W. Robert Godfrey: Praying to the Lord of the Harvest: Awakening & Prayer

After that introduction, you’re probably amazed
that I can walk up here. So am I. But it’s always great to be with you, especially
now that I’m unemployed. I think that sounds more pathetic than “retired,”
so I’m preferring to put it that way. And it is just always great to be here. It was always great to be in a foxhole with
R.C. Sproul, because it was always fun and because
Vesta was always there. And so, it’s just always such a treat to be
here, and such a rich time, such a busy time, but such a rewarding time. I hope you’re finding it that way, and I’m
especially glad to be speaking on awakening after lunch, because we know that the people
God wants awakened are those who are asleep. So if you nod off after lunch, I’ll do my
best at some point to awaken you, and we want to think about the amazing topic of awakening. Do we need awakening? Now, as R.C. would say, “That’s a rhetorical
question. You don’t have to answer out loud.” Do we need awakening? I’m already remarkably successful. My son Googled for me, because of course I
have no idea how to Google. The population of the world is estimated to
be at about seven and a half billion people. And it’s estimated that of all those people,
a quarter to a third are baptized. Think about that for a minute. Is that remarkable? When Jesus gave His disciples the Great Commission
to go into all the world and preach the gospel, can you imagine that those disciples would’ve
thought for a minute that even a quarter, a third of the part of the world that they
knew might name the name of Jesus. One could argue, perhaps — one would be wrong
— but one could argue that we don’t need awakening at all. What we need to do is to celebrate the extent,
the spread, the triumph of the church. It’s like in America, a huge percent of the
American population is baptized, and what a difference it’s made, what a moral country
we are, how we stand for righteousness. Well, why is it in the world as a whole and
in the United States in particular that although the church is large, the impact often seems
very small. And the answer is, isn’t it, because so much
of the church is asleep. There are two kinds of ways in the Bible of
being asleep. In Ephesians 5, the sleeping are referred
to as “the dead,” the spiritually dead, the dead who are not yet awakened by the Spirit
of God. But also in the Bible, the asleep can be “the
neglectful.” Remember when Jesus went with three disciples
into the garden of Gethsemane and urged them to watch and to pray with Him, and to pray
that they enter not into temptation, what happened? They fell asleep and had to be awakened. And that’s very much the way it is with the
world. Where there is spiritual deadness, there needs
to be a great awakening to life. And in the church there is a dual need, because
there are many in the church who are in fact spiritually dead and must be awakened to life. But there are also many in the church who
are neglectful and have to be awakened to service and faithfulness. And one of the key ingredients in any awakening
is prayer. Now, we’re not talking about prayer in an
Arminian sense. I had a friend in seminary who said, “I believe
that if we just put in enough hours praying, God will save a soul.” In other words, it’s our praying puts God
under obligation. If we pray enough, God will change His mind
and do something He didn’t intend to do. That is not the way we pray. Or if it is the way you pray, wake up! It’s not the way you ought to pray. Prayer is a gift. Prayer is a privilege. Prayer is often instrumental in awakening
but often instrumental as a fruit of awakening. When does the church begin to pray with commitment
and passion and focus? It’s when it’s awake. And so, we want to think about prayer together
and the importance of prayer. Why is so much of the church asleep, either
in spiritual death or spiritual neglect? Well, part of it is because it has not heeded
the call of the Scripture to listen to the Word of God. The central verse of the central Psalm in
the central book of the Psalter is this verse, “O Israel, if you would but listen to Me.” It sort of explains almost the whole history
of Israel. “O Israel, if you would but listen to Me.” “O church, if you would but listen to Me.” And in not listening, part of the church is
asleep in things it has added to the Bible, superstitions and traditions, which people
follow and trust, even though God has not taught them. Or they’ve added to the Bible revelations
of the Holy Spirit that God has not intended or taught. So we can sleep by adding to the Bible, or
we can sleep by taking away from the Bible. That was Derek’s experience. I mean, he didn’t do that personally, but
when he went to visit that vicar who warned him against too much religion and handed him
a book by Paul Tillich, he was speaking for all of those who’ve taken away from the Bible
and have said to the world, “Well, you can’t believe this part of the Bible, and you can’t
believe that part of the Bible, and you can’t believe this part of the Bible, and you can’t
believe that part of the Bible. But you know, there’s a little bit that’s
actually useful left.” That’s tragic, isn’t it? That’s a sleeping unto death. But we can also be asleep just becoming somewhat
indifferent to the Bible. People who go to evangelical churches to hear
an entertainer in the pulpit, to hear stories and jokes, to hear tidbits of verses strung
together may very well have very little interest in the Bible as the Bible, the Bible as a
