Vision Series 1) Commitment to Prayer

Commitment to Prayer

Text: Exodus 17:8-16

 

How do people change? It’s a question that I’ve often wondered about. It’s a question I’ve often asked about myself. How do I change myself? How do I become the sort of person God wants me to be? It’s a question I’ve asked as a parent. How do I help my kids become the people God wants them to be? It’s a question I’ve asked as a pastor. How do I help you become the people God wants you to be? And more and more I’m learning that I can’t change people. I can’t change you, I can’t change my kids, I can’t even change myself.

And yet our mission as a church is to transform people into fully devoted followers of Christ, that’s why we exist. And while we believe that there are critical things that we can do, things like sharing the gospel, discipleship, developing good leaders, getting people into Small Groups and stuff like that, the single most important thing we need to do is pray. Prayer is essential in transforming people into fully devoted followers of Christ, because only God can change people. Over the next 6 weeks we’re going to look at each of the things that we think are critical to fulfil our mission, and this morning we’re going to start with our commitment to prayer. So let’s turn to Exodus 17 and read verses 8-16. (Read Exodus 17:8-16)

I’m sure you’re familiar with Moses. He looks something like Charlton Heston. Anyway, through Moses God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt. After the 10 plagues Pharaoh sets the Israelites free, but he changes his mind and chases them to the Red Sea. And God again rescues his people and he destroys the Egyptian army. So now the Israelites are on the other side of the Red Sea, and it’s not long before they’re travelling through the lands occupied by the Amalekites. And the Amalekites aren’t happy and they attack God’s people. Moses is looking at a bloodbath. The Israelites aren’t warriors they are farmers, they’re good at making bricks. And now they are surrounded by the Amalekite army. And so Moses does what any 2 year old would do he raises his hands to his father for help. I’ve actually got a picture of Beth doing exactly that, ‘Dad I need you!’ Moses realizes that the best way to serve God’s people is to turn to God in prayer. Moses takes one look at these Amalekites and he realizes he needs divine help.

And the same is true, not only for each of us sitting here this morning, but also for us as a Church. We need divine help. We need to raise our hands to God in prayer. If we are going to overcome life’s battles, if we’re going to achieve our church’s mission, we need divine help. To put it bluntly, you need help. Actually, I need help as well, we all need help, we need God’s help, we need the holy Spirit to change our hearts, and to change the hearts of others. This morning I want to use four images from our text to help us remember just how important prayer is in our personal lives, and in the life of this church.

 

1) Raised Arms

The first image that I want to burn into your brain is that image of Moses with his arms raised. Bill Hybel makes the point that ‘the tide of our life’s battles hinges on the location of our hands.’ Our text puts it like this, ‘11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. (Ex 17:11)’ When Moses had his hands raised in prayer they prevailed, but when he lowered his hands the tide turned against them. In terms of height it doesn’t make much difference between when your hands are raised and when they are lowered, it’s less than 1½ metres, but it made all the difference to God’s people. For Joshua and the Israelite army that 1½ metres made the difference between winning and loosing, between life and death. I want to ask you where are your hands? Are your hands maybe by your sides? You aren’t raising your hands in prayer at all. Maybe your hands are out busy doing your own thing? You aren’t praying because you think you can do it all yourself. Or maybe you’re hands are raised in prayer. Like a 2 year old you know your need for God. There have been moments in my life when I literally got on my knees and raised my hands over my head because I had nowhere else to turn. And there have been other times, in fact more often then not, when my hands have been too busy doing my own thing to raise them in prayer to God.

It’s interesting that when you raise your hands in prayer you experience both God’s presence and his power at work in your life. But when your hands are down your spiritual life quickly becomes dry and empty. So why would you ever stop praying? Well our text gives us one reason, you get tired. Verse 12 says, ‘12 …Moses’ hands grew tired… (Ex 17:12a)’ Moses is only human and he’s been praying for hours by this point. I start to get pins and needles in my fingers raising them for 10 minutes during worship, let alone for hours in prayer. How have you grown tired in prayer? What prayers have you been praying that you have given up on? You tried, you prayed for ages, weeks, months, years, but it just took too long and you eventually gave up. Maybe you prayed for a family situation, for your marriage, or one of your kids, but nothing seemed to change. Maybe you prayed for a situation in church. Maybe you prayed for a particular sin in your life that has been cropping up again and again, and it just keeps cropping up again and again. Maybe you’ve been praying about a particular addiction, and it just doesn’t go away. Often we just get tired and we give up.

