There are many paths we take throughout our walk of life. During our walk, there are moments where we can feel God's presence. We can see Him moving, answering our prayers, opening doors, making our lives flourish abundantly. There are other times where maybe He's meeting us when we need Him the most, taking us from the valley to the mountaintop and showing His power and victory in our lives. But, what about the moments when God seems silent? It may seem as if this in between path lasts forever. How do we stay faithful when everything is still?
It may be easy to live for God when He's speaking to us and it may be easy to live for God when we've been fulfilled, but what do we do in between?
Well, good morning to everybody and also to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. Can I share something with you that I love? You probably don't care what I love, but I'm going to share it with you anyway. Just indulge me for a minute. I love a good movie where there's a courtroom drama where the person that is the main character, you think they're guilty and then the evidence keeps coming in and you're starting to think that maybe they're not guilty. And then you realize that there's a lot of circumstantial evidence that's there that looks like they're guilty, but the more you see the movie the more you realize they're not guilty and you start cheering and going, "Man, they've got to get vindicated because they're not guilty. They didn't do anything wrong."
And, as I talk about that, it brings up that fear of getting a jury duty card. Do y'all ever have those fears? Just a moment here of honesty. But, it's so cool with Sarasota. You get the juror number 318 and you call at 5 o'clock and they're like, "We only need jurors 1 through 150."
You're like, "Yes."
So, anyway, a confession faults one to another. I just did mine. But, anyway, going back to the movie idea, I love it so much when you're in that moment where you just know they're not guilty, but everybody else thinks they're guilty and you just want to see them vindicated. Hold that in your back pocket, because we're going to come back to that at the end of the message.
We are in a six-week series called "In Between," and we're in week two and so, if you're new or if you missed a message or maybe if you just want to get caught back up, let's bring everybody back in to what we're doing. Most of our lives we live in the in between. We live in the in between of getting married and having children or having children and praying that all six of them will get potty trained. Can I get an amen on that one?
Or hoping to get accepted at a school or living in a relationship where you want it to get better and you're living in the in between and it just seems like what it is is what it is is what it is and you don't know what to do because you're in between. Our spiritual lives are that way, too, because many of us have had those moments where we really felt like God was there and we could feel His presence and we could feel His Spirit with us. And it was easy to live for God in those moments. Or maybe He's answering prayers or doing stuff in our lives and it's easy to live in those moments. But, the fact of the matter is we don't live there for the most of our lives. We live in the in between. So, what do we do in the in between? How do we make it work in the in between? Because that's where most of us have the biggest challenge is "how do I live out this Christian thing in the way I'm supposed to do it in the in between?"
And that's what we try to do here at Grace is to make sure that you have some tools in your toolbox so that you can live out the Christian life in a way that's full of abundance and you can do the things God has called you to do. So, that's what we're looking at in this six-week series. We're in week two. If you missed last week, you can catch it on the internet. You can also catch it on our mobile app. If you would like to, I think you would enjoy it. We talked about the need to reorient and we looked at Psalm 73.
Well, this weekend, we're going to get really practical over the next five weeks of the things that you and I need in our lives to make sure that we flourish in the in between. What we're going to talk about this weekend is recommitting to a life of prayer. Now, let's be honest. As soon as I mentioned that, somebody thought, "This is going to be boring and useless."
Be honest. You thought that. I know you did. In fact, I went to dinner last night with somebody who said, "When you put that up on the screen, that's exactly what I was thinking."
I'm like, "Thanks, buddy. I appreciate that, man."
But, he said it wasn't. So, it's not going to be boring and it's not going to be useless. I promise you you will get something out of this. I know what some of you thought. You were like, "If I knew how, I would, dude. I don't know what to do. I'm like the disciples. I don't know how to pray. Every once in a while I try and all I can think about is pink elephants. So, please help me."
We're going to talk about that today. You're going to get some help. I know what some of you are thinking. You're thinking, "I feel guilty already. I don't pray enough."
Listen. The name of our church is not Guilt Community Church; it is Grace Community Church. So, don't feel guilty. We're going to help you out. You can clap. It's okay. Yeah. I love this church. We can't figure out if we're going to clap or not. It's okay. I love you, because I'm like that too. "Yeah, I don't know."
Anyways. So, some of you all are thinking this: "Well, God's going to do what He's going to do anyway, so why do we pray?"
