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Sep 15, 2019

Witnessing Prayer

Passage: Romans 10:1-12

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Romans

Keywords: love, outreach, time, grace, law, witnessing, shame, loving neighbors

Summary:

Ever wondered how to practically get a heart of real love for your neighbors? Want to be refreshed in the clarity and beauty of the Gospel? This message is for you.

Detail:

Witnessing Prayer

Romans 10:1-13

September 15, 2019

Welcome back to the first stages of our journey in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  As I mentioned last week, we’re coming at this a bit differently.  We’re not going verse-by-verse as we normally do but rather I’m at least starting by taking a look at Paul’s heart towards people outside of the family of God…outside of this great Gospel that he is writing about throughout this entire book. 

            We saw in Romans 9:1-3 last week how deeply and completely Paul’s life had been turned upside down and inside out when he truly encountered the resurrected Christ on his way to persecuting Christians in Damascus.  He was so transformed by the life and love of Jesus Christ that he is able to honestly say in Romans 9 essentially, “Cross my heart and hope to die…I’m telling you the God-honest truth…if it were possible, I would be willing to go to hell for eternity IF that would insure that my people, the Jews, would finally accept and put their faith in Jesus Christ. 

            Now, of course, that’s not possible for a number of reasons we don’t have time to look at today.  But the simple fact of Paul being transformed from such a hater or Christ and Christians to someone who would have given up his eternity with Christ for more people to find Christ, led us to the question, “How do you get a heart like that? 

            In trying to answer that question, I began to build a case that it was the love of Christ operating IN Paul that was the real motivating drive behind that deep, emotional, almost gut-wrenching sorrow” and “unceasing anguish” of heart he talks about in Romans 9:2.  That kind of love for other people…perhaps even the people we are closest to and love the most in this world—our families and dearest friends—is something God himself has to create in our hearts.  That is the love that caused Jesus himself to become essentially the recipient of God’s judgement on our sin. And Jesus is the only source, the only hope, in this universe for experiencing that kind of love in our own hearts. 

            So logically the next question is, “How can I get more of Christ’s love for lost sinners like me?”  “What is the means by which God will build and grow that love in my own soul?”

            The first answer we turned to for that was Romans 10:1—“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” 

            Some might say that this verse doesn’t come right out and state that it was Paul’s prayer life that turned him into a man willing to go to hell for lost people.  But I would contend that is precisely the message of this verse.  The only real ACTION in this verse is Paul’s prayer to God.  His “heart’s desire” is a feeling that resulted from some action.  That driving passion and motivation came from somewhere.  The question is, “HOW did Paul get that…and how do WE get that kind of ‘heart’s desire’?”  And the only consistent answer to that question that I see in the word of God is the ACTION of prayer.  Allow me to prove that to you from the Scriptures very briefly.

            Last week I took you to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5 when he said we’re supposed to love the most difficult people in our lives—our enemies—and he told us HOW to do that:

44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

            He’s essentially saying that one of the best if not the chief way to exchange love for hatred in our hearts for the most difficult people in our lives is to LOVE those very people THROUGH PRAYER.  Love tough-to-love people by means of prayer. 

            Someone might be thinking, “You don’t know my enemies! You don’t know what they’ve done to me!  You have no idea how damaging and horrible they have been to me!  I’ll pray for them alright!  “Dear God, please rain down fire and brimstone, calamity and suffering on this so-and-so!”  J  Thankfully God doesn’t answer all prayer with “Sure…right away.”  J   

            Jesus made it abundantly clear that our prayers for others must correspond with the nature of God.  And he told us, “The Father’s nature is to cause good things to happen to bad people as well as good people…downright evil people as well as really righteous people.” 

            I’m a natural questioner.  So I want to ask right away, “WHY would God do a thing like that if He hates evil and loves righteousness?  WHY, on earth, bless the unrighteous?” 

            We’ll get to this in a few weeks, but in Chapter 1 of Romans, Paul lays out that God has revealed enough about himself to everyone through nature that we are all have enough natural, internal knowledge of God to know that we are all guilty of failing to live up to even the standard of our imperfect consciences let alone the nature of God who is holy. 

