"Treasure In Clay Jars" series


Prayer – what is prayer?
We don’t like to think that we are dependent. It doesn’t seem good to be a dependent. We don’t have any problems having dependents – especially at this time of year – but to be dependent means that we are a bit helpless.

And yet, the reality of life and especially the Christ-life is that we depend on much more than our own abilities.

2 Corinthians 4 - 7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Idolatry is so tempting because it puts us on a level playing field with God. We think that God actually needs us. We think that we sit at the table with our God and negotiate a contract. “So then God, we see that you have called us and we feel really great about that. We accept your gracious proposal and we would like to discuss some of our terms with you – just some things that we think are fair. Now in return for these blessings we promise to do the following.”

That doesn’t sound right, but idolatry actually makes us that bold before God. We need to recapture the meaning of the word prayer. Rather than a list of wants, prayer once meant a request made by a person of lower social station to a more powerful person. Sometimes it was highly structured and carefully ordered, but sometimes it was less formal. One thing was consistent – it was an appeal. Luke 18 - 2“In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' ”

The one who prays is completely dependent on the goodwill and the power of the one to whom the plea is addressed. When we bow in prayer it isn’t for the sake of meditation and focus. It is because we are expressing humility before a mighty and powerful God. He is the greater one to whom we appeal.

There are times in our lives when we feel this way about prayer, but how often do we come before God as a church with the same sense of dependence? Do we ever stop and realize how we depend entirely upon God’s goodwill and power for the determination and continuation of all ministry and mission?

Depending on God ... Why this matters for the mission.
Unfortunately our prayer life and our participation in ministry and mission are sometimes fueled by contradicting assumptions. Privately and personally we may pray with a keen awareness of our weaknesses and limitations, but publicly and as a church we pray and act as if we are self-determining and as if we have all the resources and influence we need to effect change and respond to problems.

Case in point: Some of us remember the “if only everyone would save two” plan. The proposal was that if everyone would make two disciples, then in a very short number of years the entire world would be saved. It was sort of like compounding interest. It was an exponential accumulation. But what does the plan depend upon? Our efforts! It seems blasphemous to challenge this model of evangelism since many of us devoted so much time and passion to seeing it done, but we need to recognize the assumptions inherent in this plan ...

1. It assumes that evangelism and salvation are ultimately dependent on our efforts.
2. It treats people as numbers rather than real people with real problems that seem to get in the way of mission – For example, What do you do when #48 starts drinking again? What do you do when #212 loses his job and his family (#213-#215) are in a financial crisis? What do you do when #457 gets frustrated with the congregation and its leaders and convinces #688–#773 to begin a new congregation? Do you keep telling them to “get their two”? This may work in door-to-door sales or mutual fund interest, but is this really how the mission of God works?

The mission is not about math or multiplication. It is about dependence on God and his Holy Spirit. It is about faithfulness and endurance through trials.

Read Matthew 10:1-16
Consider how Jesus sent out his disciples. What did they depend on? But what authority did they have?

Would we do ministry the way Jesus proposes? Doesn’t it just seem too risky? What and who do we have to depend on for this teaching of Jesus to become reality?

We can become so distracted by implementing our plans that we neglect to pray to God.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 April 2006

Treasure in Clay Jars
Lesson Seven: Pattern 6 – April 2, 2006
“Depending on the Holy Spirit”

What is this lesson all about?

  1. You will explore the need for personal and church prayer in sustaining and motivating participation in God’s mission.
  2. You will discuss the power of prayer in difficult and desperate situations.
  3. We studied Matthew 10 three weeks ago when we considered how the church takes risks to honor God. But this text also has significant implications for our depending on the Holy Spirit as we take those risks.

Getting Started:

  1. When are your most aware of how much you depend on God?
  2. On a typical one-week trip, how many pairs of shoes would you pack?
  3. What is your worst hotel experience? Did you forget to bring something?

Searching the Word:

Read Matthew 10:5-20 aloud.

  1. What type of supplies were the apostles to take for their journey? (vv. 9-10) How is this different from the way you prepare for a trip? What concerns would you have in traveling this way?
  2. What does it mean when a traveler carries multiple bags? Well-prepared, planning to stay for awhile, wealthy, too particular?
  3. What does it mean when a traveler has no luggage? Urgent business, in a hurry, poor, dependent on others?
  4. What was Jesus communicating by the type messengers he sent?
  5. How were the apostles to find a place to stay? How many of the apostles would you guess were turned away? When have you traveled without knowing where you would spend the night?
  6. How were the apostles supposed to respond if they were arrested? What kind of preparation did Jesus give them? Would we support missionaries that worked by this sort of strategy? Why or why not?
  7. How would it affect our faith if it became illegal to be a Christian? What would happen to church buildings and professional ministers?

Making It Real: Exploration and Response

  1. How dependent were the traveling apostles on the Holy Spirit? What keeps us from being so dependent on the Spirit? How has hardship caused you to grow in your dependence on God?
  2. Where do you believe the Holy Spirit is leading us? How do you think he intends for our lives to be different? How do you think the Holy Spirit would like our church to be different?
  3. Fill in the blank: I have always wanted to be part of a church that ...
  4. How do you think the Holy Spirit has been involved in leading you to that dream for the church? How could we move in that direction?

Prayer Time

  • To be true to the point of this lesson, we need to cultivate the habit of prayer.
  • Ask God to make his will abundantly clear for us. Ask for ears to hear and eyes to see and hands to serve. Ask him to give us the spirit of holiness, understanding, and discernment.
  • Pray for God to lead us to become more the church of our dreams (but most of all His dreams).
  • Take whatever concerns are pressing upon the church or the members of your group and turn these over to God. Confess your/our dependence on God and the Holy Spirit in this matter. Let go of it and be ready to follow God!
  • As a group, call the prayer pager numbers listed in our church bulletin and website. [One number reaches all pagers: (479) 441-2395.]

Kid-Friendly Activity
Blindfold some of the group members (kids and adults). Tell them they have to find a treasure by listening only to your voice or only to the voice of one parent. Set them lose and coach them to find the treasure (candy hidden ahead of time).
How difficult was it to find the treasure? Why?
How much did you have to depend on the person leading you?
How is this like depending on God?
Read Matthew 10:5-14 aloud. How dependent were the apostles on God to lead them? What are some ways we depend on God to lead us? How could we be more dependent on God?

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 2 April 2006

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