Prayer and Praying People
Text: Philippians 4:6-7
Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a period of forty days, not including Sunday’s, wherein we prepare ourselves for the walk through Holy Week, to the cross, to the grave, and to the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. One of the ways we prepare ourselves is through prayer. Over the last several weeks prayer has been our primary focus of study and reflection. Prayer has been our priority. We began this year by reminding ourselves of the necessity of prayer and its importance in our lives and in our relationship to God. Each week we have taken time to look at a different facet of prayer. We have looked at how God calls us to a deeper relationship with himself and with each other as we spend time in prayer. We have talked about how God answers our prayers and, many times, uses us in bringing about the answer to our prayers. Prayer is vital to our faith and it is vital in encouraging others to pray and grow in their faith.
Many of you are people of prayer. Not just the “before meal” pray-er or the “before bedtime” pray-er, but truly prayer warriors. You have a great love for God and a great relationship with God because of the time you spend in prayer. You have a passion and desire to see God move in a mighty way and you continue to plead with God until your prayer has been answered. I affirm that kind of praying lifestyle. I affirm it because your lifestyle of prayer encourages others to grow in their prayer life. You exemplify what Paul states in our passage from Philippians.
Think about that for a moment. Your lifestyle of prayer encourages others, just as you were encouraged to grow in your prayer life because of the example you were shown by someone else. What we see and what we do has an impact on our lives and the lives of others.
To encourage all of us to continually strive for a deeper and fuller relationship with God through prayer, I want to share a couple biblical examples of praying people. Biblical history is filled with accounts of praying saints. Many such accounts of praying saints can be found in the Old Testament. Yes, the Old Testament. If you ever wondered how the Old Testament is relevant for today, I’m here to tell you we can find the answer through prayer. Prayer is the greatest link we have to the Old Testament, and to scripture in general. The fact is, prayer reaches back to the first ages of humanity on the earth. Yes, Adam and Eve prayed to God. They had conversation with God in the garden of Eden, conversation on a very intimate level. That conversation was prayer.
Cain and Abel had conversation with God in both worship and prayer. Noah was a person of prayer. Abraham was a person of prayer and was called a friend of God. How do we get to be friends with God? The same way we become friends with other people; by spending time together.
Abraham spent time with God in prayer. Many places in Genesis point out that Abraham built an altar to the Lord. He built an altar in almost every place he camped. He spent time in prayer.
These are just a few examples of praying people in the first chapters of Genesis. In these few examples we find things we can learn about prayer. One of the things we learn is that we can struggle with, or wrestle with God in prayer.
In Genesis 32:24-30 we read a story about a man named Jacob who is wrestling all night with another Man, who is not named. In reading this story we come to realize that the other Man is God. All though the struggle is relayed in physical terms, it is really about a spiritual struggle with God. Let’s go to Genesis 32 and read through the account.
24 Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the [a]breaking of day. 25 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He [b]touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. 26 And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.”
But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
27 So He said to him, “What is your name?”
He said, “Jacob.”
28 And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but [c]Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
29 Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.”
And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the name of the place [d]Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
Through this passage, in our minds eye, we can envision a wrestling match. The Biblical World Wrestling Federation. Jacob is praying so hard, having such a spiritual struggle, that it is working itself out as a physical wrestling match.
Could you imagine praying to God, wrestling with God, like Jacob did? For some of us five minutes is about the best we can do. We get in there and, well, “I didn’t get my answer. Must be it’s not God’s will for me.”
Yet, through this story, through Jacob’s example, we can see that when we are praying about an important issue we are to literally wrestle with God about it. We are to struggle with God. Why? Look what happened to Jacob. His name is changed from Jacob(meaning deceitful/supplanter) to Israel (meaning Prince with God). This change in name represents an inner spiritual change. When we struggle with God in prayer we will be changed. Out of the struggle Jacob was blessed. Out of the struggle we will be blessed. “But Pastor, Jacob’s hip was put out of joint through prayer.” True, and Jacob had a limp after his great prayer struggle with God. But, the limp was a lifelong reminder that he had not MADE God bless him against God’s will to do so. God blessed Jacob because He wanted too. The limp was merely a reminder to Jacob that he depended on God.
