the King Sunday
November 23, 2014
"40 Days of Prayer"
Friends, Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus. Let's
get right into it. Today is one of those Sundays when there
is so much going on, there's no way we can deal with all
It's our annual Thank Offering Sunday. All of these gifts
that are here today: the shoeboxes, the bags of food, the
quilts, the frozen turkeys and chickens. I don't want to
overestimate how each of these might be used (as they're
passed on and shared), but I certainly don't want to underestimate
what God has promised to do in the lives of those on the
receiving end. We may never know; but what's happening here
today will make a tremendous difference.
It's also the second week in which we are making financial
commitments for the coming year. Every one of us here today
has been blessed. There's no question about it. Our commitments
are a response, a way of returning to God a portion of what
he has given to us. And just like with (these other gifts),
the things we return will be used in some life-changing
It's also Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday in the
Church year. We haven't been following the Church year as
closely these past couple of years. We worked our way through
The Story, we've done a number of series. But today we come
(to a day) when we recognize and remember what it means
to have Jesus as our King.
And finally, this is the first day in our "40 Days
of Prayer"; a time when we're challenging ourselves
to set aside time each day (between now and the New Year)
to ask God where he is leading, what he wants us to do,
and how we might each fit in to what he has in mind for
We're not going to deal with all of this. (There's not enough
time.) But I do want to spend time with those last two,
with the fact that Jesus is our King and with what we have
in front of us (beginning today) with these "40 days
of Prayer." And then I want to allow some time (at
the end) to actually kick it off.
Let's start with the "40 Days of Prayer." This
is a bit different, but I think it's important. In your
bulletins you have an insert that describes what we're trying
to do. If you don't mind finding that, I want to talk us
through what we're being challenged to do.
As you're doing that (finding that insert), I want to tell
you what happened this past week with one of our members.
I'm not going to give the details, but one of our members
was talking about the "40 Days of Prayer" that's
starting here today, and (while she was doing it), one of
her kids jumped in with a rather insightful comment. She
was talking about the 40 days coming up when we're going
to praying, asking for God's guidance. That's when her son
(jumped in) and asked, "Why 40 days? Why not 365 days?
Why just 40?"
I thought (when I heard that), "That's wonderful! What
a great question!" I'm glad that's where her son's
mind went. (He's exactly right.) This isn't an effort to
set aside 40 days to pray, and then forget about prayer
for the other 325. Prayer is something we do year round.
Nor is it an implication (in any way) that prayer isn't
already happening. I know it is. I know many of you are
praying every day. It's what we do as believers. It's who
we are as followers. We can't even begin to live the Christian
life if we're not regularly and intentionally setting aside
time for prayer. (It's not possible.) It's a given. It's
what followers of Jesus do.
But for these next 40 days, (beginning today), we're challenging
ourselves to pray with a more direct and deliberate focus.
And that's what these 40 days are about.
Take a look at the insert in your bulletins and follow with
me as we talk our way through. On the front side, where
it says "40 Days of Prayer, November 23 - January 1",
you'll find a general description of what we're challenging
ourselves to do.
You'll see three personal challenges. It says, "Pray
Daily, Worship (Sunday and midweek), and Accountability";
(prayer, worship, and accountability). Those are the three
We're challenging ourselves (first of all) to pray¡and
not just to pray, but to pray with a (specific target) for
our prayers. You'll see that on the bottom of that same
side. We're challenging ourselves to pray for where God
is leading us (individually) and how he wants us to grow
in the coming year. We're all going to do something in the
coming year. It's that something we want to be praying about.
What does God want for my life? Where is God leading in
the year ahead? How can (what I'm doing) with my life become
better aligned with what he (wants me to do) with my life?
In the same way, we're challenging ourselves to pray for
where he is leading us as a congregation. Let's be honest.
We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us (in this
coming year) to have significant impact for God's kingdom.
(That's not an overstatement.)
We're a strong congregation. We're in a tremendous mission
field. About 4% get up and go to church on Sunday morning.
It's all around us.
We also have a lot going on right here. This whole discipleship
effort is starting to take hold. Huddles are happening.
Missional Communities are not far away. We're even looking
at the possibility of starting a couple of house churches;
to say nothing of what needs to happen among our leaders
and our (leadership structure) to support those efforts.
We're challenging ourselves to pray for God's guidance,
for his hand to lead us, and for the things that he wants
us to be about to actually become the very things we are
That's the first challenge, to pray. The second is to worship.
Now, similar to the prayer challenge, this is nothing new,
except that our worship time (starting here today) is going
to include a time for each of us to pray. Not just our corporate
prayers, but individual time to talk with God.
And midweek, the three Wednesday nights in December (in
particular) will be services built around prayer, with music,
Bible readings, and prayer stations set up for that very
purpose. It'll be different from Sunday morning, but we
believe it'll be a meaningful and deliberate way for us
to spend time together talking with God.
Prayer, worship, and accountability. There's a place on
the top of that same side to write the name of someone who
can hold you accountable. It's not something you have to
do, but it will help you stay on it.
It's like anything in life. It's one thing to say you're
going to do it. It's another to actually do it. Texting,
emails, phone calls, whatever it takes. Find someone who
can remind you to do what you're committing to do. (That's
all on the front side.)
On the back side, there's space for you to take notes. The
idea is to write down what you prayed for. Make note of
what God is telling you. And then, based upon what you hear,
make sure you follow through with a plan. There'll be an
insert (like this) each week between now and when the 40
days are over. And when it's over, there'll be a chance
for each of us to share in a very tangible way what it is
we heard. The first two weeks in the New Year, there'll
be that chance.
