As you can see, the topic of the sermon is praying for others, and that’s what I’d like for us to think about this morning. But, before we do, let’s take a minute to go over what we know.
First, what is prayer? Prayer is simply talking and listening to God. It’s the essence of faith: Believing there is a God who loves you and delights in hearing what you have to say.
Plus, it’s a two-way street. Not only does God listen to your concerns and celebrations, God speaks through the voice of the Spirit. It’s not an audible voice, of course, it’s more like the voice of conscience prompting you to do this, or not do that. Through prayer, God’s Spirit awakens a consciousness, inspires a thought, nudges you to act – or gives you the patience not to act – according to God’s will.
Prayer is talking and listening to God. I tried to explain this in a children’s sermon one Sunday morning, and I’ll tell you up front, I fell flat on my face.
My premise was this: Talking and listening to God is like talking over the telephone: Like when Grandma calls, you can’t see her, but you know she’s there, and you can say anything you want, and she’ll understand. She just loves to hear your voice.
I brought an extension phone from home to use as a prop. I set it on the floor and made my little spiel, then I asked if anyone wanted to try it. I was hoping one of the older kids would volunteer. I figured they’d do a little play acting and sell the idea to the younger children. Instead, a three-year-old raised her hand.
Well, I didn’t have much choice. I handed her the receiver and said, “O.K., here you go. Just say anything you want to and God will be listening. Susanne put the receiver to her ear and just sat there. I prompted her again. “Go ahead, Susanne, just say whatever comes to your mind.” Still, she just sat there. The clock was ticking. The congregation was waiting. Susanne was stuck. Finally, I asked, “Is anything the matter?” She gave me this pitiful look and said, “But there’s no one at home.” So much for that idea.
However you want to explain it, prayer is talking and listening to God.
Then there are the forms of prayer. Paul mentions four: Petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. In confirmation class we use the acronym, “Acts.” A-C-T-S – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Supplication includes praying for yourself as well as praying for others, and that leads to the topic of the day. Paul says,
“I exhort therefore, first of all,
that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks,
be made for all men:
for kings and all who are in high places…”
(1 Timothy 2:1)
That’s a tall order. Praying for those you love is hard enough, praying for those you don’t know is even harder, and praying for those in positions of power borders on the impossible. Let’s take it from the top.
How often have you told a friend, “I’ll be praying for you,” and the next day, you forget all about it? You mean well, but you get busy doing other things, or you get distracted by some personal matter, or carried away by the news of the day. Others take a back seat.
Do any of you keep a prayer list? It’s a handy way to stay focused and make good on your intentions. It needn’t be elaborate. I used to keep quite a list on the back of a calling card. Nowadays, I suppose you could keep a list on your I-phone. Whatever works for you, the point is when you say, “I’ll pray for you,” do your best to follow through.
Praying for others is important, and sometimes it can be nothing short of miraculous.
Years ago, Kathy had a friend in the Dallas area who was on the verge of losing her home in foreclosure. So Kathy prayed for her. She prayed that a buyer would come along who wouldn’t take advantage of the situation. She got a letter a few days later. The friend told her that she’d had an offer on the house. Out of nowhere a man called and asked if her house was for sale. How did he know? It wasn’t even on the market. Kathy connected the dots: The moment he called was practically the same as the moment she prayed. Amazing.
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But what about those times when nothing happens, when your prayers seem to be all for naught?
• You pray for a loved one to be healed, but he or she dies anyway.
• You pray for a friend to overcome an addiction, but nothing changes.
• You pray for a couple to reconcile their differences, but they end up in divorce.
Does God answer some prayers, but not others?
I’ve heard it said that there are three answers to prayer: Yes, No, and Not Now. At times there seems to be a direct correlation between what you pray for and what happens. At times it’s as if you’d never prayed at all. And sometimes your prayers are answered years after the fact.
However it turns out, I like to think there’s a bigger picture than we know. As Paul said, “For now, we see in a mirror dimly …” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Some things are beyond our knowing. And, often, it’s in retrospect that we see how our prayers were answered. So, pray boldly and trust that God hears you and will bless those you pray for according to God’s will, in God’s time.
And know this: Praying for others is never a wasted effort. Even when your prayers seem to go unanswered, just your willingness to walk through a difficult time in prayer with someone you love means more to that person than you will ever know.
