RECAP OF THIS SERIES ON PRAYER
Last week we began to talk about prayer. The key point of last week’s message was that we need to make prayer a priority. In prayer, we communicate with God. In prayer, we grow in our relationship with God. That’s why we need to make prayer a priority. But we will never make prayer a priority unless we choose to do so.
I also want to review my three main reason for preaching this series on prayer. The are, first, to encourage each of us to pray as individuals. Second, I hope to encourage us to pray together as a church, as the body of Christ. Finally, I want to begin to create an environment in which ministry will flourish and the only way that will happen is if we become intentional about prayer so that we soak ourselves, each other and our leadership in prayer. As we do that, God will create a ministry through us in which souls are harvested for the Kingdom.
Today, I want to return to the story of Job where we can discover some very helpful teachings about prayer. As most of us who have read Job’s story know, Job was a man who had it all and lost it all. In chapter 23, he tries to understand where God is in the midst of the struggles in his life. Let’s read Job 23:1-9, 16-17 (NIV):
Then Job replied:
“Even today my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.
If only I knew where to find him;
if only I could go to his dwelling!
I would state my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would find out what he would answer me,
and consider what he would say to me.
Would he vigorously oppose me?
No, he would not press charges against me.
There the upright can establish their innocence before him,
and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.
“But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me.
Yet I am not silenced by the darkness,
by the thick darkness that covers my face.
WHERE IS GOD?
In the midst of all of the tragedy in his life, Job is faced with a very real concern: where is God in his times of struggle? Where is God in the midst of his suffering. Job’s problem is that he can not feel God’s presence. In verse 3 he says, “If I only knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!” In verse 8 and 9, we read, “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.” Basically, Job is saying that no matter where he looks – north, south, east or west – he can not find God. It seems that, in the midst of the greatest loss he has ever experienced in his life, when he needs God the most, God is nowhere to be found.
I’ve come to see in my ministry that Job’s experience is not unique. There are all kinds of people who have experienced the exact same thing during the most difficult times of lives. When they need God the most, God seems to have gone on a vacation. That’s even true of people who are in this room today. That means that all kinds of people who are here today know exactly what Job is talking about. They have walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and they have felt like they were all alone. They have wondered where God is in the midst of their sorrow. They have echoed Jesus’ words on the cross in Matthew 27:46 (NIV) when, in pain and suffering, he called out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Here’s a challenging question: How do we respond to that experience? We say that God is omnipresent, always with us. One of the titles that we use for Jesus is Emmanuel which means ‘God with us’. But if God is ever present, ever near, even living in our hearts, then how do explain why so many people experience the absence of God at some of the most difficult times in their lives? The answers to those very important and difficult questions is found in prayer. That’s where we’re headed now.
The first thing to realize is this: just because we may not always feel God’s presence, it does not mean that God is not there. It’s like the little child who goes off to school the very first day all by herself. Her mother walked with her the three blocks to school all through grade 1. But now she is a big girl in grade two and she felts quite certain that she can do it herself. In fact, she has insisted that she can do it. Her mother reluctantly agreed. So, when it comes time to head to school, the girl picks up her Barbie back pack and marches down the well-worn sidewalk towards her school. She is very proud of herself and very sure that she can do this.
What she doesn’t know, of course, is that while mother isn’t exactly walking beside her, mother isn’t very far away. She is sneaking behind trees and parked cars, running behind hedges and peaking around corners. Her daughter is never more than fifty feet away from her. She watches her right from the front door of their house to the time she enters the school. The little girl is never out of her mother’s sight and the mother is ready at any instance to jump up and jump in at the first sign of danger.
Is the daughter alone on her first journey to school? Of course, she isn’t. She may feel alone. She may have thinks she’s alone. She may have even want to be alone. But the reality of the situation is quite difference. Her mother is there all the time, along every step of the journey. The daughter may not feel that her mother is there but that in no way diminishes the reality of her mother’s presence.
The point is this; feelings are a very unreliable way of understanding the world. If you try to make your decisions based solely on feelings, you can get yourself into a whole lot of trouble. Just because you feel alone does not mean that you are alone. Just because you can’t feel God does not mean that God is not by your side along every step of your journey. Keep that in mind.
DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP
The next thing I want to say is that one of the key reasons why people don’t feel God’s presence is because they don’t know how recognize God’s presence when he is there. Knowing that God is with us is not something that just happens. Like so many other things, it is so much easier to experience God’s presence when we practice being close to God.
That’s where prayer comes in. The best way to be close to God is to be in constant communication with him. Remember what we read from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) last week; Paul writes to the young church that they should: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I think that what Paul is trying to tell us is that, if we want to be close to God, we must live a life of prayer because prayer is communication with God.
