Monthly Archives: February 2016

Prayer Series – How to Pray

Peninsula Community Church

Prayer Series: How to Pray

February 28, 2016

Matthew 6:5-8And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Over the last few weeks we have concentrated our attention on this one verse. In doing so we have looked at the when of prayer, the where of prayer, and last week we looked at the who of prayer. This week we will conclude this series by looking at the how of prayer. If we read the text that follows this passage we find that Jesus gives specific instruction on how to pray. The beauty of this is that Christ not only tells us what to do and for that matter what not to do in prayer but He illustrates how to pray effectively.

For me, I love this because I am a hands-on kind of learner. I love reading books to learn about things but I learn best by applying what I have learned in practical ways. I think Jesus had people like me in mind when he instructed His disciples on how to pray. Listen to what Jesus tells them. Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Before we get into the meat of this passage let me make an observation in the form of a question. How many times have we quoted this passage without fully understanding what we are praying? Too often, in reciting the passage we miss the real purpose and true meaning behind the words. So today in the few moments we have let us unpack this passage to the degree we can. To begin with, we find the passage divided into two parts. The first part is focused on God, His Kingdom, and His will. The second part focuses on our needs, our forgiveness, and our deliverance. The first part reaches upward and the second part reaches both inward and outward to touch us where we are.

For now let us turn our attention to the first section of this passage which is focused on God and His greatness. In essence, what Jesus is instructing the disciples to do is to focus on God the Father. Jesus begins by recognizing God as the Father, but He is not just any father, He is Our father. It is noteworthy that Jesus does not just call God Father, but He invites us to do the same because He is also our Father. For that reason he tells us to pray “Our Father!” The word here for father is the word abba. It is a more personal form of the word as it speaks of intimacy.

With that said Jesus proceeds to instruct us on how to pray. He prays “Our Father which art Heaven, Hallowed be your Name!” The idea of hallowing God’s name is to honor, reverence, esteem, and treasure His name above everything else in this world. One’s name in Biblical times meant so much more than it does today. One’s name defined them. In terms of God’s name, when we pray we must remember what God’s name stands for and what His name represents. By hallowing His name we are focusing on the fact that God is holy, eternal, all powerful, every where present, and that He is trustworthy. In essence, by praying this prayer we focus on the grandeur and majesty of God.

Secondly, Jesus invites us to pray “Your Kingdom come.” In essence we pray that the Father of heaven will cause His sovereign rule to be manifested throughout the world. To pray this means we are praying that God’s kingdom would invade our life and our circumstances. We do not pray that His Kingdom would come into existence because it exists already but rather that His kingdom would be revealed and be made known.

Because of the fall of mankind in the Garden, the urge to establish one’s own kingdoms has been an ongoing battle. There is the kingdom of this world which is ruled by sin and wrong thinking. And there is the kingdom of our heart where we want our will to be accomplished regardless of the outcome. But then there is God’s kingdom. In praying this prayer we are saying that we recognize God’s kingdom, we trust God’s kingdom, and we desire that God’s kingdom is revealed in every circumstance of our life. So here is the deal. If I am sick, I pray that the kingdom of God is revealed in the circumstance. If I am dealing with difficult relationships, I invite God’s kingdom to invade those relationships. If I am emotionally wounded I pray for the kingdom of God to come and heal my wounds.

The idea of the kingdom also speaks to us that we do not have to fight alone. We can invite the kingdom of God into center of all that we encounter. The lie of the enemy is that we are alone and we have to fight alone but that is just a lie that continues to be propagated. We have each other but we also have the very presence of God who comes on our behalf to invade our circumstances and to make Himself known. When we invite the kingdom of God to come we have the entire arsenal of heaven at our disposal. How awesome is that!

Thirdly, we pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray that God’s all-wise, all-just, all-holy will is done all over this world. We pray that God’s will happens in me. There is nothing greater than to have the will of God evidenced in our hearts and manifested in and through our lives. Therefore this reinforces the purpose of prayer which is to align our will with the heart of God. This occurs when we recognize His supremacy and His power. We invade the impossible by surrendering our will to His will.