No. We need to pray. And let me take a story here to illustrate why we need to pray. There was a pastor that preached a fantastic message – probably way better than mine's going to be – at church on prayer, and everybody was just pumped. I mean, man, this guy. In Kentucky, when you preach a good message, they say the pastor shucked the corn. So, this pastor, he shucked the corn. And he preached this message on prayer and I mean everybody's like, "Yeah, man. We need to pray."
So, two buddies that were really close with each other, friends, after church were talking and they're like, "Man. The pastor just killed it today, man. It was awesome on prayer."
And the guys like, "Yeah, man. That was a great message."
His buddy looked at him and he's like, "Dude, give me a break. You don't look like you're a person of prayer. You don't even know the Lord's Prayer. I'll give you 100 bucks if you could recite the Lord's Prayer."
He's like, "Man, that's going to be the easiest 100 bucks I ever got in my entire life. Watch this."
He's like, "Go ahead. Pray the Lord's Prayer."
He says, "Here we go. Get your wallet out. Get the 100 bucks. I'm going to show you here. God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed, give us Lord our daily bread. Kaboom! Told you I could pray that thing."
His buddy's like, "Yeah."
He reaches in his back, pulls his wallet out, gets the 100 dollars out and he goes, "I didn't think you could."
So, here's the deal. If you're not laughing, we really need to learn to pray. So, there we go. So, let's talk about this thing and let's dial it in, because we need to learn to pray. Now, here's the deal: we're going to look at a couple of parables in Luke 18. But, being the good, Biblical students that we are, we realize that chapter divisions and verses were not originally in the text. And, oftentimes, when reading the Bible, we started a chapter and we miss out what's going on before it and it's so important to know what's going on before it so that we can know what's going on in the passage that we're reading.
So, to understand the two parables that we're going to look at in Luke 18, we need to go back to Luke 17 for just a minute and talk. Now, listen. Luke 17, Jesus is talking about when the Son of Man comes. And there is great rigorous debate. I mean, I even teach a class called "Ecclesiology and Eschatology." We talk about what do these passages mean? Some people feel like the coming of the Son of Man in this passage in Luke 17 is referring to the judgment that came on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Other people believe that it's the coming of the Son of Man as in the second coming of the Lord.
I'm not going to get into the debate of that at all. It's not important to our message today. What is important is that Jesus is saying there's an in between time. In the in between, time's going to be difficult. In the in between, it's going to be difficult for you and me. And what he says is is, at the very end as he's talking on this, he says, "Listen. There's going to be two people grinding at a mill and one of them is going to be taken and the other is going to be left."
And he says, "And then there's two people sleeping at night..." – probably a husband and a wife – "...in bed and one is going to be taken and the other is going to be left."
And the question you and I should have is is it better to be taken or is it better to be left. Because the disciples are thinking the same way you should be thinking if you're reading the Bible. They ask Jesus that question. "Jesus, the ones that are taken, where are they going?"
And He says, "Well, where their bodies are."
He actually says where their "corpses" are, the vultures will gather. Which means they've been taken in judgment. So, in this particular passage, it's better to be left behind than it is to be taken. Because you're taken in judgment and where your corpse is the vultures will gather. And it's like a real serious moment. You can imagine the disciples are thinking, "Man, I don't want to be the one taken in judgment. I don't want my body to be where the vultures are. I want to be the one standing. I don't want to be the one taken like that."
And then Luke starts in Luke 18 and he says this: "He told them a parable..." – so you've got to understand, right in the middle of talking about this in between and trying to say, "Are we going to be vindicated or are we going to be taken in judgment? What's going on here," He told them a parable to the effect that they ought to always pray and not loose heart."
In other words, in the in between, for you and me, when we're not people of prayer, we tend to lose heart. Some translations say "faint." Some translations say "grow weary." I can tell you, if you're living in the in between, which is where most of us live, and you're not in continual talk with God, you're going to find it very easy, I'm going to find it very easy, to lose heart and get discouraged at all of the things that we see on the in between. So, Jesus tells them a parable. Let's look at this parable, because Luke tells us that the parable is about praying and not losing heart. So, here's what Jesus says.
He says, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man."
Now, when you're reading the Bible you'll probably just read right through that. That's a really important cue here. Because, a judge, in the first century, or a judge honestly at any time, but especially in the first century, was required to have one of two things. They either needed to fear God – because, if you don't fear God, why are you going to care about justice, right? And if you don't respect people, why are you going to care about justice?
So, this is a judge who holds a position in title only. Not really a judge at all because he doesn't fear God nor respect man. He looks like a judge, talks like a judge, but he doesn't act like a judge because he doesn't care about people and he doesn't care about God. So Jesus, in a typical way, takes a parable and He takes somebody and then He contrasts them with somebody else.
