Unhindered By Setbacks

Fervent Prayer to God Can Help Us Overcome Setbacks.

Ross Sawyers
Oct 23, 2022    53m
Have you struggled to share the good news of Jesus Christ? We will face barriers when we are sharing the Gospel of Jesus, but when we come to God in fervent prayer, he can help us overcome setbacks. Video recorded at Grapevine, Texas.

messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

Ross Sawyers: [00:00:06] I love that we get together around the name of Jesus, and to center on the power, the beauty, and just the wonderful name of Jesus. That's just not a song to us, that is life to us. He breathed life into us and allows us to flourish in himself and loves our praise. And so what a gift this morning to be a part of that together.

Ross Sawyers: [00:00:30] We've been highlighting over the last several weeks, took a couple of weeks break with our guest speaker, and then our Serve Day last week. And we'll talk more about Serve Day and what happened on it in weeks to come. And then we've been speaking of our different high schools and what God's doing on those campuses. Part of our Vision 2025, the main idea of it is establishing worship where there is none. And part of what that means to us is establishing the worship of Jesus in whatever ways God would allow on different campuses, high school, middle school, elementary school, whatever it might be. And we've been highlighting what God's doing through 121 students on different campuses. And today I'm wearing Byron Nelson's high school t-shirt, we have three students that are there that I'd like to just highlight what God's doing through them.

Ross Sawyers: [00:01:24] One is Hannah Penney, last year, she was involved with her team and a Bible study, and then she actually chose just to highlight a friend of hers at the school that has just recently lost her brother, and what an encouragement she's been in the midst even of that loss through Christian music and through scripture, and different ways, and how this young lady has actually been an encouragement to others, even in spite of the loss of her brother with whom she was close.

Ross Sawyers: [00:01:56] And then there is Emma Penney, and Emma is leading a small group of girls on Monday nights in Bible study. One of the things that we've noted over the last several weeks, of how many of our students are already leading Bible studies, mentoring other students, or those younger than them, either peers or those younger than them. And I love that because we don't have to wait till we're adults to be teachers and leaders and impact people for the name of Jesus, and so many of our kids are leading out and passing on what God's given them.

Ross Sawyers: [00:02:37] And then the third one that I would mention is Emma Prasher. And Emma is unafraid to speak about her faith, to speak about what she understands from the Scriptures to those around her. In a recent social media post, this is what she said, she explained what she understands from Scripture to be God's view of marriage. And when she did that, she explained that the ultimate purpose of marriage from God's perspective is that the husband and wife are a picture of Christ in the church. And then she went on to say, it doesn't make logical sense that you would have two churches or two Christs. The Scripture talks about that marriage is between a man and a woman, and it represents Christ and the church. So when we understand the why, even of what marriage is, that has a different kind of impact. And can you imagine today, in a high school environment on social media, the courage to post what God says about Christian marriage? And I'm so proud of our students and what they're doing. Predictably, she received pushback on what she shared on social media, and she graciously tried to respond to one who is the fiercest until that person then blocked her as a friend, and then she also received a lot of encouragement from others. And so many were encouraged because they had not understood or heard that before, that that's what marriage is about from a Christian perspective, to be a picture of Christ in the church. It's a beautiful unfolding all through Scripture, where Paul says this in Ephesians 5, that picture.

Ross Sawyers: [00:04:37] So with our students, again, I love that they are living their lives for Christ on their campuses the way God's called them to, and it's not an easy environment for them to do so.

Ross Sawyers: [00:04:51] If you'd turn in your Bibles to Acts chapter 12, we'll be in verses 1 through 5, and I want to just continue in our study of Acts. For those who are newer here, we've been working through, just verse by verse, the Book of Acts. And the beauty of working through books of the Bible like this is we end up covering things that that maybe we wouldn't have just chosen during a particular week or a layout of something, we might just choose our favorite things. And by doing this, we cover the whole counsel of God's Word in what He has to say to us.

