Have you ever experienced a nightmarish crisis that came out of nowhere? I’m talking about suddenly being faced with a problem that you just knew was impossible to solve? Whatever the problem was, it made you feel overwhelmed. You thought, “This is it—-there is no way out—-I’m going under.”
Here are a couple examples:
- Has a doctor ever shared the results of medical tests that confirmed the presence of cancer or some other grave illness—and the prognosis he gave was guarded at best? As you walked out of his office you felt a wave of despair and thought, “I’m not going to make it. This is the end.”
- Or, perhaps you suddenly realize that your marriage has reached a dead end. The intimacy is gone and the fights and tension are so bad you just know it will not last. In your mind, the situation is impossible to resolve—you’re sure the next thing you’ll do with your spouse is see a lawyer.
- Maybe your nightmare concerns your finances. The bills keep growing and growing. The car is in the shop. You are struggling to feed your family—to keep a roof over their heads. And you think there’s no way out.
- Or, maybe it’s child-rearing that has you feeling hopeless. You used to have a great relationship with your son or daughter, but when they hit adolescence things changed. Now, all you do is fight and—from your perspective—your relationship has gone down the tube. You feel like quitting.
- Perhaps your job is causing you fear. The company is laying off people and you are afraid you could be next.
Well if any of the above situations describe your life—if you are facing a hopeless, impossible situation, then you’ve come to the right place on the 8th day of 2017—because this morning we are going to study some verses in the Bible that tell of a time when the Hebrew people suddenly faced just such a crisis. And—the way their leader responded will help us learn how to face our own. Take your Bibles and turn to Exodus 17. Follow along as I read verses 8-15.
8 – The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim.
9 – Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”
10 – So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.
11 – As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.
12 – When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
13 – So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
14 – Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it—because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under Heaven.”
15 – Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner.
Now—to fully understand this text we need to put ourselves in Moses’ shoes—sandals. He and the Hebrew people are on the way to the Promised land when he looks up and sees a dust cloud on the horizon. A closer look reveals it’s caused by a huge enemy army storming toward them—swords drawn—–archers ready and willing to darken the skies with their deadly arrows. They are less than a day away and the Hebrews have no chance to outrun them.
Surely Moses’ FIRST thought was that a MASSACRE was going to happen. He probably thought that his family—his children—his grandchildren—would be dead before long. On top of that tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people under his leadership could face the same fate. PLUS—Moses knows his troops aren’t ready for battle. I mean, they are not that far removed from Egypt. They are nothing more than recently freed slaves—no military training at all. He also knows that the women and children are minutes away from freaking out—adding to the kind of CHAOS that makes a surprise attack like this so lethal. In short, Moses has no time to spare, so he turns to the three guys that he trusts most in these crisis situations—and he gives them crystal clear direction.
He says something like this: “Joshua, you sound the battle cry. Round up as many soldiers as you can. Have the men get anything they can use as weapons. Head out to meet the enemy.” And Joshua takes off running. He doesn’t pause to think because he’s young and full of courage and optimism. He has no idea how badly this could all go.
And then—Moses, who by the way is eighty years old when crisis occurs—Moses turns to Aaron, his eighty-three-year-old brother, and Hur, their aging brother-in-law, and he says:
“Now we need to go do what WE need to do.” So, these three old guys climb a nearby mountain—and they reach the summit about the same time Joshua and his men reach the enemy. Next—Moses, who by the way is eighty years old when crisis occurs—Moses turns to Aaron, his eighty-three-year-old older brother, and Hur, their aging brother-in-law, and he says: “Now We need to go do what WE need to do.” So, these three old guys climb a nearby hill—and when they reach the summit, what does the Bible say they do?
- Do they DIRECT the battle from there with some ancient version of signal flags?
- Do they throw rocks down on the enemy?
- Do they curse their circumstances?
No! Instead they do what two-year-olds do when they’re standing next to a parent and something startles them and makes them feel vulnerable—they put their hands up and they look to God for help. I mean, when Moses and his “crew” faced this dead-end situation they instinctively did what all little kids do.
I remember a time when my granddaughter, Lydia was about two. We had gone down to Leonardstown to welcome the new year with the Goodlows. We had our blankets laid out on the hill in that early darkness waiting patiently for the show to start. Lydia had never seen—or HEARD—fireworks before and when the first rocket flew up it flared and then ended with one of those “booms” that rattles your ribs. When that happened, Lydia immediately reached up to me and said, “Hold me grandad! Hold me a LOT!”
