Matthew J. Hall, Dean of Boyce College, delivers a message at Dorm Meeting on Micah 6:8. Dorm Meeting is held each Monday night from 9:30-10:30pm in Alumni Chapel on the campus of Boyce College.
“So when do you pray?” This question took me back a bit. It seemed like a simple question to answer. I mean, I’m a pastor. Of course I pray. I pray all of the time. But when a church member asked me this question, I found myself dumbfounded. It was probably because I had not been praying much recently, or at least not praying in any meaningful sense. I had been praying quick prayers. “Lord, help me to preach.” “Lord, thank you for this food.” “Lord, protect my kids.” It is not that these were bad prayers. It was that these were my only prayers. When I was asked this simple question, I realized that no relationship, no marriage, no friendship could ever be healthy on these tweet-sized conversations.
When I was a student at Boyce College, prayer was a priority in my life. My roommate was a great example to me, often disappearing for hours to have private prayer. I read about prayer in books like J. I. Packer’s Praying. I studied about prayer under praying men, like Dr. Donald Whitney and Dr. Stuart Scott. When I was a student, prayer was a daily part of my life. Then I became a pastor, then a husband, and then a father. In the midst of life’s circumstances, prayer lost priority in my life. If you’re not careful, it can lose priority in your life as well. Maybe it already has.
So how do we get back to prayer being a priority?
There is no doubt that prayer was central to the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. He prayed both publicly and privately. He prayed alone and He prayed with others. He woke up early and stayed up late (sometimes all night) in order to pray. He prayed on a mountainside and on a cross. Jesus’ disciples were firsthand eyewitnesses to His prayer life. They saw His passionate prayer, His affectionate tone in conversation with the Father, and His persistence. Naturally, they wanted to know how to pray in this way, so they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In Matthew 6:6, Jesus said to His disciples, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Notice that Jesus expects His disciples to pray. He says, “When you pray…” Prayer is expected from us, not as some religious activity to check off our list to earn the favor of our Father or because God is somehow desperate for conversation. Prayer is expected because it’s an essential part of our relationship with the Father. It is not just that we should pray (we all know we should pray)! It is that we must pray! We desperately need our Father. We are told to pray without ceasing because we will never cease to need the Father’s provision, pardon, and protection. Our Father also wants us to enjoy time with Him. He rewards time spent alone with Him. We pray basking in His presence, trusting in His promise, and being comforted knowing He answers prayer. Prayer will lose its priority in our lives when we stop seeing our desperate need for the Father.
Let’s stop and take an honest assessment together. I’m in the same boat as you. You hear about prayer at church, in the classroom, and even from your friends. But how is your prayer time with the Father? How has your prayer time been this year? This week? This morning? Is it a priority in your life? No matter how you answered these questions, praise God that because of Jesus Christ the line of prayer is never closed or busy. God is always available and accessible to us.
Let’s make a humble plea to the Father. Let’s start by praying, “Father, thank you for prayer. Help us to pray.” Then let’s get started, because the best way to be disciplined in prayer is simply to pray. Two simple steps can get us back to praying. First, find the time, because there are so many things vying for your time (family, work, and school responsibilities). What are some things you can cut out of your schedule so you can make time to pray? Second, let’s fight the distractions. Find your secret place. Maybe it’s your car, at a park, or in the shower—wherever is an undistracted and quiet environment. Then turn off your phone (not just to silent) and have a prayer list or an open Bible to keep your focus. Let’s not lose the place of private prayer in our lives. Let’s pray.
Joe Best is the lead pastor at Cline Avenue Fellowship in Highland, Indiana. He is an alumni of Boyce College. He is married to Faith and they have two children. You can follow him on Twitter at @jbest700.
The Means of the Kingdom: The Preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom
The primary means by which God advances the kingdom of Christ is Spirit-empowered preaching. The Puritan preacher, Cotton Mather, said that the great purpose of preaching is to “restore the throne and dominion of God in the souls of men.”
The New Testament makes it clear that the preacher heralds the gospel of the kingdom (e.g., Mt 3:2; 4:7; 9:35; Lk 8:1; 9:2).
The gospel of the kingdom is this: there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for sinners (1 Tim 2:5-6). This is the message for which Paul says he was appointed a preacher (1 Tim 2:7). Paul, elsewhere, summarizes the message this way: that the Savior Christ Jesus abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim 1:10). Again, Paul adds that it is for this proclaimed message he was appointed a preacher (2 Tim 1:11).
Unlike many sermons today that are preached in the “imperative mode” (commands), the message of the kingdom is primarily in the “indicative mode.” And that great declaration can be summarized by the announcement that the kingdom has arrived because Christ Jesus, who conquered sin, death and the devil through his cross and resurrection now reigns and rules.
Preaching must focus on the announcement of God’s victory in Jesus Christ through his cross and resurrection (the indicative). This is nothing less than the gospel of the kingdom. Yet, at the same time, preaching must demand a response. Sinners do not enter this kingdom without coming on God’s terms – and those terms are repentance and faith. This is seen with the apostle Paul, who went about “proclaiming the kingdom” (Acts 20:25). Yet, preaching of the kingdom requires a human response. Hence, Paul’s “testifying … of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (20:21).
