Over the last three weeks, we have been thinking about the very important topic of prayer. This is the fourth and final instalment in that series and, in this message, I want to share with you why I believe that prayer pays off. But before we get to it I want to do a very quick review of the first three weeks. During the first week, we learned that prayer should be a priority in life and that the only way to make it a priority is to choose to make it a priority. Two weeks ago, we learned that prayer is communication with God and that it is through prayer that we grow and mature in our relationship with God. Last week we said that God not only hears our prayers, God also answers. God will answer our prayers in three ways. He will say, “Yes,” “No,” or “Not yet.” The challenge for us to recognize the answers when they come to us.
That brings us to this week. I firmly believe that prayer pays off and I want to share with you why I believe that to be true.
GROWING IN GOD
Let’s return one more time to the book of Job because it has some important things to say to us today. Remember that, at the beginning of the story, Job had everything he could ever want but then lost it all: his fame, his fortune, even his children were all taken from him. But Job is faithful and does now waver in his trust of God. In the last chapter of the book, God rewards his faithfulness. Let’s listen to what happens at the very end of the story.
Let’s begin by reading Job 42:1-6 (NIV)
Then Job replied to the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”
In the end, after all of the sadness and tragedy that he has experienced, Job again turns to God. In his prayer, he acknowledges God’s greatness. Job also acknowledges his own unworthiness and his desperate need for God in his life. Job has been through a lot but despite all of his setbacks he has grown in his understanding and in his relationship with God. He understands that God has a plan and a purpose for his life, just like God has a plan and a purpose for the life of every person here today. Because of prayer, there has been tremendous growth in the relationship between God and Job. That is the very first benefit of prayer.
But what does that look like for us? How do we know when we have grown? Here are a couple things to think about. Remember that as we grow in our relationship with God, not only do we get to know him better, we also grow in our ability to be the people whom we were created to be. I admit that I don’t know what everyone here is supposed to do with their lives. I wish I did so that I could tell you but I don’t. You have to sit down with God in prayer and spend some time figuring that out yourself. But I do know what to look for in the life of someone who has a mature relationship with God.
The first thing I look for is joy. Is someone joyful? Are they content? Those are marks of people who have grown in their relationship with God. Note one thing: I’m not saying that they everything they want. That’s not important. We don’t need a lot of stuff to be joyful. Paul writes to the church in Philippi that he has learned to be content in every circumstance. (Phil. 4:10-13) It doesn’t matter to him if he has a lot or if he has little. He can rejoice anyway because the source of his joy is not the stuff that he has. It is his relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As long as that relationship is solid and growing, his circumstances don’t make a hill of beans of difference to his attitude. He is going to be joyful anyway. One of the benefits of prayer is that it enables us to live with joy because of our relationship with God.
The second mark of people who have solid relationships with God is that they are not only joyful, they also live with assurance. They have the assurance that no matter what the future holds, whether good or bad, happy or sad, God is with them. They are not alone. Psalm 23 is arguably the best known piece of English literature. It was written by King David at a very dark time of his life, and he had many of those. Yet, in verse 4, he finds the courage to write:
Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death,
I will fear no evil for you are with me. (Ps. 23:4)
David had the assurance of God’s constant presence with him. That doesn’t mean that he always felt God there. It doesn’t mean that he always experienced a warm cuddly feeling. Sometimes he felt cold. Sometimes he felt alone. But even then, he knew that he wasn’t alone. He could look back on his life and know that God had always been there even if he sometimes had trouble feeling it or understanding how. It was that assurance that sustained him through so many struggles in his life.
Paul says something similar to the Romans 8. He lists a bunch of things that could happen to him and a bunch of forces that could play with his life. After naming all of those things he is able to say that none of them nor anything else in all creation has any power to separate him from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 8:39).
People who have grown in their relationship with God through prayer know that level of assurance. It doesn’t mean that they don’t go through tough times. It doesn’t mean that they never get afraid or never get hurt. What it does mean is that they have the assurance that God is walking with them through the tough times, through the fear and through the pain.
The third mark of people who are mature in their relationship with God is that they have peace. What wouldn’t most people in this world give a for a bit of peace in their lives? Amidst the hectic pace with which we sometimes live, wouldn’t you really like to experience a measure of peace? When the bills need paid and the kids are arguing with one another and with you, when the boss is breathing down you neck with yet another project that you don’t have time to do, when the neighbours are complaining again about the number of dandelions in your front yard and the fact that your children insist on playing in the back yard and making all that noise, wouldn’t you really appreciate a having a few moments of peace? Of course you would and one of the benefits of building a close relationship with God is that God offers that peace.
In Romans 5:1, we read, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Later in Romans 15:13, Paul emphasizes the same thing when he writes, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and all peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” The point is that God promises to give us peace as we grow in our relationship with him. And the only way to really get closer to God is through prayer.
Through prayer, we have joy, assurance and peace. With those benefits at our fingertips, who wouldn’t want to pray. The sad truth is that many people don’t have those things in their lives because they don’t pray, they don’t know God and they don’t understand the benefits that are available to them through the power of prayer.