That’s the issue that Jesus was tackling in Luke 18. Luke tells us that Jesus wanted to teach his disciples how ‘1 …they should always pray and not give up. (Lk 18:1b)’ And so he told them about this poor widow who was seeking justice and even though the judge didn’t care about justice he eventually gave her what she wanted because of her persistence. Jesus’ point is that unlike the unjust judge, God actually loves us, he wants to answer our prayers, so how much more persistent should we be than this poor widow. It’s critical in facing the battles of life that we don’t give up praying, that we don’t lower our arms, but that we keep them up in prayer. It’s just as critical in the life of our church that we don’t give up praying. Our mission as a church is to see people transformed, from people who are distant from God to people who become close to God through faith in Jesus Christ. We want to see people transformed from people who are disinterested in Christianity to people who are passionate about Jesus. We want to see people who don’t know Jesus, to people who have a personal and intimate relationship with him. We want to see people who used to live in disobedience, become people who want to live lives that please God and bring him honour and glory. We want to see people who were once selfish, become people who are generous with their time and their energy and their money. But sometimes people still seem to be distant, they don’t seem very passionate about their faith, they still struggle with sin in their lives, they still think it’s all about them. And I wonder why we aren’t growing faster, and why people aren’t growing deeper, and why we aren’t achieving our mission. And one of the reasons is because my hands are by my sides instead of raised in prayer, or because my hands are busy doing my thing, instead of raised in reliance on God. I wonder if it’s because we aren’t raising our hands together as a church praying for the Holy Spirit to work in people’s hearts, and transforming people’s minds, and radically changing people’s lives. The reality is that we cannot achieve our mission as a church, we can’t even achieve this stuff in our own life, without divine intervention. So I want to ask you: will you raise your hands in prayer? Will you pray that God through His Spirit will transform your life so that you will become a fully devoted follower of His Son, Jesus Christ? Will you pray that as a church we will see people’s lives transformed? The difference between a dying church, or a stagnant church, and a dynamic thriving church is directly influenced by the position of our hands. So let’s raise them in prayer. Lift your hands to your heavenly Father like a 2 year old lifts their hands to their dad.

 

2) Upheld Arms

So that’s our first picture, that image of Moses raising his arms like a 2 year old to his heavenly Father. The second image that I want to burn into your mind is the picture of Moses’ older brother Aaron and his friend Hur holding up Moses’ arms when they became tired. Verse 12 continues, ‘12 When Moses’ hands grew tired... Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady... (Ex 17:12)’ Isn’t that just an awesome picture. Moses just can’t keep going, he’s exhausted, but he knows that if he lowers his hands his people are in trouble, and Aaron and Hur know it too, and so they get on either side of him and they hold his arms up. I want to ask you, who holds you up in prayer? Who encourages you to keep praying about stuff? Who helps you to stay faithful to what God has called you to do when your faith starts to waver, when spiritually you start to get weary? It’s interesting when Jesus was facing the most difficult point in his life, crucifixion on a cross, he not only turns to God in prayer, but he asks his three closest friends, John, Peter and James, to join him. You find the story in Matthew 26. At probably the lowest point in Jesus’ life he says to his closest friends, ‘38 …My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. (Mt 26:38)’ Jesus knew the value of facing life’s greatest difficulties with the support of a few close friends. When it comes to big burdens in life we all need people to hold up our arms in prayer. Who are those people for you? It could be a mentor, or an accountability partner, or your spouse. It could be your small group, or a few close friends. It could be your church. In fact, that’s why Jesus started the church because he knew that we need one another, that we need people to hold us up. In Acts 12 we read about Peter being imprisoned, but we also read that ‘5 …the church was earnestly praying to God for him. (Acts 12:5)’ Peter had the whole church upholding him. And Paul says to the Church in Rome ‘30 I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. (Rom 15:30)’ And to the church of Ephesus he says, ‘18 …keep on praying for all the saints [and] 19 Pray also for me… (Eph 6:18c,19a)’ In fact Paul upholds the churches in prayer as well. Over and over he says, ‘9 …we have not stopped praying for you… (Col 1:9b)’ and ‘11 …we constantly pray for you… (2 Thess 1:11b)’ Notice that Paul isn’t just upholding others in his prayers, but that he is praying those prayers with a team of people. It’s ‘we’ who are praying for you, they are upholding each other in praying for the churches. I must admit that I not only need to be upheld in your prayers, but I pray most consistently when I’m upholding others in prayer. Two of the most exciting things that have happened in my prayer life over the last year – is our decision as a session to have a prayer and pastoral care meeting every month separate from our church council meeting, and joining the Springfield Combined Churches prayer meetings every Tuesday morning. There’s nothing quite like getting together as a group of elders and deacons, or fellow ministers and upholding one another in prayer, and encouraging one another to keep praying. In Galatians 6 Paul tells us to, ‘2 Carry each other’s burdens… (Gal 6:2a)’ How are you carrying other’s burdens in prayer? Who is upholding your arms in prayer? Who are the Aaron’s and the Hur’s in your life? And who are you upholding in prayer? Who is the Moses in your life, that you get to support in prayer?

