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Sunday, April 23, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "The Church That Prays Together"

“The Church That Prays Together”
Gospel Roots (1892-2017)
April 23, 2017 :: Colossians 4:2

This is the fourth message in our ongoing “Gospel Roots” sermon series where we are revisiting and recommitting to some of our foundational values that have shaped and defined us as a church family throughout the years.

The first message was the gospel itself: Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. The Person and Work of Christ is what saves us, draws us together, and provides our very purpose for existence as a church.

The second message was about something we’ve done every week together for the last 125 years–we’ve sung together. We sing the gospel. We don’t just say it, we sing it, to God in thanksgiving and to each other to remind ourselves of Jesus Christ and His Crucified.

The third message was about sharing that gospel with lost people. Not just singing about it, but sharing it. Our God is conducting a massive search and rescue mission, and for 125 years, we have been a part of His search and rescue team, reaching lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today, I want to focus on another thing that our church has done over and over again  for 125 years. And it’s something that we’ve done, not just on Sunday mornings or at special outreaches, but many more times during the week. And that is to pray together.

I took my title for today from that old line about the family, “The family that prays together, stays together.”

Well, if that proverb is generally true then it equally applies to church families. “The Church Family that Prays Together, Stays Together.”

And this church family has been praying together for one hundred and twenty-five years. This church has been built on and sustained by prayer.

Look with me at Colossians chapter 4, verse 2.

These are Paul’s instructions “to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse...” (Col 1:2).

Here’s one of the key things that Paul says this church really ought to do. Ready?

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

#1. DEVOTE OURSELVES TO PRAYER.

I’m so thankful to be the pastor of a praying church.

Lanse Free Church has earned a reputation as a church family that prays.

This is not something for which I take any credit whatsoever. I try to encourage it and promote it and keep it going, but I inherited a church family that was already living out Colossians 4:2 long before I ever came along.

I’m trying to use artifacts from our church history in each of these Gospel Roots messages.

It’s harder to find artifacts that point to prayer over the last 125 years.

Not because this church hasn’t prayed, but praying isn’t something you normally take pictures of!

Prayer is generally a quiet thing. Even when it’s in full swing, it can go unnoticed. It doesn’t call attention to itself.

But prayer is a powerful thing whether it’s noticed or not.

Yesterday, I made a list of this church’s current prayer ministries.

Can you name them?

There’s the Prayer Meeting, of course. Wednesday nights at 7pm. I asked Vera yesterday when they started that ministry. And she said that she’s been attending this church for about 76 years and they had those prayer meetings before she started coming. So perhaps for the whole 125 years! That’s a lot of prayer meetings!

For a while there, we had them on Tuesday nights so that people could go to Prayer Meeting one night and serve in Kids for the Christ on Wednesdays. But most of the time, it’s been a Wednesday night ministry.

Sometimes we have a short Bible study, but we always take time to pray.

What else? What other prayer ministries do we have?

A few years ago, Wally Kephart started the Harvest Prayer Time which is a special prayer meeting early on Saturday mornings on the last Saturday of the month where we pray for lost people. That’s putting together our last message and this message.

And Paul does that, too. Look at verse 3. “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”

That’s what we are praying for at our Harvest Prayer Time. The next one is this Saturday at 7am in the Prayer Room.

Yes, and we have a Prayer Room! It’s the first door on your left down the hallway to your left as you go out of the auditorium. We have a room in this building devoted to being devoted to prayer!

There are people in our community who have dropped by the church in the middle of the week just to use the Prayer Room.

That’s where we have Prayer Meeting each Wednesday.

And there are people in the Prayer Room every single Sunday morning after church.

You see that in your bulletin each week, right? And often I mention it at the end of the service. ...

Could I have the couples who serve in the Prayer Room stand right now?

I know you don’t want to. That’s what I mean by prayer is a quiet thing that doesn’t draw attention to itself.

Thank you for serving in the Prayer Room each Sunday. Confidentially praying with anybody about anything. I know that a number of you have gone in there for prayer on Sundays. And I hope for many more.

What other prayer ministries do we have? We’re just getting started.

The prayer chain, right?

For many years it was just a phone chain. You called Ruth Murray and she called two people who called two people, and we got the word out.

And then a number of years ago, Marilynn Kristofits volunteered to create an email prayer chain. This was like 16, 17 years ago. Long long before she became our administrative assistant in the church office, Marilynn has been volunteering to collect your prayer requests and get them out to the rest of the church.

So that we can devote ourselves to prayer.

What else? The blue prayer cards in the pew racks. The prayer guide here in your bulletin.

Here’s an artifact for you. This is the church bulletin for April 19, 1998.

And on the inside it says, “Welcome, Matt and Heather Mitchell.”

That was 19 years ago this last week when we were here to candidate.

It’s interesting how similar it is to our bulletins today.

Guess who was going to do nursery the next Sunday?  Ruth Murray.

Guess who was going to do Children’s Church? Darla Kyler.

Guess what else is in the bulletin?

Well, the church is now accepting bids for mowing the cemetery. There is an Open House at Miracle Mountain Ranch.

And there is a call for prayer requests. It says, “There is a Prayer Request Box on the table in the foyer. Anyone who has a prayer item that you would like to have the Wednesday evening prayer group pray for, please put your request in the box.”

And there’s a list of “prayer of concerns” including an upcoming Ladies’ Retreat and this one, “Pray for the Mitchell’s as they spend time with us and for a safe trip home.”  Heather and me, long before Robin. Thank you for praying!

Here’s another artifact from 19 years ago. It’s a letter from Donna Weatherly to me with her perspective on the church that I was praying about coming to pastor. Donna was on the search committee for a new pastor. She writes, “The past few years there has been an increasing humility and unity manifested by greater dependence on the Lord in prayer. Seeing a dependence on prayer is probably the most encouraging thing to me. We all fail in this area–but there is no question that we see this as vital for any life and growth in our church.”

That was one of the things that drew us to come here and be your pastor.

Remember this book? It had swept through our church around that same time. Especially with it’s workbook. Experiencing God taught our church family to devote ourselves to prayer and to look for God at work in our lives.

Here’s another place we pray. We pray right here. Every Sunday.

Opening prayer, closing prayer, prayer before the sermon, prayer after the message, prayer with the offering, worship in prayer.

We actually have the “guys with mics” most Sundays who go around the room collecting your prayer requests.

You know, I’ve never been a part of another church that does that.

I’ve been at churches that have a pastoral prayer where the pastor prays through a list of things that have been turned in before. But taking these prayer requests and praises on a Sunday morning “from the floor” is pretty unique in my limited experience.

I’ve been in Sunday evening services like that. And at small church plants like that.

Every Sunday is a prayer meeting here!

And then there are special times of prayer.

Back to School Sunday–when we pray for the students, teachers, and administration.

Baby dedications, praying for our graduates.

Commissionings, when we pray for missions teams or when someone moves away or heads into military service, and we’re sending them off with prayer.

Here’s a picture of people praying here at Lanse Free Church. This one hangs in my office. It’s pretty fuzzy, but I’m glad it exists. It’s the prayer for me at my installation as your pastor, July 26, 1998.  I’m on my knees, and Heather is holding my hand. And Alan Fisch, Charlie Weaver, Wally Kephart, Superintendent Leroy Glover, guest speaker Steve Kemp, and my friend Blair Murray have their hands on me and they are all praying for me as I take up the weighty responsibility of being your shepherd.

And that includes me praying for you.

These are a set of prayer cards from one of my recent Pastoral Prayer Retreats.

You tell me what you need prayed for, and I take these on a long walk and lift up each request to the Lord.

I know that I have a lot to learn about praying for my flock.

But I’ve come a long way.

If you have asked me to pray for something, and then I forgot to do it, I’m sorry.

I know that I’ve bungled some prayer requests in the past. I’ve forgotten them or gotten the details wrong or passed them on at the wrong time.

I think I’ve gotten a lot better at it, but it’s a learning process. Thank you for your patience with me.

One thing we learned a number of years ago was “10 Second Prayers.”  Do you remember that?

In July of 2004, Bob Bakke came from the EFCA national office and did a seminar with us on “Becoming a Praying Church.”

And one of the biggest things I took away from that seminar was that prayer can be very short and very simple. Just take 10 seconds RIGHT NOW and pray about that problem, about that need.

I learned to say, “Can we pray about that right now?”

I love to pray with you as your go out the door on Sunday mornings.

And you don’t have to pray with me for 10 seconds. Anybody can do that.

Over the back of the pew. In the foyer. On the Ark Park.

In the parking lot.

I wonder how many prayers have been offered up in that parking lot as people go out to their cars, maybe after a meeting.

There’s a lot of prayer that goes on in our ministry teams and committees.

Your elders have been praying through the list of families that attend the church for the last two years. We take copious amount of time at every elders’ meeting to pray for you by name.

And I know that the Missions Ministry Team prays, the Deaconesses pray, the Facilities Team prays, and so on and so on.

Our Link Groups pray. I think we pray at our Link Group on some Sunday nights as much as or more than we do at Prayer Meeting on Wednesdays.

The Youth Boys pray on Wednesday nights. They take requests and they do the praying. I’m sure that happens in Kids for Christ and ABC Kids, too.

This is a prayer saturated church.

We devote ourselves to prayer.

I’m sure that I haven’t listed them all.

The Pastoral Prayer Team. Where I send you my needs and you pray for me.

I’m so humbled to know that some of you pray for me every single day.

Bea Johnson used to pray for me every single day.
Blair Murray prayed for me every single day.

I know that a number of you pray for me every day and especially on Saturdays when I’m writing these messages. Thank you! Thank you!

As you can tell, this devoting ourselves to prayer can look different at different times.

125 years ago, they didn’t have the email prayer chain coming to their phones.

Neither did the Colossian church. But they still devoted themselves to prayer.

That word “devoted” in verse 2 is a very strong word.

It's a word that was used for people who joined the military and DEVOTED themselves to the service. It was a word that was used of a boat that was ALWAYS at the ready for someone to use. It’s a discipline word. Disciplined prayer.

Constant. Steadfast. Faithful. Staunch. Devoted prayer.

Praying and not giving up. Like Zeke Pipher talked about a month ago.

Not just a casual attachment to prayer but a devotion to prayer.

That’s not easy to do. Prayer can be hard work. It takes effort and commitment.

Especially in our distracting world. I don’t know about you, but I have trouble with focus when I’m praying.

The best book I’ve ever read on the subject of prayer is by Paul Miller. Our Link Group studied it together a few years ago.

It’s called, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Life-changing for me. I totally recommend it.

Verse 2 is a call to commitment.

“Devote yourselves to prayer.”

That’s what the early church did. This same word is used of the apostles in Acts 1:14 and 6:4 and the church as a whole in Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” [See also Romans 12:12!]

And it’s what churches are supposed to do today.

We are supposed to devote ourselves to prayer.

What are we supposed to pray for?

Well, anything and everything, I think. Missionaries, ministries, other churches.

But especially for each other.

Look down at verse 12. I think it’s a model for us.

Paul sends the greetings of his friend Epaphras who was probably from Colosse himself. V.12

“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”

I love that. I absolutely love that.

How many of you were High School wrestlers? Did that require any energy? Was that just a walk in the park? Or was that hard work? Did that take devotion?

Epaphras was a Prayer Wrestler. V.13 calls it “hard work.”

We talk about prayer warriors, but Epaphras was a Prayer Wrestler.

And who did he pray for?  He prayed for the rest of the church.

And I’m sure he prayed for their health, success, safety, decision-making, and relationships. But he also focused on their hearts. V.12 again.

“He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.”

Are we praying that for each other?

Ephesians 6:18, “[P]ray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

God is calling us to become Prayer Wrestlers for the body of Christ.

How are you and I doing at being devoted to prayer?

I’ve listed what we’ve done in the past, but we never want to live in the past.

We are thankful for the past but we live in the present.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

What do you need to do to be devoted to prayer?

What do you need to do to kick it up a notch?

I know some of what I need to do. What do you need to do?

What’s your plan?

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

#2. BEING WATCHFUL.

What’s that mean “being watchful?”

I used to think it meant, look for answers to your prayers.

And that could be right.

Be on the lookout, be watchful for answered prayers.

Especially if your prayers are for open doors to share the gospel. Because if they came along, you need to snatch them up.

But this word “watchful” is often used in two other ways in your New Testament.

One is being watchful or vigilant against temptation.

Like when Jesus said to the disciples, “"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

So as we pray, we are not just diligent but vigilant.

That very well could be.

The other way that “watchful” is used is watching for the return of Christ.

That’s another historical value of this church–believing in and living in light of the return of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps this is a call to pray as part of being watchful for Christ’s return.

Which is a reminder that time is short, so we better stay busy praying.

Don’t get too comfortable and forget to pray.

What does Paul say in Philippians 4 “The Lord is near. [Then what, so what?] Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (vv.5b-7).

Watch and pray.
Pray and watch.
Watch and pray.

#3. BEING THANKFUL.

This one is more obvious. We should always be thankful as we pray.

Because God is always answering our prayers!

Not always how we’d like Him to or when we’d like Him to, but always perfectly and on time.

God loves to answer our prayers.

This October, we’re going to give everybody a chance to share some favorite stories  of God’s work at and through Lanse Free Church.

And if I were a betting man, I would bet that a lot of those stories will be stories of answered prayer.

God has been so faithful to us.

He loves to answer our prayers.

He always has, and He always will.

Here’s one last artifact.

This is a post office receipt dated February 14, 1998.

I’ve told this story before, but it’s good one.

This was the receipt for the package of materials I sent to Wallace Kephart, Morrisdale PA 16848. And I sent it Express Mail.

Do you know the difference between Priority Mail and Express Mail?

The difference is like $10!

I paid $15 to send it.

The funny part of the story is that Wally had told me that he was going away in February and to not worry about sending my resume, doctrinal statement, cassette tape with a sample sermon and so on, all that fast. Because it might not get there before he left.

So, I was at the Post Office to mail this. And Heather was in Iowa visiting a friend.

And she felt the Lord prompting her to pray that I would buy the right amount of postage.

She has never prayed for postage before and never prayed about postage since.

But that day she did.

And when I was at the Post Office counter in Zion, Illinois, the lady behind the desk asked, “Did you want to send it Priority or Express?”

And as a broke seminary student, I should have said, “Priority,” but I said, “Express.”

And if I remember the story right, the package got to Wally on a Sunday afternoon. Does anybody else get mail on a Sunday afternoon?

And he made copies of it and passed it out to the search committee and then went on vacation for two weeks.

For those two weeks, my packet of information was the only information that the search committee had to look at for any of the candidates.

So if you’re looking for someone to blame, blame Heather’s prayer life!

Of course, the Lord could have used anything and redirected anything for His own purposes.

But He loves to answer prayer.

And you all prayed for me. And we prayed for you.

And here we are today.

Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord!

We are thankful.

And we will stay thankful.
And we will stay watchful.
And we will devote ourselves to prayer.

Let’s do it again.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:

01. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified
02. Sing!
03. Lost and Found


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