            He goes on in Romans 2:4 to tell us that there is enough of God’s kindness and patience with us evidenced in this life for everyone to be led to repentance before God of our individual sinfulness.  (NLT)+

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

God doing good things for evil people is not only designed to draw them to God who wants them to be reconciled to Him through Christ; it is enough to leave them completely without any legitimate excuse if they reject His love in life and when they stand before Him in final eternal judgment. 

Part of that “good” that God wants to expose every person in this world to is the “good” of God’s people praying for them.  It’s the good of praying down the blessings of God on people bringing down hardship on us.  That is why God wants us to pray for everyone who is without Christ and separated from the love of God:  He wants His kindness to abound in their lives and draw them to Him. 

But it isn’t just about them and the goodness God wants to pour out on them.  It is about our hearts and the love of Christ that God wants to pour out in us by the Holy Spirit when we pray for them.  God will bless the unrighteous even if we don’t pray…but probably not to the level He will when we pray.  But failure to pray for others needing Christ will mean that our hearts will fail to be changed by the love of God that comes into us in the experience of prayer itself

That is how Paul, persecuted mercilessly by his own fellow Jews, could say, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.”  He knew what it was to obey Jesus’ call to pray for your enemies.  And He knew that something deep and profound had happened in his heart when he prayed for them and for their salvation.  It was so deep that he was even willing to go to hell for them forever if it would have made any difference in their response to Christ. 

Last week I gave you that handout sheet with 4 quadrants on it.  Each quadrant dealt with a different sphere of relationships that we all have.

  1. Neighbors we live around
  2. People we work or go to school with.
  3. People we socialize with
  4. Passing acquaintances (once or periodic)

I also challenged each of us to consider praying 1 minute/day for each of 10 people you might decide to pray for on that combined list.  (Obviously, if you have more, pray for as many as you have time. But better to start with a small, consistent amount of time [10 minutes] with a smaller number of people than to be overwhelmed by the thought of praying for 24 people and taking 20 minutes of more.)

              Before we jump back into the text in Romans 10, I would like to talk about a couple more things that may help your prayers for these 10+ people be truly effective and powerful. 

            WHAT you know about people will help inform your praying.  If we barely know a person’s name, you can still pray for great blessings.  But obviously, the more you know about them, the more specific, targeted and powerful your prayers will be.  If you know things about them like who is in their family, what they like to do in their free time, what their personal challenges are and things they need/want God to do in their lives, that will make your prayers both more intense/fervent/passionate, more focused and more personal. 

            So on the back of today’s sheet, you have 10 “blocks” that I’d like to have you use for each of the top 10 people you will decide this week to pray for. 

  1. Write their name (first and last) on the top of the block.
  2. In the block, use section “A” to write down things that will help you pray more clearly. Family members, work, hobbies, challenges in their lives.
  3. In the bottom part of each block, use section “B” to eventually write in some things they may share with you that they hope God will do. I say “eventually” because hopefully we will all eventually tell them that we are praying for them and we’ll ask if there is anything in particular they would like to see God do in their lives or the life of a loved one.  I wouldn’t necessarily start out your new relationship with them by telling them that.  But I would hope that it would come up in conversation with each of them at some point when they share a personal need that we have been and will continue to pray for them. 

It might be as simple as saying some day, “You know, I like to pray for people I work with/live around/am friends with/etc.  Is there anything in your life right now that you’d like God to help with?” 

They may say, “No (or “Hell, no!”) I don’t even believe in God!”  Which is a great opportunity to say something light and true like,

  • “That’s O.K. He still believes in you!” J OR
  • “Not a problem! I can pray about that too!” J OR
  • Well, thanks for being honest with me about where you are in your spiritual journey in life.”

And now you know specifically how to pray for them!  J

            Some of you may have completely glazed over by now!   You may be sitting there thinking, “What on earth is Pastor thinking I do with my days and nights?  Not only don’t I know HOW to pray for people; I don’t have TIME in my busy day to set aside 10 or 15 minutes to pray.  Pastor, get in touch with reality!” 