So in the first part of this prayer we recognize the majesty of God. We pray for His kingdom to be established in us and in our circumstances. We pray that His will is manifested in all we do and in every circumstance of our life. With that said we can now move to the second part of this prayer. The second part of the Lord’s prayer focuses on our needs. You see when we recognize God’s supremacy and the closeness of His kingdom, we are in a better position to focus on our specific needs in a godly manner. By recognizing that He wants to invade our circumstances, we are more apt to pray with faith and trust in God. This weekend one of the speakers at the conference said that too often we pray to get out of a particular situation but we should pray for God to reveal what we can get out of that particular situation. In other words we ask: What is God doing in us? How is He growing us?

The first petition here is “Give us our daily bread.” This is a petition of provision. Bread is a term that is inclusive of all needs. You see in that day bread was one of the greatest concerns they had. They did not need much else but bread to sustain them. So, what is your need? Is it food? Is it healing? Is it relationships? Whatever it is God can and will answer. We pray that God who is our Father will bring the Kingdom into focus in every area of our life and that God’s will is revealed to us. We pray that according to His name, His kingdom, and His will that our needs will be met.

The second petition is “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This reminds us that we are not only forgiven but we are to be forgivers. You see in light of the grace of God and the power of God I do not have the right to live with a grudge or the guilt of unconfessed sin. You see we pray for forgiveness for ourselves but we pray also for those who hold a grudge against us. In praying this prayer we are praying for forgiveness so that His kingdom can invade that part of our life so that we are no longer held captive by the actions of others.

You see when we pray for forgiveness we are reminded of how blessed we are. We are reminded of the power of God’s grace at work in our lives. We are reminded that we have received so much we do not deserve. That is grace. We receive God’s riches at Christ expense. And we are to give grace to others. Remember in the War Room movie when Clara confronts Elizabeth about her relationship with her husband, Tony. Clara reminds Elizabeth how much God’s grace has been manifested in her life and how unwilling she was to give that same grace to Tony. Real grace is manifested best by giving grace to those who deserve it the least.

The third part states “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” In essence, Jesus is saying that we should pray that we no longer continue to sin. We pray that we do not become entangled in overpowering temptation. The prayer Jesus prays is that we are delivered from evil. We pray that God would guard our life from the attacks of satan and from his works and his ways in our life. We ask God to help us to walk in His holiness.

I do not think that it is a coincidence that Jesus ends with this part of the prayer. You see when we face circumstances that are beyond our control and that seem bigger than us, we can be in bondage to unanswered prayer. In the end, we pray that the kingdom of God is revealed through us. To have that occur we cannot be entangled with the ways of the enemy. To be entangled places us in a position where we are susceptible to strongholds and to bondage that must be broken. To be entangled we tend to steer away from God’s will and we are intimidated by the ways of the enemy. In essence, Jesus prays that we would not be entangled with unconfessed sin. Not only does this equate to unconfessed sin but it also refers to the past experiences of our life that can continue to effect us and impact us to the degree that we can’t move forward as we need to.

So when we pray, we pray in the secret place to receive answered prayers from an all wise and all powerful God who loves us. In prayer, we recognize and pray from the standpoint of making Him King and Lord. In so doing God’s grace will be revealed.

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14

Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Prayer Series – Who You Pray To

Peninsula Community Church

Prayer Series: Who You Pray To

February 21, 2016

Matthew 6:5-8And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

As we continue our study this morning I would like to focus our attention on the who of our prayer. The bottom line is the who of prayer is more critical than the actual  prayer we pray. Without an understanding and a knowledge of who we pray to we will find that our prayers are not as effective as they should be. Additionally without knowing God our faith can be misplaced. When we pray we must understand that we are praying to someone. We are not just reciting words or ideas but we are actually communicating with God Himself. When we realize this the way we pray will change. With that in mind, I would like to share three things about God which are critical to our understanding of who He is and why prayer to Him is important. With that said let me offer a caveat here. In the time we have today, there is no way for me to completely give you everything there is to know about God. Therefore, we will only hit the highlights. As a result, I encourage you to do some self-study to learn more about who God is.

The first consideration for us this morning is that He is the sovereign God. He is in the secret place. He hears our prayers. He knows our needs. He knows the answer to our prayer. As the Sovereign God He is all knowing, so He knows your need before you ask. God is everywhere present, and so He knows what is going on all around you. He is all powerful, and thus He can do whatever He needs to do to bring about His purposes. He is eternal. Think about it. He has seen it all. And because He is eternal He knows the beginning from the end. Therefore, He knows how every circumstance in your life will work out. He knows exactly what He needs to do to bring about His purposes in your life.