Ross Sawyers: [00:05:26] As you turn into Chapter 12, you might already be there, and then we'll also have the scripture on the screen. I want to just take one side note as a church, something that I want to invite you into. We are led by a small group of men that are elders, the Bible calls them elders, and that's who gives the basic oversight and spiritual authority to our church, this is God's design from Scripture. And we are in the process of adding one more person to our elders and would ask that you join us in that, and this is how I would invite you into it. If you would look at First Timothy 3 in verses 1 through 7, it describes the qualifications for an elder, and then Titus chapter 1 verses 5 through 9 also describes the qualifications for an elder.

Ross Sawyers: [00:06:22] And then our desire is that our elders are men that are already fully engaged in the life of 121. So these aren't people were hoping would be one day, these are ones who are already living it out in the way that God has called us as a church to function. And if you know anyone that would fit those qualifications and aspires to be an elder, if you'd let us know who that might be, and you could write it on one of the cards in the seatback, you can text us, email, us however you want to get it to us, but we would love for you to let us know who are men that you see that might qualify for this particular role. And then be praying with and for us as we seek God out on it. It's a critical role, God's been really gracious to us over the 22 years of our church in the leadership that he's provided through the elders, and so we look forward to who he continues to add into that mix.

Ross Sawyers: [00:07:20] Well, the big theme we've been looking at over the last few weeks in Acts is broken barriers, the barriers being broken, so the Gospel can move and advance. The reality is when we see Acts and we see it unfold from Acts 1 all the way to where we are in chapter 12, that's actually what we're seeing. We're seeing all kinds of barriers broken, we're seeing the barriers in people's hearts towards Jesus being broken, we're seeing different racial, economic, and social barriers being broken, and we're seeing person after person responding to the message of Jesus. In Acts chapter 2, we see 3000 people that hear that Christ was crucified, and God raised him from the dead, they ask what they're supposed to do with that, and they're told they're supposed to repent, and they do, and God changes the whole trajectory of their lives in that one moment. And then we see some Samaritans, those who are a mixed race of people that receive the Gospel of Jesus, and they come to faith in Christ. And then we see a North African, an Ethiopian eunuch, who comes to be a follower of Jesus. And then as the story unfolds, we see Saul, who was ravaging the church, he hated the church and the early Christians, and now his heart has changed, and he follows Jesus. And then we're introduced to Cornelius in his household, and he's a full-on Gentile, a non-Jew, and in Cornelius comes to Jesus in his household. And then in Antioch, which is up north of Jerusalem, we find a whole mixed group of people in chapter 11 that respond to faith in Christ. We're simply seeing the advance of the message of Jesus, it's advancing geographically, and then it's breaking all kinds of barriers in the people, and ones who wouldn't have thought that it was for them, and yet it is in God's economy and in the bigness of who he is.

Ross Sawyers: [00:09:24] In chapter 12, I want us to look at this big idea, and what I try to do each week when we teach is to look at what's the main theme, and what's the big idea running through this particular passage of scripture. And then try to have a title for the message that is that main idea, so we have something just to hang our hat on. And there would be a number of ways we might think about this, but the way it became clear to me is that we can be unhindered by setbacks. And that's how I'd like us to think about this part of Scripture today, be unhindered by setbacks. Now, all of us have faced setbacks at different times, you might be in the middle of something right now. But what I want you to know today from Scripture is the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, it does not have to and does not get hindered by what we see as setbacks, they actually become ways that God advances what he's doing.

Ross Sawyers: [00:10:24] And so I think we can all think about that, particularly in the context of Acts chapter 12, of how God wants to work through those particular setbacks. We'll begin in verses 1 through 4, and I want us to talk about just hard persecution, and I use that word on purpose, it'll make sense when we unfold these four verses. And then I want to look today at the church's response to this persecution in verse 5. I intended to go through verse 17 today, and as I was studying and writing the sermon when I got to verse 5, I was already seven pages in on my notes, and six is about a good stopping point for me to be somewhat reasonable in time. So it's God's mercy on you that I'm going to stop at verse 5, and we'll make this two parts, so next week we'll look at the second half of this story, but I think it breaks nicely at verse five.

