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Sunday, 29 December 2013

'WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO PRAY CONTINUALLY?'

Rev. Brent Russett
By Rev. Brent Russett
Pastor of Sunnyside Wesleyan Church in Ottawa:
http://www.sunnysidechurchottawa.com/   

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PODCAST LINK to CFRA broadcast - Sunday, December 29th, 2013:
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What does it mean to Pray Continually?’


Good morning. And welcome to good news in the morning. My name is Brent Russett. I am the Senior Pastor at Sunnyside Wesleyan Church. It is my pleasure to look at some of life’s challenges, and then bring you some good news in the morning.

This program is sponsored by Good News Christian Ministries. If you want to look us up on the internet, or to re-listen to this program you can find us at Goodnewsinthemorning.ca

This morning I am going to focus on three short verses from 1 Thessalonians 5:
16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

            This morning I simply want to ask the question – What does that mean to be joyful always or pray continually? That sounds kind of unrealistic – doesn’t it? This morning that is what we want to look at but before we get there, let’s start off with some Music.

MUSIC Holy Lord – by Steve Bell – 2:40

1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NLT)
16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

            I got to tell you my initial reaction when I read stuff like this is – Yeah right!

            Be joyful always. I don’t always feel joyful. I don’t always feel joyful in the middle of a fight with my wife. I don’t always feel joyful when I feel the stress of finances. I don’t always feel joyful when I am sitting with someone in deep pain.

            And as to never stop praying. But let me just say, that I am not a multi-tasker. Like I am here talking with you people, and it is saying I am supposed to be praying. Well there are times when I am preaching  when I pray – It is usually “God this really coming out wrong – help”. But that is about as long as I can sustain a prayer – because well I’m a little ADD – and I can distract myself.

            So I read pray continually – and I am thinking – yeah right.

            And then it goes on to say “Give thanks in all circumstances.” This is a little easier in that it is saying in the circumstances and not for the circumstances – but even still – I don’t know about you but there are days when I don’t feel all that thankful.

            How about you? Have you ever read stuff like this from scripture and thrown up your hands and said psst – that’s impossible. I suspect many of you have. And it is in our response to passages like these where Satan can create a wedge issue between God and us – and it has a way of eating at our faith.

            So let me show you how Satan creates that wedge issue. The first thing he does is he undermines the authority of scripture. He will come along and say, this isn’t really God’s world to us, this Paul’s word to us – and as we all know Paul was a little chauvinist and a little radical – so we really don’t have to take this seriously.

            It is just a repackaging of what Satan said to Eve, “Did God really say.”

            But here is what I have found – I have found the word of God very powerful in my life. It calls into question the paradigms that I look at life with. It has unleashed the power of God in my life. I have found the promises of God to be true. I have found that God speaks through his word.

            And if Satan can get you or me to buy into the argument, “Did God really say?” it declaws the word of God. It no longer has the ability to question my assumptions. It no longer has the transformational power of God behind it. Our lack of faith can cripple the effects of the word of God in our lives. Our lack of faith can mute what God wants to say to us.

            So going a direction that says, this really isn’t God’s word -- is not an option for me. Not only is it arrogant of me to dismiss what God’s people have found through the years to be true and good – but I miss out on what God wants to do with me and in me.

            So I come to verses like these and I know this is the word of God so my next response is – I’m going to put this into practice through the sheer force of my will.

            I am going to be joyful if it kills me. And if I can’t figure out a way to make it happen I am going to fake it till I make it. So when you run into me and ask me how I am doing – I am going to say – I’m so joyful today, I can hardly stand it, (…which is good if it is true, but if it is not it just kills you.)

            I read a book last year about this guy who read this verse to pray continually – and so he took it literally. He made it a point to always direct his thoughts towards God when he was not otherwise engaged with something else.

            He said that after about a year’s worth of practice he got pretty good at it, and he testified to it making an incredible difference in his life.

            Which brings me to the next way of dealing with it – I look at these verses, and as I read this guy’s testimony – I got depressed – Paul must be talking about super saints or something. I am just a failure in my Christian life. I don’t have the kind of will power to do what he was talking about. I guess I will just have to resolve myself to being a second class citizen in the kingdom of God.

