Summary: Why does God desire us to pray? Because He wants a relationship.
Today is the first Sunday of the year 2002. It’s also the beginning of our third year worshipping together as a church. And for the benefit of those who haven’t been keeping careful track, this is also the 100th sermon I’ve preached from this pulpit (or music stand, or whatever it is). So in several respects, this is an auspicious occasion. And it’s traditional on anniversaries like this for people to take stock of their lives. Often, that kind of reflection leads to a resolution for some kind of change. Read the Bible. Be more organized. Control my tongue. Be more patient with the children. Work on my bad habits, like procrastination, or excessive television watching, or rooting for the Steelers.
And I’m all for that. It’s a good thing periodically to give ourselves a check-up, to evaluate whether we could benefit from a course correction. Of course, it’s possible to go overboard, to spend so much time in self-centered navel-gazing that we never accomplish anything. However, for most people, the problem is that they don’t give enough thought to such matters, but instead just keep on mindlessly doing what they’ve always done, stuck in their safe, familiar, predictable rut. So if you haven’t recently spent some time in self-evaluation, I encourage you to do so. It’s a healthy practice
Self-examination is good for us as individuals; it’s also a beneficial practice for groups of people, including families and churches. And as I consider where God is leading us as a church, it’s my conviction that what we need most in the coming year is a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a new experience of His power. We can work, and give, and sing, and fellowship all we want, but unless God is pleased to empower us by His Spirit, nothing of eternal value is going to happen. Only through Him will we see hearts changed, lives transformed, relationships healed, addictions broken. Only by His power will we see these chairs filled with people seeking Christ. Only by the Spirit of Christ will we enjoy all the love, and joy, and peace that God desires for us. And therefore, our greatest need is not for a new outreach strategy, or a new youth ministry; not even for a new building or more money. Our deepest, most fundamental need is for the Spirit of God to fill us, for us to experience his power and love working in and through us as never before, so that we may see Him accomplishing the kind of great and mighty things in our midst that only God can do. Because that’s what the gospel is all about. God’s power. Again, as Paul writes,
"[T]he kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." -- 1 Corinthians 4:20
"[O]ur gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. -- 1 Thessalonians 1:5
And for these things to happen, we have to pray. We have to become a praying people, a praying church. We have to pray with confidence that God will hear us, but we must also pray as the needy, dependent, helpless people we are. We need to pray as if our lives depended on it. Because they do! The life of this church depends on it. The health of our spiritual lives depends on it. As the Christian writer E.M. Bounds put it, "What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more novel methods, but men [and women] whom the Holy Ghost can use--men of prayer, men mighty in prayer." Therefore, I’d like to begin the year 2002 by considering this morning what place prayer should have in our lives as Christians.
Now, when you or I join a new group of people – first day on a new job, first meeting of the PTA, first visit to a new church – one of the things we instinctively do right away is try to understand the group norms, the unspoken standards of behavior. For instance, when we start a new job, we observe things like how long people take for a lunch break, and when people go home at night. In the same way, when a person begins attending a church, she looks around to see how these Christians act. What kind of clothing do they wear to church? What Bible translation do they use? What are the expectations in terms of participation? Are they going to ask me to teach Sunday School? Do I have to join a small group? And one of the basic norms that we absorb from those around us is their general attitude toward the devotional life. What spiritual disciplines do Christians practice? Bible reading? Prayer? Fasting? And how do they practice them?