Ross Sawyers: [00:11:32] And I want us to think about first that hard persecution, and the way I want to move through this, I want to look at what's happening here in the Book of Acts. We want to observe and take a good look at what the Scripture is saying, and then we want to launch into what's happening where we are today so that we can see how God is speaking into the way we need to respond in our cultural moment, in the part of the world in which we live, but let's begin looking at how it anchors us into what was happening then.

Ross Sawyers: [00:12:04] Verse 1, "Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them." So let's start with Herod and depending on how much you read your Bible or don't read your Bible, I would cheer you on to read it as much as you possibly can. But if you've read it somewhat frequently, you run into the name Herod multiple times, and it can be confusing because it's different Herod’s that we run into. And I want to back up a little bit so we can understand who this Herod is, and the lineage he comes from, it's a pretty brutal family line at this point.

Ross Sawyers: [00:12:52] But if you're familiar with the story around Christmas, the birth of Jesus in Matthew chapter 2 we're introduced to Herod the Great, and he's the one reigning over the area where Jesus would be born. When Herod heard that the Messiah was going to be born, he intercepted the Magi, the wise men who were coming to bring their gifts to this newborn baby. And Herrod, when he caught wind of it and he got the Maji off to the side and he said, hey, when you find this baby, if you'll come back and tell me where he is because I want to go worship him. Well, they were warned that Herod was being deceptive in what he said, and the Magi, after they found Jesus, they worshiped him, and they went back a different route. That's usually where we stop around Christmas time because the rest of the story doesn't play well to the whole family narrative in Matthew chapter 2. Herod, infuriated by what it just happened to him, ordered that every male child under two years old in Bethlehem be slaughtered, and he carried out that edict. He was a vicious man. Not only did he do that, but we know that he also had his son, Aristobulus, murdered as well because he was a threat to his throne.

Ross Sawyers: [00:14:35] Herod, the king in chapter 12 verse 1, is the grandson of Herod the Great in Matthew 2. So Aristobulus, his dad, was murdered by his grandfather, that's who this Herod is. When this Herod was a child, and his father was murdered, they sent him off to Rome so that his grandfather would not be able to kill him. He had several childhood friends that would prove to be helpful to him later on, and we know mostly today that it's not as much what you know, as it is who you know, and that worked out very well for this Herod in Chapter 12 of who he knew later on in life. Herod the Great would fall away, and Tiberius would become an emperor at some point. And after Tiberius died, then Caligula became the emperor, that was good news for this Herod because Caligula was his childhood friend. And Caligula put Herod in charge of the area of Galilee and Perea, so a small part of Israel, now Herod is over it. Caligula dies, then Claudius becomes the emperor, Claudius was also a childhood friend, and he expanded the territory for Herod to rule over, so now he had Judea and Samaria, which are larger portions of Israel. And that's where we find ourselves in chapter 12, with this Herod, who's in charge of this particular region. His mother also had Jewish blood, so he did things to appease the Jews, as well as Rome, and what he needed to do to rule well on their behalf in this particular area, that's Herod.

Ross Sawyers: [00:16:45] He lays hands on some who belong to the church. It's important that we know who the church is, the church is not a building, the word for church is called out ones. It's the word ecclesia in the Greek, and it means called out ones, it's those who've actually responded to the message of Jesus and are following Jesus. Just because someone goes to church doesn't mean they're actually a part of the church, the only ones who are part of the church are the ones who have believed Jesus and are trusting and yielding and following Jesus, that's who the church is. That's who he's laying hands on and mistreating, are those who are a part of the church, those who have said yes to Jesus. And then he gives a specific example in Chapter 12, "He had James the brother of John put to death with a sword." So we're talking about real hard persecution here, not only was he mistreating, but now he's murdering one of the disciples, the disciple James.

