Go Therefore Ebook

So over the past year or so, I’ve attempted to write a book that would concisely explain the values of my church, Western Meadows. My primary audience is my fellow church members and any who are considering becoming a member; however, I pray that these words will be of benefit to all who read them.Go Therefore

Click here or on the cover to download the free pdf of the book.

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Healthy Church | Ephesians 4:1-16

Sermon | Week 5

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV)

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

In the Western Meadows Values Series, we have been studying the primary values that we hold as a church. We began with the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command for His disciples to continue making disciples. The great purpose and mission of each Christian and church is, therefore, to make disciples, and we do so because by making more disciples of Jesus we continue to fill the earth with Christ’s image and glory.

Like the Christian walk, making disciples happens on two fronts: individually and corporately. As individuals, we live our lives as a witness for Christ, proclaim His gospel to nonbelievers, and teach other Christians to obey all that He has commanded us. Corporately, we make disciples by devoting ourselves to Scripture (by faithfully preaching and hearing them), prayer (specifically praying for boldness to proclaim the gospel), and community (by loving one another as Christ has loved us).

Having now studied our values, we will finish by spending two weeks in Ephesians 4 where Paul provides a wonderful glimpse at what healthy churches and church members look like. In the first sixteen verses, Paul gives to us a description of a healthy church, noting that it will be a church of diverse members united and growing one another into the maturity of Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 1-6 and discuss the following.

  1. Why does Paul emphasize the importance of unity within the church? What might a united church look like? What might a divided church look like?

Read verses 7-13 and discuss the following.

  1. What is the main purpose of leadership within the church? What are some common gifts found within churches? How does the diversity of gifts benefit the church?

Read verses 13-16 and discuss the following.

  1. What are some characteristics of Christian maturity? Which characteristic is most convicting? Why?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

All Scripture Is Profitable

All Scripture is… profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness
2 Timothy 3:16 ESV

After informing us that all Scripture is inspired by God, Paul lists the second truth about Scripture: it is profitable. When it comes to owning a business, profit is great. Making profit is the only means of sustaining a business. When Paul speaks of Scripture being profitable, we could also use synonyms like helpful, valuable, or advantageous. In essence, we need Scripture, and we should want it. It is beneficial to us.

Why is Scripture profitable to us?

Paul gives us four answers to that question.

First, all Scripture is profitable for teaching.

This is the same root word from which we get the word doctrine, which are the teachings of Scripture. As noted previously because the Scriptures are the revealed Word of God, they primarily teach us about God. We come to the Scriptures in order that we may know God. If He is the one who breathed them out, He did so that we may know Him.

It is pretentiousness of the highest order to claim to know God without reading His Word. We cannot be a people who know God if we never hear what He has to say about Himself. If we speak of God without the teaching of Scripture to guide us, we either put words in God’s mouth or we create for ourselves a false god within our own imagination. All Scripture is profitable for teaching us what God is like.

Second, all Scripture is profitable for reproof.

This is not a fun one at all. Reproof literally means to convict us of sin or to show us our faults. To be honest, it is not my default setting to ask God during my devotion times, “Lord would you reprove me through Your Word this morning? God, please speak to me here and show me the areas of my life where I am wrong.” My natural inclination is not to pray things like that. Yet Paul is listing reproof as one of the chief benefits of Scripture.

In the book of Hebrews, we find reproof to be part of the God’s discipline process: “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.’” (Hebrews 12:5) In fact, God sees this discipline as so necessary that He establishes it as one of the primary responsibilities of church pastors: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9) God as our Father rebukes and convicts of sin, and He places church leaders in place as instruments to do so as well.

Many of us have false views that have come about through human tradition. Angels are a great example. While statues of angels as chubby babies are quite popular, the biblical truth is that angels are terrifying. Nearly every time someone in the Bible meets an angel, they need to immediately be told not to fear. Angels are not cute and cuddly. They are glorious and frightening. It is, therefore, important that we allow Scripture to combat our false thinking. If we do not allow Scripture to reprove us, we will never reap the benefits of the next point.

Third, all Scripture is profitable for correction.

You cannot be corrected of something until you first become aware that you need correcting. Reproof and correction go hand-in-hand. Correction literally means to be straighten up again. Imagine a picture frame that has fallen over and needs to be set up again. That is the notion of correction. In many areas, we are wrong, and we need to be corrected.

If we truly value the Scriptures as God’s Word, we will humbly approach them, asking the LORD to show us our errors and how to correct them. The LORD will never leave us with the conviction of sin alone. He will always provide in His Word the means of correction.

Fourth, all Scripture is profitable for training in righteousness.