whole, the Bible as a revelation of God, the Bible as a story from beginning of creation
to the end of history, the Bible as a coherent theological message to teach us and to encourage
us and to direct us. The church is asleep, and if we want awakening,
we need to be praying. We need to be praying that the church will
wake up, that we’ll wake up, that we’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit and with a desire
to be faithful in our service to the Lord. So as we think about that a little bit together,
I want us to have in mind one of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Luke. Jesus teaches, as I count itb, ten different
times in Luke about prayer. We maybe particularly remember Luke 11, when
His disciples come to Him and say, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and He taught them the
condensed version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11. But several other times, nine other times
in the Gospel of Luke He is briefly, or sometimes at some length, teaching about prayer, the
meaning of prayer, how to pray, what to pray for. And in Luke 18 verse 1, He says so remarkably,
or Luke writes so remarkably. “And he told them a parable that they ought
always to pray and not to lose heart.” They ought always to pray and not to lose
heart. It could also be translated “that they ought
always to pray and not to grow weary.” When Paul says, “Be not weary in well doing,”
it’s the same verb that Luke uses here, that we ought always to pray and not lose heart. You know what that really means, it really
means Jesus does not want awakenings. So, you spent all that registration money
for nothing. Jesus would rather you didn’t fall asleep
so that He didn’t have to awaken you. We ought always to pray and not lose heart. When they were in the garden of Gethsemane
He did not say, “Fall asleep, so I can awaken you.” He said, “Watch and pray that you enter not
into temptation. Now, praying is hard, isn’t it? We had that important question at question-and-answer
time yesterday. What should I do if I don’t feel like praying? Well I gave a brief answer, because I didn’t
want to give the whole lecture I’m going to give now then. You know, then what would I do now? It’s all about me, you know. So, what I really want to talk about is Jesus
calls us to pray, and how does He encourage us to pray? How does He direct us to pray? What is the call of Jesus, and how does it
impinge on us? How does He call us to pray, and how does
He help us to pray? And the first thing, I think, it is important
for us to see is that He calls us to pray by His own example. Luke represents Jesus as praying, as I count
it, fifteen times in the Gospel of Luke. Fifteen times we’re told Jesus prayed, Jesus
prayed, Jesus prayed. Does that strike you as remarkable? Jesus is the eternal Son of God. He exists forever in unity, the most intimate
unity with the Father and the Spirit. He is in communion, contact, words almost
fail us. The thoughts interflow, if we can call them
thoughts, between the Father, Son and Spirit. They are One and Three at the same time but
always united, always in communion. Why does Jesus need to pray? He doesn’t just pray to offer us an example,
although He does in praying do that. He prays to show what a loyal son, what a
faithful follower, what a human being needs to do. Human beings, unlike His divine nature, are
finite. We have to focus on certain things and not
others. And Jesus shows us in His human nature that
He has to take time and focus and commune with His Father, and that this is vital to
Him. This is crucial to Him. This is important to Him. We read in Luke 22 verse 44 that when He was
in the garden facing the cross, “being in agony, He prayed more earnestly.” Isn’t that interesting? The more the reality of the cross impinged
upon Him, the more the horrors of the cup from which He had to drink controlled Him,
the more earnestly He prayed. If we could paraphrase that, as the worse
things got, the more He prayed. The worse things got, the more He prayed. It that true of us? It is sort of, isn’t it? Sometimes, the hardest times to pray are good
times, where everything seems to be going fine. We have a little joke, a little saying as
a joke. I want to make sure you realize this is a
joke that we say at seminary sometimes, “When all else fails, trust the Lord.” Now what do we mean by that? When we seem to be in control of things, we
sometimes are content to be in control of things and not think so much about the Lord. But when we get desperate, when we have to
face the reality that we’re not in control, that drives us to the Lord. Now Jesus never was apart from the Lord. But even in His life, the horrors that approached
for Him led Him more earnestly to pray. And we derive from that, and as R.C. would’ve
said, an a fortiori conclusion. If this is true of Jesus, how much more is
it true of you and me? If Jesus needed to pray, how much more do
we need to pray? If Jesus exercised the privilege of communion
with His heavenly Father, how much more should we exercise that privilege in communion? So, Jesus calls us to pray by His example. We need to follow that example. He also calls us to pray by His command. That’s what we read in Luke 18:1, we ought
always to pray and not lose heart. Jesus says that in the context of having spoken
about the kingdom of God. The Pharisees in Luke 17 had come to talk
to Jesus and said, “When is the kingdom of God coming?” And Jesus, on the borderline of rudeness,
