Monday, August 26, 2013

MAXIMIZE your Prayer: Speak Up!

Today we are advancing in our series, “MAXIMIZE: Making the most of what God has given” and one of the things that will continue to surface is the idea minimizing the distance between our potential as a church and what is current reality. One great example of the distance between potential and reality is found in the United States’ pursuit of energy independence. With gasoline prices on the rise and global tension getting worse and worse, our need to be energy independent is becoming more acute with every passing day. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, consider this. According to Forbes, “Total recoverable oil in North America exceeds 1.7 trillion barrels, which is more oil than the entire world has used over the last 150 years. And that amount alone could meet the energy needs of the United States for the next 250 years. An estimated 1.4 trillion of those barrels are buried under American soil. The total proven reserves in Saudi Arabia is just about 260 billion barrels.” However, in spite of this awesome potential, little is being done to tap into our own reserves in order that we as Americans might benefit from all of the known perks that would naturally come out of tapping into this precious commodity.  
As bad as this might sound to you, there is an even worse example of negligence in our world today that involves something far more valuable than oil and if remedied would result in something far more powerful that energy independence. It is the awesome power of God available and ready to change the world. It is in infinite supply, will never run out, and is only a prayer away.
“Prayer is as vast as God because He is behind it. Prayer is
as mighty as God because He has committed Himself to it”
-Leonard Ravenhill 
However, believers and their churches rarely tap into this potential in the discipline of prayer. Because of this they throw away their potential. Paul seeks to remedy this in his encouragement to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:1-8. In this passage, Paul gives four reasons for prayer that challenge the church in Ephesus to maximize their prayer lives so that God’s power and movement might be unleashed to the fullest extent. These same reasons apply to our context today as we seek to maximize prayer in our lives and at our church.

1 Timothy 2-3 deals with Paul’s instructions on how to repair the church. Having already identified what to watch out for (false teachers, strange doctrines, etc. in chapter 1), Paul now moves to encourage the church toward right practice and prayer is number one in his list of encouragements. Prayer’s placement in the book as a whole suggests prayer’s priority in the life of the church. It is priority number 1.
"The greatest thing anyone can do for God or man is pray." S.D. Gordon 
"The most important thing a born again Christian can do is to pray." Chuck Smith

In his explication of prayer, Paul introduces four words, “entreaties, and prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving” (2:1). Though all describe prayer in some way, each has their own unique nuance. First, “entreaties” are those requests made to God based on a sense of deep spiritual need. Second, “prayers” is the most general term used to describe all kinds of prayer. Third, “petitions” is often used of Christ’s prayers for believers. In other words, this word places a heavy emphasis on Christ’s will for the church. Finally, “thanksgivings” are praises of gratitude offered up to God. Inevitably, this list is not intended as a list of different kinds of prayers to pray. Instead, Paul simply gathers the words he knows for prayer and uses them all to highlight its significance to the Christian life and movement of the church. In other words, Paul said, “In every way you can, be praying…”

Not only was Timothy instructed to lead his church in praying every way possible, but he was also encouraged to prayer for everyone possible, “on behalf of all men, for kings, and all who are in authority” (2:1b-2).  Praying for everyone as instructed here is sympathetic to the heart of God (see 2:4, 6) and in keeping with the scope of His love. Commentator Kelly asserts, “Paul makes it plain that narrowness [in one’s prayer life]…offends against the gospel of Christ.” However, Paul does not mean that everyone must be prayed for by name. Instead, as Lea and Griffin Jr. suggest, Paul’s intention is that “all needy sinners—without distinction of race, nationality, or social position—must receive our prayers” (87).  

"Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still." E.M. Bounds
Though everyone is to be included in the content of prayer, special concern for rulers and authorities is highlighted in verse 2. These terms referred to the authorities of the state during that time (i.e. emperors, governors, etc.). But why were they singled out in this way? Church history may provide the answer. At this time in the early church, many Christians were persecuted by these authorities. Because of this growing trend, many believers were tempted to strike them from the prayer list. This temptation is similar today with reference to the authorities in place in the U.S. Yet, no matter how grudging authorities may be, believers must never begrudge them prayer. After all, they are included in the word “all” mentioned earlier when Paul encouraged prayers for “all men” (2:1).  