            I don’t know if you have ever been there, but it is common camping spot along the spiritual journey. But it really doesn’t help you on your spiritual journey.

            Then what we think is – well may be if I knew Greek, because maybe when it says pray continually or be joyful always, that maybe the Greek word says pray when you think of it, and be joyful when you can.

            Let me save you the time – you learn Greek – it doesn’t help – they did a good job of translating it.

            Then we start to think that maybe we got the definitions wrong. There is actually a pretty good chance of that. If you have been around the bible for a little while you know that happiness and joy are not the same thing.

            There is a little saying that you may have heard, “Happiness depends on circumstances, joy depends on Jesus.” That is true enough. But the way I have seen that work is – Oh I don’t need to be happy.

            But then joy becomes meaningless to us. We hide behind a little knowledge that happiness and joy are different, but we don’t figure out how joy affects us as we live life in our world. When we do things like this our Christian lives become powerless.

            When the Bible talks about joy, it is talking about a deep sense of well being.

1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NLT)
16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

            We have such ways of avoiding the word of God and it kills us.

            How you approach verses like this matter to how you live out your Christian life. It matters because all of these approaches that I have talked about -- end up saying the word of God is not for me.

            This morning let me give you a different way to come at this. I have been referring to the Bible as the word of God, because that is what it is. But usually we interpret someone’s words through the person themselves.

            If you like Stephen Harper, then you will interpret what he says one way. If you don’t like Stephen Harper, then you will interpret his words another way. (And that is about as political as I get from the pulpit.)

            But sometimes we come to the bible and we forget about the one who said them.  Let me tell you about the God behind the words.

            The God that I have come to know through the scriptures and by his Spirit is good. Like I mean really good. His love is amazing because he continues to love and love and love even when he is rejected or ignored. He doesn’t treat us as we deserve, he treats us out of who he is not out of what we have done.

            The God that I have come to know is so big and so grand in both size and power and intelligence that he can know me personally and all about my life, and know you personally, and he can know all about your life, and he can know the 7 billion people that we share the planet with personally – and he cares about each one of us as if we were the only one he has a relationship with.

            The God that I have come to know wants the very, very, very best for us, but he is really reluctant to enforce is agenda. He is a gentleman who invites and who calls, who even woos, but who does not force himself upon us.

            You know what makes God angry is vandals: Vandals of His creation. He knows that we were created for good, for love, for joy, for beauty for adventure, for hope, for grace, for community, for strength – and yet this world has been vandalized by sin, and evil, and hatred, and it is so much less that what it was created for.

            And I have seen how God deeply loves us, and yet hates those things that vandalize our own life and others. God wants us to be fully alive, and he hates it when we poison ourselves

            Some people read the bible and all they can see is the wrath of God. But I will tell you what the wrath of God looks like in the New Testament – it is that God leaves us alone, to our own devices, to drown in our own sin. God says – you want to vandalize yourself – I’m going to get out of the way and let you do it. It is a fearsome thing to have the God of the universe, leave us to our own devices.

            God is not sitting in heaven looking for a way to get ticked off with you. God is looking for a way to have a relationship with you. God is looking for a way to walk with you. He really, really, really wants the best for you. He is on your side, hoping that you will learn what it means to live in the way you were intended to live. He is hoping that you will learn to live in grace and with beauty and with love and with hope. He is hoping and encouraging you to be full of life.

            If you can see God’s heart and then you come to these verses
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NLT)
16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

            What do you hear? If God is really on your side then in saying this to you, he is not trying to get your to write his word off, nor is he trying to depress you as something that is impossible, or only for supper saints, no is he trying to discourage you. He is trying to invite you into the life that you were meant to live.

            Imagine a life where prayer came as breathing, where beauty and strength and grace and life were just normal responses to every-day life for you.

            Imagine a life where there was a deep sense of well being even when life was hard. Imagine whether you were in conflict, or stress or plenty or lack you had this deep sense of well being –

            When God writes to you,
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NLT)
16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

            This is what he envisions for you.

