The Importance of Prayer

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 19/Proper 21
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 124 and James 5: 13-20
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.
James 5: 16 (NIV)


One of the blessed times in the life of any church is when a person is baptized. It is a time when the church comes together to express its faith in many ways. There is the faith of the parents who bring their child to the church to take that important step and make important promises about raising their children in the faith of Jesus. It also involves the faith of the church as it promises to support the family in this venture and trusts God to work on all of us so that we will find the courage and strength to fulfill those vows which we make this day. It really is a profound time in the life of the church.

Baptism is not something that we should enter into lightly. It is important. It’s not merely a matter of getting the child done like you’d get the oil in your car changed. It’s far more than that. It is a sacred promise, made before God and the community of faith, to share that faith with these new young lives. And that, my friends, is profound.

I really like the way that we do baptisms here at Cottam United Church. Every time we celebrate this sacrament, the children come forward and, once again, we talk about what we do. First of all we need water and it comes in baby food jars. Then we need oil and it comes in a special bottle. You can’t see it from where you are but the bottle is shaped like a fish because the fish is symbol of Christ. And then, of course, we need someone. Today, we baptized two infants. Sometimes the person could be an older child or a teenage or even an adult. But the promises always point in the same direction. The always point to growing up in the faith and committing ourselves to Jesus Christ, no matter the age or the stage of life.

There is something else that we always do in baptisms. We pray because prayer is an important aspect of everything that we do in life. That’s what James is telling us in the passage that I’m going to share this morning which is all about prayer. James 5:13-16 (NIV) says this:

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.

There are so many aspects of prayer in these verses. It speaks to people who are in trouble. They should pray. It speaks to people who are happy. They should give thanks through songs of praise. It speaks to the sick who need healing. And it speaks to the sinful who need to confess, repent and be cleansed. There are so many situations in life that need prayer. In fact, every situations in life needs prayer.

What that means is that our lives should be lived in constant prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) says this: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances. According to these verses these are not things that we do every now and then. Some people keep track of how many times they pray every day. In some Christian traditions, prayers are said three times a day. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer cites six times of daily prayer: morning prayer, evening prayer, night prayer and three other times during the day. The Armenian rite has nine prayer times. The Celtic Christian tradition doesn’t provide hours of prayer. Rather it provides prayers for the daily things of life. That is part of my tradition and so I do some of them. When Celtic Christians see the sun in the morning they say this prayer:

The eye of the Great God, the eye of the God of glory. The eye of the king of Host. The eye of the King of heaven. Pouring upon us in each time and season. Pouring upon us gently and generously. Glory to thee thou glorious sun, face of the God of life.

Note that the prayer is not to the sun. It is to the one who made the sun. Also when the sun goes down, they say this prayer:

I am in the hope that the great and gracious God will not put out the light of grace for me, even as thou dost leave me this night.

And then there are traveling prayers:

Bless to me, O God, the earth beneath my feet. Bless to me, O God, the path whereon I go. Bless to me, O God, the thing of my desire. O thou evermore of evermore, bless thou to me my rest. Bless to me the thing whereon I set my mind. Bless to me the thing whereon is set my love. Bless to me the thing whereon is set my hope. O though King of Kings, bless thou to me mine eyes.

The Celts have prayers for such mundane things as making the bed and washing the dishes. They also have prayers for milking the cows but I confess that I don’t know that one but I will find it for Brian if he wants me to. But to Celtic Christians nothing is mundane. Even the most ordinary things in life are sacred and deserving of prayer.

Some Christians pray by the hours of the day. Some Christians pray according to the things that they do. But do you know how many times the Bible says that we should pray every day? Just once. The prayer starts when you wake up in the morning and it ends when you go to sleep. Or as we read in 1 Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances.”


But how do we do that? That question challenges us to think about what we actually mean by prayer. When we pray do we have to get on our knees, close our eyes, clasp our hands and bow our heads? No, because if we did that continually, we’d never get anything else done. When we do that, when we get on our knees and close our eyes, we’re doing something valuable. We are spending intentional quality time with God. It’s when we put everything else aside and come to God in prayer. Quite frankly, that’s something that we all should do every day but that’s not the only way to pray.

Go back to our Celtic sisters and brothers. They don’t stop and pray before milking the cows or washing the dishes or making their beds. In their tradition, they pray through those activities. They pray while doing them. That’s because you don’t have to bow your head and close your eyes for God to hear you. God hears you anyway, whether you pray out loud or in your head. That’s the great thing about God. God just hears our prayers no matter how we deliver them.