As we look at the subject of the sovereignty of God, there has been much debate about what this means. Entire denominations have been formed around different ideas and perspectives in regard to their understanding of this subject. Let me say this in regard to the idea of the sovereignty of God. God is big enough, wise enough, and powerful enough to do whatever He deems necessary to accomplish His will. Here is a fact, God can do whatever He pleases as confirmed by Psalm 115:3. Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. What this means is that God is not constrained by any outside force that will dictate what He should or should not do.

Therefore to say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High and that He is working according to His will. He is working in the armies of Heaven, and He is working among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand. As we look at this, we must be aware that God only acts within the context of His character and who is. Thus, He cannot lie for there is no falsehood in Him. He cannot sin as He is the purest form of perfection and holiness. He cannot fail because He is all powerful and all knowing. And He can be trusted because He is has been proven to be trustworthy over and over again.

Because He is sovereign, our role is to pray with an attitude of faith. In Hebrews 11:6-7 we find the author saying that … without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. To be effective we must present our needs to God with a faith that trusts and believes that He is able to answer our prayer. We must believe in His sovereignty and that He has our best interest in mind when we pray. His sovereignty combined with our faith positions us for answered prayer. What is faith? It is believing and trusting in someone greater than ourselves.

Because He is sovereign and He knows best, we must pray that our will is in alignment with His will. Listen to 1 John 5:14-15 – And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. So how do we know His will. There are two ideas to be considered. First, we pray that our hearts will be aligned with His heart. And second we read the Word of God for it is in reading and understanding the Word that we gain a better understanding about what He desires. 

Additionally, we need to be aware that unconfessed sin prevents God from answering our prayers. The reason is that when we are motivated by sin we tend to ask for things that are not in alignment with His purposes or His will. David relates this to us Psalm 66:16-20Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.

Not only is He sovereign but He is also the God that responds. Jeremiah 33:2-3 “Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it— the Lord is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. Here is a promise you can take to the bank. God hears us and He responds to us. The responses may not be in the timeframe that we think or it may not be packaged the way we think, but He does answer. When we pray we are reminded that He is all knowing, all powerful, and that He is everywhere present. We know that His delay does not mean He does not care nor does it mean that He does not hear us.

In reading through the Old Testament, we find that the children of Israel had prayed for years for a deliverer. As we read the story of the Exodus, we find that God was already at work to set up a deliverer and yet there was no visual sign of movement toward the fulfillment of this and yet God was working on Israel’s behalf. Moses was born and was positioned to understand the ins and outs of Egypt’s government and the underpinnings of how things worked. And then just as we think that things are about to happen, Moses is kicked out of Egypt and he ends up in the desert for another 40 years. In Egypt Moses is being prepared in the ways of Egypt and in the wilderness God is preparing Moses to know the desert and thus He is prepared to lead the nation of Israel. Meanwhile the people are praying and crying out to God.

The third aspect is that He is the God that blesses and He knows how to give good gifts. God loves to give good gifts. Jesus described this later in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:7-11. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him. Here is one thing we can count on, God knows how to bless and give good gifts. The point of the passage we just read is that God is not going to give us anything that is going to harm us.

Listen to the words of John Piper. When you pause to consider that God is infinitely strong and can do all that he pleases, and that he is infinitely righteous so that he only does what is right, and that he is infinitely good so that everything he does is perfectly good, and that he is infinitely wise so that he always knows perfectly what is right and good, and that he is infinitely loving so that in all his strength and righteousness and goodness and wisdom he raises the eternal joy of his loved ones as high as it can be raised — when you pause to consider this, then the lavish invitations of this God to ask him for good things, with the promise that he will give them, is unimaginably wonderful.

In the human realm, have you ever received a gift that you did not know what to do with. The gift ended up in a closet somewhere never to be used again. Or you end up selling it on e-bay or a garage sale. Here is a guarantee, if God gives you a gift you can be sure that it is good and it is exactly what you need. God gives us good gifts. God does not tell us that we receive everything we ask for but God gives us what is best for us in the moment. To give us everything we ask for would make us spoiled and would God one who spoils us.

As another aspect of Him giving good gifts is that He often gives us what we do not deserve or have not merited on our own accord. So to understand who God is we best understand Him through His gift of grace. That is why there are some who do not seem to deserve God’s answered prayer and yet they receive it. As in the War Room movie there is not one of us who have been distanced from God’s grace. None of us deserve God’s grace but that is the beauty of His grace. We don’t deserve it but He freely gives it.

