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Ben Fleming: Continuous Prayer, 1 Thes. 5:14

June 12, 2023

Audio Recording

The early church devoted themselves to prayer. They practiced regular times of prayer and set aside space in their lives for ongoing and continuous prayer. How important it is for us to pray at all times during these uncertain days and to maintain a deep connection with God.

People of Prayer
People of Prayer
Ben Fleming: Continuous Prayer, 1 Thes. 5:14
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Sermon Transcript:

:00 You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us

00:07 . I'm Ben Fleming, I'm one of the senior pastors here at Westside. Welcome to those of you in the room. Of course, those of you are online. I'm excited that you would join us today for, part three of our series that is on prayer. so if you'd like to, you can open up your Bibles. So first, IANS five, if you wanna follow along, we're gonna be in verse 14. Of course, it'll be up on the board. For those of you who weren't with us this last week, Evan really beautifully taught us about intercessory prayer, and that's where all these note cards came from on the prayer wall over here. which by the way, you can continue to participate in this. There's note cards and pens located next to the prayer wall over here, where you can just write a prayer, encourage you to be specific, be a little bit vulnerable and write a prayer on that card and, and pin it to the prayer wall.

00:51 The staff's been praying for them all week. I've spent a lot of time, actually in front of that prayer wall just meditating on where you're at, where we're at as a church and I'm learning something really, really beautiful about us, about human beings here at West Side. We're not that far removed, I think as, as much as we'd like to think from being kids. And I walk through those prayers and so much of it is I just want to be safe. I want to find a home. I don't want to feel the pain that I'm feeling anymore right now. I want to see my best friend again. I want to find a, a purpose and a hope. And I think sometimes we fall for this trap that somehow when we turn 18 or 21 or 30, 40, 50, that we've hit this level of understanding or need from God that has just changed so dramatically from when we were 6, 7, 8 or nine years old. And the truth of the matter is, is that we still wanna be safe. We still want purpose. We still wanna call someplace home. and my favorite note card is actually, this one. So you're asking can you rate prayers? I can, cuz I'm holding the microphone right now. So this one's my favorite. God, I pray to you that I live out my life of ballet to get point shoes and always try and not fall.

02:20 Oh my gosh, I wanna pray like that. Do you know that you can bring anything before the Lord, even if it's just this one little moment, even if it's, even if it's tow shoes, something that might seem so insignificant to others. But there's this longing in your heart, you know, that you can bring anything before the Lord because again, we are his children. And any request or any interaction with the Father is a good one. It's a beautiful one. It's an attachment again to our abba, our daddy. And I wanna pray like so many of you have prayed over here. You're teaching me and showing me how to pray. And I also want us to embrace this attitude that is common actually among improv groups. This is 1 0 1 improv. How many of you guys have ever done improv? Some of you at college, some of that.

03:11 There's one in the back. You and me are gonna hang out at parties, okay? it's this rule of yes. And so when you're improvising, when you're doing a scene or a skit together and there's no real rules, there's nothing that's been laid out, there's no script. There's this idea of the participants in improv saying yes. And so you say something and then I'm participating with you by saying yes. And also I'm gonna attach this piece to it. We are gonna be yes and people. So not only are we gonna be intercessors, but we're gonna try to round out our prayer experience. And really we're gonna try to round out our faith through the importance of prayer. And today we're gonna talk about unceasing or continuous prayer. So in first Ians five, it says this in verse 14, Paul is talking to this church. He's saying, brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy.

04:03 Encourage those who are timid, take tender care of those who are weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Just as an aside today, because I believe that God is calling us to be patient with all people, he's calling us to be peacemakers. I got to listen to a, a teacher named Ben McBride this last week and he said this phrase that is really shaping my mind toward peacemaking right now in my life. And he said this phrase, he said, we need to be hard on systems but soft on people. It's not that we're never meant to have some kind of anger or rage or pushback against something, but we have to understand the thing that, that we reserve our rage for as not the people that are also sons and daughters of God.

