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Evan Earwicker: Intercessory Prayer, Acts 4

June 5, 2023

Audio Recording

Intercessory prayer emerges from a great need and results in more of God’s presence and power. God is speaking to us in this season and we will intercede for what God is speaking to us.

People of Prayer
People of Prayer
Evan Earwicker: Intercessory Prayer, Acts 4

Sermon Transcript:

:00 You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us. We want the Holy Spirit to move on us. We want Jesus to be present in ways that have tangible outcomes in the real world, where people are finding him, where people are, are understanding and knowing that, the love of crisis for them and the acceptance of God is given to them. And for every move of God, and for every move of the Spirit in history, whether it be in the last a hundred years or going all the way back to the Book of Acts, we find that there is really one, initiating act that brings about moves of God one thing. And in every case, you can look back and you can see the one thing that happened before God moved in really unique and consequential ways. And that's that people prayed.

00:54 People committed to prayer. Now, if you asked nine outta 10 people on the street, they wouldn't come up with this answer. But what makes a Christian A. Christian? Some would say church attendance. Others might say a certain belief system. they might say, you know, a, a, a worldview that's based in, in the Bible, or maybe even, certain political views. All of those may be true at different levels. But I think what marks us as Christians, maybe more than anything else, is that we are a people of prayer. A people of prayer. And you say, Evan, how did, how'd you come up with this? Well, Jesus prayed often. He would disappear in the early morning hours before the Son came up to be with the Father and pray. And then he taught his disciples to pray. In fact, you might remember the story just before Jesus is, betrayed by Judas and turned over to be crucified.

01:50 He enters into the temple, and there in the temple he sees these money changers and they are ripping people off. they are, taking these huge margins on what they're selling to these poor people that would come to make sacrifices. And, and they were corrupt and, and, and really evil in the way that they were conducting business and the temple grounds. And so Jesus comes in and with great anger, he throws over their tables and he casts 'em out of the temple. And then he says this, he says, it is written, my house shall be a house of prayer. And I've, I've read that story so many times, and I've always thought that Jesus anger is only because of what was happening in the temple, that these money changers, were, were, you know, ripping people off. And he was angry at that. And I, that's absolutely true, but I've realized that he's also angry at what that act of the money changers was displacing from the house of God, which was prayer.

02:46 That, that what was designed to be God's house where people would come to pray that had been displaced by something else. And so there's this, there's this visceral reaction of Jesus in the temple, in the house of God in that moment saying, this is evil what you're doing. But it's also breaking the heart of God that his house is no longer a house of prayer. Jesus prayed, he taught his disciples in us to do the same. And so to begin today, and as we kick off even these, these two, three weeks as we head towards our commissioning Sunday on June 18th, where we lay hands on Pastor Steve and Suzanne and, our installation service on the 25th, as we, gather as a community to set myself and Pastor Ben in, we just want to commit ourselves to prayer. And so if you would do this, would you stand with me?

03:39 We're gonna read the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray together. And I would like us to stand, just in honor and respect of what Jesus gave us to pray. So we're gonna put this on the screen and I want us to pray this aloud together. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Amen. You can have your seats.

04:26 Well, right off the bat in the Lord's prayer, Jesus is giving his disciples and all who are listening a new way to view God. Now, God is this overwhelming power somewhere distant from them that, that received this transactional kind of interaction where if he brought the right sacrifices, and if you made the right, the right words come outta your mouth, that somehow this, this all powerful God, would decide to interact with you in a favorable way instead of judgment. This would've been a common view, for the devout in Jesus day. And right off the bat, Jesus says, here's how you're gonna address God, our Father, our Father, someone not so far removed from you that he doesn't understand what you need. Our Father, not someone that's just, that's just, completely important and removed from the, the, the things that matter to you even though you're infinitely small in comparison.

05:22 Our Father, our father is one who cares deeply and intimately for his children. Hallowed be your name. And then Jesus gives us these words. Your kingdom can come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. It's in these words that we are given an invitation to a kind of prayer that brings heaven to earth. Let me say it this way, in Jesus teaching us to say, your kingdom come, your will be done. He is showing us that our prayers have the ability to cause God to intervene in the world that we live in. Cause God to intervene. But you know, for me, and maybe this is true for you, whenever we start talking about prayers that move the heart of God to intervene in our world, there's a skeptic that rises up in me.

