Rev’d Jonathan Gale
We’ve been speaking lately of prayer and last week we went through the A.C.T.S. template – a pattern for praying:
- Thanksgiving and …
Now prayer is hard work. Anyone who says otherwise has not prayed consistently and faithfully. And it is consistent and faithful prayer that is needed if we are to be effective in praying for one another, especially in the light of the Families Praying for Families programme we are re-launching.
As human beings, we all battle to understand grace: the unmerited favour of God. It is so easy to fall back into a legalistic mindset. We think we have to earn things to be rewarded.
A similar legalistic attitude is our thinking we need to be tangibly rewarded for effort. Linked to that is the idea that unless we see tangible results we believe we have failed. We are success orientated.
It might surprise you to hear that all this is not the way God thinks at all. God looks for faithfulness. Nothing more. We leave the results to him and sometimes they may not be what we expect. That will always be the case when grace is the overriding principle. Grace is about relationship, not contract. Contract is legalistic.
As a result when we pray, and do not see the results we expect, we think that either we have failed or God is not listening, Neither is true. We only fail when we are not faithful in prayer.
There is a principle in the Kingdom of God, and it’s a bit like project management. Any engineer who has managed a large construction project will tell you that most of the work happens up front before you see anything coming out of the ground at all.
The same applies to prayer. Sometimes the tangible results are a long time coming. That’s not our problem. The results are up to God. Ours is to be consistent and faithful in prayer.
I may have told this apocryphal story before but it is a good (if somewhat extreme) example of what I mean.
A missionary society sent a young man to a part of the world that had never heard the gospel. The young man was enthusiastic and set about learning the local language of the people he had been sent to, getting acquainted with their customs, building relationships and sharing Christ with them.
But he was faithful and continued his work with enthusiasm – for the rest of his life. Literally the rest of his life because he died in his forties with not one convert to his name.
The missionary society then dutifully sent out another young man to take his place. He walked into a village with an interpreter and began to tell the people about Jesus.
“O, we know him” they said. “He used to live with us. We can show you his grave.”
The first missionary’s life had been so Christ-like that the tribespeople responded to the Gospel and a flourishing church was established. Now the question is this, Was the first missionary successful? Of course he was! He was faithful and the fruit to his faithfulness was borne when God decided it would be.
Jacob faithfully pursued his objective: which happened to be a lovely young lady called Rachel, and eventually God faithfully blessed his life abundantly. We can expect a similar faithfulness from God when we pray.
Paul senses that the Roman church struggles with prayer and he tells them
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes* with sighs too deep for words. 27And God,* who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit* intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.*
When we are faithful in prayer the Holy Spirit comes to our aid and articulates our prayers before the Father.
Does that mean everything looks rosey? Not at all. Paul mentions ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
But he follows these words with, No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
The tangible results will come, but not necessarily in the way or at the time we expect. Ours is to be faithful and we can do so with hope and faith because God loves us and takes our poor efforts at communicating with him and turns them into something he can do something about.
In prayer we all start small, and go through a period where it’s all about hanging in there, before God begins to answer in ways unexpected. That is why the prophet Zechariah tells the returning Exiles Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.
Jesus described the effect of faith as small as a mustard seed. It grows he says, into the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
When we begin praying for people, we should do so passionately and regularly.
God calls us to be consistent and faithful. And to leave the results to him.
Scripture Readings this week:
Genesis 29: 15 – 28
Romans 8: 26 – 39
Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 – 52