Pastor Bryan Niebanck

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

Psalm 85:10

I have heard that you should never volunteer for something if you do not want to be doing it for the long haul.  Now, I’ll make it clear that here in the church, if you need a break from something, you definitely are entitled to that break; if we followed this rule, perhaps nothing would happen.  Yet, have you heard this warning?  Never volunteer to do something “just until we find someone else” unless you want to be doing it for a long time.

Or, perhaps someone just does something out of the kindness of their heart.  They prepared a meal.  They baked a pie for the meal.  They helped to mow the lawn.  They picked someone up to bring them to church.  Have you ever done one of these things for someone, and then you were all of a sudden expected to do it again?  Does that seem a bit unfair to you?  We might not have the energy to continue something for the long haul; we just want to do it when we are moved to show that act of kindness.

The Psalmist in Psalm 85 expected the Lord to do it again.  He appealed to the Lord’s kindness in verses 1-2: “Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.  You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.”  And after saying this, because the Lord has done this in the past, he asks the Lord to do it again: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.  Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?  Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation” (Psalm 85:4, 6-7).

Some of us may say that it they enjoy being a helper.  You enjoy giving your time and talents to the church.  And thankfully, God says the same thing.  We celebrate when Joseph moved his family to Egypt so that they would be in the land of plenty during the famine.  We celebrate when God moved the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  We celebrate when God led the Israelites out of Babylonia.  And we celebrate when Jesus of Nazareth was born in a stable to save His people from their sins.  God has saved the people again and again from their sins and forgiven them for the worst idolatries.  This is something that, as we remember Christmas, we need to celebrate.  God gave us Jesus to be with us not just once a year in the Christmas season, but on every single day of the year.  God’s gift is still with us, as we prepare to meet God, bow before God, and knock on the door.  We read Amos over the last couple weeks, where Amos warned us that we need to prepare ourselves to meet the Lord.  We know that we are ready to meet the Lord if we are committed with our prayer lives with God.  Further, when we bow down before God, we are working on deepening our relationship with God.  We are praying to and before God.  When we knock on the door, we are doing things to actively seek God.  We are deepening our engagement with God.  We are teaching ourselves things about God through prayer, scripture study, and theology books, that are beyond what others have taught us about God.

So far, we have focused on four aspects of prayer: hearing God in unexpected ways, equipping ourselves, breaking what is holding us back from God, asking God to grant us wisdom and courage so that we might pray with confidence, and being sure to listen to God by being obedient to what God tells us.  Today, we will review a sixth and final aspect of our introduction to prayer.  A sixth way that we can and should pray is by asking God to revive us again.  That is, we can ask God with confidence, because we are no longer held back, and we have the wisdom and courage that we need.  We can make our request of God because God does not tire of doing the little things – and the big things – for us.  However, God does ask us that we pray about it first.  God does ask us that we believe in God’s power to make it happen.  God does want us to be able to move beyond those things that are holding us back.  These are all things we have reviewed in this series on Introduction to Prayer.  Now, if we have done all we can on the first seven parts of the series, our relationship with God can be revived!  We can have hope in a God who has done it before and will do it again because that is who God is!  Jesus told us, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find, knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9).  This is   not the first thing that Jesus told his disciples.  He told them this after he taught them how to pray.  He told them this after they already knew how to exercise commitment to the Lord.  I believe that Jesus would expect the same of us.  We can ask the Lord for things, and it will be given to us, as long as we are talking to the Lord without barriers, without anything holding us back, and having confidence in the Lord.  This is the confidence that the shepherds showed when they walked down to the manger.  It is the confidence that the wise men had when they walked over a hundred days on camels to see the new king.  It is the confidence that Mary had when she told the angel Gabriel, “Let it be to me as you have spoken.”

