Praying When Things Go Wrong

// February 17th, 2019 // Sermons

This entry is part 8 of 15 in the series Last Days Christianity

Pastor Ray Ortlund used to say…   You can listen online or download it and listen later…Praying When Things Go Wrong“Prayer is not everything but everything is by prayer.”  Most of the participants at our Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting would agree – we have enjoyed some amazing times, in God’s presence.  And, generally speaking, no matter your background, most Christians would instinctively know that prayer is central and extremely necessary and valuable to the Christian life.

  • We all know we ought to pray.
  • And, we all feel we should and could pray more than we do.

Life changes so quickly.  Retired Village Missionaries, Paul & Evelyn Brandon know this so well.  One moment you are just enjoying the preparation for Christmas and the next you are in separate hospitals with injuries that may never heal.  By the way, she is starting to speak a bit, although the road to recovery will be long and hard for her.

Life can change so quickly.  The phone rings and a voice says, “I’ve got bad news.”  It could be anything:

  • A failed exam meaning that the semester of studies was just wasted.
  • The test came back positive – we all know what that means.
  • Your granddaughter is sick.
  • Your son is in jail – he was hanging around with the wrong crowd.
  • The company doesn’t need you anymore…so you are unemployed.
  • “I’m going to sue you!” – you might lose everything.
  • A friendship suddenly ends.
  • Your marriage is in trouble.

Time seems to stop.  It feels like life will never be the same again.  How will you find the strength to go on?  You try to pray, but the words just won’t come.  How do you pray when life blows up?  That’s what Paul is writing about to the young Christians in in 1 Thess. 3:10-13.  How to find the strength to go on…

Paul knew the young believers in Thessalonica were near the breaking point, and he sent Timothy to check on them.  When Timothy came back with a good report that the believers were standing firm under pressure, Paul’s joy knew no bounds.  He was encouraged (v. 7), the news gave Paul a genuine refreshing (v. 8), and he couldn’t stop thanking God for them (v. 9).

This brings us to Paul’s prayer in v. 10-13.  By the way, Paul’s example in prayer, is an excellent way to pray for those going through a hard time.  It’s worth pondering because every week we’re asked to pray for people living in difficulty.  Very rarely does anybody say, “Things are going great.  Pray for me.”  Usually it’s only when the bottom has fallen out that we ask someone to pray for us; only when we don’t know how we are going to find our way through, that we recognize we are in the need of prayer.  And, sadly, often it is only when our backs are up against the wall that we inclined to pray at all.

Here are three ways to pray when life blows up – when life takes a sharp turn south.  First, pray for . . .

  1. A Faith Without Gaps – v. 10

Notice what Paul says, “Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith.”  We need to see 4 things about the way that Paul prayed:

  1. His prayer was continuous – Paul says he prayed night and day. Are you ever awake at night because you are concerned about something, or you are not feeling well? When was the last time you lost sleep just because you were praying?

There are Christians who will ask God to wake them up in the middle of the night to pray….I confess that I like sleep and so the only time that I pray at night is when I can’t sleep for some reason.  I have never set an alarm for 3:00 a.m. so that I could get up to pray.

And what about throughout the day….I sometimes hesitate to say “Amen” after I’m done praying, because I intend to carry on the conversation all day long….Amen seems like “Okay, Lord, I’m signing off now!”  Could we honestly tell somebody that we have been praying for them “night and day”?

This theme of continuous praying will resurface again in chapter 5, as Paul is finishing his first letter to the church in Thessalonica.  Secondly,

  1. His prayer was earnest Paul uses a very unusual expression that has the idea of going above and beyond all normal measures. The phrase that I think best conveys the sense of what the word means is “super abundantly.”

Prayer must be earnest to be effective at all.  Prayers that are weak, shallow, half-hearted will only produce weak, shallow, half-hearted results!

God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).  And, James 5:16 reminds us that “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (that was from the NLT).

So what is “super abundant” prayer?  The Greek implies something like “a boiling pot.”  It has nothing to do with your physical posture – whether you are kneeling, sitting, standing or lying down; and it doesn’t matter whether your eyes are open or closed.  And, a boiling prayer has nothing to do with how loud you pray or how many words you use.  It’s not about folding your hands or waving them above your head.

What is a boiling prayer?  Let me put it this way.  When a child is taken away for life-saving surgery, no one has to tell parents and grand-parents what to do.  When the diagnosis is given, and you know your time is short, you know how to come into God’s presence with super-abundant praying.  You are not going to wait until someone calls a prayer meeting….you will just pray!  You won’t even wait until you are in a quiet, private place…you will pray – right in the hospital emergency, in the car while driving and wherever you are.  And, there are times when you may not be able to utter any audible words, but your heart will pray a boiling prayer.  Most of you know exactly what I mean.

