NPPN - ARTICLE #013 = A PRAYER COVENANT 12/12/98
--->NPPNote: Pastor Tom Maluga preached this message to the Uptown Baptist Church as he began a year of 52 Sunday sermons on prayer...
Subject:††††††††† What Kind of Year Will 1998 Be?
From:† firstname.lastname@example.org (Thomas Maluga)
Uptown Baptist Church 1998 Prayer Covenant
"This kind can come out only by prayer." (Mark 9:29)
I believe that God is calling me to experience in 1998 the kind of year that is only possible through prayer. Therefore, I commit myself, for the year of 1998, to:
Make choices to become the kind of praying person that God is calling me to be;
Deal with the things that have hindered growth in my prayer life;
Make prayer my priority as a discipline in my life and in my response to lifeís opportunities, uncertainties, and challenges;
Devote ____ minutes a day to personal prayer;
Establish an accountability relationship with someone who will regularly ask me about these commitments and my prayer life;
Prayerfully cultivate and maintain an expectation for God to do, in my own life and in Uptown Baptist Church, things that have never been done before;
Grow in my understanding of how God works through prayer;
Seek for God to use me in creating a climate of and priority for prayer at Uptown Baptist Church.
__________________________________(Your Signature and the Date)
What Kind of Year Will 1998 Be?
Objectives: 1. That people would get excited about growing in their prayer lives this year. 2. That people would see a new vision for what growing in prayer can do for their lives and the church. 3. That people would elevate prayer as a priority in their lives and make the commitments detailed on the prayer covenant.
During the last week many people have forecast what will happen in 1998. I watched 3 columnists on Nightline who had made forecasts about 1997 and were first evaluated on how well they had done with those predictions. Will the Stock Market continue to rise or will it fall? Who will win the Super Bowl, the NBA championship, the World Series? Which politicians will stay in office and which will go to jail?
They all guessed correctly that the Bulls would win the NBA championship but none of them guessed that the Packers would win the Super Bowl. The best of the 3 got 5 right and 5 wrong. But these forecasts are by people (like newspaper columnists or even Ďexpertsí) who have no power whatsoever to influence what actually happens. They are not so much predicting as guessing. I believe all of us should make predictions about what will happen this year. Not about who will win in sports (those kinds of things
actually have very little to do with how we really experience life). Rather we should make predictions whose outcome we can impact by the choices that we make as we begin this new year.
In the passage we are going to look at today we will look at a key factor that will impact what kind of experience we will have with God this year.
We learn that....
Theme: Vast areas of experiencing God are only accessible by prayer.
What kind of year we have will be determined more than we know by our commitment to pray. In the first section of our passage today, we meet a father whose heart is broken by how the powers of evil are destroying his teenage son. Itís a story repeated often in our time. Against this grim background we learn that....
1.†††††††† Prayer overcomes the unbelief that blocks us from new experiences of Godís power. (Mark 9:14-24) [14. When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 "What are you arguing with them about?" he asked. 17 A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not."]
What a scene! With a large crowd watching and listening, the disciples and the Jewish religious leaders were embroiled in a huge argument. When Jesus inquired about what the argument was about, a particular man in the crowd answered. He tells Jesus about his son whose life was made wretched by an evil spirit. This spirit tormented his son with multiple agonizing physical manifestations. This son who apparently once could call his dad, now was unable to talk at all. This spirit brutalized this boy by violently throwing him on the ground where his body would become rigid while he gnashed his teeth in anguish and foam, like that of a dog with rabies, slobbered from his mouth. We donít have to think very hard to feel the torture that this was to this father as daily he watched the suffering this spirit caused to his son.
But the answer to the question about the argument comes at the end of verse 18 where this man reports to Jesus that, although His disciples had granted his request to drive out the spirit, they were unable to do so.
A.††††††† We often fail to overcome evil. (14-18) We must admit this. Whether in overcoming evil in our personal lives or in the lives of those who have come to us for help, we often fail. Unless we admit this and learn from it, we are doomed to repeat our failure. All around us are needs and broken people crying for help. Many arenít crying out to God because they donít see the church overcoming evil either. The first step to dealing with this is to be honest about it. What does Jesus say about our failure to overcome evil?