            Let’s listen to some music and then come back and ask the question, how do I live this kind of life.

Michael W Smith Live
MUSIC- There is none like you M.W Smith (2:10)

The question is how. How do I live that kind of life? How do I do this?

            You are not going to get there with sheer will power. You are not going to be joyful or pray always just because you grit your teeth and try hard.

            The first thing you need to note is that these verse are written to people who follow Jesus.

            You see the definition of a Christian is one in whom Christ dwells. A Christ follower is someone who has trusted the work of Christ on the Cross for the forgiveness of their sin, and has invited Christ into their life. Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually does come into your life.

            When you become a Christian, The Spirit of God enters into your spirit the core of who you are.

            Now let me ask you a question. Is God full of joy? The answer of course is yes. We think of heaven as being the most joyful place possible, and that is true because God is there. Now the one who is the author of life, the one who is full of joy, comes to live in the core of who you are.

            So when the word of God says Always be joyful, or always rejoice, it is saying be what you are at your core.

            The question you have to answer is not, How do I get joy, so I can be joyful always. The real question is how do I uncover the joy that is right at my core.

            The joy at your core does not fade if you have a bad day, or get bad news, or get stressed out. But I will tell you this, these kind of things have a way of covering up the joy that is there.

            So the challenge when those things happen is to get beyond your bad day, and get underneath your inner turmoil, and connect with God, who has come into you.

            You see in Christ there is this deep sense of well being, and he wants to share that deep sense of well being with you. He wants who he is to fill who you are.

            There are things that you can do to cover up the joy and there are things that you can do to uncover the joy. Your job in life is to make choices that uncover the joy. Make choices that bring the Spirit of God to the surface of your life. When you bless people, a choose to worship, and when you choose to connect yourself with your heart – joy comes to the forfront. When Jesus is central in your life – joy has a way of coming to the surface.

            When your life becomes all about you, when you choose to live out of your sinful nature rather than the nature that God has placed inside you – joy gets covered over.

            Now if God by His Spirit lives in the core of who you are, what does it mean to pray continually. Well the reality is that what you do with your body is a prayer – if you let it be. What you do at your work is a prayer – if you let it be. What you do with free time is a prayer – if you let it be.

            The way you let it be is create a rhythm of prayer in your life. The traditional rhythm of prayer that reminds us that all of our life is a prayer is that we pray when we get up in the morning. We pray at breakfast lunch and supper, and we prayer before we go to bed at night. Each of those times of prayer is a reminder that all of life is a prayer.

            My prayer for you is that you will learn to uncover the joy and live the prayer.

Let’s pray.

Lord, My prayer for our listeners is that they would, indeed, be able to uncover the joy that you have put into them, or Lord, when they invite you into their heart, you are there and you are full of joy. My prayer is they would learn to live their lives as prayer, wherever they work or wherever they play, that they would be praying. And Lord, my prayer is that you would help us all to be thankful.
Thank you so much for who you are and for what you want to do.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Thank you, Listeners for your words of encouragement, and for keeping us in your prayers.  Keeping this program on the air continues to be a work of faith. As you probably know, the summer month are financial struggle. If you can help with that, please make out a cheque payable to Good News Christian Ministries, Box 184, Rideau Ferry, ON, K0G  1W0. Or you can give online by going to goodnewsinthemorning.ca

            If you go to that website, goodnewsinthemorning.ca you can also follow us on twitter, or our blog.

            My name is Brent Russett. It has been a pleasure to spend this morning with you..

May you know   Jesus Christ personally and profoundly.  May the Holy Spirit reside deep within your heart .  And may the heavenly Father surround you with His constant and abiding and accompanying love

Music – Keith Green – Because of you 2:57

Rev. Brent Russett
Pastor of Sunnyside Wesleyan Church in Ottawa:

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To listen to the above broadcast, click on the following link:
http://proxy.autopod.ca/podcasts/chum/6/18499/good_news_085_dec29.mp3

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