Monday, January 12, 2015

SERIES: The Promises in the Promises #1. We Promise Our Prayers

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.  James 5:16(NLT)
When a person officially joins with a congregation, he or she makes a commitment to participate in the ministries, financial support, and decision-making of the church.  Therefore, the church not only counts members, it counts on them to be a formal part of the body of Christ and to accept and exercise their responsibilities in that role.  People who join a United Methodist Church commit to “uphold the church by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service and their witness.”  Honoring this membership commitment through a lifetime builds a strong community of believers who are disciples of Jesus Christ.[1]
Becoming a part of a group is always much more than signing on the dotted line.  In the case of becoming a part of the church of Jesus Christ it means transformation; it means receiving the DNA of eternal life.
In the formal “joining” of a local congregation there is a ceremony and we make promises to God and each other. 
Ultimately the promises we make when joining the United Methodist Church can be focused under one word:  discipleship!  To accept the call to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to place oneself at the disposal of God and in the service of his kingdom.
Now, working-out exactly what it means to be “in the service of God’s kingdom” can be vague if we don’t put a target out there upon which we can focus our energies.  So, as United Methodists we have found it Biblically-appropriate to let five promises (to God and each other) represent the measuring stick of what it means to be “in service”.  These promises are prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.
Today our focus is on prayers, the promise we make to pray for one another.  It’s no small thing that this comes first in the series; it also comes first in many Biblical texts which speak about Christian responsibilities towards one another.
·        Matthew 5:44 – pray for those who persecute you
·        Ephesians 6:19 – pray for those who work in the ministry
·        Colossians 4:3 – pray for opportunities to share the Gospel
·        1 John 5:16 – pray for those who are sinning
And, in our main text (James 5:16) we are strongly encouraged to pray for healing. 
It’s more than a little telling about the focus of most Christians, particularly in America, that, overwhelmingly when you have a “season of prayer” we bring up our physical health.  Take a look at the prayer lists and you’ll see; heart attacks to hangnails, we spend 99% of our time praying for comfort for ourselves and our loved ones. 
And that’s a little off-target when you consider that in Scripture, asking for prayer, and instructions about praying, focus much less on personal health and comfort, and much more towards the health and strength of God’s Kingdom. 

How To Be Faithful in Your Promise to Pray

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 1 Timothy 2:1  (NRSVA)
This morning I wish to take those four words supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings, and show you how they build the columns of a house of prayer:

First Word:  Supplications – We Bind

The prayer translated "supplication" comes from a root word that means "to bind."  In praying we are binding ourselves to the will and way of God.  We promise to be governed and instructed by His character and His claims on our life.  This comes out of a sincere recognition of our deep need for Him.
Near the end of Jesus’ ministry when He started talking about picking up crosses and death – the cost of discipleship, the crowds thinned-out.  Jesus asked the disciples:  Are you going to leave me too?  Peter had the right answer, Lord, to whom shall we go? (John 6.68b).
How does that work out in the life of the person who prays?  It means willingness to accept the answer that God gives – even if it’s not the answer we want.  One lady shared how her daughter demonstrated that willingness to be an intercessor, bound to God’s will:
One night my 11-year-old daughter Eva noticed I was distracted as I tucked her in to bed.  I told her about a friend’s teenage daughter whose hair was mysteriously falling out and I encouraged Eva to pray for Amy.  Her simple words, "Jesus, please hold Amy’s hair on her head," touched me.
As the doctors experimented with different treatments, Amy continued to lose her hair.  Eva continued to pray the same prayer. 
After six weeks the doctors determined Amy had alopecia, an extremely rare disorder where hair loss is unpredictable but can be complete and permanent.  When I told Eva, she took my hand and closed her eyes.  This time her prayer was different.  Dear Jesus, if you won’t hold Amy’s hair on her head, would you please hold Amy?  Tearfully, I realized how sometimes God doesn’t move mountains; he moves us.[2]
When you hit your knees recall often that we seek first the kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6.33); we bind ourselves to it!