Hebrews 12 translates this word as discipline. God lovingly disciplines us toward righteousness because we are His sons and daughters. Likewise, Paul uses this word in Ephesians 6:4, where he charges fathers to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the LORD. Anyone with any degree of serious commitment to sports knows the value of training. Without the repetitive conditioning of the body throughout the week, no one would be able to play their best in an actual game. Training is not always pleasant, but it is necessary.

The goal of the Christian is to be holy as God is holy. We desire to live a righteous life in the likeness of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist’s prayer must be the prayer of every follower of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) Everyday we should long to be conformed ever more into the image of Christ. Scripture is the vehicle for this process. The Bible trains us toward being more and more like Christ.

Community | 1 Peter 4:7-11

Sermon | Week 4

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

A new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

OPENING THOUGHT

Through the Western Meadows Values Series, we are studying the biblical values that we hold as a church. Jesus’ Great Commission is our foundation. With those final words, Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations. Our Lord calls us to fill the earth with His disciples, His image-bearers, so refusing to do so is disobedience.

Knowing Jesus’ command is important, but it is also necessary that we know how to make disciples. Like our Christian walk, disciples are made on two levels: individually and communally. Individually, we make disciples through witnessing about Christ with our lives, sharing the gospel with our words, and teaching one another to obey everything that He has commanded us. Communally, we make disciples as the church through the proclamation of the Scriptures, praying together, and loving one another in community.

Since we have addressed the importance of Scripture and prayer, we will now study the necessity of community. Though there are many texts that describe Christian community, Peter writes one of the best. He emphasizes that godly love must be earnest, and it will display itself through hospitality and using our gifts to serve one another. While this type of community is evangelistic, it is predominately a means of discipleship, building one another further in their walk with Christ.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verse 7 and discuss the following.

  1. Peter states that we are living in the last days. How does this fact connect to both prayer and community? How does Jesus’ coming impact how we live now?

Read verse 8 and discuss the following.

  1. Why is it important that our love for one another be earnest? How does love cover a multitude of sins?

Read verses 9-11 and discuss the following.

  1. Peter describes two ways that we love one another: by showing hospitality and by serving. Why should our hospitality be free from grumbling? Are you hospitable? What things typically cause you to grumble?
  2. What gift has God given you to serve the church? How can we speak “as one who speaks oracles of God”? How can we serve in the strength God provides?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Teaching (Making Disciples: part six)

Too often, we think of discipleship and evangelism as two entirely distinct enterprises, but they are, in reality, two sides of the same coin. 

Both are sharing, proclaiming, and teaching the gospel. 

They only differ in their audience. 

During evangelism, we share the gospel with non-Christians, and during discipleship, we share the gospel with Christians. 

Therefore, discipleship is evangelism for believers, and evangelism is discipleship for non-Christians.

The process of discipleship is important because our call to make disciples is not complete after someone becomes a Christian. 

Jesus did not command us to make converts; He told us to make disciples.

How then do we continue the process of discipleship after someone becomes a Christian?

Our Lord answered the question Himself in the Great Commission: by teaching them to obey all that He commanded us. We are meant to teach Jesus’ teachings to the next wave of disciples.

As with evangelism, God does give to some in the church the specific gift of teaching; however, each Christian is still called to teach in some capacity. Consider Paul’s charge to Timothy, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2) Paul encourages Timothy to continue the process of teaching other men what it means to follow Christ.

But the process is not only for men. In Titus 2:3-6, Paul gives Titus these words for women:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanders or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Notice that Paul commands older women to teach and train younger women.

Both men and women are called by the Scriptures to teach those who are younger in the faith. I say younger in the faith because physical maturity is not necessarily indicative of spiritual maturity. A young man might be quite mature in Christ, while an older man is an infant in the faith.

Of course, this does not mean that younger believers have nothing to share. Just as we are told to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, so should we teach another the truths of God that we find in Scripture. (Ephesians 5:21) We should mutually build one another up in the Lord, teaching one another to continue walking faithfully with the Christ.

This process can be as intentional as meeting regularly with someone or a small group to study and discuss Scripture, or it could be as relaxed as two families eating together, discussing what God has been teaching them recently. The key is to actually discuss the Scriptures and what God is doing. If we meet with brothers and sisters in Christ without discussing the goodness of the gospel, what makes us any different than the world?

Prayer | Ephesians 6:18-20

Praying at all times in the Spirit,
with all prayer and supplication.
To that end,
keep alert with all perseverance,
making supplication for all the saints,
and also for me,
that words may be given to me
in opening my mouth boldly
to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
for which I am an ambassador in chains,
that I may declare it boldly,
as I ought to speak.

Ephesians 6:18-20 ESV

Prayer is important, far more important than we almost ever realize.

Consider for a moment what prayer is: communication with God.

Which God, you might ask?

The God Who is Genesis 1 created stars, galaxies, and quasars (whatever those things are) simply by speaking them into existence.

Prayer is the act of speaking with THAT God.

That alone should be enough to convince us of prayer’s importance, yet the Bible doesn’t stop there. It tells us that God originally created humans to live with Him in perfect harmony, but we messed the whole thing up by disobeying God’s command, by sinning. Our sin not only corrupted the world with pain and death; it also severed our relationship with God. We became imperfect and could, therefore, never more commune with our perfect God.

Graciously, God did not end the story there. 2000 years ago, God became a man named Jesus. As fully human and fully God, Jesus lived a completely sinless life and died an entirely undeserved death, and both were for our sake. He lived the life we were supposed to live and died the death we were supposed to die. Jesus did this as a substitute for us, so that our relationship with God is no longer based on our sinful actions but on Jesus’ perfect obedience.

Because we trust in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we are now able to have a fully restored relationship with God. We can only communicate with God again because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

What does this all have to do with prayer?

If prayer is communicating with God, then prayer is important because Jesus died so that we can pray to God the Father. The privilege of praying to God as our Father was purchased for us by the blood of Christ.

In this section, we will study Paul’s words to the Ephesians on waging spiritual warfare and learn that prayer is essential for combating Satan and making disciples.

PRAYER AS WARFARE

In his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper dedicates the second chapter to discussing the role of prayer in missions. He opens up the chapter like this:

Life is war. That’s not all it is. But it always that. Our weakness in prayer is owing largely to our neglect of this truth. Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. It is not surprising that prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den. God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie so that we can call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world. Prayer gives us the significance of frontline forces and gives God the glory of a limitless Provider. The one who gives the power gets the glory. Thus, prayer safeguards the supremacy of God in missions while linking us with endless grace for every need.

Verses 10-17 give us the necessary context for verse 18, so it is important that we spend at least a moment discussing them. In a nutshell, Ephesians is primarily about how individual Christians come together to glorify God as the Church, and throughout the letter, we find how the Church ought to pray, how we ought to worship, and various other things. Within these verses, Paul teaches us how to wage spiritual warfare.

In discussing spiritual warfare, we must be careful to avoid two equally damaging extremes. On one end, we have Christians who can often make spiritual warfare a de facto primary doctrine. They can become obsessed with defeating Satan in Jesus’ name, and even speak to Satan directly in order to rebuke him. But you also have other groups of Christians that err to the opposite extreme of rarely, if ever, mentioning spiritual warfare. They talk about of sin and struggles, but they never talk about Satan. They let God deal with him. Both extremes are harmful. Both neglecting and making it the centerpiece of our walk with Christ are equally damaging practices.

This passage calls us, as followers of Christ, to war. We cannot neglect this truth. We are in the midst of a battle with stakes that are higher than any earthly war ever waged. Although all war is serious and devastating, World War II stands apart from others. The Nazis, armed with heinous ideals and brutal death camps, are difficult to rival when imagining the epitome of evil in the world. Thus, in many ways, World War II was a fight for the world’s soul. In that battle against evil, millions of soldiers lost limbs and millions more lost their lives.

Yet as grisly as that war’s spectacle was, it pales in comparison to the stakes of this war. In this war, people lose not merely their lives but their eternity. Victims of this war will spend an eternity cast out of God’s presence and under the outpouring of His wrath.

Christ came to bring His kingdom to earth. Historically, kingdoms often find themselves warring against other kingdoms, and Jesus’ kingdom is no different. All of creation falls under the realm of one of two kingdoms: the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We are either soldiers for God or for the enemy.

This means that making disciples is spiritual warfare. If we are each a member of either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness, then expanding God’s kingdom means bringing people out of darkness into light. Making disciples, the mission of each Christian and church, is also God’s strategy for waging war.

It is upon this thought that Paul launches into the subject of prayer. The full armor of God is necessary, but prayer is the force that makes the armor usable. Without prayer, faith is not our shield. Without prayer, the readiness of the gospel does not gird our feet like shoes. Without prayer, we cannot properly wield the Word of God as a sword. If we strip prayer out of its warfare context, we risk turning it into something that is biblically unrecognizable.

PRAY AT ALL TIMES

Paul begins his discussion on prayer in verse 18, and within this verse, we find four all statements made about prayer. So we will divide our study and view prayer through the lens of these four declarations.

The apostle first tells us to pray at all times in the Spirit.

It is worth noting that there is never an inappropriate time to pray. That may be incredibly obvious, but even so, I think it is still worth saying. Prayer is always appropriate. After all, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing.

