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Sunday Night Live Sermons

THE POWER OF PRAYER
John 17:1-26

3rd November 2002

David and Meryl Dawson were sitting with Beverley and me the other night at a fund raising dinner in Melbourne. My role was to urge the people present to give to support childcare programs some churches were running in Thailand. It was a successful night with over 600 people responding to the appeal and giving over $75,000. Late in the night, David told me of their recent holiday horror. Life had been hectic and they decided to holiday on a remote place in the Cook Islands in the mid-Pacific. No cars, no phones, no television - just idyllic rest. After a meeting of the Billy Graham Association Board, they flew to Rarotonga. Their Bible reading had been from Psalm 41: "Oh the joys of them who are kind to the poor. The Lord rescues them in times of trouble. The Lord nurses them when they are sick and eases their pain and discomfort." Those words would soon come true.

Meryl suffered from six attacks of excruciating pain in her head. She entered the only available island hospital where the only doctor, a gynaecologist, was right out of his speciality. He could only suggest she would be better in the morning. By morning paralysis had commenced. It was ten days before she would have any medical help. There were no mobiles or television to disturb them, and none to help rescue them. During this time of despair at being unable to get help, a group of native pastors gathered round her hospital bed at 6am in the morning and began to pray for Meryl. They told her, "If you only touch the hem of his garment, you will be healed." When they learned that David and Meryl were Christians, they sang all the more and prayed for her healing. Then some native women gathered and began to sing hymns and pray.

After ten days, their travel insurance company sent a doctor from New Zealand to get her off the island and home to Australia to hospital. A plane would pick them up from the small island and take them to New Zealand to catch another plane to Melbourne. By this time her head was so painful. Her vision, hearing, movement and comprehension were all affected. Dr Stewart Tiller arrived and was brought straight to the tiny island hospital. David asked if he was related to Brett Tiller who serves on the same mission as David. He was his brother. Who but God could have arranged for the emergency doctor, to be the brother of a workmate, and also a former missionary doctor in Pakistan! At 2am Meryl was carried into the small plane. Another couple on their honeymoon were flying out also. David had met them on their first day of arrival. Now he told David he was a specialist paramedic and he would help Dr Tiller if required. God had been working the details out ahead of time!

Eventually they arrived in Melbourne with Dr Tiller giving Meryl the needed checks and pain-killers. He travelled to St Vincent's Hospital with her and reported to the local specialists. Meryl had had a severe stroke and had a large brain clot that needed immediate surgery. Within half a hour she was readied for surgery. Prayer groups upheld her everywhere. As she was wheeled into theatre for surgery, a woman gave David a cup of coffee and explained she was the Chaplain and offered to pray with him. After surgery, the paralysis was still all down the left side. After a few weeks, she was able to walk again and the paralysis was being defeated in her arm as well. At the aftercare hospital, the nurse waiting for her was a Christian friend who was on duty. The hospital chaplain had been a family friend for forty years.

The occupational therapist was one of her own prayer partners, and when she was eventually released to return home, all the trees were covered in yellow ribbons and upon opening the door discovered the house was full of Christian friends who had been praying for her! The recovery is now complete, and Meryl was at the dinner with us. The power of prayer was obvious to all.

Jesus knew the power of prayer and so devoted Himself to prayer. We read: "Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." Mark 1:35 He was at prayer frequently on such occasions as:

  • when He came up out of the baptismal waters.
  • while He faced temptation in the wilderness.
  • before He chose the twelve to train as disciples.
  • after sending out seventy believers in mission.
  • whenever He touched someone to heal them.
  • at the time of His transfiguration on Mt Hermon.
  • as He was approaching His end in Jerusalem.
  • while He held the last Supper to His disciples.
  • when He was in Gethsemane facing betrayal.
  • while He was nailed, dying on the Cross.
  • His last words were a prayer to His Father.
  • after His resurrection He prayed for believers.

At every point of His life, Jesus prayed. One of the few memories of Jesus found outside the Gospels says: "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission." Hebrews 5:7 That is just where we are different. We would pray when the situation was hopeless, but before then we would act instead.

We would have argued with Judas to stop his betrayal. We would have motivated the disciples to arouse popular support. We would have confronted the High Priest Caiaphas in His office and argued. We activists would have issued press statements, organised protests, demanded political action, built up public opinion, worked on the differences between the Jewish and the Roman law and caused confusion and chaos so as to block the progress to the Cross. But Jesus prayed. He discovered through His prayers a way of redemption and positive achievement, whereas we moderns would have collapsed through exhaustion and despair.