            So here’s my challenge to you.  God gives us 24 hours in a day.  That is 144 10-minute increments in a day. I’m challenging you to use just 1 of those 144 increments each day.  I’m challenging myself to care enough about the eternal plight of a handful of people God has put in my life to spend less than 1% (.00694) of my day asking God to work in their lives.  That’s far less than a 10% tithe…or 5%...or even 1% tithe of our time to engage in the 2nd Great Commandment to “love my neighbor.”  One minute a day praying for one “neighbor” needing Christ…or needing to actually grow in Christ…is less than 1/1,000th of every day.  It’s loving that can be done on our schedule.  It’s loving that can be done quietly, secretly, privately...at least to start with.  But it is loving that will not only change our “neighbors” lives; it will change OUR hearts!

WHAT can we be praying for our “neighbors”?  Let me give you a few things God wants to hear us pray about and answer about US and about our “NEIGHBORS.”

For YOURSELF:

  1. Pray first that God will help you be consistent and faithful in prayer. Romans 12:12 (NIV)—“Be…faithful in prayer.”  May I recommend a couple of things that will help you do that?
    1. Set a specific time for this praying. Dick Eastman, President of Every Home for Christ, says in his book The Hour that Changes the World, that he did a survey of 20,000 prayer warriors who had committed to pray 60 minutes a day.  Of those who were having trouble actually carrying out their commitment, almost all of them had failed to set a specific and consistent TIME in their day when they would drop everything else and pray. 
    2. Make a daily verbal declaration of the importance of your time alone with God in prayer by talking to yourself and telling yourself, “The most important appointment I have today is my appointment with Jesus in prayer.”
    3. Choose a specific place where you will not be interrupted.
    4. Ask those around you for help (if you live with others) and fight all interruptions Lest we think this is impossible, let me tell you a little bit about a now rather famous woman. 

ILL: Susana Wesley: Mother of John & Charles Wesley, men who shaped history through their ministries.  John became one of the most influential spiritual leaders of the 18th century.  He founded Methodism and preached to over 1 million people back in the 1700s by traveling on foot and horseback.  At age 70, without PA systems, he was still preaching to crowds of over 30,000 people, sometime 3 times a day!  His brother, Charles, wrote over 6,600 hymns.  But what of their mother, Susana?  She gave birth to 19 children, but 9 of them died—including 2 sets of twins—in infancy.  The other 10 she home-schooled from 9-noon and 2-5, six days a week. 

Knowing the value of one-on-one time with her children, she had a rotating schedule in which she spent an hour each week alone with each of the 9 children at bedtime. Her house burned down twice (or was burned down by villagers angry at her pastor-husband). 

Yet every day, 7 days a week, she would set herself down in her chair with her Bible, pull her apron over her head and spend 2 hours alone with God reading the Word and praying for her children, her husband and her neighbors.  She called it her “tent of meeting” and everyone in the house, including the toddlers, knew not to bother her when she went to that “tent.” 

Early in her life, the daughter of a well-educated London pastor, she had determined that she would never spend more time in leisure entertainments than in time with the Lord. Her decision obviously changed the world and shaped the face of Christianity all over the world for generations.  [See additional facts at https://www.faithgateway.com/praying-example-susanna-wesley/#.XXwvMChKirc]

  1. Pray that God will open up OPPORTUNITIES and give you BOLDNESS to share the love and Gospel of Christ with them. Colossians 4:2-3-And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (See also Eph. 6:19-20). 

What do those “doors” look like?  They can be a host of things.

  • Block parties/dorm parties/seasonal parties
  • Inviting people over for dinner or BBQ
  • Conversations in the hallways, the street or over the back fence.
  • Borrowing something you need… and returning it!
  • Acts of kindness when you learn someone is sick, a family member has died, needs a ride somewhere, etc.
  • Planning to spend 30 minutes with someone offering a cup of coffee hearing their story.

[Ask other to share other simple ideas.]

For OTHERS:

  • That God will heal their spiritual blindness.

2 Cor. 4:4--The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 

ILL:  Larry White praying for his law partner, Nelson Repsold, and our entire family. 

