Above: Praying Hands, by Albrecht Durer
The Power of Prayer
JUNE 1, 2014
MAY 28, 2017
Acts 1:6-14 (New Revised Standard Version):
When the apostles had come together, they asked Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 (New Revised Standard Version):
Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
let those who hate him flee before him.
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
as wax melts before the fire,
let the wicked perish before God.
But let the righteous be joyful;
let them exult before God;
let them be jubilant with joy.
Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–
his name is the LORD–
be exultant before him.
Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land.
O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
you restored your heritage when it languished;
your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
sing praises to the Lord.
O rider in the heavens the ancient heavens;
listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
Ascribe power to God,
whose majesty is over Israel;
and whose power is in the skies.
Awesome is God in his sanctuary,
the God of Israel;
he gives power and strength to his people.
Blessed by God!
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 (New Revised Standard Version):
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
John 17:1-11 (New Revised Standard Version):
Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. ”
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
First a definition of prayer is appropriate. The best and most succinct definition comes from the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer (1979). Prayer, it says, “is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” Furthermore, Christian prayer is “response to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
A few thoughts about prayer, mostly in relation to the assigned lections, come to mind.
- Primary among these is that a number of Biblical readings indicate that God listens to prayers, sometimes reversing a decision. Hence we are not mere peons in the eyes of God.
- Then I suggest that implicit in the lection from Luke is an assumption that one is in tune with God, hence the statements about God answering our prayers in the affirmative. Sometimes the best (for us) answer to our prayers is, “No, I have a better plan for you.”
- Prayer has the power also to transform the one who prays. Ponder this: If you pray for, not pray about, someone whom you despise, that person might or might not change. Yet your way of thinking about that individual will probably change. You can become a better and more spiritual person.
- Also, silent prayer is at least as important as spoken prayer. Much of the time it is appropriate to be quiet in the presence of God, to watch, and to listen. This is quite transformational.
- Finally, there is no one method by which all people must pray. Growing up in the Baptist Belt of the U.S. South, I became familiar with a style of prayer which entails a cadence and great deal of talking. This type of praying has never appealed to me. My preference turns toward a combination of corporate liturgical prayer, private liturgical prayer, informal chattiness, and periods of listening. Furthermore, I have long been uncomfortable praying aloud in public without a Prayer Book. Informal prayer is an inherently private matter for me; I want no eavesdroppers. I have gleaned from conversations I have had from people the late, great, and frequently funny Molly Ivins would have described as “Shi’ite Baptists” that they think that I do not really pray because I pray differently than they do. Actually, I know that there is a link between personality type and prayer style preference; a large body of literature exists on the subject. In prayer one size does not fit all.