My prayer life often feels abysmal. I often feel like I’m just not going to God like I should or as much as I should. But 6 years ago married to a prayer warrior named Kristine and she’s fantastic. And my bible tells me that through marriage and the uniting of our spirits we are two people acting as one. So for the next half hour I’m going to act like her prayer life makes my prayer life better and pretend I know what I’m talking about.
6 years into our friendship, and 2 years before we got married, my wife started praying that God might do something in the heart of a slow, clueless Southern boy from Tennessee. She prayed, and she didn’t tell anybody, for 2 years. As year 2 came to a close, she went to the beach with her friends and shared her heart with them – “I’ve been praying for 2 years now and nothing has happened…I’m ready to give it up.
Hold out one more week her friends said…if nothing happens by the end of this week. Call it a day and move on.
Two days later, hundreds of miles away, a slow, clueless Southern boy from Tennessee sat up in bed with this thought coursing through his mind. “I don’t want to go on this stupid blind date that I’ve got scheduled for Thursday. Of all the women in the world, who would would I want to go on a date with…Kristine, Kristine, Kristine. And the rest is history. It was and still is to me a profound and beautiful mystery.
Here’s what I love about that story, other than the fact that I was her guy. My wife was 20 something in a battle making her way in a world that in many ways is poised to tear us apart, where the voice of wisdom cries loudly in the streets, but it is heavily muffled by the noise of all of the other wooing voices. And in the midst of the battle, she made her stand and she prayed.
You would agree that life often times feels like a battle. Life is hard most of the time, and when life gets easy you are quickly reminded that it’s the very easiness of life that might be the thing you need to fight off the most. Whatever season you are in, life is a series of unexpecteds and each unexpected brings with it its own new battle.
And I want you to think for just a few seconds…
What are your most recent unexpecteds? I didn’t see that coming… I wish id known about this a little sooner. What battle are you currently fighting?
The apostle Paul, when writing to the church at Ephesus, had this reality on his mind. He was writing to a group of people that he so desired that they might walk well in this world in the midst of life’s battles and unexpecteds.
He says it to the Ephesians this way…
Look carefully then how you walk, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise, sensible, intelligent people, making the most of every opportunity, buying up the time, because the days are evil.
Walk Well. Walk Wise. Buy the time. The days are evil. The days are evil?
The day’s exhibit characteristics unlike the characteristics of God. Fickle and full of distraction.
And so Paul says to the church at Ephesus, in light of this reality– take your stand.
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to make your stand when the day of evil comes, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, and with the breastplate of righteousness in place and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Take the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Now I don’t know how this looks in your home but in our home…
On the heels of quite possibly the most battle infused section of Scripture in the new testament, Paul adds this, the focus of our time this morning.
Here’s how he says it…
And pray in the Spirit at all times, with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert, and always keep on praying for all the Saints.
PRAY IN THE SPIRIT
My guess is, that in a room this size, this concept could conjure up old memories of experiences at other churches, maybe at some point or another you were hit over the head with a jacket or maybe you’ve seen things or heard languages spoken in churches in church services that just didn’t make sense, but at the very least this concept potentially evokes a strong theological conviction one way or another, and if you don’t hold the conviction yourself, you might know others who do.
So let’s go there for a second.
Does praying in the spirit mean praying in tongues…
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:14
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind. I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying. You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.
There are some of you in this room that even this week, as you reflected on thanksgiving, and had times with the lord in the quietness of your own home, possibly experienced speaking in tongues or praying in tongues, and can I just say that if that was you, you guys are just weird.
Now I grew up in a wonderful church, but when it came to this stuff, we just didn’t go there. It wasn’t talked about. and for the most part, the people in that church, if they had the language to put around this concept, would say that they were cessationists. Cessationists believe that the sign gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing ceased with the apostolic age.
that is to say that they believed in the cessation of the gifts, which is what my children are going to experience at Christmas this year.
They’ll get gifts, but the expensive ones…those have experienced a recent cessation in our household.
To which they’ll say, “But dad, those are the ones we wanted.”
And Paul will say at the end of I Corithians 12 – do all prophecy? Do all speak in tounges, Do all have gifts of healing, and the answer is a rhetorical no, but then he adds this little verse
But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
So for me, at first glance, this brings up memories, old conversations, etc…but I have to say, I don’t know where I stand on this…I think I’m on a journey. And in a room like this, people are most likely on all different kinds of journeys when it comes to a concept like this.
So regardless of whether or not you believe people legitimately speak in tongues, you cannot ignore the plain teaching of scripture that includes such ideas. So instead of saying you’re weird, maybe I should say “I want that.”
