The Ideal Church, Part 4

 

 

Are you a member of an ideal church?  You may well be and not even know it!  Yes, that church you attend on Sunday that you frequently complain about could very be an ideal church.  The church that you think is so perfect – the one all your friends attend with its worship band and hip pastor who wears skinny jeans may not be an ideal church.  Or it may be.  The ideal church is so not because it’s full to overflowing with young families.  An ideal church could be a very large mega church pastored by a guy with a million dollar smile and nice hair, or it could be the small congregation nestled in the mountains, part of a town nobody ever heard of.  The ideal church is the church that holds the Word of God to be its final authority.  The ideal church is, as we have noted so far:

 

·      The church that is being built person-by-person by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  It’s being built on Him and His teachings.

·      The church that knows it has been bought by the shed blood of God’s own Son and is owned by God Himself.

·      The church that understands the Holy Spirit is its chief administrator and that He has gifted members of the congregation with gifts that are used to build up its members.

 

The ideal church is a church whose foundation is built upon the Rock of Jesus Christ, by Jesus Christ and is empowered by His Holy Spirit, working in and through its members.  

 

The ideal church is also a church that prays.  I have often said that nothing happens on earth unless somebody, somewhere is praying about it.  I believe that to be true because it’s part of the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray. Maybe you know it:

 

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

If we want God’s will to be accomplished on earth, we need to understand that two principles are at work – God’s ability to do and man’s ability to ask.  God can do anything, but we must ask Him.  If God wasn’t all powerful, then He couldn’t have provided for our redemption.  If we fail to pray about anything, we would be limiting God and hindering God’s plan for both us and the world.  But God’s ability to give and to do has never failed.  In fact, God cannot fail.  Unfortunately, we often fail to pray.  It’s a wonder God’s will ever gets done, given the fact that so many of His people are lazy when it comes to prayer.  

 

The apostle Paul expressed this remarkable ability of God to do anything for us in a most comprehensive way in 2 Corinthians:

 

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  (2 Corinthians 9:8 | TNIV)

 

The first declarative statement should thrill your heart:  God is able to bless you abundantly.   In other words, God is able to give you more than what you are asking for.  That’s a remarkable statement.  If you’ve never experienced this, it’s because you haven’t prayed or you’ve prayed incorrectly.  

 

You do not have because you do not ask God.  (James 4:2b | TNIV)

 

We, as individuals and collectively as the church, have become weak, feeble, and impoverished because we have failed to pray.  God is all powerful, but our lack of prayer can restrain Him; our weakness in asking God for anything can hold Him back.  

 

But there’s a caveat.  God has the ability to do anything for us – He can bless us abundantly so that our blessings literally overflow – for a purpose: So that you…will abound in every good work.  In other words, your prayers must be broad, not narrow, in scope.  It’s fine to pray for your own needs; the Bible tells us to do that.  But to stop at your needs while ignoring it the needs of others is selfish.  E.M. Bounds, expert on prayer, said this:

 

Intercession for others is the hallmark of true prayer.  

 

When the church doesn’t pray prayers global in scope, it is telling God that He’s small; that He’s not all that powerful.  “Abounding in every good work” refers to what we do for God.  God will give us more than we need to do good work.  In the Bible, that always refers to doing works that will advance the Kingdom of God on earth.  In the book of Acts, we have an example of this.  

 

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.  (Acts 12:5 | TNIV)

 

Here’s a great example of how praying for one person, in this case Peter, would not only benefit him but also advance the Kingdom of God.

 

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.  (Acts 12:1 | TNIV)

 

The “King Herod” here is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, who famously attempted to kill the baby Jesus.  Up to this point in history, almost all of the persecution against the church had been coming from the Jewish religious leaders.  But now the Roman government had taken notice of what they perceived to have been a growing threat against their authority.  Herod, in an attempt to please both Rome and influential Jewish groups, determined to decimate the new and burgeoning Christian church.  

 

Stephen was the very first Christian martyr and the second martyr named was James, one half of the “Sons of Thunder.”

 

He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.  (Acts 12:2 | TNIV)

 

This was a dark time for the church in the Roman Empire.  James, a leader in the church at Jerusalem, was slain, yet Peter, also a church leader, as we will discover momentarily, was not.  Here’s a tough example of the sovereignty of God as it relates to the church.  Why was James allowed to die, but Peter permitted to live?  The answer is as simple as the sovereign will of God.  God is sovereign, which explains why it seems as though some prayers get answered but others go unanswered.  The truth is, we see see things very dimly and from only one perspective.  God, who knows all things and sees the beginning from the end knows what’s best.  That doesn’t mean we stop praying, it means that we learn how to pray according to God’s will in all things.  That’s not easy to do.  It seems to me that it will take at least a lifetime to get a handle on that.  But the sooner we learn that all things, including sickness and health, life and death, are in God’s hands, the sooner we’ll be praying powerful, effective prayers.  Some might say this is a defeatist attitude, but I think it’s the Biblical one.  Back in the book of Job, after he had lost so much, he and his wife had this exchange:

