I want to talk this morning, very practically, about how to live the Christian life — and more specifically how prayer fits into that hour by hour activity.
The Christian Life
Let me begin by describing the Christian life with three biblical phrases:
1. Living by Faith in the Son of God
Living the Christian life means living by faith in the Son of God.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
So the Christian life is an hour-by-hour trusting in Jesus Christ. (Trusting him for what? We will see in a moment.)
2. Walking by the Spirit
Living the Christian life means walking by the Spirit. “Walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25; compare with Romans 8:4). So the Christian life is an hour-by-hour walking by the help of the Holy Spirit. How do you do that?
3. Serving in the Strength That God Supplies
Living the Christian life means serving in the strength that God supplies.
Whoever renders service let him render it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:11)
So the Christian life is serving the needs of others by the strength of God so that God gets the glory for your service.
Now if we put all this together, we can say that when you live the Christian life, you live so that hour-by-hour Christ gets trusted, you get helped, people get served, and God gets glory. The reason we exist as a church is to help each other live like that.
How Does Prayer Fit into Christian Living?
Now specifically at the beginning of this week of prayer I want to ask how prayer fits in to this hour-by-hour Christian living. We know that prayer is right at the heart of this hour by hour life because 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Pray without ceasing.” And Ephesians 6:19 says, “Pray at all times in the Spirit.” And Luke 18:1 tells us that “Jesus told a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not to lose heart.” So we can see clearly that part of the hour-by-hour walk of a Christian is hour-by-hour praying.
What I want to do then this morning is to show you from Scripture how to seek help from God (pray) for living the Christian life. What I am going to say can be summed up in five steps. I formulated these five steps about five years ago during a sermon series on Galatians. Since that time they have become very much a part of my daily life. With the help of Char Ransom and Andrea Nelson and Carol Steinbach we now have them summed up on these little cards made to fit into your wallet. That’s how practical we think these five points are.
So how do you live the Christian life? How do you live so that Christ gets trusted and you get helped and people get helped and God gets glory? This is one answer and only part of the answer. But it has proven for some of us to be a crucial guide.
The Kinds of Situations That Are in Mind
The kind of situation I have in mind for using these five steps is virtually any situation in which you aim to obey God. But I know it is unrealistic and artificial to think that any of us could or should go through some formula before every single action of the day. There are too many and they come too close together. So practically what I have in mind are those situations that feel especially challenging or threatening — acts of obedience and service that could be dangerous, or embarrassing, or situations where temptation will be great, or where great potential good could come.
For me it is preaching, certain counseling sessions, crisis calls, hospital visitation, writing projects, personal witnessing situations, board meetings, etc. In other words, how do you approach and enter the stressful, threatening, or challenging situations of life so that Christ is trusted, you are helped, people are served, and God gets glory — how do you live the Christian life in the everyday challenges (little or big) that you face?
This is what revival is all about — a church experiences revival when a large number of people get red-hot about trusting Christ, and red-hot about turning to God for help, and red hot about loving others, especially the lost, and red hot about showing the glory of God. That’s revival. That’s spiritual awakening. It’s the rediscovery of radical, God-centered Christian living. And it is intensely practical. It will change more at home and work probably than it will at church.
Five Steps to Living the Christian Life
Let’s go through the five steps together. They can be remembered by the acronym APTAT. Remember, what we are trying to discover is the practical biblical meaning of living by faith, or walking by the Spirit, or serving in the strength that God supplies.
Picture yourself facing some challenge now. A confrontation with an antagonist. A difficult visit to the doctor. A chance to tell someone about what Christ means to you. A lesson to teach. A job to apply for. An exam to take. A move to make. Too many things to do in one day. What do you do so that when the challenge is past and the day is done, you can say, I lived by faith; I walked by the Spirit; I served in the strength that God supplied; to him be the glory?
I see five Biblical steps. Three of the five steps are prayer.
Step 1: A — Admit
Admit that without Christ you can do nothing.
None of us can please God, live by faith, walk by the Spirit, or serve in God’s strength until we admit our utter helplessness without Christ — physically, morally, and spiritually. Let me mention four levels of helplessness that we need to see and admit from our hearts.
Four Levels of Our Helplessness Without Christ
We would not have come into being without Christ. “He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:2–3). Your personhood was created by Christ out of nothing. You would not exist without him.