He says, "'And then there was a widow in that city...'"
Now, that's important, because widows, in the first century, were about as low as it could possibly be on the totem pole of life. A woman had it tough enough, but a widow? See, when her husband died in the first century, you didn't get anything. It went to the next of kin; to the next man. So, if that man decided you were out and he didn't like you, then you were a widow without anything. And that's why James says, "Take care of the widows."
That's why the pastoral epistles talk about taking care of the widows, because that was a low, low, low part in society. So, we're contrasting a judge with a widow.
"'And there was a widow in the city who kept coming to this judge...'"
Now, it wouldn't be common for women to come to a judge, but it wasn't uncommon for them to come. So, she keeps coming saying...
"'Give me justice against my adversary.'"
What she's asking is, "Hey, there's stuff that really is due me and I'm not getting it and you're a judge. Can you please help me? I need your help."
Then Jesus says, "For a while he refused."
Most of us, if we're reading that in today's culture we just think that he just decided not to do it. That's not what the first century hearers would have heard. What they would have heard is he didn't get the bribe he was looking for. He was looking for the adversary of the widow to give a bribe. But, he didn't get it. So, he refused for a little while to see if he could pad his pockets, because he doesn't care about people and he doesn't fear God. So, he refuses.
But afterward he's like, "Man, I don't fear God and I don't respect man. But, this lady keeps coming. She keeps bothering me. And I'm going to give her justice just so that she won't keep beating me down by her continual coming."
Now, listen to what Jesus says. This is really important. He says, "Did you hear what the unrighteous judge says?"
He's like, "Listen. This guy doesn't care about people. He doesn't care about God. He's going to give this woman justice because she keeps coming."
Now, the unjust judge is not God in this parable at all. He's just saying, "Listen. This woman keeps coming and keeps coming and keeps coming and keeps coming and this judge, who doesn't care about her and doesn't care about God, he's still, because she keeps coming, gives her justice. Listen to what he said.
He says, "And will not God give justice to his elect? To His people? To His people that are His? Who cry to Him day and night? Do you think He's going to be like the unjust judge who's going to just say, 'Eh, whatever.'"
No. He says, "Do you not think God will do this? Do you think He's going to delay long over them? I tell you, He's going to give justice to them speedily."
But then, as a parable does – if you're reading a parable and it doesn't disturb you, you're not reading the parable right. Parables are said to disturb. They're disturbing stories to an original audience that would make them go, "Wow."
He says, "Nevertheless, when I come, will there be any faith on the earth? Will there be anybody in the in between that's really syncing up with me and spending time with me?"
Now, as He says that, I mean, it's like, "Whoa. That's a tough glass of cold water in everybody's face."
That's what Luke told us. He said that when He said this parable about prayer, it was to not lose heart. It was not to move away from where we should be. And he says, "But, when I come will I find faith on the earth?"
Well, obviously there must have been people in the audience that were thinking, "Psh. I'm good. I'm in. I'm one of God's people."
So, Luke says that Jesus told another parable.
"He said this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt."
Can I share something with you just from my heart here? The more righteous you and I think that we are, the more we treat others with contempt. Let that sink in for a minute, because we're getting ready to see a really challenging parable. So, He tells this parable to those who are sitting around. "I'm in. I got it. I'm good. I'm in."
He says, "He tells this to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, but treated others with contempt.
So, here he goes. He goes, "'Two men went up into the temple to pray."
That wouldn't have been arresting or anything. They'd have been like, "Great. Two men went up to the temple to pray."
"'One was a Pharisee...'" – they'd have been like, "That's cool," – "'...and the other was a tax collector.'"
That would've been where the record went [scratch] when He told the story. Because, why in the world would a filthy, scoundrel tax collector be going to church to pray? See, these are shocking. They're told to get attention. So, two people went up to pray, one Pharisee and a tax collector. And everybody would've been like, "What?" And especially those who were trusting in themselves that they were righteous. They would've probably been thinking, "Well, what's that person doing in church? Why are they going to the temple? I mean, they're so far away from God. What would they be doing in there?"
He says, "The Pharisee, standing by himself," – he's away from everybody. You know, he's holy. He's doing his thing. This is what he prayed – "'God, I thank you that I am not like other men.'"
"God, I thank you I'm not like that group over there that does this and I thank you I'm not like that person that does that. And God, I thank you I'm not like that group that does that. God, I thank you I'm not like other men. Me and you have got it together. Me and you, we're cool. Me and you. I'm not like other men."
