Pray Without Ceasing

1 Thesalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing.”

When I was in grade school, and a new Christian, I struggled to understand this verse. Pray without ceasing. Really? How do you do that? I had the idea that praying happened with your eyes closed and head bowed. How do you do that without ceasing? As I got older I interpreted this verse in an abstract sort of way, as if “think about God a lot during the day” was what it meant, but that didn’t seem to fit completely either. I went to a concordance to see the Greek word for without ceasing, hoping to find clarity , but the word for without ceasing really means just that. Uninterruptedly, without omission. I felt like there was something I wasn’t seeing in this one small verse, as I tried to apply it to my everyday life. Eventually I landed on praying without ceasing as being in constant conversation with God, as if He were physically right there, the same way I converse with others in line at the store, in the car, at the dinner table. A running dialogue if you will. But I think that is still inadequate, because it leaves out specific commands and examples in Scripture of corporate prayer, which I have come to desire and enjoy more and more in life.

As pastors and elders, we pray for our church family regularly, as individuals and when we meet together, but we want to foster prayer more and more, and give opportunities to the body to pray together. One of these ways is through the Clusters format, where three or four people get together and pray for each other regularly. Another is in the Adult Bible Fellowships on Sunday morning. In the coming weeks, we hope to add another opportunity for corporate prayer here at Grace. We are hoping to start a ministry of prayer where we will have a small group of people praying during the worship services in the prayer room. We are hoping to find one or two people who feel called to spearhead this ministry. This will be another way for us to connect with each other and to build up the Body of Christ.

Job Description: Coordinator for Prayer During Services

Thinking about prayer always calls to mind how John Piper refers to prayer: prayer is not a domestic intercom, to call the butler so he can turn up the thermostat, but rather prayer is a war time walkie-talkie for the front line soldier to call in an air strike. When we neglect prayer in our lives both privately and corporately, we are neglecting the power of God in our lives. As a church we want to be a place where God is glorified, people are saved, and lives are changed; and God has given us the privilege, the command even, to call on Him for the power to see those things happen. As we begin this ministry I want to encourage all of us to make praying without ceasing more and more the reality in our lives, so we can watch God move and be glorified in our midst.

Ryan M Williams
Elder Chairman

The Remembering Heart

Pastor Jay continues his “Guard Your Heart” series this week, with a sermon titled “The Remembering Heart,” from Deuteronomy 4:9.

Deuteronomy 4:9 (ESV)

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—”

God calls our heart to remember Him.

  • The heart may forget because of spiritual neglect.
  • The heart may forget because of pride.
  • The heart will remember when you’ve laid up His word.
  • The heart will remember when God disciplines.
  • The heart will remember when you make that choice in the midst of hardship.

Parent Connection Questions:

  • Ever forget something you never thought you would forget? What was it?
  • What makes you forget something?
  • How do you memorize stuff for school?
  • Name one thing you can do this week to remember the power of God.

A Life-Loving Heart

Pastor Jay continues his “Guard Your Heart” series this week, with a sermon titled “A Life-Loving Heart,” from Ecclesiastes 3:10-11.

Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 (ESV)

I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Our hearts should enjoy the good world that God made for us.

  • The heart should enjoy work.
  • The heart should enjoy contemplation.
  • The heart should enjoy success.
  • The heart should enjoy bread and wine.
  • The heart should enjoy marital intimacy.

Parent Connection Questions:

  • What’s the funnest thing you ever did? What made it so fun?
  • What’s the hardest job you ever had to do around the house?
  • How can work ever seem fun?
  • Can always having fun make us really happy? Why or why not?

If You Had Been Here

Pastor Jay departs from his current series this week due to recent events. On February 3, Glenn and Elaine Mull, their daughter Amy Harter and granddaughter Sami Harter were killed when their private plane crashed near Nashville. Jay’s sermon this week “If You Had Been Here” explores what our response should be to tragedy. His text is John 11:1-4 and 17-27.

