THE POWER OF PRAYER: PRAYING TO GOD
By Uriah J. Fields
Texts: "...pray to your Father" (Matt. 6:6)
"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful
and effective. (James. 5:16)
"Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all
kinds of prayers and requests. With this in
mind, be alert and always keep on praying
for all the saints. (Eph. 6:18)
I have not come here today to deliver a "pity-patty" or flowery sermon. Hopefully, this sermon will help to increase awareness of the "power of prayer" and empower you to make greater use of prayer. Prayer is a tremendous weapon to have in one's spiritual arsenal. It is also an instrument of compassion that can be use to affect healing and increase meaning and joy in living.
I want to talk today about "Prayer," more especially on "Praying to God." Upon first hearing my concern about "praying to God one may be inclined to retort, "Who else other than God can we pray to?" Well, what I am about to say may answer that question and bring into your awareness something that you may already know but need to consider as a significant matter.
So, it is not just prayer or, to pray, but pray-ing that is the basis of this message. The "ing" on pray is the verb form of the present participle. Usually this is the case when "ing" is used, however, it may be used as adjective such as in the case of swashbuckling (which means boasting or blustering: Bravo). Of concern to us is the word pray-ing...praying to God.
Recently, I wrote a 500-plus word discourse that expressed my displeasure with an article that appeared in the "Washington Post Parade." That article titled, "Why Prayer Could be Good Medicine," was written by Dianne Hales. At the end of the article was a prayer written by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, author of "Why Bad Things Happen to Good People." In my critique of that article I questioned the methods used, mostly by university professors, who researched the effects of prayer on health. Frankly, I do not believe that they are among the best qualified people to evaluate the effects of prayer on health or the relationship of prayer to health. Let me say there is no doubt in my mind that prayer is good medicine. And in some instances it makes medicine unnecessary. I know that has been true for me. Wise man Solomon said "A merry heart does good like a medicine. (Proverbs 17:22)
But my main gripe with that article...and it is a big gripe... is with Rabbi Kushner's prayer that appears at the end of the article which was supposingly written for the world, particularly, the practitioners of the world's religions. Perhaps, it was written so as not to offend anyone, be that person a Christian, Jew, Muslim, or an adherent of some other faith. So with intentionality Rabbi Kushner refused to use the name God or Allah, or any other name. In Rabbi, Kushner's prayer, unlike in the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, written in the twelfth century, that begins with "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace," Martin Luther's prayer in the form of his song, written in the fifteenth century, "A mighty Fortress is Our God," and the Psalmist's prayer in the last Psalm of the Bible that begins with "Praise you the Lord, Praise God," Kushner began his prayer talking about the rain and did not use the name God or address his prayer to anyone in general or in particular. He addressed his prayer to nobody. When I read it I was immediately reminded of James Baldwin's novel by the title, "Nobody Knows My Name." Yet, God's name is widely known the world over. The very first verse of the Bible begins with "In the beginning God" (1 Gen. 1:1) God speaking of Himself said, "I am the Lord thy God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Exodus 20:2). In the same chapter we read, "I the Lord your God am a jealous God. (Exodus 20:50. In the Gospel of John it is recorded, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (1 John 1:1). The Word who John speaks about is Jesus. The Bible tells us that "Wherefore God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father," (Philippians 9:11). Jesus said to Philip, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (John 14:9)
Yet, Kushner says, "Let the rain...sun...earth...and mountains" perform extraordinary feats without acknowledging the Creator of the rain, sun, earth and mountains. That omission is more than a missing link. Indeed, this is a serious matter. How can we acknowledge the created without acknowledging the Creator of the created? How can we let the Creator go nameless when he has said, "I am the Lord thy God?" How can we pray to a nameless something or somebody or to a nameless nothingness or nobodiness? What disrespect we show when we make any attempt to ignore, disregard or deny the existence of God?"
"Good name in man and woman,
Dear my Lord; is the immediate
jewel of thy soul,
Who steals my purse, steals trash,
'Tis something, nothing, "twas mine, 'tis his,
And has been slaves to thousands,
But he that filches
from me my good name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed"
And to answer Shakespeare's question "to be or not to be?" the nameless answers "not to be," And to his question, "What's in a name?" we can only ask, another question, "What's in no name at all?"
Howard Thurman, a mystic and believed by many to be the premier theologian of the twentieth century, sheds some light on "namelessness" as he talks about "a strange freedom that it is to go nameless. In his book, "The Inward Journey," he writes:
"The name is a man's watermark
above which the tide can never rise;
It is a strange freedom to be adrift in the
world of men...to go nameless."
And, of course, it is unthinkable, by any stretch of the imagination, for the only One who has a name above all other names, who is God above gods, to go nameless. More than unthinkable, is an anathema, blasphemy, atheistic couched and skewed demoralized intentionality. To refuse to acknowledge God in one's prayer is unacceptable. The person who does that will not find a comrade among the saints or those who know God and love Him. No not among those who do not only know God but know Whose they are. Shame on Rabbi Kushner!