"I'm not like extortioners, I'm not like the unjust, I'm not like the adulterers, or even like this dude over here, this tax collector that's praying here in the temple with me. God, you know me. I fast twice a week and I give tithes of all I get. Me and you are cool."
Jesus says, "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'"
"God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"
He doesn't even pray to change, he just prays, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
And then Jesus drops the big bomb. He says, "I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other."
And that would've been like "dum, dum, dum" in that moment. What a tough, cool passage of Scripture. So, we just let the Scripture speak for itself and now what we're going to do is we're going to do some practical take-homes and try to figure out, "Hey, how can this apply to my life? How can I dial this in? How can I make this appropriate to my life?"
This is what we called the "take-homes" here at Grace Community Church. So, if you have a sheet of paper, if you have your bulletin, you've got your notes, you've got a phone that you can take or an iPad or whatever you've got. Write these down. These are things that will help you in your life as a Christian. These are the practical things that we want to take home with us and talk about during the week.
First of all, prayer is a difference-maker in between. It's very clear that Jesus is wanting us to know that praying or not praying is a big difference as we live in the in between. It's a difference-maker. It makes a big difference. John Bunyan, who wrote the Pilgrim's Progress, said it this way:
"He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day."
That's a 10:15 amen. You're probably not wanting to say that, but you're like, "Yeah. That's probably true. Yeah. You're right. Prayer's a difference-maker. I'm in. Check. You won, Bennett. You got my attention. I'm in."
Secondly, this is huge too, a life of continual prayer forges us into the vessels for God's answers when they come. I'm going to be honest with you here and share my heart. When I am praying half heartedly and God speaks or gives me an answer, I normally don't like the answer that He gives me. When I've really prayed and sought God and I've really spent time with Him and really wrestled with Him and really allowed Him to forge me into the vessel that He wants me to be, when the answer comes, I'm prepared for it.
Because I don't know how you all are, but when the answer comes, "Hey, you need to forgive them seventy times seven," I'm like, "I'm not forgiving them one time. That's just unnatural, God."
But, when you pray and you seek time with God and you spend time with Him and you understand how much He's forgiven you and how often you fail and how gracious He's been to you because your life has been forged in prayer, all of a sudden you're ready for some of those answers when He comes and gives them to us.
Thirdly, prayer is seen by Jesus as one of the true signs of actually being in the faith. He says, "God's elect, who cry to Him day and night." Part of being in God's camp is being people that spend time with God. Martin Luther, the great reformer, said it this way:
"To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing."
So, the reality is that we're to be people of prayer. I think that's pretty clear and I think most of you all at this point would be going, "Alright. You win. I need to be in prayer. But, I need some help, man. I mean, I struggle. When I try to pray, I don't know what to do. I don't know what to say. I don't know where it's at."
So, I've got help for you. Now, I want to be honest with you. Larry the Cable Guy did not give me permission for this, but this is the "Git-R-Done" prayer helps. Okay? And we're going to talk about that here in a minute. I'm going to help you out in a practical way to learn how to change your prayer life. So, I'm not leaving you hanging. I'm giving you tools to equip you to pray.
Here we go. First one: prayers of thanks help us to remember how good we have it. Let's be honest here for a second. Don't we all walk around going, "Oh, I wish I had that or I wish I would've done that or wish I'd have had that or wish I'd have said that?"
So, we do the "would've, could've, should've" thing, and that doesn't lead us anywhere. But, I want you to start thanking God. Just go find some place and say, "Hey, you know what, God? I thank You that I can even breath. God, I thank You that I'm alive. I thank You, Lord, that I had cookies in the Hub today at Grace Community Church because there's people that don't eat for weeks in the rest of this world. God, I thank You that I've got a car. If I don't have a car, thank God for Uber. I can pull them up on my phone."
But, you start thanking God for the things that you have and what you start realizing is that we got it pretty good. Yeah. You should clap on that one. That will help you in your prayer life.
The next thing, and this is so important, is learn to pray the Psalms. Just open up the Bible to a Psalm and read it. And I've selected one today just because, in the environment that we live in, knowing that many people are sort of spun up about Tuesday and everything else, I want you to imagine finding a place and going there and saying, "You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the almighty, God, I live in the shelter of You. God, I live in Your shadow. God, sometimes I don't act like it. Sometimes I don't even show it. But, Lord, I know that that is true. It says that You'll deliver me from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. Lord, I believe that, Lord."