Wait a minute.

If ceasing truly means to stop, does this mean that we are supposed to pray continuously throughout the day? If so, how often does Paul intend? Every hour? Every minute? Every second? How are we supposed to pray without ceasing at all times?!

Here is my suggestion at what Paul means: our entire day should be prayerful, though not necessarily with words. Remember for a second what prayer is: communion, or communication, with God. Though we may not always use words, living our lives in fellowship and communion with God is living prayerfully.

The Bible frequently calls our lives with Christ a walk with Jesus, so perhaps walking is a helpful metaphor to use here as well. When I am walking somewhere with my wife, our conversations tend to be numerous but not necessarily constant. Even if there is a moment of silence, we are still together; we haven’t left one another’s presence.

I think Paul desires for us to have this kind of attitude of prayer throughout each day. Praying at all times means living our lives in constant fellowship and communion with God, and like walking with a friend, verbal communication will be frequent but not necessarily constant.

How then do we live prayerful lives?

Praying in the morning tends to be immensely helpful. Morning prayer is not necessary, but it is wise. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy, just begin the day with prayer. Is there really a better way of beginning our day than by immediately coming into the presence of our loving Father?

We also need to address the final three words of our present phrase: “in the Spirit.” Rest assured that Paul is not describing the need to speak in tongues or anything like that. In Romans 8, Paul describes the Holy Spirit’s role in prayer as being the One who enables us to call God our Father (8:15). The Holy Spirit guarantees us that we are children of God, and it is only by His strength that our prayers are able to reach the throne room of God.

This means that we could very much call prayer an act of the Trinity. We pray to the Father. The Spirit lifts our prayers into the presence of God. And the Father hears them as the prayers of His children only through the mediation of Jesus Christ.

In this way, true Christian prayer cannot be made outside of the Holy Spirit. We cannot come to God as our Father without the continuous power of the Spirit. If we do not pray with the Spirit at all times, it is only because we do not have the Spirit. Prayer in the Spirit is the regular, but powerful, prayer of a Christian.

PRAY WITH ALL PRAYER

Paul’s next ALL statement is that we should pray with all prayer and supplication. Since supplication is a particular type of prayer, I believe that Paul means to use various kinds of prayer whenever we pray, with a special focus on supplication. Fortunately, throughout the Scripture, the authors display and model for us the multifaceted nature of prayer. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Psalms, which are themselves God-breathed song-prayers. Thus, I will briefly touch upon a few of the main types of prayer and then provide a list of Psalms that incorporate that type of prayer.

ADORATION

Adoration isn’t used much outside of saying that kittens are adorable, but biblically adoration is a great word to describe our worship of God. Adoration simply means to deeply love and respect someone or something in a worshipful way.

We worship and adore God by loving Him deeply, but in order to do this, we must first know who God is.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him how to pray, Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a model for them to use. In this prayer, He taught His disciples to begin praying by focusing upon God.

Here are a few characteristics of God that can be seen within the Lord’s Prayer:

  • God is our Father, which means like a father, He loves us, wants what is best for us, and is willing to discipline us as needed.
  • God is heavenly, which means He is not physical nor living on earth.
  • God’s name is holy. Holiness means unique, set apart, distinct, or other. This means that God’s name is completely unlike any other name in all of creation.
  • God has a kingdom that is coming; therefore, God is also a king.
  • God’s will is done in heaven, and it will also be done on earth, which means that God is sovereign and in control.
  • We can ask God to provide for our needs, like having food to eat, which means that He loves us and cares for us.
  • We can ask God for forgiveness, which means that He is ready and willing to forgive us.
  • We can ask God to keep us from evil and temptation, which means that He is able to help us overcome our sins.

Notice that Jesus spends the first half of the Lord’s Prayer describing God and praying for His will to be done. Jesus worshiped God before He asked God for anything.

Jesus knew that prayer is not about our desires but about submitting ourselves to His will. God is not a genie, granting us our wishes. He is the Creator of everything who will do whatever He wills.

The best way to adore God in prayer and know His character is by reading the Bible, which is how God has revealed Himself to us. The Psalms in particular are filled with prayers of adoration, and there are dozens of small ones in the New Testament called doxologies.

Psalms of Adoration

Psalm 8, 19, 33, 34, 103, 109, 145

New Testament doxologies: Romans 8:38-39; 11:33, 36; 15:5-6; 15:13; Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15-16; Hebrews 13:20-21; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 24-25; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:12-13; 7:12; 22:20-21

CONFESSION

Because confession is the pleading guilty to our sins before God, confession cannot be properly understood without first knowing what sin is.

