Exodus 20: 1-18
Arguably the most important words in the Bible regarding ethical and moral behavior come from this passage. When we think of the Ten Commandments we ought to think of it as a wonderful gift from God. What would this world be like had these commandments not been written on stone. Every society to some degree has respected these Ten Commandments – at least the last 6 of the 10. This is because God’s law has been not only inscribed on stone but on the heart of every man (Romans 2). Every man has a moral sense, a sense of right and wrong. Jesus distills the Ten Commandments into two commandments: love to God and love to your neighbor.
We often miss something when we read the Ten Commandments. This is not just straight law. It starts with grace. The words are to a redeemed people whom He brought out of Egypt. This isn’t legalistic moralism. The commands are in light of what God has done for His children. Nothing can motivate the redeemed child more than Gospel motives; the fact that God has saved us from sin and bondage. Repeating the commands regularly can leave the impression that they are negative when in reality they are positive. David Murray re-frames them as the Ten Pleasures.
He says of the first commandment, “We have the pleasure of knowing,worshiping and serving the Lord our God will all our heart, soul, mind and strength. This sounds like Jesus’ explanation. It is positive, right? In terms of the first commandment, it is an opportunity to find our greatest joy and delight in God Himself.
Negatively, the first commandment condemns every other religion. It condemns atheism, those who don’t believe in God at all. It condemns pantheism and every form of religious pluralism. What is really at the heart of this commandment? What sin does it go after? Idolatry. It addresses the deepest and most fundamental problem found in the human heart. We are born idolaters. Anything we worship more than God is an idol. We all worship something. When we become Christians our relationship to our idols changes. Remember how the apostle Paul described the Thessalonians. He said they had turned from their idols to serve the living God. That is true of all Christians.
Something else to note about the Ten Commandments. Every one of them tells us something about God. The first commandment tells us God is a jealous God. If a husband really loves his wife, he doesn’t want her involved with other men. God is holy; He is a jealous God. He wants no rivals or competitors when it comes to worship. It is good to remember when we come to pray. He wants true worship and all our worship. He wants first allegiance in our lives.
Luke 18: 1-8
This familiar story is a parable the Lord told. We often stress that prayer is difficult, a struggle. We could argue that from this very parable. Jesus understood that when it comes to prayer we have to practice perseverance. Where else in our Bible’s could we go to argue that prayer is a challenge and a struggle? Some suggestions include: Ephesians 6 – the warfare metaphor, the Garden of Gethsemane (and negatively, the disciples), Jacob wrestling with God, Epaphras travailing in prayer.
Since God knows us – our weaknesses, vulnerabilities and infirmities, God gives us manifold encouragements, or incentives, to pray. I am going to list seven incentives and you provide a text which backs them up.
The sinful heart gives all sorts of reasons and excuses why we can’t pray. We are good at making excuses. God gives us lots of reasons why we can and should pray.
Matthew 6 – A Focus on the Lord’s Prayer
We would all agree that if there is one area where Christians all need encouragement it is with regard to prayer. Spurgeon said, “The common sin of God’s people is slackness in prayer.” He said, “If there is one sin that needs to be preached about more than any other it is the sin of omission in secret dealings with God.” None of us would argue with this, but how do we help ourselves in prayer? I think a good way to encourage us to pray is to frequently consider what Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer. We have probably heard this prayer a million times over, but there is a danger in familiarity – we can take it for granted and miss an awful lot.
If we look at the chapter as a whole, Jesus contrasts a wrong kind of praying, in verse7, with the right way to pray, starting in verse 9. (Read Matt 6:9 – 13). There are essentially two things we can derive from the Lord’s Prayer. We can boil it down to identity issues. Who is God? And who am I? Why do Christians pray differently from every other religion? It is because of our view of God and our view of man.
What do we learn about God? We could say an awful lot, but I will make this very simple. We learn essentially two things in this prayer: just like the simple prayer children are taught growing up, “God is great, God is good.” These two are taught here in Matthew 6.
#1:God is great. How do we know that from the Lord’s Prayer? “Our Father which art in Heaven” – He’s above us. The word heaven points to His transcendence. He is not a God who walks amongst us on earth; He’s a God in Heaven. We also see that God is great from the next petition, “Hallowed be Thy Name.” His holiness is a distinguishing attribute of God. He is perfectly holy.
#2: How do we know God is good? Again, we can argue from the above verses, He is a Father. A Father takes care of His children; it is a manifestation of His goodness.
What about ourselves can we learn from this prayer? I have three things.
#1: We are needy or dependent creatures. We see this in the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We need daily bread. This shows how dependent we are on God. He made us, and we depend on Him.
#2: We are sinful. “Forgive us our debts,” which refers to our sins. We never want to forget that we are dependent sinners. But the good thing is this prayer reminds us that God forgives. This prayer would be rather depressing if we didn’t know He is a God who forgives. We should never take that for granted.