says, “Well, you wouldn’t recognize it.” And that’s ironic, because a little later
He’ll say to the disciples, “You won’t miss it.” And then He says to the Pharisees, “The kingdom
of God is in your midst.” Now He’s obviously using “kingdom of God”
here from two perspectives, in two angles. The kingdom of God has come wherever the king
is. That’s what the Pharisees missed. When is the kingdom of God coming? “Hey bozo, it’s here. Jesus is here.” The kingdom is in the midst of us. But the kingdom is also going to come one
day in glory, when the King returns in glory, and we won’t miss it. If somebody says to you, “We have to go out
on the mountaintop and wait, otherwise you’ll miss it.” You say, “You don’t know what you’re talking
about.” If anybody says, “You have to move to some
holy place.” You know, in my tradition that means Grand
Rapids, Michigan. You can say, “No, I don’t have to be there. I won’t miss it, whatever part of the world
I find myself in.” It’s not true that Sinclair Ferguson retired
to Scotland just so he’d be in the holy place when the Lord returned, I think. Yeah, he’s raising his eyebrows at me, so
I think that’s true. And so, Jesus is saying to the world and saying
to His disciples, “The kingdom is in the midst of you, and the kingdom is coming in glory.” And both of those things can be hard to believe,
can’t they? The kingdom is in the midst of us … where’s
the evidence of that? It’s nice that there are five thousand people
here, but where are the rest of the millions of people in Orlando? If the kingdom is in the midst of us, why
don’t we see more difference? And then on the other hand, we can ask, “Where
is the promise of His coming?” Two thousand years, two thousand years. There are some young people here, but you
don’t have either two thousand years to wait. And so we get discouraged, and that’s why
Jesus says, “When you think about the kingdom, and you think about what is God doing right
now, and what is God going to do in the future, and you begin to worry, and you begin to get
discouraged, what ought you to do?” You ought to pray, and not lose heart, because
Jesus knows what He’s doing. He knows what He’s doing now. He knows what He’s going to do in the future. And the good news is, however bad things are
today and tomorrow, however long we wait for His appearing, when He appears, not one of
the elect will be lost. He will absolutely accomplish all His purpose. He will build His church, and the gates of
hell will not prevail against Him. Is that not great? And when we’re not sure, when we’re not sure
that this is going to happen, we need to pray, because prayer puts us in contact with our
God, with our Christ. It puts us in contact with the One who is
in control. It enables us, in the beauty of conversation,
to be renewed in confidence in our God. He speaks to us in His Word, we speak to Him
in prayer, and in that dialogic life that we live with God, we are built up, we are
encouraged. We do not grow weary in our service. So, prayer is really important. He calls us to prayer. He calls us to prayer by His example. He calls us to prayer by His command. And He calls us to prayer by His instruction. Lord, teach us to pray. Do you know there are wrong ways to pray? There are ways in which you ought not to pray. There are ways of prayer that God is not pleased
with. It’s important to keep in mind. The dominant American attitude tends to be,
“If I think about God at all, He’s lucky. He should be so pleased that I, center of
the universe, think about Him.” And so, we can get sloppy in prayer. We can get completely misguided in prayer. There are very sincere people who spin wheels
thinking they’re sending off prayers. God doesn’t want us to spin wheels. There’s another metaphorical kind of spinning
wheels, but we’ll talk about that another time. There are people who count beads and rattle
through the beads as fast as they can, thinking the accumulation of prayers will please God. There are people who read prayers. Now, I don’t think it’s wrong to read prayers,
but they read them heartlessly. They read them unenthusiastically. They read them without any personal investment,
and it becomes what Jesus called “vain repetition.” We have to avoid that. We have to avoid an attitude in prayer, very
interesting, comes later in chapter 18 of Luke, the attitude in prayer of people like
the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, who trusted in himself that his prayers would accomplish
something, because of the splendid character of his own holiness: “I thank You, O God,
that I am not as other men. Have you noticed my inherent superiority?” We mustn’t trust in ourselves. We mustn’t trust in vain repetition. We mustn’t trust in just activities that we
call prayer. No, Jesus instructs us in prayer. There’s a right way to pray. That’s the way He wants us to pray. And He calls us to pray in the right way,
in the little prayer He gave us, the Lord’s Prayer. Now you may be tempted to think … I haven’t
been around all these years for nothing. I know what you’re tempted to think, “I know
all about the Lord’s Prayer.” Familiarity can breed contempt. “I know all about the Lord’s Prayer.” Luther said, “We can never know the Lord’s
Prayer.” He didn’t mean by that it’s so long, we can’t
memorize it. He meant by that it’s so profound, we can
never master it. We can never fully enter into it. We can never plumb the depths of Jesus’ meaning
in it and through it. And so, we need to keep coming back to it
