By Pastor Bryan Niebanck
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.John 14:12
I recently came across a description of four key qualities of a knight. To be knighted, you must show strength in the following four categories: Generosity, bravery, loyalty, and wisdom. Generosity shows that you care about others. Bravery shows that you are willing to take risks in order to reach a goal. Loyalty shows that you are willing to serve one master and one purpose. Wisdom is the key to making the right decision in the right moment, and knowing what is best. These are four qualities that are good in any person. They are traits that, if all the world had them, the world would be a better place.
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. These are the twelve points of the scout law. Generosity is shown in helpfulness and friendliness. Bravery is one of the points de facto. As is loyalty, coupled with obedience. Wisdom is shown in our ability to be thrifty, clean, courteous, and reverent. These are not restricted to knighthood for certain. In fact, they are very much Christian traits as well. As we lean on the Holy Spirit to teach us today and every day, how to find hope in a despairing world, and how to provide an alternative to the evil and violence that we see so that others around us can capture and believe in this alternative, we are also learning how to be generous toward others, brave by ministering to a world that does not want to hear our message, loyal to God and God alone, and wise enough to change the things that we can, accept the things that we can’t change, and to know the difference.
We are now going to turn to the place of prayer. The Holy Spirit cannot help us if we do not have prayer. In Acts 16:16, which we read last week, we know that Paul and Silas were going to the place of prayer. Do any of you have a place designated for prayer? While it is true that you can pray at any time and in any place and be connected to God – and these are very good ways to pray and necessary – it is also helpful to have a prayer place. For us, that could be our church. Or it could be a room in our house. It could be a prayer garden, but those are often seasonal. My prayer time is now in the morning, which is usually most quiet. I can take the time I need to read, study devotionals, immerse myself in the word of God, write, and, of course, pray. Prayer can be a specific time every day; I know one of my friends sets her alarm at 6am every day and after getting ready for the day, kneels down to pray every single morning at 7:00. That is still a bit early for me; I prefer 9:00 or 10:00. But whatever your routine, have a prayer place, and use it. If you have a mancave or a sports nook but not a prayer place, what does that mean about your priorities? God should always come first in our life!
Pentecost is a long season, and that is good because we have a long topic that requires a lot of commitment that we are going to be talking about in this season. That commitment is prayer. Prayer is the most important thing that we can do. It is our connection to God. It is our connection to each other. It is what strengthens us through the involvement of the Holy Spirit. Without it, this world will conquer us, cause us to give up, and our soul will shrivel up and die. If you do not pray, you are not going to make it. Jesus prayed. The disciples prayed. And even when Paul and Silas were shut up in a prison when they had done nothing wrong, they prayed. Seize every opportunity to pray, in joyful times, in tragic times, and in all the times in between. If prayer could convert a whole prison hallway to Christianity (Acts 16:25), prayer can do the same today.
There are a number of key questions that we ask about prayer. How do we know that God is the one who we hear? How do we pray? What does prayer do for us? Why does God answer some prayers and not others? These are all questions that we are going to ask and try to answer in the coming months. Today, we will briefly address the question of why we pray.
First, we pray because we read about how people prayed and things happened. Jesus healed the sick. Prisoners were converted to Christianity. And on the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were gathered together praying when the “sound like the rush of a violent wind” descended upon them (Acts 2:2). If things happened then, why can’t they happen now? Why not give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to act in our midst by being active in prayer? We can’t just expect the Holy Spirit to do all the work for us. Expecting the Spirit to be involved in our lives and in the world with no work in prayer on our part is like expecting a book to do the talking from the bookshelf without picking it up to read it. Prayer has changed things, and even if prayer hasn’t worked for you to this point, why not keep giving it a try?
Second, praying helps us to believe in an alternative to a world full of evil and a lack of hope. Do you ever find that telling yourself that you are capable makes you a lot more capable than telling yourself that you can’t do something? In sports, much of the battle is mental. If a batter in baseball hasn’t had a hit in five games, they start thinking about how they have not been able to hit. They have to reset and tell themselves that they really do still know how to hit. Telling ourselves that there is an alternative helps us to believe that, and it also helps others to believe it as well, through our own belief. Praying acts on our belief, or on our will to believe, in an alternative; something that will make things alright in the end.
Third, praying is what saves us. In Acts 2:21, Peter addressed the crowd, saying, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We are told to call on God to be saved. If we do not pray, we are not calling on God. If we do not call on God, we are not assured that we are saved. In other words, if we are not actively praying Christians, we cannot be guaranteed that Jesus will recognize us. We may be turned away from the pearly gates. Remember that God does not care how far away we are in our faith; the strength of our faith does not matter. God cares that we are facing God, and not turning away. We show that we are facing God by turning to God in prayer. We believe that it can make a difference. Prayer is calling on God, and we need to call on the name of the Lord to be saved.
Finally, prayer and devotion increases our belief in God if we do it consistently. When I turn to God in devotions and prayer, I believe that my faith grows. On the contrary, when I have had periods where I have been busy and I let prayer become a lesser priority, I naturally felt more down and frustrated. Prayer is not something that we do once a month, or once a week. It is something that we should do once a day and once an hour. Your first challenge was to have a prayer place. Your second challenge is to learn how to be consistent in prayer. Do not worry if you do not know what to say to God. Instead, read prayers that someone else has written. Then pair it with your own moment of silence while you are thinking about God and giving any worries that surface into God’s hands. Be consistent. And we are consistent not just so that we feel better. We are consistent so that we can believe better and believe enough to make a difference in this world. John 14:12 tells us that we can do greater works than Jesus: In the words of Jesus, “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Wow. If we work on becoming consistent in our prayer, and believe in the power of God and the difference that God still makes in this world, we can do bigger things than Jesus did. I believe that this is one of the most spectacular verses in the Bible because it is hard to believe, but it is right there in the very words of Jesus.
If we want to be an active Christian in this world, we need prayer. If we want to make a difference in this world, we need prayer. Our issue as a wider church and as a community is that prayer time has become less and less important in our lives. If we truly want to be the church of God, and be someone who God recognizes and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” we desperately need to rededicate our lives to prayer. Pray, and allow the Holy Spirit to act! Schedule time for prayer first, before anyone else gets to your calendar. It is a crucial part of our identity that we cannot afford to lose. May the flowers that bloom be generosity of love, bravery against resistance, loyalty with God, and wisdom in action. May all glory and honor be to God. Amen.
2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.
2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.
104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;
104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.
104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works–
104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.
104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.
104:35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!
John 14:8-17, (25-27)
14:8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
14:12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
14:13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14:14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
14:17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
14:25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you.
14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.