Today we are getting ready to start our series the Circle Maker. It is a four week series this time, looking forward to this a great deal. I hope it is a blessing to everyone. Today’s message is The Legend of the Circle Maker.
It was the 1st Century BC. A devastating draught threatened to destroy a generation. It was the generation right before Jesus. The last of the Jewish prophets had died off 400 years ago. Miracles seemed like a distant memory, almost unreal, and it seemed like God was nowhere to be heard anymore but there was one guy who lived outside of the city of Jerusalem in a mud hut; an eccentric sage named Honi. He believed that God could hear him even if he couldn’t hear God. Honi was somewhat famous for being able to pray for rain and have God answer his prayers. When rain is plentiful, it is an afterthought. During a draught it’s the only thought. And finally a group of people came out to Honi and said please pray for rain. Please, please pray for rain. We are desperate. We are going to perish if we don’t get rain. So Honi took his staff about 6 feet high. He planted the end into the dirt and began to turn, and slowly and methodically he turned 360º and drew a circle in the dirt. He put down his staff. He knelt down in the circle, raised his hands to heaven, and said “Lord of universe. I swear before your great name that I will not move from this circle until you have shown mercy upon your children.” The words sent a shudder down the spine of everyone within ear shot. It wasn’t the volume of his voice. It was the authority of the tone. Not a hint of doubt. This was not a prayer that originated in the vocal cords. This was a prayer that originated down deep inside somewhere. The prayer was resolute yet humble, confident yet meek, expectant yet unassuming, and then it happened. While the prayer was still making its way to heaven rain drops began to fall just a light sprinkler. The people begin to celebrate but then Honi’s voice rose over the din of their celebration and he said “Not for such a rain have I prayed but for a rain that will fill cisterns, and pits, and caverns” and it began to rain. It rained so hard that people began to scurry for the temple mount to get to high ground in case flash floods would happen. Eye witnesses that day say there was no raindrop smaller than an egg in size but Honi was not satisfied, and once again he prayed “Not for such a rain have I prayed but for a rain of thy favor, blessings and graciousness.”
Like a well portioned shower on a hot summer day it began to rain, slowly, evenly, peacefully, every raindrop a representation of God’s graciousness and favor. It was a day that puddle jumping became an act of praise. It was the day that the legend of the circle maker was born, the day before it had been difficult to believe. On that day it was impossible not to believe, and Honi was celebrated like a hometown hero by the people whose lives he had saved but some of the Sanhedrin were not happy. They believed that it disrespected God to demand for rain and they threatened Honi with excommunication. Perhaps these were the forefathers of the leaders a generation later who would threaten Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath. I don’t know. But because no one could argue with the results of the prayer and that God had answered it eventually he was honored for his prayerful bravado and that prayer is known as the prayer that saved a generation. It is deemed one of the most significant prayers in Israel’s history. It is recorded in the book of legends; the book of legends. I have to find this book. How cool is that? But it is the testament of a simple prayer and this power of a single prayer to change the course of history.
Hope you have out your sermon notes. We have a couple of things we’re going to go through today. The earth has circled the sun more than 2,000 times since the day that Honi drew his circle in the sand but God is still looking for circle makers and this timeless truth is as true now as it was then. Bold prayers honor God and God honors bold prayers.God is not offended by your biggest prayers. God is not offended by your biggest dreams. Sometimes we pray little itty bitty prayers that maybe we can take care of ourselves. God has already empowered us to do that. But when you pray for the Red Sea to part, or for an iron axe head to float, or the sun to stand still these are the kind of prayers that move God into action. So there is nothing more that God enjoys more than answering prayers, keeping his promises. He has told us that he will be faithful. This is what he does. It does not offend him for us to ask him for big things. The bigger the circle we draw the more glory God gets.
I don’t know what we all face here today. I’m sure it is different things for different of us. It is health issues. It is relationship issues. It is work. It is addictions. I don’t know but there are a lot of things we are facing but I am confident of this you are only one prayer away from a miracle. Do you believe that? See there is something that we have to know. That is that God is for you. Don’t write the word “you” in. Write your name on that blank. See God is for you. God is for Johnny. God is for Tomas. God is for Annie. God is for Pilar. God is for you and until we come to grips with that we are going to pray tiny little itty bitty timid prayers. When you do believe that God is for you, then you will pray big audacious prayers. See prayers are like prophecy. They are predictors of your spiritual future and who you become is determined by how you pray. Who you become is determined by how you pray.
