Sunday, February 21, 2010

OT Words for Prayer

Praying By The Book (Part 1)

Intro.:  What is this?  (Keyboard, Key Chain)
  1. It could be called many things.
  2. Much of our spiritual life has similar characteristics.  For example, Billy Graham talks of “Being born again.”  Others may call it “Having saving faith.”  Or “Being a child of God.”  Or “Being a part of the family of God.”  What is the right term – I suppose that we could say that any of them are right – or none of them since they each show a snapshot of our relationship with God.
  3. There are other parts of the Christian faith that also have this same kind of multifaceted meanings. 
  4. As I mentioned last week, we will spend Lent looking at and examining the nature of prayer. 
  5. This week I want to look at three words from the OT that are used to refer to prayer – next week I will highlight some of the New Testament words that refer to prayer. 

Read     Matthew 11:25-30


Trans:  Because I do not want overwhelm you with a Hebrew vocabulary list, I have chosen only a subset of words to discuss today.
  1. There are actually 9 Hebrew words in the OT translated regularly as pray, prayer, praying, prayed, etc.  These 9 words are used a total of 83 times in the books of Genesis through Malachi.
  2. The New Testament has fewer words (only 5) but they are used more times – a total of 98 times.
  3. Our English text, depending on the translation you make use of, includes another 10 to 20 occurrences of the word prayer or some variation thereof.  This happens because the context in which a word is found obviously refers to prayer, though one of the usual words for prayer is not used by the writer.

T.S.  The Old Testament has nine words that are translated by our English words “to pray”.  In the next few minutes I want to look at four of those words.

I.  The first word I want to look at is the Hebrew word “Palal”.

  1. Actually, this is the verb form – not found in the OT, but the most common word for prayer teppila is derived from this verb - 
  2. The word itself is a word picture -

(Ill.)  Do you remember the old see-saw, the teeter totter.  I remember as a kid getting on one end and my father sitting on the other – there was no way I could make him budge.  Then one day it hit us – a bunch of us could get on one end of the see-saw and keep my dad in the air.  We found out how to balance that see-saw to our advantage.

  1. Now what does that have to do with our word Palal – you God serves as the that pivot point where everything is in balance.  He is the judge, he is the mediator, he is called on to settle an issue.
  2. Five of the Psalms are titled with this word - “A Prayer of David” - I won't look at all five of these Psalms, but I want to call your attention to one of them – Psalm 17:

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;

   incline your ear to me; hear my words.

Wondrously show1 your steadfast love,

   O Savior of those who seek refuge

   from their adversaries at your right hand.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;

   hide me in the shadow of your wings,

   from the wicked who do me violence,

   my deadly enemies who surround me.

  1. Larry Richards, in his book Every Prayer in the Bible, notes that as David talks about his prayer, he is very much aware of God's loving care.  As I read this Psalm, I see a small animal sitting in the and of loving person.  An animal whose very life depends on the care of the one who holds it.  And we also learn that the one who holds us will care for us.  

II.  The second most common word for prayer is “Atar”

  1. The root of “Atar” means to entreat or to plead.
  2. This is the word that is used when a believer in the Old Testament has a need so great that God is the only one who can grant it. 

(Ill.)  Perhaps you remember the story of Isaac and Rebecca.  Isaac was 40 years old before he married Rebecca – I do not know how old Rebecca was, but we are told she did not have any children and Isaac was old enough to be concerned.  So he prayed – listen to Genesis 25:21 - “And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived.”  “And Isaac atared to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his atar, and Rebekah his wife conceived.”  He would have twins – Esau and Jacob.  It would not be a friendly relationship, but it was an answer to Isaac's prayer.

  1. We can take our deepest needs to God.  Regardless of how much hurt, regardless of how impossible they may seem; but, like Isaac, we can plead our case before God.  
  2. In a few minutes we will be entering a time of prayer in the midst of our service.  Today, and tomorrow, and whenever you pray, remember that you can bring your most hopeless needs to God's attention.  Whether you say them out loud or merely say them to yourself, we can  bring our needs to God's throne.

III.  The final word I want to examine today is Paga'.

(Ill.)  Last week my wife and I were eating lunch at one of our favorite coffee shops.  Now, you need to realize, we do not drink coffee, but the Jitters coffee shop has some wonderful sandwiches and salads.  They have a tasty Chicken, Grape, and Walnut in Croissant sandwich.  But we were in there for lunch with our son – and sitting over at that table was Chet, no Chris, no … no, it was Bob Christ.  Now Bob and his family had a long history with our previous church before he moved away.  And when he moved back to the Brockport area, he attended the Garland church for a few weeks.  But they decided they needed a church with a youth group for their teenage girls – and they I had not seen Bob since they left four five years earlier.  And there at Jitters, I was able to meet Bob again. 