So very clearly here, tongues are equated with praying in the spirit. Paul says, my spirit prays. In other words, there’s something going on in my that is praying or praising or interacting with my creator in such a way that my mind can’t even explain what is going on. And Paul validates, yes, that’s a real thing, but it’s not always helpful, especially to others, and it’s not the whole picture of praying in the Spirit.
So sure, praying in the spirit, is in some way connected to tongues, but I’d like to propose that it is far more than that and that it is more than that most of the time.
So what does it mean…well before I tell you what It means, let me tell you that I’m not going to tell you what it means…
Here’s what I mean…
I Corinthians 4:1 – Says that men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.
I love how Francis Chan says it this way we are “stewards of the mysteries of God.”
It is our great tendency to say things like here’s what it means,
Let me explain this to you we say…or let’s break this down…and at times I think we do a disservice to the power of the Spirit in the Scriptures.
Let’s take a second and reflect on who this spirit is…
This is the spirit that before it all began was hovering over the waters.
This is the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, that lives inside of us!
The spirit himself that testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.
The spirit by whom we cry
I will put my spirit in you and cause you to walk in my statutes. To walk well in this world through life’s battles and unexpecteds.
And we have to acknowledge that this concept deserves more than just an explanation. Or maybe it deserves less. Maybe it deserves to be left unexplained. Maybe it deserves to be stewarded as a deep mystery of God, one of his secret things.
You see I don’t know what this means, but I know what this feels like.
It feels like…
Wading out into the water with my Dad, on she shores of the sea of Galilee, and making my faith public, going under that water and then coming up out of it welling up with emotion and praising God in the depth of my soul, for his mercy to me, a sinner.
It feels like getting on the floor of my kitchen in Jackson, TN, after being turned down from three jobs in a row after college graduation and begging God, the creator, the one who lives in unapproachable light, but who has made himself known to us for some direction and and open door and then having the verse john 18:1 pop into my mind only to read…”and then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and never give up.”
It feels like the African countryside walking through the bush and encountering and elderly grandmother with a worried look on her face who took us by the hand and led us to her home where we peered inside only to see her grandson lying on a mat, covered in flies, dying of aids.
Will you pray for him she said…and in my heart “yes maam, but not in the way you might think, and I walked outside and shook my fist at heaven and said “this isn’t right. Are you even real? Are you alive?”
It feels like walking into large group worship at a conference and unexpectedly encountering the presence of the almighty God in an inexplicable kind of way, tears streaming down my face in the back of the room, as my spirit sang “oh death, where is your sting, oh hell, where is your victory, oh, church, come stand in the light, our God is not dead, he’s alive, he’s alive!”
It feels like Albuquerque, NM, on a vacation with my Grandparents, waking up early in the morning to memorize Romans chapter 6, and reading “do not offer the parts of your body in sin as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
And then that same evening turning on the TV and willingly flipping to HBO and watching things that come on HBO, and the spirit of God rising up in me, and filling that room with a tangible presence, as if to say “This just got real!” And finding myself on my knees on the side of the bed overcome with tears of repentance, and thanking God for the depth of his love for me.
Broken and Beloved.
And if praying in the spirit is allowed to be that kind of mystery in our lives, that kind of unexplainable and unexegetable truth, then the second part of this verse makes sense…
With all kinds of prayers and requests
… Because in these moments, it is the unexpected Spirit who meets us in the unexpected situations and leads us in inexplicable prayers of all kinds. It’s mysterious.
Prayers of intercession, longing, thanksgiving, petition, praise, emotional prayers and doctrinal prayers, prayer in the word, prayer for the world.
The prayers we know how to pray and oh so much more the ones we don’t…
The Our Father – We know that one…
But what about when we are at a loss for words…what about when we want to pray but we just don’t know what to pray for…
We do not know what to pray for, but the spirit intercedes on our behalf with groans that words cannot express…
Are you open to the Spirit leading you in prayers you don’t know how to pray? Prayers where you are simply dependent on him to intercede on your behalf. We like to have it all buttoned up and we like the words to just flow out as if we’ve rehearsed it a thousand times but what about when something is on God’s mind that hasn’t been on yours and he wants you to bow in dependence and use you to pray his kingdom come for someone else?
Don’t get so wrapped up in your own world, that you fail to see the unexpected things happening in the lives of those around you, the battles that they are fighting. Be alert. Wherever you find yourself, care to see the kingdom come in the lives of others more than you care to see your kingdom come.
AND ALWAYS KEEP ON PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS.
The dead ones? The live ones? The ones past? The ones present? The ones future? I mean what is a saint?
We often have heard that the saints are the saints who have gone before. Canonized ones or the clean ones.
Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians this way to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus. In fact, he begins many of his letters this way…
In I Corinthians, a letter written to a church rife with sexual immorality, false idols, and divisions, Paul pens this introduction
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus, their Lord and ours.
