Sunday Night Live Sermons
THE PERPLEXITIES OF PRAYER
24th November 2002
At Wednesday's early morning meeting of the Parliamentary Prayer Group, we had an interesting discussion before we commenced our prayer time, on how God answered prayer for each of us recently. One Labor Party member told how she used to be frustrated by running late until she learnt to pray that God would make ready a parking spot for her, and inevitably whether it was at a local meeting, a supermarket or a parliamentary meeting, when she arrived at the destination, a car parking space was always empty for her. A National Party member agreed as did a couple of Liberal politicians.
I didn't. They were shocked because they assumed I would always pray for parking spots and the like. I told them that if I found a car parking space available I was thankful. If not, I started searching for one because I realised that maybe God wanted me to take the exercise and walk some distance that would be better for my health. I surprised them by saying I never prayed for anything I could handle by some hard-work, or concentrated thinking, because I assumed God gave me capacities and expected me to use them. I do not think prayer is a means to easy living. That sparked off an interesting debate among the Christian politicians! When it comes to prayer three things amaze us: that God gives us that for which we pray, that sometimes God does not give us that for which we pray because He has a better plan for us; but the third wonder, is that we should even have the capacity to ask God for anything! I am conscious that the Scriptures encourage us to pray for our every need and if ever I have a real need, I turn to prayer immediately. But parking spaces are not a real need, just a convenience!
Paul wrote, "Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." Ephesians 6:10 Praying to God can have a calming impact upon us in times of stress, and maybe that could including arriving late and not finding a car parking place. Paul encouraged, Philippians 4: 6-7 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." But what about the issues involved in both receiving and not receiving that for which we pray? Both for the agnostic and for the believer, there are some perplexities about prayer.
1. IT IS PERPLEXING GOD SHOULD HEAR PRAYER.
Some people accept the fact that humans naturally desire to pray, and they explain that universal human expression of prayer as merely autosuggestion - that when we pray we are talking to ourselves. "Lord what a change within us one short hour spent in Thy presence will avail to make." Others explain our universal expression of prayer as merely wishful thinking - that when we pray we are saying aloud what we wish or hope. Some psychiatrists who have seen in their patients the profound impact for good that prayer to a powerful God can have, have recommended to their patients autosuggestion or wishful thinking only to find that both are powerless. Internal change can only take place when it is tied to a strong external power. Prayer without belief is self-defeating because autosuggestion and wishful thinking is no stronger than the person who suggests and wishes. The miracle is that God does hear our prayers - even the prayers of the most insignificant of us.
When we pray we are talking to ourselves but also to Him. When we pray we are hoping and wishing but we are also certain that He hears us. Talking to yourself helps you understand what changes have to be made within and this enables the changes to be made. Hoping for change in faith creates the environment for changes to be made. God does hear our prayers.
2. IT IS PERPLEXING GOD SHOULD ANSWER PRAYER.
What is the nature of prayer in this fixed, orderly world that God should interfere with the course of events merely because we make a request? In a world of law and order, where the planets are in precise order and where we can set our watches by the turn of the earth, can we imagine that the great Creator would intervene in our affairs?
We feel like saying: "God is so great, that we can't expect Him to be concerned for us. Who are we to expect almighty God to be running around after our needs?" Anyone who has stood at the Western or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem has seen Jews lined up several deep facing what was the foundations of the Temple built by Herod the Great in the time of Jesus, understands. Old Jews, young Jews, bearded and clean-shaven, with long curls of hair to their shoulder and others who are skin-heads; soldiers with machine guns over their shoulders and prayer books in their hands and old men with black hats bowing constantly as they pray. In every crack between the foundations stones are pushed notes of paper with prayers written on them. They are so serious. One cannot doubt that God would hear their prayers. He must hear! The miracle is that God cares for us and if it is good for us and in line with His will, He responds to our prayers.
When we become a child of God, He expresses His fatherly concern for us. Paul said: "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith." Romans 8:14-19 That relationship means that He cares for us. In our uncertainty He stands before us ever ready to guide. In our times of trouble, he awaits our request for help. In times of loneliness, He is always beside us holding us close. Nothing is too great for our Father's power and nothing is too small for His care. "All His creatures are His care, not a bird that cleaves the air falls unnoticed; but who can speak the Father's love to man." "No matter how good we are, God could love us no more. And no matter how bad we are, He could love us no less." Mike Huckabee
Jesus tells us that God cares for the individual. The very hairs of our heads are numbered. He notes even the fall of the sparrow. I discovered this in a poem: "What Thomas Said in a Pub". Thomas is drunk and he is having a discussion with some other drinkers in a bar, somewhere in Ireland: "I saw God. Do you doubt it? Do you dare to doubt it? I saw the Almighty Man. His hand was resting on a mountain and He looked upon the world and all about it: I saw Him plainer than you see me now, You mustn't doubt it. He was not satisfied; His look was all dissatisfied. His beard swung on a wind far out of sight behind the world's curve, And there was light most fearful on His forehead and He sighed, "That star went always wrong and from the start I was dissatisfied." He lifted up His hand - I say He heaved a dreadful hand over the spinning Earth, then I said: "Stay - You must not strike it, God; I am in the way and I will never move from where I stand!" He said, "Dear child, I feared that you were dead." And stayed His hand!" James Stephens "Collected Poems" 1924 God does respond to our prayers.
