A praying church

Good morning, Friends! I hope you’re all doing well this week!

We’ve been talking for several weeks now about a vision of what Springfield could be. We’ve talked about being open to new ideas and new ministries, and several ideas people shared are already happening! We’ve talked about being an encouraging church, where people lift each other up and share each other’s burdens.

We’ve talked about being a light-bringing church – there’s plenty of darkness in the world today and in people’s lives. What if we made it our mission to bring light, everywhere we go?

We talked last Sunday about being a forgiving church, where nobody throws the first stone, and where we all remember how much mercy God has showed to every one of us.
If we got even half of those things happening, can you imagine what a different place this could be? A powerhouse of new ideas and new ministries. A center of encouragement and hope. A light on the hill, shining out from every door and window, from every person who came here. A message of mercy and forgiveness.

What would it be like, if we were that kind of a congregation? People would be showing up here. They’d come to find out what it was like! You couldn’t keep people away from a place like this.

I want to push this vision another step today. I want to ask what it would be like, if we truly became a praying church.

You’ve heard me talk about this before. When the first few families came here to Springfield, almost 250 years ago, they weren’t rich. All they had was what they could carry, in wagons and on horseback, when they came down from Pennsylvania.

They had axes and saws and shovels, and not much else. They built their homes out of trees of the forest. They cleared the land and planted it. They were poor in possessions, but they were powerful in prayer.

Quaker worship was nothing but prayer. Twice a week, on Sunday and on Thursday – what they called First-day and Fourth-day – they stopped work and came together to pray.

Their meetinghouse was made of logs, and in the early years it doubled as a school. We’d hardly use such a building for a barn or a shed today. But it was a house of prayer. They had little education, but they read the Bible and they listened to the Holy Spirit. And they prayed. The Quakers who started Springfield were people of prayer.

During the dark days of the Civil War, and the long, hard years after, the people of this meeting didn’t have much. When Allen Jay first came here after the war, he reported that “Their houses are often built of logs, and an upper story is the exception, and many of the houses have no windows at all. . .The produce raised on the farm supplies the table, bread is made of Indian corn meal, pork is the staple food, and garments are often home spun.” Allen Jay said that “many of the Friends in this area did not handle fifty dollars in a whole year.”

Fifty dollars a year. That was what people here had, less than 150 years ago.

But they knew how to pray. They were poor in things, but rich in prayer.

Jesus certainly knew how to pray. People came from miles away to ask him to pray for them. Jesus had a lot of things to say about prayer. None of the things Jesus said were hard to understand, though a lot of them required faith and persistence. Jesus knew that prayer changes things.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because you keep on asking, he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Luke 11:1-10

The message Jesus had was very straightforward. When you pray, Jesus said, keep it simple. The whole of the Lord’s Prayer is just 34 words. That’s all. 34 words, for one of the most powerful prayers of all time.

Father, may your name be holy. May your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.

That’s it. That prayer is the building block for every other prayer there is.

Jesus said to be persistent when we pray. Never stop, never give up. We don’t have to keep saying the same things over and over – Jesus told us not to pile up empty phrases when we pray. But never give up.

If your prayer isn’t answered right away, pray again. Never stop praying. Never get discouraged. Jesus never stopped praying. We shouldn’t stop, either.

It doesn’t matter what time of day we pray, Jesus said. We can pray in the middle of the night. God will still hear. Daytime, night time, any time, God’s always awake.

Doesn’t matter what place we pray. Here at worship is good. But so is a private place. Christians pray in prisons – I’ve done that many a time – and in courtrooms, and in all kinds of high stress situations.

People can pray in schools. I like to say, “As long as there are exams, there will always be prayer in the classroom!”

I pray all the time in hospital rooms and by bedsides. When I was an Emergency Medical Technician, I prayed in the back of ambulances with the siren going so loud I couldn’t hear myself pray. I pray in living rooms and kitchen tables and camp fires. The place doesn’t matter.

Jesus prayed in a place of horror once, with a mentally ill person who was shrieking and out of control, a person who broke their chains and terrified everyone. Jesus’ prayer brought calm and peace to the situation.

Jesus prayed in the midst of a raging storm. He said to the storm, “Be still,” and the wind and the waves didn’t matter any more. The place doesn’t matter. We can pray anywhere.

