Pray Bigger (9/3/2017)

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In his book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, author and pastor Jim Cymbala wrote, “You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning.  You can tell how popular the pastor or evangelist is by who comes on Sunday night.  But you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to the prayer meeting.” While we don’t have Sunday evening services or scheduled prayer meetings, this quote makes an important point. One of the best ways to measure our dedication and devotion to Jesus is by looking at our prayer life. The more we love Jesus, the more we pray. The less we love Jesus, the less we pray.

What does your prayer life reveal about your relationship with Jesus?

Let’s look at how we pray as a congregation. We have intercessory prayer for joys and concerns almost every Sunday. What exactly is intercessory prayer? Intercession is defined as “the action of intervening on behalf of another.” This is what we do.  We pray to God on behalf of others.

When we have intercessory prayer, what do we usually pray for? The main way we intercede for others is by praying for their healing from illnesses, injuries or diseases. There are examples in both the Old and New Testament where God responds to people’s prayer for healing. For example, James 5:16 says, 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Another topic we pray for is “travelling mercies” for people who are going on long trips. While there aren’t any specific verses in the Bible about praying for safety while travelling, there’s nothing saying we shouldn’t pray for this. I do have a question though. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 52 percent of all accidents occur within a five-mile radius of home and 69 percent of all accidents occur within ten miles of home. Since most accidents happen within ten miles of our homes, why do we only seem concerned with praying for travelling safety when people are going on long journeys?

Is it wrong to pray for healing and travelling mercies? Certainly not. But is it enough to pray for only these things? There are many different passages in the Bible about prayer and how to pray. The word “pray” is found 367 times in the New International Version of the Bible. We also need to ask: What other topics does God want us to include in our prayers?

Since we don’t have time to look at all of these passages, let’s look at one of the most famous prayers in the Bible. The Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

This prayer starts with calling out to God. Jesus then tells us to pray for 6 things:

*that God’s name would hallowed (honored as holy)

*for God’s kingdom to come

*for God’s will to be done on earth

*for God to provide for us

*for God to forgive our sins

*for God to deliver us from temptation and evil

Jesus is clear that while it’s certainly appropriate to pray for healing and safety while travelling, we need to pray bigger. When we pray bigger, we need to expect God to respond in big and unexpected ways.

In one of the classes I took while training to be a pastor, the professor divided us into groups of three or four people. Each group had to choose two spiritual disciples from Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster and practice them together. One discipline my group chose was fasting. We decided to fast for 24 hours.

Another assignment we had in this class was to pray for 4 hours. We couldn’t divide it into shorter segments that totaled four hours. We had to pray for four hours straight. I had to submit a basic plan for how I would spend this time. My plan was to start with Bible reading, listening to Praise and Worship music, and then spending the bulk of the time both talking and listening to God. This sounded like a good churchy, theologically correct way to spend my time in prayer.

I decided to combine my half day of prayer with my day of fasting. Since my wife, Stephanie, was working evening shifts, I’d pray for 4 hours after I got home from work because I’d have the house all to myself.

The funny thing is God has a way of taking our plans and blowing them all to pieces. He led me down a path that was totally unexpected by me.

I started my prayer time on Thursday evening after I got home from work. Since I’d been in the office all day, I started my prayer time by enjoying the outdoors before the sun set. While I was walking and praying, I saw a man along the road on a bicycle. As I was talking to him to see if he was alright, I felt led by the Lord to return home, get my pickup truck and take the man home.

I took him to his house and started back to mine. The Lord spoke to me again. He said, “Go to the grocery store, buy some frozen bread and bake it for your neighbors.” I immediately knew why he wanted me to do this. When my family first moved into the Coopersburg, Pennsylvania area from West Virginia, I made a conscious effort to get to know our neighbors. They were friendly and appreciated the contact I made with them but they never seemed to have time to return any concern or friendship to my family. After a while, I quit trying and attempted to justify it by saying, “Everybody up here is individualistic and doesn’t care anyway.” Several times after I felt slighted by our neighbors, I did make comments that I should bake some bread and give it to them. I just never made the effort to do it.

Naturally, I was surprised to sense God calling me to bake bread during prayer time. I even wondered if it was within the scope of our assignment. I wanted to be faithful though. I went to the store, bought frozen rolls, took them home and baked them. I prayed for the neighbors who were going to receive them.

The next day I delivered the bread. These visits revealed the following: one neighbor was very lonely since her husband died and was having difficulties, another neighbor was having knee replacement surgery during the winter and needed support; and other neighbors were dealing with extended family members who live thousands of miles away. I would have never known these things if I hadn’t been obedient to God and baked bread during prayer time.

This time of prayer is one that I treasure. I felt the presence and leading of God in my life. I was reminded that I am to be a good neighbor even if I receive nothing in return. God filled me with His peace and reassurance for being obedient. It reminded me that God really can’t be put into a box. He will radically change our plans so his kingdom can unfold on earth.

So, sisters and brothers of Jesus, go ahead and pray for healing. Keep interceding about travelling mercies. But pray bigger. Also ask:

*that his name would hallowed (honored as holy)

*for God’s kingdom to come

*for God’s will to be done on earth

*for God to provide for us

*for God to forgive our sins

*for God to deliver us from temptation and evil

Make this pattern part of your personal prayer life. Show Jesus you love him by spending time with him in prayer. Expect God to work in new and powerful ways that expands his kingdom on earth.