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July 22, 2013, 1:57 PM

Sermon Text from Sunday

"Gabbing with God"   July 21, 2013.

Text:  James 5:13-18

I want to talk about prayer today.  You are probably wondering why I would choose a sermon title like "Gabbing with God."  Gabbing is chatter-like conversation that is characterized by thoughtlessness, informality, relative unimportance and aimlessness.  In other words, gabbing is an insignificant flapping of the jaws.  Let me quickly add that my purpose for such a title was not for humorous affect or to be trite or profane.

My aim is that you might understand that it is okay to just "gab" with God.  Prayer invites you into a close, personal, warm relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Prayer invites you to bring all matters of the heart and mind to the foot of the Throne.  From the profound and sublime and serious on the one end of the spectrum, to the insignificant and uncanny and superfluous on the other side of the equation.  There is nothing too small, trifling or out of bounds to bring to God in prayer.

Some classic prayer passages in the New Testament lead me to believe that I am not guilty of the awful preacher sin of exegetical overload here:  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says,  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.... (ESV).  Ephesians 6:18, ...Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (ESV).  Colossians 4:2, Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (ESV).

I want you to note that not only are we encouraged to pray about all things, but note as well the frequency of prayer.  It is continuous.  AlwaysWithout ceasingAll timesContinue.  Not just an occasional activity.  Not just when you have something real serious to pray about.

In our passage this morning, the letter from James closes with a powerful, practical lesson on prayer:

Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing praise.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him....And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick....Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-15, 16 ESV).

However, even though the words of the Lord's Prayer rolls off the tongue effortlessly each Sunday, we just don't seem to do it much outside the formality of the worship service.  In spite of the Biblical exhortations to open up and let it flow in prayer, we do not pray as we should.  Theoretically, we believe that the Bible teaches us to pray.  We say that we believe in the power of prayer.  We do ask people to pray for us.  We reassure others that we can and will pray for them.  We know that we should be praying.  But we don't.

I wonder why sometimes.  I want to share a few reasons that prayer is neglected. Some reasons/excuses that I want you to think about:

  1. You don't really believe what you say you believe about prayer.
  2. You secretly think that prayer is just a crutch for weak people.  Superstitious, even.
  3. Or, on the flip side of that, you have a nagging suspicion that prayer accomplishes nothing.
  4. Sadly, some of you have been let down before when you prayed and didn't get an answer or the outcome you desired.
  5. You don't think that you are good enough to pray.
  6. You suppose that you are not as eloquent as you need to be.  That it is too hard and demanding.
  7. Perhaps, some of you think you don't need to pray because somebody else will do it.
  8. You delude yourself into thinking that life will happen just the same whether or not you pray.
  9. You imagine that prayer is only for the really holy people that really love Jesus.
  10. You will do it one day.  Some day.  When I get more religious, or something.
  11. You are embarrassed about praying publicly in front of other people.  You're self-conscious.
  12. You believe that prayer is a waste of time.
  13. You don't want to make time to pray.  Too tired.  Too busy.  Too many irons in the fire.  Too pressed for time.  Too depressed.  Too stressed.  Too distracted.  Too disappointed.  Too scared.  Too angry.  Too bad.  Too skeptical.  Too selfish.  Too protective of your free time.  Need more me-time.  Too many other things to do that seem more urgent.  No need to pray now.  Maybe someday.  Some time.  Not now.

Did I miss anything?

Two quick stories on prayer.

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted 19 young people and 4 chaperones from Wyckoff Reformed Church in New Jersey.  We invited them to our 9:15 prayer service before they headed out the door to their mission project in Bluefield.  I am afraid that we may have scarred them for life.  As is my custom, I open the time to share prayers.  Pray as you are led.  The sanctuary was virtually silent for the entire time outside of my own and a few other folks who come regularly to the service.  Awkward.  I will never forget the looks on the chaperones faces as they walked out that morning.  They were looks of genuine bewilderment.  They didn't know what to say.  Words just didn't come.  Seems that prayer doesn't come easy.

Now, lest you think that I am holding myself above it all as high and mighty.  Let me tell you, when I was working as an intern during seminary, my mentor, Rod Pinder, was what I would call a model of contemplative prayer not seen since the days of the Desert Fathers.  I used to look at going to prayer gatherings as literally, going to work.  I mean, work, in the Monday sense.  He would run those gatherings long.  I used to always tell him that I was merely a blue-collar prayer man, so I couldn't do the contemplative stuff -- but I don't think he ever bought that line.  However, I must say, I was amazed at his endurance.  His passion.  His desire to share his life in prayer.  His desire to invite others into that joy.  His sense of timelessness when it came to prayer time. It wasn't perfunctory with Rod.  Every word he uttered came with the weight of glory.  I was out of my element -- but I should not have been.  Prayer is our oxygen.  Prayer is our lifeline.  Prayer is our heartbeat.

Let me close with a couple of observations about prayer.

I have suggested that prayer can be big or small; important or shallow.  Nothing that I will tell you now in closing changes that.  Gab away.  But, I do want to suggest a couple of things now that should ground your prayer life on solid ground.

1.  God uses your prayer to change you.

There is a scene in the movie Shadowlands, a movie about the life of C.S Lewis and his marriage to Joy Davidman.  Scandalous at the time since Joy was a American divorcée many years Lewis' junior.  Joy tragically died of cancer at the age of 45, and Lewis lost his faith for a time in the midst of his grief and loss.  He struggled mightily to get it back.  There is a closing scene where he has recovered some sense of joy in life and one of his friends notes how hard he has been praying lately and that God was answering his prayer.  Lewis responds that that was not why he was praying.  "I was pray because I can't help myself.  I pray because I'm helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking or sleeping."  As the others depart, Lewis movingly adds to himself:  "Prayer doesn't change God, it changes me."

2.  God uses your Prayer to Accomplish His Purposes.

The second, and final thought that I would leave you with this morning.  We tend to think in categories of whether or not prayer "works" for me.  But I don't think that's very firm ground to stand on.  In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus says that we are to pray "Your kingdom come [Father], your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt. 5:10 ESV).  Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14 ESV).

Note well the way our passage closes in James.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:17-18 ESV).  Elijah was a normal person.  Just like you and I.  He wasn't perfect.  He had his bad days, too.  But, God used him greatly to accomplish his purposes through him!

Please never forget, The prayer[s] of [God's people are] powerful and effective. (cf. James 5:16 NIV)

You have heard the Word of God.  Now consider it so very well.   Amen.

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