GOD ANSWERS PRAYERS
The first reason why prayer pays off is that we grow in our relationship with God and, as a result, grow in the things that God offers to us such as joy, confidence and peace. The second reason why prayer pays off is because God hears our prayers and God answers our prayers. We find out about that in Job 42:10-17 (NIV).
After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.
After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.
God hears the cries of his heart, God hears his prayer for his friends and, by the end of the story, Job becomes prosperous again. He is restored and renewed, gaining twice as much as he had lost.
We have to be careful with this passage because it could tempt us to think that God will always make everything better and that we should all be prosperous, wise and respected by everyone. Unfortunately, that is not true. What is true is that God enables us to live in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. That is the way that God answers prayers.
We talked a lot about that last week but one thing we didn’t talk about is the fact that there is actually scientific proof that prayer really works. It’s not just empty words that mean nothing and go nowhere. Prayer has been extensively studied and the conclusions are crystal clear; prayer really does make a difference.
Dr. Herbert Benson was an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute. He and his fellow researchers have extensively studied the power of prayer. Listen to this… In one of their studies, they followed 400 patients for ten months who had been hospitalized in a San Francisco coronary care unit. Half of the patients were assigned someone to pray for them and the other half were not. The patients who received intercessory prayer had significantly fewer episodes of congestive heart failure, fewer cardiac arrests, less pneumonia, and required fewer diuretics and antibiotics (Herbert Benson, Timeless Healing, 1996, p. 182) The really interesting thing about this study is that the effects were the same whether or not the patient knew that someone was praying for them. It didn’t matter; they still experience better health through prayer.
In another study, Benson decided to study the effects of laying on hands in conjunction with intercessory prayer. In this study nurses included prayer and the laying on of hands as part of the care of postoperative patients. They discovered a significant decrease in postoperative pain, decreased need for analgesia and a decreased headache pain in 90% of patients with tension headaches. Those results are nothing short of amazing. In light of that, it’s not surprising that in many jurisdictions, hospitals are required to have a functioning Pastoral Care department in order to pass standards. The simple fact of the matter is the prayer really works and the sooner people get better, the less money hospitals have to spend on caring for them. It’s a win win situation for everyone.
Prayer is not only beneficial when we get sick. It is also beneficial to every other aspect of our lives. There is nothing too big or too small that you cannot take it to God. Nothing in your life is too insignificant for prayer. If you want to give thanks for something, give thanks. If you need something, ask for it. It really is as simple as that.
Remember, however, that God does not always have to say, “Yes,” to what we want. God is not like a great big Santa Claus whose soul purpose is to fill our wish list. God often says, “Yes,” but God sometimes says, “No,” or he might say, “Not yet.” But if God does not say, “Yes,” to our requests, you can bet that there are reasons. We might not understand those reasons when they come to us but we will understand them eventually and be thankful that God has more wisdom and insight than we have and that there is a reason why we did not get what we wanted. Usually, what we ended up with was far better than we ever could have hoped for.
LISTENING FOR GOD’S VOICE
The first reason why prayer pays off is because, through prayers, we grow in our relationship with God. The second way that prayer pays of is because God answers prayers. The third and final way that prayer pays off is that it helps us to listen for God’s voice. That’s a bit of a surprise for some people because many of us think that prayer is al about us talking to God. We simply don’t think about prayer as a conversation between two people but that is exactly what it is. In prayer, we not only talk, we also learn to listen to God’s voice as it speaks to us.
Once again, it’s all about communication. There are so many voices calling for our attention in this world. It can be a real challenge to separate the voice of God from the cacophony of sounds that call for our attention. It’s tough but it is possible.
It’s like a mother whose child is in a nursery with a dozen other children. All of those children can be making noises, laughing, crying, hollering to beat the band but if the mother hears her child crying, she will recognize it right away. Why? Because it’s her child and she has learned to distinguish that voice from all of the other sounds and voices.
In prayer, we learn to recognize God’s voice as he speaks to us. There are chapters in the book of Job where God is doing the talking. The reason why we have these chapters is because Job has learned to listen to God and to understand how and when God is speaking to him. We need to do the same thing. We need to practice listening for God’s voice. The way we do that is through prayer.
I understand what a difficult concept that can be. People ask, “How does God speak to me? What’s it like? Is there a little voice in my head? Like Daniel, do I see writing on the wall? Does God send messages through other people or even though angels?” To all those questions I would answer, “Yes.” God can speak to us in those ways and in many more. My experience is that God will do whatever it takes to get the message through our sometimes overly thick skulls.
As an example, I’m going to tell a story that I’ve told before. It goes back almost eighteen years to the time when the Gillilands lived in Espanola. Various things had happened that indicated that our ministry there was drawing to a close and so we put our name on a list that churches could access who were looking for a new minister. In the next two months, we had about sixty inquiries. Either we were popular or they were desperate. Of those sixty inquiries, only one caught our attention but it was in the exact place where we did not want to go – Southern Ontario, a little hamlet called Cottam. We tried to forget about it but could not forget. It kept coming back at us again and again.