04:56 We gotta be hard on systems and soft and generous on people. In verse 16, Paul says, always be joyful. That sounds tough. Then he says, never stop praying. That sounds even harder. Be thankful in all circumstances for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Don't stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil. And now may the God of peace make you holy in every way and make your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again and God will make this happen for he who calls you as faithful. Dear brothers and sisters, pray for us. So Paul wraps up this entire closing statement to the Thessalonians with the importance of prayer, not just at the end where he asked them to contend for, for them, but he asked them to never stop praying.

06:01 And this is one of those passages when I, as a kid growing up in church, I was always a little bit afraid when it got brought up that somebody really might take this thing all the way to the end zone and we should never stop praying. And I envision myself just kind of looking and sounding like a crazy person. You know what I'm saying? I'm never gonna stop talking, but then I have to sleep. How do I pray in my sleep? Is it prayerful dreams? And how do you lock into that and make sure that happens? Because a lot of times in my dreams, I'm just floating on clouds and enjoying myself. It doesn't seem very pray prayerful. But really what it means isn't that we would mutter something 24 hours a day to Jesus. There's a couple things that at play here. Number one, he is talking to a church in which we all combine together.

06:41 We are the body of Christ that when you pray, I pray because we're connected to each other, that these prayers that exist on this wall aren't just one person and one heart with one request. Instead, it's the gathering of the church. It's the collective. We pray together what exists on this wall. We pray together what exists on our hearts and our effort as a collective to try to experience the way of Jesus as best we can. But even more so, Paul is tapping into this idea that us as individuals can develop a lifestyle of prayer. It's a change in a lifestyle that we can connect to something that is more whole than just our own individual prayers. Now, Tim Mackey who created the Bible project, maybe you've seen some of those, YouTube videos or to podcasts. Tim Mackey's a brilliant mind in my opinion.

07:33 He talks about at the moment when Jesus is on the cross and he's hanging next to the two thiefs. One of them looks at him and says, would you please remember me when you enter into your kingdom? And he looks back and he says, today you will be with me in paradise. Now the word specifically used in that is not heaven like a lot of us think that it is today you'll be with me in heaven. That's not the specific reference that Jesus is making. It's actually more directly translated into garden. Today you'll meet with me in the garden. Now the big garden that you would always think of if you were a Jewish person or if you were listening to this conversation would be the Garden of Eden, the original garden where heaven and earth met for the first time. That is where you can meet with me.

08:18 Now, Paul does something similar in his letter to the church at Corinth and first Corinthians where he says, I had this vision and I went to paradise, or I went to the garden. And John does something similar in writing the book of Revelation that he goes into this place where he sees this vision while he's in this garden of paradise. Now he's not actually in a garden. John is actually marooned on an island that has very little resources, the farthest thing from a garden. But all three of these instances, people seem to be tapping into this something that's a larger stream of prayer. It's a different kind of lifestyle. It's a different way, way of experiencing God. And my contention to you is today that our prayers shouldn't just exist on note cards or in utterances or before our own meals. But instead our prayer, our goal of prayer should be to enter into this brand new lifestyle where we rest into the belief of our Lord and Savior, that we're constantly immersed in the waters of Christ.

09:25 And so I began thinking about this. Well, what's constant in our city? What could I talk about that would be really relatable? and of course we've been using the Deschutes River here in Bend as a metaphor for what we believe that God is doing and will continue to do with the gospel of Christ here in Bend. And that is that river, the idea of the river overflowing the banks and being a part of every crevice and place of our city and all of central Oregon. So I began to think about the Schutz River and just how cool it is, right? Like when people come to town, you want to take 'em to float the river in the summer, right? Because that's where everything's happening. The concerts are right there. The old mills right there. You could start actually all the way out in the Sun River where a lot of people like to spend time and theoretically you could float in.

10:07 I'm not sure what's it's like rapid wise between here and there. I usually don't last quite that long. That seems like a long time. That's a long float. But everything happens around there. The real estate is more expensive around there. The restaurants want to be around there. You want to build your home around there. Or if it was possible, most of us would all take the river to be as close as we can, even if it's just a view. Have you ever realized that sometimes you'll go on vacation and you'll pay extra just to look at something out the window. I was recently in Anaheim Hotel and they were like, you can upgrade. You go up a couple floors and you could watch the fireworks over Disney. And I was like, that sounds cool. I was like, that's stupid. I'm not even gonna be here at that time.