He goes on to say, "A thousand may fall at Your side and ten thousand and Your right hand, but it will not come near You."
God, I know something. I know if the country falls apart, I know if the world falls apart, I know if things go they way I don't want them to go, Lord, I've read the end of the book and I know that You win and I'm on Your team. So, nothing can come against me that creates problems for me.
So, you start praying that stuff around your house, man, you get excited. "Bless the Lord, O my soul. God, I'm going to bless You today. I'm going to praise You today with all that's within me. God, sometimes I don't even do it with all that's within me. So, forgive me for that. But, Lord, I want to. I want to praise You. Lord, I want to not forget all the benefits that You've given to me. Lord, that You've redeemed my life from the pit, You've forgiven all my iniquities, You've healed all my diseases. Lord, You've crowned me with steadfast love."
I mean, you start praying that stuff and I'm going to tell you it'll change your life. This are helps. I mean, you can do this. You can do this.
Third, find a distraction-free place. Like, go where you don't have a watch or an Apple Watch that's beeping and a phone, trying to watch CNN or something. "I'm going to watch the election results and pray like a warrior." You're not going to. You're not going to. You need to go find a place where you can be alone with God and focus on Him and pray some prayers of thanks and pray some Psalms. It'll change your life.
And lastly, learn this. This is for everybody. Everybody can do this one here. Learn the one sentence prayer. You can do this in your car. "Lord, help me to be a better husband. Lord, help me to trust You more."
Jesus says it's not the matter of words that we speak. It's always what we're saying. "God, help me to share my faith more. Help me to learn to believe in You more."
Just learn the one-sentence prayer. Because, here's the deal: this'll change your life in the in between if you can learn to pray. I want to come back now to what I started off with. I started off with those great courtroom movies where it looks like they're guilty but then you realize that they're not. Jesus contrasts a couple people when He talks about those that are going to be taken and those that are going to be standing. And it's not the judge and it's not the Pharisee. It's the widow and it's the tax collector that the world would look at and go, "No, but the judge has got a position of prominence. The Pharisee's got all the religious stuff going on and are doing everything right."
God says, "It's the widow and it's the tax collector that are vindicated."
And you know what's the awesome thing about that for you and me? That's who we are. God, be merciful to me, a sinner. That's what He's looking for. Those are the ones that go down justified. And what God wants from you and me is something really simple. It's all He wants. He wants a relationship. He just wants us to talk with Him and spend time with Him by praying a song, by praying a one-line prayer, by just telling Him you love Him for what He's done. And I'm going to tell you: in the life of the in between, if you and I will recommit to prayer, it will revolutionize our lives living in the in between.
And when it's all said and done, we'll be the ones standing. Even though people might have looked at us and said, "There's no way they're in. There's no way they're the ones who are making it."
But we knew, when we got in our prayer closet, we said, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
And God says, "That's my boy right there who's walking down justified. He's the one I'm going to vindicate. Even though all the things may look like they weren't the one, they're going to be the ones."
And that's the beauty of Jesus is that those of us that might not look like we're the ones, we're going to be the ones and that means all of us have an opportunity to come to the table, because all of us can relate to people like that. So, let's recommit to prayer and let's change our lives living in the in between.
Dear heavenly Father, we come to You this morning and just pause for a moment to thank You for Your goodness and Your mercy. Lord, I also pause for a moment. There might be people that are here today that've been trying to live their life without You and they're just really realizing they need to live their life with You. God, I pray that if that's moving in their heart that they would grab somebody after church – a pastor or somebody with a name tag on – and say, "Hey, I need some help to learn how to take my life and start moving with the Lord."
Lord, help us to help them do that in their life. Lord, for those of us that are Christians, for those of us who are followers of You, I pray that today we would make a determination in our heart that we're going to recommit to prayer and we're going to do the things that we need to do in the in between so that we don't lose heart, that we don't faint and that we don't grow weary. Because, God, if You're for us, then nothing can be against us.
So, Lord, I pray that You would stir our hearts, as a church and as a people, to be people of prayer for Your glory and for Your honor. So, Lord, I pray that as we walk out of here today that You would lead, guide and direct us. I pray, God, that You would watch over us. I pray, God, that You'd bring us back safely to when we meet again so that we can come into Your house and be ministered to by You.
And I pray, God, that as we leave today we wouldn't leave the same way that when we came in and we would leave, Lord, wanting to be people of prayer in the in between. We thank You for it in Jesus' name, and everybody said, "amen." Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody.