Before I answered my call to ministry I spent several years in college studying engineering. Unfortunately I have forgotten much of what I learned. But one thing I have not forgotten from my years in engineering is that in order for any structure to stand and to be strong it has to have a strong foundation. The foundation is what the entire structure rests on and depends on to stand up. It is what under girds it and holds it up. Even the sturdiest and most stable structures you can design and build will crumble and fall if it is placed on a weak foundation.
The same thing holds true when we talk about building the church. Now understand, when I say building the church, I am not talking about this building this physical structure. I am talking about the church, the Body of Christ, the people of God. Unless we build who and what we are as a church on a rock-solid foundation our ministry will not stand the test of time, it will eventually crumble and fall.
So this morning as I want to continue our series looking at our vision for the future and how we will respond as we seek to be a part of doing something big and making an impact on our world and on the lives of people. Last week I told you I believe our response to God’s call or our prescription for the future really can be found in three foundational ways: It is…
- Grounded in gratitude
- Revealed in prayer
- Lived in faith.
These are the things I believe that if we as a church are to be faithful to Jesus Christ, if we are to make a difference in the lives of men and women, boys and girls, if we are to impact our community and world, and have a ministry that will truly stand the test of time, then these are the building blocks on which everything else must rest.
Last we learned first and foremost our response must be grounded in gratitude. Most of you filled out the gratitude cards and you can see them displayed in the narthex here. And let me tell you – Wow! If you ever get a little bit tired or discouraged and wonder if the church makes a difference – pull out some of those cards and read them. Friends the church has an impact. It is making an amazing difference. And what came out of that is that once we realize that all we have and all we are comes from God, that we can overflow in our hearts with gratitude because we realize that everything we have is a gift. And the more we are grateful for what we have the more we are willing to give of ourselves to others so that then they can have it as well.
This week I want us to look at the second thing we need if we are going to build a church for life and that is prayer. If we are going to build a church for life and realize our vision of accomplishing something great for the Lord, it has to be grounded in gratitude and it must be revealed in prayer.
This is how it works. When you are grateful, your gratitude will inspire you to be more generous with your time and your talents and your treasures. And from gratitude you move to prayer and you say, “God, based on what you have done for me, based on all that I have to be thankful for, Lord, what would you want to do through me?” Friends it’s through prayer that God helps us discern what to do with all of our blessings and our resources. It’s through prayer that God helps us to discern how they can best be used for His kingdom.
And that is exactly what this story from John 15 teaches us.
In John 15, Jesus had the last opportunity to have the last conversation that He would have with His disciples before His arrest and crucifixion and resurrection. And so He was saying things to them that would be very important for them. And in this conversation He talks to them about being part of the vine.
This was the last of His “I Am” statements. If you remember in the gospel of John there are several times when John records statements by Jesus where He say “I Am…” And He did that in teaching the disciples. Jesus said, “I am the living water… I am the Bread of Life… I am the light of the world… I am the good Shepherd.” And He would go on to teach them things about that title and what He meant.
In the passage we heard earlier, Jesus says to them, “I am the Vine and you are the branches.”
Now I don’t know a whole lot about grape vines. I can tell you about the grape vine, singular that Robin and I had in the back yard of the very first house we lived in. We rented this house from the funeral home that was next door. And this grape vine grew right outside the back door of that house. There was a trellis there and in the spring it would sprout leaves and grow.
The first year we were there we had about six clusters of grapes on that vine. And I thought, “Wow this is really cool.” And we watched it very closely and we watched and waited in great anticipation to be able to enjoy those grapes. They started off small and green. And then slowly they started to get a little bit of color. And we would come in every day and say, “Just a couple more days. Maybe tomorrow we can go out and pick those grapes.” And so when the weekend came we rushed out and we were going to pick those grapes, and you know what? Something else had been watching for those grapes to get ready. There was this chipmunk that lived under the back porch. That chipmunk must have been the size of a squirrel because it sure did enjoy those grapes.
