(excerpt from the Sermon)
Sermon Series: The Year of Re!
God used his preachers and evangelists, but prayer ignited the fire that opened the hearts of the people to receive the power and the force of the gospel. Before every great revival, in America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, people first began to pray. Did they preach? Yes. Did they say Yes? Yes. But what was the identifying mark of the revivals of the past? Prayer. Do you know why Jesus said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer?” Prayer preceded it. Prayer kept the revival going, and the minute prayer ended, the Spirit of God lifted and the church got back into the same old rut. Let's argue about church music, politics, social degradation, and the budget.
Prayer - who loses when we don't pray? Everybody. We don't meet God. We don't see God. We're shielded from His Glory. We're deprived of His majesty. We don't experience or know Him in the way that He seeks to be known and experienced. We become dry bones. There's no life in our faith and the danger of our faith dying. People don't get saved. Prodigals don't come home. Dead bones rot in the valley. God says, my house should be called a house of prayer, but too few want to pray. Why are we self-sufficient? Do we not need God? Genesis 35:1-3 says “Then God said to Jacob, go up to Bethel, settle there and build an alder there to God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau. So Jacob said to his household and all who were with him, get rid of the foreign gods you have with you. Purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come let us go up to Bethel where I will build an altar to God who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I've gone.
Now, I don't know if you know this story, but it's a story of a man's journey with God through the years, his high confidence in himself, and his true dealings with his family and friends. That's what Jacob's life was like. This is the story of the confessions of a man who found that when it's all said and done, he desperately needs God. If he's going to make life's journey a victory march, he's got to have God. If you know the story of Jacob, he's smooth, he's slick. He believed that he had enough brains and shrewdness to make it all happen by himself in emergencies. It's true. He would go to God in prayer, but only in emergencies. He deceived his father, he robbed his own brother. He thought that he could swindle his own uncle who turned out to be even worse than he was. This continued until one night trapped by his own shrewdness. He's now a hunted wanderer and he pitches his camp. He gathers a stone that he's going to use as his pillow. As he’s sitting alone in the darkness, a great depression comes over him and he realizes going at his life apart from God has brought nothing but futility. And now he has no family, no friends, no home, and no comforts. He's at the end of the line. Determined to go in his life alone, to manipulate the world, to depend upon deceit and conniving. Which he sees as an incredible asset that he has to grab onto what he thinks he so desperately needs and what he can't live without. But now he realizes he's alone. There's no hope, there's no future, there's no recourse. He's lived life apart from God. He's claimed to be with God, but there's been no real relationship with Him. And now he's overwhelmed by terrible fear.
In that moment, Jacob called on God, the God of his fathers. And the story is beautiful. We are told that a ladder appeared whose bottom touched the earth and whose top disappeared into the heavens. And Jacob saw the angels, the ministering servants of God, traveling between God and Earth. And above the ladder, suddenly God appears and he speaks to Jacob and he says in Genesis 28, “I am the Lord God of Abraham. I am with you and will keep you.” God is saying, My plan for your life has always been a good one. I'm with you. Stop struggling, striving, fighting, and trying to gain something that I want to give you anyway, and turn to me in prayer.
And Genesis 28:16 tells us when Jacob woke up he said “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. How awesome is this place? This is none other than a house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” And then the Bible says Jacob took that stone that he'd used as a pillar and anointed it in an act of dedication. He called the place Bethel, which means the house of God. For surely this is where the Lord lives. This is His house, His residence. And after that moment we learned that Jacob traveled. He continued on with his journey. But he now understood that trying to manipulate God and deceive men would never give him what he was searching for or trying to attain. God intended to give it to him all along if he would simply humble himself, turn to the God of his fathers, and pray.
To Jacob, it always seemed that he was just about to make it, that his ship was about to come in, that the pot of gold was just over the mountain at the end of the rainbow. But every single time, because of some unforeseen error in judgment, he never quite arrived. But that's the way the world always leads us. It just keeps promising. Just over the next hill awaits the prize. And that's the story of Jacob's life until God meets him and he meets God at Bethel and he finally discovers it is never going to work out until God works it out.
It is never going to work out until God works it out.
Your job, your marriage, your finances, your children, this community, this town, this nation. Until Bethel, God was never really in Jacob's life. He prayed but with very little passion. It was more of a formality like you and I pray today. There was little to no spiritual passion in his life, more dead bones than anything else. But then in one moment of time, Jacob decided that he would go back to Bethel, the house of God and that he would go back to the very place where he originally found God. When the light had broken through into his pathway, he would come to the end of himself. He would admit that he desperately needed God. It was his way of saying, God, I need you in my life. And he says to his entire family, we're gonna go back to the place where I met God, that these bones might live again. “So Jacob said to the household, all who were with him, get rid of the foreign gods you have with you and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come let us go up to Bethel where I will build an honor to God who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I've gone.” (Genesis 35:1-3) He says, we've wandered far away from God, but now we're coming home. The paths of sin too long we've trod. But now we're coming home. Open wide, your arms of love, Lord, we're coming home and we're coming home, nevermore to roam.
Your families need God. You need God. It's time for you to lead your family back home to the house of God. Otherwise, revival will never come. You're fighting much too hard. You're depending too much on your own resources and you don't have to. God has given you this awesome privilege of leading your family. He's waiting for the men of this church to come back home because it's never going to work out until God works it out and nothing works out until we begin to pray.
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