This sermon was delivered by Wendell Griffen, pastor of the New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., on August 23, 2009.
Psalm 84, Ephesians 6: 10-20.
Prayer is a subject that religious people hear and read about almost constantly. How many times have we said or heard these statements?
· “Pray for me.”
· “I will pray for you.”
· “Pray about it.”
· “We need to pray more.”
· “My prayer life is shaky these days.”
I could go on, but you get the point. People of faith are never far from the subject of prayer. However, the fact that we hear and read about prayer so much does not mean we are understand the meaning of prayer, that we are disciplined in prayer, or that we are confident about prayer.
In this sense, we are somewhat like the first followers of Jesus who asked that he teach them how to pray. Jesus then gave them a model for prayer that is the best known prayer in Christianity. We have no Biblical passages showing that the first followers of Jesus asked for instruction about how to preach, raise funds, organize congregations, take church minutes, or do other things that are often considered important in church life. They asked to be taught to pray—and Jesus taught them to pray—because prayer is essential to effective life with God.
The Psalms also make it clear that prayer is essential to effective life with God. When we read the psalms we are often reading prayers. We see prayers of trust, prayers for deliverance from trouble, prayers of confession, prayers pleading for divine judgment against foes, prayers of complaint, prayers for vindication, and prayers of thanksgiving, hope, and praise. For the people whose words we meet in Psalms, prayer is essential to effective life with God.
Jesus prayed. Moses prayed. Solomon prayed. David prayed. Mary prayed. Peter prayed. Paul prayed. These and other people throughout history practically lived in prayer and prayed in various settings and situations. To remove prayer from the Bible would not only require that we cut away much of Psalms, but deprive the Bible of the Lord’s Prayer, David’s prayer for a clean heart, Mary’s prayer of trust after learning that she would become the mother of Christ, what Jesus said about “not my will, but Thy will be done” in Gethsemane, and these prayers:
· “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
· “My God. My God. Why have You forsaken me?”
· “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”
So the first principle I would impart is that prayer is essential to effective life with God. I have yet to find evidence in the Bible where people who were effective in living for God did not pray. People who are most awake, alive, and effective spiritually are that way because for them, prayer is life and life is prayer. Prayer is not something we do. Prayer is who we are! Prayer is breath, food, action, everything! Prayer is our life!
Secondly, prayer affirms that we live before God. We are not alone in the world. We are not on our own. We are not moral orphans. Prayer affirms that we suffer before God, struggle before God, love before God, sin before God, doubt before God, work and pray before God, love and hate before God, age and die before God, and belong to God! This is why we sing “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” This is why we sing “Father, I Stretch My Hand to Thee.” This is why we sing “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” We sing these and other songs of faith as affirmation that we live before God. Prayer is our life because prayer is how we live—before God.
Psalm 84:10 is often cited to celebrate the service of those who are greeters (ushers) in worship. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness. But in limiting that passage to ushers, we fail to recognize that in Hebrew thought the Temple symbolized the very presence of God. Psalm 84:10 is much more than the theme verse for church greeters. It affirms the joy of being in the very presence of God! The Psalmist affirms that worship is where people of faith are home, and that his or her home is in God’s presence.
In prayer, we affirm that we live in God’s presence. When we understand this, we then realize that that our lives are houses of worship. We live and experience joy and strength because we are in God’s house (Ps. 84:4)! The soul who prays that he or she “would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of my God than live in the tents of wickedness,” affirms that he or she would rather live in God’s presence because any other place amounts to a spiritual and moral dump!
Finally, prayer is part of the warfare of faith. The Message Bible renders Ephesians 6:18-19 in these words: In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all.
Paul realized that the issues of life are ultimately moral and spiritual, and that humans exist in a spiritual war zone. Human strength, intelligence, and cunning are not enough to withstand the hellish powers responsible for evil, oppression, injustice, and hate. We cannot out-run those powers. We cannot wish them away. We cannot out-smart the powers responsible for all the deceitfulness in life. We cannot out-gun all the powers responsible for violence and cruelty. If you and I are to be effective warriors for God in the spiritual war zone we know as life, we certainly cannot afford to be spiritually witless, fuzzy, and dull.
That is why prayer is part of the armor for a God-knowing, God-loving, and God-serving soul! We live prayerfully alert, prayerfully mindful of God’s presence, power, truth, grace, justice, and joy. In that prayerful alertness, we sense God’s guidance. In that prayerful alertness, we can recognize hellish traps and tricks. In that prayerful alertness, we sense our own vulnerability and that of others. In that prayerful alertness, we pray for ourselves and our brothers and sisters. In that prayerful alertness, we encourage each other, intercede for each other, correct each other, and guard each other. Prayer is an essential part of the armor of every soldier of faith because prayer is part of the warfare of every faithful soul.
Life includes troubles, setbacks, joys and sorrows, trials, tragedies, and triumphs, frustrations and fears, and seasons of hope and despair for every soul. Unless we are prayerfully aware of God’s presence, prayerfully aware of God’s promises, prayerfully aware of God’s resources, and prayerfully aware of God’s people around us, we will be overwhelmed by our experiences. But when we live in prayer, we constantly breathe the strength of God, grace of God, truth of God, joy of God, and justice of God. When we live in prayer, we know that we are brothers and sisters together before God. We know that God is our help, strength, refuge, and that God will lift us from dark places and send others to help us. We know and trust that God will guide us to support, comfort, and defend each other so we can win His victories with other warriors in the spiritual war zone we call life.
So let us grow beyond the idea that prayer is merely an exercise. Prayer is essential to effective life with God. Prayer is affirmation that we live in the presence of God. Prayer is part of the warfare of faith in God as we work our way through the spiritual war zone we call life. Let us be faithful agents of prayer because we know God as Source of life, strength, help, truth, grace, justice, peace, and joy. Let us be houses of prayer always, whether at work, study, play, or rest, so that we are always open to speak to God and hear God speak. The testimony of people of faith, from Joseph praying in Egypt to Jesus praying in Palestine, tells us that we are blessings to God and for God first, last, and always, because we are prayers and that God is faithful to hear and answer prayers.
Knowing this, let us live with death-proof hope. Knowing this, let us live with death-proof love. Knowing this, let us live with death-proof grace, joy, and peace. Let us live in prayer, because of prayer, and as constant agents of prayer in the lives of one another. Let all of these things and more become true in us and with us because for us, prayer is essential to life with God, and life with God, for God, and with each other is prayer. Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.