April 28, 2013
Flourish – What’s So Important About Prayer?
Rev. Ron Geisler
A mother and her children were taking a tour of New York City and were in awe of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The children were especially curious about the votive candles at the front of the cathedral, so the mother invited each of them to light one. She explained it was customary to say a prayer of petition or thanks as the candles were being lit. “These are not birthday candles,” she said. “You’re not making a wish but asking for God’s blessings.
After the family bowed for a prayer, they began to walk away. The mother asked the kids if they had any questions about what they had just experienced. “No,” said the five-year old, “but if there’s a pony outside, it’s mine!”
Surveys have found that most Americans understand or believe there is value in prayer. Gallup says 9 out of 10 American’s pray. Andy Greeley surveyed atheists and agnostics and found 1 in 5 pray regularly. That seems like a contradiction doesn’t it? But life is tough and at some time all of us feel a need to pray.
Jesus expected that His disciples would naturally pray. Jesus said in Matthew 6, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.”
“When you pray,” “When you pray”, “When you pray…” Prayer is so vital, so essential; that it’s simply assumed those who worship God will pray.
But I found that as I was trying to write this message, it was very difficult for me to write about prayer. Prayer is so personal. It’s hard to put words to something so mysterious, so subjective. But prayer is an essential part of what it means to flourish in a vital relationship with God. This morning I want us to very simply consider a few reasons as to the “why” of prayer.
The first reason why we should pray is…
PRAYER IS HOW WE COMMUNICATE WITH GOD
I have wondered why God desires our prayers. He already knows what we need. If He wants to bless us, He can certainly do it. Why go through this seeming charade of prayer? But as we read through the Bible we see that our God is a personal God. Our God desires a relationship with His children.
Prayer is vitally important, because it goes to the heart of the Christian faith. Christianity is about a relationship; a love relationship between us and God through His Son Jesus. And prayer is the means by which we maintain and deepen that relationship. Prayer puts us in communication with God. If there’s no prayer, then there is very likely no relationship. If there is very little prayer, then at best there is very little relationship. We don’t pray because we love prayer. We pray because we love God.
Prayer is how we communicate to God. It’s your heart communicating to God’s heart. Prayer doesn’t depend on the volume, method or style; it’s the heart. We are to pray out of a heart that is filled with love for God.
But Jesus’ prayer life was not dictated by duty or responsibility. Jesus was motivated by His relationship with God. Jesus desired to stay in communication with His Heavenly Father. Why prayer? Prayer keeps us in communication with God.
We also want to pray because…PRAYER CHANGES THINGS
A church in a small Kentucky town was located next to a bar. The members of the church were concerned because they thought the bar was hurting their community. To make matters worse, the owner of the bar was an outspoken atheist who would taunt people from that church about their belief in God. The church decided to hold a prayer meeting on Saturday night to ask God to intervene and settle the matter once and for all. The church met and began to pray for God to close the bar down. During the prayer meeting a horrible thunderstorm went through the town. To the delight of the church members, lightning struck the bar and burned it to the ground! The next morning in church the preacher preached on the power of prayer. Insurance adjusters promptly notified the bar owner that they wouldn’t pay for the damages. The fire was caused by an “act of God,” and that was an exclusion in their policy. The bar owner was furious. He decided to sue the church, claiming they had conspired with God to destroy his building and business. The church denied they had anything to do with the cause of the fire. The judge in the case opened the trial with these words: “I find one thing in this case most perplexing. We have a situation where the plaintiff, an atheist, is professing his belief in the power of prayer, and the defendants, all faithful church members, are denying that very same power!”
Scientific studies have shown that prayer changes circumstances. One study from the Columbia University School of Medicine showed that people undergoing risky cardiovascular surgery had fewer complications when they were the focus of prayer groups.
Maybe at this point you are thinking of prayers that God hasn’t answered. What about the person who did pass away because of sickness or complications? What about the mother who has prayed for a child, but he turned against God? The list of our unanswered prayers can be endless.
I confess I do not know why God answers some prayers positively and others not according to our desires. But this is where faith must come in. I love this quote from Soren Kierkegaard, “God answers every prayer, for either He gives what we pray for, or something far better.”
Prayer changes things. Yet, prayer is not magic, it comes out of relationship. Some people almost see prayer as a Genie in the bottle. But prayer is really not about you or me, prayer is about God. Prayer is not about manipulating God to see our will accomplished, but it is about joining with God to see that His will is done.
Ultimately, we pray because…PRAYER CHANGES ME
God’s desire is that we change. You become like the people you spend time with. The more time you spend with God in prayer and in His Word, the more you become like Him. Prayer changes me.
I have noticed that as I mature in my faith I am praying fewer “give me” prayers and more “make me” prayers. Instead of asking God to give me a better marriage, I pray that God would make me a better husband. These “make me” prayers are something all of us should learn.
Instead of praying for God to give me a better job, pray God make me a better employee. Instead of praying for better children, start praying for God to make me a better parent. Instead of praying for better parents, pray for God to make me a better child. Instead of praying for a better church, pray for God to make me a better Christian.
Let’s never be content with where we are in our relationship with God. We all need to grow and change and become more like Jesus.
Prayer changes me.