1 Corinthians 4:7 and Acts 2:1-4
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
August 12, 2018
With this sermon we conclude a ten-part series on the life of prayer. The Bible has made it clear: prayer, at its best, is a two-way, give-and-take interaction.
We contribute to the interaction by doing certain things, both on our own and in community. We focus our attention and listen to God. We praise God, thank God, confess to God, repent before God, argue with God, and ask of God. We submit to God’s rule and offer ourselves into His service. We give ourselves and our gifts to God in prayer.
But, more importantly, God gives Himself and His gifts to us in prayer.
In fact, in praying, we receive far more than we give. For when we give our everything to the relationship, God gives us His everything – and His everything is a whole lot larger than ours!
Prayer is a blessed exchange in which we end up way ahead. Let me today highlight just two of the gifts we receive through the interaction: first, heaven’s guidance and empowerment and second, heaven’s transformation of our character and conduct.
First, in prayer we receive guidance and power.
Consider the example of Harriet Tubman. Tubman rescued hundreds out of slavery and led them to safety. She did it with a faith-filled dependence on God in prayer. To obtain God’s leading in her work, she meditated carefully on the many scriptures she’d memorized and listened carefully to the saints who had her back in support. By keeping her ears open in prayer, she discerned the way forward in her cause; and by keeping her heart open in prayer, she obtained the strength to persevere in her efforts despite all the danger and difficulty they involved. Toward the end of her life, she testified, “I prayed all the time about my work, everywhere; I was always talking to the Lord.”
Moreover, while much of her work, by its nature, had to be done alone, Tubman never ceased to rely on other believers, particularly her prayer partners. The identities of most of them have long been lost from history, but they are well known to God and they will surely obtain their share in her eternal reward for her work of liberation.
In truth, few of us get noticed when we make our biggest contributions to the achievement of God’s will. Yet, even those who never receive recognition on earth still receive it in heaven and are celebrated there as essential partners in the ongoing work of Christ.
The three smallest bones in the human body are the middle ear ossicles – the malleus, incus and stapes – more commonly known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup. The hammer is arranged so that one end is attached to the eardrum while the other end forms a lever-like hinge with the anvil. The opposite end of the anvil is fused with the stirrup so that anvil and stirrup act in conjunction. Though the middle ear ossicles work in obscurity, completely invisible to the outside world, they are absolutely essential to our ability to hear. Without them, only 0.1 percent of the sound energy that hits the eardrum would be conveyed. Those tiny bones produce a sonic effect far beyond their diminutive size.
The human body has no insignificant parts. In the same way, the body of Christ has no insignificant members. Every believer has an impact to make – however large or small in their eyes, however visible or invisible to others – a vital role to play for the full functioning of the whole. Though some get no more notice than an ossicles, each is essential.
Some of us were once “major” leaders in the church, but no longer have a prominent role. The lack of prominence, however, does not mean that we no longer have a vital role to fulfill. No longer having our former “major” role actually frees us up to fulfill a more fruitful role in prayer – and more is accomplished in prayer than in activity. Prayer amplifies the sound of God’s voice and makes straight the paths of the Holy Spirit before Him. Prayer is crucial in making human activity supernatural and telling.
Prayerlessness, on the other hand, leads to wasted expenditure of energy and resources, and renders even well-intentioned labor impotent. R.A. Torrey once lamented, “We are too busy to pray; and so we are too busy to have power. We have a great deal of activity, but we accomplish little; many services, but few conversions; much machinery, but few results.” By contrast, prayerfulness interjects divine light and power into merely mortal doing.
In prayer then we receive guidance and power. Second, in prayer we receive transformation of our character and conduct. When we pray, we draw close to God, and in that proximity His qualities rub off on us. Even if prayer never changed the world, it would change us, recreating us into better human beings.
When we pray, we gain both the mind and heart of God. We gain His sense of what really matters and what does not; and, as a result, we become courageous and determined in our labors of love. We make our efforts all about what is of eternal value: justice, compassion and witness to the Truth; and we hardly count the costs of serving those eternal purposes, because it costs only the loss of passing things such as wealth, popularity, and freedom from hardship.
When we pray, we not only gain a sense of what really matters, but we also gain perspective on the course of human events, including the course of our individual lives. We then become calm in our struggles as well as courageous. We remain tranquil in trials and troubles because, remembering the God we’ve gotten to know in conversation, we bear in mind that He is in ultimate control, always cares, and never ceases to work in all things for good. He then becomes the stable, serenity-inducing center to which we can return whenever we need to catch our breath, get reoriented, and get ready to again take on the challenges before us.
When I was growing up, my favorite playground piece of equipment was a rotating metal disk a few feet off the ground that spun around like a top on a lubricated center pillar. The disk had rails that you could push as you ran around it in order to generate enough G-force to justify jumping on board, grabbing a rail and, if you were brave, hanging out over the outside edge to experience the thrill of maximum centrifugal force.
Of course, if you stayed too long out there on the disconcerting edge, spinning at frighteningly high speeds, you might get really scared or sick enough to throw up – especially if there were some really big kids still running hard around the merry-go-round and pushing on the rails with all their might. At such times, if you had any sense, you’d crawl carefully toward the center, where things were safer, slower, more serene and more settling.
Many of our lives are spinning fast and hard, and we need a center to which to retreat where we can find, not just rest from the rush, but also renewal of our capacity to test our limits once more and to try out a still more wonderful and exhilarating ride.
So who or what is the center of your life? Your family? Your career? Your forms of recreation? Your standing in the eyes of others?
To pray is to center ourselves on God and to receive from His tranquil presence the gifts of peace, confidence and steadfast bravery in taking on life in the places of risk.
As we give God our all, God gives us His all: His wisdom, His strength, His courage, His calm and, best of all, His companionship in the disconcerting challenges of living for and with Jesus in this world. Let us pray.