It was my senior year in high school. I was going to school in Mount Vernon Academy in Ohio and I thought that my life was just coming together nicely. I was graduating from high school. I had good grades. I had a cute girlfriend; pre-Linda, and me and a lot of my friends had registered to go to school at Columbia Union College; CUC. I think it has a different name now but back then it was Columbia Union College. It is right outside Washington, D.C. and Tacoma Park, and my friends and I were going there, and we were going to have a good time, go to college together. Things were looking good. Very late in my senior year, like the last month, my father announced that he had taken a call to go to a different school. That was not particularly unusual. We moved every two or three years growing up but we would always stayed in that same area we lived in; New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania. We ventured over to Wisconsin for a while back down to Ohio but we always kind of stayed in that eastern Midwest area. So dad where are we going to this time? Southern California, San Pasqual Academy, Escondido, California, and all of a sudden my perfect life had a very big wrinkle in the middle of it. What was I going to do? Go to school with my friends at Columbia Union College or go to California with my folks where I didn’t know anybody? Didn’t know if I could get registered to go to school, didn’t know anything.
Now one thing you have to know is that when you work for the church it is missionary work. They don’t pay very much money. So there was not money for me to go home if I went to Columbia Union College. If I went there, I was going to be there all four years; summer time, Christmas, Thanksgiving it didn’t matter. So I had a decision to make and at the time it seemed like the biggest decision ever. Now as I look back on it okay but then it was monumental, and I didn’t know what to do so I prayed to God and said God what should I do? Now I don’t know about you but I always hope that God answers in a way that I just know he answered and I can’t get it wrong. I want to walk into my room and see a map of California stapled to the wall you know. Alright God I got it. I don’t usually get answers like that. But what I began to notice over the next, I don’t know, week or two was that every time I thought about going to Columbia Union College with my friends and hanging out I felt uneasy. I felt worried, stressed. I don’t know. And every time I thought about going to California I was at peace. There was no problem. So guess what happened? I went to California. I wonder what would have happened had I not listened to God. Where would I have been? What would have happened? I don’t know. But I know this who you become is determined by how you pray. Do you pray for the big things in life? Do you pray for the little things in life? Do you expect God to answer them?
Open your Bibles with me to Joshua, chapter 6. I think Joshua is about the sixth book of the Bible. It should be kind of towards the front there; Joshua chapter 6. This is the story of the Israelites and the city of Jericho; a story that we are probably fairly familiar with. What page are we on Gustavo? 211 if you have a black pew Bible. It is page 211. Let’s remember the back story here. The Israelites have come out of bondage, of slavery in Egypt. They have wondered in the wilderness. They didn’t go into the Promise Land because they were scared. They wondered in the wilderness for 40 more years. Moses has died. He has passed the leadership reigns on to Joshua and now they have entered the Promise Land and the first city they encounter is Jericho.
Let’s start reading verse 1. It says Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. Now if I am Joshua I would be looking around and going I don’t see no delivery Lord. They have a big city, big walls, where is the delivery? Verse 3. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.” Okay, pretty simple plan. March around the city for six days. On the seventh day march around seven times. We’re going to shout and everybody is going to run in. Can you imagine being Joshua going back to your army which is about 600,000 and telling them that? These guys are armed. You know we’re just going to walk around, listen to some cool music with the priests playing on trumpets, and then we’re all going to shout. Right, we need Moses back.
So verses 6 through I don’t know 14 talk about doing that. The end of verse 14 so They did this for six days. On the seventh day, by the way, one of those days was Sabbath. On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!