If you want to build your relationship with God and feel close to him, you need to spend time in communication with God through prayer. And I’m not just talking about a prayer every now and then, when you remember it and slide it into your busy schedule between getting ready for work and doing the laundry. I’m not just talking about grace before meals or a ‘now I lay me down to sleep’ prayer, although both of those are very important. And I’m not just talking about praying on Sunday morning as we worship together as the body of Christ. I’m talking about intentional and persistent time with God, getting to know him and building a personal relationship with him.
When I was youth, we used to sit at home and watch the news on our snowy black and white TV. Those were the days of the Vietnam War, sit-ins at university campuses and love-ins at Woodstock. There was lots of news. My parents used to watch ‘Eye Witness News’ on Channel 7 WKBW from Buffalo, New York. On that stations was the iconic news broadcaster Irv Weinstein who became famous for developing the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ philosophy of newscasts. I can still hear him saying, “Topping tonight’s Eye Witness News: Fire in Cheektowaga… Deadly car chase in Tonawanda… Pistol Packing Punks mug seniors in Niagara Falls.” But what I remember most about Irv was the way he began every news cast with the phrase, “It’s six o’clock, do you know where your children are?”
He was the first guy to say it and it became a nightly staple of many news anchors because it was a question that really hit home. Do you know where your children are? The implication, of course, was that, if it’s eleven o’clock at night, you darn well better know where your children are.
But how do you know that? How do you know where your children are? You can only do that by communicating with them. Today, it’s a lot easier than it ever used to be. Today, we send out our children with communication devices. It seems that every child has a cell phone. If you’re not sure where they are, just call or text. It’s as easy as that. Some parents even have apps on their children’s phones so that they can track them from the moment they leave the house. It’s just so much easier to know where your children are today then it was when old Irv Weinstein ruled the nightly news 60 years ago. The good news is that you don’t need a cell phone to communicate with God. All you need is prayer.
But please keep this in mind: Prayer isn’t just something that we do every now and then. It can and should be a part of everyday life. One of the biggest mistakes that we make in prayer is that we only do in when we need something. We ignore God in the good times. We forget to pray. We don’t read the Bible. We find other things to do on Sunday morning besides worship. We don’t develop the relationship and the communication skill that we should. And then, all of a sudden, we need this, that or the other thing and we fall to our knees begging God to help us: “O God, I’ll do anything if you will only get me out of this mess… O God, I know that was wrong and I’m sorry but I really need your help right now… O God, I know that I haven’t spoken with you for months but, if you would just get me out of this jam, I promise that I’ll change my ways.” I suspect that most of us have been guilty of that in the past. And then we wonder why don’t know where God is.
We are called to pray continually. James 5:13-16 (NIV) says:
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
In these prayers are prayers of thanksgiving and praise as well as prayers asking for help. It’s all there. James shows us how to pray in every situation.
The time to start developing an abundant prayer life is not when the storm clouds hit. It is in the good times so that when the tough times come we have already developed those communication skills and a solid relationship with the God who loves us, cares for us and wants the very best for us.
Like anything else, effective prayer takes practice and the time to start practising is now. If you have a solid relationship with God on sunny days, I can guarantee that you will find God right by your side when the storm clouds start to gather. And even if you can’t feel God’s presence, you can still have the comforting assurance that God is there.
GOD’S PRESENCE IN THE LONELINESS
Once again, let’s look at Job. He was blessed with a charmed life. He had a loving family, a substantial fortune, everyone knew who he was and respected him. But then all of it crumbled in an instant. His livestock is stolen, his servants are slaughtered, his children are all killed in an accident. Even his health goes south. Everything that Job had ever held dear is ripped away from him. His friends tell him that he must have done something terribly wrong for God to punish him so. His wife tells him that he should simply curse God and die. But Job will not consent to those things. Despite everything, he maintains a steadfast assurance that God is with him.
Does he feel alone? Maybe he does but he also knows that despite what he might feel, he is not alone. Listen to what he said in verse 16-17:
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me.
Yet I am not silenced by the darkness;
by the thick darkness that covers my face.
Despite his feelings of loneliness, Job insists that he will not be silent. Even when he feels utterly alone, he will pray anyway because he knows that God is there because he has developed that level and depth of relationship
In Romans 8:38-39 (NIV) Paul writes these words: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
These words had not been written in Job’s day but he still understands them. Job is not going to let anything separate him from the love of God. Nothing is going to get in the way of that relationship, not his hardships, not his detractors, not even his feelings. He will remain steadfast and true. And he will pray because sometimes prayer is all that we have left in life.