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14

Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Where You Pray

Peninsula Community Church

Prayer Series: Where You Pray

February 7, 2016

Matthew 6:5-8And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

In the movie, the War Room, we find the movie opens with Clara giving a overview of her husband’s life as a soldier. If you remember the opening scene, the commanders and strategists are in a room that is filled with maps and war plans. The idea presented by Clara is that when a nation is at war they will develop strategic plans on how to fight battles and in essence how to win at war. This is accomplished in the war room. As the movie progresses we find the focus of the movie is on having a personal “war room” where we can strategize and set in motion particular plans on how to win the battles we face each and every day.

Jesus referred to this place as the closet of prayer. Jesus stated that when we pray we are to go into our room or closet and shut the door. The idea from the heart of God is to have that place where we can be alone with Him and can pray without the hindrance of outside influences. Note that the passage states that the reason we pray in secret is that God rewards those who pray in the secret place and He does so in the open. The point is that what is done in secret will be revealed in the open.

With that said, let me make a comment or two about prayer. First, the location of our closet of prayer is not as important as just having a place to pray. You see some people might have a specific room that is set aside solely as a place to pray but the reality is that life does not always allow this to occur. The truth is that our secret place can be our den. It can be our favorite chair. It can be at our dinner or breakfast table. For some it might even be our car. The idea purposed here is that we need a designated place where we have our “prayer time,” “a quiet time,” or what ever else you might call it.

Secondly, in the movie we saw that Clara, Elizabeth, and even little Daniella had a wall where they would post their prayer requests and they post answered prayers. We too need a wall or a place where we can post our prayer requests. It might be a physical wall. It might be a journal notebook. It might be a file on your computer. There is no right or wrong way to do this. The idea is to have a place where we can list, track, and remember our prayer requests. It is also a place where we remember what God has done in us and what He has accomplished through our praying. This is important because we can easily forget what God has done.

Thirdly, while we need a location that we set aside for our prayer time we must also have an understanding that we should walk in a spirit of prayer. It is possible to believe that once we have prayed in our closet, we can check that off our list and go on about our day. The problem is that we can confuse the place of prayer with the heart of prayer. The place of prayer prepares us for the day before us and focuses our attention on the day ahead. It also focuses our attention on our need for God. The heart of prayer maintains a steadfastness in prayer throughout the day.

Finally, we meet in a designated place because we have a relationship with God. Our prayers must be founded in the relationship we have with God. The key is to never just check prayer off of our list. In our closet of prayer we must know that we are literally meeting with the King of Kings and the Creator of All Things. Today is Valentine’s Day. Other than Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest times for restaurants. Why is that? It is because we want to be together with the one we love. We determine their favorite place and we make sure we have a reservation and off we go. We do this because we love our spouse and we want to bless them. God wants to meet with us and He wants to talk with us. That happens in our closet of prayer.

But why does God call us to a place of secrecy? Let me give you three reasons. First, shutting the door shifts the focus off of others. Remember the problem with the hypocrites is that they loved to be the center of attention. In our closet of prayer we do not have to impress any one, imitate any one, or worry about being judged by someone else. In our closet of prayer we can simple focus our attention on God.

Listen to the words of Proverbs 29:25. The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. Here is a fact that we can take to the bank. God is not going to judge you when you pray. He is not going to criticize you. He is going to love you and draw you closer to His heart. In our closet of prayer we can be our self. We can cry. We can laugh. We can even sit and do nothing because we are in the presence of God and in His presence we can be real and authentic.

The second reason to go into our closet of prayer is that shutting the door shifts the focus off of self. You see when we are in our closet of prayer we become less self-conscious and more God-conscious. You see in our private times of prayer God will reveal more of who we are, who He is, and how to walk in the light of His Word.

If you are like me, too many times when I enter my closet of prayer I become distracted and restless. You know how it goes. Suddenly I start to remember all of the things I need to do. I remember things that I have forgotten to do. In prayer we discover that our minds are easily divided. Even in our closet of prayer we can catch the plague of wandering thoughts. But in having a secret stillness before God we can deliberately shut the door to the distractions of life. In so doing, we shift the focus away from ourselves which brings us to the last point.