That was the first year. The second year we were getting ready to move and head off to seminary and so we just kind of let it go and let nature take its course. And that vine grew and almost took over the entire trellis and even started to climb onto the roof of the house.
One thing I noticed about this grape vine. I noticed that on the end where the vine was planted, where the main vine is, there were several clusters of grapes there and they were beautiful. But way down on the other end where it started to grow onto the roof, those were the puniest looking grapes that you’ve ever seen. We tried to get the chipmunk to come get them. He wouldn’t even have them.
I don’t know a lot about grape vines but one thing I do know they take a lot more care than I was willing to give to it. It calls for a good deal of pruning. And the other thing I know and maybe the lesson to take away from that is that the best fruit comes from those grapes that are closest to the vine.
Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Abide in me, remain in me, and I will remain in you and together we will produce fruit.”
I love that word “abiding.” Abide. Stay close. Keep in contact. Remain in me. The way we stay close to that relationship with Jesus is by being in constant contact with Him, not avoiding it or having a cursory relationship with Him.
Jesus said, “I am the Vine and you are the branches. You need to stick close to me. Abide in me. Remain in my presence.”
Here’s a question for you. What if you had 30 minutes to be in the presence of Jesus? Just the two of you. And He was going to be physically right there in your presence.
You know people would spend a lifetime waiting for an audience with the president or with someone famous. Here’s your chance. Thirty minutes to be in the presence of Jesus. What would you do? What would I do?
And I imagine where I might be when Jesus walks in and sits down and I am there and I am just in His presence. What will I say?
I think I would spend the first part of that time just being absolutely speechless. I’ve talked about Jesus. I’ve thought about Jesus. I’ve read about Jesus. I’ve preached about Jesus. I believe in Jesus, but He’s here. What would I say? I think it would just be a moment of awe. Who am I that you would have anything to do with me; that you would spend time with me; that you would be with me?
You know what I don’t think I’d ask or say to Jesus? I don’t think all those questions that I say when I get to heaven if I have a chance I’m going to ask this question or that question? I don’t think those questions would be very important. It would probably not be on the front of my mind to say, “So Jesus, tell me why do bad things happen to good people?” I don’t think that would be my question. I don’t think my question would be, “So what exactly did you mean when you said it’s easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven? Was that a real needle? Was that a real camel?” I don’t think that would be the question.
I don’t think I’d be asking Him, “So tell me can you explain to me this idea of the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three Persons in One?” I don’t think so.
I think it would take me a while to be able to look Him in the eye. If I ever got to that place. I would want to get to that place.
I think maybe my question might be, “How can you really, really love me as much as I know you do? Do you really love me that much?” And then I don’t think I’d have to ask the question because I think just to be in His presence I would know.
Maybe the question I would want to ask would be, “Lord what can I do? Jesus what can I do to worship you; to rightly worship you; to rightly say thank you? What can my life be to answer that question?”
I might want to ask, “Lord, what do you want to do through me; what do you want to do through my life?”
I would invite you this week maybe to spend a little bit of time maybe with that idea. You have 30 minutes in the physical presence of Jesus. What would it be like?
You know what the good news here is? When Jesus said to Hs disciples, “Abide in me and I will abide in you?” Jesus knew He wasn’t talking about a physical presence. He knew He was going to be gone, and there would be very few opportunities for them ever to be in His physical presence again. And He was still saying to them, “Abide in Me and I will abide in you.” You know what the good news for us is today? We have that 30 minutes! Every day! Every minute of every day we have that opportunity, that opportunity to abide in Him. It’s called staying close. It’s called prayer.
Jesus modeled that in His own life. He spent a whole day healing people in Capernaum, late into the evening. The next day it says before daylight He was out by himself to find a quiet place just to pray; to be in contact, to abide in His Heavenly Father.
We’re told there was a time when the disciples were so busy they didn’t even have time to eat. And Jesus came and took them away from that, took them away to a quiet place; an opportunity for them to abide, just to be in His presence.