to be refreshed in the instructions of our Savior. And He instructs in several ways, doesn’t
He? There are several different points there. Luke does have in chapter 11, what we might
call the condensed version of the Lord’s Prayer. And it’s Matthew in chapter 6 that has the
annotated Lord’s Prayer, the longer Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes, people get all worried about this,
you know, which is the real Lord’s Prayer? Well, you know Jesus was a preacher. He went from place to place. And like preachers who go from place to place,
He preached the same message but in slightly different forms and words. So, He probably taught the Lord’s prayer one
way one place, a little differently in another place, because He didn’t give it that we would
recite it rote, thoughtlessly. He wanted us to think about it. And in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer,
there are five petitions. And it’s very interesting, only one of those
five petitions are for physical needs, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That means the pattern Jesus gives us in Luke’s
Gospel to pray means we can pray for our physical needs twenty percent of the time. How are you doing on that? I’m doing really poorly. Do we pray twenty percent of the time
for our physical needs and eighty percent of the time for spiritual things? The eighty percent we can divide in half and
say forty percent should be for spiritual needs in general, the holiness of God’s name,
the coming of His kingdom, and forty percent can be for our spiritual needs, the forgiveness
of sins, the not being led into temptation. The not being led into temptation, that’s
related to not sleeping. Anybody sleeping out there? Wake up! The Lord’s Prayer, you see, is directing us
to the priorities of Christ and of His kingdom that should be the priorities of His church
and of His people. As I like to say, we spend more time praying
for Aunt Bessie’s knee than for persecuted Christians. Now, I don’t want to neglect Aunt Bessie,
but Jesus lifts our eyes in this prayer to remember the priority, the centrality, the
essential character of the spiritual interests of the kingdom and calls upon us then to be
thoughtful about that, reflective about that. Now sometimes if you think you’re too familiar
with the Lord’s Prayer you could, you know, take yourself in hand and maybe pray it backwards. Think about that for a minute. Think what new light might be shed upon the
Lord’s Prayer if you take the Lord’s Prayer, as we find it in Matthew chapter 6, and pray
it backwards. And we pray first of all then, “Deliver us
from evil.” Now when I was first converted and was attending
a Christian Reformed church, when we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together every Sabbath,
when we came to that line, we prayed it, “Deliver us from the evil one.” And that’s actually a very legitimate translation
of the Greek. “Deliver us from the evil one, and lead us
not into temptation.” Who does that make you think about right away? Does it make you think about Jesus in Matthew
4 which is only, because I’m really good at math, two chapters before Matthew 6? Jesus had been led by the evil one, into temptation,
hadn’t He? He’d been led there into temptation for us. To sustain the temptation that we ultimately
could never sustain. He sustained the temptation in the wilderness
as the last Adam, sustaining the temptation that the first Adam had not been able to resist. He sustained the temptation as the true Israelite,
not failing in the wilderness as Israel had done. God had delivered Him from the evil one, so
that He could deliver us from the evil one, and that’s what we are praying for in the
Lord’s Prayer. You remember Jesus’ words to Peter, Luke chapter
22, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith
fail not.” Peter was delivered from the evil one by the
prayers of the Savior. He was not led into a temptation that He could
not face, because of the prayers of the Savior and the work of the Savior. And when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we need
to think in those terms of the deliverance that Jesus has brought us, that Satan now
has no hold on us, that temptation cannot overwhelm us. It can be severe. We can fall into sin, but we are not lost
because the Savior redeems us. And so we can pray, “Forgive us our debts,
forgive us our debts.” One of the things that struck me as I was
reading through various Psalms and thinking about prayer and awakening is how many of
the Psalms that are so precious to us are filled with repentance. The prayer, “Forgive us our debts” is a prayer
of repentance, isn’t it? It’s a recognition of our failure, of our
need, of our sinfulness. I think of Psalm 90, where we have that very
familiar, wonderful verse, verse 12, “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart
of wisdom.” What is the context of that wisdom that the
psalmist is praying for? What is at the heart of that heart of wisdom
that He’s praying for? I think it’s that we would really recognize
how sinful we are. Verse 8 of Psalm 90 says, “You have set our
iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence.” And then verse 11, “Who considers the power
of Your anger and Your wrath, according to the fear of You.” An awakened church is awakened to repentance,
and I think that’s one of the crying needs of our time. It is so easy for us to feel superior, morally
and spiritually, to those around about us. And it may not even be entirely wrong to say,
