WHY THIS SERMONS SERIES?
Today, we begin a series of four sermons on one of the most important aspects of our faith. In this series, we are going to be talking about prayer. Prayer is an important topic and we probably don’t talk about it enough. Along with worship and Bible study, it is one of primary tools that we have to grow in faith and in our relationship with God.
For each of these messages, I’m going to working mostly out of the book of Job because, if anyone knew how to pray, it was Job. Job was a man who lost almost everything. He went from being on top of the world to losing everything. Job had to deal with incredible loss.
That can happen to any of us. And that’s interesting because it is in times of loss that we discover a lot about ourselves. We discover where faith is in our lives. We discover where God is in our lives. We also discover who is a true brother or sister in Christ and who is not. And in the midst of all of that, we discover the value of prayer. Job’s story teaches us a lot about all of those things.
I want to do three specific things in this series. First, I want to encourage all of us to pray as individuals. As I’ve already said, prayer should be a critical component of the spiritual life of each and every Christian. And by prayer, I mean more than saying grace before supper and a quick prayer before going to sleep at night. What I mean is taking time out of our busy schedules to spend time with God on a regular basis. That is absolutely key to life of any person who wants to grow in faith.
Second, I want to encourage us to pray together as a people of God. We do that on Sunday morning and we do it before meetings and often at the end of meetings. I’m happy to say that one of the positive things that came out of Covid-19 is that we have a prayer group that meets online every Tuesday evening at 7:30 pm. We have about half an hour or so of fellowship and just checking in with each other and the rest of the time is spent in prayer. But there are only four or five of us. We could have a lot more people. So, if you have an hour to spare on Tuesday evening just contact me and we’ll get you set up. And if you don’t think you know how to pray, that’s okay. We’ll teach you because it’s not at all difficult. Just understand that I think it’s important to try to grow that prayer ministry.
My third purpose, and perhaps the most important, is to begin to create an environment in which ministry will thrive. That is key because, if this ministry is to be successful, it will only happen as we soak one another, our leadership and our congregation in prayer on a regular basis. If we think that we can do this ministry all by ourselves, with our own strength and resources and bright ideas, we are doomed to fail. But if we seek God’s will in all that we do, we will sow seeds and nurture growth and reap an abundant harvest of souls for the Kingdom of God. The success of our ministry depends upon prayer.
THE PRIORITY OF PRAYER
That being said, let’s go. As I said a few moments ago, prayer is absolutely essential to growth in the Christian life. Yet, the reality is that few of us do enough of it. How many of us actually take time out on a regular basis – preferably daily – to spend time in prayer before God? How many of us pause from our busyness, between work and home, school and children to pray? I’m not going to ask for a show of hands but I do want you to think about your own life. Do you think that you spend enough time in prayer? Only you know the answer to that question.
So, what is prayer? In a nutshell, prayer is simply communication with God. In prayer we talk with God as we would talk to anyone else. Just as I am talking to you right now, we can talk to God. Because we can’t actually see God, some people think about prayer more like a phone conversation where God is on the other end of the line. If that works for you, that’s fine with me. I think of prayer more like a conversation around the dinner table because while we can’t actually see God in a physical sense, we know that God is present. I don’t need a phone to talk to God if God is right here, right now. Whatever image works for you is okay as long as you understand that, in prayer, we communicate with God and God communicates with us.
Prayer is key to our relationship with God because, more than any other way, it is through prayer that we get to know God and become intimate with God. Think of it this way. Good relationships are based on good communication skills. When couples come to see me with troubles in their marriage, communication is almost always an issue. When I talk with parents who are having trouble with their teenagers, again, communication is always a concern. When we have trouble around the church, it usually has to do with a breakdown in communication. Communication is key to good relationships with each other. It is equally vital when it comes to our relationship with God, especially if we want that relationship to grow and mature. Prayer is that line of communication with God.
But I can hear it now; there are people sitting here this morning thinking, “Gilliland’s nuts. I have so many things to do. There’s the housework and the yard work. There’s my job and the service club that I belong to. And then there is my golfing, bowling or fishing. People depend on me for so many things. I hardly have time to do what I have to do. How am I ever going to find time to pray?”
I want to respond to that by quoting something that Dwight L. Moody said. He said this: “If you have so much business to attend to that you have no time to pray, then you have more business on your hands than God ever intended you to have.” I think old Dwight is on to something. If you are so busy that you can’t find time to pray, then maybe you’re simply doing too much and you need to re-evaluate your priorities.