When something happens that becomes life or death to us, it should almost be 2nd nature to immediately pray an earnest, fervent, boiling prayer – praying with such intensity and fervency that it won’t matter how long the prayer is.

Paul love and care for these young Thessalonian believers was so deep and strong, that he couldn’t help but pray earnestly for them.  Brothers and sisters in the Lord, it should be the same for us, in terms of praying for the people we know and love.  #3…

  1. His prayer was practical – what did he pray? “…that we may see you face to face…”

He said he was praying “that he might see them again.”  Do you pray about your everyday things?  That the cows, sheep, chickens, horses – and whatever other critters you take care of – that they will be safe and free from harm, that they will produce offspring to provide for your livelihood.  Ladies, do you pray that the washing machine will work well to clean your loads of laundry?  I’m sure that the oil-patch guys have been praying that their equipment not freeze up so that they have to spend the night out in the cold instead of sleeping.

A teacher prays for the students; if you work in a store, you pray for the customers, and so on.  Do you know that every Sunday, I’m here by 8:30 – when I get here I put on a pot of coffee, sweep the veranda, if needed, turn on the lights and computer…and then, I walk around the sanctuary talking to God about the people that are coming to church this morning.  For many of you, as I walk past your chairs, I will mention you by name, because we are creatures of habit.  You know, there is nothing too small to bring to God’s attention.  If it matters to you, it matters to God.  #4…

  1. His prayer had purpose – he had a particular goal in mind.  He wanted to supply what was lacking in their faith.

The word “supply” was used when talking about mending torn nets and setting broken bones.  Paul used this same word in Gal. 6:1 for restoring a sinner and in Eph. 4:12 for equipping all the saints for the work of ministry.  It would be similar to what an equipment manager does before the start of a football/hockey game.  He makes sure the players have helmets and sticks and such, because this equipment is necessary for playing that particular game.

So, using those 4 elements, this is what Paul prayed:  “O God, my brothers and sisters are in a great spiritual battle.  I pray they will be fully equipped for whatever they might face.  Grant them strong faith—with no holes!—so they can stand and fight victoriously no matter how hot the battle may be.”

Now, moving on to the 2nd way to pray when life blows up…

  1. A Love Without Limits – v. 12

“And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows.”

Love is supreme grace.  It’s impossible to have too much love!  You can never have enough of it.  Paul is saying, “I pray God will make you an overflowing fountain of love.”  He is praying that they might become “Super-abundant lovers.”

Years ago Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick popularized a song that says:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

 What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

I read an article this week about the shooting that took place in Dallas, Texas, on July 7, 2016…when 5 Dallas police officers were killed and 9 others were wounded.  Bryan Woodard was not involved in that incident, but he put out a Facebook video post asking people to pray for the Dallas police in the aftermath of the tragedy, and before signing off, he repeated the phrase that has gone around the world:  “I refuse to see hate live while love dies.”

That is quite a profound truth that reflects a Christian point of view.  If we know the Lord, then love must be our rule of life, even when people around us have given in to anger and hatred.  We discover a lot about ourselves when we are tired, discouraged, angry and afraid.

A love that grows and overflows is not always easy, especially when life blows up in front of us.  But it is precisely at this point that what we believe about the gospel gets put to the test.

I don’t have all the answers to the political and economic problems that face the leaders of our world, but I do know that the gospel answers many needs.  For one, we are all sinners in desperate need of the grace of God.

As the saying goes, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross because God doesn’t play favorites.”  We’re all in the same boat, and quite frankly, at present it feels like the boat is following in the path of the Titanic.  If God had not done something, we all would have been hopelessly lost!

But God has done something!

In the cross of Christ, the love of God has broken through to rescue us, to heal us, to forgive us, and to make us a community of brothers and sisters who are able to be living examples to the world, that reconciliation and healing is possible.  It has not happened yet, but if we believe what the Bible says, then we must believe real change is possible, not only on a personal basis but also on a community basis.

When the church is united, God is glorified and the world is amazed!  And, in a world filled with so much killing, so much pain, so many broken hearts and so many fractured lives, a truly unified church will be irresistibly attractive to many hurting people.  But, it’s easier to talk about this than to put it into practice.  We’re all pretty good at liking people like us.  But lots of people aren’t like us, and they aren’t very easy to like either.  So, how can we apply this truth?  Here is two suggestions:

  1. A) First, Pray for unity. Pray for the Holy Spirit to bring unity and a heavenly spark, within the larger body of Christ in our world today. Pray for a deeper unity in our church.  We need to ask God to reveal and remove any wrong attitudes that hinder the work of his Spirit in your midst.  Ask Him to pour out His Spirit on Garrington and the church in Alberta, the church in Canada, and the church around the world today.  When He does, there will be 2 resonses:  people that observe the church will either be drawn to it with a pull they can’t resist, or they will despise and lash out at the church with a vehemence that they won’t even understand.  Pray for unity…
  2. B) Second, Be willing to ask the hard questions: “Am I willing to surrender my life to God so that He can change me?”