 

His wife said to him, “Are you still trying to be godly when God has done all this to you? Curse him and die.”  But he replied, “You talk like some heathen woman. What? Shall we receive only pleasant things from the hand of God and never anything unpleasant?” So in all this Job said nothing wrong.  (Job 2:9, 10 | TLB)

 

According to verse 10, Job did nothing wrong, yet if you look at how he suffered his wife’s suggestion might have been a tender suggestion, not a cruel remark.  Job called her a “heathen woman,” and that’s a good paraphrase of the Hebrew.  She was behaving like a person who either didn’t know God to begin with or one who outright rejected God or His will.  That same Hebrew word used elsewhere refers to an “unwise person.”  She was unwise – perhaps overcome by the sight of her husband and the loss of everything she thought was important.  But Job showed that he had a deeper wisdom; that he was able to keep his head and his eternal perspective.  Long before the words were written, Job was living out Deuteronomy 29:29 – 

 

There are secrets the Lord your God has not revealed to us, but these words that he has revealed are for us and our children to obey forever.  (Deuteronomy 29:29 | TLB)

 

There are things God has revealed to us; wonderful and amazing things.  But at the same time, He has chosen NOT to reveal everything to us.  Someday we will understand it all, but for now we need to be like Job in the sense that we need to understand that when a prayer appears to go unanswered, or worse, appears to be answered exactly opposite to the way we prayed, God is absolutely sovereign.  This is His world, not ours.  Our lives are His hands, He is not in ours.  It’s His church, not ours.  God is sovereign in all things, and we’d be wise to learn to accept that.

 

Getting back to Peter’s predicament, here was a godly man in jail because the State didn’t like what he was saying.  It’s a bad sign when speech is criminalized; an indication that a society is nearing its end.  The church was praying “earnestly” about this terrible situation.  James was dead and it looked like Peter was heading down that same path, so we can deduce what the content of their prayers was!

 

On the very night that Herod was planning to bring him out, Peter was asleep between two soldiers, chained with double chains, while guards maintained a strict watch in the doorway of the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” His chains fell away from his hands and the angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.”  (Acts 12:6 – 8a | JBP)

 

There’s something very strange going on in those verses, and it’s not the angelic visitors.  How was it that Peter was able to sleep, chained up between two soldiers, knowing what had happened to James?  Didn’t he fear for his life?  Remember, this was the guy that couldn’t keep his eyes open in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion!  Something had happened to Peter between then and now.  He had grown into a mature follower of Jesus – the Man of Stone Jesus said he would become.  A man who has faith in God and confidence in His will can sleep anywhere, anytime.  Or maybe Peter remembered Jesus’ promise:

 

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.  (John 21:18 | TNIV)

 

Peter did exactly what the angel told him to do, even though Peter wasn’t 100% sure what was going on.  

 

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.”  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.  (Acts 12:11, 12 | TNIV)

 

The power of God is greater than that of any State, including Rome.  Peter, out of prison, was faced with a dilemma. Where would a marked man go?  What would he do?  He knew the church would have been praying for him, so he he went to the house of Mary, the mother of Mark, to let them know he was all right.  A woman by the name of Rhoda (Morganstern, maybe?) heard Peter knocking at the door, asking to come in.  She recognized his voice but, instead of letting him in – which is funny in itself – ran back to tell the members of the church gathered there that Peter was at the door.  Then, as if to show that people are people the world over, this happened:

 

“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”  (Act 12:15 | TNIV)

 

This whole incident is humorous.  First, poor Peter.  He’s a man on the run, hunted by the Roman authorities, forced to stand out on the stoop, out in the open!  Second, poor Rhoda.  She had the best news ever – her prayers and the prayers of the church had been answered, but nobody believed her!  And third, the poor member of the church.  They had been praying that Peter would be delivered and when God answered the prayer, they didn’t believe it and thought Rhoda was a nut!  And fourth, they actually thought Peter had been killed and it was his “angel” that was paying them a visit.  It’s all very funny, but sad at the same time.  But the way these good people acted was in keeping with human nature.  They supposedly had the faith to pray for Peter, but what exactly were they expecting to happen?  Here’s another demonstration of God’s sovereignty.  He answered the prayers of people who didn’t have a whole lot of faith.  God is a God of grace, patience, and understanding.  

 

But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.  (Acts 12:16, 17 | TNIV)

 

The people were “astonished” that God had answered their prayer.  And I’m sure God just smiled and shook His head. Here’s a little lesson: Don’t pray if you don’t think God won’t come through for you!  

 

An ideal church is a church that prays.  Yes, even when the faith of the church may be at a low ebb, if the church does what it’s supposed to do – in this case, pray – God will be gracious and move heaven and earth to answer that prayer.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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