I confess that I have a pretty busy life. Like many of us, sometimes I’m too busy. One of the things that I sometimes neglect is my prayer life. It is so easy to let it slip. One of my goals is to start every day with a time of prayer. But sometimes I’m so tired that I sleep in. When I sleep in, I may miss my prayer time so I might commit myself to pray at noon. But noon comes along and I want to get lunch and catch up the daily news so I tell myself that I’m going to pray after supper. But after supper, there’s a meeting at the church or the Legion or whatever so I tell myself that I’m going to pray when I get to bed because then no one will be able to bug me. I go to bed with the best of intentions and lay my head down on the pillow and begin, “Dear God, I’m sorry that I didn’t get around to praying today before now but it’s been a very busy day and I just haven’t had two seconds of spare time so please forgive me. Anyway, I’m here now… and I want to pray… and I’m very tired… but I want to pray… but I don’t know if I can keep awake… but I want to pray… but I don’t think I can… Zzzzzz…
Does that sound vaguely familiar. I don’t know how many times I’ve done that in my life but I know I’ve done it. Here’s another confession. I’ve noticed that I can get away without praying for a day. About the only person who will notice is God and it’s good that God is a forgiving God. But if I miss two days of prayer, I start to notice. I lose focus and intentionality. But if I miss three days of prayer, other people start to notice. I know that the less I pray, the less effective I am in my life and in my ministry.
The only way that prayer will ever become a priority in our lives and in our church is if we choose to make it a priority. We simply cannot put prayer on the back burner because to put prayer on the backburner is to put our relationship with God on the back burner. That’s a problem because there is nothing in this world that is more important than your relationship with God. Other things may be important but, at the end of the day, none of them are more important than your relationship with God. Nothing can take the place of that, not your family, not your friends, not your work or your school or your bowling league. None of those relationships is more important than your relationship with God. And here’s the flip side of that; I will guarantee you that as your relationship with God improves, so will all of your other relationships. So there’s a upside to putting God first, even when it comes to putting God before other people.
Prayer will only become a priority in our lives if we choose to make it a priority. I’ve told you before that one of my mentors in the faith is the 18th century revivalist John Wesley. In studying Wesley’s life I couldn’t help but to find out a few things about his mother. Suzanna Wesley was an extraordinary woman. She was married at age 19 to Samuel Wesley a newly ordained minister who was mired in debt for most of his life. Over the next nineteen years, she gave birth to nineteen children including two sets of twins. Ten lived past infancy. She had no servants, no dishwasher, no clothes washers or dryers. All of the food was prepared from scratch on a wood stove with no refrigerator. On top of that, Susanna home schooled all of her children teaching them not only reading, writing, arithmetic, and science but also Greek, Hebrew, Latin and French. The education that she gave them enabled them to do very well in university. As you can guess, she was a very busy woman. But, was she too busy for prayer? No. Susanna knew the value of prayer and it was a constant part of her life. And when she really needed to pray, all she would do was sit down, take her apron and put it over her head. That was the sign to all of the children that they were not to bother their mother. She was praying. They learned to respect that apron and not to interrupt their mother’s time with God. Maybe each of us needs to go out a buy an apron to drape over our heads when we need to get our time alone with God.
Prayer becomes a priority only if we choose to make it a priority. Even Jesus made time for prayer. There are numerous stories in the Bible about Jesus’ prayer life. In Mark 9:35 (NIV) we read “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Note that Jesus got up early, when no one else would bother him and went to a place where he could be alone for a while with God and pray in peace. But his disciples would not leave him alone. The story continues in Mark 9:36-37(NIV): “Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’” This indicates just how much Jesus was in demand. Even in the early hours of the morning, someone was looking for him. Even Jesus had trouble getting time alone with God. He spent all day long, from dawn to dusk, teaching the people, organizing the disciples, healing the sick, casting out demons, mending relationships, debating with the Sadducees and Pharisees and challenging the authorities of his day. Everyone wanted a piece of him. It must have been exhausting. And yet he found time to pray even if it meant getting up early and beginning his day with prayer. That’s what worked for Jesus.
What works for you? When can you schedule prayer into your day? When can you be intentional about making prayer a priority? Those are important questions to answer if you want to grow in your faith and in your relationship with God.
THE NEED TO ACCEPT LIFE
We’re going to say a lot more about prayer over the next three weeks but for the next few minutes, I want to talk about the kind of attitude that is helpful for cultivating a positive prayer life. And to do that I want to turn to the book of Job.
Job is a man who understood the need for prayer. We aren’t going to read all of his story but let me summarize how it begins. At the beginning of the book of Job, Satan and God have a conversation. Satan has been roaming around the earth doing his evil deeds. But God points out Job to Satan and basically challenges him by saying that Job is a righteous man that Satan cannot turn. Satan takes up the challenge and decides to wreck Job’s faith by taking away all that he finds valuable. Job has seven sons and three daughters whom he loves. But one day when they were feasting, the house they are in collapsed and they were all killed.
Job has seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and fine hundred donkey. But all of them are either destroyed or stolen.
Job also had a large number of servants but an enemy attacks and kills them all with the sword. That is day one. All Job has left is his wife and his health.
On day two Satan returns. In Job 2:7-10 (NIV) we find out what happens:
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
Everything Job had is now gone, including his health. All he has left is his wife and what does she say? She tells him to curse God and die. I’m pretty sure that is not what he needs to hear in this desperate time but it is all that she has to offer.