40 Days of Prayer. (Let me say one last thing, and I hope
you already notice this.) This has nothing to do with the
financial commitments we're making today. That's a challenge
of its own. This has nothing to do with that. It has everything
to do with where God is leading, how our lives might be
used, and what he wants for us, individually and together,
in the coming year. (I look forward to where these 40 days
That's our challenge, for the next 40 days. Let's change
our focus (for a few moments) and talk about Christ as King.
And then I want to come back to what these 40 days are all
about and give you a few moments to pray.
The passage we read today (from Matthew's gospel) is one
we've heard before. It's the story of the judgment, of what
is going to happen when everything that is (going to happen)
has already happened.
You know the story. Jesus is seated on the throne. It says,
all the nations will be gathered. Everyone who has ever
lived will be standing before the One who is King.
Try to picture it. (Can you imagine?) All of the people
you have ever known. All of the generations who have ever
lived! Just think about it. Your family; they'll all be
there. Your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents,
they'll all be there; your children, and
your children's children, every one of them. You'll be there.
I'll be there. No one who has ever lived will be left out.
Paul says that when that day comes, "every knee will
bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father." All of the questions
about whether (or not) this is all true will be gone. All
of the doubts about where this world is heading (and why)
will be erased.
And that's when it will happen. That's (exactly) what will
happen. Like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
so will Jesus make his judgment. And there'll be a separation,
and it'll be final. The sheep on the right, eternally with
Jesus, and the goats on the left, forever set apart.
And how will it happen? On what basis? On the basis (the
Shepherd says) of what we've done (in this life) for those
in need. On the basis (our Lord tells us) of how we've responded
(in this life) to him. And on the basis (Jesus says) of
how our relationship with him influenced and impacted the
way we lived.
I don't know about you, but for me, this is one of the most
challenging stories Jesus ever told. It gets right to heart
of what's in our hearts, and how (in this life) we've responded
(or not) to him.
Remember the examples? "I was hungry and you gave me
food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger,"
Jesus said, "and you welcomed me in, in need of clothing
and sick and in prison, and you gave me something to wear,
looked after me, and came to visit."
My friends, this isn't an unrealistic list of things to
do. It's a list of what we can all do. What would you do
if you walked out of this building today and, on your way
home, saw Jesus with nothing to eat? Would you give him
something to eat? And what if he needed clothes? Would you
give him clothes? What if he was thirsty, give him a drink?
Sick or in prison, see what you could to do to help? It's
a no-brainer. We all would. Why do we even ask?
We ask because he's out there. Not as Jesus, but as one
for whom Jesus died. That's what's going on in the story.
When you follow Jesus, your world changes. People who maybe
didn't matter, all of a sudden matter. People whom you (thought
before) you could ignore, you no longer can.
How come? Because, they're all part of his family. They're
all part of your family. (That's what this means.) Would
you help someone in your own family, if they had a need?
Would you help someone in Jesus' family, if you had the
What if it was Jesus' brother who was hungry? Would you
feed him then? (It is, so why not?) What if it was your
brother? Would you let him go on without the clothes he
needs? We all know what we'd do, if it was. The question
is what will we do, because now it is.
Sound familiar? (It should.) It's the Christian life. Sound
like you've heard it before? (I hope so.) It's what God
wants to see and (to find) in each of us.
It's the Book of James in summary. It's the whole faith
and works all wrapped into one. "Be doers of the word,
and not hearers only." If it's only words, (James says),
without action, then our words are nothing more than words.
What's happening in your life to back up your words?
What are you doing in your life to show that you've given
it back to Christ?
That's the story. That's what's going to happen. It's not
a work-your-way-into-heaven passage, based upon what you've
done. Jesus is King and he's King because of a cross. (Don't
ever forget.) He died for a reason. He already paid the
This isn't about how we get into heaven, (don't misunderstand),
because only Jesus can get you into heaven. That's not what
this is about. But he is King, and he has called us to follow,
and we follow, Jesus says, by serving those in need.
Now, I realize this starts getting personal. And I realize
that there are no easy answers. (I don't want to pretend
there are.) I also realize that there's a risk in helping
people, because it's easy (when you help) to get burned.
Maybe there's not a real need? Maybe you're becoming an
enabler? Maybe this is nothing more than a scam?
Who knows what it might be? The answer is we don't. All
we know is that (behind that person) is Jesus. All we know
is that (in helping) that person, we're helping Christ.
And so, what do we do with (all of this) on this Christ
the King Sunday? Where do we leave (all of this) when we
walk outside and go home? There's a lot going on here this
morning: shoeboxes, bags of food, quilts and blankets to
be given away. And it's all good. It's all in response to
Christ. I'm not saying that it's not.
All I know is that we have an opportunity (individually
and together) to make a difference in this world in the
name of Jesus. And not just on this weekend when we recognize
and respond to all that we've been given. But every day,
every moment, all throughout the year.
So let's close in a way that is a bit different. If we want
to make a difference, we need to be different. Let's do
it differently today, and start by spending time in prayer.
I've asked our musicians to give us a couple of minutes,
to simply spend time praying about where this might all
lead. Before our next song, before we move on, let's stop
and let's start together, these 40 days of prayer.
Take these moments, silently, just you and God, and pray.