Ministry of Prayer

1 Timothy 1-7

Matthew 5:43-48

As we move through this series on Spiritual Leadership and Discipleship we considered God’s call for us to be “All In.”

We looked at the need to recognize we all are lost without the work of God in our lives and there are likely places in our lives where we still wander off and get lost.  We highlighted the reality that we can count on God’s persistent efforts to reach out to us and that we are called to follow Christ’s example by persistently showing love and not giving up on others.

This morning we take a look at the importance of prayer in our personal growth spiritually, as well as in our life as a congregation, in our life as citizens of the world God created, and as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

This is a praying congregation.  We intentionally set aside to time to pray together each time we worship and meet together.  You have a prayer chain that communicates by phone, text, and email, keeping everyone connected to the joys and concerns of this faith community and your geographic community.  You regularly witness to the power of prayer as healing is experienced, jobs found, circumstances change for the better, and more.

We carry our country’s political leaders and the military on our prayer list and regularly verbalize our petitions on their behalf during morning worship.

You understand the need for, as well as the power of, prayer in your faith journey.

This morning’s scripture builds on that understanding and pushes us to go even deeper, to move beyond where we may feel comfortable.

1 Timothy 2:1,  as paraphrased in The Message (MSG) says, “The first thing I want you to do is pray.

Before anything else, pray, Paul encourages Timothy.  So often prayer is what we do when nothing else seems to work.  It is our last resort, our aired-out long pass at the end of the game when we need those points to put us in the win column.  Corrie ten Boom asked “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”

It should be our steering wheel, the first thing we do in every situation.  John Wesley would rise up at 4 a.m. every day to seek God for the first four hours of the day.  In his later years Wesley was known to spend up to 8 hours in prayer.  He believed strongly that spending time in prayer was vital, explaining it in this way: “God’s command to “pray without ceasing” is founded on the necessity we have of his grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air.”

I fall well short of that four hour mark, but I intentionally begin each day in prayer, particularly lifting up those concerns shared during Sunday morning worship, and continue throughout the day as concerns are communicated to me through phone calls, visits, and social media.  I know many of you set aside time each day as well.

Wesley not only saw prayer as the first thing we should do, he believed that  “All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice.”[1]

Prayer, in that light is an ongoing conversation with our Creator, seeking direction in all that we say and do, Our connection to God and each other intrinsically intertwined into our actions as we reflect that conversation.

1 Timothy continues: “Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know,” with Luke 6:27-28 adding, “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.”  Echoed by Matthew 5:43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.

Pray every way you know, for everyone you know.  Wesley noted that “with all prayer (Eph. 6:18)” All sorts of prayer- public, private, mental, vocal. Do not be diligent in one kind of prayer and negligent in others… let us use all.”[2]

Supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.  Taking our praises, our gratitude, and our requests to God.

Prayers spoken, prayers lifted silently, prayers during worship and at meals, prayers at bedsides and while mowing the lawn or driving, prayers while listening to another’s story.  Prayers for those whose lives directly touch ours.  Prayers for those we hear about on the news.  Prayers lived out in how we interact with others.  Pray in every way you know, for everyone you know.

God desires that all people become a part of his eternal Kingdom and our prayers must go beyond our comfort zone to include all others because God is thinking global thoughts.  Even when we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for Romans 8 reminds us that “we do not know how to pray as we ought but the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs and groans too deep for words,”

Putting energies of prayer for even those who harm us, with whom we fundamentally disagree is opposite of what we naturally do.

Leaders who Paul knows and for whom he calls Christians to support and pray for, were really evil people.  Some of whom were so immoral as to make even some of the more crooked politicians of today look tame by comparison.   Theirs was not simply an administration or a government but an idolatrous cult completely at odds with all Jewish and Christian sensibilities.[3]

Anyone reading a newspaper, listening to the radio and television, or checking out social media knows that we are often divided on what we think is the best for our country in terms of leader selection.  In a world where there is so much injustice, our prayers for all people are needed even more today, particularly for politicians and leaders who can influence decisions on world debt, peace, and justice.

Applying these teachings changes the tenor of how we deal with those disagreements.  Prayers reflecting energies of prayer, our true selves, our God-created selves, seek good for those we view as enemies.  These prayers seek Holy Spirit directed decisions, health, and prosperity for those with whom we find it difficult to reach common ground.

Those in power shape our lives and how we share God’s good news in good ways and in bad ones.  Salvation of the World can only come in this brick and mortar world with the leaders who emerge from the systems which support them.  Praying that leaders follow the ways of Wisdom potentially changes them and definitely changes us as we move from words of hatred to words of grace.

This way of responding to those with whom we disagree or who actively work against us is reflected in these words of Jesus, as shared in today’s language, “If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff.  Live generously,”  and 48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”  And pray that way too.

Prayer unites us as God’s children, looking beyond self-interest, humbly recognizing the limitations of our point of view, and opening to greater guidance and wisdom.  It reminds us that ultimately it is really God who is at work in all things, which means our leaders and we aren’t ultimately in control of what happens.

Prayers lifted through our decisions and actions are as important as those lifted with our voices.  “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” Frederick Douglass once noted.  Living generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you, is an act of prayer, as are speaking out against injustice, and serving others.

This morning’s scripture offers us a suggestion on specific things to pray for: “Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.”  We are to seek their good, their wisdom, their success at governing so we can focus on our job of sharing God’s love to all with whom we come in contact.  To follow Paul’s example of getting the news to those who have never heard of God and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth that there’s one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free.

Our ministry of prayer joins the ongoing priestly ministry of Jesus as mediator and participates in the will of God that all should be saved.  Without an intentional prayer life that encompasses all types of prayer for all people, we cannot be truly disciples, we cannot lead others to spiritual truth.

We all have a great start, some among us are already pushing beyond the difficult to the impossible task of genuinely praying for the good of those who we see as strangers or enemies, together we can help each other move deeper into this conversation God is ready to have with us.

Please pray with me

We pray for leaders who need your wisdom.

We pray for followers who need your guidance.

We pray for seekers who need your presence.

We pray for sinners who need your mercy.

We pray for ourselves, that we may be faithful in things both big and small, and that our actions and words may be in service to you and your message of selfless love.  I your gracious name, we pray.  Amen.[4]

 

[1] From A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, as believed and taught by the Reverend Mr. John Wesley, from the year 1725, to the year 1777.

[2] John Wesley, How To Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer

[3] Center for Excellence in Preaching Proper 20C, cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-20c

[4] The Abingdon Worship Annual 2016 September 18, 2016

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