[19 "O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me." 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boyís father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. 22 "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." 23 "íIf
you caní?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."]
B.†††††††† Unbelief is often the reason for this failure. (19-23) Two questions beginning with the words how long, both expressing the exasperation Jesus feels with peopleís unbelief. Jesus is grieved and weary to point of heartbreak at how the unbelief of his disciples left them helpless to free this boy from the evil spirit. But Jesus is also thinking of how this
unbelief in them was characteristic of the whole generation of people at that time. The Ďteachers of the lawí who argued with the nine disciples using their failure to prove their view that didnít expect Godís power to work. Like the people in the Book of Numbers (14:27; see also Deut. 32:5,20) who didnít believe that God give them the promised land and so the whole generation wandered in the desert for 40 years until the whole unbelieving generation died off and the only ones left to enter the promised land were the Joshuas and Calebs who believed. We canít accomplish much when we are indistinguishable from the unbelieving culture around us. We too live in an unbelieving generation and one of the main ways our unbelief is seen is in our prayerlessness.
He calls for the boy to be brought to him. The spirit in the boy had an immediate reaction to Jesus throwing the boy into a fit on the ground. Seeing this torment, Jesus asked the father how long this oppression had been this way. The answer from childhood suggests that this is a teenage boy and that he had been in this condition for a number of years. He also adds that the attacks had been so severe that often the spirit had thrown the boy not only to the ground but into fire or water in obvious attempts to destroy him. That the father suffers too during these near-fatal attacks on his son is seen in how he asks Jesus to take pity on us and help us. The history and severity of these attacks along with the disciplesí failure to end them leaves this father doubting that anyone can stop them. The failure of the disciples is regarded as a reflection on their Master. So is our failure. There are people who donít believe Jesus has power because they donít see power in us.
Jesusí response to him is a reminder of the importance of faith. Why is faith so important? Because faith is our affirmation of the truth about God, His character and abilities, while unbelief is really believing Satanís lies about God.
Jesus repeats the very phrase that the man uses and then puts it in perspective (the word possible is the same as the word can). Jesus is saying that the issue is not His power but the manís faith. What Jesus says here does not mean that the person who has faith can by himself achieve anything he desires but rather that Godís power is limitless for those who
have the courage to expect the best from Him. Faith doesnít limit what can be accomplished through Godís power. So what can we do to overcome unbelief in our lives?
C.††††††† Prayer is the key to winning the battle between belief and unbelief. (24) It is unbelief that keeps us from praying and it is prayer that opens the way to victory over unbelief. [24 Immediately the boyís father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"]
The fatherís response to Jesusí admonishment is immediate and passionate. He realizes that his son is not the only one who needs Jesusí help but also he himself. The word for help here is the same as in verse 22 except that the form of the word used here asks for continuing help while the form in verse 22 asks for instant help. Thus he affirms his belief while also admitting the presence of unbelief in his heart. As his son needed the help of Jesus to be free from the evil spirit, this father recognizes that he needs the help of Jesus to overcome the unbelief in his life. Faith is the first victory that we need in our lives. As we consider Godís call to pray in 1998, many of us will struggle with unbelief. For some it is the unbelief that comes, like the father in this story, from repeated experiences of failure. We dare not to believe that we can overcome because we donít want to suffer the letdown and discouragement of defeat yet again. Faith moves us to make bold steps and serious commitments. And how do we overcome unbelief with faith? Like the father here, we need to pray, asking Jesus for ongoing help. As we consider what kind of year prayer can make 1998 there is another important lesson for us to learn in the rest of this story:
2.†††††††† Prayer opens us to a kind of experience with God that is not possible any other
way. (Mark 9:25-29) [25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "Heís dead." 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. The resistance of this evil spirit is seen in the way that he exited the boy: shrieking, shaking him like a
rag doll, and leaving the boy so drained that he appeared to be lifeless. Jesus reached down to take his limp hand and as he touched the boy it seemed that strength flowed into him so that the boy stood up.]