Now this city Jericho was about 12 acres in size. It was a pretty good size city. Its walls were 50 feet tall, six feet wide at the base. It kind of tapered at the top; pretty formidable city. The route around the city was a little over a mile and a half. 600,000 men, in rough numbers, marched around that city in silence. I wonder what the soldiers are thinking. You know we have battering rams to use on the gate. We should be diverting the water, laying siege to the city. We should be shooting flaming arrows over the walls right. We know how to take a city and you know going on a hike around the city doesn’t really work. I don’t know what they were thinking but I suspect that as this went on through the week and then seven times on the last day their expectancy is growing. I wonder if God is really going to deliver on this. I wonder what really is going to happen here. I suspect the soldiers felt foolish but by the end of that seventh trip around or actually a total of 13 trips around on that last day I suspect they were probably fairly amped up waiting to see what God was going to do, what God was going to deliver for them, and when they shouted and the walls come tumbling down, they realized that God just delivered on a 400 year old promise. He told Abraham 400 years earlier that his descendants would spend 400 years in an alien land and that he would give them the Promise Land.
God’s promises don’t come with expiration dates. Jericho stands and falls as a testament to this truth. If you keep circling the promise, God will deliver on it. See Jericho not only reveals how God delivered this one promise but it sets an example for us, a pattern to follow. It challenges us to confidently circle the promises God has given us until that begs the question what’s your Jericho? What are you circling? What is making a difference? What dream do you have? What miracles are you marching around and asking God to deliver on? See you’ve got to define the promises that God wants you to claim stake to. You’ve got to define the dreams that God has given you, the things that he wants you to do, and then you have to keep circling them until he gives you what he wills. Here’s the problem. Most of us don’t get what we want because we don’t know what we want. We’ve never circled any of God’s promises. We’ve never written down a list of life goals. We’ve never defined what spiritual success looks like and our dreams are as nebulous as clouds, and instead of drawing circles we draw blanks.
Turn in your Bibles with me to Matthew, chapter 20, first book in the New Testament; Matthew, chapter 20. It is another miracle that happens in this exact same spot of Jericho. It’s about 1,000 years later in rough numbers. The city has been rebuilt and Jesus is walking out of the city gates. If you look at Matthew and I think down around verse 29, we see Jesus is walking out of the city of Jericho, and two blind men hailing like you would hail a taxi, right. They just yell out “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” and everybody thought that was kind of a rude interruption except for Jesus. And he stops and he says “What do you want me to do for you?” Really! They are blind. What do you think they want? Jesus aren’t you the guy that supposed to know what we want before we ask for it. Why does Jesus ask what do you want? Does Jesus know what they want? So then why does he ask? He wants to make sure they know what they want. He wants to make sure they know what they want and that is where drawing prayer circles begins knowing what to circle.
By the way, if you have an electronic Bible or you go to Biblegateway.com and you search for “what do you want me to do for you?” it is a question that Jesus asks quite frequently. It shows up a lot. Jesus wants to know if we know what we want. If Jesus was standing here today and asked you directly what do you want me to do for you, would you have an answer or would you stand there and go well that’s a good question? So while God is for us most of us have no idea what we want God to do for us. That’s why sometimes our prayers seem uninspired almost boring. We wonder if we are boring God with our prayers. If faith is being sure of what you hope for, what is being unsure of what you hope for? You have to know so when you read the Bible don’t just read the Bible, start circling promises. What has God put in there that is speaking to your heart? Not every promise in the Bible is for every person but what has God spoken to you about? What are you dreaming about? What does God put on your heart? And start circling those promises. Define your dream. Claim your promise. Spell out your miracle that you want.
In our small group series this week Mark Batterson in the video section is going to talk about a 21-day prayer challenge, and we are not going to do a lot with that corporately but I want us to kind of spend a second and think about what we could do with that individually or as a group. So some of our small groups may decide to do this 21-day prayer challenge as a group and pray. Some of us may decide to do it individually and pray but I want to talk just a minute about that because we need to find one thing to pray for. Because sometimes we talk about what should we pray for we have like 10,000 things right; grandma needs prayers, and uncle Louie needs prayers, and the guy at work needs prayer, and my boss needs prayers, and my neighbor needs prayers and that is fine but in this 21-day prayer challenge we are going to pick something to pray for either as an individual or if the small group decides to do it together and concentrate on that thing to pray for. Maybe some of us will circle something very literally, will come to the church and walk around the church and pray for the church. Maybe some of us will walk around our place of work and pray for our boss. Maybe some of us will walk around the neighborhood and pray for the neighborhood. I don’t know. But for 21 days, that’s not that long, we’re going to try and pray a very consistent prayer at a very consistent time, and say Lord, I am going to meet with you at whatever time works for you. Some of us are morning people. Ray and I get up way early. Military speak it is called 0 dark 30. So maybe morning is good for us. Some people can’t utter two syllables before 11:00 a.m. so maybe afternoons would be better for them. That’s okay. That’s okay but pick a time that works for you and say Lord I am going to meet you for 21 days and we’re going to be praying together.
