Those of you children still in the room – raise your hand. If you are 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10. Raise your hand.
Okay – I need help for my sermon today from some of you, if you’re willing to help me since you don’t have a class. In the back of the room are some clipboards with activities for you to do during the message, and there are packs of WikkiStix as well. I need 2 or 3 volunteers to make me some fruit out of WikkiStix. Whatever you want. Watermelon, grapes, bananas, oranges, whatever. Just needs to be fruit. So make those right away, and I’ll ask you for them in about 10 minutes. Okay.
We are into week two now, of our 31 days of prayer, leading up to Easter, where each week we look at another aspect of prayer. The whole point of this series is that by the end of it, on Easter Sunday, we all would be able to say we have a better idea of how to pray the scriptures. Because we believe, as I said last week, that when we pray God’s very words back to him, we are guaranteed that we are praying his will.
Last week, we were so blessed to have a guest preacher with us, and he started us off with the idea that the Promises of God are the fuel to our prayers. That as we go to the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, we can anchor our lives and our prayers in what he has promised in his word. And as we looked at Daniel 9 last week, we watched Daniel bang on the doors of heaven, declaring who God is, confessing his sin, and claiming God’s promises all before he asks God for anything.
And I’m pretty sure, because I’ve felt this myself, that at some point every one of us comes to a place in our lives where we look at prayer and say, “What’s the point? If God is sovereignly in control of every atom in the universe, what is the point of my praying anyway?”
As we saw last week, in God’s economy, in his infinite wisdom, and his perfect ordering of things in heaven and on earth, God delights to use the prayers of his people as the means to do what he knows he is going to do.
I don’t understand all of that, but there are so many examples of this in scripture, where God’s people prayed and he responded. So here’s the summary of where we are headed today:
If it’s true that God delights to use the prayers of his people as the means to do what he knows he is going to do, then the purpose of prayer, the reason we should pray at all, is that prayer unleashes in full force the plan and purposes of God here on earth.
Open your Bibles with me to the book of John. As you’re turning there, let me pray and ask the Lord for his guidance and help this morning.
Okay, so our two questions are, what is the purpose that God has for us? And what does prayer have to do with it?
In John 13,14, we find Jesus and his disciples on a Thursday evening, eating a meal in someone’s house. It’s festival time in Jerusalem, because Passover is coming up Friday evening through Saturday evening, so the meal they are sharing is the Passover Meal. This whole scene begins in Chapter 13 with these words in verse 1: Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to his Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
Then he washed their feet, introduced communion, predicted his betrayal, and, what only John records, a long “goodbye” so to speak to his disciples, setting them up to carry on the work of the church in the power of the Holy Spirit after he is resurrected and ascended into heaven. And at the end of chapter 14, they get up and head out to the Mount of Olives where they probably had their camp set up amid a grove of olive trees that would have looked something like this.
And at the beginning of chapter 15, Jesus’ language changes to an imagery. I imagine him walking along just kind of brushing the olive tree branches as he’s talking, physically touching the trees as he’s using them for an illustration.
Starting in verse 1:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.
So if you were to ask the gardener, what is your purpose in having these olive trees, what does verse tell you his purpose is? FRUIT! The gardener’s goal is a harvest of fruit. And as he’s walking through his olive grove, if he sees branches that aren’t going to produce fruit, whether it’s green and just not producing or it has died, what does he do? Cuts it off.
It also says if he sees a branch that IS producing fruit, he prunes it so it bears even more fruit. With olive trees in particular, the branches need light in order to produce fruit. So if the canopy gets too thick, it blocks out the sunlight, and fruit won’t grow. So the gardener comes along with his lopping shears and thins out the leaves so more light reaches the branches, in order that the branches will produce more fruit.
Jesus continues with the metapher:
3 You are already clean [pruned] because of the word I have spoken to you.
So the word of God is the pruning shears that is able to reveal and cut away the unproductive and ineffective parts of our lives.
Hebrews 4:12 says the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.
4 Remain in me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown aside like a branch and he withers. They gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
BRANCH: If all of us put our collective efforts together, can we make this branch produce fruit? We have some very intelligent people in this room, so could we do it given enough time? NO! Now, here’s where I need my volunteers and the fruit you made: We could clip fruit on this branch – Now, do you think the gardener is excited about this when he comes to check on his trees?
Put your helmet on River City –
This is what our church will look like without the word and prayer. A bunch of fake fruit on a dead branch, disconnected from the source of life. We can build the most useful and amazing building that this community has ever seen; we can spread our influence across the globe through church planting and have a powerful online presence, but if we are not connected to the vine that is Jesus Christ through his word and prayer both individually and corporately, we will be cut off, thrown into the fire and our story will be tragic.
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, [then] ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples.
So our first question is “What is God’s purpose for us?” The answer is right there in verse 8: BEAR FRUIT.
