Ben McSpadden: I was 17 when I prayed my first dangerous prayer. I'm going to back up before I tell you the story, and say I love my parents. I love them a lot. I love my dad a lot. I respect him a lot. You need to know that when I tell you about my dangerous prayer.
I grew up in a pastor's home and in a small community. I had this tension growing up, kind of these outside expectations of people. You see, as a pastor's kid, you were supposed to know all of the Sunday school answers. Everything in the Bible, you should know.
But secretly you were supposed to be a rebel like the devil. You were supposed to really be bad, and you had that kind of reputation. I really wasn't trying to live out that reputation, but that was sort of the expectations. I later met other pastors' kids and I understood why we got the bad rap, and so I understood that it was a thing.
When I was 17, I was really thinking about the future and kind of what career I should go into. I was actually wondering, "Lord, are you calling me into ministry? Am I to make that sort of a lifelong pursuit?"
But I didn't want to make it for the wrong reasons, for the expectations of others. I really wanted to make it because God was calling me to do that. And so, this was my dangerous prayer. I said, "God, I will know that you're calling me into ministry if my dad is fired from his current ministry position because it would be in the face of adversity, not in people's expectations."
God was very kind and He answered that prayer, and I am here today, so he got fired. Now, this is why I don't get to speak in the student ministry on Career Day because you want to keep your jobs.
But in all seriousness, I do love my dad. I pray for him. I've prayed for him for blessing, and I've seen God bless the years that some things were taken away. He's in a really good spot.
But that was a significant dangerous prayer for me because I knew that the way it was answered was going to affect what I was going to go after in life. I knew I was going to need God's help because I knew it was not going to be easy. I realized how real God was and how He engaged with us when we communicated with Him and when we prayed with Him.
And so, I went off to college to get ready for ministry. I studied the Bible. I studied other cultures. I went to other countries. I wanted to know how to share with people who this real God was, who really loved them and made a way for them to be made right with Him.
I discovered all kinds of people all over the world trying to connect with the Divine or a God concept because everybody recognized there was evil in the world, but they had a different answer or solution.
One of the first places I went was the Tibetan region of China, and I saw a lot of this. What this is is a lady walking around a religious building, and these cylinder things, they're actually what they call prayer wheels.
In their kind of context, their framework, the way they understand it is you spin that prayer wheel, and it's got a prayer on it. It's kind of like you get points in the spiritual realm, and the prayers go up to the Divine, and it kind of earns you points to help you get out of evil.
And so, there was this. This is one of the first moments that I saw. And then later, I would go to India with my wife. We would live there for six months. We were helping with church planting and helping reach out to Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists, and I ran across ... Now, India is not shy at all spiritually. It's very much in your face, very religious place. But even I got humored by this sign on a bus. It says, "Oh, God, save me."
I saw this on a bus in the Himalayas. If you've ever ridden on a bus in India, you know they have different standards, and you know how relevant this bumper sticker is. "Oh, God, save me."
I just got a kick out of that. In our country, we maybe aren't as maybe religious as India, we may not talk about it as much, but it's still in the public eye.
In fact, have you seen guys like this? The Philadelphia Eagles. I know not everybody here is a fan, but bear with me here. A couple of years back, they got highlighted. They were called the Birds of Pray, P-R-A-Y.
What was happening was several of the teammates were very outspoken about their faith in God. They were getting together for Bible study and prayer. They have work hazards. They get injured, and it can take them out for a couple of weeks, couple of months, maybe even a season. They have injuries, and they're praying for each other, and some of them are experiencing that God is healing them miraculously. What would normally be a rehab time of three weeks, they're getting healed on the spot.
This article is highlighting how they're very much involved in their faith, and even one of the quarterbacks they had is studying to be a pastor when he wraps up with the NFL. They even go on to win a Super Bowl. And what I'm not going to tell you today is that if you pray dangerous prayers, you'll win the Super Bowl because they didn't win after that. I mean, they've won one and then ... It's been awhile.
