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Sunday sermon 2 March 2014 – Don’t worry be happy

Readings: Isaiah 49;8-16  1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

New International Version – UK (NIVUK) – Matthew 6:24-34

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Do not worry

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So how are you doing when it comes to getting rid of worry?

In the last two weeks I have asked you about getting rid of anger! There are ways to change your response to situations that make you mad. If you develop the right frame of mind (or mindfulness) where you are not allowing things to get to you – but rather when you step back and reflect on what is happening (being led by the Spirit) – things can be different.

Worry is a tricky one. It’s a word similar to anxiety.

I’m not sure that we should start with worry though!

We need to start with God.

All three readings today are interesting as we look at this theme.

THE OLD TESTAMENT READING – a lovely reminder from the OT

Isaiah 49 is a beautiful passage about restoration and comfort.

The word that is repeated three times (vss 10,13 & 15) is compassion.

It reaches a crescendo with these moving  words:

15 ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

(your walls are ever before me.)

If you are worry-pot – God is being described as having compassion – “can a mother forget the baby at her breast? Of course we instinctively say “Nooooooo!”.

The prophet is more down to earth:

Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

I love that assurance and it goes on to this most precious statement of God the mother’s brag book:

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (v16).

This is not a picture drawn on the hand – it is more like a tattoo cut into the flesh.

So the character of God is the point! Trust Him. Don’t worry.

THE GOSPEL READING – a stronger reminder from the Gospel reading today

The Gospel reading reinforces this of course. These comforting and familiar words:

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

We used to sing a song from scripture ( in the day that we only really sang from scripture):

Jehovah Jireh, my provider, his grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me (eek a repetition!!)

My God shall provide all my need, according to his riches in glory, he will give his angels charge over thee,

Jehovah Jireh cares for me….

Can you guess the scriptures? (for a pat on the back – no more chocolates during church!)

Php 4:19  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Providence! God provides!

Of course the context in Philippians is that they provided Paul’s needs! They were generous in giving. Just a few verses before this he says.

Php 4:12  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Php 4:13  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

And then the other verse about the angels?

Psa 91:11  For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

Never mind if you didn’t know that one. It’s about protection.

The key concept is providence!

I love watching sparrows. Any birds. But especially sparrows – because of Jesus’ attention given to them:

Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

Mat 10:30  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

No comments please about the numbered hairs on my head!

The sparrows are provided for. The birds don’t have to shop at Countdown (they would boycott it anyway as they are kiwi sparrows!).

So again:

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Of course it’s not that easy when you’re unemployed or homeless.

The funny old thing is that he calls us who are provided for to provide for those in need!

“Chip off the old block” is an English idiom that applies when God’s children share his compassion and provision!

Or “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

So worry and anxiety are not the characteristics that we should be manifesting.

And yet we do! A lot! We frantically scramble for quick solutions to all kinds of things!

The solution is usually in the stockpile we have. We have enough to help those in need – who need not be afraid of asking!

Are you going to have an answer at the judgement? Listen to the words Jesus uses when he describes that judgement:

Mat 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

Mat 25:36  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

You know how it goes? They say “when Jesus?” And he says – whatever you did not for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do for me (verse 45).

Sheep and Goats  are separated in this judgement scene. Sheep and goats featured in our children’s song today – ” I just want to be a sheep” which has the line  “I don’t want to be a goat, no no no no”.  (Will the parents every forgive me for teaching them this??)

Out of the nature of God’s providence, we are called to provide for others.

Hospitality and generousity are key qualities of the Christian.

I don’t have to say more about the gospel reading today. Just read it!

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

And of course the first verse of the reading – don’t forget the first verse:

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Speaks volumes.

Seeking first the Kingdom of God involves the dollar. No way around that one friends!

It’s a funny old thing how he provides even more creatively when you are generous to those in need – and faithful in tithes and offerings.

THE EPISTLE READING – Paul and the Corinthians

It would be easy to overlook the reading from Corinthians. We’ve looked at this book over the past couple of weeks.

How they were divided and partisan – one lot following Paul, the other Apollos. And Paul tells them – the only thing that counts is God causing the growth. And how our work will be judged – the building of our lives. Remember?

Did you read the verses left out last week? Here they are JUST IN CASE you forgot:

1Co 3:11  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1Co 3:12  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,

1Co 3:13  his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.

1Co 3:14  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

1Co 3:15  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Good stuff. What’s your life built on?

