Summary: Even as I’m concerned about people who misunderstand the purpose of prayer, I’m also concerned about those who do understand, but who seem to pray with no expectation of God honoring prayers or acting on our behalf. (Powerpoint available - #150)
MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER
RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK
(Powerpoints used with this message are availble at no charge. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and request #150.)
(In preparing this message as part of a sermon series on “Prayer” I have borrowed heavily, and adapted, from an outstanding sermon of the same title by Mike Hays of the Britton Christian Church in Okla. City, OK.)
TEXT: Acts 12:1-19
A. The popularity of the subject of prayer has skyrocketed in recent years. More &
more people are talking about praying. Newspaper articles, national magazines, & even some TV programs have featured discussions about the benefits of prayer.
ILL. One magazine article was titled, "Doctors Who Pray." In it several doctors published the results of their studies concerning the medical benefits of faith & prayer.
One of them, Dr. Matthews, wrote, "I can say, as a physician & scientist - not just as a Christian… - that, scientifically, prayer is good for you. The medical effects of faith on health are not a matter of faith, but of science." (Christianity Today, 1/6/1997)
I believe that. I do believe in the power of prayer - or rather, the power of God who hears & answers our prayers.
But there is something that concerns me. You see, whenever something has the potential of providing personal benefit, there will always be people who jump on the bandwagon & begin to appeal to our selfish instincts.
As a result, some people portray God as a celestial Santa Claus whose primary job is to hand out whatever we want when we want it. They tell us to "name it & claim it." This approach is often called a "health & wealth gospel," promising that if our faith is strong enough, God will give us what we want.
But I’m convinced that if we think of prayer as simply a means to get what we want, then we’re missing out on the true nature & purpose of prayer.
ILL. A number of years ago, (May 1, 1990), cable television giant Ted Turner was presented an award by the American Humanist Association, a group whose principles & teachings stand in direct opposition to Christianity.
At the banquet, he told the audience that he had been brought up as a Christian, that he had been "saved" 7 or 8 times as a child, & that once he had even considered becoming a missionary.
But then his sister became very sick &, despite his earnest prayers, she died. So he became disenchanted with Christianity. And, he went on to say, the more he strayed from his faith, "the better I felt."
That’s sad. Isn’t it? Here’s a man with tremendous ability who ended up abandoning his faith, at least partially because of his misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer.
You see, prayer is not something we do to make God obligated to us to intervene in accordance with our desires. But rather, it is an earnest effort on our part to bring our desires into accord with His divine will & plan for us.
Someone said, "The purpose of prayer is to draw us close to the heart of God so that our will, our deepest desires, will be those of God & not our own."
Isn’t that exactly the example Jesus gave us in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done"? (Luke 22:42)
B. Now, even as I’m concerned about the people who misunderstand the purpose of prayer, I’m also concerned about those of us who do understand, but who seem to pray with no expectation of God honoring our prayers or acting on our behalf.
It’s as if we’re engaging in an empty ritual, sometimes with zeal, but with no expectation that anything will happen in response to our prayers.
If so, we’re not the first to make that mistake. In Acts 12:1-19 we read about a group of Christians in the early Church who prayed fervently for the apostle Peter. Then when God acted to save Peter, they had a hard time believing that He had really answered their prayers. Listen to what happened. Acts 12:1-5 tells us,
“It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.
“He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also.
“This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by 4 squads of 4 soldiers each.
“Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” (Acts 12:1-5)