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The Holy Spirit: Prayer and the Spirit

October 4, 2009

Sermon: The Holy Spirit: Prayer and the Spirit
Text: Ephesians 6:18-20; Jude; Romans 8:15-16

I talk with you from time to time about the life of prayer. I know you must sometimes wonder, “Why, Kirk, do you address this topic so often? Why do you keep coming back to the issue of prayer?”

You have heard me say something that Clare taught me: there are only about fifteen minutes in the life of a banana when it is worth eating. The banana is either too green or too ripe most of the time. There is just the right time to eat it. Manna from heaven was also that way. There was just exactly the right time for the people of Israel to receive nourishment from it. The accounts in the Old Testament tell us that this food only lasted one day. The people of Israel would repeat the process, harvesting it every day.

Prayer is like manna from heaven. It is the very nourishment of the Christian life. Nothing in the Christian life deteriorates so quickly as the life of prayer. If we neglect prayer, it not only falls to disuse. It also decays. We must renew our prayer life over and over and over. I come back to the topic of prayer again and again to remind you that it is so important that we dare not neglect it.

Prayer is always a relationship, a statement you have heard me say so many times. Prayer is always a reciprocal interaction between God and God’s people. When we pray, we are responding to God. When we pray, God is also responding to us. God, who loves us very much, desires this kind of interaction. He calls upon us to interact with Him in this way. Though prayer is a reciprocal relationship, it is not a relationship of equality. Think of it this way: God acts in a decisive way out of His sovereignty. We must respond in a dependent way because we are dependent on His sovereignty. If either God or we fail to do what we are called upon to do, this interaction breaks down, and prayer vanishes from our lives. We must renew our prayer life every single day.

Let’s look at the passage that serves as our text for today, Ephesians 6:18-20:

In addition to all of this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of god. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on paying for all the saints.
Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel…

The phrase “pray in the Spirit” is chocked full of meaning, maybe more meaning than we can glean even in one sermon. That phrase is repeated in the first chapter of Jude, a book at the end of the New Testament, coming just before Revelations. I want to show you something that I learned from this little book. Jude was a servant of Christ, but he was also a brother to James. James was a brother of Jesus. Therefore, Jude was one of the younger brothers of Jesus. Verse 1: “To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ…” Jude, a very brief book, basically says, “Stand firm. In the course of your life, when things militate against your faith, do not give in. Keep the faith.”

You know the expression found in Genesis 4:9, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Who keeps you? Who is your keeper? Your keeper is God. God keeps you by Jesus. Look at the very end of the book of Jude, the passage that we all know so well as a great benediction, a doxology. Verse 24: “To him who is able to keep you from falling…” Who is the keeper? God is the one who can keep you.

Now look at Jude, Verse 20: “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love…” You see, God is our keeper. He surrounds us with His protection and love. We have to reciprocate by keeping ourselves in His love. How do we do that? We pray in the Spirit.

What does it mean to “pray in the Spirit”? Let’s go back to the first sermon in this series and remember that the Spirit in the Old Testament is the breath of God. God breathed into us the gift of life when He created us. We have to keep on living. How? We keep breathing. Do you have to keep reminding yourself repeatedly to take a breath? Probably not, unless you are about to go under water. Most of the time, we go through life without thinking twice about how often we breathe or how important it is to breathe.

In the spiritual life, prayer is our very breath. It is the way we respond to God’s gift of life. We continue to breathe in and out through the life of prayer. One meaning of “pray in the Spirit” is that prayer becomes like our next breath. We pray with our eyes open and with our eyes closed. We pray when we are joyful and when we are sad. We pray even when we do not have a clue about what to say or how to size up a particularly difficult situation for us. In the same way that we keep breathing, we keep praying. That is what it means to “pray in the Spirit.”

The passage used in the Call to Worship this morning comes from Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” Paul says that we do not always know what to say. We do not always know how to pray as we ought. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with prayers that are too deep for words.

Have you ever had such a close relationship with someone that you could just be in their presence and feel so close to them without ever exchanging a word? Maybe you have had that experience with a little child, with a marriage partner, or with someone much older than you. Words were not available at the time, but you knew that a close connection existed between the two of you. Psalm 139 tells us that before a word is on our tongue, God knows it all together; we do not even need words. Life in the Holy Spirit is that way. Though we do not always have words to speak, the Holy Spirit is right there like our next breath, always with us.

Some people will say that “pray in the Spirit” means to have the gift of tongues, to be able to speak in what is known as glossolalia, unknown tongues. Many people have that gift. You will notice that Paul says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions and in every way, in every circumstance.” In other words, this is not just one small category of prayer. This is prayer in all of its forms.

Prayer in the Spirit is no different when you say the blessing at a meal or prayers at night, prayers at the bedside of a sick friend, prayers while driving down the road with eyes open, prayers as you head to an important appointment, or prayers when you just want God’s help. It is all praying in the Spirit. Why do I say that? This connection between the Christian and the Holy Spirit is so close it is like our next breath. It is a prayer that is without ceasing. It is in and out and in and out. God is present in every bit of it.