Well, in essence, that’s what Moses and Hur and Aaron did. Like children—toddlers—they raised their hands to ask for our Heavenly Father’s help. I mean, Moses saw the bloodthirsty Almalekite army advancing. He knew Joshua was outnumbered and that there was no way he could win—in spite of his youthful optimism. So Moses made the strategic decision that the best way he could serve his people, the best way he could help them survive this nightmare—would be for him to stand on the top of the hill and put his hands up like a two-year-old and say: “Help, God. We need supernatural help or we’re done.”
And at this point I want to remind you of what may well be the single greatest privilege afforded the entire human race throughout all of history—and that is the open-ended invitation to turn toward Heaven in any circumstance of life and to ask God for help. Like a two-year-old.
You know, the sad fact is we are very capable of complicating the whole notion of prayer. With our theological debating over HOW to pray and WHEN to pray and WHO should pray—and since God is sovereign WHY should we pray—I mean with all our debating we can make prayer come to a standstill—like traffic on the beltway at rush hour. But the simple fact is that when Jesus came to earth and He saw thousands of weary, beaten-down people losing their daily battles in life, He shook His head and He just said to the people: “You should pray more. That’s what you should do. You guys should pray more. You should take your nightmares to God. Ask for His help.” Remember? Jesus said: “You should ask and you should seek and you should knock. There’s no good reason why you should fend off all the help that Heaven is willing to send your way. There is no good reason why you should be trying to do all these things on human strength alone. You weren’t designed to be able to do that. So why don’t you just ask once in a while for God’s help? Why don’t you seek His guidance when you need guidance? Why don’t you just knock if you need God to open a door for you?”
And—as I consider all we face in the coming year—as I hear the news about the latest terror attack and a new deadly virus and the economy—well I think it’s high time that we ratchet up our prayers. I think it’s high time we ratchet up our asking, our seeking, our knocking. Now—if you read your newsletter you know that as part of our determination to SOAR as a church—to grow spiritually as individuals and numerically as a church in 2017—as part of this we are starting our 51st year with six straight weeks of teaching on prayer. I’ve borrowed this idea and much of my content from Bill Hybels, pastor at Willow Creek. His commentary is—as usual—excellent.
We’re beginning our soaring with a concentrated focus on prayer—asking for God’s help. To quote my granddaughter, we’re lifting our hands heavenward and saying, “Help us God! Help us A LOT!” As part of this emphasis we’ll have cottage prayer meetings at the end of this series to give us a chance not only to enjoy the fellowship of prayer but also to practice what we learn. So—please fill out one of those commitment cards that is in your bulletin. Plan on joining us. You can turn the in today or next week—but be a part of this! Also—I’ve enlisted some of you to share your own prayer testimonies in worship. And Carrie got us off to a great start today!
Now you may ask “WHY Mark? Why all this emphasis on something so basic as prayer?” Well, I would direct you back to our text—verse 11—where it says that when Moses stood on that hilltop centuries ago and Joshua and the army were fighting: “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the enemy army prevailed.” In other words, the battle was won—not because of the might of Joshua’s troops—but because of the power of God—power that was given in response to prayer. The fact is God’s Word is full of stories like this one—stories that prove the unimaginable power that is available to people who HUMBLE themselves and seek God’s help. Here are a few examples:
- Abraham prayed and a nation was born from the seeds of two senior citizens. Because of prayer an elderly couple had to stop by the maternity ward on their way to the retirement home!
- Elijah prayed and it didn’t rain for three years. He prayed again and God’s cooling rains came down.
- David prayed and his horrendous sins of lust, murder, and adultery were forgiven.
- Hezekiah prayed and his life was lengthened!
Thinking of stories like these, Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, once said: “The potency of prayer has subdued the strength of fire. It has bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons—burst the chains of death, assuaged diseases, dispelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. Prayer is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings.”