  1. And that is what Paga' means.  When we come to God in prayer, we come face to face with the Savior.
  2. There is no hiding, there is no deception.  When we come to God in prayer, we bring everything we have, everything we are, to Him.  We cannot pretend to be any better than we are, we cannot pretend to more spiritually fit than we are.  You see, as we come, He knows it all.
  3. And it is okay.  You see, that is the difference between meeting God in prayer and meeting Bob.  I know nothing of Bob's life in the last five years – but God already knows everything about mine.
  4. He knows where I hurt – whether it be physical pain, emotional baggage that I carry around, or whether it is pain of sins committed in my past.  He knows.  And you know what – that is exactly what he wants.  If we try to hold anything back, he knows it.  We need to give him are all.  

(Ill.)  Perhaps the words on the Statue of Liberty apply as well to God as they do our country:

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries He

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

  1. Come to the savior – holding nothing back.



Sunday, February 14, 2010

Prayer As A Love Letter

Prayer As A Love Letter

Intro.:  I do a lot of talking.
  1. Some people would say that I talk too much.
  2. But I do try to say important things – things worth saying, things worth hearing.  You will need to make up your own mind.
  3. I even say “I love you” - I even say it at the right times.  Yesterday was a good example – Sandra was feeling the loss of her mother in the morning.  There wasn't much I could say, but I listened for a while before heading for the shower and beginning my day.  But I had a trick up my sleeve.  I was waiting for the knock at the door.  I then had a choice.  I could go up stairs and open the door – or I could call up to the bedroom and ask Sandra to get the door.  I don't know, but I am sure she was irritated that I wouldn't take the time to open the door.  But, you see I knew what was there, she did not.  She went to the door – at first she did not see it.  Then she said there's something stuck on the door.  It would take her a full minute to realize that the package was for her.  It was the flowers I had ordered three days earlier – that I did not know at the time, would arrive just in time to relieve some of Sandra's grief.  Sometimes I say “I love you” at just the right time and in the right way – even without knowing it.
  4. But my wife is not the only one I need to say I love you to
                            - there is my dog
                            - there are my three boys
                            - and there is my God
  1. And how do I say “I love you” to God – There are any number of ways.  I can say “I love you” with my thoughts – keeping them centered on Jesus.  Or I can say “I love you” by my actions.  Or I can say “I love you” by what I say – either to others or to God himself.
  2. Speaking to God and His speaking to us – that is where I want to spend some time looking at over the next few weeks -
  3. I would like to spend some time today looking at “Prayer As A Love Letter” - 