The Bible gives a clear definition of sin in 1 John 3:4, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.”

Of course, John is not merely referring to city, state, or country laws; rather, he is talking about God’s laws, which are summed up nicely in the Ten Commandments.

But the problem does not end with simply being guilty of sin. In Isaiah 59:2, the prophet describes how our sins separate us from God: “But your iniquities [sins] have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

Notice how frightening is that last part: our sin stops God from listening to us!

We broke God’s laws, so we rightfully deserve His punishment and to be cut off from any relationship we might have had with Him.

But by the grace of God, even though sin earns us eternal separation from God and left us incapable of doing enough good works to fix it, Jesus Christ came to offer eternal life with God as a free gift instead.

Of course, believing the good news that Jesus came to save us from our sins does not mean that we stop sinning.

We continue to break God’s laws on a daily basis, and the gospel is not a get-out-of-hell-free card that we believe in once, continue to live in sin, and still go to heaven when we die.

The Bible calls us to continually kill the sin in our lives and to admit the sins we commit to God in prayer. This is called repentance.

When we repent, we confess our disobedience to God and strive to obey Him from now on.

Confessing our sins in repentance to God is so important that John uses it as a test to see if we are truly Christians: “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)

Followers of Christ confess and repent of their sins to God, knowing that He will graciously forgive them because of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us.

Psalms of Confession

Psalms 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, & 143

 

THANKSGIVING

Most Christians probably agree that we should give thanks to God in our prayers, but why is that? By journeying through a few texts of Scripture, we should be able to get a brief look at what thanksgiving is and isn’t, and why it’s important.

The story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19 is one of the most popular in the Gospels because of its lesson on thanksgiving.

Of the ten, only one returned to thank Jesus, which Christ equates with giving praise to God. Because they did not give thanks, they failed to praise God for healing them.

Some people have wondered how the other nine lepers could be so ungrateful, but I imagine that they were indeed very grateful.

Because it is a highly contagious skin disease, people with leprosy were exiled from normal society and forced to live in groups with other lepers. They were completely cut off from their friends and family, forced to die a slow death alone.

How could they not be grateful for being cured!

But Jesus did not fault them for being ungrateful; He faulted them for not giving thanks.

Ultimately, gratitude is feeling and giving thanks is an action.

Jesus never questioned how grateful the other nine felt. He only remarked that they did not give praise to God through giving thanks.

We, therefore, must understand first of all that thanksgiving is not the feeling of gratitude. If thanksgiving is not spoken, then we have not truly given thanks.

If Jesus equated giving thanks to praising God, why should we give thanks to God?

James gives us a pretty great answer to this question: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17-18)

Notice James’ wording: EVERY GOOD GIFT comes from the Father.

All of the good things in this world come from God.

As the Creator, He has given us the ground we stand on, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Rain and sunshine, friends and family, meat and fruit, dogs and cats, everything comes from Him.

As our Savior, God declared His love for us by dying on a cross for our sins, allowing us to be called the sons and daughters of God.

This is why Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Notice that Paul views thanksgiving as so important that he calls it the will of God for us.

God’s will for your life is for you to give thanks in all circumstances.

Because God has given us countless good gifts, we ALWAYS have something to give thanks for. There is no circumstance in life where we cannot thank God for something He has done for us.

Psalms of Thanksgiving

Psalm 27, 37, 42, 56, 100, 117, 136, 139, 145

SUPPLICATION

Supplication isn’t exactly the kind of word that comes up in everyday conversation, but even though it’s an uncommon word, supplication is probably the most common type of prayers that we pray.

Supplication simply means to make a request or petition, so praying a prayer of supplication is asking God to meet our needs or wants.

It can be tempting to feel uneasy about making requests to God after having discussed confessing our sins to Him, adoring Him in worship, and thanking Him everything. We might wonder why we should bother God with our small needs.

Fortunately, bringing our requests to God isn’t only something we are invited to do, we are commanded to do it: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

Paul commanded the Philippians not to be anxious but to bring their request to God instead.

Let’s think through this verse together for a bit.

What does it mean to be anxious, and why does Paul command us to pray instead?

Anxiety is excessive worry about something.

The Bible repeatedly tells us to trust God by taking our needs to Him instead of being anxious.

What kind of requests does Paul urge us to bring to God?

The answer is all of them. Paul commands us to bring all of our needs to Him in prayer. God as our Father invites us to bring everything to Him, no matter how small.

Before you get too crazy about bringing God your requests, it is important to remember that God is not a genie. He does not exist to grant our wishes, and He makes no promises about giving us everything we want.

Remember the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13. Before Jesus taught His disciples to pray for their needs, He told them to pray for God’s will to be done.