Prayers offered on behalf of all men would result in a “tranquil and quiet life” (2:2b). No doubt, Paul is not anticipating heaven on earth. The idea of a life without any conflict and persecution would have been totally unrealistic to the apostle. However, Paul did believe that an orderly life free of strife and discord was possible within the church. This is the result of prayer that Paul mentions here.

The orderly life that Paul describes would take place in a state of “godliness and dignity” (2:2). These terms refer to a proper respect for God and a life that is set apart. Such a life found within the church context would be a glorious witness to the unbelieving world that something was indeed different and attractive about the body of Christ.    

This reason for prayer begs a simple question. Who do you pray for? Are your prayers limited to family, friends, and the problems of church members? Or, do you pray for the lost, gross, misinformed, corrupt, and unattractive too? People who often deserve prayer the least are those who need it the most. Why pray? –because it is desperately needed in order for the lost to be saved the mission of the church to move forward.


The second reason that Paul calls for prayer is because prayer is pleasing to God, “this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (2:3). “This” has at its most appropriate antecedent in the earnest concern for the lost of this world mentioned above. God is pleased to see His disciples demonstrate their concern for the lost in their fervent prayers for all people. Lea and Griffin conclude that “the knowledge that such prayer pleases God provide a throbbing incentive to pray” (88-89).   

Why are the prayers of the church for the lost so pleasing to God? The answer is simple. Prayer for the lost is in keeping with God’s nature, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2:4). The word, “all” must refer to the same group as “everyone” did in verse 1. Therefore, this would include all people without any distinction whatsoever. However, just because God may “want” all to be saved does not mean that He will override human reluctance or antagonism against Him. God’s desires do not run roughshod over human beings forcing obedience on those who resist the gospel. Instead, God urges people to repentance with His kindness and goodness (Rom. 2:4).

God’s desire is that all would come to know the gospel, that is the “truth” spoken of in verse 4. In fact, to “come to the knowledge of the truth” is synonymous with Christian conversion. This is God’s desire.
In order for Timothy and his church to please God, they were instructed to be people of prayer. Similarly, in order for Crystal Spring Baptist Church to please God, we must be a people of prayer, bringing our requests to God in such a way that we identify with His concern for the world and the salvation of others.

"All great soul-winners have been men of much and mighty prayer, and all great revivals have been preceded and carried out by persevering, prevailing knee-work in the closet."  Samuel Logan Brengle

Why pray? –Because it makes God happy.


The third reason that Paul gives for an intercessory culture is that prayer is possible. As with the universe itself, the ancient law, salvation for the individual, and everything else of eternal significance, prayer begins with one premise, “there is one God” (2:5). Because there is only one God, there is one ultimate prerogative and one appropriate destination for glory. God’s oneness also sets God apart from the rest of creation and due to the fall of man, all of creation has been rendered incapable of having a relationship with Him. This leads to the second premise.

“…and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (2:5). As the mediator, Christ Jesus provides a way for those who are not God to communicate and have a relationship with God. Jesus Christ, the God-man, is uniquely qualified to serve in this role and is the sole agent capable of bringing sinful people into the family of God. Why?

Jesus produced Himself as the “ransom for all” (2:6). This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament. The concept was often used when describing freed captives of war or the emancipation of slaves. In other words, through His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus paid the debt that humanity owed, paving a way to God the Father. 2000 years ago, Jesus voluntarily gave of Himself so that all might have the potential of entering into a relationship with Him. This is in keeping with God’s desire for all to be saved and the call of the church to pray on behalf of all men.

The possibility of prayer is a unique ability given to only those members of the human race who have accepted the gift of God through Jesus Christ. No other creature crawling upon the earth or swimming in the sea is capable of interacting personally with the one true God! This is a treasure that Paul encouraged Timothy and his church to take advantage of.

Like a forgotten treasure, prayer is often neglected in the church today. We must rediscover how precious a gift prayer is to us and remember that it was bought with Jesus’ blood. In order for our church to maximize our prayer lives, we must appreciate the fact that communicating with God has been made possible for you and me!