We would vanish out of existence without the moment by moment sustaining of Christ. “He is before all things and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) Or as Acts 17:25 puts it, “God gives to all men life and breath and everything.” Every breath we take we owe to Christ. We are utterly helpless without his creating and sustaining power.
We would have no true virtue without his work in our soul. “The natural man [i.e., the man without the Spirit of Christ] does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Until the Spirit of Christ invades our soul and gives us a spiritual taste, we recoil at spiritual things. So we are utterly helpless to love God and live for God’s sake without the renovating power of Christ.
Therefore, we are helpless to bear fruit without Christ. That is, the abiding significance of our lives will be zero without the power of Christ.
“Without Christ our lives are like little shriveled fruitless twigs.”
Only one life
‘Twill soon be past
Only what’s done for Christ
So in the little APTAT card I quote John 15:5 where Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” By the world’s standards we may accomplish much without Christ (like build an institution, or produce a blockbuster movie). But from God’s perspective without Christ our lives are like little shriveled fruitless twigs.
Cries for Help Follow Admissions of Helplessness
So step one as we face the tasks of our lives is to say to God — this is a prayer — Lord, I can’t do anything without you. Without Christ, I wouldn’t exist; I wouldn’t take another breath; I wouldn’t know or love you; and there will be no fruit from what I am about to do. This is an act of great humility. This is where living by faith, and walking by the Spirit begins.
King Solomon faced the challenge of governing a great nation. How did he pray for help? He said (in 1 Kings 3:7), “O Lord, my God, thou hast made thy servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.” In other words he admits his helplessness without God. I am no more capable of ruling this people without you than is a little child.
Or consider Jeremiah’s cry for help (Jeremiah 10:23), “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Correct me, O Lord, but in just measure; not in thy anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.” Before he asks for help, he admits that a man’s way is not in himself. “Man proposes, God disposes” (Proverbs 16:9). (See also: Genesis 18:27; Psalm 86:1; Isaiah 66:2; Luke 18:13; 2 Corinthians 3:5.)
Living by faith, and walking by the Spirit begins with the admission of helplessness.
When you bow your head to pray
Let the first thing that you say
Be a lowly word and meek:
“I admit that I am weak.”
That is step one in living so that Christ gets trusted and you get helped and people get served and God gets glory.
Step 2: P — Pray
Pray for God’s help! You are about to make that difficult phone call, or talk to your colleague about Christ, or take the test, or start your new job, or reprimand an employee, or enter the doctor’s office, or preach a sermon. You may be in the car or an office or a classroom, or kitchen or waiting room or behind a pulpit.
“O Lord, Help!”
You admit from your heart that without Christ this is going to be a wash. Then you very simply and very humbly pray like this, “O Lord, help me! Please help me.” And you may get specific: help me not to forget anything important; help me to love this person; help me to be wise; help me to accept the news with hopefulness; help not to be bitter; help him to accept what I say; help me not to forget whose I am.
Asa, king of Judah, gives us a beautiful example of steps one and two when Serah the king of Ethiopia came against him with one million men and three hundred chariots in the valley Zephathah. 2 Chronicles 14:11 says,
Asa cried to the Lord his God, “O Lord, there is none like thee to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God!”
“We are weak, help us, O our God!”
The Heart of Christian Living
The very heart of Christian living is to admit our weakness and to seek strength and help from God. God commands it in Psalm 50:15 (on the card), “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me.”
That’s the answer to the question how to live so that you get help and God gets glory!! Pray for help from God. The one who gives the help gets the glory. That’s what it says in Psalm 50. You get help. God gets glory. Or as the Lord said to Paul, when he cried out for help: “My power is made perfect in [your] weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so,
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.
That song is not just for kids. When you face your day, admit your helplessness, and pray for help from God. (See also Psalm 18:3; 22:19; 34:15, 17; 38:22; 56:9; 91:15; Mark 9:24; Hebrews 4:16.)
Step 3: T — Trust
Trust in a promise of God suited to your need.
Living by Faith
This is the way that the action you are about to take becomes an act of faith. This is what Paul meant when he said in Galatians 2:20 that the life he now lives he lives by faith in the Son of God. Living by faith means overcoming obstacles to obedience by trusting promises of help and future happiness.
