JAMES 5:16; LUKE 11:1-4


JANUARY 10, 2009

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            I love baseball and particularly the Los Angeles Dodgers, and one of my fantasies is the phone will ring and the manager of the Dodgers will ask me to serve as chaplain of the team.  I wouldn’t leave you for any other church, but I’ll be honest, I would leave you to be the chaplain of the Dodgers.

            I did not always love the Dodgers.  When I was a young boy my favorite team was the New York Yankees, and my favorite player was their center fielder Mickey Mantle.  You may not be familiar with that name, but you probably have heard of his teammate, the Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra.  Berra was one of the most colorful and popular players on the Yankees.  He still remains one of the most quotable players in sports.  For example, one day Berra was involved in a tie baseball game, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.  An opposing batter stepped into the batter’s box and proceeded to make the sign of the cross at home plate.  Berra, being a Catholic himself, noticed the act, wiped off the plate with his catcher’s mitt, and said, “Why don’t we let God just watch this game?”

            That is good theology when applied to the outcome of a baseball game, but terrible theology when applied to the way we live our lives.  All too often, however, that is precisely how we live.  God is in attendance at our game of life, but only as our honored spectator.  Our prayers are merely ceremonial functions: tips of the hat, verbal recognition over the loudspeaker between innings, or requests to throw out the game ball.  God may even have the best seat in the stadium, but rarely, if ever, does God get on the playing field.

            Our adult Sunday School class is working its way through Luke’s Gospel, and one of the things that stands out in Luke’s Gospel is the number of times Jesus goes off by himself to pray.  Sometimes he even spent the entire night in prayer.  Given the example of Jesus’ prayer life, why then do we, as a whole, pray so infrequently?  Well, three possibilities come to mind.

            Number one: we do not know how to pray.  Remember the request the disciples made to Jesus?  Listen to these words from Luke’s Gospel:


            He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say:

            ‘Father, hallowed by thy name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.  And do not bring us to the time of trial (Luke 11:-4).’”


            Picture that scene.  Jesus was at a slight distance from his disciples, and they were watching him pray.  As they watched, they realized how differently Jesus prayed than how they prayed.  It was certainly a higher priority in his life.  He often went off alone to pray, and what results!  Before long the disciples began making a connection between Jesus’ public life and his prayer life.  As they watched, they thought about the spiritual bankruptcy in their own lives.  If only, they could pray like Jesus.  If only they could sense God’s power and presence in their lives as he did.

            After a while one of them suggested, “Why don’t we ask Jesus to teach us how to pray?  After all, it’s common for disciples to ask rabbis questions.  Let’s ask him.”  So they chose one of the group to speak for them, and when Jesus had finished praying, the selected disciple walked over to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

            Funny, things have not changed much over the centuries.  We modern-day disciples have the same request.  We would love to pray like Jesus.  We do not want to live off the spiritual experience of another.  We want first-hand conversation with God, but like the disciples, just do not know how to do it.

            A second possibility for why we don’t pray more often is we do not think prayer accomplishes much. 

            A number of years ago, I attended a seminar on prayer at which the seminar leader asked us why we did not pray more often.  A very honest woman said, “Because deep down we don’t think prayer really does much.  We think it’s a nice religious thing to do, and it makes us feel better, but that’s about all.”  She said,  “If we really believed prayer got God’s attention, our knees would have calluses.  But they don’t because we don’t believe prayer does all that much.”      

            That’s a problem for some of us. We do not believe that prayer moves the hand of God.  Our actions reveal our beliefs.  What usually happens when the pressures of family, friends, work, school begin accumulating?  Do we spend more time in prayer as the pressures and demands build or do we spend less time in prayer?  For the majority of us, we spend less time in prayer.  We decide we have too much to do to pray.

            Many of us see prayer as a luxury, icing on the cake, instead of a spiritual discipline that actually does something.  When we must get something done, something accomplished, we usually cast aside prayer so we can get to work talking, writing, texting, phoning, budgeting and organizing.  It would be nice to spend more time praying, but only if so many necessities of life did not press upon us.  We think we are too busy to pray, when in truth we are too busy because we have not prayed.

            But to Jesus, prayer was central to his work.  Looking at this life, we are struck by the time he spent praying, especially given the demands he endured.  Here’s another example from Luke’s gospel, and listen to the demands upon him.