When we keep that in mind, we can begin to understand what it means to pray continually. You just incorporate it into every aspect of your life until it becomes a natural part of what you do. When you’re driving, rather than talking on the phone – using blue tooth of course – why not talk with God. Maybe there’s a situation that causes you concern. Maybe something spectacular has happened and you just want to praise and give thanks. Maybe there’s a driver up ahead who is driving erratically or you pass someone with a flat tire on the side of the road. Pray for those people. You can pray all the time for everything. I realize that you can’t always focus on prayer because you have jobs or school or projects at home that require your attention. But even in those things, there are breaks when you can actively pray in all things.

But what is prayer? According to what we read in James a few minutes ago, prayer is prayer as we traditionally think of it. But prayer is also songs of praise. And prayer is the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. I was on a long run yesterday morning with some friends. We ran for two hours and did lots of talking along the way. We often do that. But we also had quiet times especially as we were into the big miles. Do you know what I did during those times, especially when the running got harder? I had praise songs going through my head. Actually it was probably only one and I sang that same song over and over especially as the miles got longer and harder. Do you know what I was doing then? I was praying.

Too many people get the wrong impression about prayer. They think it is like a shopping list that we take to God: “God, please do this or please do that. God help this person or intervene in this situation.” And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Remember that James wrote that if someone is in trouble he or she should pray. Absolutely.

But prayer is so much more than that. Prayer, at its essence is communication with God. It’s talking to God whether that is through words or songs or actions. It is pouring out our hearts to a God who loves us and cares for us and more than anything else wants to be in relationship with us.

What that means is that prayer in its truest form is not just about talking with God. It is also about listening to what God says as we pray. That’s the harder part of prayer. It’s so much easier just to talk to God from where we are and expect God to hear us. It is more challenging to be still and listen for God to speak back.


I don’t always get that right but I want to tell you one example when I did get it right. It happened this summer when we were on vacation in Newfoundland. Going to Newfoundland was a trip that we have been planning for almost 30 years and we finally did it. The reason why we wanted to do it was because both of Ruth’s parents were born in Newfoundland and so was my grandmother and we wanted to explore our roots.

So, we took our little trailer and drove to North Sydney, Cape Breton where we boarded a ferry for Newfoundland. The first place we went was Little Bay Islands where Ruth’s father Bernie Wiseman was born. It’s a pretty remote place. In fact, I describe it like this; it’s about as far as you can get from anywhere and still be someplace. But we made it. What was once a prosperous fishing port and the commercial hub of the area is now almost deserted except for forty full time residents and eighty more who spend their summers there. But this is the house where Bernie grew up and this is the view he saw every morning when he left the house. We also found people who remembered Ruth’s family. Her grandfather, Edgar Wiseman, is part of local folklore because he was the Sergeant Major of the local Salvation Army Corp. He died one Sunday evening while leading worship, struck down by a massive heart attack. So whenever Ruth told someone the she was Edgar Wiseman’s granddaughter, they would say, “Oh Uncle Edgar, he died on the platform of the Salvation Army you know.” And this is the platform where he died in 1962.

And then we went to where my grandmother grew up in Old Perlican at the north end of the Avalon Pennisula. Not much remained from when she left here in 1918. Her maiden name was Gillingham and there were none of them left there either. But we did see Gillingham Roads in neighouring harbours so there is evidence that our family was there at one time.

The third leg of our journey took us to where Ruth’s mother was born in Burin Bay. That’s down on the south east corner of Newfoundland. We weren’t quite sure where we were going because there is no place in Newfoundland called Burin Bay. There is town called Burin and a village called Burin Bay Arm but the only Burin Bay is connected to the Atlantic Ocean and filled with water. Our best guess was that we needed to head for Burin Bay Arm so that’s what we did. It was literally at the end of the road and we had no idea if we were in the right place so where did we go? We went to the cemetery. Ruth stayed in the car while I checked it out. When I walked into the cemetery this is the first grave that I saw. Mayo is Ruth’s mother’s maiden name. There were lots of Mayos. And there were Shaves and Inkpens – all names in Ruth’s family tree. And so I went back to the car and told Ruth that I thought we were in the right place because I found most of her relatives. We were in the right place. We went to church that morning – it was Sunday – and the United Church was just starting its worship. We introduced ourselves and told them of our quest. And many people with those family names approached us. These all had to be Ruth’s distant relatives and there was an instant connection.

That afternoon, we just walked around the village taking pictures and wondering what it was like in 1926 when Ruth’s grandmother packed up her surviving children and moved to Toronto. He husband had been lost at sea and there was no way she could support her family in Newfoundland during the Depression and so she went to Toronto where her sister lived and raised her children as a seamstress. Tough lady.