Jesus said that it’s all right to ask God to help us. Praying isn’t failure. Prayer isn’t giving up or giving in. Prayer is asking God to be with us, to help us in every way possible.

It’s 100% OK to pray for yourself, for your family, for your friends, for neighbors and strangers. It’s OK to pray for people right next to you or far away. Jesus said to pray constantly.

Can you imagine what this place could be like, if we actually did that? What if we prayed with Jesus’ words, with Jesus’ faith, with Jesus’ trust that God wants to help us? What if we prayed and believed that the power of God is close at hand?

The power to bring strength and hope. The power to bring light and life. The power to bring love and mercy. The power to move mountains and bridge valleys. Jesus knew that God’s power is only a prayer away.

There is no suggestion in what Jesus says to us this morning, that prayer is something only a special group of people can do. There is every reason to believe that Jesus meant for all of his friends to pray.

Some people may pray more easily or fluently. I never feel very eloquent when I’m praying. I feel like I stumble my words a lot. You may feel that way too. But it doesn’t matter.

Prayer isn’t only beautiful words. Prayer is reaching out a hand, and hoping, trusting, that God is reaching back. Prayer is taking one step towards God. Jesus says that when we pray, God comes running towards us, even before the first word is out of our mouth. That’s the story of the Prodigal Son – when he took the first step back home, his father came running to meet him.

Almost everyone has the experience of feeling we have to pray, but there just aren’t any words. We can’t think what to say, or the words get stuck in our mouth. No problem! Paul says that when all we can do is groan, or whisper, that the Holy Spirit prays for us, with movements of the Spirit that are too deep for words.

Doesn’t mean we should ever stop trying. Just remember – the first step we take toward God, the first word we start to say, and God comes running toward us. I believe that.

In today’s reading, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

I hope you all realize that is one of the greatest promises of the whole Bible. It’s right up there with, “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in Me, even though they die, yet they shall live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. . .” (John 11:25)

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Prayer is asking for help and execting good things from God. Prayer is seeking, with all our heart, for the answer we don’t see yet. Prayer is knocking, hammering on God’s door, pushing the doorbell again and again.

Do we pray like that? Or do we just say a few words and forget what we asked for, because we don’t expect to get it anyway?

Do we pray like people on a mission, like people who are searching for something, who won’t rest till we find it? Or do we say a few words and go back to things that are more interesting? Are we seeking, seeking for the power God has, for the healing God has, for the peace that God has?

Do we pray together – not just on our own, but together for the things we want and need? Praying together is one of the most important things we can do.

A lot of the time, I feel foolish when I pray. And a lot of the time, I get tired and discouraged. I have doubts. I get afraid that my prayer isn’t being answered.

Praying together helps. If I’m discouraged, someone else can take my prayer concern and lift it up. If my prayer isn’t focused, another person may have just the right words. If I think I don’t deserve an answer from God, some other person may step in and say, “Don’t be silly! Of course God cares!”

Other people may help me to wait for the right moment. Other people may help me to be strong, when I’m not so strong. Individual prayer is important, but the power of a praying church is unstoppable.

I want us to be that kind of a church. I want Springfield to wake up, and be a place of prayer again.

I’ve been here four years now, and I’ve got a pretty good idea of what the problems and challenges are that we’re facing. And believe me, I get just as discouraged some days as any person here.

But then I read these promises of Jesus in the gospel. I hear the words of Jesus, and they remind me of all the good things Jesus talked about.

Pray from your heart, and never give up. Keep it simple – pray for the basics, and don’t get all tied up in knots. Pray constantly – every day, many times a day.

Believe that God answers prayer. Make friends with other people who pray. Lift each other up in prayer. Find new ways to pray – whatever works best for you.

Make a point of praying everywhere, in every situation. If you need something, it’s OK to ask. If you’ve lost something, God can help you find it. If you don’t understand something, don’t worry – God understands so much more than we ever will. And God’s answers are so much better than ours.

Pray for yourself. Pray for your friends and family. Pray for the world. Pray for the church. Prayer is a whole new kind of life, a life that’s exciting and adventurous and dangerous and amazing.

I’m not done with this whole business. I’ve got more to say about us becoming a praying church. But for right now, remember the Lord’s Prayer – that simple, powerful, 34-word prayer that Jesus himself taught.

And remember – “Ask, and it shall be given; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will open.”

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