I want to talk about prayer today, and the next two Sundays. I’m doing this to help us get focused as we begin to have designated times of prayer for our congregation and the work of God here.
God calls us to work for his kingdom. As a congregation this means we are to be growing in our lives of ministry and service to God and reaching out to others to lead them into God’s kingdom. But when we think about this task, we soon realize that –
We have to pray!
That’s because we can’t do any of this in our own strength. Oh sure, we might be able to do some things through our natural talents and gifts. There are some who have built whole huge churches, but in the flesh. Later you find out they are not even a believer or are involved in something like adultery. And think of the various cult leaders who have gathered a crowd, and many that still grow today. God is not in this.
What we can’t do in our own strength is what God calls us to do. In the power of our flesh we can’t do anything of eternal significance; we can’t produce fruit that remains
As Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” When God calls us to do something, God has to do it through us. Otherwise we are ultimately working in vain.
Also, we have to pray because there’s a whole realm of spiritual powers out there that stand against and oppose God’s work. There’s a spiritual battle going on. When we try to do something for the kingdom, there will be a response! It might be opposition from the community. It might be disruption in our church through conflict or distraction. It might be attacks on our physical health. Or it might be discouragement because of difficult testing and trials.
Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Once we realize our own weakness on the one hand and the powers arrayed against us on the other, we understand the need and importance of prayer for accomplishing God’s call in our congregation. We understand that, if we want to fulfill God’s call, we need to call on God. If we want to do things for the kingdom, if we want to move forward here with the work that God has called us to, we have to be praying.
As an encouragement to prayer, I want you to –
Know that God truly listens to our prayers
It’s not true that everything is already predetermined by God, so that prayer is ultimately meaningless. Rather, God invites us to work with him in bringing to pass his plan to redeem this world.
And God listens to us regarding the details of his plan for the world, the timing and the scope of who is involved. God actually listens to and takes into account our input. So when we pray, we are involved with God in changing this world and bringing in the kingdom!
Here are some examples of God listening to people’ prayers. Abraham interceding for Sodom: Genesis 18:16-33. God fully intended to destroy Sodom for its sin. But Abraham prayed. He said to God, if you find 50 righteous people will you spare the city? God said yes! And then he went on to say, if you find 45? if you find 40? 30? 20? 10? And God listened to Abraham and agreed to spare the city for 10 righteous people.
God was willing to change the plan. But, as you remember, there weren’t even 10 righteous people there. But God did spare Lot and his family since, as Abraham had said, the righteous should not perish with the unrighteous.
Moses praying for Israel after the golden calf: Deuteronomy 9-10. God had determined to destroy Israel. Moses says in Deuteronomy 9:25, “the Lord had said he would destroy you.” (Also 9:14; 19). But Moses prayed for Israel. He stepped in and interceded. And Moses said, “The Lord listed to me . . . The Lord was unwilling to destroy you” – Deuteronomy 10:10. What God had determined to do was altered through Moses’ prayer.
Finally, while dying, Hezekiah prayed for longer life: Isaiah 38. The prophet Isaiah came to the king and said, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Isaiah 38:1. You can’t get any clearer than this! But Hezekiah prayed. And God responded – “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life” – Isaiah 38:5. The details of God’s plan were changed in response to prayer.
In all these examples we learn that God takes into account our prayers in how he accomplishes his will and purpose in this world. Especially when our prayers are shaped by his perspective and purposes. So we need to make our requests known to God. You have the ear of the King of all creation! Are you taking advantage of this; are you speaking?
As further encouragement to pray, not only does God listen to us –
God does amazing things through our prayers
– to work out his plan for this world. We’ve already seen some examples of this, but I want to give you some more from 2 Kings:
- 2 Kings 4 – Elisha prayed and a boy was raised from the dead.
- 2 Kings 6 – Elisha prayed and made the Syrian army blind and thereby overcame them.
- 2 Kings 19 – Hezekiah prayed and God defeated an army of 185,000 in one night, without human help.
God still works in this way. Let’s look at the New Testament book of Acts:
- Acts 4 – The church prayed and the house where they prayed was shaken and the gospel went forth with power
- Acts 9 – Peter prayed and a woman was raised from the dead
- Acts 12 – The church prayed and Peter was released from prison by an angel
- Acts 28 – Paul prayed and many were healed
James 5:16-18 sums this up nicely – “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” Our prayers do make a difference!
It goes on to say, “Elijah was a human being like us.” In other words, he was a weak just like us. Remember how he ran away from Jezebel? He’s no different than us! But the text goes on, “and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.” (NRSV)
Even though we are weak, God can do amazing things through our prayers as well, which leads me to my point today
I’m calling us to renewed prayer
Without prayer we won’t get anything done. But with prayer we can accomplish God’s calling. Paul knew this and that’s why he asked for prayer. He said, “keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” -Ephesians 6:18-19.
If Paul needed this prayer, how much more do I need it; how much more do we as a congregation need it! So let’s increase our prayers for God to work among us and through us.
Pray for me, please! Pray for each other for God to stir us up and to empower us by the Spirit for his kingdom work. Pray that God will use us to connect with our community in new and powerful ways. And pray that God will touch and transform lives.