Have you ever competed in a race?
I have, and I can tell you, it’s hard work. I first competed in the Melbourne City2Sea, a 14km fun run, back in 2012. I had taken up running that year, and it was my first real challenge – having never run anything over 10km before. In the lead up to the race, I followed a plan that slowly increased the distance that I was running, so that I was able to complete the race.
The following year, I did it again, following a training plan and getting myself ready for the big day. Then last year, I convinced myself to get out in the rain and run it one more time, this time 15km.
Each year, in order to reach my goal, I needed to prepare. You can’t just wake up on a Sunday morning and go, “I’m going to run from the MCG to St Kilda today. No, you need to put in some preparations beforehand. You need to put in the hard yards, run the kilometers, and get your body ready for the race.
In the same way, all of the players from our favourite AFL teams have been working hard since December, far before the first bounce of round 1, in order to prepare their bodies for the season ahead, and hopefully get their bodies to a space where they can help their team lift the premiership cup.
If we are going to do the work, we have to be prepared to lay the foundation, to do the prep work, and get ourselves ready.
Jesus did his prep work. In our reading today, we saw that when Jesus was baptised, an occasion that many will mark as the start of Jesus’ public ministry, we read that the spirit drove him out. He was sent out into the wilderness for forty days. In Mark, we don’t read of what happened out there, only that he was tempted, or tested, depending on your translation. There’s a popular phrase, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” – which boils down to the idea that we can only grow, or develop, through a trial. It’s how we deal with that situation that we learn what to do – or maybe what not to do next time.
In Jesus’ tempting, he learnt how to handle those situations when they arrived during his public teaching. When he headed out to announce the kingdom of God, he had already prepared himself by putting in the hard yards.
We are called to also announce the kingdom of God. Now the wording used in the reading today that Jesus used, he said “The Kingdom of God has come near” – this word has is in what they call the perfect tense, in that it describes something that happened in the past, but it continues to apply now. So Jesus is saying The Kingdom of God is already here, and will continue to be here. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives us his great commission,
“ Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
This is what our work is – as we go, we are to make Disciples, to tell people about Jesus and to bring them into a relationship with him. But in order for us to do that, we need to prepare ourselves for it.
So how should we be preparing ourselves for us to do the daily work of the Lord?
Well, firstly, we need to pray. Throughout the Gospels, we read of Jesus taking himself away in order to pray to God.
- Mark 1:35 “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
- Mark 6:45-46 “Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.”
- Mark 14:32-34 “They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.””
- Luke 4:42 “At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them.”
- Luke 5:16 “But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.”
- Luke 6:12 “Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.”
So we need to make sure we do the same thing. We need to secrete ourselves away daily to talk with God. It is through this daily communication that we prepare ourselves to hear God when he guides us in our every day lives.
We can do this as simply as praying the prayer that Jesus himself taught us. In Luke, we read
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
We can also pray throughout our every day lives, through anything that comes our way, as we see Jesus do. But if we don’t have that foundation, if we don’t have that relationship, we don’t have anything to build upon and to recognise when God speaks to us.
The second thing we need to do is to know God’s word. Jesus knew God’s word intimately, and was able to bring it up to challenge those who questioned him. Even from an early age, Jesus was sitting in the synagogue, learning from the rabbi’s and questioning and discussing scriptures with them.
This is something that I struggle with. I’ll be honest with you – there are parts of the bible that I don’t really know all that well. And I sometimes feel that – especially as a minister – that I need to know everything, and I need to know it now. Sometimes I wish that there was a USB port into my brain and I could just download a few commentaries and a whole heap of knowledge so I had it right now. Unfortunately, that’s not what life is like, and just like you can’t go from being a couch potato to running 15km purely by deciding to do it, you similarly can’t get all your bible knowledge just by deciding that you’re going to have bible knowledge. You have to read your bible. Every day. Now, I know that you’re all doing the Whole World Reading Challenge, which is fantastic, but make sure that it’s not just a daily task to be ticked off, but engage in it. Ask questions, and if you can’t figure out the answers to those questions, feel free to come and talk to me and we’ll take a look at it together. I’m not going to say I’ll have the answer, but I’m happy to work through it with you and maybe we’ll both discover an answer.
So, we have to read your bible and pray every day, but we all know that every good sermon has three points, so what’s the third thing we have to do?
Well, the final thing I want to bring to you is that we have to be out there in our community. Now, you could say that this is actually what the great commission is about, but what I’m saying is that we have to be out there, in the community, living our lives as the Gospel teaches us. We have to love God, and because we love God, we love our neighbour – everyone that we come in contact with. So by being out there in the community, we are preparing ourselves, by forming relationships, by just being in community and being known, and by learning how to love everyone that we come in contact with. Sure, it’s tough sometimes, but if we can’t show love to the people we see everyday, how can we show love to the ones God puts in our lives and tells us to bring them to God? And as this image puts so simply, our prayer life leads us to study, which leads us to action, which leads us back to prayer.
So when we are praying every day, when we read and engage in our scriptures, and when we’re out there in the community, we can start to take part in bringing others into the kingdom of God that is already here. As God guides us, we will be ready.
So today, will you kick off your preparation? Will you commit yourself to getting ready for what God is going to do? Will you pray every day? Will you read your bible? Will you live in our community, living out God’s love?
If you’re going to commit yourself to this, I invite you to come forward and pray here at the holiness table. To come and commit yourself to the preparation. In this time of Lent, come and prepare yourself for what God is going to do here in Devonport.
Maybe you’ve never accepted Jesus into your life, and you want to learn what he’s got in store for you. Then come forward and accept the love that he is offering to you, and see what he’s got in store for you. Start laying that foundation through prayer, Reading and loving in the community, and see what God will do in you.
While we do that, we’ll have a video playing, and maybe there’s something else on your heart that God is prompting you on and you want to come forward and pray. Come forward, and seek out God’s advice. This time is Yours.