Ross Sawyers: [00:17:46] Now, if we go back into the Gospels and say, who is James? There were two brothers that were part of the 12 of Jesus's original disciples, James, and John. Their dad's name was Zebedee, and they were called the sons of thunder, these are some fiery young guys that Jesus called out to be his followers. These were the same guys that argued over who would be the greatest in heaven, that's when Jesus explained to them it would be the one who's the servant in the least that will be the greatest. So this is who James is, James, the brother of John, following Jesus and speaking Jesus's name. Simply for following Jesus and talking about Jesus, he gets put to death by the sword, that's hard and violent persecution.

Ross Sawyers: [00:18:52] I don't know about you, but when I read things like that, it makes me ask the question, why James? In our human look, why does James meet an early death by the sword from the political authorities? And John lives a long life, his brother, and is the author of one of our gospels and of the three letters First, Second, and Third John, and of Revelation at the end of our scriptures. Why that path for John, and this path for James? Why is it today when I look across the world and read stories about people who are being persecuted in really violent ways, why them and why not us? And I don't have a good answer to the question in terms of the whys for different people, except for this, the one thing I know for certain is that God is sovereign, meaning he's over everything, and he works everything for his good and for his glory. And I don't have to understand why something happens to one person, or why something happens to me and why it doesn't happen to them.

Ross Sawyers: [00:20:20] At the end of John, Jesus had this encounter with two of his disciples, one of them was figuring out what was about to happen to him, and he said, well, what about him, I want to know what's going to happen to him. And Jesus said, don't worry about him, this is what I have for you. See, God has a particular path marked for each of us, I don't know why different paths are marked, but I know they are, and I know that God is sovereign, and He'll work everything for his good. And the best place that you and I can be, is right in the middle of God's will, submitted and yielded to him. Then whatever comes, we're good, because we're in the middle of his will. And we're actually in the freest place, even if it's the hardest place when we're in the middle of God's will. That's where these early followers of Jesus were, that's why they could lay their lives down for the sake of Jesus, they were good because they were good and who they were in Jesus. So James was good, John was good, good in who they were in Christ.

Ross Sawyers: [00:21:43] Now we get a little bit into the motivation of Herod in verse 3, "When he (Herod) saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread." So he saw that it pleased the Jews, Herod is a people pleaser, he was doing what he could to ingratiate himself to the people that he was overseeing. And here he is, he's a pleaser. And look what happens, he says, oh, wow, look at all the approval I just received by having James killed. I think I'll go after Peter now, who's actually the leader of this movement, and I'm going to arrest him, and I can't imagine the accolades I'm about to get from all the people when I do that.

Ross Sawyers: [00:22:42] I can be pretty hard on Herod as a people pleaser until I step back and look in my own heart and realize how easily it is that I want your approval, and I want to please you, and I want to hear your accolades for me. It's easy to look at the named person and notice their motivations, and what they're about, but we have to be willing to step back and say, do I have the same tendencies? Do I have the same sin bent that Herod does? And candidly, that's frightening to me because I don't want to be like that. I can go to Proverbs 29:25, it says, "The Fear of man ensnares us, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be exalted." The fear of man is a way to say I want your approval. I'm afraid of you, and I want your approval, so I'm going to do whatever I have to do to get your approval. Parents may do that to try to get the approval of their children, and children will do that to get the approval of their parents when they find a coach or a boss or whatever, and we are willing to do things just because we want them to be pleased with us. People pleasing, it's a tough road and it leads to moments like this, it gets crowds riled up and doing things people might not normally do.