What’s the quality of your work like – Kingdom of God wise?

Now that’s got you worried.

Don’t worry!

Look at how Paul handles this. It’s just another angle on things. These verses from 1 Corinthians 4 are usually ignored – but they are quite profound:

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

1Co 4:2  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

1Co 4:3  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.

1Co 4:4  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

So let’s have a look at these in more detail. There are treasures here. Last’s week’s passage (the end of chapter 3) ended like this:

1Co 3:21  So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours,

1Co 3:22  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

1Co 3:23  and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

There is this great provision for us in the Kingdom of God – we live in another place in terms of what we value.

Today’s passage goes on in chapter 4:

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

Who is he talking about? In Matthew 13 we read this –  a good reminder and support of 1 Corinthians 4”1

Mat 13:52  He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Ministers – church (apostles in those days, Paul, Apollos and Cephas) are to be regarded not as treasures themselves (that’s how cults begin) but as stewards of God’s word.

Paul elsewhere says to Timothy:

2Ti 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)

(ESV)  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Rightly handling the treasures – like custodians at a museum – or people discovering who they are on TV – they put on white gloves before handling special things.

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

1Co 4:1  Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

So this is a freeing thing. It fits well with the concept of Provision and not worrying in all kinds of fascinating ways.

He provides His word of truth. We are stewards – especially those ordained to preach and teach. The secret things of God – the mysteries of God – are entrusted to me. And countless others. I take it very seriously.

And by the way the steward is the oikonomos – from which we get economics.Oeconomia – Latin.

Good hey! The real economics is not battling the dollar books but the spiritual books in the kingdom! These are the treasures of truth we are custodians of.

But the word before is more important. We are to be regarded as servants

And this is nice. This is not your average word for servant – diakonos – from which we get deacons. Our Board members biblically are deacons. They serve by ministering in the practical ministries of property and finance, and also care for the poor. Read Acts on deacons.

This isn’t even that well-known word.

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ

This word is good!  ὑπηρέτης Huperetes.

Listen to this description:

The word translated “servants” came from the description of a particular Roman slave. On the great galley ships there were slaves whose work was to row the ship. Those slaves who were on the lower bank of oarsmen were called “under-rowers.” They labored only as the master directed. Paul felt that he and the other apostles did only as God directed them as His servants. In a sense, every Christian needs to see himself or herself in this relationship with God, whatever our position in the work.

We – as preachers especially – are accountable to God. Just as we will all give account for any careless word spoken (remember last week from Matthew 12?) – those who teach from God’s word are under scrutiny.

This is the liberating thing for me – when it comes to worry. There’s worry about food, drink and clothes (don’t!). Then there’s the worry of public speaking! And what to preach every week! That’s a lovely challenge.

James understood the responsibility. In chapter 3 he soberly says:

1  Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (NRSV).

The liberating thing for Paul (and for me) is that while people get all caught up in their heroes (following Paul, Apollos or Cephas) they – we are only servants.

Under-rowers in a boat. Labouring as the master directs as we sail the kingdom journey together.

The rest of the passage makes sense now. Listen again:

1Co 4:2  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

1Co 4:3  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.

1Co 4:4  For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

Don’t judge me – says Paul. I don’t even judge myself! The Lord judges me!

Verse 5 is challenging:

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

That’s a liberating thing!

  • Know God’s character – his motherly compassion and brag book – tattoo on his/her palm
  • What is required is gratitude for his provision!
  • Being like Him in sharing what he gives us! Hospitable and generous people he wants!
  • Acknowledging this provision for all the world! That makes it all a treasure which needs to be looked after (since Adam and Eve who were given dominion over creation). So some need to join Greenpeace! Caring for the world and the environment does matter!
  • Realising that the Kingdom that we seek first is the real treasure (you can’t love two masters!) . The gospel of Jesus is the treasure!
  • Coming to terms with the fact that if Paul – amazing as he was and still is today – was okay with being subject to God’s judgment – so should we! We are His stewards and His servants – the under-rowers. He guides the boat as the captain or pilot.

No good worrying about it. About all these things. We have to trust him for physical and spiritual provision!

And we have the spiritual one anyway: All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

And we are stewards of the secret things of God – the mysteries that have in fact been revealed to us as the Church. Paul speaks in Colossians about this:

Col 1:24  I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

Col 1:25  of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,

Col 1:26  the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

Col 1:27  To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Col 1:28  Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

Col 1:29  To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

This treasure – ultimately – is Christ in us – the hope of Glory!

