July 26th | Sermon text: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-21
A little girl was hurrying to church one Sunday morning and praying as she ran down the sidewalk. “Lord, don’t let me be late to Sunday School,” she petitioned. “Please God, I don’t want to miss it.” Just then she fell, scraping little hands and the knees, but was otherwise undaunted as she brushed off her dress and continued to run and pray. “Jesus, I don’t want to be late for Sunday School… but please don’t push me either!”
Why do pray? The Bible tells us to is not a sufficient answer in this case; there must be real reasons we can identify for it come up so many times throughout scripture. Before giving his disciples the Model Prayer, Jesus reminded them the Father knows our needs even before we ask. He has ordained the events of history so the very thing we are praying about may be something God is doing. So if God knows what we need and knows what he’s doing, why does he need to listen to us? He doesn’t. (Long pause to make sure everyone’s awake) God doesn’t need our advice, opinions, or to be told things he already knows. He doesn’t need to listen to us.. but he wants to. His desire and his instructions are for us to pray. So let’s talk about why.
Prayer is a demonstration of faith. Think about the earthly ministry of Jesus. After beginning his travels and calling the Apostles, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth. (Mark 6) He had already taught and preached to multitudes, cast out demons and calmed a storm. (Mark 3, 4, 5) But in Nazareth no one would listen to his teachings; they mumbled about him being the carpenter’s son and about who his mother and siblings were. Even he marveled at their lack of faith and as a result could do no great work there. How many times did Jesus ask someone if they believed, or say to the those being healed it is faith that made them well? Hebrews 11:6 says “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
Prayer declares that God can and also that we cannot. Praying to God not only demonstrates our faith in his strength but also admits our weakness. We acknowledge his ability and our inability. God doesn’t need to listen to our prayers but we need to offer them. Prayer is good for us because it brings us to the right place of not leaning on our understanding or trusting in our own strength. We bow our heads, we bend the knee, we close our eyes when we pray to give reverence and show humility as we come before the throne of grace. We offer thanks for the things we have received before asking for more; and for that matter prayer doesn’t always ask for things. Jesus warned his followers not to pray like the Pharisees or like the Gentiles and he and others in the New Testament warned against false teachers. Prayer is not a means for manipulating God into giving us stuff. Read the parable in Luke 18:9-14 and consider what it teaches about prayer. Prayer should put in our place.
We are in a relationship. You have probably heard “Christianity is a relationship not a religion.” There is some truth and wisdom in that statement but it could also be dangerous is misinterpreted or misapplied. It may be useful in apologetics but we must be careful the person we’re talking to understands what we mean. There are six major world religions and Christianity is certainly one of them. Jesus had a problem with the religious leaders of his day and as a religious form Christianity can be just as bad as any other. So let’s put all talk of religion aside and focus on this truth: God desires a relationship with his people. We’ve studied in Galatians how we are adopted into the family of God, brothers and sisters in the faith and heirs with Christ. Consider some Jesus’ final words with his disciples:
Jesus told his followers “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15) In chapter 13 they called him Master and Lord; Jesus now declares them to be more than servants, he calls them friends. Then in John 16: “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26-27)
God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven of earth… loves you. He desires to hear the sound of your voice. He is bottling up the prayers of the saints which will become a beautiful incense in front of his throne in heaven.
We pray because God told us to. He told us to because prayer is good for us; it is an expression of our faithfulness and a demonstration of our humility. Prayer is a gift from God that is good for us and good for him. Prayer should be a worshipful and delightful exchange. If it’s not something you look forward to and enjoy doing… maybe we should pray about that.
Peace and God bless.