Job’s response is interesting. He says, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Maybe Job is onto something that we need to consider. What he effectively is telling his wife is that what he has or doesn’t have should not impact his relationship with God. Whether he has a lot or little he will continue to praise God. He will continue to pray. He will continue to worship. He will continue in his relationship with the Holy.
Joy and sorrow, good and bad, happy and sad times come to all of us. Some days are filled with plenty, others with scarcity. But no matter our circumstances, a key principle of faithful living is to be happy with what God has give to us. That is the attitude of contentment that we need if we are to have healthy prayer lives before God.
Sadly, that is not always the way things are. Too often, we are not satisfied with what we have and our prayers reflect that. Too often, we treat prayer like a shopping list of things that we want. “O God, I pray that you would heal Uncle Floyd of his headache.” “O God, give us travelling mercies on the road this weekend.” “O God, help my children to do well in school and stay out of trouble.” “O God, do this, do that, do the other thing. Amen”
Now, don’t misunderstand me, there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with any of those prayers but nine times out or ten when I’m somewhere – even at a church meeting – and I ask for prayer requests, they are always requests for God’s intercession in our lives. Very seldom does anyone say, “I just want to praise God for the many blessings that I have received today for I am truly blessed.” That’s a prayer request but we don’t hear it very often. We get so wrapped up with what we need in life, that we forget to praise God for what he has already given to us.
That is where we always need to begin in prayer, with an attitude of praise and thanksgiving for our many blessings. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul wrote, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Job understood this. His circumstances, dire though they were, did not impact his desire to praise God and pray to God. That relationship for him we too important to be burdened by circumstances. We need to understand that too and we need to practice it. Daily.
Prayer is so important in our Christian walk. It is how we communicate with God and grow in intimacy with him. But that won’t happen unless we are intentional about our prayer life. And that won’t happen unless we make prayer a priority regardless of our life circumstances.
That’s it for today. Next week, we are going to talk about how we can find God in prayer and how, through prayer, we are able to approach him.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
You have given us so much, O God of Creation. Everything is yours and we are privileged to be able to use it for your glory. Thank you for the change colour of the leaves that grace our forests like a multicolored quilt. Thank you for the harvest, for the fruit of our labour and for the necessities that are provided by the forest and the land. Thank you for all those who work to produce what we need to survive and thrive. Your hand is on everything and we give thanks for the abundance that you provide.
God of Hope, thank you for delivering us from the fear of death and giving us the hope of eternal life with you! You paid an awesome price for our salvation. Enable us to better understand what you have done for all humanity by your death and resurrection. Help us to reject fear and embrace the freedom and life that is in you.
We lift up in prayer the sick of our congregation and community. We pray for Carol, Mark, Richard and Angela. Bless them with your healing presence, O God of us all, and help them to experience your presence in a special and powerful way.
Holy God, we come to you with all of our imperfections. In spite of our weakness, help us to so exemplify your character and your way of doing things that, even in the darkest and most difficult of situations, others may come to see your glorious dawn. In the midst of darkness, we thank you for your unfailing light which shines for all of us. Bless us all with strength to help others in their dark places, for you are our light and our life.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
October 3, 2021 / Pentecost 19 / Proper 22
Job 1:1, 2:1‑10; Psalm 26; Mark 10:2‑16; Hebrews 1:1‑4; 2:5‑12
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Lead us, O Father, into your presence;
ALL: Lead us, O God, in your way.
ONE: Lead us, O Spirit, into your holiness;
ALL: Lead us, O God, in your way.
ONE: Lead us, O Saviour, into your path of peace;
ALL: Lead us, O God, in your way.
Holy God, your mercy is great and everlasting! Thank you that you are always with us, ready to support and strengthen us in whatever comes our way. You are there through the joys and the sorrows, the tears and laughter. You continue to be with us, even when we walk through dry and lonely place. We thank you for your unfailing love which is so vast and limitless. In you, we find renewed hope and the promise of a good day and a brighter tomorrow.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy and Grace, our sins flash before our eyes and we are reminded once again of our need of you. We need to look deep within our souls, and be honest about what we find. Enable us to know without a doubt where we stand in the faith of Christ Jesus. We want to live by the your amazing power and not merely by my own human strength, relying on you for all good things. Hear our confessions that we may be cleansed.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God did not make us robots and call us perfect. God made us human and called us good. But good is a long way from perfect. That is why we need God’s saving grace in our lives and that is why we need to confess our sins. In honest confession, our spirits are set free and our sins forgiven.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We need to be aware, Creator, that you have offered your unfailing and unconditional love to us without reservation. We do not ever want to take your gifts for granted or treat them lightly. The words of appreciate that we can offer are mere shadows of what you deserve. We want to express our thanks in every way possible, in song, praise, prayer, thanksgiving, and more. Thank you for your many gifts.
We have offered our thanks. We have offered our praise. Like the smoke of the Temple rising up to the heavens, we have pleased our God and Saviour. It is time to leave and to share the Good News that we have received. Christ has died. Christ is risen, Christ will come again.