            But now more than ever word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases.  But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray (Luke 5:15-16).


            Why did Jesus do this?  Why did he withdraw to pray?  Why not stay at work, preaching and healing.  Why did he go off to pray instead?  My guess, for him prayer was work.  For Jesus prayer accomplished something.  Prayer unleashed God’s power in this life and in the lives of others.  Jesus knew that if he didn’t fall on his knees, he would fall on his face.

            The third possibility for why we spend so little time in prayer lies with our concept of God. 

            A schoolboy was asked what he thought God was like.  He said that, as far as he could tell, God was “the sort of person who is always snooping around to see if people are enjoying themselves and then trying to stop it!”

            If we. like this schoolboy, picture God as a cosmic kill-joy, then we will not go to God very often in prayer.

            Then there are those who picture God at the other extreme.  They see God not as a cosmic kill-joy, but as a colossal vending machine whose sole purpose is to give us what we want.  Just pop in a prayer and out comes our heart’s desire.  A problem arises, however, when we don’t get what we want.  Then we kick and scream at our cosmic vending machine for swallowing our prayer and not giving us anything in return.

            Jesus likens God to neither of these two extremes.  To him, God is like a good parent who will give us in prayer what it good for us, not always what we want.

            I love the fact that our kids are now parents and they have to say no to their children, like, at times, we had to say no to their requests as well.  As a loving and responsible parent you cannot always give them what they want, and sometimes they really get bugged at you for withholding their desire, but you know giving them that toy, or that candy bar, or that week in Cancun over Easter will not be in their best interest. 

            And can you imagine what it would be like if God gave us everything we asked for in prayer.  Think about it.  Can you imagine all our prayers being granted without the benefit of God’s review or wisdom?  Thankfully, our heavenly parent has our best interests at heart, and does review our requests.

            Well, whatever our objections and hesitancies about prayer, they do not change the fact that we are called to pray, and specifically we are called to pray for one another.  After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Apostle James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem.  Listen to his call to prayer for one another:


            Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.


            James makes two important statements about prayer in these verses.  Number one, he says it is powerful and effective.  In other words, “Be careful what you pray for because you may get it!”  For James, prayer accomplishes something.  For James, prayer moves the hand of God.

            Number two, James stresses our interdependence as Christians: Pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  Louis Evans Jr. said, and I quote, “Certain things will not happen in another person’s life unless we pray for him or her.  We or a covenant partner may have a need which can be fulfilled only by God’s power, and when we pray for someone we love, we make that power available to them.  This is our responsibility to another.”

            Why does God operate this way?  Why are certain resources available to us only through the prayers of others?  Think of the kind of people we would be if we did not need anyone else.  We could easily become lonely, isolated and proud.  So to combat our self-sufficient tendencies, God created us with a need for himself and for one another.  Prayer is the language that draws us closer to God and to one another.

            In the winter of 2007, a woman by the name of Linda was felled by not one but two brain aneurysms.  For weeks she lingered on life support, growing weaker each day.  As her condition deteriorated, her children were called in to say their goodbyes, and her church prepared for a funeral.  Then Linda suddenly snapped out of her coma. As she came to, she looked over at her husband and asked, "Where is everybody else?"

            Shaking his head, he explained, "They allow only one of us at a time in the ICU. There is no one else here."

            Linda argued, "No, I heard them.  They were all speaking at the same time, and there were hundreds of them, too.  Some of them I knew; others I didn't.  But they were all around me.  They were here!"

            Linda's husband assured her that all those people had never been in the room. Like many, he initially thought that Linda must have been hallucinating.  Some people speculated that Linda had seen and heard angels.  But the real answer was probably much closer to home.

            A few days after her miraculous recovery, Linda discovered that a large prayer chain had been created to pray for her.  This group had been formed when news of her condition was sent out to local churches, and then it had spread to other groups throughout the region.  Within days Linda's name had been placed on hundreds of prayer lists and written in scores of prayer logs. For weeks, thousands were praying for her each day.  Her miraculous recovery convinced Linda of two things: the voices she heard were of the people who had been praying for her, and those prayers had pulled her back from death's door.

            Linda's story is far from unusual.  Countless people have been touched by the power of prayer.  Science and personal experiences have proven that the words of prayer do have impact.

            Pray for one another, so that you may be healed.