Summary: This sermon looks at how God honours our prayers and dedication even when we are spiritually dry. When we do not 'feel' like serving him but serve him anyway. It encourages perseverance, stretching out, prayer and faith that God can do 'big things'.
Perseverance in a dry place
John Ortberg from Menlo Park Presbyterian Church recalls
A man I'll call Paul (because that's actually his name) told me he recently started going to church. In his mid-seventies, with no faith background, he woke up one morning with a sudden urge to hear the pope, and that launched him on a journey that led a few months later to a Presbyterian church and then to a commitment to follow Jesus. Every week he comes to church and marvels at all he gets to learn about prayer and worship and faith.
A man I'll call Ralph (not his real name) told me recently how he stopped going to church. I have known him for decades. He is a well-known pastor and speaker. He still believes in God. He meets with some like-minded friends on Sunday evening to talk and pray together. But he got burned out on the local church—it came to feel to him like a relentless drive for numbers and success and program and hype. He told me that the people in his little house group are long-time church people, most of them former church staff members.
Paul and Ralph exemplify a dynamic just beneath the surface in many churches. People who are new to the church often grow the quickest and appreciate it the most. But people who have been around a while, those who know the church best and have served the longest, often feel the least helped and the most used.
At a certain point of spiritual development, increased involvement in church activities ceases to match spiritual growth. That is, the more programmes you throw yourself into, does not equal spiritual growth.
The longer we become a Christian the easier it is to forget what a difference Jesus makes in our lives. Too often we look to a church, programme, home group etc for our spiritual development. As a Christian we often forget who Jesus really is.
Arthur Burns was chair of the Federal Reserve in the 1970s, and a Jewish economist of great influence in Washington. Burns was once asked to pray at a gathering of evangelical politicians. Stunning his hosts, he prayed: "Lord, I pray that Jews would come to know Jesus Christ. And I pray that Buddhists would come to know Jesus Christ. And I pray that Muslims would come to know Jesus Christ." And then, most stunning of all: "And Lord, I pray that Christians would come to know Jesus Christ."
As a Jew Arthur Burns was very familiar with the teachings of Christ, he also knew that Christians get tired of Christ’s teachings. We fail to persevere in our faith. We shift home groups, we shift churches and we try all sorts of things to make spiritual growth happen quickly.
Let’s read Acts 12:1-12:24
Today I would like to talk about Perseverance in a dry place. The main points this passage brings up are:
1) Prayer is important for perseverance
2) God shows up when his people "stretch out" and persevere
3) God shows up when his people fall short but still persevere
4) God is not afraid of big jobs.
What do you need persistence to overcome?
1) Prayer is important for perseverance
Pray till prayer makes you forget your own wish, and leave it or merge it in God's will.
Frederick William Robertson
English, Anglican Clergyman (1816 - 1853)
If we don’t have a commitment to prayer, how can God answer us? If we do not ask him for something how can he say ‘yes or no’. We see the critical importance of prayer for God’s people in Acts 12:1-5
1It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. Acts 12:1-5
Luke has been recording one marvellous conversion after another—the 3000 on Pentecost, the Samaritans, the Ethiopian, Saul of Tarsus, Cornelius—they were witnesses and the word of God was spreading. It is like when you are a new Christian or the church is going through an exciting growth period. It is so exciting and it feels so right.
And then a serious setback comes, in the death of James and the imprisonment of Peter two apostles and leaders in the Jerusalem church. The same thing happens to us when the novelty of being a Christian wears off, Jesus has made some fundamental changes in our lives but it starts to not be so fun. There is no pizzaz in the air, there is just me and God and frankly He is looking a little dated.