The third reason we go into our closet of prayer is that shutting the door shifts God of our thinking onto His place of priority. In our society today, we are constantly reminded that we should silence our phones so that we do not distract others. In churches, movie theaters, and while driving we are encouraged to put our phones down. I know that for Michelle and I we have had to make a conscience decision to turn off our phones, iPads, and computers at the dinner table. As a society we have an addiction to our phones and it seems we have to always have them near us because we might miss a call, text, or Facebook post. But when we want to show respect and honor we shut off our phones and pay attention to the one with whom we are with. The same applies as we enter our prayer closet. We must remove all distractions. When we go into our prayer closet we must eliminate the noise in order to focus on the face that is in front of us.

Closet praying is critical. God not only hears what is prayed in secret but the implication in this passage is that He is in the secret place with us. The secret place of prayer represents the presence of God in our life. It is the place we go to meet with God. It is true that God is present everywhere but in the secret place of prayer we find God meeting with us, personally.

Jesus who is our great example of how to pray showed us the necessity of prayer and getting alone with God. In Matthew 14:23 we find that after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. Jesus the God of all creation had to take time to be alone with the Father. If he needed time to be alone with God, how much more do we need time to be alone with the Heavenly Father.

In Luke 6:12 we find that Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. It is noteworthy that after he prayed all night he went out to select the disciples who would follow him throughout His ministry. You see even Jesus needed God’s direction before he made such a great decision. How much more do we need to pray and hear from God?

In Luke 5:15-16 we find that Jesus prayed after he ministered to the great crowds. But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Even Jesus needed prayer when He was in ministry. He took time to withdraw to quiet places to pray. He focused on prayer because He needed to hear from God. He wanted to be connected to the Father and He did that by way of prayer.

In Luke 22:41-44 we find Jesus praying for the will of God to be achieved in His life. “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. It is noteworthy that Jesus, the God of all creation, prayed for God’s will to be fulfilled in His life. How do we advance God’s will? We do so by praying for God’s will and purpose to be accomplished in us.

As we close today let me share a quote by Oswald Chambers. This was his August 23rd entry in “My Utmost for His Highest.” He stated Unless you learn to open the door of your life completely and let God in from your first waking moment of each new day, you will be working on the wrong level throughout the day. But if you will swing the door of your life fully open and “pray to your Father who is in the secret place,” every public thing in your life will be marked with the lasting imprint of the presence of God.

Shutting the door and spending time alone with God is a practice we need. Shutting the distracting doors of the mind and our hearts will allow us to focus completely on God. By shutting the door of prayer we open our hearts to His will and His power. What a difference we will make. What answered prayers we will see occur.

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14

Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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Prayer Series – When You Pray!

Peninsula Community Church

Prayer Series: When You Pray

February 7, 2016

Matthew 6:5-8And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Over the next four weeks we will unpack this passage together. As we do so we will see that the text focuses on the when, who, where, and how of prayer. As we begin this series, let me make a  couple of observations in regard to prayer. First most believers feel inadequate when it comes to their prayer life. In fact, most believers struggle with the belief that their personal prayers are effective. This anxiety about prayer comes from the fact that too often we measure our ability to pray against the abilities of others. In so doing, we believe others pray more, they pray more effectively, and they have more prayers answered. The problem here is that too many times the enemy uses this as a tactic to prevent us from praying at all. He wants us to believe that our prayers are ineffective and not working because he knows if we believe this we will not pray.

A second observation is that too many believers have developed an apathy toward prayer as a result of devaluing prayer in their life. As I have said before, we will engage in what we value. Because we have devalued prayer in our lives, we do not consider prayer an important aspect of our life. If we do pray, our prayers are quick one liners to God and then we are off to conquer our day. And, too often we only pray when we need something from God.

A third observation made is that too many people simply do not know how to pray. They have heard about prayer. They have studied about prayer. They have attended seminars about prayer but they themselves have not engaged in prayer. The problem is that they have not made an application of the truths they have learned. It is like going to Weight Watcher meetings but never implementing the life style changes needed to lose weight. Here is a fact that we need to hear and understand. The best way to learn to pray is to pray.

