Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 21)

Text: James 5:16b
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (NIV).

Prayer is powerful and effective

Prayer is an important part of the religious life. Remote tribes present offerings and then pray for every day things such as health, food, rain, children and victory in battles.
Moslems pray 5 times a day.
Martin Luther devoted two to three hours daily in prayer.
An order of nuns known as ĎThe Sleepless Onesí pray in shifts every hour of the day and night.

George Muller established orphanages in England and by 1870 had more than 2,000 children under his care and 23,000 children had already passed through his homes. He never asked anyone for financial assistance or went into debt even though building the homes for orphans was extremely expensive. Every day he spent several hours in prayer imploring God for the practical needs of his orphanages. Many times, he received unsolicited food donations only hours before they were needed to feed the children, further strengthening his faith in God.

There are many great pray-ers in history but I wonder how many of us can claim to be among them. Maybe we are a bit more like the people Philip Yancey interviewed.

This is what he found as he asked, "Is prayer important to you? Oh, yes.
How often do you pray? Every day.
Approximately how long? Five minutes Ė well, maybe seven.
Do you find prayer satisfying? Not really.
Do you sense the presence of God when you pray? Occasionally, not often".
Many of those he talked to experienced prayer more as a burden than as a pleasure. They regarded it as important and felt guilty about their failure to pray.

Prayer along with reading our Bibles has become a victim of our modern busy every day lives. We have the constant problem of not enough.
Not enough time,
not enough rest,
not enough exercise,
not enough leisure,
and certainly not enough time to pray.

If we want to bare our souls and find solutions to our problems there are therapists, counsellors and support groups. Who needs prayer?

Communication with other people has become shorter as we send text messages, emails, instant messaging, blogs and this kind of communication is being transferred to the way we communicate with God. Prayer has become like sending God a text message. Short, instant, not much thought, not much time or effort involved. There is a place for text message type prayers but it becomes a sad state of affairs if that is the only we communicate.

Prayer has been described and defined in many ways. Philip Yancey talks about prayer in a general way, "We pray because we want to thank someone or something for the beauties and glories of life, and also because we feel small and helpless and sometimes afraid. We pray for forgiveness, for strength, for contact with the One who is, for assurance that we are not alone". (Philip Yancey, Prayer - does it make any difference? 2006 Hodder & Stoughton pg 5).

Henri Nouwen says, "To pray is to walk in the full light of God, and to say simply, without holding back, "I am human and you are God". Prayer is a declaration of our dependence upon God.

O Hallesby states, "Our prayers are always a result of Jesus knocking on the doors of our hearts".
"Prayer is simply telling God day by day in what ways we feel that we are helpless."
"It is by prayer that we couple the powers of heaven to our helplessness, the powers which can turn water into wine and remove mountains in our own lives and the lives of others".
Hallesby has so many wonderful descriptions about prayer. One more quote.
"Prayer is given and ordained for the purpose of glorifying God. Ö If we will make use of prayer, not to wrest (force) from God advantages for ourselves or our dear ones, or to escape from tribulations and difficulties, but to call down upon ourselves and others those things which will glorify the name of God, then we shall see the strongest and boldest promises of the Bible about prayer fulfilled also in our weak, little prayer life. Then we shall see such answers to prayer as we had never thought were possible" (Prayer, 1994 Ausgburg Fortress pp 5, 26, 82 & 130). To pray is to let Jesus into our need and leave it to him what will best glorify his name.

At the time when the South African government was brutally enforcing apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed a gathering at a university. The crowd of students were clearly enraged about the violence in South Africa and asked what they could do to force change.

The archbishop replied, "I'm going to tell you all what you most need to hear, the single most important thing you can do for South Africa." The building fell silent. "Pray," he said softly. "Pray for my people. Pray for us and with us, daily. Pray. That's what you can do. That will change the world." Desmond Tutu was saying that violence, revenge and hatred do not bring glory to God. Pray for the solution that will.

Not quite what the crowd expected but it was clear that the archbishop believed that prayer was the answer to the helpless situation in his country. This is taking God at his word, "Call to me when trouble comes; I will save you, and you will praise me" (Psalm 50:15). It is taking Jesusí invitation seriously, "Everyone who asks will receive, and he seeks will find, and the door will be opened to him who knocks" (Matthew 7:8). Tutu believed that "the prayer of a righteous person (a person who is reconciled to God through Jesus) is powerful and effective".