An act is an act of faith when the strength to do it comes through trusting in a promise of God. When you bank on God’s help and his promise of happiness to get you through your task, then you are living by faith and walking by the Spirit.
How to Do Right in the Choices We Face
Every day we are confronted with choices — to do right or to do wrong, to be honest or dishonest, to be loving or to be indifferent, to forgive or to go on holding a grudge, to speak of Christ or to be silent, to go do my assignment or to put it off, to go to follow God’s leading to the mission field or to stay home. And every day there are obstacles to making the right choice: fear, pride, addiction to comfort — and these come in all shapes and sizes.
How do you bring yourself to do the right thing so that Christ gets trusted, you get helped, people get served, and God gets glory? Answer:
- Admit you can’t do it without Christ.
- Pray for God’s help. And then
- Trust in some promise that assures you that the world’s incentive toward disobedience is not as great as God’s incentive toward obedience.
This is not a passive thing. It is an active, disciplined tactical maneuver in the fight of faith. If you have time, you go to your Bible and look for some promise suited for your specific challenge. For example, if you are struggling for the strength to let a grudge go and be kind to your enemy, go to the promise in Romans 12:19, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” And trust that the Lord can and will settle accounts far more justly and fairly than you ever could, and roll that burden onto him.
Our Need for an Arsenal of General Promises
But there are times when we do not have time to look through the Bible for a tailor-made promise. So we all need to have an arsenal of general promises ready to use whenever fear or addiction to comfort threaten to lead us astray or make us weak. Here are a few of my most proven weapons:
“Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will help you. I will strengthen you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). I have slain more dragons in my soul with that sword than any other I think. It is a precious weapon to me.
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Romans 8:32). How many times I have been persuaded in the hour of trial by this verse that the reward of disobedience could never be greater than “all things.”
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . And lo, I will be with you to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:18, 20). How many times have I strengthened my sagging spirit with the assurance that the Lord of heaven and earth is just as much with me today as he was with the disciples on earth!
“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15).
“My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Constantly be adding to your arsenal of promises. Every morning look for a new one to take with you through the day. And when the hour of challenge and trial comes, get the strength to do right by trusting a specific promise from the word of God.
Step 4: A — Act
Act with humble confidence in God’s help.
This might seem so obvious that it wouldn’t need mentioning. But it does because there are some who say that since Christ is supposed to live his life through you (“I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I but Christ who lives in me.”), you should not do anything — that is, simply wait until you are, as it were, carried along by another will.
“The Spirit transforms our will. And God works in us so that we can work.”
Well this is simply not what the Bible teaches. The Spirit of God does not cancel out our will. The work of God does not cancel out our work. The Spirit transforms our will. And God works in us so that we can work. So Philippians 2:12–13 (correct your card) says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
When you have admitted to God that you can do nothing without him, and prayed for his help, and trusted his promise, then go ahead, act! And in that act Christ will be trusted, you will be helped, others will be served, and God will get glory. Which will lead naturally to the last of our five steps.
Step 5: T — Thank
Thank God for the good that comes.
This is what you naturally do if 1 Peter 4:11 has really happened, namely, serving in the strength that God supplies. God gave the help, God gets the glory, and that starts with our thanks.
This is what Paul was urging when he said in Colossians 3:17, “Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” When you have the grace to do a thing in the name of Jesus, that is, for his glory and by faith in his promise, then give God thanks!
Or if the person you are trying to change experiences a change of heart, then thank God! It is God who changes hearts and brings good intentions. “But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus” (2 Corinthians 8:16). (See also Romans 7:25; 1 Corinthians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 1:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Timothy 1:12.)
Be a Christian
Whether you are a “card-carrying” Christian or not, be a Christian.
- Live by faith.
- Walk by the Spirit.
- Serve in the strength that God supplies.
That is, live in such a way that
- Christ gets trusted,
- you get helped,
- people get served, and
- God gets glory.
When you face a challenge or a temptation do APTAT:
A — Admit that without Christ you can do nothing.
P — Pray for God’s help.
T — Trust in a promise suited to your need.
A — Act with humble confidence in God’s help.
T — Thank him for the good that comes.
The first two and the last are acts of prayer. So let us enter prayer week with a deep awareness that prayer is not a mere devotional prelude in the real business of living; it is the pathway of faith and obedience. There is no other.