  • That they will be moved to begin/continue to ask themselves important questions:
    • What is my purpose in life? Why am I here?
    • What will happen to me when I die?
    • Why does so much in my life not satisfy?

So let’s spend the remaining minutes of today’s time in God’s word getting the big picture of Romans 10.  While Paul is in a sort of emotional agony for his fellow Jews, this chapter is filled with positive and overflowing emotions for what God does for everyone who puts their faith in Jesus.  And Paul is going to clarify just what it means to “put your faith in Jesus.”  Let’s read the first 4 verses again:

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 

            Paul is talking about what his life was like before he trusted in Christ.  He’s identifying with the fact that Israel as a nation (and he as a religious leader) had God’s law but they weren’t saved.  If you wanted to be saved by the law, you had to keep it perfectly… 100%.  And since nobody but Jesus ever did that, nobody was saved by the law. They had to be saved by faith in God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness when you didn’t keep the law. 

Paul says (from personal experience), that the Jews are “zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.”  What? Wasn’t Paul one of the best educated, most knowledgeable men in Israel at the time? Weren’t the Jews strictly educated in the law of Moses, the prophets and the Torah which explained the law?  What do you mean that their religious zeal, their apparent spirituality was “not based on knowledge”? 

The word for knowledge here is used some 20 times in the N.T.  (Gk:  epignosis).  It’s not just head knowledge or mental assent to facts.  It means to be personally involved with, personally experiencing what you know to be true.  In essence Paul is saying, “for I can testify about the Jews that they are truly zealous, devoted and committed, but their devotion and commitment to God is not based on personal experience of God.  It’s based on their religious performance—religion in place of relationship!” 

How do we know that?  Because if their attempts to keep the law had actually been connecting them by faith with the Father, they would have joyfully and quickly embraced His Son, Jesus, who was sent to complete the law and bring them closer to the Father through faith in Him, the Son.     

Paul continues:

Since they did not know (epignosis) the righteousness of God (which is a righteousness that has always been attained and experienced by faith, not by imperfect adherence to the law) and sought to establish their own (righteousness that they never could because they weren’t truly righteous as God demanded), they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (“God’s righteousness” is true and perfect holiness, 100% adherence to God’s nature and law of righteousness and thus something we must acquire by faith since we can’t earn it by being good enough.  To offend God’s law just once in a lifetime makes us sinners in need of a Savior…and we all offend multiple times every day, not to mention in our lifetime! 

Christ is the culmination (or completion/fulfillment/the only One to ever keep it perfectly “culmination”) of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

            Unfortunately, by jumping into chapters 9 and 10 as we have, we’ve missed Paul’s amazing development of these massive themes of “righteousness,” of “the law” and of belief.  But leading up to this passage, Paul has proved that there is NO righteousness for anyone based on the Law.  The law makes us aware of just what a bunch of dirty, rotten sinners we actually are.  The law, used properly, will lead us to a profound realization of our sinfulness that should then lead us to a profound relationship of faith with God and gratitude for what He promises and what He has made possible for us (substitutionary atonement). 

            Paul is telling these Gentile Romans that “everyone who believes” in Christ, the only one to completely fulfill the law, gets God’s righteousness through Jesus, the only Righteous One. 

            Now, in vss. 5-7, Paul is essentially saying that Jesus is the completeness, completion, fulfillment and only one to be righteous according to the law.  He’s quoting from a couple of passages in the O.T.

  • Leviticus 18:5-- "For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them [or: by that righteousness]." Since nobody did perfectly God’s commandments, nobody got righteousness based on the law. 
  • Deuteronomy 30:11-14 Paul takes this passage in Deuteronomy and uses it to point to Jesus, not to the impossible demand of fulfilling the law perfectly, when he writes, But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down)….  Now he’s talking about the incarnation of Jesus.  Getting a righteousness through the law would require God himself to “come down” in the person of Jesus, the Son of God.  It would also require the resurrection of Jesus.  Look at 7:  “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). Paul sees Moses pointing forward to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.  In essence, the resurrection of Jesus was proof of his completion of the law and his triumph over what had kept every other human, even the best, most religious and “law-keeping” humans in the grave. 