The book of Hosea may seem odd to a first-time reader, or even a reader who has heard it a couple of times.  The book begins, “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.’” (Hosea 1:2).  Why would God command a prophet to take a wife of whoredom?  God gives Hosea a strange command.  When we read Hosea, however, we need to read it in context of the metaphor that it is intended as: The marriage pictures God’s relationship to Israel – an honorable, loving husband paired with an unfaithful wife.  Hosea marries an adulteress named Gomer and starts a family with her.  When Gomer returns to her life of sin, Hosea – again picturing God’s faithfulness – buys her back from the slave market.  The book contains God’s warnings for disobedience but also his promises of blessing for repentance.

In chapter 4 of the book, God accuses Israel of unfaithfulness and expands upon the idolatry of Israel.  In Chapter 5, we read about the impending judgement due to Israel.  But in Chapter 6, we read about a call to repentance: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.  Let us press on to know the Lord; his appearing is as sure as the dawn” (Hosea 6:1-3).  After a few more chapters about sin and punishment for its actions, we experience God’s compassion again in Chapter 11; perhaps some of us can relate: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  The more I called them, the more they went away from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.  Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them… How can I give you up, O Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel?” (Hosea 11:1-3, 8).  The book concludes with a last plea for repentance: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.  I will heal their disloyalty, I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.  They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine” (Hosea 14:1, 4, 7).

In this book, we experience the anguish that the Lord faces over Israel turning to idols, and yet we also see God’s willingness to forgive if and when they should repent.  The Lord makes the comparison to accepting a wife returning from whoredom and back again twice to showcase how serious of a case it actually was and how strong His love really is.  Our challenge today is to recognize the extent of this love, and ask ourselves if we might be remotely close.  When we turn to other things, and give them more importance than we give God, God is grieving.  When we find more security in wealth or even in worry, than we find in God, God is grieving.  All God wants is for us to return to Him.  God wants us to commit to Him seriously, by actively pursuing a relationship with Him.  Jesus tells us, “Knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).  That means that we are actively doing something to pursue the Lord before the door is being opened to us.  We are not just waiting and trusting that the door will be left open.  “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”  Each of those tasks requires an active presence seeking the Lord.

When Christ was born in Bethlehem, the fortunes of Judah were restored.  Christ was the Savior and Messiah, and many trusted in Him.  Today, we are also called to trust in Him.  But where we cannot access Jesus physically, we have other means.  We have scripture.  And we also have prayer.  If you have been struggling with your connection with God, whether it is hearing God, listening to God, experiencing God, talking to God, or all of the above, it all begins with prayer.  We recognize why we pray, we remove the barriers to prayer, and then we learn how to pray.  We learn that prayer is not a test; it is a conversation.  It is the most important conversation because it is the one we have with God.

Most importantly, prayer revives us.  We know that God never gives up on us, even when we would give up on ourselves.  Where you do not feel like you have a close enough relationship with God, it is never too late in this lifetime.  I would only encourage you not to wait unnecessarily.  The more time that we have close with God, and in a continued prayerful relationship, the more at peace we will be.  God does something out of the kindness of His heart, and when people expect Him to do it again, He does it.  He responded in so many ways when the people came back to him.  He has a good track record.  God will respond when we come back to Him too.

Let us pray.  God, help us to never tire of seeking you first.  Revive us as we pray, as you have taught us, so that we seek you in every way that we can.  In your name, we pray.  Amen.  Remember, Jesus taught the disciples to pray first, and then told them to ask, search, and knock.  Prayer is always the first step to thriving in our relationship with God.  Start with your prayer life.  Continue with your prayer life.  Renew your prayer life, and feel the joy and the praise that the angels sing.  May all honor and glory be to God.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Hosea 1:2-10
1:2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”
1:3 So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
1:4 And the LORD said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.
1:5 On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”
1:6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the LORD said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them.
1:7 But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.”
1:8 When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son.
1:9 Then the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.”
1:10 Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

Psalm 85
85:1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
85:2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. Selah
85:3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
85:4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.
85:5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
85:6 Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?
85:7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.
85:8 Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
85:9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
85:10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
85:11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
85:12 The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
85:13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

Luke 11:1-13
11:1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
11:2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
11:3 Give us each day our daily bread.
11:4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
11:5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;
11:6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’
11:7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’
11:8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
11:9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
11:11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?
11:12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?
11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

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