Methodist Vows: Prayers

Methodist Vows: “Prayers”
A Message on Ephesians 6:18-20

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

January 6, 2019

By Doug Wintermute


Ephesians 6:18-20  (NRSV)


Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.


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Today we begin a 5-week sermon series on the membership vows we take as United Methodists, pledging to support the church with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.”


This is something we ask of people when they join the United Methodist Church, and when someone joins everyone responds by renewing our own vow to support the church in these five ways. “Will you faithfully participate in its ministries with your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness?”


Today, on this Epiphany Sunday, we will begin the series–and the new year–by exploring the first of those five things we say in our vows: prayers.


When we join the church we vow before God and the congregation to support the church with our prayers. But what exactly is prayer?


Prayer is simply a conversation with God.


I remember as a kid I thought prayer was somehow this fancy, complicated thing that I didn’t understand. I didn’t think I could pray because I didn’t know the big words that preachers used like firmament or cherubim and seraphim. I thought it was like a special language filled with religious words and that if I didn’t use those fancy words then not only would God not hear your prayers, but he would be angry with me and might “smite” me. And while I wasn’t for sure what it meant to be “smited” (or is it “smote”?) I was pretty confident I didn’t want any part of it.


Now I don’t know where I got that idea from but I later found out that it was wrong. Prayer is simply communicating the God.


Now if you have ever had a communication or maybe a speech class you are probably familiar with a diagram like this. Communication needs someone to send a message, whether it’s verbal or not, and someone to receive the message. In between there can be some noise or interference that can affect how the message is received, but still the message is sent and received. And then there is feedback. Often the person receiving the message communicates back to the sender, and the cycle repeats itself.


I think this applies to our prayer life as well, with some differences. We are the sender of the message, the person praying, and God receives the message and sends us feedback. He responds to our prayers. Now there can be interference with our prayers, but they all come from us or our world, not from God. We can let things like busy-ness, pride, or even a feeling of unworthiness interfere with us praying to God. But these things differ from the communication model in that the interference often comes before we pray and prevents us from praying.


The cool thing about prayer is that God always hears them. There really is no interference between your prayers and God receiving them. It’s a straight shot and the network is never down. It is always available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Now all that being said, God responds in his own time and way, not necessarily the way we want him to. And not necessarily with the answer we are wanting.


God generally responds in one of several ways: 1. Yes, 2. No, 3. Not yet, or 4. I have something better in mind…


Say we are experiencing difficulty in our life and we pray to God to give us patience. We may even pray something like, “Dear Lord, give me patience, and give it to me NOW!” More often than not God will not necessarily give you patience, but will provide opportunities for you to experience practicing patience.


And sometimes we pray for the wrong things. God is not a spiritual where your prayers to God are things you want. Jesus half-brother James writes about this in the fourth chapter of his book: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)


It is very easy for us as humans to focus our prayers on ourselves. Let me ask you a question: how many times are your prayers focused on yourself and how many times are they focused on others? Yes, it’s okay for us to pray to God for ourselves, but I think we have a responsibility as Christians to pray for others as much as we pray for ourselves.


And while it’s great to have prayer before meals and at bedtime we should work on developing the habit of praying continually.


Now this is not going to be easy, but I think it is something each one of us should strive for. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”


He says something similar in the scripture we read today from Ephesians 6: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)


We have to remember that Paul wrote this epistle (letter) while in a prison. Most scholars think he wrote this and the epistle to the Colossians while sitting in a prison in Rome, which was the very center of the Roman Empire. So times were not good for Paul when he wrote these scriptures, and yet, in spite of being in prison and his life hanging in the balance, he still proclaims “…I must speak.”


He asks for prayers, not just for himself, but for “all the saints.” And he asks the Ephesians to pray “in the Spirit.”


We understand that phrase to pray “in the Spirit” more if we look at Paul’s writings in my favorite chapter of the Bible, Romans 8:26-27. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”


So in Paul’s terms the “saints” aren’t those who have believed in Christ and died, it is for those who are believers and still alive.


So praying “in the Spirit” means having faith that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us if we can’t come up with the right words to say. Have the prayer in your heart, and the Spirit will take care of the rest.


I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased Ephesians 6 in his The Message paraphrase: “Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”


And last but certainly not least, we should remember that Jesus did a lot of praying. And we should be more like Jesus, right? So we also should do a lot of praying.


So my challenge for you on this first Sunday of the new year is to remember your vow to pray for the church. Pray for us as a church to focus on reaching the lost. Pray for me as your pastor. Pray for the staff. Pray for the volunteers. Pray for those who are ill and frail.


And pray for each one of us to be like Paul and have the boldness to speak the redeeming message of Jesus Christ not only with our words, but also with our actions. Having received the elements of the Lord’s Supper today and remembering the sacrifice Jesus made for each one of us, let us be his hands in feet in our world.


And let us pray long and hard.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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