What amazing provision.

What a great reason not to be a worry-pot.

Amen!

 

Sunday sermon 29 September – Under His Wings

Reading: Psalm 91:1  – 6 ;  14 –16                                         Preacher: Ann Martin

Part 1  verses 1-6

(Story) John was struggling with failing health, financial concerns and depression. In desperation he made an appointment to see the Vicar, wary of platitudes and dubious about the prospect of relief from his troubles. The young pastor listened to John’s concerns before opening the Bible at Psalm 91. The Word of God proceeded to provide healing and hope to John in a way that no medicine and indeed no minister ever could. John was like a different man afterwards because God had spoken directly to him. On the surface nothing had changed, but the knowledge that God was with him in the “deadly diseases” and ”the terror of the night” was enough to bring comfort.

Psalm 90 reminds us that the Lord is ”a dwelling place” throughout all generations (v1). Now Psalm 91  reminds us that He is also a ’shelter’ from the storms of life’  a ‘refuge’ when we are frightened and a ‘fortress’ that keeps us safe from attack.

Exodus 14 v 13-14 tells us: Fear not, stand still (firm, confident, undismayed) and see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace and remain at rest.

When troubled times come our way, one of our biggest challenges is to stay calm. Our natural tendencies are to fear, to worry and to try to do something to fix the situation or solve the problem. But we must learn to get our emotions under control, so we can think clearly, act wisely and pray in faith.

Moses often had to help the Israelites calm down. When Pharaoh’s army was gaining ground on them, they kept running, but knew they were headed straight for the Red Sea.    Death seemed certain. Exodus tells us the people were frightened and angry with Moses, and they decided they would have been better off as slaves to the Egyptians than trying to outrun Pharaoh’s soldiers. Moses said “Stop it! I know the situation looks hopeless, but don’t be afraid.   Just be still for a minute and watch what God is going to do for you”. Before Pharaoh’s army reached the Israelites, God rolled back the waters of the Red Sea so His people could cross over on dry land. When they were all on the other side, the sea closed again and Pharaoh’s fighters were drowned.

This same miracle working God is on our side still.  He still fights for His people. Our job, if we belong to Him is to “hold our peace and remain  at rest.

There are some things in the Christian life that we do not need to ask for—they are part and parcel of God’s provision for us as His children. And the continued presence of Jesus Christ in our lives is one of them. But concerning some things in life, we would have to say in all honesty that we are not sure if we know the mind of God about  them. Thus, before we can proceed, we pray for light and direction.  But no Christian need be unsure of God’s promise to dwell in the hearts of those who are His children.    He has put the issue beyond all possible doubt by assuring us that He is always with us.

Why then do we find ourselves so often praying for God to be with us, instead of simply affirming it? We need this to be a deep conviction so that, when adverse conditions develop, we will not be left wondering if He is still with us.

Opinions are something we hold.   Convictions are something that hold us. So drop your anchor into the depths of this reassuring and encouraging revelation and never again raise the anchor.  God is with you always. Let the truth pass from being an opinion, into a firmly held conviction. Behind it lies all the authority of heaven.

Psalm 91 v 2 tells us this: “I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God;  on Him I lean and rely, and in Him I (confidently) trust”

When we are frustrated, it is often because we are trying to do something in our own strength, instead of putting our faith in God and receiving His grace and help.

Little faith can become great faith when we see the faithfulness of God as He meets our needs. You can become a person who enjoys great peace by trusting God.

One thing that is clear about the area of relationships is this, ”relationships can hurt”. A friend of mine says “God calls us to relate to people who are guaranteed to hurt us and fail us”. Which is why we must find a source of security that is not in people, but in God, the unfailing One. This does not mean we must withdraw from people, but that we do not use them as the source of our life. Once we see that God and God alone is our true security then when earthly relationships fail we are shaken but not shattered. There will be a 5 foot drop and not a 1000 foot one.

How will secure people behave when in the midst of a broken relationship? Having reminded themselves that God’s grace is ever sufficient and having looked at any way in which they may have contributed to the difficulty and thrown themselves in utter dependency upon God, they will be strong enough to sit back and wait for God to show them exactly what to do. Once you move your point of dependency from horizontal to vertical and are following God’s direction and guidance in all things, then, though you may still hurt, you will not be destroyed.

