe one or two seconds-something like-

Help, Lord!

These two kinds of prayer go together. The longer ones prepare us for the shorter ones and the shorter ones prepare us for the longer ones. It's like communication in marriage. There's a time for long, deep conversation, there's a time for chit chat, and they depend on each other. Small talk keeps the couple close enough to have the long talks, and the long talks lend meaning to the small talk.

Pray without ceasing means, 'Get into the habit of speaking to God'. 'Live in conversation with Him'. 'Enjoy His company'.

The Lord wants us to pray, and we will not be mature until we do. If you are not in the habit of prayer, start forming the habit today. If you don't know what to say, tell Him you don't know what to say and ask Him to give you the words to say. Prayer, like other good things-

Is from above and comes down from the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

Get into the habit of prayer. By praying. Don't worry about how long you pray or how beautifully, or even how warmly. Not every conversation is a tear-jerker; don't ask too much of your prayers! Be content with what you have. Because God is. He loves to hear from His children, even if they haven't got that much to say, or don't say it well.

Pray without ceasing.

THE REASONS

With all the other things we have to do, why should we discipline ourselves to pray? Simple obedience is a good reason: if the Lord tells us to, we ought to. But this is not the only reason.

We need to pray because we depend on God. We need things, from daily bread, to the forgiveness of sin, and we get them in answer to prayer. Maybe we-

Have not because we ask not.

More than 'things' though, we need God Himself, and He comes to us when we ask Him to.

We ought to get into the habit of daily prayer because we have a daily need for God's blessing, and the Lord Himself, apart from whom there is no joy or peace or usefulness.

THE HINDRANCES

All Christians know we ought to pray, and most of us feel guilty about not doing it more or better. What keeps us from praying?

Busyness keeps us from praying, but this is more easily solved than you think. Even mothers of young children have a moment here and there to catch their breath. Use that time to pray. The Lord knows how busy you are, and how the kids have run you ragged. He doesn't expect you to finish the 3:00 O'clock feeding and then pray till the kids get up as 6:00! A few women have the makeup to do this, but most don't, and the Lord knows this. He doesn't want what you don't have, but what you do have. Keep your head up!

He knows our frames;

He remembers that we are dust.

Guilt keeps us from praying. We've sinned against the Lord and our neighbor, and now we wonder if He'll accept our prayers. He certainly will accept them, if they're the right kind of prayers. When we've sinned, He wants us to confess our sins, and when we do, He promises to hear us, and-

The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Impenitence keeps us from praying. We've done wrong and we know it and we wonder why the Lord is not eager to hear us. Is He? No, He isn't-

If I regard iniquity in my heart,

The Lord will not hear me.

The deaf ear He turns to our prayers is an act of love. He wants us to miss Him and to be grieved over our inability to pray. Why? So we will stop regarding iniquity in our hearts, and turn to the Lord and His ways.

Worst of all, unbelief keeps us from praying. Our problems seem bigger than God; we've prayed about them a hundred times, and He hasn't done what we asked Him to, and now there's a sneaking feeling that maybe He hasn't because He can't. We don't say this aloud, but we feel this way, and we stop praying.

The cure for this is the Empty Tomb. If God can raise from Jesus from the dead, He can do anything. He can break your addiction; He can save your husband; He can revive your church; He can find you a job; or He can give you what you really need but don't know it.

CHALLENGE

Do you want to grow in grace? If you do, start with learning to pray. Ask the Lord to do for you what He did for the Apostles-

Lord, teach us to pray.

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