PRAYING TOGETHER Trinity
Matthew 9:27-38 13.09.20
Did anything in our reading from Matthew 9 strike you as strange? Jesus is followed by two blind men who ask him to show mercy on them – they want him to heal them. Can he? Does he have the ability to do that? Of course, so when he does it, that’s not strange.
Then here is the man who can’t speak, and worse still is possessed by an evil spirit. Does Jesus have the ability to heal him, and overpower a demon? Of course, so when he does, that’s not strange.
After that, Jesus is preaching and healing in city after village after village. With great compassion for people who are like lost and underfed sheep. How will he get around to them all?
If he can make blind people see and dumb people speak, he could call in a thousand angels to do the job. Or radically change a thousand of his fellow Jews to be the best preachers ever? Sure. Or just make people hear supernaturally.
No – he tells his disciples to pray for more preachers to be raised up for this work. Now that is strange. He can give sight, give voice, give orders to demons … and he tells his disciples to ask for something that he could also so easily give immediately.
Now we know that there won’t be new preachers unless God sends them … and we know they won’t know what to say unless God gives them the words … and we know that the helpless sheep won’t hear what they say, and look to Jesus as their shepherd, unless God makes all that happen.
By what means will all that happen? God will do these things in answer to the prayer of his children. The results will be all his doing … and he will use the means of our praying to do it.
Do you see the contrast in our passage? The Lord who gives sight, gives speech, commands demons and can do anything he wishes, says we are to pray and ask for what he could do with a blink of one eye.
Is anything about that not crystal clear?
- We know that it is said that there are more than 17,000 unique people groups in the world, and more than 7,000 of them have no gospel preacher among them.
- We know there whereas the gospel had once saturated most of Europe, there are now European cities of millions where real Christians number just a few thousand.
- We know there are millions of Australians with access to good education and all kinds of technology but who haven’t got a clue what ultimately matters and what does not, and why they are and who they are. Shoved this way by that voice, and then another by this one, “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd”.
Should we be working out what we can do to make the gospel known? Who we can send? Sure, but Jesus says “Pray”. Not only, but start there, and keep praying.
Do you personally pray that? In your dedicated time for prayer each day. As you read and hear world news, as you see your neighbour, and reflect on the state of things here in our city. Do you pray that God will raise up and send gospel men and women into the towns and armies and governments of Iran and Afghanistan … into remote parts of Asia and Africa … into the universities and TAFE’s and prisons and board rooms and factories and towns and cities of Australia?
My question today is bigger than even that? This is something for youse. Or “y’all” as some might say. This is something for us, collectively, as a church. I want to talk about praying together.
It’s not an accident that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he told them to begin “Our Father”. To pray together as a family. Of course we say “my Father”, but the more usual thing is to say “Our Father”.
In the book of Acts we see people praying 21 times. Two thirds of the time people are praying together. It’s what Christians do.
- When Paul wrote from prison to the Philippian church, he said “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will turn out for my deliverance” (Phil 1:19).
- To the church at Rome he said “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” (Rom 5:30).
The believers at Philippi and at Rome no doubt prayed on their own for Paul, but they sure prayed together.
When do WE pray together? There are a few answers to that. We pray together when we meet like this on a Sunday. 100 or 200 of us can’t all pray out loud, but we still pray together.
When a brother stood here earlier to lead us in prayer, he wasn’t just doing his thing. He didn’t say “I” or “me” once. He said “we” and “us”. He was gathering us all up … we all praised God for who he is, we thanked him for his blessings, we confessed our sins and we made our requests known.
The men who lead us in prayer each week lead us so well. More often than not, I find myself silently saying, while they pray, “Yes, Lord, that’s true. You are wonderful.” “Yes, my sins are just like that”. “Yes, that is what we need”. “Yes, what a good way to pray to “the Lord of the harvest” to send labourers into the harvest.” “Yes, I am thankful for all that.”
It used to be that when one led in prayer on behalf of all, we all said “Yes, that’s our prayer” by heartily saying “Amen” at the end. That would be a good habit to get back into, don’t you think?
Prayer here on Sunday morning/afternoon is not just a formality or a gap-filler. It really matters, as together as the people of God, we come into his presence in this way.
We pray together also when we are in smaller gatherings with each other. Our small groups are great for Bible study and for catching up but they are also ideal places for prayer. Not just a finish-off prayer before we all race off, but a dedicated segment of our time.
Maybe we need to start with prayer together, so it doesn’t get squeezed out. Maybe someone in the group volunteers to chase down some points for prayer, in advance. Maybe we break into 2’s or 3’s to pray. What matters is that we do it.