Call God something. Call him by some name, even if it is not his name. In your prayer do not let the Creator go nameless. For he calls you by your name. "He calls his own sheep by name." (John 10:3) "In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:6). (Some call it et cetera...evolution, natural phenomena, beauty, religion, love.... I call it God!)
I have addressed Rabbi Kushner's refusal to use the name of God in his prayer at length and with considerable emphasis because there is a growing tendency on the part of many people, including some professing Christians, to refuse to use the name Jesus Christ because they do not want to offend some people who are not Christians. They say that they want to be religiously and politically correct. But they could never be more religiously and politically incorrect than when they refuse to acknowledge God. "Let God be God!" "... let God be true, but every man be a liar" (Rom. 3:4). Jesus said. "...whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 10:33).
Having said the aforementioned, now I want to focus on "The power of prayer," and particularly on praying to God. Let me repeat, praying is a present tense action. It is praying now and now praying.
Forget about the prayers you prayed in the past. In the "Lord's prayer," or more correctly, "the model prayer of Jesus," we read, "Give us this day, our daily bread." This day. We must pray every day just as we eat every day. We need to pray more often than we eat. We are told in the Bible that "Daniel prayed three times a day." (Daniel 6;10). In the three-word Scripture verse found in First Thessalonians 5:17, we are admonished to "Pray without ceasing." to do that a person must have a prayerful lifestyle. To put it another way, his life must become a prayer, from which all of his other prayers emanate.
It is important to learn to pray. I have for many years been impressed by the fact that it is recorded that the only thing that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to do was to pray, "Lord, teach us to pray." (Luke 11:1) We are told. "For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." (Romans 8:26).
Prayer is a form of communication between God and man and man and God. But it is not the only form of communication between man and God. However, it is a unique process of two-way communication between God and man. It involves language which, of all creatures, this is unique to humans. In prayer a person can say to God just as Jesus did, "Not my will, but your will be done." How often does "just a little talk with God makes things all right." As a song says, "Sometimes a prayer will do." Yes, we need to pray. Prayer makes a difference. Prayer is power. God answers prayer, but not always as we wish. Jesus prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as thou will." (Matt 26:39). But God did not remove that cup from Jesus. Prayer changes things, but more than that, prayer changes the person who prays and often those he prays for.
When we focus on the prayer life of Jesus we gain tremendous insights into prayer and its many ramifications. The references in the Bible to Jesus' prayer life are myriad. Jesus had a constant dependence on prayer. It was as if he could not live without prayer. Listen up! "When Jesus had been baptized and was praying, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon him." (Luke 3:21). "And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray." (Mark 6:46.) "And he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven he blessed them." (Matt. 14:`19.") "And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed" (Luke 5:15-16.) "And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus. And it came to pass that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God." (Luke 6:11-12). "And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him; and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am." (Luke 9:18) "Simon, Simon, Satan has claimed the right to sift you all like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail." (Luke 22:31-32). "Then he went outside and made his way to the Hill of Olives, as he was accustomed. The disciples followed him, and when he reached the spot he said to them, "Pray that you may not slip into temptation. He withdrew about a stone's throw and kneeled down, and prayed. (Luke 22:39-41). Jesus gave a loud cry, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is,being interpreted, My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). Then with a loud cry Jesus said, "Father, I trust my spirit into thy hands." (Luke 23:46.)
For Jesus, God breathed through all that is...everything...and he was/is everywhere; all and in all. He expressed this God-consciousness in his prayers and in his prayer life.
SOME AIDS TO PRAYER
First acknowledge God. We repeat, "Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:6). Second, learn the value of silence as an aid to prayer. Silence is golden. Silence is a valuable prelude to prayer and as an interval or intervals so that we may listen to God during prayer. But silence is not in and of itself prayer. It cannot be substitute for prayer. Jesus taught his disciples to verbalize their prayers. He said to them, "When you pray SAY our Father." He didn't say think or imagine. He said, "Say." I do not pray or say grace silently, because I do not feel that a person can best say his prayers or grace silently, if he can speak.
Say silently to your neighbor; "how much money you want to borrow from him." Oh, how a parents would enjoy having their children to silently ask them for money to spend at MacDonald. If children and parents know the value of saying to another person what they want from him, how much more should we who are of age know how to say in praying to God. James Montgomery wrote: "Prayer is the soul's sincere desire, un-uttered or expressed, the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast." To that I say, "The breast may tremble when we pray, but prayer is uttered. Indeed, it is uttered. After all, we do not have any difficulty with uttering our messages. Think about how much gossip and garbage we utter. Today, many people cannot get along without cell phones. Why not take time to utter your prayer? We are told in the Bible, to repeat, that "For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Rom. 8:28). This says to me that when we have uttered our message to God but still fall short the Spirit takes over and speaks to God what we are incapable of saying to Him. I remind you, it is not the Spirit who does all the uttering. We must do our share of uttering....or praying aloud... to God. Silence then is for "centering down," but, to repeat, it is not a substitute for prayer. Nearly everyone seems to be busy, even if it is just simply being a busy-body. Talk to a person and the second thing you are likely to hear is how busy he/she is. We have been made to feel guilty if we are not busy. Other animals have more sense, even horse sense, in this regard. I have seen horses and other animals take "do-nothing" time.
