Over the month of October at St Peter’s we have a season of prayer. As the parish council have worked through our strategic plan we identified eight key areas that we needed to focus on if our church is to continue seeing our vision of being ‘an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring other to join us on the journey’ be more than just words. Prayer is central to the vibrancy of a church. It helps us to grow in Christ, and it is the starting point and engine of mission and outreach. This year the parish council asked if we could look at the nuts and bolts of prayer, prayer 101. Just some simple thoughts and teaching on prayer. Some of the nuts and bolts are very practical and some are very theological. But our hope is that we may grow in our prayer lives here at St Peter.
Today I simply want to look at Praying for others. How do we pray for other people and what difference does it make. I’m going to take two weeks to look at this because I actually think it such a big topic. Today we are going to look at Praying for others in terms of a proactive prayer and care for people and next week we will look at praying for people at their point of need. We can often thing of Prayer like medicine or ointment, only to be used in case someone is sick or like the fire alarm in a big building, in case of emergency break the glass and pray. But in scripture we see praying for others is not only for pastoral needs and issues but is part of God’s mission and part of our ongoing spiritual development and maturity… it’s proactive.
I want to start with a good story from last week at the Prayer and Healing service… Moray shared with me what had happened a year ago at Glenfield Presbyterian Church.
Moray was extremely sick and weak and very much on the road to becoming incapacitated and an invalid. He dragged himself to church one morning with his wife… as he came into the church a man said to him, the whole church is going to pray for you today brother…’ and during the service this same man went up to the Minister Emma Keown and asked if the church could pray for Moray. They stopped the worship and did just that… the whole church, gathered round him and prayed. Moray said from that very moment his life began to change instead of this gradual inevitable decline he found that his life, energy, and joy started coming back. Even though he still felt he had a ways to go on Sunday evening there was a real vibrancy about him, and it was great to see him praying with others for God to do the same things in them that God had done for him.
How do we pray for others? Well the best way to explore that question is to look at the scripture… there are many examples of this kind of prayer in the scriptures. I’ve chosen two prayers in particular. The first is Jesus invitation for his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest field in response to what he sees in the villages and towns he has been moving through and ministering in. The second is an example of Paul’s prayer for a church that he is writing to mainly the church in Philippi. Then I just want to draw some practical thoughts and encouragement for us and our prayer lives.
Jesus has been going round and preaching and healing people and as he has done that he gets a good idea of what the crowds are like. He sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd. Tired, confused with no direction. In fact the image according to RVG Tasker is that “the crowds are like sheep worried by dogs and left lying on the ground unable to exert themselves’. He sees that they have a deep spiritual need. In the Old Testament this image is used of the people of Israel when they don’t have a leader. It used in Numbers 27:17 as Moses chooses Joshua as his successor, so that Israel wouldn’t find themselves in that situation. Here the new Joshua, jeshua ‘saviour’ wants to fulfill that need.
Jesus prayer life comes out of his interaction with the people around him, it comes out of his ministry with and to them, it is an example of his compassion. He sees their need and sees the possibility for the Kingdom of God to bring change and make a difference and so he asks his disciples to Pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out more workers into the field.
It’s interesting that these people are the same people he then sends on a short term mission trip out into the villages and towns amongst the sheep without a shepherd to tell them that the Kingdom of God is near.
What does this have to say to us about praying for others? First thing is that Prayer comes from our engagement with God and our engagement with the world around us. Prayer for others comes as we allow God to lead us into the deep spiritual needs of other people. In the villages and towns we live in we are the people who bring God’s love and kingdom with us. We are Christ’s witnesses and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. Prayer for other people comes out of that call and sharing Christ’s compassion for people as well. Be it the needs they present or the deeper often unperceived needs that only reconciliation with Christ can solve and heal and make new.
Often people see prayer as a cop out, an easy alternative to real action… we live in the world of facebook activism, where people can be outraged and upset and genuinely moved by issues and concerns round the world, and they respond with a status post or a like on their facebook wall… and really nothing changes… they just feel better… But here we see Prayer leads to action. It is those Jesus calls to pray who end out being part of the answer to their own prayer. Prayer is action and goes hand in hand with our willingness to respond and go, as workers into the field.