In order to validate the act of praying for all people, Paul describes his ministry as a preacher, apostle and teacher to the Gentiles, yes, even the Gentiles. This completes Paul’s inclusion of “all men” in the encouragement earlier. Not only was the church to pray for Christians, Jews, the authorities, and even their enemies, but they were also instructed to pray especially for those outside the faith. Why? Because Paul had received an appointment by God Himself, who, like Paul, desired all men to be saved, no matter what their spiritual background might be.

Paul’s words up to this point challenge prayer lives in at least three different ways. First, Paul encourages the church to pray for all people. Second, Paul says that prayers should be made in order that people come to a saving knowledge of God’s saving power. In other words, as believers intercede for the sick, needy, confused, and suffering, they must not forget that their ultimate aim is that they those who are lifted up experience divine saving power. Third, Paul reminds every believer that as they pray they have the confidence that Christ’s death has provided the ransom for sin, allowing their prayer to be heard in the first place.   

These reasons for maximizing prayer are alive and well today and continue to inspire effective churches. Are you inspired to recapture the sacred ministry of prayer in a new and fresh way in light of what has been learned so far?

“There is no other activity in life so important as that of prayer. Every other activity depends upon prayer for its best efficiency.”  M.E. Andross

Why Pray? –Because Jesus died so that we could in the first place.


The final reason Paul gives for maximizing the ministry of prayer in the church is his own personal desire, “…I want the men in every place to pray” (2:8). This final reason stems from all of the others mentioned.

Commentator Fee points out that Paul’s instruction is not that only men should pray. Instead, he is choosing to single out the men here in order to identify their role as spiritual leaders in their local church family. In other words, “I want especially the men to pray in every place”  (“every place” meaning wherever they were worshipping).  This statement highlights, once again, the priority of prayer in corporate worship and in church life.

The manner in which Paul wanted the men to pray was with hands raised. This calls to mind an Old Testament posture of supplication and of worship. Standing with hands lifted up was common among the Jews and Christians in the first Century (see also Ps. 134:2; 141:2). Paul is not prescribing how everyone should pray all of the time, but emphasizing his call for men to pray by referring to the most popular posture used. This would be similar to saying something like. “I want the men in every place to pray with heads bowed and eyes closed.”

In giving this final reason to pray, Paul emphasizes the attitude that the men were to bring to prayer. Paul did not just want the church and Timothy to pray, He wanted them to pray the right way. The term “holy hands” calls to mind hands that are morally pure and are demonstrative of a devout life-style that sought to passionately please God. “Without wrath and dissension”   suggests that prayers offered in an attitude of anger or disputing were ineffective. Therefore, men defiled by impurity or divisiveness would be ineffective in their prayer lives.

“What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use— men of prayer, men mighty in prayer"  E.M. Bounds

So What?

Why is it important to pray? (1) Because it desperately needed (2) Because God will be pleased (3) Because Believers can and (4) Because God wants you to, Paul wants you to, and I want you to! How can we maximize our prayer lives? Listen to these words from John Laidlaw-"The main lesson about prayer is just this: Do it! Do it! Do it! You want to be taught to pray. My answer is pray and never faint, and then you shall never fail…" “When God finds a person [or a church] who will place as his priority a life of intimate, personal, dynamic fellowship with Him, He directs His power, guidance, and wisdom into and through that person [or church]. God has found a man [or church] through whom He can change the world”-LeRoy Eims. "Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing necessary to a minister. Pray, then my dear brother; pray, pray, pray."  -Edward Payson. May we recapture the priority of prayer as a church as we move forward for God’s glory and do His work! In order to maximize the potential that God’s wants to see manifested in this church, not only must we be a people of faith, we must be a people of prayer.  As bad as our need for energy independence may be, the spiritual needs of this world and this church are far greater. Are you willing to tap into the power of God like never before? Are you ready to draw from the wells of God’s power on behalf of the church and for His glory? Then it is time to pray like we have never prayed before!  

Monday, August 19, 2013

MAXIMIZE your Faith: All in!

I believe that God has an incredible adventure waiting for our church that has everything to do with seeing souls saved, people growing, and a coalition of disciples taking the gospel to the ends of the earth (Know Christ, Grow in Christ, and Show Christ to others). I know I’m called to this adventure, and wonder if anyone else feels the same way.

But how do we intend to do this?

At the very beginning of this year, after much prayer and careful consideration on behalf of both myself and the advisory council at Crystal Spring Baptist Church, we put together a five year plan in order to see this mission fulfilled. Let me remind you of what we hoped to accomplish in year one.

Discipleship: We hope to begin 4-5 small groups that actively disciple church members in intimate environments.
Children/Youth: Conduct a Children’s Church on Sunday Mornings
Missions: We intend to minister to Hospital staff in and around Carilion as well as reach out to the Medical School.
Services: Keep as is
Property: We plan on building new bathroom facilities and begin updating the 2nd and 3rd floor of the education building.
Personnel: Senior Pastor, Advisory Council, 4-5 Deacons.
Average Attendance: 100 people.

All of these goals, under the direction of the Holy Spirit and by the grace of God work together in order to see souls saved and disciples know Christ, Grow in Christ, and Show Christ to others. Sound like a tall order? Seem impossible to you? If you were a betting person, would you put your money on this place, trusting that God would come through, exceeding even these ideas? Or are you smirking even now saying quietly to yourself, “Get real Jeff!”

In our first installment in this new series “Maximize” we are going to talk about maximizing our faith from Romans 4:18-24. In this passage we are going to learn how to believe God for great things in our own lives and in our church by looking at three teachings that Paul gives on the topic of faith. By the end of our study this morning, not only will you learn why going all in for God’s plan is a safe bet, but you will also be challenged to do something in response. Are you ready?


The beginning of this passage calls to mind a very important account from Genesis 12ff. Abraham, an old man with no descendants, was called on by God to move from his hometown to a distant land in order to father a new nation! From this new people would come the Savior of the world and the source of blessings for all mankind. Sounded great! However, everything about Abraham’s age and his wife’s barren condition pointed to the contrary.

Faith believes the impossible. At the very beginning of this passage, Paul reminds the reader that when all of the evidence pointed to the contrary, Abraham believed God’s promise. From a human standpoint, there was no hope that Abraham would live up to his name (“father of many nations.”)  However, from Abraham’s perspective, he had hope (“in hope against hope”)—that is the confident expectation that God would make good on His promises.

Not only did Abraham have faith that believed the impossible, He had the determination to be steadfast in his conviction in spite of the difficulty that surrounded him. Abraham was fully aware that his own body was as good as dead (“utterly worn out”). After all, at the time this promise was made, he was about 100 years old! Not the right age to begin establishing a nation. Not to mention, his wife Sarah had advanced well beyond her child-birthing years without every giving birth. Form the world’s standpoint there was not the slightest possibility that she would bear a child and give Abraham the nation he was promised! However, Abraham’s faith was unwavering. In full knowledge of these obstacles, Abraham’s faith remained strong. But why?

Faith in the impossible is only unreasonable within a restricted worldview that denies God the right to intervene. However, for those who believe in a universe with God, His intervention is highly rational. In fact, those with a biblical perspective like Abraham expect God to intervene on behalf of those He has created. Therefore, faith moves past human potentiality. It acknowledges the existence of one who is not bound by the limitations of this world. With regards to this passage, Mounce concludes, “Where God is present there is nothing that lies outside the realm of possibility.”

Churches today are in desperate need of those who will insist that God is able to do anything that is in keeping with His nature and in harmony with His program of redemption. What promises has God given us? What does God’s nature suggest? We have the promise that as we are about His business, God’s presence goes with us (Matt. 28:19-20). The Bible also says that all things are possible with God (Matt. 19:26). Therefore, let our faith not be shaken!

In a world bent against the truth, in a community that grows more disinterested in church each and every day, in a nation that grows more oppressive of Christianity with every piece of legislation, it may seem nearly impossible to grow a church and see lives changed. We may waiver in our faith and believe our goals to be too grand or irrational. However, this is not the faith we read about here. If you don’t believe God can accomplish great things in this church, change lives in these walls, and more than surpass all of our expectations in spite of all that might be working against us both from within and from without, your God is too small. Why do you waiver in your faith and yet claim to worship the Almighty? God loves to make the barren give birth, cause things to grow in the desert, and yields life from the dead.  We have every reason to believe He can accomplish great things here.


