9th Sunday after Trinity – Sermon 72

Prayer to start

May the words of my lips and the thoughts of our hearts be graciously received for the Glory and Honour of our Lord Jesus Christ.

AMEN

Introduction 

Ask any Christians what they find hardest in the Christian life – and they’ll probably answer
“prayer” –

we can’t find the time
we can’t find the words
we can’t see any answers from it

Prayer is probably the most under-used, under-rated, unknown source of power that has been given to us by God —

According to the story of Peter’s escape – prayer can make angels appear – loosen chains – open locked doors – transport people from one place to another unnoticed – (sounds like something out of star wars) – and save lives

So- If prayer so powerful why don’t we practice it more? – with the help of readings we are going to look at what prayer means – what it can do – and what we can do to help our prayer life

 

Point 1  What is prayer – Solomon’s Temple

 

Selwyn Hughes describes prayer as “the power-line to God’s throne” He says – “prayer opens earth to heaven and brings God’s will into our lives – and to a needy world ”

Prayer is our lifeline to God’s living room –

Prayer means talking with God – through the help of Jesus – and the Holy Spirit –

But this way of communicating with God – hasn’t always been around –

During the Exodus – God made contact with His people through “ a pillar of cloud by day – and a pillar of fire by night” – and any one to one talking was done through a human mediator – Moses –

Later on – God told the people to use a tent – or tabernacle – but they still had to use a mediator to talk to Him –

In David’s time they drew up plans to build a stone temple – because they thought a tent wasn’t good enough – God allowed David to design the temple but not build it – this task was given to his son Solomon –

The story of how the temple was built is given in our first reading – The passage describe its dimensions – the materials used – only the best and most expensive was good enough – it was full of gold & rich carvings – and took 7 years and a workforce of 200,000 people to finish it

To the people – the temple became the central focus for God within their community – a reminder of His presence – a point of contact –a place to worship Him – much the same way his church building is used for our community today –

But as the opening verses tell us – God’s priorities were not with the fabric – His main concern was the peoples’ relationship with Him –
the temple would only benefit His people – if they were obedient to His will –

When Jesus came – God change things again – This time He moved His point of contact – from the temple building – to the heart of His people –

God’s kingdom became a temple within each one of us – made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus –

Because this temple is inside us – we can pray to God – wherever and whenever we wish – privately – or corporately

Provided we keep the temple within us – fit for His presence – He will be there ready and willing to guide and encourage us as we journey through our lives

  

Point 2   Powerful prayer

So prayer is talking to God – what about its power?

The story in our NT lesson takes place around 47 AD – For thirteen years the church had enjoyed peace – and expansion – the gospel had spread to Cyprus – Antioch – and other parts of the Mediterranean – and had even reached some of the Gentiles –

But with the rise to power of Herod Agrippa – the church was about to suffer some real persecution – Herod had just been made king – and wanted to gain the trust of the Jewish elite.

He had James – the brother of John arrested – and beheaded –

His next victim was to be Peter – He arrested him and put him in prison – it was the week of the Passover celebrations – and although Herod knew there would be lots of Jews around to witness his acts against the Christians –he knew he would have to wait until after the Passover – before he could do anything

He ordered four squads of soldiers to guard him – each squad had 4 guards – one chained to each wrist – and the other two to guard the door –

He clearly intended to have Peter executed –

But He hadn’t counted on the response of the other Christians – and the power of their prayers –

The church is God’s front line – and prayer is our greatest weapon –

As we see in verse 5 –
“While Peter was held in Prison the church kept praying fervently to God for Him”

the word for fervently – is the same word that is used to describe Jesus’ prayer – in the garden of Gethsemany

And God responded – by freeing Peter the night before his scheduled execution –

As with all great escapes – there had to be someone on the outside – in this case “An angel of the Lord”

Bribing the guards was clearly out – because they would all lose their lives if Peter was set free –

The story has a strange mixture of realism and the miraculous – The chains fell away – the doors opened – the guards presumably slept through the whole thing –

Even Peter himself couldn’t believe what had happened – until he found himself outside the city –

He went straight to the house of John Mark – where the people were praying – to tell them what had happened – but had great difficulty being let in – never mind about telling his story –

Peter wasn’t expecting anything to happen – He was sound asleep and had to be kicked – to wake up – even when leaving the prison – he thought he was dreaming –

The church – wasn’t expecting anything to happen either – they were still praying for Peter when he arrived – and when Rhoda told them he was free – they told her she was out of her mind – It was Peter’s persistent banging – that finally got them to open the door – and accept it –

The reality was that because of the prayers of the followers of Jesus – Peter was set free – from a seemingly impossible situation – to go out and spread the gospel even further –

Not every prayer is answered in such a spectacular fashion – James’ death must have been a great loss to the church –

But Peter’s escape story tells us that through prayer – we can do much more than we think – or expect – even when we have faith –

In Peter’s case there was a clear will of the people and a clear will of God – to overthrow Herod’s plans to destroy the church –

Luke’s chapter started on a low – with James dead – Peter in prison – Herod triumphing – but it closed on a high – with Herod dead – Peter free and the Word of God triumphing –

  

Point 3   What about us?

 

So what does all this mean when we come to pray

No doubt you’ve all heard the story of the three rectors – discussing the most effective way of praying –

One thought the best way to pray was with your hands together and pointed upwards – The second one said the only way to pray is on your knees –
The third one said the only position worth its salt – was to be stretched out flat – on your face –

Behind them – listening to their conversation was a telephone repair-man working – on top of his pole – he decided he couldn’t stay out of the conversation any longer –

“I found the most powerful prayer I ever prayed – was while I was dangling upside down by my heels suspended forty feet above the ground.”

Prayer comes easiest when we are in a desperate situation – when our needs and our prayers are intense – that’s when we show God that we’re really serious about what we pray –

In the words of John Calvin – “We must repeat the same supplications not twice or three times – but as often as we have need to – a hundred and a thousand times – We must never weary in waiting for God’s help

Jesus said “ The kingdom of God is within you”

Our prayers must take these words seriously –

When we come to pray – we should expect to meet Jesus – make Him our only thought – empty ourselves from distractions – and allow Him to occupy His temple within us – then we will find its not we who pray – but the spirit of God within us

Our prayers are amplified when we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet

Corporate prayer is powerful prayer – when we are together we encourage – strengthen –and help each other – to pray –

and as Terry Waite once reminded us – a single prayer might seem to us – like a ripple in the ocean – but when many prayers come together under the power of the holy Spirit – they turn into a mighty wave

Above all we must be bold – and courageous – with our prayers – not let our half heartedness and non –expectancy hold us back – God will do great things through prayer – much more than we can ever imagine or expect – Peter’s experience reminds us – that in the end – we will really have no idea what God will do – until he’s done it

 

 
Ending

 

Let’s finish with a prayer;

Heavenly Father, help us to learn the greatest of all arts – the art of praying
Give us the mind to pray – the love to pray – the will to pray
Let prayer be the aroma of every act – the atmosphere of every thought – and the response to every word

In the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit

AMEN