With that said let’s unpack this passage. To begin with, this passage invites us to pray. Notice that Jesus said “When you pray!” The assumption made is that we will pray and when we pray things happen. We see the confirmation of this in Jeremiah 29:11-14. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Notice a couple of things in this passage. The Children of Israel had been in captivity for 70 years. At the end of that period of time God said that He would visit them based on the plans and goals He had for them. In essence, He tells them that when they understand that He has amazing plans for their life they will be more inclined to pray and to call upon the name of the Lord. It is important to note that it was not the captivity that would drive them to pray but a realization of God’s will and plan for them. God says call upon Him and He will hear them. Seek Him and they will find Him but they had to do so with their whole heart. Wow!!! that is amazing!

The second observation is that Matthew addresses the question “Why pray?” The answer is simple. We pray because God answers prayer. We pray because it brings healing to the nation (2 Chronicles 7:14-15) and in praying for the nation we are forced to deal with our pride and our need for forgiveness. We pray because in praying the will of God the Father is glorified in the Son. Look at the words of John 14:13. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. We pray because we know that our joy will be made complete or full. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24). Do you want that inner joy that brings hope to the darkness around you, then pray, for in praying our joy is made complete.

We also pray because we have proof that prayer works. Through out the Bible we find that God heard the cry of His people. They prayed and He answered. In Exodus 2:23-25 God heard His people pray. They had been in captivity long enough and they were crying out for a deliverer. In 1 Samuel 1:19-20 God heard Hannah’s prayer for a child. She was childless and because she prayed, a son was born who she dedicated to the Lord. In 1 Kings 17:22 God heard Elijah’s prayer. A child had died and Elijah had stretched himself across the child where he prayed for healing and the child arose from the dead. How awesome is that?

Finally, we pray because in verbalizing our prayers our faith is built and we are encouraged by the answers that come from prayer. We pray! God answers! Our faith is made stronger! While this is true, we must consider another aspect of the purpose of prayer. God desires to have a personal relationship with us. In life, we talk with those with whom we are in relationship. The problem is that we confuse prayer with simply asking God for things but prayer is so much more. Yes prayer involves our personal requests but we also praise God, we thank God for what He is doing and what He has done. We wait to hear from Him because prayer is a two-way street. It is not one-sided.

As we unpack this passage, we see that God invites us to pray but he also warns us about our posture in prayer. Listen to the words of Jesus. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. Jesus counsels us against making our prayers a show case for others to see. He is saying in essence that our prayer should be focused on God and not on others. By way of a reminder, a hypocrite has been defined as an actor on a stage. They play a part. They are not being real but are in fact putting forth a persona so that others will think differently of them. Being a hypocrite is not just a matter of being duplicitous but it carries the idea of seeking the praise and approval of people. Once they are off the stage they live their life as they always have. Nothing changed. This hypocritical mindset has no place in the movement of prayer. Jesus recognized this and he addressed this with those He spoke to during the Sermon on the Mount.

When I was a teenager I loved to watch wrestling and one of my favorite wrestlers was Cowboy Bob Kelly. He was a local wrestler in the Gulf Coast region. One of the wrestlers he would often fight against was Gorgeous George Jr.. We used to sit on Saturday nights and watch the matches live from Mobile and we had so much fun doing so. One evening we were headed to a concert at the Mobile Civic Center. After parking the car we had to walk past the rear entrance to the stage where the wrestling competition took place. Low and behold there was Cowboy Bob Kelly and Gorgeous George standing outside the rear entrance having a cigarette. They were laughing and talking with each other as if they were best friends. My heart sank because I realized in that moment wrestling was fake. They were hypocrites. They were play actors.

The problem with the hypocrites around Jesus is that they would pray in such a way that would elicit comments and reactions from those who would hear their prayers. They would pray to be acknowledged and not so that God would be honored and pleased with what He heard. You see when we pray to receive accolades then we have received our reward and we have had our prayer answered. The fact is God wants us to pray from the heart and use the words we have been given to communicate in every day life. We do not have to use big words or even Elizabethan English. God understands Southern and He understands New York. And He understands those who live in the Delmarva region. In fact, God hears us best when we are praying from a heart that is honest and true rather than the verbiage we are using.

I have witnessed people who pray with flowery words and purposeful flexion in their voice to illicit emotional responses for effect. They move people with their prayer but the reality is that while their prayers were magnificent their hearts were in fact far from God. The words they used were empty and meaningless. They wanted others to recognize their great ability to pray. But that is a hypocritical mode of prayer.