The smaller gatherings might be a group of 3 who get together once a fortnight for the specific purpose of praying. Or it might be after we’ve been together for a meal. Or a working bee. Or it is the group that meets to plan a church activity or run a childrens’ program.
When can we pray together, when we meet like this … when we are in smaller groupings … and also, when we meet specifically to pray in what we call a “prayer meeting”.
Here, as John Onwuchekwa says in his little book on Prayer, praying is like the potatoes beside the meat, where the meat is the main part, the preaching. At the prayer meeting, praying is the meat, the main part, the primary reasons for gathering.
You may recall our elders saying at the end of last year that they had been wrong in allowing regular, church-wide, specific meetings for prayer slide. They’ve been trying to put that right this year, subject to Covid restrictions.
Why have a meeting just for prayer? Not because there is something wrong with our prayer at Sunday church. Not because God does more just because more pray. We do it because there are some great reasons for doing it:
- It honours our heavenly Father when we confess as a church that we know we can’t program or organise or preach people into the kingdom of God … all of that is a waste if God doesn’t do it quite supernaturally. Doing that, we learn to lean on God.
- It’s helps us to stop and get our thinking straight, as we stop and re-align our thoughts and plans with God’s. And then to look to see how God answers our prayers his way.
- It’s where we might learn to pray, and how to pray about some situations, by listening to others. There was no prayer in the home where I grew up; I learned to pray when I started going to church prayer meetings at age 17.
- It is a huge encouragement to those who have various roles of leadership in our church … as we stand with them in this way, you can almost hear them breathe more easily and whisper “We’re not doing this on our own.”
- When we are praying together the “I” of my prayers, becomes a “we” of our prayers and that’s really good for me, and for us. Praying like this help cement and express our unity of mind and heart and helps undo my godless individualism.
If there are so many good reasons for joining together in this way, why do you suppose we don’t do it?
- Do we think that we will achieve more by planning and doing and organising? Or that things in the church will just roll on because people are so generous, or leaders are so focussed or something else? Not that planning and doing and leading do not matter, but apart from God’s sovereign work, it’s all a waste of time.
- Do we not come because we think that if we did, we’d have to pray out loud? Or that we’d have to sound clever if we did? That we couldn’t simply sit beside those who do pray out loud and join our ‘amen’ to their prayer? None of that is true.
- Do we not come because there’s not much to pray about?
>> When there is a harvest to be had for Jesus, but labourers are so few?
>> When there are forces of Islam and secularism to be stopped in their tracks?
>> When so many of us struggle with sins and sickness and doubt and tough daily circumstances?
>> When there have been some wonderful blessings to which we ought to respond with deep thankfulness?
>> When there are issues in our town and in our nation that will; be deadly if the Lord doesn’t intervene?
>> When there are issues for us a church which we all need to own, and for which we need mercy?
- Do we not come because prayer meetings are always on at the wrong time? If that’s true, that can be easily enough fixed.
- Do we not come because we’ve never come, and it would feel weird to start? Well, it might, but feeling weird has not stopped us starting in a new class, or a new job, or moving house, or living with someone after you’ve lived alone. Weird so easily becomes good if what we’re doing is good, doesn’t it?
- Do we not come because it is hard work? In a way it is hard. When Paul wrote to the church at Rome and asked the members to “strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” (Rom 15:30) he uses the word sunagonizomai. Do what with me? Agonise with me, go the long haul with me, pay the cost along with me. Whatever it costs and whatever it takes to stand with me in your praying, I beg you to do it. So much hangs on it.
Yes, Jesus could have provided an army of preachers just by a word … exactly as he heals the blind men and the dumb man and commands Satan himself with a word.
Strange, isn’t it, that instead of that, he tells us to pray that an army of preachers might be raised up, as though our praying will be the means of the best things happening.
Strange, yes, but also mind-blowingly wonderful.
So what will this mean for you? I do hope it helps confirm for you what Ross taught us last week and that your personal praying takes on new dimensions.
How about as someone leads in prayer here? Where praying is not just an optional extra, but when God is honoured and his purposes are extended? Where “I” becomes “we” as we join our hearts together and as we say “Our Father”, and “Amen” together.
What will it mean in your small group, or your informal get together for lunch, or your planning meeting, or our elders’ meeting?
What will it mean for you when our next prayer meeting is advertised? Just not on your agenda? Or there from here on in a new way?
God as “OUR” Father is even more than that he is “MY Father”. What a privilege to display and revel in that.