The sermon this morning is going to be just a little bit different. I’d like to talk about prayer. Now prayer is one of those things that just about everyone agrees is a good thing; it’s something we should do; it’s something that’s important. So you’d think it would be something that was familiar and easy for us. But that just isn’t so. Many of us don’t find prayer easy at all. In fact, it can be downright difficult. We have things on our heart; we want to share them with God; we want to ask; we want to pray. But we don’t know where to start or the words to say. Especially if we have to say it out loud and in front of people.
In our second lesson this morning, the Apostle Paul says some things that I think are really helpful for us and I’d like to share them with you. Now this isn’t some kind of comprehensive sermon on prayer. Far from it. It’s just a few thoughts on how to make praying easier, using the lesson from Paul’s letter to the Philippians as our guide.
The first thing Paul says is, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” And he thinks that this is so important that he says it again, “Rejoice!” So this is the first thing that I think makes praying easier. You start with rejoicing. My pastoral mentor once told me something helpful. He said, “We praise God for his attributes and we give thanksgiving because of what he has done.” So praise, rejoicing, talks about what God is like. It might sound like this:
“Heavenly Father, you are merciful. You are loving. You are just.”
This is a good way to start prayer. You don’t have to know the words for what you are going to ask, you just start telling God what he is like. Now, there is an important point to be made here. The Bible is God’s revelation to us. It tells us an enormous amount about our God. And so when we tell God what he is like, it is good to use his own words. So when we are praying we start off by reminding God what he is like according to his Word. It might sound like this:
“Father, in Psalm 23 you tell us how you are our shepherd, and you tell us how you provide for us all the days of our life.”
This, incidentally, is one of the reasons it is important to read the Bible and to underline things and make notes. We want to be able to use God’s word to help us pray. We want to be able to use God’s word to tell him what he is like.
Now Paul tells us something more. He says this, “The Lord is near.” This is also important to know. God is listening. He’s got his ears perked up when you speak to him. In Paul’s time, and even in our own, people think about God being far away. They think about God being up in the clouds, up in heaven, somewhere other than here. “No,” Paul says, “God is near. He is listening. Speak to him and he will hear you.” It might sound like this:
“Father, in your word you tell us that you are our shepherd, and you tell us how you provide for us all the days of our life. And I am speaking up, I am coming to you in prayer because I know that you hear me. Your servant Paul assures me of this.....”
Then Paul tells us, “Do not worry about anything.” Now this is great advice, but it isn’t necessarily so easy to follow sometimes. How are we supposed to not worry? There are so many cares and troubles that can weigh on our minds. Here’s the thing, prayer is something that God has given us for this very thing. Prayer is the gift that God has given us so that we don’t need to be consumed with worry. So if we notice that we are, in fact, worrying about something, we know what to do. We are to pray about it. It might sound like this:
“Father, in your word you tell us that you are our shepherd, and you tell us how you provide for us all the days of our life. And I am speaking up, I am coming to you in prayer because I know that you hear me. Your servant Paul tells me this. Father, I have been worried. I am having trouble sleeping because I don’t know what I should do at work.....”
And then Paul continues, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving......” As I mentioned, we give God thanksgiving for what he has done. Knowing God’s word comes in handy here again because we can use it to tell God what he has done. It might sound like this:
“When your people
Israel were in the wilderness, after they came out of , you led them with a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire in the night. You led them when they didn’t know what to do. And I thank you that you are a God who leads his children.” Egypt
Now that was an example using God’s word, and I think it is important to use God’s word when we pray. But we can also use our own experience. We can tell God what he has done in our lives and thank him for it.
And then Paul says, “let your requests be made known to God.” This is pretty straightforward. This is the part where we ask for something. Now sometimes I think we can get the idea that we’re not supposed to do this. Or that we’re supposed to be apologetic about it . Some might say, “Don’t ask for full healing for your loved one, just ask for God’s will to be done.” Nonsense. You don’t need to be apologetic. You can ask. The Apostle Paul is telling you that it’s okay for you to ask. And some people might say, “But make sure you don’t ask for too much or for something greedy.” The way I look at it, which is worse, a Christian who asks God for too much? Or a Christian who is afraid to ask God for anything at all? I think it is worse to be afraid to ask. So go ahead and ask. Don’t be afraid. It might sound like this.
“Lord, show me what I need to do. Make it clear to me so that I can make the right decision.”
Now so far, all of what Paul has said are instructions. He’s telling us what we should do. Rejoice. Don’t worry. Give thanksgiving. Make your requests be made known. These are all commands. But now he gives us a promise. Now he gives us a promise, “And the peace of God which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is one of the important reasons for praying. We have a promise that by praying and by making known our petitions to God, we will receive peace. This isn’t the only reason that we pray, of course what we ask for is important too, but this peace that God gives us is an important promise that we shouldn’t forget.
So this is what the whole thing might sound like when we follow Paul’s advice for prayer:
“Father, in your word you tell us that you are our shepherd, and you tell us how you provide for us all the days of our life. And I am speaking up, I am coming to you in prayer because I know that you hear me. Your servant Paul tells me this. Father, I have been worried. I am having trouble sleeping because I don’t know what I should do at work. When your people
Israel were in the wilderness, after they came out of , you led them with a pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire in the night. You led them when they didn’t know what to do. And I thank you that you are a God who leads his children. You led me when I had that rough time when I was at school. Well, right now I don’t know what to do. I feel lost. Lord, show me what I need to do. Make it clear to me so that I can make the right decision. Thank you Father. And thank you for the peace that you give me. Amen” Egypt
Each little part, by itself, isn’t that intimidating. And we just piece the parts together and there we are, praying. It doesn’t have to be fancy. The main things are to remind God what his word says about what he is like and about what he has done, (he likes us to do this, by the way, because it means that we are trying to learn about our Father) and then the other main thing is to make our petitions. This isn’t the only way to pray, of course, but it is one way. And if you have trouble praying, I hope this will help. Amen.