Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Purposeful Prayer - Doug Rehberg

It’s one of the toughest marathons. It’s a grueling endurance race from Sydney, Australia to Melbourne—545 miles. And in 1983, 150 world-class runners gathered for the race. Among them was a toothless, 61-year-old sheepherder and potato farmer, named Cliff Young. As he approached the registration table, everyone thought he was there to watch the race. He was dressed in overalls and rubber work boots. Cliff worked on a farm all his life. It was a modest farm without the benefit of horse or 4-wheel drive. So when it comes time to rounding up the sheep, he had to do it on foot over the 2,000 acres. Sometimes he had to run two to three days to complete the round-up. And as he mingles with the other runners at the starting line, everyone thinks it’s a joke. He takes off in a kind of leisurely shuffle. Those watching in person and on television say to each other, “Somebody ought to stop that old man before he kills himself.” But 5 days, 15 hours, and 4 minutes later, Cliff Young comes shuffling across the finish line 10 hours ahead of the next runner. All over Australia people are stunned. He had broken the previous record by 9 hours, and everyone wants to know how he did it. It isn’t long before they find out.

Everyone knows that to run a marathon like this, runners run for 18 hours and then sleep for 6 hours for five or six days. But no one told Cliff. He just shuffled along day and night, night and day without stopping. And because of it, he became a national hero. In fact, professional runners began to study his shuffle and experiment with it. Today, many long distance runners have adopted the “Young shuffle” as a way of increasing their endurance.

Endurance is one of the features Paul longs to see in the lives of the new Christians at Colossae. The writer of Hebrews pinpointed the need for endurance in chapter 12 when he says, “…looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…”

A few years ago I heard David Brancaccio of National Public Radio talking about a term of economic analysis called, “Hyperbolic Discounting.”  It’s something nearly everyone engages in these days on a regular basis. We discount the future for the sake of the present. Let me give you an example. Suppose someone says to you, “I’ll give you $100 today or $120 next year on this day.” Which would you take? 95% of all Americans will take the $100 today, even though they could make 20% on that money by waiting a year. Now why would anyone do that? The answer’s simple. We discount the value of the future gain by the length of time it takes to get it. In other words, we may opt for a dollar or more in a week or two, but we’re not going to wait around for a year for 20 more bucks. The longer we have to wait, the less we value it. Now why is that? Because the future is too vague to us. We can’t see it. We’re financially nearsighted.

But Brancaccio doesn’t stop there. He reaches out to Dr. Joseph Kable, a neuroscientist and associate professor of psychiatry of the University of Pennsylvania, and he asks, “Is there a pill I can take? Is there some corrective lens I can wear that will eliminate hyperbolic discounting?” The professor laughs and says, “I think we’re all looking for a cure. There’s no cure, but there are exercises that a person can do to strengthen their financial insight. For instance, you can interview your future self.” You say, “What’s that mean?” Ask yourself, “In five years where would I like to be? In ten years what will I value more than I do today?” But Brancaccio went one better. He found a 94-year-old named Hal and asked him, “Should I borrow the money to redo my 1960s kitchen?” Hal winced and said, “No way. Do a little bit at a time, as much as you can afford, as you go along.” “Should I save for my kid’s college education or should I buy a new Apple watch?” Hal smiled and said, “I think you know the answer to that. Besides, I saw a Timex at Marshalls for $25.”

Now think of Jesus. “…for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross…” Meaning what? Meaning there’s no near-sightedness in Him. In fact, He sets it before Him. Now think of what the writer of Hebrews is telling us. When Jesus went to the cross He was a volunteer. No one made Him go. He chose to go. When he rides into Jerusalem that day it was a transformational event. For three years He has avoided the acclamation of the crowd. For three years He has refused their coronation. And yet here, on this day, He chose to go from teacher to king, from Rabbi to Redeemer. He can avoid the cross. He can succumb to that temptation, but He doesn’t.

You say, “How could He endure it? How could He not break down and call that legion of angels?” The writer tells us, “For the joy that was set before him…” Meaning what? Meaning the way Jesus overcame the obstacles was by refusing to fix His eyes on Himself.

You say, “But if Jesus took His eyes off Himself who was He looking at?” He was looking at you! The joy that was set before Him is you. Don’t you see it? He endured the cross, despising its shame for you! You’re part of His bride. You’re part of the plan. You’re part of the prize. And you know how I know that? Jesus sat down on the right hand of the throne of God where He’s praying for you. Think of that. No matter whether it’s in the Upper Room or Gethsemane, Calvary or the throne, His eyes are never nearsighted.

They’re never fixed on Himself. He never engages in hyperbolic discounting. His eyes are on you. He sees you completely. He sees you complete. He sees you as a finished product. No wonder He’s full of joy. He sees you complete through His work on the cross every day. And all that is by way of introduction into Sunday’s message, “Purposeful Prayer,” based on Colossians 1:9-14.

For here in the middle of Paul’s introduction he describes where his thanksgiving for the Colossians takes him. It takes him into a prayer for their endurance in Christ. And as we will see on Sunday, in it he will show us the pattern, the practice, and the power of prayer. It’s a model for what our prayers can be. In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. If gratitude is the result of acknowledging God’s sovereignty over our lives, what does prayer acknowledge?
2. Whose prayers are featured most prominently in the New Testament?
3. What one characteristic is most essential in prayer?
4. Why does Paul pray for things that are so different from the things that possess us?
5. What is it that prompts Paul to pray without ceasing for the Colossians? (See verse 9.)
6. What does “spiritual wisdom” mean? (See verse 9.)
7. What does it mean “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”? (verse 10)
8. What’s the key to endurance and joyful patience? (See verses 11 & 12.)
9. How important is our inheritance in changing our lives?

See you Sunday as we gather around the table!