Read:  Psalm 17:6-9


Trans:  Now is time for some confession.
  1. I am still learning to pray.
  2. When it comes to the morning service, I really enjoy our music, I love to hear the scripture read, I enjoy sharing with you, but there is something about praying that just seems …. hard.
  3. Now, don't the idea that I don't pray, I just have never studied this prayer thing.
  4. And I, along with you, will spend these next few weeks looking at prayer.
  5. So, as we spend lent looking at prayer, I am expecting to grow along with you.  I will learn along with you about prayer.
T.S.  In the next few minutes,  I want to look at three basic principles that can begin to define our prayer life
  1. Principle #1:  I know the answer if I do not ask (Matthew 7:7-8)
    1. Actually, this is a principle I learned in life.  If I need something, if I want something, if I refuse to ask for it, I most likely will not get it.
    2. As a principle it is not quite as true in our spiritual life as it is in our human lives – God, in all His grace, will give us what we need and, often give us what we want, even if we do not ask.
    3. And it is a principle that Jesus himself gave us.  We find it on the sermon on the mount – in Matthew 7:7-8 - “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.”[1]
    4. Actually, Jesus' words are even stronger.  His words are actually, “keep on asking … keep on seeking … keep on knocking” and it will be given to you.
(Ill.)  Now I want to be careful here.  I have a dog that really likes Sandra and he really likes pop corn – the buttered kind, the kind that I bring home from the movie theater.  And he will sit and beg, and sit and beg, and sit and beg … - you get the idea.  Eventually I may throw a piece onto the floor – and he is happy.  Occasionally, I will a piece on my stomach so he jump up and get it.  And, when I am feeling particularly mean spirited, I will point to stomach and say, “Come see what I have!”  even when there is nothing there – I did not lie, I just asked BoDandy to come and see what was there.  Sorry, guy, nothing was there.  I then lean over and grab a treat for him.
God does not work that way.  He does not have the role of playing tricks on us.  He is not merely giving out treats.  When he says to keep seeking, to keep knocking, to keep asking, he is trying to help us to remember that we must depend on Him – not just for the treats, but for everything.[2] 
    1. In the rush of life, it is easy to forget to depend on him – this week you will find times when you will forget to depend on him.  And it is at those times that you, that I, will remember that Jesus calls us to keep seeking, to keep knocking, and to keep asking.
    2. And that leads us to our second principle ...
  1. Principle #2:  Pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17)
    1. Other translations say it this way, “pray constantly” or “pray continually”  This principle is probably more familiar – but harder to implement. 
    2. I mean, you really do not want to see me driving down the street with my eyes closed and hands clasped in front of me.  “Keep me and those around me safe ...”
(Ill.)  I remember when I first met my wife – I wanted to spend time with her.  Now what did on our campus quad was sit out under this  huge maple tree.  I timed it just right, so she had to see me as she walked out of class.  I was too timid to just walk up to her – but I let her come to me.  At first, she just thought it was coincidence – but it did not take her too long to realize that it was planned.  I needed to ready to meet her – and I was really glad she was ready to meet me.
“Pray without ceasing” means we need to be ready to meet God anytime, anyplace.
    1. Let me give you three hints that may just allow you to do just that.
        1. Read your newspaper or listen to the news prayerfully. Among the people you will read about are believers, potential believer, people who are hurting, people in need of God's grace.
        2. Use your ears to know when to pray.  Each siren you hear (whether police, fire, or ambulance) represents people who need God's presence – both those come to assist and those who are in need of assistance – they all need our prayers.
        3. And listen to conversations around you.  As you listen to your neighbors, as you listen to your co-workers, as you listen to your friends, they will be sharing their needs.  Don't be afraid to say, “Do you mind if I pray about that?”  Regardless of what they say, you can pray, but you have let them know you care.  You have let them know that God cares.
  1. Principle #3:  God answers Prayer (I John 5:14-15)
    1. It is sometimes easy to forget that God does answer prayer:  
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. 
    1. I began by suggesting that prayer might be considered a love letter. 
    2. Prayer lets us communicate our love for God 
(Ill.) Listen to the words of Augustine, “What are you, my God? What are you, but the LORD God Himself? You are the highest, the most righteous and the most powerful being. You are the most merciful, and yet the most just. You are the most mysterious, and yet the most present.  What shall I say, O my God, my life, my holy joy? What can any man say when he speaks of you?"
    1. But as God answers our prayer, we are also reminded that He loves us.
Conclusion:  This week, as you put into practice the lessons on prayer, remember that as He answers, he is whispering, “I love you, too.  I love you, too.”


[1]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2]Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson's Application Commentary (42). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

My Story As A Sermon

My Story – Grace at Work

Intro.:  Each of us have a story that has brought us together as we worship today.
  1. I want to hear your story.  God works in so many different ways, I know that your story will also teach me about you and about God.
  2. Today I want to share my story.  By the grace of God, I have been brought to Fowlerville to serve as Pastor – it is only fair that you know something about this man who will stand in front of  you week by week.


Trans:  As I grew up, my mother used to describe life as a long hallway – a hallway with many doors.
  1. Some of those doors had good experiences, some I would rather forget.
  2. In the next few minutes, I want to discuss four milestones that have defined my life. 

I.  First Milestone -  not really a milestone, but a (headstone, a dead weight, a burden I had to carry, millstone powered by donkey power)

  1. My parents would describe me as the “good” kid – but they would be wrong.  You see, however they saw me, only God saw the real me.  You see,  He saw a broken person.  A person who was trying to solve his own problems, his own way.  
  2. Paul put it this way in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God.
  3. And brokenness comes in many forms.
  4. For some of us, it means being physically broken – illness, disease, aging.  Physically – I am not all God would want me to be.  For me, it came in the form of a diagnosis of MS 10 years ago.  
  5. But as I saw this, it is important to note that physical illness is not sin – but if there had been no sin, there would be no illness or disease.  As Christians we believe in a doctrine called total depravity- total depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we could be, it does mean that every area of our lives has been touched by sin that is part of the human race. 