Paul’s model of preaching the kingdom and the terms of the kingdom leads us to the final section of this chapter. In this section, we look at some of the final words we ever hear from the apostle – and, not surprisingly, it’s a call to his preacher protégé, Timothy, to preach. What we see is that the message is consistent elsewhere in the New Testament. Indeed, the passage ties our entire discussion together.
2 Timothy 4:1-2
In 2 Timothy, the apostle gives to Timothy some last words before the apostle’s subsequent martyrdom. In chapter 3, Paul warns Timothy that in the “last days” times will be “difficult.”
He proceeds to list 18 items that characterize these times. The list begins and ends with words expressing misdirected love, suggesting that misdirected love is the fundamental problem with lost people. That is, people will be “lovers of self” and “lovers of pleasure rather than God.” All the vices that fall between these two characteristics are the fruit of this misdirected love. In 3:5, the apostle implies that he hasn’t been primarily referring to those outside the church, but those who have “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (3:5); that is, professing believers within the church.
Paul then applies that description to the particular case of false teachers in Timothy’s situation. He then reminds Timothy that gospel ministry in this context is costly and will lead to persecution (2 Tim 3:10-12). In fact, it will only get worse (2 Tim 3:13).
It is at this point, many church consultants in our culture would say, that Paul needs to be innovative with Timothy. Timothy needs to do something novel and relevant, or employ effective business and marketing practices in order to reach a culture that is increasingly secular.
But Paul understands that the situation is hopeless without God’s Word. It’s only this authority that can change lovers of self and pleasure to those who are lovers of God. Consequently, Paul lays out the strongest defense in all of Scripture for the sufficiency of Scripture in ministry. Because it is the very “God-breathed” Word from God, it is sufficient for salvation and sanctification. Hence, the Word is sufficient for preaching (2 Tim 4:1-2).
Paul’s encouragement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 is given in the presence of God and Christ, with distinct reference to Jesus’ return, kingdom and judgeship.
It is in the context of this hope that Paul exhorts Timothy to “preach the Word.” In light of the pending consummation of the kingdom, the minister is to “preach.” Furthermore, by placing this command first in verse 2, Paul makes it clear that this is the central mark of Christian ministry. This is seen also in the fact that this command to preach is amplified by the second imperative, “be ready in season and out of season,” and by the prepositional phrase, “with complete patience and teaching,” at the end of the verse.
This command is followed by four transformational objectives: reprove, rebuke, exhort and teach. In other words, the gospel of the kingdom demands a response. In light of Christ’s appearing, kingdom and impending judgment, sinners must come to him on his terms, and the preacher’s central responsibility is to set forth those terms.
Teaching concerns itself with “sound doctrine in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim 1:10-11). Accordingly, it is by the “teaching” of the realities of the triumph of the kingdom of Christ that the preacher is able to reprove, rebuke and exhort.
This brings us to the theme of our chapter: preaching that propagates. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “propagate” as “to cause to extend to a broader area or larger number, spread to make widely known; publicize.”
What do we extend and spread? It’s simple: the saving reign of Jesus Christ. As sinners are converted to Christ, his saving reign spreads, accomplishing the divine purpose to spread his reign “from sea to sea … to the ends of the earth” (Ps 72:8). Furthermore, as Jesus’ dominion is extended to the ends of the earth, the divine purpose of having the whole earth filled with God’s glory is achieved. This is God’s kingdom plan: to glorify himself by establishing his reign over all of creation through his Messiah.
This occurs in the present age as sinners are converted to Jesus and his rule. In so doing, God “qualifies” these converts (Col 1:12) to “share in the inheritance” of the LORD’s anointed, who through his victory is given the “ends of the earth” as his possession (Ps 2:1-8). Indeed, God delivers these converts “from the domain of darkness and transfers” them “to the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom” they “have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).
Earthly kings and kingdoms do not require, nor can they require, their subjects to love them. In my case, coach Wingo found it inconsequential whether we loved him or not. He merely demanded outward allegiance. But Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). This kingdom requires heartfelt fidelity, faithfulness and loyalty because Christ is our king by virtue of creation and his sufferings, death and resurrection on behalf of sinners. Indeed, Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:4). Hence, he is worthy of all glory, honor, praise, thanksgiving and love.
The only message that will provoke that kind of heartfelt response is the message of the kingdom. As the preacher proclaims the gospel of the kingdom and the terms of that kingdom – repentance and faith – the saving reign of Christ is propagated.
Brian Payne serves as associate professor of christian theology and expository preaching. He also serves as the church ministry program coordinator.
This article originally appeared in A Guide to Evangelism by SBTS Press. You can download the full PDF for free here or from at the link below.
A Guide to Evangelism
by Dan DeWitt
A Guide to Evangelism, edited by Dan DeWitt, will equip Christians and churches with the tools they need for more faithful evangelism. With chapters focusing on the role that a church’s preaching and polity can play in the task of evangelism, as well as chapters with practical advice for Christians engaging different groups, such as Muslims, skeptics and nominal Christians, this book will help Christians fulfill their role inspreading the gospel so that grace extends to more people to the glory of God.