 

3) Sitting on the Rock

So the first image is Moses with his arms raised in prayer like a two year old. And the second image is Aaron and Hur upholding Moses arms. The third image is Moses sitting on a stone. When Moses became tired, Aaron and Hur didn’t just hold up his arms, they also sat him down on a stone. Verse 12 says ‘12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. (Ex 17:12a)’ Now I want to be very clear, what I’m about to say is really bad exegesis, but it’s true none-the-less. But I want us to see that stone as being Jesus Christ. Now it’s not so ridiculous, Paul pretty much says the same thing about the rock that Moses strikes to produce water earlier in Exodus 17. He says, ‘4 …[the Israelites] drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Cor 10:4b)’ So like Paul sees Jesus as the rock of Exodus 17 verse 6, so I want us to see Jesus as the stone of Exodus 17 verse 12. The point is that our prayers will only be effective when they are prayed on the foundation of Jesus Christ. If your life is not firmly seated on Jesus then your prayers will lack spiritual power. Jesus says, ‘16 …the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (Jn 15:16b)’ We need to pray in the name of Jesus Christ. We need to trust in the person of Jesus. We need to be sitting on our faith in Jesus when we pray. The Apostle James says, ‘16 …The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (Jam 5:16b)’ It’s the prayers of those who trust in Jesus that are truly effective. So do you pray trusting in the name of Jesus Christ? Do you pray trusting that it’s only because of what Jesus has done for you on the cross that God accepts your prayers? I want to encourage you to find a large stone and stick it beside your bed and... and I’m just kidding, that’s ridiculous! The point is: pray trusting in Jesus.

 

4) Success at Sunset

So Moses with his arms raised in prayer, Aaron and Hur upholding Moses’ arms, and Moses sitting on the stone that is Christ. The final image I want to burn into your mind is the image of success at sunset. Our text says that with the help of Aaron and Hur ‘12 …[Moses’] hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. (Ex 17:12c,13)’ Moses raised his arms in prayer because he knew that they needed divine intervention, he knew they needed God’s help, and that’s exactly what happened. It might’ve taken all day, but by sunset Joshua and the Israelites had overcome the Amalekite army, they were victorious. And they knew it wasn’t them, it wasn’t the strength of their sword arm, or their skill, it was because Moses was up on that hill with his arms raised in prayer. Sure they did their bit, but they didn’t have any doubts that the success came from God. They knew it when ‘15 Moses built an altar and called it Yahweh Nissi, ‘The Lord is my Banner.’ (Ex 17:15)’ Moses recognized that victory was only achieved by the grace of God. I don’t know what you might be going through at the moment, I don’t know how long you’ve been going through it, but God promises that whatever it is through faith in him there will be a sunset, there will be an end, he will carry you through, he will give you victory. As Paul reflects on the enemies we face, whether it’s sin, or Satan, or death, he can say, ‘57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:57)’ In Jesus Christ we are victorious. In Jesus we are on the winning side. I want to ask you: Is Jesus your banner? Do you believe that in Jesus you have the victory? Do you trust that in Jesus God will answer your prayers? Do you believe that if we faithfully raise our hands in prayer and support each other in prayer, that Gid will use us to transform people’s lives, that he will grow His church? The Apostle Peter writes, ‘7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (1 Pet 4:7)’ The sun is setting, so more than ever we should commit ourselves to prayer. In these last days, if we want to see God’s kingdom come, we need to ‘2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Col 4:2)’ We need to be ‘12 …faithful in prayer. (Rom 12:12c)’ We need to wrestle in prayer (Col 4:12).

 

So this morning I want to encourage you to raise your hands in prayer like a two year old raises their hands to their dad. I want to encourage you to up hold one another’s arms in prayer. I want to encourage you to pray trusting in the name of Jesus Christ. And I want you to know that God will give you the victory, whether that’s soon, or a long time away, the sun will set and you will have rest. And I want to encourage you to pray for our church, that by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit we will achieve our mission, that we will see people’s lives transformed, that people will become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. So let’s raise our hands in prayer.

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