(Ill.)  Let me illustrate it this way, I have here a glass of water.  It starts out pure, clear.  But when I add even a drop of food color into the water, soon that whole glass is tainted.  Some parts have more colors than others, but the whole glass is shares some hint of that same color.  Sin is similar – every part of our world, of our lives, has been effected by sin.  Physical illness, discease, pain, do not mean that we have sinned – but it is the consequence of sin upon the world.  Isaiah wrote, “

  1. In a similar way, many of us, including our family, have struggled with mental illness in one way or another.  Again, the presence of mental illness does not mean you have sinned – but it is a consequence of sin for the human race.
  2. For many of us, when we think of brokenness, our first thought is sin. Moral failure.  And as Paul wrote, I found myself a sinner – in need of God's grace
II. Milestone #2:  Coming to faith in Christ
  1. It was not as I had not heard the gospel.  Our family attended church faithfully every Sunday, including Sunday School.  We watched Billy Graham on TV, we were sent to confirmation class.  But somehow, I missed the point.
  2. In was in high school that I came to understand what faith was all about.  It was given to me in the form of a transistor radio – on which I stumbled onto the local Christian Radio station.  It was there, that the ministry of Billy Graham, Focus on the Family, and Chuck Swindoll, finally hit home.  But it was not easy. 
  3. The night before I came to Christ, I gave serious thought to taking my own life.  But the aspirin bottle only had three pills – and, I learned later, probably would have made me sick, but not hurt me permanently.  
  4. It was the next night that I knelt beside my bed and asked to receive Christ.  No one was there to tell me to remember the date (I don't), but I did take my Bible and wrote a little prayer on the inside front flap.  I held onto the Bible for many years – though I have lost track of it now.  John wrote, “But to all who did receive Him,   He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.”  That night I became a child of God.
  5. Later that year, in school, I met a few Christians.  I stayed close, to them.  Listened, learned, and without knowing it, began to grow in my faith.
  6. A year or two later, as I started college, I became part of Campus Crusades for Christ.  I never sought, but was assigned leadership roles that I never expected.  I was privileged to make serveral trips to Arrowhead Springs, the headquarters for Campus Crusades for Christ. Later, I became part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship – where I was elected, by my fellow students, President.  One of the people who served on my leadership team was a young lady named Sandra Courson – the very young lady later consented to be my wife and is with me today.
  7. It was from those leadership experiences that God called me into ministry.
III. Milestone #3:  Understanding the grace I had received
  1. I was a believer, but that did not make life easy.
  2. Following seminary, I spent 4-1/2 years in ministry – never quite finishing my ordination requirements.  That was followed by 24 years of college teaching.
  3. And some difficult times in my spiritual life.  As my wife and I moved through those years, we both came to the point where we wanted the other one to leave, but we were too weak to do so. 
  4. We had moved to New York – I was teaching at the University of Nebraska at the time and attending a very small Free Methodist Church.  Though hurting, I was placed into every leadership position that church except for Pastor and Sunday School Superintendent – pulpit supply, treasurer, worship leader,  you get the picture.  I was in leadership, but I was not spiritually ready for it.
  5. The change occurred the second summer we were in Nebraska. A local church advertised a summer camping program – I knew the church, but did not know the camp.  As a family we decided to attend family camp that memorial day – and it was there that God began the process of transforming me, transforming my family.  The first worship service started on Friday evening – by the end of that service, I was in tears.  Later that evening, I sat on the stairs of the cabin we had rented for the weekend, crying.  I turned to Sandra and asked her forgiveness for all that I had contributed to our mixed up lives.  For the first time, I began to understand that grace is not a measuring stick – not one that God makes, or one that I can make.  We'll come back to that thought – grace is not a measuring stick
  6. One of the defining points of John Wesley's theology was his belief in not only a saving work of grace, but also a sanctifying work of grace.  That was both Wesley's experience and his theology.  I am convinced that as I met God that Friday night, I experienced a work of grace – a sanctifying work of grace.
  7. There was much to come – we spent much of the next 1-1/2 years in counseling.  One friend said she had never seen a couple work so hard on their marriage.  We did work hard – we cried, we were angry, we talked, and we healed.  It was that experience that convinced me to begin working on a degree in counseling … and to consider re-entering the ministry.  It was 7-1/2 years ago that God opened that door – it was door that I did not expect to open, but it did.    
  8. And today, God has opened another door here in Fowlerville.  
IV.  Milestone #4:  The day that I will meet Christ in eternity
  1. Three points in my life.  A time before I followed Jesus.  God's saving work of grace in my life, and God's sanctifying work of grace.
  2. But I truly expect one more milestone to occur – a milestone where I will meet Jesus in eternity.  I will stand before him and welcomed home.  Jesus once said, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way to where I am going.”  Then Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
  3. I am waiting for the day I come home.
Conclusion:  Join me as we share the Lord's Supper together – as we each prepare to one day come home.