God’s will often doesn’t match our own, which can lead to God not answering our prayer (or really just telling us no).  This is ultimately for the best because God’s will is better than our will. God may deny our requests because what we want would actually be bad for us.

Can you think of anything that you wanted in the past but now know that it was best not to have?

We think we know what we need, but God actually knows what we need. It’s important for us to trust that He knows best when we bring our requests to God.

Psalms of Supplication

Psalm 4, 5, 25, 28, 54, 56, 77, 106, 130, 141

LAMENTATION

If you noticed, I just described a popular acronym for prayer, ACTS. While adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication are certainly biblically mandated types of prayer, we must take care to understand that they do not encompass every form of prayer. In fact, there is one more type of prayer that often gets neglected, but it highly prevalent throughout the Scriptures: lamentations.

Praying a lamentation, or lamenting, is a form of bringing our trouble, sorrow, or suffering before the Lord. Too often, we feel uncomfortable about praying our sorrows or complaints to God for fear of being disrespectful. While fear of disrespecting God is healthy, God is also big enough to handle our questioning, and He is loving us to listen to our pain and confusion. As with all prayer, lamentations are best guided by Scripture, which help prevent us from praying unbiblical prayers.

Psalms of Lamentation

Psalm 12, 13, 44, 74, 85, 90, 137

Also, there is a book of the Bible called Lamentations that is composed of five prayers of lament.

PRAY WITH ALL PERSEVERANCE

Third, Paul tells us to pray with all perseverance and alertness. Alertness means to stay awake and sober, and perseverance means to be constant despite difficulties.

Prayer is hard.

We often read the story of the disciples in Gethsemane with frustration. They were present with Jesus right before His crucifixion, and yet they couldn’t stay awake praying. They kept falling asleep. We get frustrated with them, but with each year of walking with the Lord, I realize more and more how similar to the disciples I am. Too often I pray to the Lord from my bed, and I am fast asleep before I ever move past praying for God’s will in the Lord’s Prayer.

Staying awake and persevering in prayer are difficult tasks.

Part of the reason for prayer’s difficulty is that prayer is a humbling work. Dying to our pride and selfishness is often the most painful aspect of sanctification, and prayer forces us to die to self. When we truly pray to God, we must first acknowledge that He is alone is God, not us. We must recognize Him as holding all strength and power, while we are frail and needy.

We must be vigilant, therefore, not to treat prayer as an act of desperation. As Christians, we should never use the phrase, “All we can do now is pray.” If we truly believe that God is sovereign and supreme, prayer should never be our final option! Prayer should always be the first thing we do, since we know that God desires for us to bring everything to Him in prayer. Humbling ourselves by coming before God is a difficult thing, but we must persevere in it nevertheless.

Paul urged the Colossians toward the same goal of prayer: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (4:2). Arguably the greatest enemy of prayer is concentration—or more accurately, the lack thereof. The issue of concentrating on prayer has always been an issue of concern, but it has never been so deadly as it is today. With the advent of the smart phone, modern society is constantly connected to the world via the internet. Much of today’s media content is now broken in bitesized chunks, so that we can quickly move onto the next item of information. If we are not careful, this trend can leave us with a goldfish-sized attention span. This makes the call to alert and persevering prayer more important now than ever.

May we give the best of ourselves and our mental faculties to prayer!

PRAY FOR ALL SAINTS

The final ALL statement of Paul is for us to make supplication for all saints.

We have already seen that supplication means to bring our requests before God, but who are the saints? The word saints means holy ones, which refers to all Christians. Peter calls us in his letter a holy nation and a people for God’s own possession. (1 Peter 2:9) As followers of Christ, we have each been bought with the precious blood of Christ by the Holy One, God. Therefore, since He has purchased our freedom from sin, we now belong exclusively to Him. We are holy because we belong to God. We are no longer common; we are uniquely reserved for the purposes of God.

We should, therefore, pray for believers of our own congregation, but it is also necessary to pray for ALL saints. Our prayer radius is often far too small. We should gladly pray for the other churches within our city, even those belonging to a different denomination! We should fervently pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout our state, throughout our country, and across the world. We must make supplication for all saints.

Unfortunately, our minds tend to fixate on prayer requests whenever we think about praying for other Christians. We pray for sickness, accidents, hospital visits, surgeries, job losses, lost pets, grieving hearts, broken hearts, and much more. Let me emphasize now: it is good to pray for those things. God has commanded us to bring everything to Him in prayer; therefore, we should pray for each other about physical needs and sufferings. However, it is not good for us to ONLY pray for our fellow Christians about their physical needs. I think it is Paul Washer who frequently discusses the tragedy of Christians that only ever pray to keep other Christians out of heaven but rarely pray to keep sinners out of hell.