Faith believes God’s promises against all hope and always aims for God’s glory. As Paul begins to present this second teaching, he reminds the reader of the nature of Abraham’s faith. A couple things are worth remembering. First, Abraham’s faith was rooted in the promises of God as spoken in His word. Second, Abraham’s faith did not waiver under the pressure and difficulties involved in his situation. Third, instead of faltering, Abraham’s faith actually grew stronger! Can the said be said of your faith in God for your life and this church?

Faith like this does not exist for personal gain, success, or the satisfaction of scribbled plans and man-made aspirations. It exists for the glory of God.

Glory to God was the residual effect of Abraham’s faith as well as the means through which he remained faithful. When God’s glory is our ambition, faith becomes alive and begins to trust Him for everything. 

Similarly, when faith is exercised, God’s glory is on display instead of man’s power, will, or ability. However, having faith in God is not a big risk. It wasn’t for Abraham and it need not be for us.

Verse 21 shares that Abraham was fully assured in what God had said. In other words, He stood firmly on what God had promised Him (that his seed would yield many nations).This describes Abraham’s complete confidence in God’s ability and integrity. God has the power—no doubt about it. God does what He promises. How could he not and still be God? Believing in the promises of God is a safe bet and it always results in His glory. Faith is total surrender to the ability and willingness of God to carry out his promises.

Similarly, we too can be assured that God is going to do great things in this church because of His promises and His ability to carry them out! However, every aspiration that this church has ever dreamed, every goal it could ever hope to reach, every step it will take must have as its destination the glory of God. Then and only then is it really faith. Then and only then will God support. For as it says in Hebrews 14:6…”Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Do you want to be a part of a church that pleases God? Then give Him glory by placing your unwavering faith in Him to do great things!


Faith believes God’s promises against all hope, always aims for God’s glory, and results in righteousness. Abraham was given God’s righteousness because of his unwavering faith in him. Like all sinners, Abraham had a deficit in the bank of righteousness because of his sin. This placed him at odds with God and left him with no way to pay God back for all of the debt he had accrued. However, because of his faith in God, Abraham was credited with God’s righteousness, rendering him debt free and able to enjoy abundant life.  
This program is not limited to Abraham. Instead, it is available to all!

The greatest award of faith is the righteousness of God bestowed on His people. In the same way God credited Abraham’s account, He is able to credit the account of anyone who believes in Him who raised Jesus from the dead!

Ephesians 2:8-9-“For by grace are you saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”

Notice, faith from the individual is the key to the righteousness of God. However, it is the faith of the church body placed in God’s program of salvation that brings the opportunity of faith to the faithless.

Romans 10:14-17-“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

Therefore, it is faith that propels salvation in an individual and it is faith that propels the mission of the church. Faith is where it all starts and where it all ends.

So What?

Faith believes the impossible, always aims for God’s glory, and results in righteousness. How is your faith? Like Abraham, are you convinced that God can do the impossible in your life and in this church’s context, or is your faith shaken by what you see, hear, and perceive? With God, there is no risk! Romans 8:31 says, in part, “if God is for us, who is against us?” though this church’s plans are a tall order, God is taller still!

So what does this passage demand of us? These concepts surrounding faith are great on the page, but what is it that I can take away and apply to my life? The answer is found in James 2. “Faith without works is dead.” The best way that you can demonstrate faith in God for the impossible to be made possible in this place, the most accurate way to bring glory to God at Crystal Spring Baptist Church, the way in which you can be used of Him to bring His righteousness to the lost is to DO SOMETHING! It is that simple! In order to maximize your faith, organize your own small group, invite a friend to church, have a neighbor over for dinner, drag your family member to Sunday service, pray like you never have before, phone a loved one, make a new connection, go on a fast,… DO SOMETHING! As Abraham before us, be all in, throw everything on the table, maximize your faith and watch God show off by doing far more than we could ever have imagined. Let the adventure begin! I’m all in. Are you?