relatively speaking, we can think of ourselves as good. Are you good? Are the sleepers in the back row good up there? I shouldn’t assume you’re sleeping. That’s not fair. Are you good? Well maybe, relatively we can think of ourselves
as good, although even that is a dangerous road to pursue. But when we compare our spiritual, moral state
before the holiness of God, we should tremble. We should tremble. One of the great statements in the Heidelberg
Catechism is, “Even the holiest of men,” even the holiest of men, “have only small beginnings
of that obedience to which we’re called.” Do we really believe that? Do we really feel that in our hearts? Do we really begin to penetrate what it is
like to have our sins laid before the eyes of the Holy God? Do we really allow ourselves to be filled
with an awareness of what God’s anger against sin is like? When I was in college, I had a professor — I
think I’ve said this here before — who said, “The American religion can be summarized in
this way, ‘I like sinning, God likes forgiving, and everything is well set up.'” Well, the first part of that is true. I like sinning, but things are not well set
up, because a holy God is offended in ways we can hardly begin to imagine by the reality
of sin in the world that He created good. The world that He created good, and we threw
it away, and we continue to throw it away, and we continue to be contemptuous of Him
who is good through and through. And an inevitable part of a genuine awakening
is an apprehension of our sinfulness, not everybody else’s sinfulness, our sinfulness
before God, and the anger of God against sin, and the cost of propitiating that anger in
the death of His Son. Where do we most clearly see the anger of
God against sin? On the cross where His own Son, ever in communion
with Him, ever in fellowship in His essential and undiminished holiness, for you and for
me has to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? If we’re awakened, we may well be overwhelmed. And that’s why, often in the history of awakenings,
there have been excesses. People that are overwhelmed sometimes are
driven to excess. And we don’t justify the excess, but we can
say we can understand. That filled, maybe for the first time, with
an awareness of the provision of the profound depths of our sinfulness. We’re horrified, horrified. A heart of wisdom is horrified at the anger
of God and the sinfulness of sinners. And so, He instructs us in how to pray, “Forgive
us our debts, forgive us our debts.” Calvin says the way that it really ought to
be translated is, “Forgive us our debts, as we have been forgiving our debtors.” Meaning not, “Forgive us our debts, if we’re
sufficiently forgiving of our debtors.” But Calvin says, “What that really means is,
forgive us our debts and assure us that we really are forgiven, just as we can see ourselves
forgiving other people.” It’s not forgiving other people to earn something
from God, namely the forgiveness of sins, but it’s looking at our new hearts that enables
us to forgive others, that encourages us to know that God has forgiven us too. And so we could go on through the prayer thinking
about these elements. We don’t have time to do that, but think for
a moment of the prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” and Jesus in the wilderness. “I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world,”
the evil one said, the evil one tempted Him. And Jesus responds in effect, “I only care
about one kingdom. I only care about my Father’s kingdom. I only care about the kingdom of the Holy
One. And so, let’s take the instruction of the
Savior to heart, as we take His command to heart, as we take His example to heart and
as perhaps, above all, we take His encouragement to heart. When you pray, say, “Our Father.” That’s not a privilege much given to Israel
in the Old Testament, to call God “our Father.” It’s not a privilege much seen in the Gospels,
to call God “our Father.” We can call God our Father only because we
come in and through His Son. Calvin, who was so smart and so helpful and
needs to be read a lot more, was I think, just a little impatient when he wrote about
people, who would say, “Well, the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t end in Jesus’ name. I thought we had to pray in Jesus’ name.” And Calvin, I think with just a little testiness,
because he did have a little bit of a temper problem. Calvin said, “Every time we pray ‘Our Father,’
we’re praying in Jesus’ name.” You can’t pray “Our Father” except through
Jesus, and in Jesus, and because of Jesus. And the privilege should be overwhelming to
us that we may come and be encouraged into the presence of the ineffable, transcendent,
supremely Holy One, and say to Him, “Father, our Father.” The devil kept saying to Jesus, “If You are
the Son of God, if you are the Son of God, if you are the Son of God.” And Jesus says to us, “If you have repented
and believed, you are a son of God. You are a son of God,” and you may come to
Him freely, openly, passionately, perseveringly, knowing that He’ll hear you, and He’ll love
you, and He’ll provide just what you need, because He’s your loving Father. Our Father, let Your great will be done. Our Father, give me the physical things I
need in life. Our Father, forgive my sins, and preserve
me from the evil one, and from temptation that I might serve You. Now aren’t those good reasons to pray? What’s the matter with you people? Let us commit ourselves to prayer. Amen, thank you.

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