Why? Because the vinedresser is glorified when that happens! The vinedresser or vineyard owner gets glory, recognition, fame, etc, when his or her vineyard produces the best fruit, right? He trimmed, he pruned, he planted, he fertilized, he cared for each branch until they produced fruit and he pruned it again so each branch had maximum yield, which led to a beautiful harvest. And he gets the glory?
What is the chief end of man? To glorify God! And enjoy him forever.
God is infinitely and perfectly committed to his own eternal glory. Isaiah 45:18 – This is what the Lord says – the Creator of the heavens, the God who formed the earth and made it, the one who established it – he says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” Isaiah 42:8 – I am the Lord. That is my name, and I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”
And back in John 15, down in verse 16, here is what that God who doesn’t share his glory says:
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.
It’s almost exactly the same promise he said in verse 7, where he said, “ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” Are you getting the feeling that God wants us to pray? John 15 isn’t the only place:
Psalm 2:8 – ASK OF ME and I will give you the nations
Isaiah 45:11 – ASK ME about future things
John 14:14 – If you ASK ME anything in my name, I will do it.
John 16:23 – Truly, truly I say to you, ASK THE FATHER anything in my name
James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ASK…
James 4:2 – You don’t have because you don’t ASK!
Isn’t it the most incredible thing to think about, that the God of heaven and earth, who needs nothing, has no weaknesses, no recurring struggles to deal with, doesn’t need any counselors, is in perfect sovereign control of human history, is practically begging you to pray!?
Why would he do that if our prayers weren’t effective!? If he didn’t mean to answer them? If our prayers didn’t accomplish something? Why do we need to do a whole sermon series to talk about prayer? Why do we have to take home a prayer guide for four weeks??
Because God delights to use the prayers of his people as the means to accomplish what he’s already decided to do, in other words, ASK ME FOR MY KINGDOM TO COME AND MY WILL TO BE DONE SO I CAN GET ON WITH MY KINGDOM COMING AND MY WILL BEING DONE IN YOU!
Which means, church, that the result of River City Church praying the words, the promises, the heart of God back to him over these next four weeks for our church, for our marriages, for our homes, for our city, for our schools, would be that the full force of God’s purpose for Riverside would be unleashed here and now like wind in the sails that propels the kingdom of heaven forward toward the goal of the earth being filled with the knowledge of the glory of God like water covers the sea.
That when we hit our knees in the morning and when we hit our knees at night, that even the simplest prayer from a child can make the powers of hell tremble. That even the shortest prayer from the weakest, most feeble saint can rally the angels of heaven into action, as God carries out through our prayers what he intended to do all along: Seeking and saving the lost, restoring broken marriages, setting free those in bondage to addiction and despair, cancelling the spirit of depression and suicide and bitterness that has lived here for too long.
If that’s what happens when God’s people pray, what happens when they don’t?
I am not suggesting that those things still exist in the world because no one is praying. I am suggesting that God’s kingdom advances against those things when someone connected to the vine that is Jesus, with the word of God flowing in and out of them even as it prunes away the parts of them that are ineffective, hits their knees in prayer for the glory of God to be seen in their lives and in their world.
I want to give you a real time example of what this looks like. Last week as Jonathan was preaching, I was sitting back there by the sound board, and the Heavenly Father, the gardener did some pruning on me. As Jonathan preached the word, God revealed to me that for the past probably two months, I was getting spiritually lazy, apathetic, and phoning it in, depending on my abilities and not depending on the power of the Holy Spirit. I was like this branch, feeling disconnected from the power of Jesus, going *eeeerrrrr* trying to produce fruit on my own strength. And what God showed me is that even though I was the one who planned 31 Days of Prayer, I wasn’t excited about it. I wasn’t passionate about it. If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t sure I even saw the point. And God cut away something in my heart last week, the light of Jesus poured in, and I could see my own sin of apathy, laziness, and self-dependence for what it was, was given the opportunity to confess it, and experience the mercy of God.
But what made that possible, was that last week while we were gathering here a church in Kalona was having a special prayer time for River City Church, and in their service they prayed that God would do something powerful as we gathered last week, that the kingdom of Jesus would be advanced in Riverside for the sake of his name. And some of you felt the same way last week, that God stirred something in your hearts as well. That you walked away thinking, man, I don’t know if I’ve ever actually prayed!
If it’s true that God is delighted to use the prayers of his people as the means to do what he already knows he’s going to do, then I am convinced that as that church prayed, God used their prayers to resurrect your dormant pastor and move the kingdom of heaven one step closer to being realized in this city as we bear fruit to the glory of his name, and I would not want to know what would have happened if they had decided, you know, it’s a little awkward for a church to pray for another church – I mean, God is with them; they know what they’re doing; we can push this back to a prayer meeting or something.
God is glorified when, connected to the vine with his word dwelling richly in us, we bear fruit for his kingdom. And of all the things he could have chosen, it is the prayer of redeemed sinners that unleashes the full force of God’s purpose on earth as it is in heaven.
John Starke, The Possibility of Prayer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 14
EM Bounds, Purpose in Prayer
John Piper, www.desiringgod.com