William Barclay tells this story. In the days when the work of a domestic servant lasted all day and half the night, a servant girl said, "I haven't much time to do things, but at night when I go to bed, I take the morning newspaper with me. I read the birth notices, and I pray for the little babies who have just come into the world. I read the marriage notices, and I pray that God will give these people happiness. I read the death notices, and I pray that God will comfort those who are sad." Barclay continues, "No one in this world will ever know what blessing to unknown people came from an attic bedroom from one who prayed." This young woman spent her precious spare time interceding for the needs of others, for strangers. She knew their names but not their faces, but that didn't stop her bringing their needs before the throne of God in prayer. As James states, "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective".

In 1540 Lutherís good friend, Frederick Myconius, fell ill and was close to death. When Luther heard of his illness, he immediately wrote a letter saying, "I command you in the name of God to live because I still have need of you in the work of reforming the church. Ö The Lord will never let me hear that you are dead, but will permit you to survive me. For this I am praying because I only seek to glorify God." Myconius had already lost his ability to speak by the time Lutherís letter arrived. In a short time he was well again and died 6 years later - two months after Luther. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective".

I refer to Desmond Tutu again. After the changeover in South Africa, Tutu was given the arduous task of presiding over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For two years he heard horror story after horror story of beatings, rape, murder, torture and cruelty. One day he was asked, "Why do you pray and how do you find the time for prayer and meditation?" Tutuís answer was simple. "Do you think Iíd be able to do this stuff if I didnít?"

We might not be under the same strain and pressure as Desmond Tutu as he tried to reconcile all parties involved in the atrocities, but we certainly have our own difficulties and problems that put us under strain and pressure. Shouldnít we be saying what Tutu said? "How can we expect to deal with all this stuff if we donít spend time with God in prayer and meditation?"

When the forces against us are greater than we can endure or possibly hope to deal with and when our own resources whether physical or emotional or spiritual are at a low point, how can we hope to rise above everything that rages against us? We might try but we canít. It all seems too hard and hopeless. And as we wallow in despair and frustration Jesus is inviting us, calling us, commanding us to ask and seek and knock in prayer. He is ready to use his power on our problems. He urges, "Call to me when trouble comes; I will save you, and you will praise me".

But why is it that we find it so hard to pray? Why do we neglect this rich source of strength and power for our daily lives? I probably donít need to tell you the reasons why because we are all guilty. I guess at the bottom of it all is that it takes effort to pray.
It takes effort to make time available every day to pray.
It takes effort to be quiet and still for just a short while.
It takes an effort to stop during a busy day and to spend time talking with God.
It takes an effort at the end of a long day to stay awake long enough to pray.

We readily and easily pray when there is a pressing need, when sickness or despair strike, but for the rest of the time prayer is often seen as a burden, as an effort, though it takes far less effort to pray than taking the wheelie bin out to the curb.

We may doubt the value of prayer; we may lack the confidence that it really does anything. In fact, if we truly believed in the power of prayer we wouldnít have any problems spending time with our heavenly Father in prayer. Prayer requires practice and perseverance if it is to become a gift from God that is well used. Prayer is not a quick fix to everything that upsets us. Maybe God's answer is quite different to what we expected. But whatever the answer we know that it is an answer that comes from the perfect love of God and that our prayer then ought to be asking for a willingness to accept the answer God gives.

Remember Paul prayed again and again for healing but God's answer wasnít the healing that he expected. Godís answer drew Paul into a deeper and closer understanding and trust in God's grace to help him through the most difficult times - a lesson that would stick with him as he sat in gaol or was taking a beating. The answer was different to what he was praying not because Paul lacked sufficient faith, or that what he was asking was unreasonable, or that God wasnít interested. God's answer assured Paul that he was loved and cared for in a most wonderful way every day as he struggled with his debilitating illness.

Sometimes when we are at our lowest words are difficult. Prayer then becomes relaxing and sitting quietly in his presence. Focus on a verse from the Bible that reminds you that the Lord is able to take care of you in even the most extreme circumstances. Let God speak to you rather you do all the talking. Prayer and meditation go hand in hand. How can we know what God wants for us if we never listen and are always talking?

If you arenít able to pray, ask for the Holy Spirit to help you in your prayers and to assure you that God has not deserted you and his love for you is even stronger in your time of need even though you might not necessarily feel it at that moment.

Our loving Father and Saviour assure us that prayer is never wasted energy. We are certain "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective".

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
27th September 2009
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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