But Paul would have us go beyond praying for those we love; he tells Timothy to “pray for all men (and women).”
Face it: it’s a lot easier to pray for some people than it is for others. A friend of mine had a particularly contentious woman in his church. I called her a battle axe. He was nicer. He said, “She’s a just rough grade of sandpaper.” He loved her just the same and prayed for her as readily as he prayed for the other members of his congregation.
Pray for those who rub you the wrong way, but don’t stop there. Pray for your enemies, as well. Remember what Jesus told his disciples:
“… love your enemies, bless those who curse you,
do good to those who hate you,
and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you…”
Pray for your enemies. Pray also for those you don’t even know.
That’s actually easier than it sounds. We do it all the time. Take the shooting rampage at the Navy Yard in D.C. last week, where twelve innocent people were gunned down … or the horrific flooding in Boulder, Colorado, where something like five-hundred people are still missing … or the continual plight of refugees displaced by war and famine … you don’t know these people personally, but you pray for them, nonetheless, “Lord, have mercy.”
Praying for others, especially those you don’t know, is one of the hallmarks of Christian love. It links you with others across every conceivable barrier. You may not share the same culture or speak the same language, but you share a common humanity. Just as Christ died for the sins of the whole world, praying for others over the scope of the whole world brings us that much closer to living as one in Christ.
So, pray for all men and women, whether you know them or not, and, while you’re at it, pray for kings and all who are in high places.
Depending on who’s on the throne that can be a bitter pill to swallow. If you voted for President Obama and you’re happy with the upcoming changes in healthcare, he may be at the top of your prayer list. But if you voted against him, and you’re really concerned about “Obamacare” and how it’s going to affect the health of the nation and your health, in particular, it may be a stretch.
Pray for him, anyway. Pray for the President and all elected officials at every level of government. Follow the admonition of Paul, who told the Romans,
“Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities,
for there is no authority except from God,
and those who exist are ordained by God.”
Trust that God will use the power and influence of elected officials ultimately to accomplish his will. Take Peter’s advice: “Fear God, honor the Emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)
In closing, there’s one more point to make, and it’s the most important point of all: In praying for others, pray that they may come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul states:
“… (God) desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth.”
(1 Timothy 2:1-3)
To come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ is to drink from the well-spring of living water that will never run dry.
Remember the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman? Jesus asked for a drink, but the woman turned him down because he was a Jew and she was a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans weren’t supposed to drink from the same cup. That led to a brief exchange, then Jesus said,
“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again,
but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again;
but the water that I will give him will become in him
a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
It stands to reason: You’d be the first to pray that a thirsty man, woman or child would be given water to drink. Well, wouldn’t you also want them to discover for themselves the source of that water?
You’d be the first to pray for someone who’s hungry to be given bread to eat. Wouldn’t you also want them to taste the bread of heaven? Jesus said,
“I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will not be hungry,
and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
In a way, it’s similar to the old proverb:
“If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day;
If you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.”
To pray for others to be saved and come into full knowledge of the truth is to pray that they will experience for themselves the wonder of God’s love, the strength of God’s Spirit, and the confidence of knowing that God’s grace will be sufficient for their every need.
No matter how you slice it, the tangible stuff of this world can never make your life complete.
• Your dream home will never be as big or as luxurious as it could be;
• The ideal job will never be without its headaches;
• Perfect health won’t last forever.
True happiness and lasting peace can only be found in knowing the presence of God in your heart. Go back to the first question and answer of The Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief of man? The chief end of man is to know God and enjoy him forever.”
Once you know that Christ died for the forgiveness of your sins, that you are a child of God, and that nothing can ever separate you from God’s love, then you can face disaster, disease – even death – with confidence, knowing that your life is in God’s hands and, whatever the future holds, God will be with you to see you through.
So, pray for others … all others:
• Friends and family;
• Those you know and those you don’t;
• Those you like and those who rub you the wrong way;
• Your enemies and those who’d like to do you in;
• Your elected officials, whether you voted for them or not.
Pray not only that their physical needs will be met; most importantly, pray that they will come to know Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of their lives. And, as you pray for others, know that others will be praying for you.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2013, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.