“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18
Do you think praying makes a difference? It’s an age old question? Why pray?
Hopefully the reasons you give for engaging in prayer are better than the one I came up with when I was a student at Messiah. When a group of us girls who lived on dorm and loved to play pranks were afraid we’d get caught, we would have someone on the look out for the Dean of Women, Mrs. Smith (Elbert’s mother) to come down the hall. Someone came up with the bright idea that if we would quickly run to our rooms, drop to our knees beside the bed, and close our eyes to look as if we were fervently engaged in prayer, she wouldn’t stop to talk with us. After all, we were on our knees “praying”. Great reason for prayer, isn’t it??
Ever since the Garden of Eden, when our first parents were also afraid they’d get caught in the act, and didn’t want to have a conversation with the God of the universe, there has been a major struggle which has led many sincere people to ask, “What is the importance of prayer anyway, and how does one do it effectively?” Even the disciples, who spent time with Jesus, felt pretty inadequate in this department and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why there are numerous books on the subject of prayer. Recently I pondered over the title of one of these books, Prayer Made Easy. I’m not sure I agree with the idea that prayer is easy. For me, and I suspect for most of you, prayer is not easy. We all know we “ought” to pray. We suspect it is beneficial for expert, praying people like Mike Holland. The big question remains then, why is it so difficult?
Some of you have heard me tell about a study done by a major publishing company making plans to commission Philip Yancey to write a book on prayer. They discovered that prayer ranks high on surveys of theoretical importance but low on surveys of actual satisfaction. There seems to be a huge gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice. Are we surprised?
Why would that be? Could it be that we don’t really need to depend on prayer? We can depend on our doctor and antibiotics, our lawyer and his assistance when in trouble, our investment advisor, or even our own expertise. All the benefits of science and technology are ours. If all else fails, just google and get the answer! Why pray?
When it comes to our daily needs, why ask God to “give us this day our daily bread” when our pantries are stocked or we can run to Giant?
Then there’s the matter of time. OK, I know I should pray, but there is just no time.
Prayer takes time. We’ve conditioned ourselves to do communication on the run - doing two things at once. I can have a cell phone conversation while driving down the road, or while going through the aisles hunting for a gallon of paint at Lowe’s. Or better yet, why talk at all? Just send a text message, or an e-mail, or post a message on Face Book. Daily schedule and time pressures leave little time for actual face to face conversation with anyone important to us, much less God who is way out there somewhere. Where would prayer with God fit into a life that is already scheduled to the max?
I would dare say nearly all of us in this room have felt guilty about not praying enough or even having a great desire pray. I don’t want to add to your guilt this morning. And in the end, guilt does not produce a satisfying prayer life. So why should we pray? Before looking at Ephesians 6:18, it would be good to look at the preceding verses.
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Paul is challenging the church to be strong in the power of the Lord. He warns them it is going to be a struggle. It’s a battle. Be on guard! We are fighting powers of darkness we can’t even see, forces that reside in the spiritual realm. He is clear stand your ground in the midst of evil. To be fully equipped, we must complete the armor as we come to verse 18.
And pray in the Spirit, on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
I. What are we to do and how are we to do it? “PRAY IN THE SPIRIT.”
The very essence of prayer is communication between an individual and God. And it is for anyone and everyone. A child can pray, a hardened criminal can pray. A mature believer who has been a Christian for many years can pray. A searching, self-proclaimed agnostic can pray. It does not need to be a well scripted, grammatically correct, theological treatise any more than a six-year-old child must wait to be educated as to how to form the right words to ask his dad to go with him to Hershey Park. It might be a cry in the night of an anxious one who just found out he has cancer, or the prayer of relief and gratitude as a young mother looks into the innocent, perfectly formed face of her newborn daughter. Our God is eager for us to share with him all our thoughts, our joys, our doubts, our feelings, and anxieties.
We are building a relationship, when we pray, with a Heavenly Father that loves us very much.