In verses 19-20, Paul informs the Ephesians what he most desires them to pray for him: boldness and words to proclaim the gospel. Keep in mind the high likelihood of the apostle writing this letter from prison and the great sufferings that Paul endured throughout his ministry. Paul certainly did not lack physical prayer requests, but he doesn’t ask for any of them. Instead, Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for words and boldness to faithfully proclaim the gospel.

Could the reason many of us are weak in evangelism correspond with our lack of prayer for about evangelism? Think about it. Paul was asking for boldness. This was the same Paul who was stoned nearly to death, but then immediately went back into the city (Acts 14). This is the same Paul who was miraculously broken out of prison by God in Philippi alongside Silas (Acts 16). This is the same Paul who received 39 lashes five times, was beaten with rods three times, was shipwrecked three times, and boldly faced crowds of people that wanted him dead (2 Corinthians 11). When we look at everything that Paul did, he sometimes looks more like a superhero than an actual person, but still he asks the Ephesians to pray for him to be bold.

If Paul felt the necessity of prayer in order to boldly speak the gospel, why do we so often expect to share the gospel without first praying for words and boldness? This is a failure to use prayer as the weapon it is, and it can lead to us thinking that prayer is ineffective. Here is what John Piper has to say about how we can use prayer incorrectly:

Probably the number one reason prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that we try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission. It is as though the field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission (go and bear fruit), handed each of them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the General’s head-quarters, and said, “Comrades, the General has a mission for you. He aims to see it accomplished. And to that end he has authorized me to give each of you personal access to him through these transmitters. If you stay true to his mission and seek his victory first, he will always be as close as your transmitter, to give tactical advice and to send air cover when you need it. But what have millions of Christians done? We have stopped believing that we are at war. No urgency, not watching, no vigilance. No strategic planning. Just easy peace and prosperity. And what did we do with the walkie-talkie? We tried to rig it up as an intercom in our houses and cabins and boats and cars—not to call in firepower for conflict with a mortal enemy but to ask for more comforts in the den.

Of course, prayer does not itself deliver the gospel, but by prayer, God gives His people the courage and boldness to proclaim it to a lost and often hostile world. That is how prayer helps to fulfill the Great Commission. Prayer gives us the boldness to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light!

HOW TO PRAY

Since God primarily communicates with us through the Scriptures, reading the Bible and praying each day forms a daily conversation with God that we should strive to maintain.

As disciples of Christ, prayer is essential for us to follow Jesus properly. In fact, E. M. Bounds goes so far as to say:

Nothing distinguishes the children of God so clearly and strongly as prayer. It is the one infallible mark and test of being a Christian. Christian people are prayerful, the worldly-minded, prayerless. Christians call on God; worldings ignore God, and call not on His Name. But even the Christian had need to cultivate continual prayer. Prayer must be habitual, but much more than a habit. It is duty, yet one which rises far above, and goes beyond the ordinary implications of the term. It is the expression of a relation to God, a yearning for Divine communion. It is the outward and upward flow of the inward life toward its original fountain. It is the assertion of the soul’s paternity, a claiming of the sonship, which links man to the Eternal. Prayer has everything to do with moulding the soul into the image of God, and has everything to do with enhancing and enlarging the measure of Divine grace. It has everything to do with bringing the soul into complete communion with God. It has everything to do with enriching, broadening and maturing the soul’s experience of God. That man cannot possibly be called a Christian, who does not pray. By no possible pretext can he claim any right to the term, nor its implied significance. If he does not pray, he is a sinner, pure and simple, for prayer is the only way in which the soul of man can enter into fellowship and communion with the Source of all Christ-like spirit and energy. Hence, if he prays not, he is not of the household of faith.

It is wonderful to know the importance and necessity of prayer, yet that information does no good without the knowledge of how to pray. Too often this is a neglected subject since many simply assume that prayer should come naturally, yet in many ways, prayer is entirely unnatural. It goes against every fiber of our souls to pray to a God that we cannot see and even more so to trust in Him. Nevertheless, if God is indeed the creator and sustainer of the all things, there is nothing more important for us to learn than to pray correctly and efficiently.

First, pray Scripture. If you remember nothing else, remember to pray the Scriptures. Have you ever wondered if your prayer requests to God were inside His will? Have you ever struggled to find words to pray? Turn to the Word. Open up the Bible, read it, and pray it. If you pray the Scriptures, you are then praying within the will of God, and you need not worry about finding words because they are written down for you. The Psalms are of particular help in this area. Donald Whitney’s book, Praying the Bible, is a short and well-spent read for learning to pray the Bible.