10:48 What time do the fireworks go? We'll pay all kinds of things to, to look out the window at something. But the river, the river when it comes to bend, there probably wouldn't even really be a bend without the Deschutes River running through it. Now I imagine in trying to describe the Deschutes River to somebody who's never been here, they've never been to the concerts, they've never floated, they've never surfed, they've never fished out there, they've never done any of these things. And you were trying to describe the river to them. They would probably have a vague reference or a solid reference even to what a river could be like, but they wouldn't be able to understand the experience. Now imagine if I'm trying to explain that to somebody and then I go, now this is the river. So I stopped at the river this morning and I got a cut full.

11:31 My kids thought I was crazy, kinda like you think I am right now? What are you doing? And I go to somebody and go, yes, see, this is no, this is water from the Deschutes. Now you understand the Deschutes shoots. Well, not really . Well, I mean what kind of fish are in there? How long is it? How wide is it? How f how far does it go? What other rivers does it connect with? Well, you understand though, but this is water from it. There's so much value in this. And yeah, I can do stuff with this. I could drink it, I could I could water a plant with it. I could even just leave it to see how long it would last, but it would probably get yucky and nasty and gunky and gross. And sometimes I believe that our relationship with prayer is so shallow that we would look to somebody in, in our description of prayer in our lives and we would say, this is prayer.

12:24 Lord, thank you for this food. I'm in a bind and I I'd like to make a request now cuz I need help. All good things. Like I said earlier, I am happy for all of us to engage with God in this way. This is not a bad thing. It has many uses, but I wanna live this life connected to paradise. I want to be immersed in it. Holding up a glass and even taking a drink of it is nothing compared to the hours that you could spend floating on top of it or laughing together or watching it. I even think about some of the plants that I saw this morning as I walked up. Some of them just sit right on the banks and they just float in it and they grow in it.

13:13 The kind of relationship that I believe that God is calling us to as a church, and this is gonna be a tough thing, is this unceasing prayer, this real deep connection that goes beyond just a glass that's full of water, but instead of people that would wade out into sometimes the rapids and sometimes the calm and experience the, the beauty of it, even in darkness and in light times. I'm not saying that we can connect with this paradise in this garden and then all of a sudden everything is fine and you enter into this like monk-like trance. I'm not describing that at all. But if we can be a people who are genuinely steeped in prayer, we become a peaceful people, a more patient people that don't ignore all the difficulties and the ailments of the world, but instead we now know how to engage with them because we see the world through the perspective of the paradise of the Holy Spirit and not through the perspective just of our own challenges and difficulties. Are you hearing me this morning? Yes.

14:11 A continuous prayer is as if we take all of these words on the wall and we don't just pin them to a wall in just a moment, as beautiful as it is, but we begin to pin them to our souls and allow our savior Jesus to examine them. Now, a life that is simply left with a cup full of prayer often leads to a life of what the Jesuits would call desolation. There's only so many resources in an area of destination things, desolation things begin to dry out. We get fearful in a place of desolation because then we, we begin to turn in just on ourselves.

14:59 We begin to be driven down this spiral that goes deeper into our own negative feelings. Now, one of the tricks into I believe tapping into this paradise way of living is that we begin to bookend or steep our lives in well prayer. Now, the early church, at least for the first 300 years, it was really important that they pray three times a day. And I'm actually gonna encourage you and even give you a few tools here in just a few minutes to try to pray three times a day. Now, for a young Pentecostal like me who grew up in the church where I don't know about you, but prayer was a little like the wild west, you know what I'm saying? Some people were good at it. I still talk to some people maybe even in this room that would go, I'm just not that good at praying. And I'll go, yeah, well I'm pretty good at it. , very eloquent can talk for a long time. I know of all the filler words, dear Jesus Lord, father Christ.

16:08 And my thought of prayer was whoever could pray kind of the loudest and the longest. And then maybe if you bring in a little bit of imagery as you go along, now that's a heck of a prayer right there. That's the stuff. And the older I've gotten and and maybe it's just me and it's not you and I'm just preaching to myself right now, but sometimes I would pray some of these prayers and Lord Jesus just come and give us a brand new vision and a new wine skin and a new whatever I get at the end of a prayer and be like, I have no idea what's going on. What am I saying? Even?