But what we saw was wow. What I was experiencing was prayer is just part of the human experience. No matter what country you're in, no matter what your background is, people are talking about it.
But why are we going to talk about strengthen me? That's what we're going to talk about today. Why pray strengthen me?
Well, think about it. When are the times that you need strength? Usually, it's when there's a weighty situation, right? Maybe you were coming out of this week, and you're at the end of your rope, and you're like, "I don't know how I'm going to face Monday. I need God's strength. Strengthen me."
Or maybe, maybe it's been a good week, but you're about to head into some things in the next couple weeks or couple months and you see on the horizon something that's going to be very challenging, and you can pray, "Strengthen me."
But strengthen me for what purpose? To do what I want? Strengthen me to accomplish all my goals, God. Is that what we're talking about here?
Last week, we talked about break me, the dangerous prayer, break me. We looked at how break me dealt with break me of my stubborn will, break me of my hardened heart. That's really an alignment prayer, asking God to help us align our hearts with his.
Strengthen me, the danger behind strengthen me is that it implies that we're going to do something in line with God. There's sort of this commitment to take a next step because I need strength to actually do something, and I need strength to do the right thing that I see God leading me to. If we understand what God's calling us to, we know that we're going to need strength to carry it out.
One of the early church leaders, Paul, he writes a prayer for strength for the Ephesian believers, and that's what's on your handout. There's a listening guide there in your handout and we have that passage of scripture. That's a prayer of strengthen me, and here's what it says.
"For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory, He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being.
"So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and the length and the height and the depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever." Ephesians 3:14-21
We pray, "God, strengthen me," because we have a purpose greater than our capacity. We have a purpose greater than our capacity. At the very beginning of that prayer, it says, "For this reason."
Where that's actually pointing back to, if you read the whole book of Ephesians, that letter, earlier Paul says something about what that reason is. He says this: "In Him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." Eph. 2:22
That's the reason he's praying this because they're being built together into a dwelling place for God. Now, the Ephesians were a people that were originally far from God. They were not part of God's chosen people, the Israelites. They were what we call Gentiles. They were far from God.
And, yet, when Jesus Christ came and He died on the cross to save us of our sins, that was good news, not just for God's chosen people, the Israelites, but that was good news that people from no matter what tribe they came from had access to God and His forgiveness.
And so, he's saying, "You're no longer a people who are far off, but now you are near, brought near. You're not even just brought near, but you're part of God's household, part of His dwelling place."
Now, this is a hard concept to grasp, really, to think about us being God's dwelling place, but people have been making monuments and dwelling places for their God concepts for a long time.
Here's a picture of the largest religious monument in the world. This is in Cambodia. I think the way you say it is Angkor Wat. I think that's the name, but it's in Cambodia. It's on 402 acres. The largest religious monument in the world. It was built for a king back in the 1100s. It was his state temple in his city state or capital city.
The largest church in the world is St Peter's Basilica, and it's in the Vatican. It's on about five acres. The financing to build this structure was very controversial. It actually was one of the sparks to ignite the Protestant Reformation, but it's on five acres, huge.
Here's what King Solomon said when he was going to build the first temple that we hear about in the Bible. "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you. How much less this house that I have built?" 1 Kings 8:37
Later, we're going to hear God speak through one of His prophets, and He says this. "Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. What is the house that you would build for me, and what is this place of my rest?" Isaiah 66:1
Yet, God's plan all along was for His people to be his dwelling place. In Him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. What does that mean, the creator of the universe that's going to dwell among us?
What's your dwelling place? Your dwelling place is where you live, right? It's where you relate with your loved ones. It's where you share meals, where you communicate.
A dwelling place for God is where God's presence is, and where God is, there's truth and there's goodness and there's love, there's blessing, protection, provision. These are good things.
It's a place of holiness because He's a holy God. If we can't share in His character, we really can't stand in His presence. He's a holy God. He's a consuming fire.
All of us who've been trying to live for God, we realize how far short we fall of His perfection. We can't clean our house enough for such a guest. We need Him to cleanse us, and the Bible tells us that. We need Him to cleanse us, that He can dwell among us. And where He dwells, our needs are met in His presence. We need His strength to help us to be ready for His presence in our lives.
