2 Chronicles 7:12-18
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 21, 2019
Though making requests of God is by no means the most important form of praying, it is a vitally important one that God commands us to practice. For when we make requests of God, God does wonderful things He would not have otherwise done. In fact, we accomplish more by praying than we ever do by working hard.
If we want our prayers on behalf of others to bring them maximum benefit, we have to meet two conditions. The first one most Christians are already familiar with: We have to ask with faith-filled expectation. The second one is just as crucial, but often forgotten: In addition to praying in faith, we have to be acting in faithfulness both before and after we pray – that is, we have to live in the righteousness of obedience. Faithlessness can render our praying fruitless. Many a scripture says what Isaiah 59:2 says: “Your iniquities become barriers between you and your God…so that He does not hear you.”
For example, 1 Peter 3:7 says that husbands who fail to love their wives “hinder” their prayers.
And it is not just our failing to do the right thing before we pray that hinders our praying. It is also our failing to do it after we pray. Our refusal to be available to be part of God’s answer to our prayer makes God deaf to our praying. For example, if we pray for God to stop the human trafficking going on at our local ports, but do not offer what money we can to support the efforts to fight sexual slavery, or do not give what time we can to advocate for governmental action, God will not be much moved by our prayers, no matter how fervently we pray.
How we live outside of our times of praying will either inhibit or enhance the impact of our praying. We must remember how last Sunday’s scripture, James 5:16, puts its promise about praying for others: “The prayer of the righteous,” it says, “is powerful and effective.” If we are not righteous in our living, we will not be potent in our praying. For while we can do little apart from God, God will do little apart from us.
We can see all this in what God said to Solomon after the dedication of the Jerusalem temple, a place built to be a house of prayer. God told Solomon it would be what it is meant to be only when God’s people are what they are meant to be.
God that night said that He loves His people with tough love and thus brings hardship upon them, despite their prayers to the contrary, if such hardship is what they need to come to their senses and return to the paths of righteousness. In Solomon’s day, God would shut up the heavens so there’d be no rain, command the locust to devour their crops, and send pestilence among them.
Conversely, God that night promised grace to His people when they repent of their unrighteousness. He told Solomon that if they’d humble themselves, pray, seek His face and turn from their wicked ways, He would hear their prayers, forgive their sins, heal their land and dwell among them.
To repeat, how we act before and after we pray determines the power and effectiveness of our prayers.
Let me, however, hasten to clarify that, when James says it is the “righteous” whose prayers are powerful and effective, he is not using the term “righteous” as Paul does when, for example, in Romans 3:10, he says, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” For then the promise from James wouldn’t apply to anyone.
For James, being righteous does not mean being virtuous enough to win God over by our goodness or perfect enough to be entitled to expect anything from God. It means seeking righteousness with a dedicated heart and doing all the good God has thus far enabled us to do. It means refusing to let anything unrighteous occupy the place in our heart that God alone should occupy and into which God cannot re-enter without our repenting and submitting again to His rule. It means persevering in the life-long task of turning away from sin and returning to the Lord, an effort that has to be renewed each day.
How we act outside of our praying affects what comes of our praying. Yet, acknowledging that should not lead us to think that God proportions His graciousness to our righteousness. God always gives more generously than our righteousness earns or merits.
To make a real difference for others through prayer, we don’t have to impress God – as if we ever could! – we just have to align our concerns with His, contribute to the achievement of His will what He’s given us to contribute, and believe with expectant hope that even by small offerings God can make big miracles. Jesus fed 5,000 with nothing but what a little boy emptied out of his brown bag: two sardines and five scraps of bread. The boy gave Jesus all he had; and, though it wasn’t all that much, it became more than enough in Jesus’ hands.
To bless others by our praying, we just have to turn to the Lord and turn over to Him everything we have. We just have to believe with a faith the size of a mustard seed and act with whatever modicum of righteousness He’s enabled in us. We don’t have to be all that much, we just have to be all His and dare to dream we can make a difference by asking Him to make a difference.
And we certainly don’t have to pray at great length!
A Christian man I admire says the most impactful prayer he ever prayed was one of his shortest. He told God, “My life stinks. If you want it, it’s all yours.” He says praying that brief prayer brought more good to his family and the community he serves than any other.
Another strong Christian who believes greatly in prayer but who doesn’t have much time to devote to it likes to tell of how once he came to a dentist to have a tooth pulled. He asked the dentist how much it would cost and how long it would take. The dentist replied, “I charge a $100, but it takes only a minute.” The man protested, “That’s a pretty steep price for just a minute’s worth of work!” “OK,” the dentist answered, “If you like, I can pull the tooth out a lot more slowly.”
Giving more time to an activity doesn’t always make it better, and long-windedness doesn’t often improve our praying (especially because it keeps us from the more valuable prayer activity of listening). Jesus warned his followers not to be like those who “think they will be heard because of their many words”. We make our prayers better, not by going on and on, but by growing in faith and righteousness – and by being regular at prayer.
Therefore, I challenge you to commit to pray to God first thing each morning, even if you can only give it two minutes. I challenge you to pray each day on behalf of others, even if you can only give that five minutes. I challenge you to pray with someone else or several others on a regular basis, even if you can only give it one time a month.
And please bear in mind that, whatever schedule for praying you adopt, you don’t need to offer great prayers to God; it’s enough to offer modest prayers to this great God. You and I just need to pray, and keep at it, Then we will see God do wonderful things for those around us and in the world at large!