Second, use the Lord’s Prayer or the acrostic ACTS for a time of prayer before daily reading of the Scriptures. The Lord’s Prayer will take you through praying to God as our Father, for His name to be made holy, for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done, for our daily provision, for forgiveness of sins, and for deliverance from sin. It is worth noting that without going through the Lord’s Prayer most of us will never pray for God’s name to be made holy or for His kingdom to come, yet both are highly important prayers for us to make. Also, you can use the acrostic ACTS, which stands for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. This leads you through a four-part prayer of adoring God, confessing sins to Him, giving thanks for His provision and grace, and finally making our requests known to Him. We’ve already discussed ACTS, and you will find in the appendices short meditations on praying through the Lord’s Prayer.

Third, pray on a daily basis. The time of day is not crucial, just make sure that you pray daily. Many people pray in the morning, as soon as they wake up, or in the evening, right before they go to bed. Others find it best to pray during lunch hours or breaks at work. Regardless of the exact time, pray daily. You will never grow in prayer until you actually pray.

DISCUSSION & REFLECTION

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read verses 10-17 and discuss the following.

  1. In these verses, Paul describes the Christian life as being encompassed within spiritual warfare. Do you regularly consider yourself to be a part of spiritual warfare? How should this knowledge impact our daily lives?

Read verses 18-20 and discuss the following.

  1. How does Paul expect a Christian to pray at all time?
  2. What might be the all forms of prayer that Paul encourages us to pray?
  3. Why does Paul call us to pray with alertness and all perseverance?
  4. Why is it necessary for us to pray for all saints? How does Paul’s prayer for boldness display the importance of prayer in making disciples?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon Ephesians 4:18-20, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word.

Evangelism (Making Disciples: part five)

To be honest, I never thought of evangelism and witnessing as two separate actions until recently. In his short (and free!) ebook, What Is the Great Commission?, R. C. Sproul writes:

Evangelism, on the other hand, is the actual proclamation—either oral or written, but certainly verbal—of the gospel. It is declaring the message of the person and work of Christ, who His is and what He has done on behalf of sinners like you and me.

That means there are several reasons that evangelism is not. It is not living your life as an example. It is not building relationships with people. It is not giving one’s personal testimony. And it is not inviting someone to church. These things may be good and helpful, but they are not evangelism. They may lay the groundwork for evangelism. They may allow others to relate to us, or they may cause someone to be curious about why we live the way we do. But they are not evangelism, because they don’t proclaim the gospel. They may say something about Jesus, but they do not proclaim the person and work of Christ.

Witnessing does not necessitate words, but evangelism must use words, either written or spoken. We see this thought from the word evangelism itself. It comes from the Greek word for gospel, which means good news or good message. Therefore, evangelism is gospelism. It is making known the gospel, and because the gospel is a message and messages must be expressed, evangelism is a verbal act.

Many Christians become incredibly fearful at the thought of doing evangelism, while others write it off as a special gifting for some Christians. While there are some Christians with the passion and gifting of evangelism, all followers are called to the task.

We see this principle in the book of Acts. Following the death of the Stephen, the first martyr within the church, the Christians of Jerusalem fled across the Roman Empire. Here is how Luke describes the act: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4)

As they fled from Jerusalem, they continued to preach the word wherever they went. They continued to tell the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord. They kept proclaiming the truth that God saves sinners from the consequences of their sins.

This powerful statement is only made more powerful by who Luke is describing. He is not merely writing about the original disciples of Jesus, like Peter or John. He is not talking about the newly formed church leaders, like Stephen’s fellow deacons. No, Luke is describing the Christians in general. Normal, everyday followers of Christ preached the word of God wherever they went, and the world was irrevocably changed.

Evangelism is the work of every believer, but please realize that this does not mean you need to have a PHD in theology. John writes that Christians overcome satanic forces “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12:11)

You do not need to know the ins and outs of systematic theology in order to share the gospel; you only need to have experienced the power of Christ’s saving blood and be able to express how He saved you in words. If Christ’s blood and our proclamation of how He saved us is enough to conquer Satan, it is also entirely sufficient for delivering the gospel message to a heart that is dead in sin.

One more thought on evangelism before I move on. Your salvation was the work of God, not yourself. You were dead in sin, an object of God’s wrath, but Christ made you alive because of God’s great grace and love. Therefore, lay aside the weight of thinking that you will save people with evangelism. We can save no one. Even if we argue someone into Christianity, someone else can always argue them out.

We are simply called to share the gospel, proclaim the good news.

God does everything else.

As a farmer sows seed but God produces the growth, may we also be faithful to share His truth, knowing that God alone can bring the dead to life.