John 11:1-4 (ESV)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

John 11:17-27 (ESV)

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Choosing Depth

When I came to Grace over six years ago, I made my vision as clear as possible—to draw people into an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ so that God would be glorified and they would be fruitful. This comes directly from John, chapter 15. We express it clearly in our church vision statement.

Similar analogies in scripture speak of pushing our roots downward in order to have the strength to grow upward and outward. Here are a few of these.

Psalm 1:3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

ESV Isaiah 37:31 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward.

ESV Colossians 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

To grow in effectiveness for Christ, to draw glory to the Father, Son and Spirit and to spread the gospel, we need to grow deeper in our faith. We need to increase our heart’s understanding of the Lord in order to pass from infancy to maturity.

Who could disagree with the preceding bullet points! What Christian would take issue with the idea of abiding in Christ, or being rooted in him or moving toward maturity! But, I believe there is a break between our affirmations and our inclinations. Let me spell that out.

1. To go deeper in Christ we need to wrestle with theology and doctrine. A study of Ephesians 4 will demonstrate this. Maturity for the church is defined by knowing truth and discerning error.

Ephesians 4: 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Again, this is a proposition most Christians would agree with in the abstract, but chafe under when put to the test. How many believers truly love the preaching of the word? I’m not talking about messages that wade in shallows to extract a happy feeling for the hearer. I’m talking about systematic, expositional, deeply theological and applicable messages that challenge. How many who call themselves “evangelical” desire this?

2. To go deeper in Christ we need to passionately pursue obedience. There are some commandments in scripture, which like low-hanging fruit, are picked off with approval. We can speak against sins like murder or homosexuality with very little fear of contradiction. But what about preaching against no-fault divorce, premarital sex, greed or idolatry? For some, this is being way too specific for comfort. And, we should ask, “Is comfort our measure of good preaching?” To know Christ as Lord is to grow in obedience to Him.

3. To grow in Christ, the church must guard the flock. That includes protecting the flock against both corrupt teaching and corrupt living. Paul warns the Ephesian elders of this in Acts 20: 28 “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock…”

In terms of corrupt teaching, the church would have to draw some boundaries. It would mean being selective about what we can join for the sake of Christian unity, and those things that could blur truth and error. Speaking the truth in love is not easy. We live in an age where we are afraid to be distinct or stand for anything specific.

In terms of corrupt living, this means two things. First, it means preaching the truth unswervingly and calling men and women to obey that truth. (see above under point 2) We are to be not only hearers but doers of the word.

Second, it means practicing church discipline. The scriptural basis for Church discipline is unassailable. Matthew chapter 18, 1Corinthians 5:1-13, Galatians 6:1-2 are impossible to reason away. Centuries of church history support the practice, but today, many find even the most loving discipline out of bounds. They would rather risk corrupting an entire body of believers than risk offending one unrepentant sinner who calls himself a believer. A strong argument can be made that a church that doesn’t practice discipline is not technically a church at all.

 

Conclusion:

Some people might describe the tone of this blog post as “narrow” or “inward-focused”. As the title suggests, I see this growth as downward focused, i.e., depth. We want to go deeper in Christ so that rooted and grounded in love, like trees planted by streams of water, we might put our roots deep and then grow upward and outward. That is when we bear fruit.

Being biblically deep and consistent will not appeal to everyone. We understand that. Integrity is hard. But our task is to grow the church for the kingdom of Christ and the glory of God, and to do that we must use the tools that Christ gave us.

I believe that Grace Community Church is pursuing depth and will continue to do so. What do you believe?

A Generous Heart

Pastor Jay continues his “Guard Your Heart” series this week, with a sermon titled “A Generous Heart,” from Exodus 25:2.

Exodus 25:2 (ESV)

Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.

A redeemed heart will be moved to give generously.

  • We will want to give generously to routine gospel work in the church.
  • We will want to give generously in special seasons of revival and need.
  • We will want to give generously to the needy.

Parent Connection Questions:

  • What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
  • Which gift was the most fun to give?
  • What makes it hard to give?
  • How can you give to God?  Doesn’t he have everything already?