April 23, 2017 – Membership to Discipleship – Week 1 – Prayers

Luke 11:1-13, Ephesians 4:11-16

        For the next 5 weeks we will be studying what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  As a guide, we will be using this reference, Membership to Discipleship, by Phil Maynard.  Last week we celebrated and continue to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Up from the Grave He Arose!  Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us. God became the Word made flesh, who was crucified, dead and buried, but thanks be to God that on the third day Christ arose! We unleashed the Hallelujah and it resounds around the world.

Jesus did not take the road to the cross as an easy challenge. Jesus did not give his all for us so that we could simply feel good about ourselves. Jesus calls each of us into ministry. The question today is whether or not we are willing to answer that call to be disciples of Jesus by becoming more like Jesus in every way.

But what does that mean?  When Jesus says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people?” how should we respond to this?  I truly believe it means going beyond learning and studying scripture. I believe it means more than simply gathering together once a week. I believe it means putting our faith – what we believe – into tangible actions. Sadly, that is often not the case. According to research from George Barna, “…nearly half of Americans claim to be ‘born again’ but only about 13% reflect behaviors and attitudes that are different from the world around them.”  Take a look at this survey [show graph]:  Of these seven indicators, there is no discernable difference between how believers and non-believers engage their world.  That is the sad reality.

Should we be concerned with this? I believe so. If we are not promoting Jesus’ love in tangible ways, why would anyone choose to become a follower of Jesus?  If deciding to let Christ lead and direct us does not change our behavior, were we serious about our commitment?  When we join the church, we agree to support this body of Christ and this community with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  Are these just empty promises or do we take them seriously? To what exactly are we agreeing?

It seems easy to promise to support the work of the church through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness; but perhaps we find it a bit more difficult to put these promises into practice. And how does making these promises to a church body equate to being a disciple of Jesus Christ? Through these practices we should be reflecting Jesus in our very being. “Discipleship is not just about information. It is about behaviors. Discipleship is not just about education. It is about transformation” (Maynard, pg. 12.)  Perhaps as a church we have done a good job of educating and encouraging folks to read and study God’s word, but maybe less about how to put Jesus’ teachings into action.

So what is a disciple of Jesus Christ? What does a disciple do? How do we fulfill Jesus’ calling to make disciples? Let us turn to scripture and Jesus’ own words.  Turn or scroll to Matthew 4:19.  Jesus is speaking and he says, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of [people]” (Matthew 4:19.)  When we break this down we can see three areas of focus. A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is committed to:

  • Being a part of the body of Christ (“Follow me…”)
  • Becoming more like Jesus (“…and I will make you…”)
  • Joining Jesus in ministry (“…fishers of people.”)

If we are truly to become followers of Jesus Christ we need to answer his invitation to follow, emulate his teachings, and live out the gospel message by sharing the love of God with others.

Many criticize the institution of the church.  If this data reveals anything it shows how we have fallen short of going beyond church membership to discipleship. If we are truly transformed by the power of Jesus’ love, then we should be displaying that love in all we say and do.  How we participate in worship should follow us throughout the week. It comes down to a matter of focus – what is our driving force that guides our daily lives?

Jesus instituted the model of the church. He told Peter, “On this rock I will build my church.” Part of working to answer Jesus’ call to ‘follow me’ can be answered with becoming a part of a church body.  When we agree to join a church, we promise to support the church body with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Today we will be exploring prayer.  What does it mean to “Pray without ceasing?” Even Jesus’ closest companions were confused about prayer as we see in the gospel lesson.  Yet prayer is at the heart of our faith. It is our communication with the Almighty. Jesus tells his disciples, ‘when you pray….’ It seems as if prayer is not an option but an expectation.  We are to pray – it’s our bread and butter as Christians.  It simply becomes a part of who we are.  So our first challenge is to remember to pray and pray often.

Jesus seems to be establishing a distinct pattern for us to follow when we pray – not if we pray but when.  We are told how to pray.  Through the words of what we now know and recite as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives us the focus for our prayer practice.  First we are to praise God by engaging in prayer and recognizing God as Creator and us as the Created – “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.”  When we pray the next phrase, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we are praying for God’s kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven.  We are praying for our world and for others. There are a lot of hurting people out there. Maybe we feel we are going through a particularly tough time only to realize someone else is facing even greater heartache. When we pray, the order of the Lord’s Prayer has us praying for others before we pray for ourselves.  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  That is a change of heart for many. That is a change of focus.

We only petition God on our behalf after we have given praise and thanksgiving to God, and prayed for others. “Give us today our daily bread…” – we are asking God to work in our hearts and lives by meeting our physical needs but also by drawing us into a closer relationship with God.  How often have we found ourselves jumping to this part without a thought for thanking God or petition for others?  As we grow and mature as Jesus’ disciples, our tunnel vision is broadened. We can see and feel compassion for those around us. Suddenly it matters if there are children dying from starvation around the world. Suddenly it matters if a family in our community is homeless because of a house fire. Suddenly it matters if one of our shut-ins is feeling lonely and forgotten.

Jesus also acknowledges our relationship with others.  Our familiar version of The Lord’s Prayer says ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’  Somewhere along the line we started using the word ‘trespasses’ instead of ‘debts.’  Another mystery of the cosmos!  But I think the idea holds true – we ask God to forgive us as we in turn forgive others.  We are involved in so many others’ lives – we are connected as a family of God and we are charged to help one another through our trials in life.  We encourage one another and we ask and receive forgiveness from one another as God forgives us.

Have you ever said something and instantly wished you could pull the words back into your mouth?  I have.  We are human and as such we come as imperfect packages.  At times we cross the line and our mouths run away from us.  So we need to ask forgiveness and in fact we do this every week.  When we greet each other ‘in the spirit of Christian love,’ forgiveness is a part of that time.  If we have wronged someone we extend a hand and ask forgiveness.  When our brother or sister in Christ returns the gesture we know we are forgiven.  When we forgive others, then we too are forgiven.

The remainder of the gospel lesson speaks of being persistent with prayer.  If we ask, we will receive. If we seek, we will find. If we knock, the door will be opened.  Yet at times it seems fruitless to continue praying for someone or something.  I have prayed for many years for family members who have turned away from God.  I get frustrated that God has not worked harder to change their hearts. But perhaps the change needs to be in me. Am I too judgmental, or hypocritical, or dismissive? Do I really reflect the love of Jesus, who went out of his way to spend time with sinners?  Do I love unconditionally?  As I pray, perhaps the transformation needs to happen in me.

As a first step toward embodying what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, take time to be in prayer with God. Listen as much as you talk and feel the blessings of being drawn into a closer relationship with our Creator.  Ask for ways God can use you.  Seek God’s will for your life.  Knock and enter the doors God opens for you.  My prayer is that we will all grow in our spiritual lives and we will experience the rewards of a closer walk with God. ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’

Next week, we will be focusing on the area of ‘service’ as we put our faith into action. We will be in the Fellowship Hall for a short devotional then time spent doing service projects for our community.  Following our time together we will adjourn to the parking lot for a Blessing of the Bikers Service as we share a blessing with local motorcycle riders for a safe season.  Let us be present for these folks by showing our unconditional love and support for them as they navigate what can be very dangerous territories on the roads.  Let us be persistent in our pursuit to become better followers of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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