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Thy Kingdom Come

 Praying for five.

1 Kings 18:41-45 Luke 18:1-8

 

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby's initiative Thy Kingdom come has encouraged us all on a regular basis to pray for 5 people, who are not yet Christians, who we would like to see come to know Jesus as their lord and Saviour. As a church we have been encouraging you to adopt this scheme for some time now. The reason we have done this is because we believe it to be a key strategy for the growth of our church.

 

I was really encouraged by the number of people who took up the challenge. This morning, I want to ask the question how is it going? I've heard some encouraging stories of how God has clearly been at work answering those prayers. I genuinely believe that many people are open to hearing our stories of faith and searching for meaning and purpose for their lives. 1 Peter 3 reminds us that we should Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. Notice Peter says we should be prepared, to think beforehand what we would say and to pray for opportunities to share our story. Simply telling our stories of what God has been doing in our lives can have a significant impact on those who are searching.

 

God is the evangelist, he is already at work in the lives of those we are praying for, and it's a privilege for us to play a small part in his work. This is something that we can all do not just those who have a degree in theology.

 

I've heard of many positive conversations that have taken place with those who are being praying for. It's always encouraging to hear what God is doing. Please make the most of the opportunity to share what God has been doing in answering your prayers over tea and coffee after our service. This will encourage others to continue praying for their 5.

 

But I'm also aware that it's not easy to pray consistently for someone, especially when nothing outwardly appears to be happening, or they remain stubbornly agnostic. It is important that we are honest with each other and if you're struggling, admit just how difficult you are finding it so that we can support and pray for each other. Often, we think we are the only ones who are finding it difficult, when the reality is that many of us are actually in the same boat.

 

You may have heard the remarkable story of the late ninetieth century American evangelist DL Moody, who for throughout the whole of his adult life, carried a list of 100 people in his pocket, who had no relationship with Jesus, that he consistently prayed for. Reportedly by the time of his death 96 of those people had come to faith and amazingly the other four came to faith at his funeral.

 

Moody’s 96% success rate is truly remarkable, by any standards. it is exceptional not normal. Jesus tells the story of the shepherd who had 100 sheep but lost one of them. He went in search of the lost shape leaving the others behind. When he finds his lost sheep, he is so happy. Jesus concluded by saying but there is more joy in heaven over one person who comes to faith. Everyone of us is important to him.

 

If we're honest with ourselves we soon get discouraged, or too busy and despite our good intentions we neglect to pray for those on our list. If I was to take a straw poll and ask how people were getting on, don't worry, I'm not going to do it, I suspect that many, perhaps even the majority of us are finding it difficult to pray daily for those on our list.

 

If you are feeling discouraged this morning about your failure, let me reassure you that the purpose of this talk is not, repeat NOT to make you feel guilty but to spare as all on to continue with this initiative. Your experience of finding it difficult to sustain this commitment is much more normal than Moody’s. It's natural that things get in the way and prevent us from fulfilling our desire. That does not make us failures it makes us normal.

 

There is a lot in the Bible about being persistent in prayer. I love the story of Elijah the great OT prophet. Immediately prior to our reading this morning Elijah had singlehandedly called down fire from God to burn up the sacrifice that he had prepared. In so doing he demonstrated the power of the living God to the evil King Ahab and the impotence of the 400 false prophets of baal.

 

Elijah then prophesied to King Ahab, go eat and drink for there is the sound of heavy rain, which was desperately needed to end the 3 1/2-year drought. It is worth bearing in mind that Elijah is talking to a desperate political leader, the leader of a starving people under whose leadership the economy had collapsed, people have suffered and blame, and criticism has surely come knocking on the palace door.

His desperation would have been just a fragment of that of the rest of his people. The King is probably still eating fresh baked bread and stew taken from the royal store houses, while the rest of the people in the city had long ago run out of rations.

 

Note also what Elijah does next. He climbs the mountain and we're told he adopts a most unusual position. Why?  Elijah humbles himself in prayer to God. He doesn't presume that God will automatically answer his prayer just because he is a prophet. Humble prayer is always a prerequisite to God moving in power.

 

This morning, I want to make two other points from this story of Elijah. Firstly, pray for the lost is slow.

 

Elijah prayed 7 times before his servant saw the first signs of a cloud appearing in the distance.

 

While we know that God's heart is for everyone to come to know him as their friend and saviour, it’s important that we remember that God will not always answer our prayer straight away.  We need to be committed to this ministry for the long haul, no matter how long that takes. My friend Mark Stibbe prayed for his brother for 25 years before he came to faith.

 

Playing for the lost is unglamorous. Calling down fire from heaven undoubtedly won Elijah public admiration. There must have been a stir in the crowd, his name would have been on every tongue. Praying for a downpour on the city, by contrast, was a secret labour, unseen and unglamorous. It's the secret labour of prayer not the public spectacle of fire that we're told to imitate.

 

In James 5 we read the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being just as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for 3 1/2 years. Again, he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. As Christians we can sometimes have an appetite for the spectacular, we want God to answer our prayers straight away. But that is not how God always works. While faithful prayer is not glamorous it is however powerful, and effective.

 

Such prayer requires us to be persistent and single minded, have an appetite for the unglamorous. To accept this invitation requires us to display a stubborn willingness to pray through the waiting, a supernatural labour of wilful agony for the promise of new life.

 

The parable that Jesus told in our New Testament reading this morning is a parable that reminds us that by nature God is a compassionate who delights to answer our prayers. He gives the woman justice not because of her persistence but because of his compassion. This should always be the motivation behind our prayers. We have just launched dances and vision for growing disciples on the new strap line for this vision is growing disciples with compassion courage and confidence.


David Stevenson

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