Now the goal of this challenge is not to force God to answer your prayer in 21 days. He may or may not do that. The goal of this prayer challenge is for us to get into the habit of praying, and if we can do it for 21 days, we can do it for 41 days, and if we can do it for 41 days so forth and so on, right. So the goal is to help us begin to develop the habits of prayer. You don’t have to pray for hours and hours and hours. You don’t have to spend three hours on your knees. Pick a time and just say I will meet you Lord for prayer at this time.
I want to tell you about Frank Laubach. He is a missionary from the United States. He did a lot of his work in the Philippines. You guys have probably never heard of him although he is the only U.S. missionary ever featured on a postage stamp. You may have heard of the saying “Everyone teach one.” Anybody? Pay more attention in Sabbath School. Everyone teach one came from Frank Laubach. Late in his life he was trying to figure out how he could live his life in God’s presence. And the Bible tells us pray without ceasing and Frank figured that didn’t mean he had to spend his entire day on his knees by his bed. So what could he do to continually pray without ceasing? So he came up with this little thing that he tried to remember God once a minute. Every minute he would try to make sure he called God to mind at least one time in that minute, and one of the things he used to do is called shooting people with prayer. And I think back when maybe shooting had a little different connotation but he would shoot people with prayer, and as he was doing his normal regular stuff in the day, standing in line at the bank, in the grocery store whatever it was he was doing he would pray for the people around him. When he saw somebody who looked like they were having a bad day, he would pray for encouragement for them. When he saw somebody that looked like they were having a good day, he would celebrate with them and just try and pray for the people and make sure God was involved with what he was doing every minute of every day.
One day he wrote in his journal today was potentially the most successful day ever. He said there was people that would walk past me and I would shoot them with prayer, and then they would get passed and they would stop, and turn, and look at me and smile, and some of them looked like they didn’t want to leave my presence and they didn’t know why. And I think Frank managed to tap into just a little bit of what maybe Jesus had. I always wondered how Jesus walked up to the disciples and said come and follow me and they said sure. Because if I was out in my front yard working and somebody came along and said come and follow me I would say who are you? Where are you going? But Jesus had such a countenance about him such I don’t know love whatever that was so evident in him that it was irresistible to follow him, and I think Frank managed to tap into that a little bit.
Now some of us may be calling Jesus to mind once a minute is going to be a little tough. Maybe we should go for once an hour or once in the morning and once in the afternoon. We start wherever we are at. It’s alright. It’s a journey. But that is one way to begin to pray without ceasing. It doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole life on your knees by the side of your bed. I think that has a different meaning.
I saw the statistic this week that almost made me change this whole sermon. In North America, the United States, I’m sorry, just the United States not North America, just the United States, in the last 12 months there were 17,000,000 who did not attend church service that the following week they visited a website of a local house of worship. 17,000,000 people were too scared to go to church but they went to the website. That’s a group of people that could use our prayers. I suspect that some of us here know some of those people. That statistic floors me; too scared to go to church but they go to the website. We need to invite those people to church. That’s a group that we could be praying for and something that we can be doing something about.
See our generation needs to rediscover the difference of praying for somebody and praying through. Honi prayed through until he got what he wanted, and there are times when you need to figuratively grab the horns of the alter and say Lord, I am not letting go until you deliver what you have promised. Praying through is about consistency. It is about circling your Jericho so many times you get dizzy. One thing that circle makers know is you may only be one prayer away from an answer. You can’t quit now. There are higher heights and deeper depths in prayer that the Lord wants to take you to. He wants to take you to places you have never been before. He wants you to experience things you have not experienced before and understand dialects you have not understood before. There are new dimensions. But if you want God to do something new in your life, you can’t keep doing the same old thing. We have to do something new. So let’s try this 21-day prayer experiment not because it forces God to answer but because it helps us be consistent with his plan. It’s time to start circling.