Second Word:  Prayers – We Bend

When Paul says I urge …supplications and prayers …This word "prayers" is the prayer of prostration, or worship.  It is important to remember that prayer should be more than a monologue.  Listening is perhaps more important than talking to God.
The late president, Richard Nixon had a godly Quaker grandmother.  Her advice to him when, as a nine year old he asked why the Quaker meetings were so silent...
"What thee must understand, Richard, is that the purpose of prayer is to listen to God, not to talk to God.  The purpose of prayer is not to tell God what thee wants, but to find out from God what He wants from thee."[3]
Listening to God is a matter of getting it right about the attitude of bending, as the concept of worship demands.  Bruce Wilkinson has taken some heat for his books concerning the Prayer of Jabez.  Some misinformed folks have taken that prayer as a kind of mantra to be repeated constantly so they can get what they want.
The author recently told how one of the tabloid articles had placed the prayer of Jabez in a cut-out shield and told people how to position the shield on a lottery ticket to win the lottery – or place it under a pillow at night and sleep on it to get that special guy or girl.[4] 
That is not the worship of God; that is not prostration in prayer.  It is worship of self – and it is sin.  
Intercession is not hoping to change the heart of God, so that God changes the circumstances of a brother’s life, so he gets what he wants.  But we rather bend towards Him – seek Him, so that we might understand how we are to act in the circumstances whether God changes them or not.
The church in Florida to which my daughter belonged was meeting in an Elementary School.  They had grown to around 300 in attendance, but property was so expensive in that area it would take about $4 million to purchase the 15 acres they need.  They were praying for land, and the pastor of a small struggling mission (about 25 people) in that area came to the pastor of my daughter’s church, offering to merge with their church family.  Their land -- about 15 acres, with an option on 5 more, and the building – in the area they needed to reach – was given to my daughter’s church, debt-free, ready to build a new building.  
When you bend in His direction, he opens doors wide! 
We bind ourselves to His will; bend ourselves to His way, and…

Third Word:  Intercessions – We Be

Grammatical correctness is difficult to frame here.  However, the word translated "intercessions" is one of those nouns that really screams to be a verb!  To intercede in Bible times meant to plead with the king on behalf of a friend.  In our application, the real sense is to be; it is to be involved – in the middle, standing in the gap.
Estee Lauder said that most women don’t wear enough perfume.  They always think they should just dab a little on the wrists, and the pulse points.  NOT SO, says the lady.  "The best way to apply fragrance is to spray the air in front of you and walk into it.  Wearing perfume is a little like loving – you can’t be stingy.  You have to use it abundantly."
It just may be that Estee Lauder has given the best illustration of interceding in prayer.  We must fill our entire existence with the presence of God, and the problem our brother faces, and walk in it, abundantly!  
Bound to His will, Bent to His way, Being in His presence, and…

Last Word:  Thanksgivings – We Beam

The word is “eucharista” which is literally “the thanksgiving.”  It is the act of gratitude.  
Once again, prayer is active – part of a lifestyle, rather than a ritual.  Part of every believer’s daily (hourly) living ought to be an active, vibrant attitude of gratitude for God and fellow men and women.  
Let’s face it, if we are of the belief that everything happens under the control of God, and He is working it for good (Romans 8.28), then we must be thankful for all of it; we must be thankful even when we cannot understand what God is doing in our lives.
There are things I didn’t understand when I was younger.
·     I couldn’t understand how some childhood bullies I knew were not incinerated by lightning for their ways.  How could I be thankful for them?

·     I didn’t understand why my Dad had to work the graveyard shift.  He was working at night when I wanted him home.  But my lack of understanding at that point doesn’t change the fact that it was his love for his family that made him work just to keep food on the table.  I admire him now, understanding his sacrifice.  I admire his being there at ball games to cheer for me when he was probably exhausted from working those late hours.
·     I confess -- it is difficult for me to be thankful for mosquitoes and chiggers, but I will praise Him now (and ask Him why when I get home).
Bind to His Will, Bend to His Way, Be in His Presence, Beam with Thanksgiving….a lifestyle of intercession, praying for one another!

How to Respond

·     If you are a person who has a relationship with God the Father, because, in faith you asked His Son, Jesus to forgive your sins, and the Holy Spirit has placed you in the body….
·     and you recognize that it is time to get in the battle, and the front of the battle is where you are called, and you’re ready to follow your Captain Jesus wherever He leads…we say,
·    Come…come and die with us; die with us in the prayer room.
·    Come stand in the gap for your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.
·    Come stand in the gap as we pray for marriages and children.
·    Come stand in the gap as we storm the gates of Hell against drugs, alcohol and all the habits that enslave and impoverish and kill in our communities.
·    Come stand in the gap for your neighbors, our President and all leaders, and for missionaries around the world.
·    Come stand in the gap against sin, powers of the air, wickedness in high places.
·    Come stand in the Gap!
Come now and stand in the GAP!

[1]Website, Leadership section; General Board of Discpleship of the United Methodist Church
[2] Elisa Morgan in Christian Parenting Today. Christian Reader, Vol. 34.
[3]Chuck Colson, Born Again
[4] A Commitment to Prayer, ALAN PERKINS,

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