Series: Made for More Title: Be strong- Finding strength in Prayer
Ephesians 6:10- 20
Does it count? Does your faith count?
Only this week I heard what now is sadly becoming a norm, the story of a very prominent leader in the church, someone I looked up to- a Christian leader who fell out of integrity and walked away from his marriage and now living with another woman and ultimately he walked out of church. He was given the option of coming clean or quitting and he chose to quit instead and walked out of the church.
Does it count? Does your faith count? I’ve not been a pastor very long, but there are numerous such stories of believers giving up on life and ultimately giving up on LIFE. A Christian marriage falling apart, A Christian leader struggling with a secret sin, Young believers falling out of purity, Christians becoming comfortable living against God’s will- given to addictions and the world, Christians giving up on God after waiting too long to what seems unanswered prayers for a job, a spouse or an opportunity.
Discouragement is very real. It stands on our doors and waits for us to open the door and sometimes accompanies us everywhere. The voice of the enemy indeed weakens us to resign to temptations, deceit, denial and we drop our guard and some even suicide.
For most believers, if we are honest with ourselves, we live in tensions – Dilemmas that split us right in the middle, The desire to be committed in your marriage vs the freedom you desire, the pressure of your job- to perform vs the pressure to be there for your family, for most sexual hunger that calls out of our flesh Vs Christian Purity and many more, the result is a tired soul- that easily gives up.
Scripture reminds us that be self-controlled and alert, the enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour. Resist him and Stand firm in your Faith.
He lies in wait to attack us with lies and discouragement, He wants to confuse our identity and our mission, He wants to kill and limit our vision, He wants to scatter and bring confusion, He wants to tempt us and feed us with illusions and doubt. He wants to steal our joy in the Lord and sink us in depression.
If you have met a drunkard on the street- there may be a little envy as much as we look down on them. A drunkard experiences some freedom of expression that we silently desire to get free from the pressure of self-control. A drunk person cannot stand upright because the world seems to be moving around them. Sure enough the temptation to give up is often strong in our weakest times.
This trend is worrying, How EABL have made profits just half way into the year from 3 to almost 6 Billion tells you that more and more Kenyans are sinking into depression and discouragement. The rate of converts to Christianity and converts to the bottle cannot be compared.
If you look around this room, indeed many of us are at the tipping point- Just this close, or we are in denial that we gave up.
Tell your neighbor- Be strong. There is not a better time in the year to tell someone be strong. So it is Njaaanuary- Be strong.
This year, we are going Exponential Reloaded. Much Deeper, Much Farther and Much Wider. Our theme is taken from Eph 4: 13 Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God, and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
We believe we have been made for more. And this term we focus on Growing Much Deeper. Today we conclude this opening series on Deeper in Prayer as we look at the subject- How do we find strength in Prayer. I believe we are made for more, because we were made to last.
The foundations of our faith- The Lord who loved us so much and came from heaven and died on the cross to give us salvation and gave us the promised Holy spirit and the testimony of His word- these foundations are far too strong for us to give up on the way to heaven. Our faith is made to last, through it all.
I have entitled my sermon: Finding Strength in Prayer. Our Key text is Ephesians 6:10-20
Today we refresh ourselves on these important lessons from scripture. My thesis today is that We were made to Stand. The church of Christ Must Stand. We Must Stand Aware, We Must Stand Alert, We Must Stand Assured.
The book of Ephesians is quite ideal for us in this season. This will be our focus scripture from next month. As someone observed, in the book of Joshua we see Israel entering and possessing the earthly inheritance given to their fore father Abraham. In Ephesians we see the church entering and possessing the heavenly inheritance given in Christ Jesus.
Paul lays the ground in chapters 1-3 by reminding us that it is in Christ and from Him where we draw our identity and vision as the Church (best captured for me in 1:22-23 “And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way” -God’s LIFE in our Lives- The core of the church.
In chapters 4-6, Paul reminds the church in Ephesus as a result of God’s LIFE in them, they ought to live and practice a different kind of living empowered by God’s LIFE in us. Best captured for me in 4:22-24 (Put off your old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness”
To help us appreciate this passage we need to consider the context of Paul’s audience. The church in Ephesus was contending with certain realities of their time. Ephesus was the largest city with about 300,000 people in the province of Asia a colony of the empire. Among many things like business and thriving economy, the other reason for its prominence was that it was considered the spiritual center of the pagan/roman religion. The temple of Artemis or Diana the goddess, built in about 356 BC was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Artemis was the moon goddess in charge of fertility, young girls and hunting- the twin sis to Apollo daughters of Zeus- the Great god of the Roman Empire. Her influence was so vast and revered seen in the imprinting of her name in the roman currency as well as the high level of prostitution as worship.