Listen. We must never underestimate the power of prayer because our almighty God’s unlimited power flows primarily to and through people who pray. His supernatural strength is made available to praying people who take their burdens to Him—people who are wise enough to know that God can and will make a difference—even in the nightmares of life — those times when, from our perspective—there is no hope. Prayer is powerful! It can change circumstances and relationships. It can help us face life’s daily struggles. It can heal psychological and physical problems, restore a breaking or even broken marriage, meet financial needs. It can bring a peace that passes understanding even in the midst of uncontrollable panic. Prayer can handle any kind of difficulty, dilemma or discouragement. Think of it! God is willing to put Himself in the position of taking delight in fulfilling His will through us—when we pray! Do you remember what Jesus told Peter? “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven?” (Matthew 18:18)
Listen—we are starting the year with an emphasis on prayer because it is impossible to SOAR without it. We can’t grow as Christ-followers—our church can’t SOAR numerically without prayer. Let me put it this way. Growing churches full of growing Christians are churches of prayer. Do you remember the description of the early church—the first congregation that met in Jerusalem? The book of Acts tells us that praying is what they met to do. Meeting together with other Christians in the days of the early church and NOT praying was unthinkable. Well, I think congregational prayer-lessness should to be just as unthinkable for us—because when two or three or two or three hundred pray together they experience an unbelievably powerful unity through which God can and will do amazing things. T. W. HUNT the author of PRAYER LIFE said: “If we examine the expansion of the church in the Book of Acts and the Epistles, we see convincing proof of the power of prayer. The early church had innumerable obstacles. Christianity was unknown and it was opposed by the authorities wherever it spread, it suffered constantly from false accusations and rumors. BUT by the end of the first century, it had spread in exactly the geographic pattern commissioned by Jesus-Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. This rapid geographical and ideological shift could have been accomplished only by supernatural forces. The instrument of expansion was the church and the force the church was using was prayer.”
So, from the earliest days, the church has always been at its best when its people have knelt together to pray. And if we want to see the power in REDLAND that was in the early church then we should look at prayer as they did—as an indispensable source of unbelievable power.
Acts 2 says the early disciples “gave themselves CONTINUALLY to prayer.” We must give ourselves to it as well. The fact is, if we are to be a POWERFUL church we must be a PRAYERFUL church. With all this in mind today I want to start our series by sharing two important observations about out text that show how powerful prayer really is—how prayer affects the nightmare crises of life.
(1) First, the position of OUR makes a huge difference.
As we read this passage from Exodus a moment ago—-did you wonder how long it really took for the three of these guys to make the correlation between the position of Moses’ arms and the tide of battle? Did you wonder how it panned out? Maybe early on Moses is standing with his hands up in the air holding that staff—praying for God’s help; and then he decides to take a coffee break. Or—he goes and checks his email. Or—he stands up and stretches a bit to loosen his muscles or he lays down and asks Hur to give him a back rub. When Moses does this Aaron and Hur notice that the battle starts to go the way of the Amelekites. Then when Moses is done with his break, he goes back and lifts his hands and prays again, and the three of them notice the battle’s going back in Israel’s favor. They think, “HMMM? What a coincidence.” So—when lunchtime comes around, maybe Aaron suggests to Moses: “Don’t take too long chowing down because I think there might be a connection between your prayers and how the battle goes. I’m just saying.” Sure enough, when Moses lowers his hands, sits down to eat lunch, the battle turns, the enemy begins to prevail. So maybe he skips dessert and begins lifting his hands and praying real-quick again. And, sure enough, the Hebrews begin to prevail again so now all of them realize the tide of the battle is indeed directly correlated to the location of Moses’ hands. When they’re up—when he’s praying—Israel prevails; when they’re down—when he stops asking God for help—the enemy prevails. It’s a one-to-one correspondence.
Listen. On so many levels, the tide of your life’s battles—and our church’s battles—hinges on the location of our hands. Now—physiologically the differential of raised hands and lowered hands is not all that impressive. My raised hands reach a little bit more than seven feet in the air. I measured this week. Seven feet, five inches to be exact. This means if I could just jump two-and-a-half feet, I could dunk a basketball—not going to happen! My lowered hands hang about twenty-four inches above the ground. My knuckles don’t drag—but almost. All kidding aside it’s a difference of 62 inches. That may not sound all that monumental—it’s only 62 inches. But I’m here to bear witness to the fact that the entire way I experience my life on a day to day, week to week, month to month basis is affected by the location of my hands. Those sixty-two inches make a tremendous difference in the tide of the battles of my life and the quality of my life. I have learned—the hard way—that when my hands are raised like a two-year-old’s—when I am praying fervently and expectantly—when my hands—my heart are raised believing that God loves me and cares about my troubles and wants nothing more than to HELP ME—I have learned that in those times of fervent prayer there is a richness in my relationship with God. There is a sense of His presence and power. I have learned that when my hands are raised—when God and I are talking—the general tide of the battles in my life go God’s way—in spite of the circumstances.