06:16 I've prayed prayers and I've seen them not get answers I was hoping for. I've seen prayers that I've prayed not seemingly get answered at all. And so I find myself even when we begin to talk about praying prayers of faith, that I get skeptical. And maybe you do too. And I think it's, it's very logical, and it is, is very, within the, the reasonable response that in order to protect ourselves from disappointment, sometimes we back off on prayers that might create risk, that God will not come through. You hear what I'm saying? That we know that if pray these big prayers and we, we really put our faith out there, it's quite possible based on our experience, that God will not come through in that. And we don't know if our faith can stand up under that kind of weight of disappointment if God says no or God says nothing at all.

07:17 And so what naturally happens is our faith almost cocoons itself in a way where we stop praying the, the risky prayers. We stop praying the prayers that if we pray them and God does not respond, the weight of disappointment would rest on us. And so we, we back off prayer as a way to meditate and just let go. Of course, prayer as a centering exercise. Yes, that's essential prayer as a channel to be reformed from the inside out. Of course, prayer that really works. The sort of prayer that joins God to bring about redemption and pushback, darkness, prayer that actually makes a marked difference in the visible, tangible world, in the lives of real people I interact with and the real issues they face, the sort of prayer that brings heaven to earth while here is where Jesus loses me. CS Lewis was discussing prayer in one of his books, and he set up the case of the skeptic and the logical thoughts of skepticism against this idea of prayer. And so in the voice of the skeptic, CS Lewis wrote this. He said, even if I grant your point, admit that answers to prayer are theoretically possible, I still think they're infinitely improbable. I don't think at all, I don't think it at all likely that God requires the ill-informed and contradictory advice of us humans as how to run the world. If he is all wise, as you say, is, doesn't he already know what's best? And if he is all good, won't he do it? Whether we pray or not.

09:01 And so we embody that voice of the skeptic. I feel it, and I find myself agreeing intellectually that prayer is good, but in my heart, doubting that it's effective. story about this, about 10 years ago we were in the hospital. My wife had had some major surgery and, had had the surgery and was in the hospital for a couple days recovering. And, on the day of, of being discharged from the hospital, we were walking out of the room and we made it down the hallway at St. Charles. And we were standing in front of the elevators waiting to take the elevators downstairs and the elevators opened. And on the other side of the door, what do we see? But two of the prayer team from Westside Church at which I was and still am a pastor. And do you know what my response was when I saw these wonderful prayer team members standing in that elevator?

10:00 Oh God, I hope they're not gonna pray right here. immediately, I I wasn't thrilled. Someone in the first service said, I bet you felt blessed. I was like, oh, that was not the feeling. I was feeling . My initial response was, oh man, can we go back to the room before you start praying? And no, they, they were, happy to pray very loudly there, right by the nurse's station in front of the elevators for healing and health. And I realize when I think back on that story, that I was more concerned about what people might think than I had faith that prayer might be effective.

10:45 Cause make no mistake, if I had believed deep down in my heart that what they were praying for, health and healing and fast recovery and, and all these wonderful things that, that I was hoping against hope, if I really believe that their prayers were going to be effective in that moment, do you think I would've cared what the nurses thought? No. But there I was and I realized that I had more confidence in being embarrassed than I had confidence that God would hear those prayers and actually do something about it. I knew that prayer was good, but I doubted that it might be effective. And you've all probably experienced moments where you've prayed prayers and that haven't been answered. And so we've prayed these safe prayers, right? These vague prayers, these prayers so vague that if God doesn't come through, who knows? really hard to tell when your prayers are so non-specific and so passive that if God doesn't come through, it's okay.

11:48 It's not that big of a disappointment. Cause I didn't really pray I prayer that was very big. And so after years of praying these kind of vague risk adverse prayers, we often upend, we often end up in a destination. And maybe you're here today where we find ourselves in a life without prayer at all. And here's a way to test it. I mean, think about every prayer you prayed to God last week in the last seven days. Now, if God answered every one of those prayers with an affirmative, a yes, what would happen in your life? Now, with the exception of some in the room, the answer is usually very little would happen differently in your life. Cuz the reality is maybe with the best intentions to protect our faith, we've withdrawn into a life where our prayers no longer risk. We are flying through lax on Friday.

12:50 And, pastor Dave's wife Noel was using the restroom and found a book on the floor, outside the stall in the restroom. And, she recognized the picture on the back of the book because it's a book that we've been reading here as part of our journey in prayer at the church, by a pastor in Portland, Tyler Staton, it's called, and this is a great book if you get it. It's called, praying, help me Out, praying like monks, praying like monks living like fools, praying like monks living like fools. And so she sees this book on the floor in the restroom, and it's like, I know that book, so she picks it up, but I don't recommend picking up things off the floor at LAX next to the stall, but you know, it's a holy book. So she picks it up and she, she finds a lady says, is this your book?