Christianity rose up in this context as contrary- seriously going against the grain. Being a Christian meant denouncing this god and its practices and the busy lifestyle of the city. It was not just a passive intrusion but Christianity ran down the business of those who sold the idols of Artemis as well as the magicians and sorcerers whom the people had given such eminence and power.
In Acts we see a riot in the city because of the abandonment of these cultist practices to Christianity. Christianity was a serious enemy to the state questioning the allegiance people gave to the emperor as a god, It was an enemy to the worship and religion of their time, it was an enemy to the immoral behavior of society like promiscuity which was seen as the norm in Ephesus. It was an enemy to trade. It was hard to make honest gain? The rich got rich because they compromised. There were no loyalties. Ephesus just like our cities today was fertile ground for Discouragement.
Verse 10- Should therefore not surprise us in the bold opening “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power”.
Please note it is not strength from the Lord but Strength in the Lord. This strength is already within us not something to be outsourced. Paul did not tell them to seek strength that they did not have but something that they already have. God’s LIFE in us gives us the strength to with stand, we do not need some special input from outside- we have it in us to stand. Our strength is in the Conviction- that God is who He says He is and we are who He says we are. We must assured again on the foundation we stand on.
Allow me to propose 3 ways to Stand as we learn through this passage.
We must Stand Aware because the War is real (Read (Vs 11-12)
Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of our times as Christians is the failure to acknowledge simply that there is a war. This war is both in cosmic and individual proportions. This war was waged early when Satan fell and became rebellious to God’s rule; it then developed in the Garden of Eden, when the enemy deceived man to turn against God and His Plans. The war climaxed at the cross, when God provided a means for salvation of mankind from following the path of the enemy. The war was won at the resurrection but the fight is not over. Like the kicks of a dying horse, the enemy now turns His attention to God’s people as a way to thwart God’s agenda for His kingdom. His Agenda -to derail as many from following God by making God seem like the enemy.
It is for this reason that we are told then to put on the full armor so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes.
Sadly our view of Christianity is robbed from the reality that we when became Christians we took a stand against the enemy and Jesus told us in John 17- “if the world hated me, they will also hate you” This verse is not referring to an individual but the church (you is in plural). There is war against God’s Agenda.
The word ‘stand’ implies holding on to where you are. We fight to hold on to our faith; we fight to hold on to our foothold not to gain a foothold. We fight not for victory but from victory. Unfortunately when we hear about warfare we always think we fight to gain a foothold or we fight for victory. This is the winning perspective.
None the less, we stand. God has provided the full armor for this reason. It is so uncomfortable to sit in the armor, because it was meant for war not sitting. Unfortunately this is the position many Christians have taken, sitting instead of standing.
In prayer we become alert to this reality- We call on God for this Strength to stand. Indeed a prayer-less person is a weak person- The Lord’s prayer reminds us – Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
In prayer we wake up to the spiritual realities of our environment and we engage with God to ask for strength to stand
We are also reminded that the war is not against flesh and blood. Read Vs 12. There is a sense in which these forces may be organized for effective impact either geographically, or societal. The truth is there are strongholds that hold people within this geography, it may be alcoholism, materialism. In prayer we awaken our perspectives to see how the enemy comes. We become aware.
We Must Stand Alert prepared for War because there’s real opposition.
In this war, God has provided his full armor. Because it is from God, It is bound to work. It is full proof. Accepting any other means like is to reject or to say this armor is not good enough. Because it is from God we must cooperate with the designer to use it effectively.
Because we do not wage war in the flesh, our weapon is also not designed for the flesh but against the real forces we have talked about above. The full armor is not just an analogy but a complete set of what we need to have on. It is not just an individual armor but a communal armor; remember the wearer is the church of Christ. And the goal is so that we, the church of Christ, will stand our ground-Who is Christ. So what is the weapon- While many have described them as offensive and defensive I will simply look at each of the seven pieces and expound on them especially in the light of how they affect the church?