I could share testimonies of times when I faced my own “night-mare scenarios” and prayer showed me a way when there was no way—times when I faced terrifying illness—financial struggles—sermon deadlines—but can you ever remember a time like that in your life? Can you remember a time when you learned the importance of KEEPING your hands up to God?
- Maybe it was when you were going to make a presentation at work and you put your hands up and said, “Oh, God, please help me.”
- Maybe it was a time when you felt led to talk about your faith with a lost friend so you scheduled a lunch or you met to have coffee—and before the meeting you said, “God I need Your help here.”
- Maybe you’re a stay-at-home mom or dad and there was a time when the kids were crazy and you said, “Oh God—PLEASE help me!” And God said, “Take them all to RUMPUS at the ROC!”
All kidding aside, do you remember eras of your life when having your hands up to God and being in conversation, praying without ceasing—do you remember the quality, the richness of your relationship with God during that era where prayer seemed like breathing? Luis Evans once said, “No man is stronger than when he leans on God.” And that is so true—because God is ALL-POWERFUL and He welcomes our LEANING on Him. He LOVES it when we raise our hands to Him like two-year-olds.
This week I learned that when you send a letter to the president of the United States, it first passes through The Office of Presidential Correspondence. This office was founded under President McKinley in 1897 to help his administration address the roughly 100 letters arriving for him every day. By the time Herbert Hoover was president, the office would receive around 800 letters a day. Today the President of the United States gets tens of thousands of letters, parcels, and emails every single day. Those who write in know that the president himself will most likely not see their message. I mean, many of their letters start with phrases like, “I know no one will read this.” But they are wrong. Someone does read those letters. Many times that person is Fiona Reeves, Director of Presidential Correspondence at the White House. She and a group of 45 staffers, 35 interns, and 300 rotating volunteers read thousands of letters sent to the President. During his eight years in the office, Barack Obama specifically requested to receive ten letters to read every night. Before letters arrive at the Office of Presidential Correspondence, the Secret Service opens and inspects them. After being screened, paper letters are clipped to the envelopes they arrived in. Then it is up to the staff and interns and volunteers to dig through the letters and emails and figure out which ones to pass up the chain to Reeves, who personally reads around 300 per day. After Reeves chooses the ten letters for the president, she hands them off to someone who scans them, then passes them to the person who put together Obama’s nightly briefing book.
Now—I think it’s pretty cool that the President chooses to take time from his incredibly busy schedule to read ten letters. It’s a compliment to his personhood. But INFINITELY MORE impressive is that God listens to EACH and EVERY prayer sent His way. There is not angelic version of Ms. Reeves’ staff filtering them—deciding which ones to forward to God. No—God hears and responds to every prayer—and when we have our hands up—when we are in that attitude of asking for our Heavenly Father’s help—we experience the incredible benefit of all that.
On the other hand, I can think of times in my life where my hands were at my sides most of the time. When this happened the tide of my life’s battles started to turn the other way. After dragging my knuckles for a while and seeing the result I would come to my senses and ask: “What’s happening to me. Who am I becoming? Why am I acting like this?” And then I’d check the location of my hands. I’d realize, “Here they are by my sides. I’m in a ‘do it myself’ mode. I’ve stopped praying. I’ve stopped asking God for His help—His insight—His power.” And—-this begs the question: Why? If prayer—if raised hands can positively change the tide of our life’s battles, why would we ever lower them? For Moses—in our text we see the “why” was physical fatigue. Exodus 17:12 speaks directly to this. It talks about Moses’ hands growing tired.
I mean, even though great things happened when his hands were raised, Moses was still a human being. He was a normal guy. He was an eighty-year-old normal guy. His hands grew tired and they eventually fell to his sides. Well, every honest Christ-follower I’ve talked to about prayer can describe at least one season of prayerlessness in their life. As I said, I have had them as well. There have been times I just got tired of asking. I mean, prayer is a discipline—it takes energy and time—and I will confess that there have been times when I became UN-disciplined in prayer. Well, am I the only one? Do I need to turn in my pastor badge?
I hope not—because I’m a human just like you—and I’m sure many of you have put your hands down for one reason or another. Maybe you had your heart disappointed in one area of life again and again and again. You prayed for weeks, months, years, decades and then there came that point where you just said: “My hands are tired. I can’t pray for this anymore.” Or “I’ve prayed this friend of mine would listen to the Gospel but he’s not and I’m just tired.” Or “We’ve had it hard financially so long in spite of my prayers that I’m just giving up.” I mean, you never cursed God about that particular dead-end. You didn’t abandon your basic beliefs in the Christian faith or in the goodness of God. You simply lowered your hands to your sides and you’re like: “I’m going to stay in acceptance mode. I’m not going to ask for God to do anything anymore.”
