I want to start today by mentioning two barriers to prayer that I think that today’s portion of the Lord’s prayer addresses.
First, Do you find that prayer is easier when you have a dire need, or going through trial, but that it is hard to pray when things are going well, went you don’t have any sever need? How do you foster a prayer life in the monotony of the work week, in the day in and day out, when we live in a country of relative safety, prosperity. It’s true that trial drives us to prayer, but how do we maintain prayer when we’re not driven to God through trial.
The second barrier to prayer, is often that we don’t know what to pray for when we come to God with petitionary prayer. Jesus told us that if we should ask anything in his name, according to his will, God would provide, but its that, “according to his will” part that gets us. How do we know that the things we pray for are according to his will? Some of us get so frustrated by that question that we give up in prayer.
I believe the first petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Hallowed be Thy Name” sets an agenda for our prayer that provides an explosive means of overcoming those barriers to prayer.
We are going to start by looking today at the preface to the Lord’s prayer. This is our approach to God, how we address God, in the ESV four words, “Our Father in heaven.” What do we learn of prayer through these four words? How are we to address and approach God?
First, we learn that prayer, at it’s heart, as Jesus defined it, is communal. Second, that prayer is relational. And third, that prayer is effectual. It is communal in respect to who prays. It is relational respect to whom we are praying. And it is effectual in respect to the exalted position of the One to whom we pray.
Now over the next series we will look closer at the Lord’s prayer itself, but this week I want to focus in only on verse 1, the request of the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It was Howard Hendricks who, several years ago in a message at a pastor’s conference, called our attention to the fact that if we were to open our Bibles and read starting with Matthew and were to read through John we would never find an instance where the disciples asked, “Lord teach us how to witness,” or “teach us how to perform miracles,” or “teach us how to teach.” But in this passage, we do find one of the disciples asking, “Lord, teach us to pray . . .”
As I look at you today, late in the year 2017, I see many of you struggling in the faith, weak and weary, and it makes me wonder, “Is Christ enough?” Is Christ enough to save you? Is Christ enough to free you? Is Christ enough to deal with your sins? To satisfy God’s justice? To satisfy us? Is Christ enough?
Is Christ enough when you’ve let down your wife and your kids again? Is Christ enough when you’ve lost your temper? Is Christ enough when you close that computer browser after failing once again in the battle against lust? Is Christ enough when you are just so tired and feel that you can’t go on? Is Christ enough when someone has hurt you and you don’t know if you can forgive?
Sometimes the church doesn’t help. I know this. Yes, we proclaim that Christ is enough, but then we create a church culture in which we grade one another and ourselves on our performance and our pursuits, if not at times even our perfection. And I know that some of you leave church more weary and more burdened and feeling more condemned than when you came. We build a church culture in which our work for God so eclipses God’s work for us, that the message of the gospel is practically minimized and obscured, and we begin to form the secret conviction (though we would never say this) that Christ is not enough.
As I have done this series, five truths from the reformation to stand on, I’ve been investigating the controversy that split the church 500 years ago. And today we come to our 4th “Alone” phrase, “In Christ Alone.” The more I study the reformation and understand the practice and theology of the Catholic church, the more I am convinced that this is a truth that needs to be not only understood, but embraced, and set in our hearts at the deepest convictional level: that my salvation is found in Christ alone. That there is rest for my soul, because Jesus paid it all. Because he is enough.
The proclamation faith alone announces is that this gift is to be received solely by faith. Verse 28 became one of the most disputed verses in the reformation because when Luther translated the Bible into German for the regular people to read, he understood exactly what Paul was teaching here, and to make it so clear that no one would mistake Paul’s point, he added the word “alone” to verse 28.
The Catholic Church of Luther’s day excommunicated Luther over that word, because they felt if that word alone was added, it set Paul’s teaching in contradiction with James 2:24 which reads “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Is this a contradiction? How are we to understand this?
How can God be just while justifying sinners? this is the question of the reformation. Remember the misery Martin Luther experienced as a monk trying to attain a righteousness greater than the scribes and pharisees.
Luther found his answer as he studied the book of Romans. The book of Romans is basically an extended sermon, in which the apostle Paul unpacks for his readers that phrase in the prophets, “The Just Shall Live By Faith
Today we’re looking at a second truth to fix our life on, namely, salvation by grace alone. Ephesians 2:1-4 is one of the most beautiful passages of scripture. It speaks of our complete hopelessness in our state without God - we were dead, we were completely lost following the ways of this world and the desires of our flesh, under the influence of Satan and under the wrath of God. And you have that great contradiction in verse 14: But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together - and the entirety of our hope is summed up at the end of verse 5: by grace you have been saved. What a passage! What a promise! What more needs to be said? We can go home!
Yet the powerful truth the resounded out of the reformation was not merely “salvation by grace” but “salvation by grace alone”, and so all week I’ve been trying to understand, what difference does that little word make? and does that little word still matter? And if it does still matter, what does that mean for us?
While the reformation impacted the entirety of life and culture, the question that emerged and energized the movement was theological - how can man be right with God? This question through Europe into upheaval and re-formed Church and State, but the answers that emerged from the upheaval point us back to the firmest of foundations, the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reformation identified 5 core truths, called the five solas of the reformation, because they each contain the latin word meaning “alone”: sola gratia, by grace alone; sola fide, through faith alone; solus Christus, in Christ alone; sola scriptura, on the authority of scripture alone, soli Deo gloria, to the glory of God alone.
Ours is also a time of massive social, religious and political upheaval. So many people sense this, we know society is fracturing and we see it in ourselves as well. Yet the secular answers in our age seem powerless to stop the upheaval.
This fall, many churches are joining together to point us back to the only truths that provide a lasting and sure foundation. Over the next five weeks we are going to be returning to the 5 truths that the reformation rediscovered. 5 Truths to Hold you Firm in an age of upheaval.
Do you have a friend, a co-worker, maybe a spouse or a family member who is a bit of a train wreck? They make bad decisions that lead to worse decisions. They are always in a crisis, they call you up again at 3AM to pick them up from somewhere they shouldn’t be. You know who I am talking about? If you don’t, it might be you :).
It’s exhausting being a friend or a family member of a train wreck. The closer your relationship, the more exhausting it is. Because the truth is that we’re not created to observe human relationships like train wrecks, detached and uninvolved. We’re tied to these people that God has placed in our lives. We don’t just watch them crash, at times we feel that we’re crashing with them - that perhaps “train wreck” is not that adequate a picture, its more like a shipwreck and we are in the boat with them, and if they go down, we go down together.
In Acts 27, the apostle Paul actually has this experience of being tied to the ill-fated decisions of those he is travelling to Rome with. They literally ship wreck. And the big theme of this chapter is that God has providentially placed Paul on this ship with these men - 276 of them - to warn them of their danger and to proclaim the hope that he has in god to them. They do in fact go through the crash together, but through it all, they also reach the other side together. As we work through this chapter, we see precisely why Paul is on this boat, and may it encourage you as you at time question, when your friend or family member is crashing again, why am I here? What am I to do?
German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” In Acts chapter 26 we see truth passing through the first two stages with the apostle pressing hard to persuade his hearers into the third.