Belt of Truth around your waist. It is what holds the whole piece together so that we are not impeded in the war. Truth is God’s revelation that leads to true Transformation of lives. The devil knows the Truth and wants to keep us from accessing the truth by creating counterfeits and wrong information or filling us with all kinds of information. How do you pray… It is good to pray for me to be successful- But it is far Important that you pray for me to remain in the Truth.
Righteousness is the right word. It could have been the breastplate of this or that, but it is the breastplate of righteousness, a word that points only to God’s Life. There is no righteousness outside of him. This righteousness comes from the essential presence of God’s Life in the lives of every person in a church, and that by no human effort but by God’s grace alone. Churches are not defined by decency but by divinity, not by superior life but by sacred Life. Our existence has nothing to do with being right, being good, or being better than the next church or those who belong to no churches. Membership classes don’t result in God’s kind of righteousness. Submission to creeds don’t get people to a state of righteousness. Religious rituals do not accomplish what God grace alone can. Unless we remember this in prayer, the enemy will tempt us with self-righteousness, where God needs to explain himself to us, or we accuse him as unfair. Don’t just pray for my success, but more importantly pray that my heart will stay clear from pride, and self-righteousness.
Feet fitted with readiness that comes from the Gospel of Peace. We have been armed for readiness to go not passivity, a sense of eagerness to draw others into this peace we have with God. Our witness to others about this peace we have with God disarms the devil. Declare your Christianity openly it silences the opportunities for the enemy to creep in.
When you pray for me- Don’t just pray for me to go places far and wide- But pray that wherever God takes me- my feet will be fitted with the readiness to announce the Good News of Christ.
Shield Of faith- Protects us from doubt, especially from those thoughts against God, His goodness and intentions towards us. Thoughts that make us suspect God and not trust him, Thoughts that make us doubt his good plan for our lives. When you pray for me – Don’t just pray for me to have a smooth life, a smooth marriage, but I will have the faith to see God even in the dark times.
Helmet of Salvation- Protects the mind from forgetting the Person and Work of Jesus on the cross to give us His LIFE. The memory of the cross as a significant event to our transformation is blotted out. We forget that our Christianity began at the cross of Christ and can only be sustained by Christ. The devil blurs the significance of Easter with Eggs, Christmas with Santa, The cross as an ornament, the crucifixion as a fable. We must teach these events with clarity and not fear being “correct” about them. When you pray for me- Don’t just pray that I will have an open mind- but pray that no matter what learning experiences it will never overshadow the person and work of Jesus on the Cross for me
Sword of the Spirit- It is both offensive and defensive piece that we use to fight back as Jesus did when was tempted. We must keep in touch with the counsel of God in scriptures. We must practice the exercise of God’s word. Again how are we doing in this area, the study of God’s word in the church is waning. Pastors cannot do it for you. The hunger for the spectacular, the fast, the recent blurs our view of scripture as ancient, irrelevant and outdated. He wants us to forget the Power of the Living Word. When you pray for me- Don’t just pray for me to win, but pray that I am winning through the word of God.
Paul Concludes We pray for one another, all kinds of prayers, this is what we should be about as a church, praying for each other, to be alert, to remain in the word, to be bold and ready to speak out, to continue to work out their salvation in fear and trembling. We pray that God’s LIFE in them would preserve us.
My proposal then is that we must not just stand Aware, but stand Alert because we are well equipped for the war.
We Must Stand Assured- Assured that we have the victory.
In this war we must not forget, ultimately that there is a Winner. Jesus Christ is the Winner. The devil is a fallen creature of God who is under his authority and is not an equal force or authority with God, God is above and ultimately the victory is won.
Our fight is not focused on how equipped or skilled or grand the enemy looks like but how great, victorious and triumphant our God is. Jesus has given himself to us to fight with us, within us and for us and his prayer remains that none of us will be lost; God’s LIFE in us is well protected. The church’s remains a victorious force and winner because He who is in us is greater than He Who is in the world.
We must stand Aware, Stand Alert/Prepared and Stand assured. We must stand in prayer. Prayer then is the place to begin. The love of God wants the best for us, the wisdom of God knows what is best for us and the power of God will accomplish it. In prayer we Stand Aware, We stand Alert and We stand assured. Be strong.