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Worship Theme: Focused Prayer
Sermon Theme: Prayer Is a Privilege
Our worship today is all about prayer and addresses big questions like, “Is prayer worth the effort? Does God answer all our prayers?” Genesis 18:20-32 helps us get on track, renewing in our hearts that: “Prayer Is a Privilege.” July 24, 2022
“I’ll pray for you.” Don’t you just love hearing that? I do. It means so much. How kind, how thoughtful! But sometimes my sinful side pushes an unkind thought into my head, “Will they really do it?” More to the point, if I promise to pray for someone, how do I keep track to make sure I do it? Our worship today is all about prayer and addresses big questions like, “Is prayer worth the effort? Does God answer all our prayers?” all of which becomes even more vital when we realize that too often, we have taken praying to God for granted or fallen into viewing prayer as an item on a checklist of Christian-living chores like a checklist for doing laundry or buying gas for the car. Today’s first reading helps us get on track, renewing in our hearts that: “Prayer Is a Privilege.”
We have the privilege of reaching God’s ears
How can we be sure God is listening to our prayers, that his ears are open? Consider this: Who is doing the praying in this Bible account? “That’s obvious,” you say, “It’s Abraham.” But who is Abraham? Many of you know him as a hero of faith. But keep in mind that this is the same Abraham who distrusted God’s ability to keep his promise of giving him a son, so he planned to name his servant as his heir. When that didn’t pan out, this is the same guy who took up his wife’s suggestion to make a baby with her servant girl. This is the same guy who didn’t trust God enough to protect him in hostile territory and put his wife in harm’s way to save his own skin … twice! Abraham may have been the father of the Israelite nation, he may have been blessed by God to become filthy rich, but before any of those things, he was first of all a sinner who violated the boundaries of God’s holy standards, crossed the line into naughty territory, and slapped God in the face. Why should God listen to him?
Why should God listen to me or you? If you had to pick a Bible character whom you most resembled, I doubt if it would be Abraham. According to the memory of pictures in my Bible storybooks, I wouldn’t want his long gray beard and cumbersome flowing robes. Nor am I a big fan of tent dwelling and sheep herding. No, I wouldn’t choose to be like Abraham. But the problem is that is exactly what I am like, a sinner, and so are you. We may not be walking around in Mid-eastern clothing. We may not relish goat stew. We may not be in the peak of health at age one hundred. But we are sinners, and we need the forgiveness of all our sins, or we will end up in a desert far hotter than southern Palestine.
If you didn’t know your Bible stories, you might think that, because of his miscues, Abraham ended up in hell, but he didn’t. The only way to account for that is to grasp what God is like. God forgave Abraham even though he didn’t deserve it. God blessed him even though Abraham wasn’t loveable and bless-able. God was gracious and kind, merciful and forgiving not because of who Abraham was or what Abraham did, but just because God is God.
This same God of mercy and forgiveness is also a God of justice. If you or I persistently and consistently choose to remain in our wicked ways and push aside his mercy, we will face the fierce fire of his wrath, which fell on the filth-pits called Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, knowing he was a sinner just as bad as the people of Sodom, had personally experienced the mercy of God and lived in gratitude for grace from God and for the privilege of talking to God. So, he prayed that God would spare the believers who still lived in Sodom and Gomorrah. He knew his prayers would reach God’s ears because he knew that the God who forgave him all his sins would be listening.
That’s what makes our prayers so special. It has nothing to do with how cleverly we word our prayers, nor how long or short our prayers are, nor how we have behaved in the last week to make God hear us. No! We can be sure God listens to us and hears all our prayers because he is the God who has guaranteed that through the work of Jesus Christ our sins are all forgiven. Do you need proof of that? Just look what happened on Easter. Check your baptismal certificate to see whether you have been adopted into God’s family. Because we have a God who is who he is, gracious and kind, merciful and forgiving, we know that prayer is a privilege, the privilege of reaching God’s ears.
We have the privilege of touching God’s heart
If you wanted, you could pray, “Lord, give me a million dollars. Wait! Make that three million in small, unmarked bills,” but realize that God has your best interests in mind and knows that you were praying for selfish reasons. While every prayer of a Christian reaches God’s ears, God won’t adjust his plans for us to fit our selfishness. Rather, our heavenly Father is like the dad who was on a business trip. He already had purchased a gift for each of his children. One day after his meetings, his kids surprised him with a Zoom call. They did not ask, “What are you going to get me? What are you going to bring me?” No! They said, “Daddy, we love you and want you safely home.” Dad went back to the store and got something more because they touched his heart.
Abraham prayed that God would spare those cities if there were fifty believers there, then forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty, then ten. God actually adjusted what he intended to do because Abraham’s prayer touched his heart. Isn’t that astounding? Don’t play silly mind games and think, “Well, God was going to destroy those cities anyway.” No! Look at what the account tells us. If there were fifty believers there, and Abraham stopped praying, God would have spared the cities. At each point – forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty – if Abraham stopped his praying, and there were that many believers, God would have spared the cities. God did adjust his plans when Abraham touched his heart, just as he did when Hezekiah prayed to him to spare Jerusalem when besieged by the Assyrians, just as he did when Paul asked the Colossian Christians to pray that God would open a door for his message. Notice, of course, that in each case Abraham, Hezekiah, and the Colossians were not praying for selfish reasons but always in line with God’s saving will, his desire to save sinners, so that the good news of his love and the promise of Savior would stand out or be defended. The apostle James sums it up this way, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives … Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray … The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 4:3,5:13,5:16).
Go ahead and pray, and you’ll realize that amid all the fears and woes and junk flying around, you have the privilege of touching God’s heart.
We have the privilege of receiving from God’s hands
At first blush you might think that God did not answer Abraham’s prayer. The next Bible chapter describes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But hold on! God did answer Abraham’s prayer. While there were not even ten believers in those cities, Abraham’s nephew and his family lived there. The Scriptures state, “When God destroyed the cities … he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe” (Genesis 19:29). So, Abraham realized another great privilege of prayer, receiving from God’s hands an answer to his prayers that even he didn’t expect.
Hezekiah prayed, and God spared him from illness and spared Jerusalem from an Assyrian onslaught. Peter prayed, God led him to Cornelius’ home, and all there came to faith. The Colossians prayed, and sure enough, God brought about Paul’s release from jail in Rome so he could continue his missionary activity. They all made use of the privilege of prayer and received from the God’s hands more than they could imagine.
The Savior himself calls to each of us, “Ask and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7), inviting us to pray in line with his will, especially that the good news of his mercy would grow in our hearts and go to others. Pray boldly for others to come to faith. Pray for God’s church to grow. Pray for blessings on our church body. Then you’ll be in line with Abraham, Hezekiah, Peter, and the Colossians, enjoying the privilege of receiving from God’s hands more than you could imagine.
Dorothy and her companions wanted to talk to the Wizard of Oz in the hope that he would grant her wish to go home. The wizard wasn’t really a wizard, and she learned that she had it within her all along to go home with a click of her heels. An imaginative tale by Frank Baum, but really a journey and a search for answers that were only a dream. Abraham was not dreaming and neither are we when God himself invites us to pray. Imagine that! We get to talk to God! Is there anyone higher or mightier, greater or more glorious than God? Yet he not only communicates with us through his holy Word but also invites us to communicate back to him and promises to answer. How can that be? Look no farther than your Lord Jesus Christ. His life of keeping God’s commands, including a life of prayer, his blood shed to pay for our lack of praying and our weak and selfish prayers, and his coming out of the tomb all guarantee that we have the privilege of prayer. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Oh, and I’ll pray for you! Amen.
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