Summary: Jesus’ words on prayer in the sermon on the mount point to the promise, the problem, and the practice of prayer that feeds the soul
True Spirituality Series
Soul Talk: The Power of Prayer
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
A little boy and his father walked along a country road laughing and talking, just having a good old time. They came across a large stone sitting at the edge of the road. The boy looked at the stone and thought for a moment. Then he asked his father, "Do you think I can move that rock?" The father didn’t hesitate. “I’m sure you can—if you use all your strength!”
That was all the lad needed. He ran to the rock. He pushed and he pushed. He grunted and groaned. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. But the rock didn’t move. Not an inch, not half an inch! Finally, the boy slumped to the ground, defeat written all over his face. "I can’t do it." His father put his hand on his son’s shoulder. "I still think you can do it," he said. "You just didn’t use all your strength.” The boy looked up with raised brow. “You didn’t ask me to help."
That parable provides a good backdrop for our next mile marker in our journey toward “True Spirituality—Finding the Life We’ve Always Wanted.” Prayer is an absolute essential for the soul that wants to walk with God. Here’s the bottom line. Until you pray, you haven’t tried your hardest. You haven’t used all your strength.
Here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus cites prayer as one of three “acts of righteousness” that deserve his follower’s attention. Let’s consider the Master’s teachings on this important topic under three headings: the promise of prayer, the problem of prayer, and the practice of prayer.
First, consider the Promise of Prayer. Sometime ago, a “Family Circus” cartoon showed the father helping one of his kids with homework. The two sat at the kitchen table while mom and daughter were doing dishes. A smaller child played nearby. Dad reviews his son’s lesson, “What is the greatest power source in the world?”
When he asks the question, little cartoon bubbles pop up over everyone’s head revealing each person’s thoughts. Dad thinks of Niagara Falls. The daughter imagines a huge thunderstorm. The oldest son pictures a speeding race car. A vision of a powerful locomotive flashes across the youngest child’s mind. Mom pictures something else. The greatest power on earth that she can imagine is her children kneeling beside their beds saying their prayers.
Jesus assumed his followers would pray. “When you pray . . .” Jesus emphasized prayer’s importance time and time again. He taught, "Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you" (Mt 7:7). He said, “If you remain in me and my words remain you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you” (Jn 15:7).
All of the saints of God through the ages have known of prayer’s power. Abraham, the great man of faith, prayed. Moses prayed. Joshua, David, and Daniel prayed. The Bible says Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed and God answered. Jesus prayed long and often. His disciples were so impressed with his praying that they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” The early believers learned from the Master’s example. The New Testament church was born in prayer. It carried the gospel across oceans and mountains and centuries on the wings of prayer. All of those through the ages who have lived in close fellowship with God have been men and women of prayer. The promise of prayer is an indispensable part of a healthy, growing spiritual life.
That’s the promise of prayer. Now consider the Problem of Prayer. The real wonder of prayer is how little we avail ourselves of its power. It is not that we don’t pray. Too often, however, our prayers are reserved for emergencies. Too much of our praying resembles that little donut spare tire in the back of our cars. It is comforting to know that we have it. We would never want to leave home with out it. But we hope we never have to use it. If we do, we put it back as soon we can. Few would ever think of using it for every day.
Why the reluctance to pray? For many it’s doubt. It is not that we doubt God or his power. Though for some that’s true too. We doubt that God is really that interested in our lives or our problems. It’s our value that we doubt. Perhaps that’s why the most important part of the Lord’s Prayer is that opening phrase, “Our Father which art in heaven.” Remember Jesus’ reminder, “Which of you, if your son asked for bread, would give him a stone? How much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to you?”