16:38 And then I was introduced only a couple years ago to some of these old prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. And I had a leader in my life say, you should read one of these a day. And I was like, that sounds dumb. There's no power in that. No Holy Spirit in that. And the guy said, well, some of them are thousands of years old. There might be some power in the fact that they've stuck around for so long. So give it a shot. All right, fine. And it's funny, we, we think about sometimes this relationship with prayer with God way differently than we think of any of our relationships that we have like in normal life with real people. But I believe that these relationships actually reflect how we should be with God. So have you ever noticed that a couple that's been married for a long, long time usually have a few tenants of this relationship.

17:28 You know, like they've lived together for a long time. They've slept in the same bed. Maybe they've even had a date night. they share a children maybe and all these things are little guideposts. They give them a shared language, a shared experience there. There are anchors in their life that bring them back and back and back to this relationship because as one author that I was reading this last week, his name's David Brooks, he says, commitment, this commitment that we have to each other is falling in love with something or someone and then building an actual structure of behavior around it for when that love falters. I'll read that one more time cause it's really good commitment is falling in love with something or someone and then building a structure of behavior around it for when that love falters prayer, spoken prayer. Even rhythmic prayer is a structure of behavior for around when our relationship with God feels like it's faltering, that doesn't mean it's inauthentic. Trying to pray three times a day doesn't mean that your relationship is purely religious and it's inauthentic. Instead, it's a structure that brings you back. Nobody would look at that married couple that's been together for a long time and go, you know, sleeping in the same bed as just like so predictable. You know, it's very religious of you. There's no life in all of that. And the married couple would look at you and go, go away and never speak to me again.

18:56 Because this is part of the structure that continually brings us back. My wife and I have have noticed that even in our biggest fights, if we find ourselves coming together for lunch, if we find ourselves coming together, spending time in the kitchen, you notice that after some time the language changes, the love begins to come out again, even out of the most difficult fight. And I would contend today that even in the most difficult and confusing and dark times of your life, if you have a structure that brings you back into the presence of God, if you have a structure that brings you back into that stream again, not that you would come and you would grab a glass of it, but instead that you would wade out into it again, you will discover that while you haven't ignored or bypassed pain and difficulty, you will discover that you have found yourself in the presence of that paradise and the presence of God.

19:43 Again, these prayers bring us back out of desolation because I want you to understand today that there is a lot of money to be made in our world because of desolation, because of fear. Now we have these religious checkpoints and structures by the way in our lives. I would imagine that all of us do. It's a matter of who we're giving them to. Some of us find ourselves in religion, religious practices with 24 hour news cycle. Some of us find it with sports and distractions. Some of us find it with intoxicants and things that will pull of our, pull our minds off of. You have a structure, you like a drink at a certain time of the night when you wake up, you turn on Twitter when you wake up, you turn on the news. When you wake up and you have these things as you wake up before you go to bed that are tenants in your life that bring you back into the worship and religion that often wants to pull fear out of you to make money off of you. Because that's how the world does its work today.

20:45 If the 24 hour news cycle can cut you off from community, it can drive you deeper into negative feelings. It can make you give up on the things that were once important to you and instead value the things that they would speak over your life. All of a sudden there's a religious control that another entity has that is not the presence of God. It pulls you from paradise and pulls you into desolation. Ultimately, it drains you from energy. And here's one of the biggest things that it does. It covers up the old landmarks of the healthiest way you used to live. It covers up the landmarks of Christ's presence in your life because the Holy Spirit, I want you to remember this cuz we're gonna take communion here in just a second, which is an act of remembering or reattaching. Isaiah 49 verse nine says, this says, remember the things of old for I am God and there is no other.

21:34 I'm God and there's none like me. And then in John verse 1426, Jesus says, but the helper, the Holy Spirit and the Father will send in my name. He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Remembering the things that the Lord has done is a primary tenet of our faith. Without remembering, we will lose faith. We will pour more deeply into self, which will create a fear in our lives that pulls us outta paradise. We have to remember the promises that God holds for us in His word and the things that he has already done and that we believe that he will do. Otherwise we'll find ourselves without a sense of gravity wandering farther away from the stream, sometimes only with a cup full of the resources that God has given us. But instead, when we turn our lives into consolation, not just desolation, we direct our focus from to the outside and even beyond ourselves. We lift our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of others. We find ourselves bonded more closely to the human community and God releases this new energy in and from us.