Ross Sawyers: [00:24:38] So we see his motivation and he likes they're liking him, so I'm going to give them more, so Peter gets arrested This isn't a new rodeo for Peter, in Acts chapter 4 he was preaching Jesus, and he gets arrested. In chapter 5 he's talking about Jesus, and he gets arrested. This is the third time in the Book of Acts that we see Peter getting arrested for speaking the name of Jesus. Now we have to appreciate Peter, he's a man of integrity. In Acts chapter 4 when he got put in prison, they got him out and they said, the leadership that got him out, they said, look, you have to quit speaking about Jesus. And he said, I'm not going to do it, he said, I can't stop speaking about what I've seen and heard. He was honest, they didn't know what to do with him, but he wasn't going to stop speaking about Jesus, he was not worried about their approval. He had a fear of God, and he was interested in God's approval, and he was not going to be silenced by others.

Ross Sawyers: [00:26:02] What was his message? Its message is the Gospel. He said to the ones in Acts 4 he said, By God's predetermined plan, you put this man to death, but God raised him from the dead. That's the message, again and again, he's crucified, God raised him. What do we do with it? We believe it, I believe it. It's for speaking of this kind of truth about Jesus that he was arrested, it's speaking about Jesus, that James had the sword, and he was killed, and it is the same reason that Stephen in Act chapter 7 was stoned because he spoke about Jesus. He did this during the Passover time, unleavened bread. There was a seven-day feast that followed the Passover, the Passover was done as an annual memorial of God rescuing the people from Egyptian slavery, and then Jesus changed the whole meaning of it to say, hey, the Passover is now more of a picture of me, and it's Christ, who's the LAMB of God, who takes away the sins of the world and he rescues us from a sinful heart. It's for that message, that the persecution has come.

Ross Sawyers: [00:27:35] Verse 4, "When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people." And the thought would be here when he brought him out, that probably the same fate would be his, that was James and Stephens. Four squads of soldiers, there would have been four soldiers that were with him in three-hour shifts during the night. That's the way the Romans handled their prisoners, and we'll see more details of that a week from now.

Ross Sawyers: [00:28:14] So this is what's happening then, it's hard and it's violent persecution. So let's launch into now, and what's happening now that parallels what was happening then. And all over the world today, there are people that are being killed, beaten, and imprisoned, and there are people that are not able to get good jobs because they are Christians, people lose their jobs for being Christians, and they lose their families when they become followers of Jesus. All over the world today, people are suffering for simply being a follower of Jesus.

Ross Sawyers: [00:29:08] There are two places that I read routinely that I would encourage you if you don't already, to think about our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world. The Voice of the Martyrs is one of those, in each issue, they take a people group and talk about what God's doing in that group, the most recent one was on Uzbekistan. And then World magazine, it's the equivalent to like Time magazine but from a Christian worldview, they do a great job. But they'll highlight things that are going on in different parts of the world, and does all kinds of things, including persecuted Christians. Voice of the Martyrs is just straight-up talking about persecuted Christians.

Ross Sawyers: [00:29:54] But I took a couple of stories from those things, those magazines that I've read, just to give you an idea of what's going on right now today across the world, that's similar to what we're just reading in Acts chapter 12. And I chose places where, or at least one place where we have a team right now, so we have a team of five from our church that are in India. And if you'll continue to pray for them, they've had the opportunity to train 200 pastors in one gathering. They've been with Afghan refugees, 100 families of Afghan refugees. They've been with orphanages, with children, and working with them. So they're doing great work in trying to identify ways we continue to partner in that region of the world.

Ross Sawyers: [00:30:44] But I'm thinking about them and praying for our team that's over there right now, and I'm reading about the Indian state of Karnataka that just passed a bill discouraging religious conversions. And under their new law, if someone plans to convert and change their faith, they have to inform the district magistrate 30 days in advance or they risk up to a three-year imprisonment. So if you're going to follow a different faith, you register, and then 30 days later, you can do it or you risk a three-year imprisonment. People who attempt to convert someone, so if I were to speak of Jesus like Peter, and James, those who were speaking up, if I were to come to one of these states in India, there are ten states that have these anti-conversion laws, if I were to go into one of those states right now and try to talk to you about Jesus, then I might face up to a ten-year prison sentence for just simply trying to share that faith with you, that would be seen as coercion.