On the very last night of His life, the night before His arrest, He took a great portion of that night to spend it with His disciples and then to spend it with His Father; to spend that time in prayer, asking ultimately and again surrendering His will to the Father and answering the question once and for all, “God what would you have me do? What would you do through me?” And Jesus settled that question in His own mind and He went on to purchase for us our salvation. And that happened because of His abiding in God.
We’ve been talking about our capital campaign and our annual stewardship campaign for these last two weeks. We’re calling it Building a Church for Life. This morning I am asking you for one thing. I’m asking that you pray. I’m asking that you would be in prayer for ourselves, for our church. Our vision for the future, it comes in abiding. It’s about being in God’s presence. It’s about spending time in prayer. But more important than that, more important than a building campaign, our vision for the future comes in staying in abiding, in keeping in contact with Christ, having an opportunity to be in prayer; to live in prayer. To have that personal and private audience with Jesus; to worship, to ask, “Lord, what do you want to do through me?” I want to be close to the vine so that together we can produce the kind of fruit that is meaningful for You. I want to be close. What does that look like? Help me to abide.
As our campaign moves forward at its foundation, at its very core it must be about prayer. Here’s how we are living that out. Three ways:
- Pray for our church. My friends, I need your help today. I want to invite you this morning to enter a partnership with me, a prayer partnership. I want to build our church on the right foundation and that will not happen if we are not a people of prayer. So I challenge you to join me in praying for our church.
What are some specific ways you can uphold your church with your prayers? You can pray that the work undertaken by our congregation will help to accomplish those things we believe Christ would have us do; that the decision makers of the church, our community, and world will be guided by the One who comes to bring life and hope and peace.
I ask you to pray for me that God would guide, strengthen, and anoint me to be faithful as I strive to serve you and the church. You can pray for the other members of our staff and lay leadership team, that they too might be encouraged in their work by the presence of the Lord.
And we want to help you do that. As you leave this morning our ushers will be at the back door handing out little cards that have the name of one of our ministries, events, or activities. I want to challenge you to take one of those and this week I want you to take a few minutes every day to lift that ministry up to God in prayer.
- We want to pray for you. Our prayer team is coordinating an effort to pray, by name for every member of our church family; every single one. We want to pray for you. You see this is not just a one way proposition. It goes both ways. During our prayer vigil that will carry us to the completion of the campaign and lead us to Commitment Sunday we will be lifting up every man, woman, boy and girl in the church individually by name. And so as we do that we want to know if there are any specific prayer concerns or requests that you might have that we can include in that prayer.
This is where those prayer request cards come in. If there is something you would like to have lifted in prayer please put it on that card. There will be basket on the Capital Campaign table right by the back door as you leave. Please drop your card in there.
- Finally you remember that 30 minutes? Would you have 30 minutes to set aside to sit in the presence of Jesus? 30 minutes to spend in conversation and communion with Him in prayer? If you do I would challenge you to sign up for one of the 30 minutes time slots for our prayer vigil that will happen on October 4 during the 24 hours leading up to Commitment Sunday. 30 minutes. Can you give that time to Him.
Friends the greatest lack in the church today is not people; it is not funds. The greatest need is prayer. Without increasing the numbers of Christian workers or their financial support, we would see multiplied results if we would only multiply prayer. Prayer is the greatest resource of the church. It is the most effective means of preparing the way of the Lord available to us as Christians today. You yourself can influence more people for God and have a greater role in advancing the cause of Christ by prayer than any other way. It is not the only thing you must do, but it is the greatest single thing you can do. It has been said:
“The devil trembles when he sees
God’s weakest child upon their knees.”
If that is true, and I believe it is, think of what could happen if every Christian really took their prayer role seriously and began to pray regularly and specifically, uniting with millions of others, all praying for the same priority needs around the world. Are you willing to be a part of such a prayer army?
I challenge you to join me as together in prayer we ask seek God, asking Him, “Lord, what would you want to do through me?”
Sermon Topics: Church Growth