13:35 She's like, yeah, I love the book. And I, I gotta tell you, like if you are taking a book in with you at the bathroom at lax, you either love that book or you hate that book. I'm not sure which, but I think she loved it. and so Noel came out and told us that story. And I was reading the book at that time, preparing for this message, and it's so good and I really encourage you to get it. But here's what Tyler State and says about this question that burns in us around prayer. He says, do my prayers matter in any visible tangible sense? Is God carrying on the way he would always carry on? Regardless of whether or not I pray, do my request exclusively reform my heart in some divine equation? Or do they carry the power to change real people conditions and circumstances in the world I inhabit?

14:20 Do my prayers actually matter? And that is the question I think we've all asked again and again, do my prayers actually matter? If you have a Bible, you can go to Acts chapter 12. We'll also put this up on the screen. I wanna look at a passage about prayer in the Book of Acts. I think we'll find ourselves maybe being able to relate to some of these characters in the story. Acts chapter 12. the church has exploded onto the scene on the day of Pentecost Act, chapter two. And since then, as it has grown, so has grown persecution of the church. And so local authorities have arrested some of the apostles. In chapter 12, we find that they've arrested James, the brother of John, one of Jesus' disciples, and they've put him to death. And because they got such a good response from, the people in the city, after executing James, they decided let's keep this thing going.

15:18 So they arrest the apostle Peter. And so we pick up the story in Acts chapter 12, verse five. It says, so Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. And the night before, Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and centuries stood guard at the entrance. And suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared in a light shown in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up quick, get up, he said. And the chains fell off Peter's wrist. And then the angel said to him, put on your clothes and sandals. And Peter did. So wrap your cloak around you and follow me. The angel told him, Peter followed him out of the prison, but had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening.

16:02 He thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate, leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. And when they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. And then Peter came to himself and said, now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen. And when this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying, remember they're praying for Peter. Peter knocked on the outer entrance and a servant named Rhoda came to the, answered the door. And when she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed, she ran back without opening it.

16:47 And exclaimed Peter's in the door, you're out of your mind. They told her, okay, so , these are the people that are actively and currently praying for Peter's release from prison. When the servant girl hears Peter at the door and announces it, they say, that's ridiculous. , stop bugging us. We're praying that Peter might be released , when she kept insisting that it was so, they said, it must be his angel. Get this. They're not only doubting that God would release Peter, but when they kind of warm up to the idea that she actually is hearing Peter's voice, their only assumption is that he's already been put to death. It must be his angel for 16. But Peter kept on knocking it. When they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. These people, many of them who probably had walked with Jesus and saw a miracle after a miracle, these people who were present on the day of Pentecost, when everyone in the city began to hear the gospel preached in their own language, miraculously, these very people are gathered praying for miraculous deliverance for Peter. It happens. And they are astonished and can't believe. It doesn't seem like a lot of faith from these guys.

18:09 And what I love, what I love, what I love about this story is here you have people praying. And when God says yes, it becomes very clear that they didn't actually have the faith that was adequate enough to equal the miracle that God was willing to provide. But before you get too hard in this group, I want you to remember that God moved anyway. And here's the trap I fall into. I think that my faith has to equal the size and the scope of the need that I'm praying for. If my faith, it can just add up to be enough, God to equal the power that is required for this moment, for you to heal, for you to deliver, for you to break through. If my faith can grow large enough to equal the miracle I need, then that will create the formula by which God will act.

19:01 And what I see here is people who had very little faith, but they came into a place of prayer. And that was enough because it's not based on the amount of their faith, it's based on the amount of God's power and his willingness to interact and intervene in the situation. And all it required was that these people faithfully showed up into the place of prayer. And if you feel like you don't have enough faith for the things that you are praying, I have biblical evidence that tells us that God hears and responds, not weighing your faith out to see if it's enough, but looking at the riches and the power that is within himself and responding accordingly. And last time I checked he's Almighty, and last time I checked, he has all power and glory and dominion forever. Amen. And so when we call out to him, we have this confidence that as our Father, he's looking at his own resources and not at the amount of our faith to decide how he will interact with us. Hallelujah. Thank you Jesus.

20:14 I want to pray prayers bigger than my faith. I wanna pray prayers that if God says yes, I almost can't believe it. I want to pray prayers that if God breaks through, I'll be a skeptic because it's just too big for what my faith can handle. I want to pray prayers that sound a lot more like God's power and a lot less like the amount of my faith that I hold in my hands. So you might have human size faith in the outcome you're praying for, but I dare you to pray God-sized prayers. Why? Because Jesus told us we could.