This whole story, of course, is not about Jacob’s hip being knocked out of its socket. This story is about struggling, wrestling, with God in prayer. Holding on to God in prayer until we receive an answer. I don’t think any of us pray hard enough wherein we are going to get hurt during prayer. However, praying people encourage us to keep on keeping on in prayer because we are sure to receive an answer if we don’t give up! It’s okay to struggle with God in prayer! Amen!?
We also learn through these praying people in the Bible, you can pray for anything. That’s right, we can come to God and ask him for anything. This doesn’t mean we’ll get it, but we can bring it to him in prayer.
In 1 Samuel 1:9-20 we read of a woman named Hannah who truly desired to have a son. Children, in Old Testament times were very important because the value of a woman was based on her ability to have children. Hannah was barren and felt she was bringing dishonor to her husband because she couldn’t fulfill part of what made her a woman. Her husband, from what we can see, didn’t appear to be distraught by this, but Hannah was. And Hannah, so desperate to bare a child, prayed fervently to the Lord. “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant and remember me, and not forget your maidservant, but will give your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life…”
As we read a little farther along in 1 Samuel, we find that God answers Hannah’s prayer and she indeed conceives and bares a child. The child is given the name, Samuel. In this case, Samuel was a direct answer to Hannah’s prayer. She prayed for a child and was given one.
Now, we all know through our own experience, we do not always get what we pray for. Our prayers are not always answered in the way we would like them to be answered. Sometimes the answer we receive is, No!” Nevertheless, the point isn’t whether or not we receive exactly what we’re asking for, the point is we are asking. We are spending time in prayer, in the presence of God, seeking His will and being prepared for what He will do.
We can pray to God about anything because if it is important to you, it is important to God. If our heart is agonizing over something, whatever it might be, then we can bring it to the Lord in prayer.
One of the other things we learn from praying people comes through the answers to prayer. For this I want to look to Moses. We have looked at Moses before and talked about how Moses prayed on behalf of the Israelite people. But now, I want to look at Moses as an answer to the prayers of the people.
At the end of the book of Genesis the children of Israel are now residing in the land of Egypt. They had come to Egypt to escape a famine that was taking place in the land of Canaan. Over the course of a few hundred years the descendants of Israel had greatly increased in number and this concerned the Egyptian Pharaoh. So, the Pharaoh decided to enslave the people of Israel. As their slavery became more severe, they began to pray for God do deliver them. They prayed for many generations prior to Moses’ birth. They continued to pray even after Moses was born. And, when the time was right, Moses became the instrument God used to deliver Israel from Egypt. Moses became the answer to the prayers of the people.
All the great movements of God, throughout all of history, have had their origin and energy in and through the prayers of God’s people. The beginnings of the early church, the spread of the gospel and growth of the church, the reformation, the Methodist revival, the revivals with Charles Finney, the Billy Graham crusades, and beyond. All of these things were the answers to the prayers of the people.
Each one of us has the potential to be the answer to the prayers of another. Isn’t that amazing? Each one of us could be an answer to prayer.
Praying people from every generation, from the beginning of time until now, demonstrate the absolute necessity and power and possibilities of prayer. Praying people demonstrate the importance of praying with faith to a prayer hearing and a prayer answering God. There are countless other examples of praying people we could examine too. Jesus, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Martha, James, John, Tabitha, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Finney, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, and those who are part of this congregation.
Prayer is a reality and a powerful weapon for our defense and protection and for our advancement of the good news of Jesus Christ!
We have prepared ourselves through the study of prayer to begin this time of prayer in preparation for the celebration of Easter, the celebration of the resurrection and the life of our Savior! May we continue to encourage each other through prayer trusting in God to move in a fresh and mighty way in us, through us, and around us! For nothing is impossible with God who guards our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.