Okay—let’s go back to the hilltop and see what happened when Moses’ hands grew tired. Exodus 17:12 says, “When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other.” This leads to a second thought I want to give you this morning. Not only does the position of YOUR hands make a difference when the nightmares of life come…
(2) The position of OUR FELLOW CHRISTIAN’S HANDS makes a difference as well.
When Moses grew weary his eighty-three-year-old brother and even his older brother-in-law rolled a stove over for him to sit on—and then they crawled under his two arms and held them up for him. Isn’t that a precious image? These two old guys saying to Moses: “We know you’re running out of steam, buddy. We’re here to kind of fuel you up and cheer you up and hold you up. You are not in this alone, We’ll stay here as long as you do. We’ll help you hold your arms up.”
I can’t help but think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane feeling the overwhelming weight of the redemptive work He was about to do, and his arms started to go down. So, He went off to the side to pray, but He asked Peter, James, and John to come along with Him to support Him in prayer. Listen—we must never forget that prayer burdens often require arm-bearers. Every Christ-follower eventually learns what to do when their arms get weak and tired, and they
don’t know how long they can keep them up anymore. They humbly reach out to a few brothers and sisters and say: “Can you hold my arms for a little while? I’m getting tired of asking. So—can you help me? Can you hold my arms up? Can you pray with me? You go to a brother or sister and you say: “Can I siphon some of the faith out of your tanks because my faith tanks are bone dry. Will you pray for me—with me?”
When you feel the Aarons and the Hurs of your life joyfully crawling underneath your arms, when you feel them transfer some of their faith into your tanks, it’s an unforgettable experience. Amen? It’s Christian community at its very, very best. Do you know what I mean? Do you have a couple of Aarons and Hurs that you can call on? You know them and they know you, and you care about each other. And you have the humility to be able to ask and they come and crawl under your tired arms. Or—just as importantly—do you know a Moses whose arms are aching? Do you know somebody in your circle of acquaintances who’s carrying a heavy burden right now—and maybe they’re a type A person who is wired up to want to keep trying to do it themselves, but you know their arms are getting tired? Could you go to that person and say, “I know the burden you’re carrying? Let a couple of us get under your arms and hold your hands up for a while.” Sometimes we all go through times when we are weak and discouraged—it is in these times that we need other Christians to encourage us to keep praying—people to hold our hands up.
In his book, Sticks and Stones, Ace Collins writes, “In the winter of 2007, a close friend of mine was felled by not one but two brain aneurysms. Her name is Linda. For weeks she lingered on life support, growing weaker each day. People prayed but her condition deteriorated—and her children were called in to say their goodbyes, and her church prepared for a funeral. Then Linda suddenly snapped out of her coma. As she came to, she looked over at her husband and asked, ‘Where is everybody else?’ Shaking his head, he explained, ‘They allow only one of us at a time in the ICU. There is no one else here.’ Linda argued, ‘No, I heard them. They were all speaking at the same time, and there were hundreds of them, too. Some of them I knew; others I didn’t. But they were all around me. They were here!’ Linda’s husband assured her that all those people had never been in the room. Like many, he initially thought that Linda must have been hallucinating. Some people speculated that Linda had seen and heard angels. But the real answer was probably much closer to home. A few days after her miraculous recovery, Linda discovered that a large prayer chain had been created to pray for her. This group had been formed when news of her condition was sent out to local churches, and then it had spread to other groups throughout the region. Within days Linda’s name had been placed on hundreds of prayer lists and written in scores of prayer logs. For weeks, thousands were praying for her each day. Her miraculous recovery convinced Linda of two things: the voices she heard were of the people who had been praying for her—and those prayers had pulled her back from death’s door.”
There are times, when like Linda and her husband and their family—times we need others to come alongside and pray for us—times when we grow weary and let our arms fall to our sides.
So—the tide of your life’s battles hinge on the location of your hands. 62 inches of differential between “‘I’ll do it myself’ hands” or “‘I need your help, God’ hands.” And—we all face times when we need others to LIFT OUR HANDS—fellow believers to pray for us—and to encourage us to keep praying. Let’s lift our hands now. Would you pray with me?