#3: We are a privileged, a redeemed people. We have been adopted into the family of God. “Behold what manner of love, that we should be called the sons of God.”
Knowing who God is and who we are should have a profound impact on the way we pray. If you were ignorant of God, if you didn’t know Him why would you go to Him? If you didn’t know He was loving, merciful, great – why pray? If you didn’t realize who you are – why pray? Prayer loses its urgency when we forget who God is and who we are.
2 Thessalonians 1: 3 & 4
Remember the church in Thessalonica was a fairly young church. Paul and his other missionary companions had to flee due to religious persecution. So, Paul is concerned with how they are doing. He begins this second letter similarly to how he begins the first. He almost always begins on a note of thanks. Look what he is thanking God for: v. 3, “because your faith is growing abundantly…”
I grew up with three brothers and I can remember my mom and dad frequently having us stand up against the door frame to mark out how tall we were, whether we had grown. We had always grown an inch or two. This is what you expect. If children do not grow it is frightening because something is terribly wrong.
We can say this about the Christian life; it is a life of growth. Very Christian grows. If you don’t, something is wrong. Spiritual stagnation and backsliding may account for why a Christian isn’t growing as he should, but every Christian grows to some degree. Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerned with their lack of growth. He calls them babes and carnal. The writer to the Hebrews was concerned about growth. They weren’t exercising mature discernment, so he reprimands them for still drinking milk when they should be eating meat.
How can we know from our Bible that a Christian must grow? At least three ways. First, from its pictures and images of spiritual growth. For example, the agricultural image of an olive tree; a house being built up; a race, running or walking toward a goal.
Second, God commands us to grow. At the end of 2 Peter, he says “Grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”. That is an imperative. God doesn’t command us to do something we cannot do, does He?
Third, when Paul writes to the churches he is looking for growth. In 1 Thessalonians he exhorts them to grow. And now, writing again, he gives thanks for their growth. He saw and heard of their growth. Their faith was growing abundantly.
A Christian grows. He ought to grow and he will grow. This growth can be seen. Isn’t that one of the reasons why we put ourselves under the ministry of the Word? We read our Bibles and come to the worship of God in order to grow. The means of grace, or the habits of grace help us grow. Why do we come to a prayer meeting? Why put ourselves under public preaching and teaching? Because God wants us to grow and we have a desire to grow.
1 Thessalonians 5: 12-22
This last chapter is full of imperatives. Paul begins his epistle like many others reminding us what Christ has done for us, emphasizing Gospel indicatives- based on what God has done, this is how we should live - Gospel imperatives.
I want to focus on the injunction in verse 17, “pray without ceasing”. Some time ago I read a Banner of Truth article written by a pastor at the back end of his life entitled, “I Wish I had Prayed More”. This comes to my mind sometimes when I prepare to go into a counseling session or a difficult situation in a church. Maybe with a friend or in a marriage, in sermon preparation I might think, “I wish I had prayed more.” I’m sure every Christian feels that regret sometimes.
Why don’t we pray more? Many reasons perhaps; we could probably build a list. If I had only one word for why we don’t pray more it would be: forget. What do we forget? We forget who God is. We can forget He’s our friend, our Father. We can forget how capable He is, how powerful He is – that He can do far above what we could ever ask or think. We forget that He can solve any problem we have, heal any disease, or give us victory over any sin.
This is half the problem. We also forget something else. We forget who we are. We forget we are dependent creatures; we learn that in Genesis 1 & 2. God made us in His image, but we are not God. He made us accountable, but dependent on Him. God made man to eat, and also to produce what he eats. Animals can’t do that. God made us dependent on Him for food. Jesus reminds us of that in the Lord’s Prayer. If God didn’t cause the crops to grow, the rain to fall, the sun to shine, none of us would be able to feed ourselves. We are also dependent on God for breath itself, every heart-beat. Acts 17, “in Him we live and move and have our being”. Every breath and heart-beat come from God Himself. Also, we are dependent upon God for our plans. There is nothing wrong with making plans; we make plans every day. But they are all dependent on God. Proverbs 16, “A man plans his way, but God directs his steps.” Remember what James says in James 4 where he gives something of a reprimand, warning those who are engaging in presumptuous planning without reference to God.
If we are dependent on God in the natural realm: food, breath, how much more so in the spiritual realm? Can you fight the devil on your own? Conquer your sin on your own? Prevent yourself from becoming conformed to this world on your own? Can you grow any grace on your own? No, we are dependent on God. I’m convinced that many people fall into sin later in life because at some time in their lives they forgot how weak they are, how dependent they are.
Why is there prayerlessness among Christians today? I think the answer is a culpable forgetfulness. We forget about God and about ourselves – our dependency on Him.