More than 30 years ago, I came across a little book that is now considered a classic written by a Norwegian theologian by the name of Ole Hallesby simply titled Prayer. It has had a profound effect on how I have viewed prayer. Hallesby says that prayer is simply opening our hearts to Jesus, recognizing that we are helpless, and willingly acknowledging that we desperately need God to meet us, right where we are, in our helplessness. Hallesby concludes that only he who is helpless can truly pray.
Almost as soon as we are born, we strive to become independent and self-reliant. Every parent celebrates when little Johnny can go to the bathroom himself, put on his own clothes, and brush his teeth. It doesn’t change when we become adults. We look forward to the time when we can pay our own way, make our own decisions, and don’t have to rely on mom and dad anymore. It is foreign to our human nature to embrace the idea that we need to depend on anyone yes, even God. So we manage quite nicely through life, on our own. But the truth is, when we are faced with unexpected challenges, the loss of a loved one, a decline in physical health, or our financial security is threatened, we suddenly realize what Jesus must have meant when he said to the disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Many times in the Psalms David said words like these: “In my distress, I cried out to the Lord.” “I cried with my whole heart.” “This poor man cried and the Lord heard him.” There is power in crying out, in honestly admitting to God, “I can’t manage this problem, I don’t know what the next step might be. I am just too exhausted to figure it out!” We are commanded to pray.
But how can I, an unworthy sinner, even approach a holy God? Pray in the spirit.” The Holy Spirit, who was sent by the Father on Pentecost, will help us even when we don’t know what to say. Through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, He has become my Father also and He will guide me into all truth.
In Romans 8:16 Paul says, “this spirit of sonship allows us to cry out ‘Abba Father.’ ” Paul says something very similar in Galatians 4:6 as he reassures the believers that it is this very spirit of his son who calls out Abba Father, “ Papa, God, I need you.”
It’s just like your little son has the right to call out in the night from his bedroom, “Daddy, are you over there?” God will hear the feeblest prayer, the faintest cry. He is just waiting for us to call out. Pray to your Father who is unseen, and who lovingly bends his ear to listen to you as you cry out.
II. What’s the second question? When should we pray? This verse says, “ON ALL OCCASIONS.”
There are numerous times illustrated in scripture when all sorts of people cried out to God. Before he moved, Abraham fell on his face trying to understand God’s plan for Him and for the nation of Israel. Genesis 17:3 says, “And God talked with him.” So, pray like Abraham when you are puzzled and confused about your future. Perhaps you’ve been wondering what to do next, where you should live, where you can find a job in this economic climate. Sounds too simple? The answer is pray!
Joshua stood inside the Promised Land after Moses had died, shaking in his boots; how would he fill Moses’ shoes? God told him, “Be strong and courageous, Joshua. Don’t be dismayed for the Lord is with you.”
Pray, just like Joshua, when you are afraid. When you feel alone and discouraged. Pray!
The disciples were sound asleep in the garden. They couldn’t stay awake and pray. Jesus woke them up to remind them that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. When you feel weak and vulnerable, when you feel you are slipping back into old habits, remember to pray, so that you won’t fall into temptation like Peter. But if you do fall remember the rest of that story. Peter fell but he also cried out. And the Lord heard his prayer. Our spirit is weak, but the Holy Spirit within us can help us to stand against the devil’s schemes.
Read this verse again. What are the avenues of prayer we should use? USE “ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS.” God doesn’t have a “one-size-fits-all prayer.” Your prayer will most likely sound a whole lot different than mine. Yours might take wings as you listen to the words of a hymn or soothing meditative music. Another person’s prayer might be quietly voiced while driving to work or when cleaning the house. Or it may naturally arise as you walk along a meandering path deep in the woods lined with lilies of the valley adjacent to a babbling stream.
Still another person’s prayer may come in stillness and quiet solitude, or while reading from a rich resource like the Book of Common Prayer. What is your pathway to God?
Paul reminds also to use all kinds of prayers: Prayers of praise and adoration, prayers of joy and thanksgiving, prayers of humiliation and confession, agonizing prayers born out of weakness and loss, prayers of surrender. These all are words of love and intimacy to the ears of our heavenly father. Anne Lamott says her favorite prayers are “thank you, thank you, thank you” and “help me, help me, help me.”