Ross Sawyers: [00:32:02] In Uzbekistan, in that Voice of the Martyrs article, they describe a couple. The young lady was a believer, a follower of Jesus and she started dating a guy who was not a follower of Jesus. She prayed for two and a half years, and he finally became a follower of Christ. They married and then God called them to start a church in a really hard part of the world, in Uzbekistan. For a while it went well, now they face continual police raids, and the husband's been imprisoned for a period of time. But the story of that of this family, they got three kids, and the one story that struck me the most in reading that article was about their son, who was in sixth grade at the time and they had told their children not to talk about Jesus with anybody at their schools, they wanted them to stay quiet because they were fearful of what would happen to them. But Samuel, their sixth grader, he couldn't help himself, and so he talked to his sixth-grade friends about Jesus, and one of them trusted Christ. That didn't go so well with the family, the school was a bit lenient this time because he was one of their top students, there is still something about having credibility, and then seven more of his friends trusted Jesus. At this point, the police started harassing the sixth-grade boy. The dad was seeking God out, praying, saying, what do I say to my son? And as he sought God out, he said what was so clear to him is God said, tell him I'm training him. And that afternoon his son got in the car and said, Dad, I don't know what's going on with all this. And said, so this is what God's saying, he's training you. Today he's in a university and still sharing the Gospel with his friends, who knows what God has in store for him. Training the sixth grader, the sixth grader who's seen his dad in jail because he follows Jesus.

Ross Sawyers: [00:34:46] I find so many of the stories I read, it's pretty horrendous of what happens, and then I find myself incredibly encouraged by people who refuse to waver and refuse to shrink back no matter what the cost. That's the kind of faith we're called into, I actually think at the end of the day, that's actually the kind of faith that's attractive to someone else. So what about today? What about here? And you can say, Ross, that's great, that's India, that's Uzbekistan, I don't even know where that country is. What about right here? Well, somebody sent me a book the other day called Live No Lives by John Mark Comer. And I think several of you probably listen to podcasts, and so forth by him. But I started the book and it's really good, but one of the things he talks a lot about is the devil. And in our culture, we too easily dismiss the devil. It's either a joke, or we don't think he's really real, or we don't think he's really at work, but I think he does a great serious treatment of the devil. A number of things, he says, one thing that is a highlight for me that makes sense, he said, "We think about the devil, and we think about these massive kinds of things going on." He said, think Lord of the Rings and big battles, that's where we think the devil might really be involved. But Jesus called the devil the father of lies and the means by which the devil works, primarily, is through lies, and the best way to lie is to surround it with 95% truth. And I think it would be fair to say that we are surrounded in our cultural moment by all kinds of lies that Satan has just nicely slid in, and we so easily believe him.

Ross Sawyers: [00:37:07] But he goes on to note that what's happened for us in the West, there's been three tectonic shifts. I think this is a great way to say it, we're living in them, we know they're happening if we're paying attention to what's going on. And here's what he says they are, as Christians, we've moved from being the majority to the minority, on paper, and in stats, there are still, percentage-wise, more people that say they're Christian in the US than not. But cognitively and actually living out the faith, there are far fewer that are followers of Jesus today, we've shifted from the majority to the minority. George Barna, in one survey, says that young adults today, comprised of 10% are resilient disciples, that's one shift.

Ross Sawyers: [00:38:01] A second shift he talks about is we've moved from a place of honor to a place of shame. For who we are as followers of Jesus and what we believe about Jesus, and if we live out our beliefs in Jesus, it's no longer a place of honor, it's a place of shame. What Emma posted about marriage, now is more a place of shame than it is a place of honor to think of marriage that way, let's be one example. So as Christians, that's a shift.

Ross Sawyers: [00:38:40] And then we've shifted from widespread tolerance to a rising hostility. Tolerance, by the way, is defined differently today. What it meant in its original state is, I can put up with what you believe. Tolerance today is you can't even believe that I'm not going to let you even believe it or you're wrong. Widespread tolerance to a rising hostility, today, people would say, what we believe and what we say is dangerous.