I have witnessed others who at times proclaim answered prayer as if was their prayers were the reason God brought answers. There was a lady in our church in New York who would come into my office or be in a group of people and she would proclaim how she single handedly prayed that God would do such and such and He did it. Her tone and her verbiage was condescending and critical of others. Her words were filled with pride and it seemed she was self promoting her prayer life. She presented herself as if she was not praying the whole world would fall apart. She lived a hypocritical life as she would seldom profess the prayers she had prayed that went unanswered or were answered in way that was contrary to the way she had prayed. In those times she was silent because the result did not place her in the best of lights.

On the other hand, I was asked to do the funeral of an elderly lady that had attended our church for some time. This dear saint’s health precluded her from doing much physically or financially for the church. Upon her death, her family found her prayer diaries which were filled with prayer requests and notes about answered prayer. They showed me page after page where she had being praying for me, my family, and the church. The notes were scribbled on the paper and were barely legible but she had journaled her journey of pray on the pages of the diary. Why do I share this? I share this because this little lady who did not have much in the physical had more than most of us to give in the spirit. She gave what she had. She prayed. And she did so without hypocrisy as no one knew that she prayed the way she did. Most notable I compared dates of the diary to dates where I needed prayer and there was an entry for that day where she had prayed for me. How awesome!

So what do we learn here. We learn that have been invited to pray. We have an audience with God. We learn that God calls us to pray and that He answers prayer. We learn that when we pray from the heart, He gets the glory and the praise. We learn that when we pray we need to be honest and real before God. So pray and pray in such a way that opens the door for God to get all of the praise and the glory. And remember that God answers prayer when we pray according to His will and to His ways.

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14

Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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The Value of Belonging

Peninsula Community Church

January 24, 2016

The Value of Belonging 

1 Corinthians 12:14-20 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

Today I would like to look at a subject that has caused much consternation and debate within the Christian church. There has been and continues to be a plethora of ideas and discussions surrounding the church, what the church is about, and how it is to function. And for sure there has been much debate about the purpose, structure, and implementation of membership in the church. So, with that said, I recognize that not everyone will agree with everything that I will say this morning and that is ok because we will most likely agree to disagree. But we will move forward and remain united in our purpose and our vision to reach this community for Christ.

As we begin our discussion, we find that in the Book of Acts coming to Christ and joining a local church was often an immediate act. For the new believer experiencing salvation without connecting and belonging to a local church was totally foreign to their way of thinking. More than once we find that Scripture shows that individuals repented, believed in Christ, they were baptized in water, and were then added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14; and 16:5). With that said, let me be quick to note that joining the local church is not the same as coming to Christ. Neither is joining the local church a requirement for salvation. We must understand that there is the local church made of members of a community of believers and there is the universal church which is made up of every believer in the world whether they are a part of a local church or not.

In the Greek, the key word translated for church is the word “ecclesia” which means “called out ones.” Historically, the term ecclesia was a political term where citizens were called together by the trumpet of the herald. These assemblies were an opportunity for news and information to be disseminated to the citizens of the town or village. It was also an opportunity to engage the assembly in kingdom action. In time, the church usurped the word from secular society and began to use the word ecclesia to define their meetings. Thus they called Christians together to disseminate information and to call believers into action. Additionally, it was a place to unite believes under the banner of Christ.

In terms of our understanding of the church we need to discuss that the church is in essence two churches in one. While we have the local church and the universal church where all believers are participants we also have a visible and an invisible church. The visible church is identified by its buildings, its programs, and the people involved. The places where the church gather may run the gamut from a local coffee shop, a road side gathering, or a large edifice. The visible church is what is visible to anyone and everyone. The fact is however that all who attend physical churches or profess to be Christians are not necessarily true Christians.

On the other hand, the invisible church are those who who have accepted Christ and have committed their ways to His ways. Christianity is not comprised merely of religious patterns, attending of churches, tithing, taking communion, etc. True Christianity is made up of those who have made a conscious decision to follow Christ and have accepted Him through regeneration. These are the redeemed, true Christians. The local church is more than a place. The invisible church is the glorious gathering of the redeemed, the sanctified flock of the great Shepherd, the united household of God, and it is the beautiful body and bride of Christ. Such an exalted picture of the church seems silly as long as we’re content with superficial relationships and shallow connections. The real church is so much more than all of these things.