Psychiatrist Leonard Zunin said: ”Loneliness is mankind’s biggest problem”  and is the main reason behind the many and varied symptoms I see in the people who present themselves before me day after day. By loneliness I don’t mean aloneness. There is a great difference. It is possible to be alone and yet not lonely.It is also possible to be lonely in a crowd.

What is loneliness? It is the feeling we get when we are denied meaningful human companionship. It is a sense of isolation, of inner emptiness, deprivation and worthlessness. The poet Rupert Brooke tells how, when he first set sail from Liverpool to New York on 22nd May,1913, he felt terribly lonely because no one had come to see him off. Everyone else had friends waving then goodbye– but not he. Looking down from the deck,  he saw a scruffy little boy and swift as thought he ran down the gangway and said to him  “Will you wave to me if I give you sixpence”?  “Why yes” said the little boy. The sixpence changed hands and that day Rupert Brooke wrote in his diary  “I got my sixpence worth in an enthusiastic farewell.

Those who have never felt the pangs of loneliness will find it hard to understand a story like that. But to others it will carry a world of meaning. It is a desolating experience to be lonely. Yet the Presence of God can become so real as to dispel all feelings of loneliness. We need never feel lonely,  or in danger or afraid because God’s Word assures us of His protection and company whenever and wherever we are.

Deuteronomy 31 v 6 “Be strong, courageous and firm;  fear not nor be in terror,…….. for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you”.

If we know by faith that God is with us, we can take on any challenge with confidence and courage. We may not always feel God’s  presence, but we can trust His Word and remember that He said He would never leave us or forsake us.

God encouraged Joshua again, saying, ”Be strong, vigorous, and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Basically, God was saying to Joshua, ”You have a big job to do, but don’t let it intimidate you. Fear not.   Do not be afraid, because I will  be with you.”

In the Bible, the basis for not fearing is simply this; God is with us. And if we know God’s character and nature, we know He is trustworthy. We do not have to know what He is going to do; simply knowing He is with us is more than enough.

Isaiah 41 v 10 Fear not, (there is nothing to fear) for I am with you, do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God, and I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties.

What does this mean?  It means God makes us stronger and stronger as we go through things. It means that over time, we become less affected by the difficulties and challenges we face.    It is like exercise.     When we first do it, we get sore, but as we press through the soreness, we build muscle and gain strength. We must go through the pain to get the gain.

If God removed all challenges, we would never grow and overcome obstacles. He often permits difficulty in our lives because He is trying to reveal something that needs to be strengthened or changed in us. Our weaknesses are never revealed in good times, but they quickly show up in times of trial and stress. Sometimes He shows us what we are afraid of because He wants to deliver us from that fear and strengthen us for things that will come in the future. In those times, we need to say, ”Thank You God, for allowing me to see that fear in my life. It reveals an area that needs to be dealt with in me.” Once that particular area of fear is dealt with, the enemy will have a very hard time bothering you—and succeeding—in that area again.

Think of a situation that once made you fearful but you now handle without fear. Some things you go through in life may not feel good initially, but they will work out for your good if you keep going forward and trust God to strengthen you each step of the way.

The Psalms are full of references to God’s saving grace, His presence and protection. I did a little study and before I had gotten halfway through the book of Psalms, I had found more than 24 places that tell of God being with us to save and to protect us and to be a fortress for us.

Let me read Psalm 91 verses 1– 6 again, but this time in the first person. “If I go to the Lord for safety, if I remain under the protection of the Almighty, I can say to Him, ”You are my defender and protector.  You are my God, in You I trust.   You will keep me safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases.  You will cover me with Your wings and I will be safe in Your care.  Your faithfulness will protect and Defend me. I need not fear any dangers at night or sudden attacks during the day.”

An incident, while on holiday recently,  illustrates God’s care rather well. We were staying by the Lake at McLaren Falls Park near Tauranga. We saw several families of ducks. One mother had fourteen ducklings. Brian picked one up. The Mother duck made such a fuss. When Brian put it down it made straight for Mother and she fussed over it and kept it close under her wings.

Part 2    Verses 14-16.

This portion of Psalm 91 is like an echo of the first part but this time from God’s point of view.

