Psalm 40:1-6, Philippians 4:4-7
October 22, 2006
Ok, so here’s another “Power” sermon. It was “The Power of Words,” then “The Power Within Us,” then “The Power of Love,” and now “The Power of Prayer.” Now do you think there’s a recurring theme?! Actually, this time there is! This one is intentional! As I was thinking about the progression of those other “power” related themes, it seemed only natural at this point to focus in on the power of prayer.
Some would say that all the other ones make no sense without prayer. Years ago, I knew a woman who was very big on prayer – maybe more than anyone I’ve ever known. She used to say, “We can put together any program in the Church we want, but without prayer, it won’t work! Do you think that’s true?
Do you like power tools? (Let’s see hands!) I like power tools! Besides being able to get more done in less time, it’s just great having that power in my hands! But the tool by itself really only has “potential power.” It has all the right motors and switches and wiring and hardware. But without the chord that ties it into the power source, there is no power! Even cordless tools, which I also love, can only be apart from the power source for a short period of time before they wind down.
We are like those power tools. We have all the potential to have the power of God in our lives. We have all the potential to do all kinds of things for God’s kingdom. But without tying into that power source, we don’t have the power, do we?! Even the simple power for living our lives every day, is hard to find without that contact with the power source. Yet how many of us are like power tools that haven’t been on the charger for a long time?
As I’ve thought about this theme today, many scriptures came to mind. The word prayer occurs in some form over 300 times in scripture. Don’t worry, we won’t look at all of them. (!) But I’d like to mention some the ones that come to mind easily.
The first one I think about is from Thessalonians. Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18) Then I remember the words he wrote to the Romans. “…For when we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs to deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
In Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus himself talks about prayer. He said“…do not pray like the hypocrites, who like to pray on the street corners… But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret…” Then he gave them the words we have come to know as “The Lord’s prayer.” (Matthew 6:1-13) In Luke’s Gospel, one of his disciples asks him, “‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ And he said to them, ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.’” (Luke 11:1-10)
So much could be said about all of those passages and many more. But I’d like us to focus in on this passage from Philippians. This is a letter written to Paul’s most beloved congregation. As we begin this last chapter, we read these words, “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm thus in the Lord.” Paul had a special love for these people. And he wanted them to know true fulfillment and joy in their lives. So even in this relatively short letter, among the limited amount of advice and teaching he’s been giving them, he wanted to tell them about prayer. It’s that important!
He starts out saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say it. Rejoice.” That’s the starting point of prayer. Too often we start with the “asking” part. And don’t get me wrong! Asking isn’t bad! But consider where it puts the focus of prayer – especially when that’s all we do. That tends to put the focus on us and our needs. And, when we do only that, the effectiveness, the measure of the value of prayer, tends to rest solely on the resulting answers or non-answers we get.
I remember one person I knew who kept a “prayer journal.” In it, they had a listing of the things they “prayed for,” and an accounting of the results. And I’m not saying that’s bad. There were some amazing things in that journal! But we can’t put the total emphasis in prayer on what we ask and what we receive. Again, if we do, the value in prayer seems to rest in the results we get.
Sometimes we find ourselves saying, “Prayer works.” And I would ask, how does it work? Does it work in “getting things we want?” Is that how prayer works? Or does it “work” in that it brings us peace and fulfillment in our relationship with God? Paul starts telling them about prayer by telling them about “rejoicing in the Lord.” I believe He was telling them that’s where the “power” lies. The power of prayer starts with rejoicing. It starts in finding joy in our relationship with God.
Try this. Change your normal prayer routine and pray for a while without asking anything! Pray whenever you normally do – and if you don’t have a regular time, start by getting one! But then pray just rejoicing in the Lord. Do that for a few days. Let that be the total focus and motivation for your prayer. Then, even when you start with the asking again, keep that beginning time of rejoicing in the Lord. See what that does to your prayer life! See what that contributes to your understanding of the power of prayer.
Paul continues, “Have no anxiety about anything.” What’s he saying here? He’s saying, “No worries, mon.” (Like in the islands!) Isn’t it interesting that a number of cultures have that expression! In Australia they say it “No worries, mate.” In the film “The Lion King” we learned that the African expression, “Hakouna Matatta” means “no worries.” Yet our society is filled with people who are worried and anxious about so many things. They want desperately to have peace, but they fail to find it! I heard somewhere recently that the three kinds of drugs which are most used in this country are anti-depressants, sleep aids, and stomach upset medications!
Paul tells the Philippians, and us, to have no worries! I know that’s not easy. Especially if you have that “bone in your head” that makes you worry about things! I know. It’s up there in my head. We used to say that was a hereditary thing in the Brecht family! We need to hear again and again, “Have no anxiety about anything,” “No worries, mon!” “Hakouna Mattata.”
How do we do that? Paul goes on. “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God… This is the “asking” part of prayer. It is praying for needs – yours and others. But notice, this is more than just asking. It is sharing yourself and your needs with God! It is opening up your life. It is pouring out your heart to him.
And again, it’s not that all by itself. It still comes as part of the rejoicing. And that means rejoicing despite our life’s circumstances. Remember what he told the Thessalonians. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s something we need to practice! Because of all the things in our faith that do not come naturally or do not come easy, this is one of the biggest! Rejoicing “in all circumstances” is hard. But, if we will do it, if we will practice that, if we will strive to rejoice in prayer, then we will know the power of prayer!
Paul tells us what the results of this will be. “…and the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” There is the peace that this world craves! But the world doesn’t know where to look for that peace. It has held God at arms length for so long.
We have the opportunity, the amazing privilege to be in contact with God. We have the ability to come to the God of the universe, in prayer! Does prayer have power? More than we can possibly think! But it’s not a matter of the “Power to get what we ask.” That’s not the power of prayer. That is nothing compared to the power we have when we are in close communication and close fellowship with the living God! We have power to live our lives with joy. We have power to have peace. We have power to become more Christ-like every day.
The movie “Shadowlands,” is the story of C. S. Lewis. And in that movie, Lewis was losing his wife, Joy, to cancer. However, at one point the cancer was in remission and his good friend Christopher said to him, “I know how hard you’ve been praying Jack. And now your prayers have been answered.” And Lewis said, “That’s not why I pray. I pray because I can’t help it. I pray because it flows out of me without ceasing, waking or sleeping. Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me.”
That’s the true power of prayer! Prayer has the power to change us – in ways we can never even imagine – in ways that are greater than we can ever ask or think.
Lord, help us to know the power of prayer in our lives. Help us to rejoice in you. Help us to share our lives with you, not just the things we need. Help us to be in communion with you, to know the peace that is beyond our understanding, to feel your power within us as we live our lives in your very presence. Help us to pray boldly. Help us to not just say words when we pray, but to know we are in your presence. For these things we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.