Ross Sawyers: [00:39:26] George Barna would say that our cultural moment is a digital Babylon. If you know your Old Testament, you know that Babylon took Judah, the bottom half of Israel, captive, and for 70 years they were exiled from their land and lived in Babylon. This is what we're in today, we are exiles as followers of Jesus in a digital Babylon. I think that's a good descriptor.

Ross Sawyers: [00:40:01] So where are we today? There are people being persecuted in our culture, and we've gone silent. How many, don't raise your hand, but if I were just to say how many people think twice today as a follower of Jesus before you would say out loud in your workplace to someone in another cubicle or in the hallway, you know what? I believe the way that God designed marriage is between a man and a woman. Is there pause, before I would even say it for fear of what that's going to create? It's tough being an exile, to figure out how to live in a digital Babylon. We're in a day where persecution will continue to amp up unless God just does a miracle in the hearts of people across our land. And I pray that, because he's able, and he's doing all kinds of things across our nation as well. But what's our response to this? Verse 5 is our response, in the middle of the story, its fervent prayer. The way we respond to hard persecution in our moment across the world today is with fervent prayer.

Ross Sawyers: [00:41:31] So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God, there was fervent prayer that was being made. This isn't how do I figure something out and I add on prayer. This isn't I throw out a statement to God, help Peter, and then I move on and spend hours trying to figure out how are we going to get him out of prison. It's not how do I add something, it is prayer, fervent prayer. The word fervent means to stretch, to reach out, to agonize, or to strain. It's fervent praying, it's getting in there with God, really leaning into God, and really spending time praying. So the church, on behalf of Peter, gathered and they were praying, that's what they were doing.

Ross Sawyers: [00:42:25] All of us today, so when we think about our brothers and sisters in Christ across the pond and say, okay, all the way across, why should I have an interest in them? I don't know them; I don't know who you're talking about. Well, do you have relatives that live in another part of the country that you actually care about? See, we're family. There are distant relatives, and there are people we don't know, but there are still brothers and sisters in Christ, we're a family. And so we care about people in other parts of the world that are part of our family, and so we fervently pray for those who are being persecuted all over the world.

Ross Sawyers: [00:43:03] This is the same word that Luke uses of Jesus in Luke 22:44, this is the night before Jesus goes to the cross, and being in agony, he was praying very fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling down upon the ground. In agony, he was praying very fervently. It's the same word in Acts 12:5, that he's praying fervently. It's fervent praying, it's with agony and sweat, and it's getting in there. In Colossians chapter 4, verse 12, "Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God." How is he making sure that people are standing in the will of God? He's praying fervently for them, he's agonizing, he's straining, he's stretching.

Ross Sawyers: [00:44:02] Years ago, I was a youth minister, and I was invited to speak to an FCA at a high school, and I went to speak, and I love this verse of Scripture about a path for us. And the word always laboring there, is the idea of wrestling. And I thought, oh, that would be cool, I'm talking to students, and I'll grab one of the students and just wrestle him real quick and just give a visual of what this looks like. And so I did, and the floor was really hard, it was the second floor, I don't know what they make those things out of in schools, but it was hard. And we're wrestling and he slams me down on my head and I'm thinking, oh, how am I even going to finish this? Talking to him about what it means, but that's what it means, it's getting in there and wrestling laboriously. You say I don't know how to pray, I pray, and it feels like it hits the ceiling. I pray and God doesn't answer the prayer, and I just stay there a little bit, and then I leave. It's work, it's labor, it's wrestling, that's work, you've got to work hard at it. If you're going to be a good wrestler and you're going to win, that's hard work, it's a battle. We're not in a, and some say, we're not in a domestic war, we're in a battle. And when we pray, we're getting in there and we're battling. Can we build into our rhythm of life the space to stay and the battle in prayer? That's where I'm battling for my children, that's where I'm battling for my parents, that's where I'm battling for my friends, that's where I'm battling for my church. It's not that I'm going to go and see all the people I can possibly see and figure this out and throw a prayer out there, it's fervent prayer.