Paul continues:

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”  

Notice that Paul focuses on the agreement that is going on between the “mouth” and “heart.”  He’s going to talk about that united demonstration of faith in Jesus in the next verse (9).  What he is saying is that this “word” that is in the Roman Christian’s hearts and mouths is really the “word” or “message” of the Gospel of faith that has the power to save every human being on earth IF we will respond in faith. 

“The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”  

that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 

True followers of Christ actually “know”, actually experience, actually have this “word” or “message” in their experience.  And what is that “message” of the Gospel?  Look at verse 9:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 

            Paul is not advocating some form of “Christian magic” here.  He’s not saying that if you just recite the phrase, “Jesus is Lord,” that you’ll be eternally “saved” from sin, hell and judgment.  According to Philippians 2:11, every tongue will one day acknowledge that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  But that will not be a statement of faith but simply a declaration of reality at that point.  Paul is talking about FAITH in the Lamb of God NOW, not in your own “righteousness” by supposedly being a “good/righteous person”. 

            When we are being ourselves, truly ourselves, our mouths simply declare what our hearts believe, right?  Someone can torture you and make you say something you don’t believe.  But that is not what God does.  He gives us freedom to choose.  He allows us to reject Him and the only possible way to be reconciled to Him (Jesus) and spend our whole lives and eternities foolishly thinking we’re “good enough” and we don’t need God himself to be saved from our sin. 

            OR we confront our sinfulness, recognize to our horror that we are completely alienated from God and lost forever even with our best efforts, and agree with God that we need Jesus to be our Lord, to exchange our sinfulness for His true righteousness and complete the work of saving us from a life of rebellious sin against God. 

10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 

            Just as being “justified” (declared righteous in Christ) is synonymous with “saved” here, so the “heartthat believes is synonymous with the “mouththat professes faith in Christ. 

            Truly “knowing” Christ will always change what goes on in our hearts and thus what comes out of our mouths.  So it is no surprise, as we’ll see next week, that God expects that true “believers” in Christ will be true talkers about Christ!  Real, living faith will so change our hearts that we will become real, professing ambassadors of our forever Lord and King. 

Lastly, notice the two different sides of the same “coin” of blessing that comes to the person who stops trying to be righteous before God by the law or moral living:

11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

What is that “double-blessing” given to every single person who puts their faith and belief in Jesus

1.)  Something is not given us: shame.  Shame not only feels bad; it will poison just about everything in life when it is not dealt with by the blood of Christ and the forgiveness of God. 

2.)  Something is given us:  rich blessing to all who call on the Lord Jesus Christ to save them…and salvation.  That “salvation” isn’t just being rescued from an eternity of separation from all that God is; it is a “salvation” that can be as powerful and real on a daily basis as it is the first day you are saved.  God is in the business of saving us over and over and over again from our own self-and-other-destructive sins.  Every day should be a rich blessing of finding all the blessing there is walking with God himself in this life and walking away from sin in this life and its damaging and destructive effects.

APPS:

  • Have you come to that place in life yet where you realize you are alienated from God no matter how “good” you’ve tried to live in life? Have you come to recognize that you need the perfect righteousness of the perfect Savior Jesus applied to your shame, your account and your life?  If not, why not? Make today your day of salvation.  Stop trying to get right with God on your terms and surrender to the life and Lordship of Jesus by putting your faith in what He did for you on the cross, in his death and through His resurrection.
  • Thanked the Lord Jesus lately that He has taken away your shame? If you’re still living with shame over sin, ask Him to set you free and show you how He sees you now—without sin, blameless, not guilty and righteous even as Jesus is righteous.
  • Need to re-start enjoying the rich blessings of being eternally and dailysaved” by faith in Jesus? Ask God to open your eyes to how He wants to “richly bless” you…and may be doing it already.  Ask Him to show you how he wants to keep saving you by daily faith in Him.  The salvation we have in Jesus is meant to be something that grows and grows in our souls and our sense of blessing every day we walk by faith in Him.