Finally, we agreed to come for an interview. We drove down to Cottam in the first week in March 2004. We had already made a list of what we needed in a church for us to move there and subconsciously created one that no church could possibly meet. We were met by the Search Committee in the Fellowship Hall. Lyle Miller drove us around the area and showed us some sights. And it seemed perfect – too perfect. What were we missing?
That was the thought that kept crossing our minds as we ate supper as a family at A1 Chinese Restaurant in Essex. Both Ruth and I agreed that there was something wrong here. It was too perfect, too good to be true. What are we missing? Nothing could be this perfect. And so we prayed that God would show us if this was the right place to come.
That evening, the Youth Group took our boys out for laser tag and pizza which they thought was too perfect too. Sarah Logan looked after Rebekah while Ruth and I went to the interview.
Half way through the interview, everything was going well, too well. At one point, Adam McLeod was sitting beside me. He put his pen down emphatically on the table and said, “There’s something wrong here. This is too perfect, too good to be true. What are we missing? Nothing could be this perfect.” Ruth and I were dumbstruck because we had said the same thing not two hours before. We had prayed to God for guidance and this was the first of a number of signs that we received that God wanted us to go to Cottam United Church. It was one of the times when we got it right and heard the voice of God. Fortunately it was one of those times when we were prepared to listen for God’s voice when it came to us.
The point is that in listening to God’s voice, we were able to discern where God wanted us to be. And God’s voice came to us in the most unexpected way, through the spoken observation of a young man in his 20’s who had not idea what he had just done.
It is through prayer that we learn to act upon those hunches. It is only through prayer that we get to know God on such a personal and intimate basis and it is in knowing him in that way that we learn to listen for his voice.
Does prayer pay off? You bet it does. It pays off in so many ways. The challenge is for each of us to develop an intentional daily prayer life so that we can build our relationships with God and become the people he created us to be. In doing that, we become intimate with God as we make our requests known and as we listen for his voice as it comes to us.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Heaven and Earth, your creative wonder leaves us in awe. Your strength and glory leave us humbled. Your support and love lift us up from the depths of despair into the light of hope and meaning. Fill us anew with your Spirit. Remind us of your presence in our lives that our feet may walk the path of your making.
We give thanks for the tastes of life, for all of our experiences from birth to death. The joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, failures and successes all add to our maturity and growth. You, O God, can work through them all, touching us in special, healing ways.
We thank you, our Father, for the different ways in which you come to us: as Healer, Teacher, Guide, Redeemer, Creator and Sustainer, Father, Son and Spirit, Forgiver, Nurturer, Lover and Friend. Come to us, God, in all occasions, to transform us and make us new.
We thank you this morning the life and in life the gift of marriage. We ask your special blessing upon Emily and Cole, Nicala and Elliott as they begin their lives together as husband and wife. Bless them and be with them throughout their many years together and through all of the changes that will come their way.
Finally, we lift up in prayer those who have been in ill this week. We remember Carol, Mark, Richard and Angela who is recovering from surgery in Windsor. Touch them and all of us with your Holy Spirit that healing may come and life return to its fullest.
Our prayers, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
October 24, 2021 / Pentecost 22 / Proper 25
Job 42:1‑6, 10‑17; Psalm 34:1‑8; Mark 10:46‑52; Hebrews 9:11‑14
ONE: Give thanks to the Lord who lifts us up and gives us love.
TWO: The glory of God shines above the heavens and reaches into the depths of our hearts.
ONE: Give thanks to the Lord who lives and reigns forever and ever.
TWO: We lift up our hands, our minds, and voices to the one who was and is and will be.
You call us, O God, your children and we come to you as our Loving Parent. The mountains shout your praises. The hills echo your strength. The wind whispers greetings of love and acceptance. Come to us now in our time of worship that we may, once again, appreciate the comfort, peace and challenge that you give to us through your gracious Holy Spirit. Reach down into the depths of our souls that we may truly experience the joy of our salvation and the wonder of your love.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, we thank you that our sins have been forgiven and that you will not remember them again. Seeing that you will not remember them, we also should not remember them. Help us, therefore, to keep the past in the past where it belongs. We desire to take hold of the new life you have given. There is no need for us to feel ashamed or reluctant to come to you because of guilt of our past sins. We want to walk fully in the new covenant of forgiveness and freedom that has been established by your sacrifice. Cleanse us, we pray.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Our guilt has been washed away. Our lives have been cleansed. We are freed to walk in the light of faith of Jesus Christ. He offers us complete assurance of God’s love and acceptance. Let us rejoice in the forgiveness of sins that is ours in Christ Jesus our Saviour.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
There are so many time, O God, when we fail to fully appreciate all that you have done for us. Your gifts are many, your mercies to numerous to count. With these gifts, we attempt to realize our blessings. Enable us to give with generous and willing hearts for there are those who need to have what we can offer. Use us for you purpose. We give you thanks.
Having heard the Word, having sang our praises, having lifted our voices in prayer, we have worshipped the Living God. It is time to go and put what we have experienced into practice. It is time to be the people of God and touch the lives of others in Jesus’ name.