Ruth went back and sat in the car and I wandered around a bit more just thanking God for the journey of discovery he had allowed us to travel. And then it occurred to me that in all the time we had been in Newfoundland, I had never touched the Atlantic Ocean. And so I found a boat launch with a little beach and walked down to the water. There I bent down and touched that water with the palm of my hand. And instantly, the Spirit spoke to me and said, “Do you remember the conversation that you had with Ruth thirty years ago?” It took me a few moments but I did remember it.

Thirty years ago, Ruth and I had a conversation about baptism. Ruth was raised in the Salvation Army and the Salvation Army does not baptize anyone so Ruth had never been baptized. We talked about that – if she wanted to be baptized – and she said that she did not feel the need but if ever she was baptized, she’d like to be baptized in the Atlantic Ocean.

And so I went back to the car and asked Ruth if she remember that same conversation that we had had thirty years earlier. At first she didn’t but then she did. And so I said, “Do you want to?” and she said, “Yes.” And so we walked down to the beach and I baptized my wife in the Atlantic Ocean in the remote village where her mother was born. It became the unexpected highlight of our adventure and a moment we will never forget. And it happened because we opened ourselves to listening to God’s voice. We don’t always get it right but I think we did that time.

Prayer is not just asking God for stuff. It is also about being open to God’s voice as it speaks in our midst. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that we should pray at all times. James finished his passage on prayer with these words in James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Prayers are effective especially when the communication goes both way. So pray continually and listen for God’s voice. That is the importance of prayer.


We come to you, O God, with the confidence of your constant presence. We thank you that we are never alone and that your Spirit lives in our hearts and works in our lives. We thank you for all of the wonders of Creation: for the feeling of autumn in cool morning mists; for bike rides in the warm afternoon sunshine; for geese flying south and plants storing energy for the winter ahead.

Thank you for sowing good things into our lives. Thank you for honouring our times when we share with others by providing for our every need. Help us to so appreciate your generousity that we will never withhold any good thing from anyone else. Your grace has no limits and your love knows no boundaries.

Help us, O God, to increase in our sense of mission in our community and in the world. Help us to understand that when we do it together, we can get so much more done than trying to do things alone. Encourage us to discover the missions that you would have us do and give us the courage, the strength and the tenacity to fulfill your great calling.

Be with the McLeod and Nagy families as they seek to raise their children in the faith of Jesus. May they and the church be true to the vows we have made this day for we know already that you will be faithful.

We lift up in prayer those who are sick, especially Lyle, Sharon, John and Louise. Be with all people who are sick in body, mind or spirit. Be with them in their illness. Sometimes we are confused and disillusioned by sickness but help us to see your hand in our lives in any and every situation.

Heavenly Father, when circumstances and situations would seem to be more than we can bear, you are our refuge. Remind us that you are greater than any problem in our lives. In the tough times, we can call upon you and you are always there to provide strength and hope. Grant us the assurance that you will always be there for us as we are there for one another. We thank you for your great unfailing love which never ends, in Jesus’ name. Amen.


September 30, 2018 / Pentecost 19 / Proper 21


Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22; Psalm 124; Mark 9:38-50; James 5:13-20


There is joy in the Lord;

There is joy in knowing that God is with us.

Praise be to God who lifts us above our troubles and sets our feet upon solid ground;

Come, let us worship the our God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.


God of Love, your Spirit flows to us like a refreshing stream of cool water. We ask for your presence among us for you have promised to be with your people when we call upon your name. We thank you that you are faithful in all that you have promised. You have called us to be your Church and set us aside for the ministry of Christ. Enable us to be faithful to that which you have called us as a community of faith. May our worship intensify and nourish the deep need that we have for you in our lives. Amen.


God of Mercy, despite your amazing love, we have fallen short of your glory. We have hurt and wounded others, intentionally or otherwise. Help us to realize that our relationships with our sisters and brothers affect our relationship with you. If we have offended anyone or they have anything against us give us the courage to be reconciled as the opportunity arises. Keep us sensitive to the needs of our neighbours that we may encourage them to walk the road of faith that leads to your arms. Amen.


The power of God is the power to forgive and redeem us for our place in Heaven. Hear the Good News and believe that, in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the chains of sin have been broken and we are freed to walk in the light of God’s grace.


Father God, help us to recognize every opportunity to give to others, whether in time, money, compassion, mercy, or any other means. May we reach out not for motives of reward or recognition but because of love knowing that as we give it will be given to us according to the promises that you have made through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.


As children of the Living God, we are called to embrace our neighbours and to share with them the Gospel of Life which is Jesus Christ. Let us always remember that it is by our words and actions that people often have their first encounter with the carpenter from Galilee. Go from this place and walk the path of faith as followers of him who gave all that he had for us.

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