20:57 Jesus sat at the last supper with his disciples and he began to talk about his exit, how he would sin the Holy Spirit. And it says this in John 1619, and and as we head towards close, the worship team can come back up. Jesus said to his disciples, he, he saw that they wanted to ask him so many things. And so he said to them, are you asking one another? What I meant when I said, in a little while, you will see me no more. And then after a little while, you will still see me verse 23. And that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now, you have not asked for anything in my name. But ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete. I believe that if we really took Jesus invitation seriously, if we really believe that, when we pray that God is listening and God is responding, I believe you would have a hard time convincing us as the church to do anything but pray if we truly believed that almighty God is listening and with a father's heart is willing to respond. It would hard be hard to find things that are more worth our time than praying.

22:17 But here's what life does. It allows that inner critic to rise up, cynicism creeps in. We start to doubt whether is really effective. And I was thinking back in my life and I was challenged by these texts, and I was thinking, how far would I have to go back to those days when I, I truly believe with every part of me, no cynicism present, that God was listening and willing to respond to prayers. And I thought back all the way to my freshman year at Mountain View High School. Go cougars, go cougars, a bunch of summit people in here, . I remember my freshman year, a a group of friends and I, we, we were just so, so in love with Jesus and wanted so badly for other kids at the high school to, to know him. And, and so even the, the summer before our freshman year, we would do crazy things. We'd get up at like four and five in the morning, walk down to the school, walk around it school year. And the first week it started, we'd go in and open early. So we'd, we'd walk the halls and, and pray that God would show up at Mountain View High School and kids would come to know him.

23:43 And I remember we had inherited this really large Bible study group that once a week would meet. And the senior class that had graduated before us had left us with over a hundred kids that were meeting every week. And so it was quite the, the deal on campus. And so the very first week I remember we kicked off the Bible study over a hundred kids and I stood up and I I I preached a message and it was super relevant and edgy and, and, you know, it was on Mafi Cheff in the book of Second Samuel. You know, like kids want to hear about, ,

24:21 But

24:22 It was about grace. It's about the grace of God for humanity. and 16 kids on that first day, like at the end raise their hand, I want to, I want to know Jesus. I wanna receive Jesus. And I tell that story, not so that you'll be impressed, you know, with our evangelistic efforts or anything like that, but I want you to know that there is something powerful that happens when we faithfully show up to pray. When we believe that God is listening, little faith, much faith, whatever it takes, but we show up in the place of prayer to believe that God loves humanity and wants to pour that out. Things happen. And what I want for us in this season of this church is I wanna call us the prayer. I want us to call us back into that, that place of prayer that maybe we've shied away from and that we've, that that, that we've become maybe a little bit afraid of. We've become too risk adverse to really enter into the kind of prayers that put our faith on the line. I wanna call our church into a moment, into a season, into a chapter where prayer is the thing we're all about.

25:33 Prayer is the thing that we do. Specific prayers. I don't wanna pray vague prayers. I wanna pray specific prayers that, that ask God for specific things. I was praying about just the next chapter of West Side as, as Ben and I just step into this new, expanded weight of leadership. And I was just praying the prayer, God, how would you have us lead in the next season? And I, I I, I felt this thought come, maybe it was from the Lord, but instead of an answer of how we should lead in the next season of West Side, I, I heard this, how do you want to die?

26:14 It's

26:15 Like, oh, that's dark. Don't like that

26:17 .

26:20 But I think what it meant was, at the end of your life, what kind of person do you want to be? And I can say with a whole heart, the last day of my life, I wanna be the kind of person that still is praying, that's still believing that God hears me. It hasn't grown so cynical or jaded or critical that I no longer have the desire or the energy or the faith to go before the Lord and ask him, I want to live a life that chooses to continually enter back into that arena of prayer. And so that's why I'm calling the church today into a season of prayer. You think, you see, I I I think that sometimes we get nos as answers from God. Sometimes I think it seems like God is not listening. But I remember this moment in the New Testament when the apostle Paul is going back to God three times to ask God to remove from him and deliver him from this infirmity in his life. And three times God's like, no, no. But then God gives him a word. He says this, he says, my grace is sufficient for you. My is made perfect in your weakness.

27:42 And I know this, that when God says no, or God seems like he doesn't answer the prayers, he always gives grace. And what we open ourselves up to when we enter into this arena of prayer is two, one of two things. Either God says yes or God's gonna give grace. And I would take either of those to a life where we no longer pray cuz we're scared of what God might say or not say.