After studying electrical engineering for four years and working for a year and a half in the industry, I felt really frustrated. I knew that I wanted to work in Christian ministry full time, I knew that God was calling me, I knew that I had to study theology but I didn’t have the means. I didn’t have the money to support myself and I didn’t know anyone rich. Have you ever wished you had connections with someone powerful that could help you out? Like if only I knew someone connected like Vindiesel; he’d make a plan. Or if only I had a rich uncle like so and so, they could give me a study loan. But I didn’t. So, I started looking for study loans and bursaries to study Theology and couldn’t find any. I felt really frustrated. In the end I was advised to pray about and I did. Then one day I had this really ironic conversation with an assistant pastor who was working at the church I was at. I was asking him about predestination. Does God control and pre-determine stuff, is he that sovereign. At the end of the conversation John asked me if I had considered studying theology and full time ministry. I didn’t even see that this was God answering my prayer so I replied casually, yes. I kept working in Engineering and praying that God would provide me a bursary to study theology. Then, a good while later I met with my senior pastor. I wanted to challenge him on the lack of racial integration in our church. I went on and on about how the church should mirror the cultural landscape of the community. If there are people in our community who are refugees we should be singing songs in worship that they understood. I ask questions about why things were the way they were and I gave some suggestions about how I thought we could change it. He listened patiently and with much care. But after I had spoken he didn’t reply to my questions. Instead, filled with the Holy Spirit, he said to me “have you considered that you may have a call to the ministry and do you want to study theology?” I was blown away. I had said nothing of this to him and he didn’t know me. And then he said “I sense God saying we should give you a job at this church and a bursary to study theology.” Over the next 3 years God blessed me with R150 000. So, I believe in prayer. What are you trusting God for? Because you do have a connection with someone all powerful.
Prayer is the source of life
The disciples are with Jesus. It’s the last supper. His ministry has reached its peak. They have a great following and powerful ministry, but all hell is about to break loose. The band of brothers has already come undone. Unbeknown to the disciples Judas has betrayed Jesus. And later that evening Jesus will be arrested and he will die. Their leader is about to die, their ministry is about to die, their careers are about to die, their hope is about to die. Have you ever felt this way? Sometimes it’s dramatic and sudden. Someone left you, betrayed you, a literal death, a loss of a job. Sometimes it’s slow and gradual, the loss of passion in a marriage, the loss of faith in a parent or child, the lack of growth in a church. Death is always frustrating and demoralising. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” Prov 13:12. But Jesus says to his disciples in no uncertain terms in verse 7. If you remain in me and my words remain in you ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. Jn 15:7 Jesus is teaching them to pray. This is overcoming 101. It is the basics of how we deal with frustration and death. Grapevines grow very big. The vine grows and can fill a vineyard. A vine needs a lot of water. Grapes need lots of water to grow. Branches draw sustenance from the vine and apart from the vine the branches don’t have access to water and growth and life. Jesus says to them “hey you need lots of water”. You are like a grapevine. You get that water through abiding in me, remaining in me, speaking to me, depending on me. If you grow thirsty don’t be surprised, you are a grapevine. Now, do you know that sometimes we eat when we are thirsty? Some people don’t always know the difference between being hungry and being thirsty. I had this problem. So, I would eat when I was thirsty. Until someone told me, before you eat more, try having a glass of water. See, sometimes you don’t realize that you have a spiritual thirst. Oh I really need a holiday, I feel quite stressed. Then you come back from your holiday more stressed. Or I really need a boyfriend or girlfriend. Know you don’t, you have a spiritual thirst, you just don’t know that’s what it’s called. It is not going away that will give you soul rest, its prayer. Have you learnt to recognize what spiritual thirst feels like for you? If you misdiagnose yourself you will continue in frustration. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" Jn 15:5 He does not say “apart from me you can do averagely” or “apart from me you can do fairly well” no “you can do absolutely nothing”. Prayer that proceeds from people who realize that they are weak, needy and vulnerable receive God’s full attention. "God is attracted to weakness. He can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him.” Jim Cymbala Prayer is the source of life. If you want life, we are going to have to pray more. This is the testimony of Scripture and the saints. "The prayer of the righteous is powerful"…James 5:13-18 "If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray...then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land"…2 Chronicles 7:14 "Ask and it will be given"…Matt 7:7 "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need"… Heb 4:16 So, how do we practically do this?
I like to start my prayers with thanksgiving. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Psalm 100:4 And note the number of Psalms which are prayers that starts with “give thanks to the Lord” Some say you should start your prayers with confession. But I think we should start by focusing on God. Confession is not bad, but I just find that it’s more helpful to start by focusing on God’s goodness and not my sinfulness. When I wake up in the morning and I feel empty I find that if I start my prayers with confession the accuser is right their saying “Oh really and what about that”. Sometimes if you are strong you can get through the confession but most times people who start with confession just set a very low tone for the rest of your time with God. You can spend all your time trying to figure out what you did wrong and why you did and you can get stuck their without ever giving thanks. I believe you should start with thanksgiving. “Thank you Lord for a new day, your mercy…”
Pray in the Spirit
In our text 5 times Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending the Holy Spirit. Counsellor/ Advocate 14:16, 26; 16:7. The Advocate defends you. Reminds you of your righteousness in Christ. When this starts happening then things start getting warm. This is often the time that I start declaring what the Advocate says to me. The power of alcohol is that it makes you relinquish control. In the same way the Spirit wants to take control (Acts 2:13). One of the biggest hindrances is fear. Fear of being out of control. So the disciples in Acts allowed control, gave up their dignified control, the Spirit took control of the prayer time.
Jesus said if you remain in me and my words remains in you ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. We are told to ask God. So, at this point I start making my needs known to God or I petition him for the needs of others. I went to an orphanage on Friday evening and we were teaching the kids how to pray. So, they start getting to requests part and the kids start asking for PS3’s, and bicycles, and all sorts o f other things. While making our needs known to God is not wrong I want to say its better to pray in line with the promises of Scripture. Jesus promises several times in this text to give whatever we ask, but don’t make sinful requests.