Contemplation is also a valuable aid in praying. Contemplation is spiritual concentration that enables a person to clear the deck before taking action in dealing with challenges or the future. During contemplation we may be able to sense the Presence of God and know that God's creation is sacred; that nothing is secular.
Communion is another valuable aid in praying. Communion is a process that helps a person to pray effectively. By communion we do not mean the act of receiving the physical sacrament. That is another kind of communion. Communion by virtue of both it's gravity and all-encompassingness is more than communication. Yet, it is communication and something more. It is the ultimate wonder of human experience. It is the inner condition or experience of a person when he is at one with an idea, an object, or another person, while being in spiritual union with God. Paul Johnson puts it this way:
"To commune is to enter into a relationship
of interpersonal union, where one feels--closer
is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and
feet,--where the wound of absence is healed
and the pain of loneliness assuaged in a
companionship so deep and intimate that it
seems if social distance melts away and life
is now complete in belonging to the
Yes, communion or communing with God is coming to that place where a person has a sense and awareness of his oneness with God and His creation. When all else is a part of me and I a part of all else; and I am so full of God that there is only God-consciousness, it is then that I am in that process called communion. In the experience of communion there a person's own deep, personal and private sense of sin and guilt may surface. In the redeeming love of Christ guilt and the forgiveness of sin are miraculously removed. Believing or accepting this cleansing enables a person to past from death to life or darkness to light. It is at such time a person senses being totally understood.
There are many kinds of prayers. A brief word on intercessory prayer. This is where a person prays, asking God's favor for another person. We are admonished to pray for others. "If any among you are afflicted? let him pray." (James 5:13) "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." "Pray one for another." (James 5:16). A person prays for loved ones because he has to, not merely because his prayer may accomplish something beyond this. The person who shares his concern for others with God in prayer does two things at the same time: He exposes the need of the other person to his total life and resources and secondly, he may quicken the spirit of his friend to a sudden upsurging of the hunger for God, with the result that he is in the way of help from the vast creative energies of God. I cannot prove this, but it happens again and again in the religious experience of the human race is a part of the data of the prayer experience itself. Abraham Lincoln said, "More things have been wrought by prayer than man ever dreamt." To that many say "amen."
Prayer may be an overflowing of utter praise, adoration, and celebration. Prayer maybe an overflowing of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving not necessary for blessings that God has granted but thanksgiving that God is God and the soul is privileged and blessed with the overwhelming consciousness of this. Rufus Jones said, "Prayer at its best is when the soul enjoys God and prays out of sheer love of Him.
There is no particular posture that one has to be in to pray. Kneel if you want to. But know that you can pray at any time and at any place. You don't have to close your eyes to pray, even though sometimes it is good to do so, if for no other reason than to lessen the distractions that elicit your attention.
We are not without prayer witnesses. Their testimonies are numerous. "Abraham prayed unto God; and God healed Abimelich, and his wife, and his maid-servants; and they bare children." (Gen: 20:17). Shortly after this occurrence Abraham's wife Sarah conceived. "And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, and your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain. And God granted him what he requested." (1 Chronicles 4:10). Daniel prayed in the Lion's den and was delivered. "So Daniel was taken out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God."
(Daniel 6:23). "And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord..and "Thus said the Lord, the God of David the father, I have heard thy prayer...And I will add unto your days fifteen years." (2 Kings 19:15 & 20:5). Certain Jews, Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego who was ordered out into the fiery furnace by king
Nebuchadnezzar prayed: "Then Sharach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth out of the midst of the fire" (Daniel 3:21 & 26). Speaking of Peter and John the Scripture says,"And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke the word of God with boldness." (Acts 4:31). Prayer from the jail:" And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. (Acts: 16:25-26). I have many prayer testimonies from my life experiences. I am a witness that God answers prayer. Jesus prays for me. He said, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them, also who shall believe on me through their word: That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us." (John 17:20-21). We have not become one yet, but we will. "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Everybody! (Philippians 2:10-11). Everybody! ("He is Lord").
The experience of prayer, can be nurturing and cultivated. It can create a climate in which person's life moves and function. Indeed, it may become a way of living for the individual. This was the remarkable impact of the life of Jesus upon those whom he encountered. It was this that stilled the raging of the madman, that called little children to Him, that made sinners know that their sins were forgiven. His whole countenance flowed with the glory Father. And the secret? "A great while before day, he withdrew to a solitary place and prayed, as was his custom." "As was his custom." Let this be your custom, to pray.
We all need the power that comes from praying. We all need to learn how to pray powerfully; to pray in the Spirit. "If my people... would pray...sin forgiven...heal their land."
When to pray? "Every time I feel the Spirit moving in my heart I will pray." We must learn how to be in the Spirit. The Apostle Paul declares, "I will pray in the spirit." (1 Cor.14:15). We are told that Jesus was led by the Spirit." He declared, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel...to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free." (Luke 4:18). In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, John declares, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day." Every day is the Lord's day. The Psalmist exclaims "This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24). Amen.
Copyright 2009-2015 by Uriah J. Fields
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