Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sermon: The Prayer List

James 5 and Ephesians 3

Scripture study on Intercessory Prayer

Confounded by response to prayer list idea.

What are we doing when we pray? When we pray for the health and well-being of others, that is called an “intercessory prayer.” We are asking God to act on behalf of those we name and lift up to God.

There are many scriptures that affirm this method of prayer.

There are also many instances that I’ve heard of where God or children of God are abused because of the reality that not everything we pray for is granted.

We may lose people we love and are holding onto hope that they will recover. We may see our loved ones’ suffer terribly from illness or injury.

If you only go by some proof-text for the un-qualified power of prayer, like And whatever you ask for in prayer, having faith and [really] believing, you will receive.Matthew 21: 22, you will be faced with options that seem to me to be quite troublesome: that there actually is no God, that this God doesn’t actually care about you or your prayers anyway, or that you aren’t faithful enough.

I have heard and imagine you have too, stories that make me want to go back to scenarios and slap people in the face, such as when someone is suffering from grief at the loss of a loved one, someone uses that as a “teaching point” to try and convince them that their faith is lacking. “Well, if only you’d had more faith, if only you’d prayed harder, maybe this wonldn’t have happened.”
If someone said that to me with the intention of increasing my faith, I can assure you that they would have the opposite effect.

That kind of insensitive and blasphemous comment has the effect of destroying faith and faithful people, not enhancing faith or building people up.

I don’t see any merit in that kind of behavior. Jesus wasn’t “holier than thou,” Jesus made himself low for our sake.

There’s also all sorts of “Prayer of Jabez” and “The Secret” kinds of mumbo jumbo out there that takes such scriptures as that from Matthew and Mark 11 and other scriptures that seem to say, “You want it? You got it!” and uses them for the sake of assuring people that if you only do things “our way, (the right way),” then God will reward you with everything you ask for.

Preachers in this tradition typically buy all sorts of expensive cars and suits and helicopters with their parishioners money as a testament to the false truth they are proclaiming. “You can be like me if you only believe!”

This is the Gospel of Jiminy Cricket, not of Jesus Christ. No, “when you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you,” isn’t scripture, it is Pinnochio.

Jesus spoke and embodied the idea of suffering with, standing up for, the lost, broken, sick, outcast, and oppressed, not chastising them for being those things. Prayer isn’t wish-fulfillment. Prayer is “entering into the suffering of others.”

\First paragraph of Christian Century

Prayer may not bring us what we want. We may not see an improvement in the health of our loved ones when we pray for them. There is scientific evidence that prayer does have some effect on recovering people who know they are being prayed for, and even those who don’t know they are being prayed for, but how this all works is simply a mystery.

One thing that we can be assured of is that prayer works on the pray-er. Prayer opens our eyes to the good things that God is doing in all kinds of situations. Prayer strengthens our belief. “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,” said the man being healed by Jesus in Mark 9:24.

Prayer, as Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus, helps us “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

This is the truest purpose of prayer. It gives us and those for whom we pray the assurance that no matter what besets us, we are loved and cherished by God to an unfathomable degree.

And so when we pray, may we pray to be reminded of this wholeness toward which God is pulling us. This wholeness that can become manifest regardless of our physical condition.

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