(story) On a chilly March afternoon (Northern Hemisphere) before going home for dinner Pastor Walter Klempel fired up the church furnace in preparation for Choir Practice.   When it was time to return to Church with his family they were delayed because his daughter changed her clothes.   At the same time student Ladona Vadergrift was struggling with a geometry problem and stayed at home to work on it.   Sisters Sadie and Royena Estes’ car wouldn’t start. Herbert Kipf lingered over a letter he’d put off writing.    Pianist Marilyn Paul fell asleep after dinner and her Mum the Choir director had trouble waking her.  Pals Lucille Jones and Dorothy Wood were late because of a radio broadcast. Every single choir member was late;  something that’s never happened before or since. Was it just a fluke?  No! At 7.30pm that night the West Side Church was flattened by an explosion from a gas leak ignited by the furnace….directly below the EMPTY Choir Seats.

God’s looking out for you, when you don’t even know you’re in danger! As His child you, ”live within the shadow of the Almighty”…..sheltered by …God…He rescues you from every trap.   He will shield you with His wings….His promises are your armour….He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go (Ps 91 v 1-11).  The Bible says, “the Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence Him (Psalm 34 v7)    To trust in God means safety (Psalm29 v 25)

You can call it coincidence, chance, fate or you can call it what it really is—divine protection.

After the September 11th Twin Tower disaster many people told  of why they were late that day and so survived.    And I am sure you have heard of other  occasions when God demonstrated His protection over us.

The film “Bruce Almighty” is mainly an excuse for a series of plastic explosions from Jim Carrey, but there is some pretty good sermon material in there too. Bruce keeps hearing voices building up. He discovers they are people’s prayers waiting for an answer. He attempts to answer them individually through email, but finds he just can’t keep up with the demand, until finally he sets his email to automatically respond, ”Yes” for every request. Good idea he thinks. Everybody gets what they want. The film goes on to illustrate the pandemonium this care-free, couldn’t-care -less approach to prayer has. It makes an important point. Prayer is not about having God as your personal ’genie in a bottle’.  Prayer is about living in a relationship with God. Prayer is a gift, not a duty. Prayer is about getting close to God. Yes, sometimes He will give us what we want, but sometimes He won’t. God loves us so much that sometimes He gives us what we need and not what we ask.

Sometimes, it will seem like He’s not even answering. God is your Father, and the time you spend with Him is the point.

Psalm 145 v 18 reminds us:  “The Lord is close to everyone who prays to Him, to all who truly pray to Him.

Similarly, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, is hooked up to the Internet.  Using the Internet, subscribers can send email to other internet users.     So when “The New Yorker” magazine published Bill Gates email address, he quickly got into Trouble with email overload. Now, anyone on the Internet was able to email the computer genius. In no time he was swamped with thousands of messages– he simply couldn’t handle it.  So he armed his computer with software that filtered his email, allowing important messages through and sending all the others to electronic oblivion.

We are limited,  we can handle only so much and do only so much— God on the other hand, never tires of Smail, (spirit mail). His ear is always open to  our prayers. And He has an unlimited capacity to help.  You’ll never hear Him say. “Due to an unusually high call volume I am unable to take your message at this time.   Please call back or leave a message.” No! The Bible says, ”he shall call upon Me, and I will answer him.  I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him.    Psalm 91 v 15.

“The desire of the righteous will be gratified (Proverbs 10 v 24)

“The prayer of the upright is His  delight” (Proverbs 15 v 8)

“Call to me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33 v 3)

“If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. (John 15 v 7)

It’s impossible to be a healthy Christian without a good prayer life.

So let’s check:

  1. How’s my consistency? If you can’t remember when you last took time to pray, you need to do something about it.   Without prayer you’re uncovered and unprotected.
  2. How’s my sincerity?  Are my prayers more liturgy (ritual) than life? Daily, but dull and dry?  That’s because you don’t know enough about who you’re talking to, or how He feels about you.  The better you know Him, the more time you’ll want to spend with Him.

3.  How’s my faith? Do you wonder if prayer really changes anything?  Or why on earth a God in Heaven would want to talk to you, or hear anything you had to say?    (If He already knows it all, what can you tell Him anyway? And if He decides everything, why even bother?

Prayer is not for God’s benefit—it’s for ours. Where else can we go to bare our souls without fear, and walk away cleansed, comforted, counselled and  corrected?    Our Prayers work, not because of how well we say them, but because of  how well He hears them.

We don’t have to understand prayer to enjoy it’s benefits, any more than we have to understand aerodynamics in order to fly.  Just do it! Pray! Get on the plane and trust the Pilot to take you where you need to go.    Forget about the wrapping, and just give the gift. It’s better to pray awkwardly, than not at all.

