professor of mathematics pointed out recently that all human beings are born with an awareness of numbers. “Even a little child knows that five strawberries are more than two, and they typically choose the most; and that is God’s inbred gift.” Also, we know that all creatures are born with an awareness of the Divine. It is also innate that we want to communicate with that otherness that we sense being there. Later we learn from older persons that our desire to communicate with that unseen presence is called praying to God. I ran across a sermon from June of 1975 where I included an illustration of how I asked our daughter at just over two years old, “Lyn, where is Jesus?” And she answered, “Up there!” Early on, she had been taught to name that presence she felt.
When I was doing clinical pastoral education training at Wesley Woods Geriatric Center, I asked a mentally challenged man, “Edward, what is prayer?” and he gave a remarkable answer, “Prayer is talking to God.” There is a God and He hears our prayers!
C. S. Lewis, said in one of his, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, “The prayer preceding all prayers is, ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’ …The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking, ‘But I never knew before, I never dreamed…’ I suppose it was at such a moment that Thomas Aquinas said of all his own theology, ‘It reminds me of straw.” (ch. 15, p. 81) Genuine insights about God come from the Infinite and not out of our finite minds. Most of what we know about God we have discovered in communion with Him through the ongoing process of praying without ceasing, or being in the attitude of prayer beyond words. Of course, we have all learned to check out our own insights against what the biblical commentators and trusted theologians have experienced. And ultimately, we know about God from His revealed Word. Personal insights received in communion with the Holy Spirit never contradict Scripture. And of course, revelations and petitions granted are all made possible as a result of Christ alive in our redeemed souls.
“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (13-16, NRSV)
Our text is saying that our Almighty God can change things. God’s ability to step into time and modify situations and events is the basic miracle. There are some few folks who down through the ages have said that they believe in God, but that He could not, or would not, step into our situations and do anything. Some were called Deists. Deism believed that God is like the Swiss watchmaker that made your watch wonderfully well but he will not ever see it again because he passed it on to you. Thus, they believe, or believed, that God has decided not to help and if your watch stops running you will have to seek out some other repair option.
This was not the experience of the early Church. James, the younger brother of Christ, whose remains may be in the small casket recently discovered in Jerusalem bearing the inscription, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus,” expresses the extravagant experience of the early Church that God did indeed step into their times and alter situations and events. They experienced a God who often changed things as a result of their prayers.
This continues to be the situation in today’s Church. We too experience a Loving Heavenly Father who cares for us and who meets our needs. This basic miracle of God answering prayer is the very basis of our world. Every time we pray we ask for God to intervene. We petition Him to, “Bless us and keep us, make your face to shine upon us, be gracious unto us and give us peace.” We pray for all things in all situations. In public worship our Pastors pray formal prayers of: Thanksgiving, Confession, Petition and Intercession. When the Pastor is in the hospital room we expect a prayer for God to go beyond even what modern medical procedures can do and to heal the sick through God’s power. Every believer prays every day, hopefully many times each day, because we have direct access to God.
Our shared experience is that God hears and answers our prayers. His phone is never busy. His internet address is always online. How would you feel if your Pastor walked away from your sickbed mumbling something about how it does no good to pray because God can’t help us anymore?
Any soldier in any foxhole can cry out to God at anytime and their prayer is heard and answered. Typically, the soldier is not miraculously transported up and out of the foxhole, but there comes a sense of assurance that God cares, that no matter what happens in battle things will ultimately work out according to God’s will. We always include the line in our prayers, “Thy will be done,” as did Jesus in His model of prayer, which we call, “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Typically, God changes things by changing us. If prayer is real it cannot help but remold us day by day as we pray through good times and bad, plenty and famine, rain and drought, health and sickness. As our prayers are answered we grow in grace and in love for God. Prayer is the spiritual exercise we need to reform us into the person that God has designed us to be. It is our connection to His Holy Spirit that can change the world by changing us, one redeemed sinner at a time. The question is will we allow the process take place in us?
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor