Summary: When everything is going well, pray, because that is when the opposition will assault us, that is when confusion comes, and that is when you will discover the unfinished clutter in your own heart.
Each fall I bring you messages on prayer. There is a reason for that. In this time of the year we need to be very alert about our devotional life. September is a crucial time to discern important things about prayer.
The reason is not hard to find. In September, everything cranks up to a fever pitch. Everything we’ve put off doing all summer long, telling ourselves we had plenty of time, every such thing is now on our plates. School, work, church, organizations, everybody clamors for our attention in September. It’s frantic. It’s hectic. It’s September.
Do I know what I’m talking about? I juggle my calendar, trying to visit homes where they’ve said, “Come to visit us after our summer travels are over”. I respond to church leaders who tell me, “It’s time for my program to happen, and I need for you to do something right now!” I discover, once again, as always happens in September, that the quarterly estimated taxes for federal and state governments are due, the county property tax is due, it’s time for dental work, both cars need their registrations renewed, both cars need repair work, and the church says it’s time for another special missions offering -- all in September! Do you see why we have a prayer focus in September?
And it won’t be too long until they tell us how many shopping days are left until Christmas, and that leaves just one week after that to solve the Y2K bug! Wow! Can anyone argue with my premise, that this is a frantic time of the year? Can we all see why it is time to focus on prayer?
Prayer, you see, is not so much asking for things as it is re-establishing one of our most fundamental relationships. Prayer is not only asking for help; deeper than that, prayer is learning again who we are and whose we are. It’s not about what you can get; it’s about who is there to give it to you. Prayer is cultivating a connection. Without that connection, you will sink in September’s swirling seas. But if you know something about prayer, you can soar on September’s swelling streams.
This year I’ve elected to bring two messages. They have similar titles, but exactly opposite applications. I’m going to preach today about prayer when things are going well; and next week about prayer when things are going badly. I’m going to bring you good news about prayer, and say that we need to pray when it seems as though God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world, and things couldn’t be better. And I’m also going to bring you good news and remind you to pray when it seems as though God has forgotten us, the world is on its way to hell, and nothing is right. When everything seems possible, then pray. When nothing seems possible, then pray again. “When the sun shines bright, and your heart is right,” pray. “When the clouds hang low in this world of woe,” pray then too. Pray without ceasing. Pray under all circumstances. Pray in season and out of season; pray when you feel like praying and pray when you don’t feel like praying.
You see, part of our human makeup is that if certain fundamental relationships are in place, we can function, no matter what else is happening. Put us into a relationship where there is love and acceptance, and we will be fine. But take us out of that, let that basic relationship break down, and everything goes sour. Everything breaks down. Bad times and good, stormy weather or fair skies, it doesn’t matter. We need certain basic relationships. If those are in place, we will survive and thrive. But if we do not know who we are and whose we are, nothing will be right. Nothing will succeed. And nothing will satisfy.
When I perform a wedding ceremony, I ask the bride and the groom to love and to cherish for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. Good times are as much of a challenge to a marriage as are bad times. Wealth introduces decay to families, just as poverty does. Success erodes people, just as failure does. And so the message of these two swamped September Sundays is going to be, “When everything seems possible, then pray” as well as “when nothing seems possible, then pray.” Your fundamental relationship with God is at stake, and it must be cultivated, at this time of the year.
Nehemiah may well be the single most successful person whose story is told in the Bible. Everything Nehemiah tried worked out right. People today still study the Old Testament book of Nehemiah in order to discover workable leadership principles. Nehemiah was an achiever. He got things done. Things went well for Nehemiah. But don’t overlook one vital factor – Nehemiah was a man of prayer. Nehemiah knew when to pray and how to pray, in the middle of success, because he saw the threats that lay down deep, even when everything seems possible. Let’s learn today from Nehemiah: when everything seems possible, then pray.