3. IT IS PERPLEXING GOD SHOULD GRANT PRAYERS.
If we petition God for benefits, are we not making God into the universal provider who provides special goods and services only to those who know how to ask? In the N.S.W. Parliament, a man has been named as "Mr Fixit" who could guarantee that for the right price, he had the power to change Labor Party decisions. Is God a celestial "Mr Fixit" who for the right price from those who believe in him will arrange whatever we desire? "Just call upon the Man of Miracles and the answer is on its way".?
The miracle is that God does grant our petitions in the most generous way. We have all heard of people petitioning God for some blessing and finding that God has blessed them abundantly; of some person who has given in faith and prayed God's blessing upon their gift only to find that God multiplies their resources and replaces their gift over and over. We may think these stories incredible and exaggerated but they happen.
It is nine years ago today, that a cardiologist confirmed I had suffered two very damaging heart attacks. I needed immediate open-heart surgery. He said, "Half your heart is dead meat and the other half is not too good." The cardiac surgeon said to Beverley as I was wheeled into the operating theatre, "This will be a challenge." The news was printed in the newspapers and hundreds of people rang or wrote offering their prayers. Governor Peter Sinclair rang and talked with Beverley for a long time offering his support and prayers. I had fixed my affairs and farewelled my wife and children. I was absolutely at peace. Never once did I pray that I would recover. I prayed that my wife and family would be strong and would cope whatever the result. But I had no needs.
I thanked God for a good life with more than my share of success and that everything at Wesley Mission for which I had laboured so intensely was complete and running well. I asked God to bless the medical staff and those others that day who would face surgery. Then in absolute trust, I went to sleep. If I should recover, then well and good. God had more work for me to do and I would do it to the limit of my capabilities. But if God had a parking spot picked out for me with my name on it, well and good! I would be better then than at any time of my life! But God had not chosen a parking spot for me. Instead He had chosen that I should do a lot of walking, and get more exercise, and loose weight and at that time, an incredible five bypasses with the dead meat of the heart recovering. It was a miracle that God should answer the prayers of his people.
The miracle is that in spite of our perplexities, God does hear our prayers, respond to our prayers and grant our prayers. We may not understand how or why but we live trusting Him for the answer. Those who do not believe in Him never look for the answer and spend their lives muttering about "co-incidences", "chance encounters" "unaccountable luck". But those who believe - know! Jesus said: "And when you pray and ask for anything believe you have received it, and you will be given whatever you ask for. If you believe you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. When you pray, you must believe and not doubt at all." Mark 11:24 God has three answers to our prayers: Yes, and our prayer is granted; No, and we do not get what we have petitioned God; and, "Just wait - I have something better in mind for you!" That is basically why I never pray about the parking spots. God knows my need, and His knowledge is best.
During the invasion of Kuwait to liberate it from Iraq, known as Operation Desert Storm, Major Michael Halt was in charge of 130 marines who were in the front line. They had been under heavy artillery fire and ahead lay thousands of Iraqi troops just over the border. It was time for them to advance. Major Halt prayed, "Dear God, help me to lead my troops wisely. Watch over us. Keep us safe. Amen." The troops wrote their last letters home and then Michael gave the order to advance. As they started forward, it began to rain - a most unusual event in the desert. This was the desert storm they had not expected!
It didn't just rain, it poured! The troops had no covering and they were soaked to the bone. Michael prayed, "Father, it is bad enough having the troops against us. Please make this rain stop and protect us." They marched on in the flooding rain until they reached the border. Now the battle would begin. Suddenly the rain stopped and skies turned blue. There ahead lay the sands of Kuwait and the awaiting Iraqis. But the torrents had washed away the sand to reveal thousands of metal discs planted across their path. It was an Iraqi minefield. In answer to Michael's prayer for protection, God had revealed every mine through the rains Michael did not want!
The answer to our perplexities lies not in our human wisdom but in our spiritual trust! The experience of praying is the greatest assurance. They who pray - know! Therefore - trust! Trust the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who knows our every need, who desires only the best for us, and who answers our prayers in whatever way will be for our good. Don't you fret over the parking spaces! He has a place for you if you only trust.
"SPIRITUAL RESOURCES FOR RESILIANCE: Prayer" Gordon Moyes. Open Book. 2001.
"LIVING BEYOND YOUR LIFETIME." Mike Huckabee. Broadman 2002.
"HIS MYSYTERIOUS WAYS" Major Michael Halt. Guideposts Nov 2002