22:49 So I wanna give you this tool as we close. it's a, a very old tool from Ignatius actually. And it's called the Prayer of examine. So as I challenge you to try to stop and pray three times a day, I want to acknowledge a couple things. I want to acknowledge that I'm really crappy at this right now, three times a day you want me to stop and I I got a parent of small children, that stopped me 500 times a day. I don't know how to compete and find my three in there. I went to the, I just went to the bathroom the other day and I I there it was like zombies on the other side of the door and

23:36 You know,

23:38 Dad, no, the dog even came up or hurt its tail hitting the door. You know, just leave me alone. I have to do this Speaker 3

23:51 .

23:59 And so I want to extend grace and understand that how many times a day that this gets done does not, isn't that a reflection of God's love for you or even your love for God. But I I want to be a little bit pushy in this for myself and for you so that we might experience and live from this paradise of waiting into the large river, not just going and grabbing a cup every so often. And the prayer of examine has, has five steps for us or five little things to pray in it. And the reason that I want to use it is I think it's a good reflection on the day. it's a good reflection on our hearts. and it's fairly easy to remember. So the first thing in the prayer of examine, and you can find this online or you can write it down right now, there's a lot of different versions and variations that you'll find. This is my favorite. the first prayer and the prayer of examine is to ask God for light. It's an invitation to the Holy Spirit to come and illuminate my world around me.

25:02 Have you noticed that dark places are the places that often generate most fear. You don't know what's happening next. You don't know what else might be in the room. And it's funny what I've noticed that sometimes even sitting in my own home, but in complete darkness, a sound can happen. That might even be a familiar sound, but in the dark, it's my worst enemy. I know that was the dog, but right now it seems like an intruder cuz I can't see in our lives we'll feel like so many things or people or ideologies are actually our enemies. But when we allow God to flip the light on, we become soft on those people. Again. We don't make the decision to just exist purely in our own fear, but the light of God allows us to have a new direction. So first thing is to ask God for light. The second thing is to give thanks. We ask God for light and then we give thanks. Speaker 3

26:14 Jesus

26:14 Actually spells this out of course, in the Lord's prayer. Our Father is in heaven. Hallowed be your name or kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses. Hallowed is your name Jesus. The third thing is to review the day. this is the most difficult part of the prayer of examined for me because when I ask God to turn on the lights and then I bring my day into the picture, I get very uncomfortable sometimes how I behaved with my kids or my spouse or traffic, which I'm learning through the prayer of examine, is one of the more difficult places for me to exist. You know, bend traffic, it's a rough, it's a rough life. Speaker 3

26:59 Review

27:00 The day. Ask for God to give you insight on your interactions and not just in, in ways of God can, how can I just be better at this? But even God, will you illuminate and show things as I review the day that were of you and were of your heart, that I may be encouraged? The fourth thing that we do in the prayer of examine is face our shortcomings. We acknowledge again where we are incomplete and where we have failed. Again, not as a source of shaming for ourselves or hurting ourselves, but really so that we can see where we're at and allow God to create a bridge from where we're at to his grace. And then the fifth part of the prayer of examine is to look to tomorrow. I love finishing with this because so many times in my prayer, in my requests, in these one moments, it's almost like I only exist right here in this one place. But if we pray after we ask God for light, we give thanks, we review the day and we face our shortcomings. It allows us to say, and this isn't the end, I get to go again.

28:17 One of the greatest things that fear does for us is, is it creates this understanding that who we are and the mistakes that we've made right here, right now in this moment is who we will be for the rest of our lives. And I gotta tell you, that's not true. First of all, in Christ, we are not defined by these sins and these shortcomings. Instead, we have been reconciled through the death and the resurrection of our savior. We become a new creation altogether and we get to walk as that new creation into these waters of paradise with our Father. We get to look to tomorrow.