Verse 16 and 17 of that prayer, (in Ephesians 3) it says, "That according to the riches of His glory," you can underline this part, "He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit."
He's the one who's strengthening us for a purpose that's greater than our capacity. We need God's strength to fulfill our purpose. We also need God's strength because we have an experience beyond our circumstance.
At Hope, we invite people to discover and experience God's ways. I've learned that often it's our willingness, not God's ability, that often puts limits on what we experience.
If we're not willing to trust God in the midst of our circumstances, we tend to stop short of all that He intends for us to experience with Him, so our circumstances go from bad to worse. It often looks like this. You got a blocked goal. Things aren't working out like you thought, and then it leads into frustration.
If you don't deal with... I mean, frustration happens because you have the blocked goal. But if you don't deal with that appropriately, you can get into discouragement, and that's down a dark path you don't want to go.
In fact, discouragement is what the enemy, the devil, wants us to get in. He wants to discourage us from doing the things that God's called us to. He wants to weaken us from wanting to go after the things that we're supposed to go after.
This happens all the time, in all of our lives. We experience frustration, and we have to be careful not to get into discouragement.
A couple of weeks ago, on my day off ... A day of rest, right? My day off, and one of the kids comes in. I guess they forgot it was my day off. They come in, and they come, "Daddy, Daddy, somebody left the garden spigot on all night and everything's frozen."
It was a couple of weeks ago when we dropped below freezing. It was like, "Oh, man, great. What are we going to do?"
So I'm thinking through, "Okay, I was going to use that actually for another project, but I'm going to have to let it thaw out so that I can get this other project going. I needed that garden spigot."
So I'm thinking through that, and then another kid comes in, "Daddy, Daddy, brother tried to turn the water spigot off and he broke the spigot, so it's stuck on."
I was like, "Oh, my goodness, great."
So now I got to figure out, "We're going to have to shut that off because if that starts to thaw, then water's going to go everywhere. We're going to have a real mess on our hands," and I still haven't gotten to my goal that I want.
And a third kid comes in, "Daddy, Daddy." Now, I have eight kids, so I am in trouble. Third kid comes in, "Daddy, Daddy, brother kicked the hose and broke something else." And I'm like, "Oh." I just said, "Please stop trying to fix something right now. Let me get out of bed."
That's how early it was on my day off. Sure, I had to clear some things up with how I said things, but it was frustrating. We cleared things up, and we got to learn how to change the water spigot. Went down to the hardware store, came back, fixed it, it's good, okay?
Learned what frozen water does to stuff and why you shouldn't kick stuff when it's frozen. Learned all those very valuable lessons that you don't realize you're going to have to teach your kids. So, finally, they get all that solved, but I can't really get to the bigger project till the next day.
And so, the frustration, it doesn't stop, right? Projects aren't over.
So get to the bigger project, it involves a bigger piece of equipment, a power washer. I'm working it all morning, using it. Thankfully, the spigot's working. It's great. It's a new machine, spent more money than I'd care to, but, hey, I can use this for a long time.
I am worn out. I'm tired. Things aren't working like they need to. I've moved to a different part of the yard using it for this piping thing. And at some point, it just stops. And I'm like, "What? This is brand new. We read all the instructions. We babied it. We did what we're," and it's just stopped.
It's cold. It kind of had sprinkled on us. I thought about quitting, but I didn't want to quit. It kind of let up, but we're all wet and cold and worn out, been going for a couple of hours, and I'm just tired.
I'm just like, "Oh, Lord, you know," and I'm just praying. My two oldest boys are ... I'm just praying, "Lord, you know what we're trying to accomplish. You know we're trying to be good stewards. You know we're trying to get this done right. I know that we're going to talk about break me, but please don't break any more of my stuff. I really need your help right now."
It was like after I prayed that prayer, there was this like ... It wasn't an audible voice, but it was deep down. I knew God, He was saying something, basically, like this. "Ben, I've been working on you for a couple of years to come to me in prayer sooner, and you're here a lot earlier than you have been."