Thomas Merton was a Catholic monk; he was always looking for more time to spend in contemplation and on retreat. But out of that time alone with God flowed some of the most profound theological thought of the twentieth century. Merton wrote about nuclear war and non-violence and ways for people of different religions to get along. His prayer and meditation life didn’t draw him away from the world rather it meant he could see the world more clearly from a Kingdom of God perspective. His writings from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s are still sort and read. I remember a Dr Wong from Hong Kong sharing about ministering in communist china and seeing God moving in people’s lives. In the midst of his message he stopped talking about the miracles he was seeing and the people coming to Christ and he began talking about a little old lady, who lived way up in a multi-story apartment block. She was virtually a shut in, other people had to bring her groceries and he said that this women and people like her were the reason things were happening in China. She could hardly walk but she spend most of her day and night kneeling in prayer for her country… She couldn’t go but in prayer life Dr Wong saw the impact her prayers were having.
Paul writes a prayer at the beginning of all the letters he writes to churches and individuals. It’s part of the formal structure of letters in Paul’s day. We have the address, a greeting and a prayer. Kind of like when I’m writing a letter to someone, which is a lost art these days? You might start dear Bob, I hope you are well. Paul rather offers a prayer for them. It’s a prayer that starts with thanksgiving. In the case of the book of Philippians, Paul gives thanks for the way that the church in philippi has responded to his ministry, how they partner in the gospel; later we find out they have sent him a gift when he is in prison, but they have also stood up for the gospel.
His thanks giving also leads to an assurance that God will bring to completion the work he has begun in Jesus Christ within them. It’s not a vain hope because he sees the real evidence of how they have persevered in the gospel. When you pray for people giving thanks is a good thing to start with. Like with the whole ACTS prayer, when we start with Adoration and thanksgiving it allows you to put things into perspective. When I pray for people in a ministry situation I will often thank God for that person, that they are loved by God, he has made them a unique and valuable person, that Christ died for them and rose for them, that he has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in them.
Lets face it some people are hard to pray for… Jesus says we are to pray for those who persecute you, to love our enemies, and giving thanks for a person is a good way of starting to that process. I don’t like them they are doing bad things to me, but thank you God that you love them, that you forgive and change. I will often have very negative thoughts about my father and as a way of changing that I will give thanks for the things he was good at. It doesn’t mean there aren’t dings in my soul because my relationship with him, but it allows me to put it into perspective. It’s kind of like in the Lord ’s Prayer when it says forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Often that process of healing and forgiveness starts in prayer in simply telling God we forgive them and then letting it develop into our lives. Paul writes a pretty sever letter to the Church in Corinth but it starts with thanksgiving.
Secondly, Paul prays for the churches he writes to, it’s interesting that often he is writing to churches in times of need, either facing persecution from the outside or wrestling with deep divide or issues from within, but his prayers focus on the growth of those churches to maturity in Christ. In Paul’s prayer fr the Philippians it’s that they may grow more and more in the depth of their love and knowledge of Christ and that that would continue to be manifest in the decisions they made and how they lived. We can think that when we pray for another person the reason we do that is that there is a great need or circumstance. But Paul’s focus is on the important thing that they may growing their faith and knowing of Jesus Christ. He is deeply aware of the problems and issues and circumstances they are in but again in prayer his agenda is set by the Kingdom of God.
The image that went along with the service this morning was of someone helping someone else up a rock face. We can think of prayer as reaching down when people are in need and helping pull them up our of difficult situations or issues… and it can be that… as we saw before its an expression of God’s compassion and ours. But we can often forget that climbing is a team sport it’s not just helping out in times of trouble but being here to help each other up. TO lift one another up in prayer. Prayer as a team working with God to see each other and the world be bought into relationship with God and to grow in that relationship and see it enable us to bring God’s kingdom with God’s Spirit’s help.
For our church to grow in our vision, together as a loving community, in our discipleship of Jesus Christ, and in our mission and outreach, we need to be praying for the church and for each other...This week for homework I want to invite you to commit to praying for a person in this congregation. We are going to do it by using what I call Prayer darts. I want to invite you to put your name… maybe just your first name on this piece of paper that is coming round. Under thanksgiving I want you to write one or more things that you would like to give thanks for. Then you’ll see a space for writing something or somethings that you’d like for people to pray in terms of growing in your faith. Finally there is space if there are needs you’d like prayer for. Then we are going to make a dart out of them and throw them about the church for a few minutes and then I’d invite you to get one of these darts… if you get your own then toss it in the air again… and commit yourself to praying for that person over the week. Someone will be praying for you as well.
(feel free to download this template for prayer darts and use it...)