A.††††††† There is no evil that Jesus canít overcome. (25-27) We need to remember this. When we really believe this then we will do what the disciples did in the next verse. 28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldnít we drive it out?"
B.†††††††† We need to ask the Lord why when we fail to overcome evil. (28) The disciples didnít think: "Well, there are just things Jesus can do that we canít." For one thing, they had cast out demons before (see Mark 6:7, 13). Rather they knew they needed to learn from the Master so they could do what He did. It was a good thing for them to ask this question.
Itís a question that we need to ask ourselves as well. And we need to see a couple of other things about how this question was asked: It was asked in prayer and it was asked in private. Prayer because they were talking to Jesus and that is what prayer is! In private, because thatís where we best ask the tough questions and learn the tough lessons. We need to get before God in prayer and ask Him why. The answer Jesus told them is something that I believe Heís saying to us too as we enter 1998... 29 He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer."
C.††††††† Prayer is the key that Jesus gives us for taking our lives to the next
level in our
experience with Him. (29)
This kind of what? This kind of invasion and oppression by evil? The inference is clearly that this was a higher level of battle against evil than they had faced before. Business as usual wouldnít do. Rather prayer was the required condition for such an encounter with evil. The implication is that they had not prayed. They were powerless because they were
prayerless. The deliverance of the possessed boy demonstrates what faith expressed through prayer could have accomplished, even though Jesus was absent from the disciples when they encountered this situation.
This focus on prayer is all the more striking because in Judaism, the reciting of certain passages of the Bible (like Psalm 3 and 91) was considered the proper way to attempt to expel evil spirits. Prayer is the ultimate expression of dependence on God.
One practitioner of prayer wrote: "Now believerís spiritual life will ever rise to stay above the level of his praying. Prayer marks the level of your genuine Christian life. You are what you are on your knees, nothing more." There are things that can happen in our lives only through prayer. I heard a story about a new arrival in heaven who was escorted into a room piled to the ceiling with gift-wrapped parcels. The man noticed that ever box had a tag with his name on it. "What does this mean?" he asked the escorting angel. And the angel replied: "Those are blessings, every one of which was meant for you. But because you limited God by unbelief and lack of prayer, they never were delivered."
Charles Finney wrote about a man who was a prayer warrior for his ministry called Father Nash. In one particular place where Finney was speaking there was a bar owner who opposed what God was doing there. His bar was a place where people gathered to mock faith and the things of God. He himself would begin using vulgar and blasphemous language whenever he was in the presence of a believer. One day Father Nash walked up when Finney and others were talking about this man. He asked for the manís name so he could pray for him. A couple of days later, during an evening meeting, this man walked
into the service. Some of the believers there who saw him enter got up and left. Most believed he was there to disrupt the service. But at the end he came up during the invitation and repented of his opposition and opened his heart to the Lord. Within days there was a prayer meeting in his bar every night! This kind only by prayer!
In 1995 a church in Colorado Springs committed 10,000 hours of prayer for the Dari speaking people of Afghanistan. Up to that time, though there was a radio broadcast of the gospel to the people, there was no response from the people whatsoever. When this church fulfilled its commitment to pray, the people doing the broadcast immediately began to get over a hundred letters a month from people responding (when previously they had not received any).
** Ask God what He wants to do in your life in prayer in 1998.
** Prayerfully consider the commitments of the Uptown Baptist Church 1998 Prayer Covenant; if God is calling you to these commitments, sign the card and bring it to the altar.
A word to seekers among us: if youíre here exploring what a relationship with God is all about, donít feel like you have to make this commitment, unless, of course you sense God telling you to.
An opportunity is being offered this year to give focused attention and grow together in an area in which many Christians live in defeat. Will you take advantage of it?
Your covenant will be returned to you next week at the ministry fair.
National Pastorsí Prayer Network
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