To be sure church membership is a formal relationship between the Church and the believers in Christ. This relationship is characterized by mutual affirmation and submission to one another. It is a matter of living out one’s discipleship in the care of the church. The question for us is how is the church to be organized. The beauty of the Bible and the wisdom of God is that Scripture does not always detail how the church should be specifically organized. With that said, the Bible does refer to the fact that the church does organize itself with elders and pastors to lead the church who give guidance to the structure and organization of the church. The founding fathers of this particular church had the foresight to develop and implement just such a means to govern this local church body.

As we look at the church within the culture of the day, we must understand that while we are not of this world, we do live in a world that is litigious by nature. Therefore, we must do all we can do to protect the church against any possible negative outcomes. In essence, we must protect the invisible church from the worst of the visible church. It is for that reason that we do many things that may not be spelled out in the Bible but we still do them. For example, insurance is not in the Bible, but we have insurance to protect the church from loss in case of an emergency or in case of a frivolous law suit. As a leadership team, we have been tasked with establishing the governmental structure within the church to help the church function in a way that is healthy and protects every member and attendee. As most of you know, we have a specific membership process that requires those who desire membership to attend an orientation class, submit their testimony to the church, and upon approval by the leadership team sign a Covenant agreement.

Some have argued against this process and I understand the issue. As a leadership team we are reminded that because we deal with both the visible and invisible church we are tasked with establishing guidelines that protect, guide and empower the church to accomplish its God-given task of evangelism, discipleship, and outreach. As we have stated before, the beauty of the body of Christ is that we have the privilege to organize and operate within the context we believe will best move us forward in terms of God’s will and purpose for our life individually and corporately.

In terms of the Covenant agreement I might remind you that in the Old Testament there were several outward signs of covenant relationship between God and man. Even in Jesus’ day it was common for contracts to be sealed by the exchanging of a shoe or livestock. At times those agreements include cutting animals in two and walking between the pieces (Genesis 15), placing a hand under a thigh (2 Samuel 24), removing and exchanging a sandal (Ruth 4), or instituting and enjoying a ceremonial dinner (Matthew 26:17-29). We do not do that today but we do require the signing of a covenant agreement. For us, we seal the covenant by asking you as members to sign the covenant of agreement. This is not a tool to be limiting or legalistic but rather it is intended to be freeing and orderly.

This brings us to the place where must ask the question “Why join the church?” To begin with, joining a local church counters the independent and go-it-along mindset of society. This culture is committed to consumerism, and if Christians are not careful, even our churches will be nothing more than a semi-sanctified microcosm of the surrounding world. We attend when we want, are accountable to the degree we want, submit to whom we want and only when we want, and give only when it is convenient. That was never the purpose of the church or God’s calling for the church.

Secondly, joining the church counters the results of an uncommitted society. We live in a day that commitment is a rare commodity. For that reason, it should not come as a surprise that church membership has a low priority to so many believers. Sadly, it is not uncommon for Christians to move from church to church, never submitting themselves to the care of elders and never committing themselves to a group of fellow believers.

Thirdly, we understand that we join because when the body of Christ is working together it is a force to be reckoned with. By working together we accomplish more together than as individuals. I am sure that you have heard the fact that two horses can pull more than two individual horses. The story goes that a single draft horse can pull a load up to 8,000 pounds. What they found is that two horses working in tandem can pull up to three times the weight of one individual horse. Together they can pull 24,000 pounds.

The passage before us today is one that shows us the value of being a part of a team. Together we can do more than we can do apart from one another or as individuals. We can pray together. We can study together, and we can grow together. We can unite around the vision of the church and the vision of God through the church. We can reach the community together. There is so much we can do together.

Living out a commitment to a local church involves many responsibilities: exemplifying a godly lifestyle in the community, exercising one’s spiritual gifts in diligent service, contributing financially to the work of the ministry, giving and receiving admonishment with meekness and in love, and faithfully participating in corporate worship. Much is expected, but much is at stake. For only when every believer is faithful to this kind of commitment is the church able to live up to her calling as Christ’s representative here on earth. To put it simply, membership matters.

But here is the deal. We should never let any of the things we have in place be a hindrance to joining. Join because you desire to. Do so because you are called. But don’t refuse to join because we are imperfect and our processes are imperfect. Join because you believe that God is in the midst of the church and you desire to be a part of what God is doing here! Join because you believe it is God’s will to join and connect to the church in a more official capacity. May God direct your steps and guide your decision as we join our hearts in prayer.

Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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