Read this verse again Ephesians 6:18. Notice the phrase, “BE ALERT AND ALWAYS KEEP ON PRAYING.” In other words be persistent don’t give up!
Philip Yancey in his book Prayer concludes that the words for prayer or how it is phrased are less important than actually remembering. It takes effort simply to remember. In our culture with so many demands and distractions, that is precisely where Satan plans his scheme of attack. Frankly he knows it’s easy to win this battle particularly with our very busy, competent, western mindset. In countries where persecution, extreme poverty, devastating disease abounds, I suspect it is not as hard to remember the need for God. Brothers and sisters, we are commanded to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, but we will only be strong if we do so in the power of the Spirit if we remember to pray. Our first natural response to challenges, or difficulties, be it illness or adversity or calamity, is, now what do I do? God so much wants to be intimately involved with us that we think of Him first, and ask him for help. Just ask!
In business and marketing circles, there is a little slogan that says, “There is power in the ask”. You’ll never make a sale if you don’t ask. You can’t be afraid to ask. That’s also a great prayer slogan. We will never know the power that comes from praying if we don’t ask.
Jesus invites us to “ask.” Matthew 7:11 reminds us that your father in heaven will give good gifts to those who ask him. “Ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.” John 16:24 states, “Ask that your joy may be full.” Are you experiencing uncertainties, troubles, difficulties, anxieties just come to your Heavenly Father and ask for what you need! Just ask!
So far, the emphasis has been about personal prayer. However, prayer focus in the church is only as strong as the prayer life of the individuals who make up that congregation.
What is true for each of us personally is exactly what Christ calls us to replicate in the church. In Revelation, the angel in Laodocea rebuked the church because they felt they “did not need a thing.” In actuality he reminded them that they were wretched, poor, pitiful, blind and naked. Would it be possible to have a church running so competently in such an efficient way, that there would be no need to consult God? I have no doubt that there are numbers of faithful people in this congregation who pray consistently and fervently for the health of our church. This morning I am calling the church every one of us, in a new united way, to call upon God, to commit ourselves to pray for our church during this transition time. To be most powerful it will take every one of you from the youngest to the oldest, families, youth, those of you who don’t consider yourselves good in praying. Remember, praying is acknowledging our helplessness, admitting we don’t really know much about prayer. It is also remembering to ask.
Look at the scripture one more time. Paul encourages the church to pray for each other. PRAY “FOR ALL THE SAINTS” that’s each one of us.
We must each humbly acknowledge before God as the spiritual says, “It’s me, it’s me, oh Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.” More than ever, during this transition time, God is eager to hear our cry as we all acknowledge that we need him. Our church needs concerted prayer at this time. I need your prayers. We need each others prayers. We are all standin’ in the need of prayer.
I want to suggest a simple little tool to help you remember to pray every day, to pray for situations first as they arise and to fervently pray for our church. We all need reminders we want remembering to pray to be the first thing we do, not the last.
Take an index card. This is something in your own handwriting that you are willing to do.
Write “Remember to pray Ephesians 6:18”
Place it on your car seat, at your computer, at the kitchen sink, on the bathroom mirror, on the dinner table somewhere as a reminder.
Determine that prayer will be the first thing you do. Prayer needs to be first and foremost what we do here at Grantham also. We are already known as a friendly, caring, competent church. How wonderful for us also to be known as a praying church. Over the past months we have been assessing a lot of things. We are now in a time of transition. I wonder how God assesses us. We must ask and find out. We must remember to pray not as the last thing we do but the first thing we do.
By the middle of June you will be able to access a new prayer site on the web. Every Monday morning I will be sending out a brief update with a scripture, a few thoughts, and some ways you can pray all as a way to unite the church to pray. You’ll be hearing more about that in the next few weeks when it is up and running.
Take just a moment now to write on your card and then tuck it in your purse or your pocket.