You all know how easy it is to see the changes that others need to make.

  • “My kids are driving me nuts. Change them, Lord!”
  • “My husband ignores me. Change him, Lord!”
  • “My wife is getting on my nerves, and my boss makes ridiculous requests…Change them both, Lord!”

I found this simple Chinese prayer that I wonder if we all should learn to pray:  “O Lord, change the world.  Begin, I pray Thee, with me.”  As the old spiritual said, “It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”  Before we ask God to change anyone else, we’d better look in the mirror.

We need to pray for ourselves and for each other that our love might increase and overflow, not only to our friends but to those we don’t know and even to those who may not like us very much.

Then, there is a 3rd way to pray when life blows up.  Pray for . . .

III. Strength Without Flaws or Flawless Strength – v. 13

“May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people.”

The word “strengthen” means to buttress, support, reinforce, bolster, strengthen something like the “flying buttresses” of cathedrals in the Middle Ages.  If you and I are going to stand strong in the time of trials and difficulties, our hearts must have a strong foundation – one that is free of cracks, flaws, and unsupported areas.  Nothing reveals the true condition of the heart like difficulty, setbacks, opposition, and hardship.

Most of us can be strong and sure when the sun is shining and life is good; but what happens when the thunder clouds rumble overhead, when trouble seems to surrounds us.  At those times, all the inner flaws and weak areas are revealed.

Whatever is in the heart must come out eventually.  If there is anger in your heart, it will eventually come out.  If there is greed or lust, it too will come out.  And if there is love and kindness and forgiveness and mercy, these will also be revealed.  Nowhere will your heart be on clearer display than when you face the trials of life.

God uses our trials to tell the watching world:  “This is what a real Christian looks like!”  A Christian may get battered and bruised by life, his face may be streaked with tears, his days can be hard, at times, and the nights long, but this is what a Christian looks like.  Are we always victorious?  No!  Will we win every trial? Not a chance!  Do we sometimes have doubts about whether we will make it or not?  Yes!  But, God sees us as a supernatural re-creation of His grace.  He knows we are not perfect, but He also continually reminds us that we are His child.  You and I…we are children of God!

So, when life blows up right in front of you…pray for:

  • Faith without Gaps!
  • Love without limits!
  • Strength without flaws!

And consider this:  You are where you are today because somebody prayed for you.  Somebody prayed and…

  • You came to faith in Christ.
  • You found the career path of God’s choosing.
  • You received God’s healing touch.
  • You were able to rest in the middle of a storm.
  • Your marriage was preserved.
  • You turned away from temptation.
  • You didn’t give up on following Jesus.
  • You made the right decision.
  • God’s power was released in your life.

None of us know how much sin and sorrow we’ve been saved from because somebody prayed for us.

So, what is the “take-home” from this?   We need to Pray! Pray! Pray! and keep on praying.  Do for others what others have done for you.

Sometimes we can do something practical for people when they are in need, but when we have nothing to offer them, we can still pray for them.  We’ll never know the difference our prayers have made until we get to heaven.

In Luke 18:8, Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  As we move further into these Last Days anxiety will rise, trials will increase, nerves will frazzle, society itself will be shaken to the core, and it will seem as if the world is spinning out of control.  What should we do to ensure our hold in our faith?

We need to pray – earnestly, fervently, continuously, persistently, of one mind.  If we believe Jesus is coming back . . . we need to keep on praying.

I know that there are many prayer times happening in small group and Bible Studies…and that is excellent.  I would welcome everyone to our Wednesday night Prayer Meeting – I have been so blessed through those gatherings, and others have testified of this, as well.  We are going from home to home – this Wednesday it’s at Paul & Sherry’s, at 7:30.  I start off with a short devotional and then we pray.  Some kneel – most don’t – but we spend at least an hour in pray and then we share a cup of coffee or tea, and a cookie and we head home.  Everyone is welcome!

And then, on Mar. 13, we will be hosting a Prayer gathering in Garrington on behalf of the D21 – 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting in Alberta – as part of the One Accord movement that is sweeping across Canada.  Hopefully we will have people from around the region come to join us.  Mark it on your calendar!

When the Son of Man comes . . .

  • Will he find faith in Canada?
  • Will he find faith in Alberta?
  • Will he find faith in Garrington?
  • Will he find faith in your family and mine?
  • Will he find faith in your heart and in mine?

Let’s pray…

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