“He will call upon Me, and I will answer Him”  (Psalm 91 v 15) There it is in black and white. God’s invitation to ask and His promise to  answer. What more do you need?

Prayer is an unnatural activity! From birth we’re taught the rules of self-reliance. Growing up we struggle to achieve self-sufficiency. Prayer flies in the face of those deep-seated values!     It’s an indictment of independent  living.

To people in the fast lane, prayer is an embarrassing interruption,  totally alien to our proud human nature. Yet all of us reach the point of falling on our knees and praying. We may look both ways to be sure nobody’s watching;  we may even blush’  but in spite of the foreignness of the activity—we pray. Why? Because the most intimate communion with God comes only with prayer!  Ask people who’ve faced tragedy or trial, heartbreak or grief, failure or fear, loneliness or discrimination. Ask what happened in their souls when they finally fell on their knees and poured out their hearts to the Lord; ”I can’t  explain it, but I felt like God understood me. I felt a comfort and peace I’d never known before.”

And isn’t that what God promised? (Philippians 4v6-7) “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.” You won’t believe the changes that will occur in your life once you are convinced to the core of your being, that God is willing, that He is able, and that He has invited you to come before His throne to do business in prayer.

We love to be generous to our children. That’s why Jesus said (Matthew 7 v 11) “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?” Think how brutal this would be if it represented your attitude as a parent, (a) I’m too busy, I don’t want to hear about your lost bike, or your school problem. (b) don’t bother me with your personal requests.    I’ll take care of everyone else but you.    If you love me you’ll survive on bread and water.   (c) sure I’m rich, but why should I give you anything –back off! Good parents  don’t talk like that because they don’t feel that way about their children;  they want only the best for them. So take a good parent’s feeling for his or her child, multiply it hugely, and you’ll have a slight idea of how your Heavenly Father feels about you. Nobody’s voice sounds sweeter to Him than yours. Nothing in the world would keep Him from directing His full attention to your requests. So come to Him every day in  prayer.

An enemy had just arrived, intent on wiping out Israel. So Moses says to Joshua. ”Take your best soldiers and go out to meet them. I’m taking two men and I’m  going to climb that hill that overlooks the planes, raise my hands toward heaven and pray for victory.”  As Moses hands stretched heaven ward, Joshua’s troops prevailed in battle.  But when Moses’ arms grew weary, and he dropped them to his side the tide of battle shifted before his eyes.     Joshua’s troops were being struck down.  Again Moses stretched his arms towards heaven bringing the matter before the Lord.  Immediately, the battle’s momentum shifts back to Joshua. Then Moses realises—if he wants to open the door to God’s supernatural intervention here on earth,  he must keep his arms stretched toward heaven in prayer.

So, If you’re willing to invite God to involve Himself in your daily living, you’ll experience His power in your home, your relationships, your career, and wherever else it’s needed.

But the other side of the equation is sobering, it is hard for God to release His power in your life when you put your hands in your pockets and say, ”I can handle this on my own.”

If you do that, don’t be surprised if you get the nagging feeling that the tide of battle has shifted against you. And that you’re powerless to do anything about it. Too many of us are willing to settle for lives like that. Are you one of them? In Psalm 91 we read of a God who responds to us. Check this out, (verse 15) ”When they call on Me, I will answer”  Wow! That’s a wonderful promise!

Who is this God who will answer us? The psalmist tells us that He is the ”Most High the Almighty (v1) Both terms stress His position and limitless power. And in verse 2 we read that He is Yahweh, the great ”I am”, who is our Lord.

Psalm 91 calls for us to take shelter in the Lord. It assures us that God will protect us from danger.

In verses 3 & 4 it features the metaphors of a mother bird and of armour as our protection as it details the fullness of His power and presence. The picture of a mother bird safely tucking her young under her wings. There they are secure. There is a very tender touch stressing the warmth of God’s love and concern.    But not only  is there a tenderness in God’s care, there is also a toughness as is seen in the imagery of the armour. God Himself promises to keep in safety those who love Him and call to Him.  He does reply and watch over us.

You must make a Choice to take a Chance or your life will never Change.

Do you know the ABBA song “Take a chance on me”? Well!    I challenge you to take a chance on God.

Make the choice to take a chance on God and Your life will change for the better.

I leave you with Jeremiah 33 v 3: “Call on me and I will answer you. I will tell you wonderful and marvellous things that you know nothing about.”

 God bless you.