And I was like, "Oh, okay."
And He said, "You want to help your boys discover and experience God's ways, and you're showing them that in the midst of frustration how to come to me."
And I was like, "Whoa."
I was like, "My experience right now is beyond just these circumstances. I'm getting to help my boys go to the creator of the universe in times of trouble, in times of frustration, and it's a prayer of strengthen me."
It's more like help me. But He was letting me know, "You know what? You're doing exactly what I want you to. You're having these troubles, but there's an experience here beyond just these circumstances."
So, strengthen me. It's also coupled with this idea of courage. We need courage to press forward in the things of God. I don't know all your situations right now, but you may need courage to have that conversation that you should have had with your coworker six months ago, or the friend, or the family member.
It's the courage to do the right thing before God and before people. You may be inviting them into an experience of forgiveness, maybe even inviting them in to experience, to know what God's love is like, understanding, patience. Who knows, but your circumstances, your experience may be greater than that.
You need God's strength. We might need courage just to do the right thing, even if it seems like it's going to hurt us or make us look foolish in the eyes of the world. We need the courage to do the right thing. We need to pray strengthen me, when we need courage not to give up and keep doing the things we know we're supposed to be doing.
Again, the Bible reminds us. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7
You see, with God's strength, we can experience God's ways and His purposes in our lives that go beyond our present circumstances, and the circumstances that are often discouraging.
Well, we also take strength in the context of community. If we're not careful ... We're going to read real quickly over this small part in that prayer on your handout. In (Ephesians 3) verse 18, it says: "You may have strength to comprehend," and you can underline this, "with all the saints, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God."
This idea that with all the saints that we come together ... I mean, this is what we do on Sunday, right? We come together and we sing praises and we hear God's word. I just think about this is an amazing time that we can be strengthened together.
I mean, think about the songs we sing. It Is Finished, one of the songs we sang, that one of the verses was, "Go bravely into battle knowing He has won the war."
The way I see that is we're all on a frontline. If we're following God, we're all on the frontline. Our enemy isn't each other, but it's against some dark forces that really want to put a damper on our life. It's the devil. He's trying to prevent us from doing the things that God's called us to.
Here's my frontline, and I can see this context of relationships and responsibilities that I have to deal with. I don't want to be discouraged, but I need to go bravely into battle to do the right things. But you're right there with me. You just may be over here on this part of the frontline, and you have a different vantage point, but you still have a context of relationships and responsibilities that you have to deal with.
When we sing these songs and we encourage each other, it's like you're radioing into me and saying, "Ben, go bravely into battle for He's already won the war."
And I radio back, "Go bravely into battle. He's already won the war."
We get to do this together. We could to encourage each other, and we get to praise God because we can be strengthened by Him. We can go bravely into whatever you're facing, the frontline.
But we also sing Lighthouse. "He's a peace in our troubled sea, great love will lead me through."
We're going to sing a song here after the message, so this is a spoiler alert. We're going to sing Endless Light. Great line in there, "We will declare great is the love of the Savior."
It's a great line. Great is the love of the Savior, and love is not something that we can experience in isolation. God has designed reality in such a way that we're to be together, interacting, relating. He intends for us to relate.
When somebody asked Him what the greatest commandment was, He said it's to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. It's an others-focused mission, command.
Great is the love of the Savior, and we're to comprehend this with all the saints.
There's this context of community. We also pray that God strengthen us because we have a Father that's richer than our needs. He's richer than our needs. If you look back at (Ephesians 3) verse 16, it says, "That according to the riches of His glory, He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His spirit in your inner being."
We just got to hear about the finances and, boy, God really provided beyond what we could imagine. We didn't know that. We stepped in faith, and we try to do right by Him and other people, and God, with the riches of His glory, He really strengthened us.
Martin Luther, he lived in the 1500s, the same time as that big church I showed you, St Peter's Basilica. All these things were swirling around. There was a lot of controversy. Martin Luther was trying to point people back to God's word and His truth.
