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42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Okay! So just at the start… right at the beginning I need to point out what should be obvious to all… ……... I seem to have drawn the short straw in the teaching roster…
Here we have the early Christians living what seems to me to be the idyllic Christian life… filled with blessing and wonder…
Along with these wonders and signs there is no one in need …...they are living in community every day..they are popular with the people and every day their number is growing…..there were no bench warmers or casual..Sunday Christians… they were all in…. What An example to us…
There is little doubt that the base of this lifestyle of commitment is that the Christians were devoted…. That is vs 42
The main reason for this series is to spend some time looking at this devotion of the early Christians… what can we learn from them?…
…… they devoted themselves to these four things…..the study of God’s word, to fellowship…. Remembering Jesus in the breaking of bread….. And to prayer……..These things were the bedrock of this Christian lifestyle and they are the foundation of both a successful individual Chrisitan and church life…..
Without being devoted to all these things the early church could not have survived.. Could never have grown like it did…. There was no space for people who were not fully devoted…..
Do you find these things easy? Which one do you embrace most easily? Which one is most difficult for you?
Maybe for you prayer is easy and say fellowship is tough…..
Maybe it is spending time in God’s word which is easy, but the breaking of bread is something you don’t connect with…...
So this is where it all gets a bit unfair…. Lawrence got.. ‘Devoted to the teaching of the apostles’ what an easy sell...those listening to his sermon, by definition want to know what God’s word says…
Andrew got devotion to the breaking of bread….of these four things I find it is the easiest to devote myself to….surely…...The power of remembering somehow ...it gives me context for the world..it puts all things in perspective…. The worship before the BOB leads me to a place where I can be fully engaged .. the rest of the world disappears and I am overwhelmed by God’s love for us….
Then Andrew spoke about being devoted to fellowship… who doesn’t love a cup of coffee and a biscuit while chatting after church...many people thrive in the relationships with other people and they need little encouragement to gather together… to fellowship...to encourage each other
Then in my 2 weeks I get prayer and perseverance…. Let’s be honest most people struggle with prayer…and how do you speak kindly about perseverance?
Prayer is a difficult subject …. Where do we even start….?
…. most people are tired of hearing about how they must pray more… that they need to be continually praying…...quite frankly … for many of us, when we hear about prayer we just feel guilty…..it feels like we are failing as Christians…. We try, but all our resolutions on prayer fail….
We really should have someone who is really good at praying speaking this morning…. Someone who can tell you how to do it well…...someone who is not me...
Don’t get me wrong… I think that prayer is vitally important ...like you do I am sure...
Prayer is vital…..
It is just that… I guess ,,,,,, I love the breaking of bread the most
I find fellowship much more difficult and prayer is the toughest of the lot…..
Is prayer a joy for you or a burden? Is spending time in prayer easy for you?
The question which worries me is…...Why do so many people find prayer so difficult? This is so vital for Christians, but we don’t find prayer easy……
What can we do about it?
Is it just a lack of discipline? Like going to gym, or eating healthy food…. If only we were more disciplined….then we would be better at our diets and fitness and prayer, ...right?
This is our first response and so we throw ourselves into a new prayer regime… we follow a list or dedicate a set amount of time each day……
What we all need is a good hell fire and brimstone sermon on how awful we are and then that should get us all, all sorted out….right?
I don’t believe that Discipline is the issue…. If it was then we would be better at making these new regimes stick….many of us are very disciplined people..but we still struggle with prayer
Then what is the problem?
This is not a case of bad habits, but rather, if we are totally honest…..if we want to know the truth of why our prayer lives are not what they should be...of why it is the most difficult part of our Christian lives to be devoted to….then we need to be honest with ourselves…..
Let’s face it...too many of us….. we are not totally convinced about how useful prayer really is….
If we were we would throw ourselves into it...
I realise that the Medway prayer warriors are collectively rolling their eyes right now...….
But…..but sometimes we pray and nothing seems to happen……. while on other occasions we pray and we do see results… worst of all sometimes we forget to pray ..and things happen, they work out anyway…. So does prayer really make a difference?
Of course I might also just be a little upset about the last time God did not answer my prayer…..resentful...
Prayer can be frustrating,,because we see a need...we pray about it and sometimes it ‘works’ and sometimes it doesn’t…..
We don’t say it out aloud of course…. That would be very unChristian, but if we were to be honest……
Then...often the choice is between prayer and action… especially for those of us who are doers…..we get through the prayer quickly because then we can get the job done…. Why because in some deep way we believe that we can do the job quite well on our own, thank you very much… and certainly much quicker…
God helps those who help themselves…...we can’t just sit around praying..we need to get up and do something…..
Essentially …...at the source of our difficulty with prayer is… you are not going to like this...but we like to be in charge….we like to solve our own problems…..we are egocentric…... I want to be God over my own life….
I realise that this is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for us good Christian types...but this is the human condition..the initial sin...the essence of our sinful nature…. Right at the beginning with Adam and Eve….I am like god…. I am in control…i know better...
Don't believe me? When do most people pray? We are best at praying when we are in trouble…. When we cannot solve the problem ourselves…. The very best of us spend time praying for others because we don't know how to help..... If we can sort things out ourselves we just do it….
Besides.. If God is Omniscient and Omnipotent…. And His will is all powerful…. What? Is my prayer going to change his mind?????
Let’s be honest, if we REALLY believed in the power of prayer would this sermon ever be necessary???
So… what to do? Our head belief in prayer does not always match up to how we live our lives...