Ross Sawyers: [00:46:06] Jehoshaphat understood it, in Second Chronicles 20, he was a king at the time, and it was a Lord of the Rings-looking battle coming at him and he was afraid. You know, it's okay to be afraid sometimes. What do we do with that when we are? Do you know what Jehoshaphat did? He called everybody together and said, we're praying. We're going too fast, and we're going to pray, and we're going to seek God out. Because I, for the life of me, can't figure out how we'll beat this enemy, and they prayed. And in Second Chronicles 20, it's a prayer we could copy and pray. But he calls out to God, and he says, God, you're the one who has the power, you're the ruler, you're the Almighty, you've done it before, we've seen you do it before, will you do it again? We can't see our way out of this. And then a man named Jahaziel stood up and God spoke through him and said, This is what God is saying today, the battle's not yours, the battle's the Lord's. And they fell down in worship, they actually believed it, they prayed, fasted, and they actually believed the response, this isn't our battle, this is God's battle.

Ross Sawyers: [00:47:44] And then God gave them instructions, and he put the singers out front of the army. And on that next day, they just started praising and thanking God, maybe like we were doing earlier on. And they just kept doing it, they kept talking about God's lovingkindness, and who he is and praising him. In the meantime, while they were doing that, God set up an ambush and took care of the enemy. It was his battle, he did it the way he wanted to do it. And then the people of Israel, they just went and collected all the spoils of war, and they didn't do anything. They actually did, they prayed, they fasted, they praised, they thanked, they thanked God, and recognized this is his battle.

Ross Sawyers: [00:48:53] That's no different than today, whatever battle you're in, whatever setback you're facing, it's his battle, and we go to him and fervently pray and watch what he does. We may not like the answer, but I think this story is helpful. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his book A Day in the Life of Denisovich, I don't know if I say any of those names right, but he's enduring a Soviet prison camp, and Denisovich was praying, and a prisoner ridiculed him for praying. He said prayers won't help you get out any faster. Denisovich opened his eyes and he answered. I do not pray to get out of prison, I pray that I'll do the will of God. That's what we're praying, that we'll be right in the middle of the will of God, and then we trust God to take care of that battle around us.

Ross Sawyers: [00:50:18] Father, thank you for your time in this small part and strength of your word. And God, thank you today that we don't have to be afraid of the Herod’s who have political power in the world, nor do we have to be afraid of those who are people pleasers and do things that hurt others to get the approval of some. God, We want to be like James and Peter, in this moment in chapter 12, and with a trust in you, trust your will with contentment. And then, God, we want to be like the church that fervently prayed for those who are being harassed. So God, will you help us all to be fervent prayers in our homes, in our marriages, with our friends, in our life groups, and as a church? Lord, I pray you'll teach us, and help us to find people we know that pray if we're not quite sure what to do. God, I pray that we'll just know it is to trust you and trust your Spirit to teach us even. But let us be a body of people who fervently pray. And I thank you, God, that you'll continue to move through setbacks, and that the Gospel will move in advance in an unhindered way and move through those setbacks. And so we're grateful today for all the pictures and examples you give us of that, and I pray you'll give us a deep, deep trust today in you, in your sovereignty, and in your goodness. And I pray in Jesus' name.

Ross Sawyers: [00:52:14] Let's be quiet before the Lord. And I like to have this space just for a brief moment to see if God's saying anything specific to you, and then for ways that you respond back to him in the ways that he wants you to be obedient today. So let's just have a moment of quiet before him and contemplate what we've heard this morning.

Recorded in Grapevine, Texas.
Read More
121 Community Church
2701 Ira E Woods Ave.
Grapevine, Texas 76051