So a saint is a not a canonized person, it is a person who is both called out by Jesus and calling out to Jesus. And they can be found anywhere and everywhere. They’re the pretty ones and the ugly ones, the proper ones and the improper ones, the ones you would think are the most likely, and the ones you would think are the least likely.
Certainly, pray for saints of today. Pray for the people sitting next to you who you know are walking with Jesus. Pray that He meets them in whatever battle they are in, in whatever season of life they are persevering through.
But pray for the saints of tomorrow, the unlikely ones, the ones in whom you long to see the kingdom come…
Several years ago, as a single young person living in Nashville, I was invited to a Real Estate Convention at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. My uncle is the CEO of Coldwell Banker Worldwide and at the time was the CEO of ERA Real Estate. This particular year, ERA, held its worldwide convention at the Gaylord. And my Uncle invited me to hang out. Yes, please.
The day the convention ended, my uncle decided he would leave the hotel early and head home to New Jersey. He offered for me to stay the extra night (already paid for) in his hotel room. Yes, please.
By about 10:30 that night, I’d gotten tired of exploring the vast hotel and I headed back down the brick path toward the elevator to return to my room. As I approached the elevators from around a corner, I heard what sounded like a pack of 15, 20 something’s girls saying things like “When is he going to get here…He was supposed to meet us here at 10:30.” He better show up. This is going to be so good.”
And then I rounded the corner and I saw what looked like a pack of 15, 20 something’s girls staring at me in silence. No one willing to speak first. Not a second later, the up arrow on the elevator dinged and the door opened. And fifteen 20 something’s girls lined the walls of the elevator. Yes, please.
I joined them. Johnny in the middle.
By floor 3, the silence was broken. “You’re our guy, aren’t you?”
Timeout: I’m lonely, I’m single. I’m 20 something. And I’ve never been to a bachelorette party before.
Aphrodite had smiled upon the Gaylord.
And so after a dramatic pause, I cracked a little smile. It was all they needed.
We reached the 5th floor, expectations building, and we entered room 508. There was the bride to be with 20, 20 something’s perched on the couches, ready for their evening entertainment.
The music started, and as I reached for my top button, I smiled, said, “Yah know, up to this point, this has been really fun, and I’d rather not make your night go downhill from here. I’m not actually your guy.”
And we all had a big laugh. And as I turned to leave, in walked Duce Bigelow. Only he was far from big. In fact, as a I left, for the sake of the girls, I wished I’d been their guy.
As I walked back to my room, I was unexpectedly filled with compassion toward these women. It just hit me that these women were in a battle. 20 something. Struggling through an uncertain time in their lives. Doing the only thing they knew to do to try to feel something in a world that in many ways is poised to tear us apart, where the voice of wisdom cries loudly in the streets, but is muffled by the noise of all the other wooing voices.
Me too. Me too.
And as it hit me, I was unexpectedly moved in the spirit to prayer. So I found myself kneeling on the side of my bed in that in room 520 for the girls of 508. And I wrote down my prayer for them.
To the girls of room 508,
You all were so much fun. Thanks for rolling with it and letting me share in a moment I’ll never forget, and one you probably won’t either.
I want you all to know that I’m praying that the wedding day is a very special day for your bride to be. I hope her marriage is a wonderful joy and that it’s a success.
And I want you all to know that you’re beautiful, just like you are. That you’re loved by your creator and that he’s got a very special purpose for each of your lives.
And then I walked down the hall and slipped the note under their door.
It was the night the unexpected Spirit showed up in an unexpected situation and led me in a prayer I never thought I’d pray.
It was the night I prayed for a bunch of sinners, just like me. And I believe, the night I prayed for a bunch of future saints, just like me.
You see I’m convinced I’ll see some of those girls again. And God will smile upon us.
CALL TO ACTION
I work with young people. These kinds of stories resonate with young people because these are the situations and these are the seasons that young people find themselves in today. In a battle.
Sometimes the battle is lighthearted in nature and many times it’s not.
And it is one of the great privileges of my life to walk alongside students facing real life situations and attempting to walk well in this world with grace and wisdom through difficult seasons and situations.
But I believe that the young people of this church are not only the church of the future, they are they church of the present. They are the saints of today and the saints of tomorrow, and they need you to engage the mystery, they need you alert and praying for them in the spirit at all times and with all kinds of prayers and requests.
I want to take a few moments now and let you have an opportunity to hear from a few of our young people explaining the situations and seasons they find themselves in.
30 sec videos filmed with Aaron – 3 students.
Will you engage the mystery?
Hoist your sails
Hold your theology palms up
Heed the call.