TALKING WITH GOD
So why don’t we all pray? Sometimes it’s because we don’t know how to. Many people make prayer way too complicated. They think that the only way to pray is to get down on their knees, bow their heads, close their eyes, fold their hands and use lots of thees and thous and other King James words that they wouldn’t normally use. That’s too bad because that really limits when and where we can prayer. The reality is that prayer is the simplest things in the world. Talking to God in prayer is the same thing as talking to anyone else. You simply open up and share your thoughts just like you would around the dinner table or when you are talking to the person next to you in the pew. You don’t have to stop what you’re doing to pray, although at least once every day we all should do that and just spend time in focussed prayer. You can pray anywhere, anytime about anything that’s on your mind. You can pray when you walk. You can pray when driving. You can pray when you’re doing the grocery shopping. You can pray in the shower or when you’re doing the dishes. You can pray anytime you want and God will hear you because God is right by your side.
Do you need to know where God is? Through persistent prayer, through an attitude of prayer, through living a life of prayer, we can develop a relationship with God that assures us of God’s presence even when we don’t feel it. Always remember that just like that little girl walking to school by herself for the very first time, who thought that mother was nowhere near, the fact that we don’t feel God’s presence does not mean that God is not there.
When we persist in prayer, in the good times and even in the tough times, we know that God is near, walking beside us and living in our hearts.
That’s it for today. Next week, we will explore how God answers prayers and how to recognize those answers when they come to us.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, you speak and the earth shakes. You shout and the heavens quake. You whisper and our hearts are moved by your love and tenderness. We offer our thanks for your presence and your truth. Keep us faithful, O God. Keep us true to your way and give us the courage to stand firm in the face of challenge and torment.
We offer our thanks on this Thanksgiving weekend for your abundant blessings and the way you come to us and speak to us in so many ways. May we notice your blessings and to be grateful in all things, for our families and community and for the faith we have in Jesus Christ our Risen Saviour.
You call us to give all that we have for your purpose. All that we have is yours. May we withhold nothing and may nothing keep us from your will for our lives. We want to keep your ministry in the forefront of our minds. By your strength and peace, we can accomplish this.
We lift up in prayer the sick of our congregation and community. We pray especially for Carol, Mark, Richard and Angela. Bless them with your Healing Spirit, giving strength, peace and a sense of your well being.
We also pray for the family and friends of Ben Wells who died this week and was laid to rest on Friday. Bless Lillian and he rest as they seek your peace that only you can give.
Father God, help us to live the lives of prayer that you desire. Help us to live with an attitude of prayer in all that we do. When you feel distant, re-assure us of your constant presence. When we feel alone, help us to know that in Jesus Christ, you live in our hearts. When we feel discouraged, bless us with persistence. When we feel afraid, calm our fears with the peace that only you can give. All things are possible through your gentleness and strength. We lift these prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
October 10, 2021 / Pentecost 20 / Proper 23
Job 23:1‑9, 16‑17; Psalm 22:1‑15; Mark 10:17‑31; Hebrews 4:12‑16
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: The Holy One of Israel sits enthroned above the heavens and the earth.
Let us come to God with joy and glad songs,
leaving the pain behind, finding healing for the hurt.
Our God reigns over all Creation.
ALL: Praise be to the God of Love!
Great God of Love who soars through the heights of space and touches the depths of our heart, your Spirit blows through the mountains and rustles the autumn leaves. It is such a great comfort to know that we are in your hands. You have promised to be with us, regardless of circumstances or situations. Even when life is at its most difficult point, you are there, ever faithful. There are times when we may abandon our commitments, but your love never fails. You are our faithfulness, the Rock upon which we anchor our lives. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Father God you have called us to live in complete holiness. Give us the courage to look carefully at the lives we live. By our actions, we are called to exemplify our faith in you. Words of faith must be followed by actions of justice. Regrettably, we fall short of the perfection that awaits us in Christ Jesus. Help us to honestly and candidly judge our lives and actions according to your Word. Give us the strength to accept what we find in our souls and make the necessary corrections.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Despite our inconsistencies and omissions, God still loves us and cares for us more than we could ever imagine. No wound is too deep for God to heal. No mercy is too great for God to give. Hear the Good News; when we confess our sins, God forgives us and cleanses us by the blood of Christ.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
All that we are is yours, O God. All that we have comes by your grace and love. All that we will ever give to other, we give to you. Bless our offerings and encourage us to be more generous in our giving and in our life journeys.
Let us go with praise and thanksgiving, offering our joy to God in dance and song. May the God who has blessed Creation bless us with a Holy Presence and the Spirit’s wisdom.