I will be the first to tell you that if you really are not praying in the Spirit, if you are just reciting words, if you are not praying from your heart, this is idle chatter. It is prattle. It makes no sense. It is like “the sound and fury signifying nothing.” It is like a clanging gong or a noisy symbol, Paul says. Our prayers must be from the heart. We must be tuned into God’s Spirit.

I want us also to look at one other passage. Romans 8:15-16: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship (or I would daughterhood). And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

We have a great assurance here that as the Spirit guides our prayer life, we have a connection with the Father. We know that the Spirit that guides our prayer life is the same Spirit that will be sure that we do not pray in the wrong direction. People talk about praying in the will of God. If you are praying in the Spirit, you cannot help but do that. The Holy Spirit is not going to lead you some place other than to the will of God. This praying in the Spirit is how we respond to God’s gift of the Paraclete, to God’s gift of the wind of the Spirit, to God’s gift of His very breath, the breath of the Spirit.

I encourage you to be more aware of this throughout your day, not just for fifteen minutes in the morning or five minutes in the afternoon. Think if you said, “I will breathe fifteen minutes this morning and maybe another five minutes before I go to bed tonight.” That is not enough breathing. You have to keep breathing all day long. Breathing has to become so much second nature that you do not have to think about it, that you do not have to make yourself breathe.

Prayer is the same way. It happens all day long. It is why Paul talks about engaging in prayer without ceasing. Prayer is a constant process of being in God’s Spirit, being with God’s Spirit.

I cannot begin to answer all of the many questions you may have. I can tell you that if you cultivate this habit and realize how important it is to your life, to your decision making, and to the joy of being a part of the Christian life, it changes everything. If we are deprived of oxygen, we start to die. In the same way, if we are deprived of this kind of prayer, we start to die spiritually. We do not want necrosis in our spiritual lives. We want vitality. We want to be alive in Christ. This praying in the Spirit is so important.

God acts in decisive ways. No act is more decisive than the cross. When we look at the cross of Christ, we see what He has intervened in human history. He has given us His Son, Jesus Christ. One way to think about the cross is to remember that God loved us so much that He loved us to death, death on the cross.

When we see His decisive act, we respond in this reciprocal relationship. One way we respond is to come to this table to follow the example Jesus set for us. Jesus said, “When you come to this table, remember that the bread is my body. Remember that the cup is my blood. You do this as often as you do it as a way to remember.” We remember what God did in that decisive act of the cross, freeing us from that vicious cycle of sin and death. We respond by taking these elements. As we do so, we are breathing a prayer for God’s presence. We are breathing a prayer of recommitment. We are responding to the great love of God. We desire to love Him because He is “Abba, Father.”

I remind you that when we come to this table, this is not Morningside’s table. This is not a Baptist table. This is the Lord’s Table. Anybody who professes Jesus Christ as Lord is invited to take these elements. Let us take the supper together.

On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. He broke it and said, “This is my body broken for you.”

Let’s have a prayer of blessing for the bread.

Gracious Father, thank You for the opportunity we have today to partake of our Lord’s Supper. We acknowledge that this bread is the token of his body that was broken for us on the cross. I pray that You will enable us by Your Holy Spirit to receive it in a manner that is worthy of his great love for us. We do this in remembrance of him and with thanksgiving. In Jesus’ most precious name, I pray. Amen.

Listen to this prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me;
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.” Eat it as often as you eat it in remembrance of him. Eat ye all of it.

Let us have a prayer of blessing now for the cup.

Dear Lord, as we come into Your house again today, we worship and praise You. We come to worship in a special way taught to us by Your Son in that upper room 2000 years ago. We take up the cup, a symbol of his blood shed for us, his blood that washes away all of our sins and grants us the most precious gift ever given, the gift of eternal life. We thank You for that gift, dear Lord. As we take the cup today, we ask that You keep us mindful of how beautiful a gift it indeed is. We ask these things in the name of Your Son, our risen Savior. Amen.

Listen to this prayer to the Holy Spirit. Pray this prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me;
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink ye all of it.

The words to that song are a prayer, not just today but every day. You can take that simple song with you throughout the day. When you are stopped at a red light with your eyes wide open and you just need to breathe a little prayer, let those words come to mind. When you are in distress, when you are trying to make an important decision, fall down on your knees and pray that simple prayer. You can pray to the Holy Spirit no less than you can pray to God the Father or God the Son. Learning to pray like that is the desire of my heart for every one of you. It is something that cannot be taken for granted. It is a matter of practicing this awareness of God’s presence.

I know that this is a day when every single person in every pew – in the balcony, in every section, in the choir – needs to make a decision. We need to make a decision to recommit our lives to Christ. We need to make an intentional decision in the quietness of our own heart to say, “Lord, I love you. I really want my life to serve and honor you.”

Some here today have never made the decision to accept Christ as your Savior. You know that God has been speaking to your heart. Today is the day. Please, could I urge you to make a decision to ask Jesus Christ into your heart? Just come down the aisle. Take my hand. You do not have to say much. I understand. I will help you speak what you need to speak to ask Jesus into your heart.

Would you make that decision in the ways God invites you to respond? He has taken the supreme initiative in Christ. In this reciprocal relationship, we must respond with our commitment.

Kirk H. Neely
© October 2009

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