We do not understand that prayer is also potent opposition. "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of", as Tennyson said. Yet we moderns would have tried to avoid the Cross. Jesus went into an olive orchard and prayed. That prayer is the greatest in history. John 17 is one of the most precious chapters in the Bible, because it is the anguished prayer of our Lord, overheard by John who was also praying nearby. Here is a remarkable record, the last prayer of the best man who had ever lived, overheard in the stillness of the dark night. We are struck by the ordinary simplicity of the language. There are some who struggle with prayer seeking to speak to God as if He were a teacher of English and others who write their prayers using words that I never hear in their common speech. We really do not have to pray like that. Jesus prays with simple words. We are also struck by the extrapolated shape of the prayer. Like the Lord's prayer there is a pattern, for He starts with God and His concerns, then for His own concerns, and finally, His intercessions for others.

Jesus speaks of God as Father v1 then Holy Father v11 then righteous Father v25 in three concentric circles of concerns, each wider than the one before. The first circle of concern is with Jesus Himself; the second is with His friends and followers; and the third is with those who will believe in Him through the witness of the disciples. What was it that Jesus asked from the Father for us who believe in Him through the disciples' witness?

1. JESUS PRAYS FOR OUR UNITY.

Our world is divided by race, religion, colour, class, creed, status, sex, economic circumstance, disability, age, employment, social standing, family ties, town of origin, place of education and so on. Australians like to think we are all mates, with no barriers against anyone. But scratch us and old antagonisms, prejudices, snobberies and divisions come out. The multicultural debate just now singles out Muslims for racist remarks, but at other times it has been Germans, Chinese, Japanese, or Italians. Ours is a segregated society. Jesus prays that in a segregated society the church may be one. The church must be one place where rich and poor, black and white, brown and yellow, educated and ignorant, male and female, ethnic and caucasian, migrant and aboriginal, young and old, may be found both in congregations and in leadership. I am proud of the great diversity of this congregation in that regard. Jesus in his last hours prays: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." John 17:20 Being one is a spiritual conviction that binds us together over all worldly segregations that divide: racial, sexual, social, economic, political.

2. JESUS PRAYS FOR OUR HOLINESS.

".. that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." v21 That is the nature of our unity together, a unity of spiritual conviction, harmony, and integration like that of the Father and the Son. They possessed separate identities, yet one nature, separate functions yet one purpose. It is that spiritual oneness which holds us together in a world that is falling apart. It is that spiritual nature which holds us in holiness into a world that is sunk in sinfulness. In this prayer, Jesus uses two phrases: "in the world" and "in the Father". Jesus had been "in the world" but as the Cross approaches, He leaves the world to be wholly identified "in the Father": "I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you Holy Father,"v11 Christians live in the world, but our destiny lies in our Father. Here is great insight on how we must live. At this stage in our spiritual progress, like Jesus during His time in Jerusalem, we live in the world, yet we shall live in the Father.

So He prays for His disciples: "I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." v14-17 As He prayed for His disciples so He prays for us, not that we will live cloistered from all wrong, but that we will be kept in holy living. We are in the world but not of it. Christians appear as other people, but are different by the holiness of their living. Here are two marks of a Christian: we are united and we live holy lives. Here is a third mark - we witness to Jesus.

3. JESUS PRAYS FOR OUR WITNESS.

So many are aimless, but Christians live with the purpose to shine as light in the darkness so that others will reach for the light themselves. The world is self-centred. The Christian is other centred, not turning from sinners, but seeking to win sinners to Christ. Not evasion from the world, but evangelism in the world. As Jesus prayed: "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified." v19

Jesus prays: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." V20-21 Let me ask you: Do you believe that "God so loved he world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life?" To respond "YES" is to enter His kingdom, to be in the world but no longer of it, to be in the light rather than in the darkness, to be one with the Father and the Son and with those who believe in Him, to be committed to holiness of living by the study of His word, and to be a witness to His truth that others may also believe. This prayer of Jesus is the greatest in all history. It was prayed for His disciples, and as well for you whom he calls "those who will believe in me through their message." Have you heard His prayer for you? Have you believed? Jesus prays for our unity, our holiness and our witness. Will you respond to the Gospel message now? To do so is to discover the remarkable power of prayer, especially the prayer Jesus prayed for you.

REFERENCES.

"SPIRITUAL RESOURCES FOR RESILIANCE: Prayer" Gordon Moyes

Wesley Mission, Sydney.