And he had a friend. His friend was Friedrich Myconius. I'm just going to call him Fred because I'm going to probably trip over that name. But Friedrich, they're German, I'm going to call him Fred.
Fred was his assistant, helped him in all kinds of things as he was taking on the task of reforming the church. And at one point, Fred got really sick. I mean, on his deathbed. He even lost the ability to speak. They were in different towns, and so he wrote a letter to Martin Luther basically saying, "I'm going to die. It's been good to be friends with you and to work with you. See you later."
And Martin Luther prayed a bold prayer. He was not convinced. He needed his friend's help still. And so, he wrote a letter back with a prayer. Now, I can't speak German, but if I could, it would sound really manly.
This is a bold prayer, and it's manly, and just imagine this German ... you know. But this is what he says, translated in English.
"I command you, in the name of God, to live because I still have need of you in the work of reforming the church. The Lord will never let me hear that you are dead, but will permit you to survive me. For this, I am praying because I seek only to glorify the name of God."
This is a big, bold prayer. If you know the timeline, you find out that old Fred, he actually lived six more years after this. He recovered, full strength, and if you look at their tombstones, Fred lived two months longer than Martin Luther. He outlived him. God answered Martin's prayer.
That is a bold prayer. With this prayer, we see that Martin Luther showed a serious ... how serious he took God's word when it says, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16
Strengthen me. We have a Father richer than our needs.
Now, the end of the prayer also talks about being filled. "And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we could ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." Ephesians 3:19-21
To be filled with the fullness of God. Sometimes I think we have this picture in our mind, right? It's of this ... It's coming. There we go ... teacup full of the ocean, a mighty ocean. We're just kind of fragile compared to God, and there's this mighty ocean, and we're filled.
But I think it's more than that. It's not that we actually can't contain the ocean. It's a lot more like this picture here. This cup's being filled with the ocean, but it doesn't contain. The ocean is so much greater, but it is filled. It is filled.
Google let me down. I actually had to have a friend out in California ... I said, "Hey, Andrew, can you go have one of your kids stick a teacup in the ocean because I can't find it on Google."
And this was great. It was great because he texted back, and this is what he said. He said, "Hey," see if you can read it. He said, "I hope ..."
He says, "How's that?" I said, "That's great. Thanks." He goes, "Okay, good. She was a little scared of the waves so this was the best one." And I did a smiley face, thumbs up, fist bump, "Tell her thanks for being brave."
And I thought that's even more powerful because God ... We're like that little kid. God is powerful, and if we understand His greatness to some level, He is something to be feared. And, yet, He is good and He wants to fill our lives. He is a good God, but we need the strength of God to fulfill the purposes that He has for us.
See again how Paul wraps up his prayer. It says, "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
The prayer, strengthen me, it's dangerous because we have to trust God rather than ourselves. That's why it's risky. You have to trust Him. Whatever you're facing this week, God's calling you to do something in line with Him. He's calling you to do something right.
I pray that He strengthens each one of us as we step to the frontlines of where at, and we honor Him, and we help those around us. If you're not yet a follower of Christ, and you still have questions, I pray that He'd strengthen you to ask the questions that need to be asked, and that you'd find those answers, and you'd get the help that you need, that you'd have the strength to step forward with Him. I pray that for all of us this week. Let's continue by praying, and we'll sing our last song.
Lord, we are so grateful for who you are. We're grateful that you do strengthen us. We're grateful that even though we could not clean our house enough to be ready for you to dwell with us, that you come and you cleanse us and you strengthen us and you make us ready to do some things that are life-changing for us that give us full, true, abundant life, that you fill us with who you are, your goodness, your kindness.
We thank you so much. As we go out this week, and we look at the different challenges that we either have been walking out of, or we're about to walk into, or we don't even know what we're walking into. We pray, God, that you would strengthen us, that you would be honored, and we could be a help to those around us and invite them to discover and experience your goodness, your love, and your strength. We pray these things in Jesus Christ's name. Amen.