What keeps us from prayer? Busyness, pride, the feeling that we can take care of life on our own.
Maybe it is the newness of prayer. You’ve heard others pray and you’ve never done it that way before.
Boredom. You think prayer is boring. You don’t want to waste your time stopping and talking to a God that you don’t know that much about. Yet, if you were honest, you live as if you don’t need God.
What must one say in prayer? Sometimes it is just a sigh and the words: “Help me, Lord.” In the spring of 2010, I was lost on the streets of Athens, Greece without my passport and phone. To complicate matters, I did not know the language. My prayer was: “Lord Jesus, help me get back.” And He did!
Prayer is verbal reliance upon God. It is audible faith. If you were asked to give a prayer in our church service, it may be that you would think about what you would say; write it out, and maybe produce a rough draft and a finished product. Prayer can be long and elaborate or it can be short and sweet. It may be that you would need to Prayer is a means of relying on God. It can be defined as simply pouring your heart out before Him. Psalm 62:8: “Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him….”
Someone that knew of the importance of prayer was the Apostle Paul. Paul and his friends were afflicted. They feared for their lives. (verse 9) Their mission brought them into places and circumstances that were hostile. Adversity drove Paul to prayer. On one of his missionary journeys, his life was in danger. We are not sure what caused Paul so much affliction. We’re not sure what he was referring to. It might’ve been a disease. It might have been a situation like the riot in Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19.
A listing of some of his afflictions is given to us in 2 Corinthians 11:23, where we understand that he was flogged and beaten for his message. He was stoned; faced danger from the elements and being in the wild. His life was at the mercy of evil people. He suffered shipwreck and imprisonment. Paul would write from a cold Roman jail cell in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul saw prayer as a lifesaver to his circumstances. He also mentions fighting with wild beasts in 1 Corinthians 15:32.
Whatever it was that threatened his life, Paul knew that God rescued him. God was not finished with him yet. God preserved his life. So desperate was his attitude that he actually believed that God would raise him from the dead. Some scholars believe that he was quoting a Jewish verse, from what is known as the “Eighteen Benedictions.” “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, for Thou makest the dead to live.”
What was for the purpose of these afflictions? So that he and his friends may rely on God, “who raises the dead.” (Verse 9). It was for humility, for conforming them to Christ, for removing the self-sufficiency in their lives. Paul was not too proud to request prayer in our passage. He identifies the power associated when God’s people pray in verse 10: “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” In a mysterious way, the prayers of the Corinthians worked in cooperation with the power of God to rescue Paul and his friends.
This in turn will lead to the blessing of many. Lots of things have happened through prayer. Diseases have been healed; people have been brought to safety; families have been restored; marriages have been reconciled; jobs have been found; lives have improved; people have been formed and shaped to be more like Christ; hardened individuals have been saved; lots of things! When you choose to avoid prayer, you lose out on seeing the hand of God move in your life. As the old hymn goes “Oh what peace we often forfeit; Oh what needless pain we bear; all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
Prayer does not automatically save a person from trouble. God saves us from trouble or preserves us in the midst of it. Paul would eventually give his life for the sake of the gospel. His life was appointed for suffering, as Jesus told Ananias in Acts 9:15: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Paul would teach that prayer is an instrument in the hands of a loving heavenly father, to allow us to see, experience and join in what God is doing. Prayer is a means to see God move and the situation improve.
What have you got to lose? Are you willing to give up your pride; to put away your sense of inconvenience and rely on God for what troubles you? What stresses you? What is robbing you of your joy? Are you willing to give your life up and gain what only God can give you?
Many of you are aware of the horrific car accident on North Broad Street in the early morning hours of Monday; the accident that took the life of a young man in our area. The passenger was Andy Kham, son of Mhong and Samboun. We’ve had the privilege of ministering to the family during this past week. On Tuesday afternoon, Samboun’s testimony: “Our God is amazing!” All of his organs are in good condition. When I asked her what the church may do to help, she said: “All we need is prayer, at this time.” I’m pleased to report that Andy is making improvements every day. We thank God for His provision and mercy in the Kham’s lives.
Prayer reminds us that we are helpless without the Lord. James 4:14 asks: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” This is a message and an identity that is so contrary to our culture today. R.C. Sproul states: “We live in a time of practical atheism.” Not many of you would identify yourself as an atheist or an agnostic, but you live like it. You are prayerless, never relying on God. You tend to rely on yourself. If asked, you would say that you believe in God, but you live as if God does not exist, or you don’t need Him.
Here’s John Piper’s explanation: “Suppose you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed done. How could you glorify your friend if a stranger came to see you? Would you glorify his generosity and strength by trying to get out of bed and carry him?
No! You would say, “Friend, please come lift me up, and would you put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest? And would you please put my glasses on for me? And so your visitor would learn from your requests that you are helpless and that your friend is strong and kind. You glorify your friend by needing him and asking him for help and counting on him.”
Why pray? To glorify God as the Supreme and loving Father, Savior and Sustainer in our lives. Jesus said: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Piper ends with this definition: “Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.”
Rev. Dr. Tui and Margaret Shishak are examples of how God answers prayer. In 1973, Tui visited two of our former pastors, Rev. Dr. Bert Jacksteit and Rev. Dr. Jack Rothenberger, hoping to secure support for a Christian college among the tribal people of eastern India. Tui came to Central Schwenkfelder Church, trusting that God would provide. 40 years later, Patkai is a thriving Christian liberal arts college and looks to reach out to Burma. Patkai was born out of the prayers of Christians in Nagaland, Manipur and overseas. God answers prayer!