It's not that we are bad people or terrible Christians… its just….well…..our theology which is wrong...we need to learn the correct theology… where do we learn the theology? That’s right….in his word….
The problem with an infinite God is that understanding his ways is not something we find in a textbook….. And not in a single reading either…..
There is much talk right now about education and whether children can continue to work online...complete worksheets and do work at home?........ Will they still be receiving an education?
The answer is yes, but a very poor, anemic education...a learning in the head, but in order for it to be ingrained in them, they have to be in an environment where they are arguing and hearing different view points, dealing with teachers and other children...being disturbed and inspired...challenged and pulled back……..then it becomes an education of the soul….an education that changes how they think….
Theology is the same…………………..we can’t just go on a course and fully understand God...
If we are to have a deep understanding of who God is and who we are in relation to him...this takes years of reading his Word…. Dwelling on the truths and stories….searching for God in his inspired scripture….. Even putting these things into practice as we serve and fellowship…..
If we are not reading his Word in order to find out more about Him, we will have a very shallow egocentric view of our Christian life…..our Christian lives will be about ourselves ….what benefits we have and how it affects us….
The Bible is a thick book with a whole lot of words….stories and teachings….. Concepts and deep infinite thoughts….
At home in our bed time reading we are ploughing through NIV ….. the old testament is taking some time and quite frankly it is repetitive…. There are lists of names and events which seem insignificant…..Why does God include all these things in his Bible?...why not just give us a list of instructions? Is all this history, genealogies, strange names and places important?
Yes! Why?..........Because it reveals God’s character to us….who God is….how he ‘thinks’....especially in relation to people…..this is where we get that deep in your gut understanding of the infinite God …… we get to understand a bit of His power and eternity….this is where our heart theology ...our understanding of God is ingrained….
The Bible’s purpose is to reveal God to us...yet too often we see it as instructions and rules...maybe even just a place of encouragement…….we have our favourite passages…..we need to be looking to find God in these pages.. In every word…..
Without this understanding of who God is…...we reduce our relationship with God and therefore our prayer lives down to a transactional level….I believe in God and He supplies my every need…..
In this scenario any sort of meaningful prayer is not worth the effort….. Especially when things are going well and my needs are met…..
Imagine if we could in some small way grasp deep inside who God is…. Would that not change our relationship with Him altogether….
Clearly the Bible is packed to the brim with the essence of God...every word and phrase reflects Him…. it is not a book of history, but a living, beautiful telescope into the Character of God…….I have picked, as the way of an example, an incredibly sad story for us this morning found in Numbers 13….I am not saying that this passage has all the answers to our prayer lives, but…. It is an example of how reading these ancient stories will help us to understand a small part of who God is …...and therefore grow our prayer lives… just one example...
Set the story...
21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol,[a] they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.
Report on the Exploration
26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
The God of Abram, Isaac and Jacob…. Has had an eternal plan to settle his people in the land of Canaan...a land flowing with milk and honey….an eternal plan….. A plan to bring glory to the name of God as he blesses his people…a plan which cannot be stopped by a couple of giants….
But this group of men trusted with the task of doing a recce … I assume the best of the best...those chosen to represent their tribe ….. They Fail ..they fail because their theology is weak…. They fail because they have placed themselves in the middle of this mission...they were by all accounts correct about how scary the inhabitants were….they were correct in saying that the Israelites were not strong enough to drive them out…. But they didn’t make the right choice because they did not understand God…..
What is the consequence here? Ch 14
20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. 25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.[a]”
The land of Canaan...God’s promised land ...a land flowing with milk and honey…..lay before them and they had to turn away to the desert….for 40 years they wandered the desert because the people inserted themselves and their own strength where God should have been standing…
What do we learn about God from this little story?
Our God is infinite...He is eternal….His purposes are so very much greater than ours… His will is to be accomplished and His name will be glorified…..
I would like to suggest that one of the reasons why you and I are often so poor at prayer is because we don’t see the need for putting God into the breach….. For some reason we put ourselves with our own strength and abilities, our own concerns and insecurities …...our own weaknesses and understanding of the World…. We place ourselves in where God should be….
We make decisions based on reason and what makes sense…… but God works differently… so how do we know what God wants? When we have learned...inside our hearts…..that God’s ways are different then when we approach a situation looking for God’s way ….. this requires prayer….
As Christians we know these things in our heads….how do we get them into our hearts so that we yearn to pray...so that we cannot do anything without immersing ourselves in prayer first….how do get to the point that we are devoted to prayer?
This is not possible without a growing understanding of who God is…..This is found in His word… we cannot get there until we spend time looking for Him in his Word….not just reading the Bible, but looking for evidence of who God is….this is not internalised through one story like the above, but reading story after story after story…..
What is scary is that there are lots of these stories because Israelites repeat this mistake again and again…. As do we…
What is your Canaan? What are missing out on? Is it a deep and meaningful relationship with God….Is it a role in serving him amongst the people in the church? Is it your family?....maybe it is being effective in the workplace…. Or is it your personal relationships…. Are these places where we know better, places we think we can deal with….. When God has other things waiting for us if we just took the scary step to put God into the gap with prayer...to trust him… to be honest with him…..to be patient….
These are eternal things we cannot do on our own…..but if we knew a bit more about God and His character we would not be able to stop ourselves falling on our knees in prayer…..
It is difficult for us to acknowledge that God is in control and not ourselves…. This is our Chrisitian journey...less of me and more of him….. But reprimanding ourselves or being more disciplined about prayer is not going to help…… only the natural surrender to God in prayer when we grasp a bit more of who he is can get us to this point…...