A sermon by Rev D. Graham Leitch of Barclay Church, Edinburgh, Scotland given January 26, 2003 (source link here).
“Why Pray?” - that’s the question that claims our attention and we’re invited to ponder this morning. Although this is meant to be very much a “how to” series - aimed at guiding and assisting those who want to begin praying or to be better pray-ers to progress - I make no apology for the fact that today’s sermon will be less of a “how to” sermon than the others!!
The motives behind the question “Why pray?” can vary.
MOTIVES BEHIND THE QUESTION ‘WHY PRAY?’
For the person of a more philosophical bent, the question may proceed from an inquiring mind:
In respect of prayer and intercession, “If God already knows all about our needs before we tell him, why bother?” In respect of praise and worship, “If God wants to be praised and thanked and fussed over continually does that not make him proud and self-centred.”
On the other hand, for the young widow standing beside her young husband’s grave - the husband for whose healing and recovery she has prayed and pleaded, begged, for the whole year since the traumatic day when the diagnosis and prognosis of his cancer was explained to him, the words “Why pray?” are no longer academic but mean “Why bother?!!”
I make no apology for this being less of a “how to” sermon than the others, because all the practical tips, guidance and advice in the world will be worthless to you unless you know the reason why PRAYER shouldn’t be the peculiar interest of a few enthusiasts but the perpetual practice of the entire church!
WHY PRAY? is our subject this morning.
Notice, by the way, that the answers to the question “Why SHOULD we pray?” may be different from the answers to the question “Why DO we pray?
WHY SHOULD WE PRAY AND WHY DO WE PRAY?
* Some people pray because they were taught to as children. There is something deeply moving about a child’s prayer.
A A MILNE - VESPERS
Little boy kneels at the foot of the bed,
Droops on the little hands little gold head,
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.
God bless mummy. I know that’s right.
Wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight?
The cold’s so cold and the hot’s so hot,
Oh! God bless Daddy - I quite forgot
If I open my fingers a little bit more,
I can see Nanny’s dressing gown on the door.
It’s a beautiful blue but it hasn’t a hood.
Oh! God bless Nanny and make her good!
Oh! Thank you God for a lovely day.
And what was the other I had to say
” I said ‘God bless Daddy’ so who can it be?
Oh! Now I remember - GOD BLESS ME!
* Some people pray because they were taught to as children.
* Some people pray because (though they’re not even sure of God, it makes them feel better, or because something in them tells them they should!
* And many an atheist has prayed to the God he denies when the going’s been tough or the situation’s been desperate or hopeless!
I’m not asking you to to think about why people DO pray but about why everyone SHOULD PRAY
I want to give you four answers - and I’ll tell you WHAT they are now so that you can follow more clearly and at the same time not become over anxious about how long the sermons going to be!!
WHY SHOULD WE PRAY?
We should pray, first,because of WHO we are. We should pray, second, because of WHAT we are.
Third, we should pray because of who GOD is. And finally, we should pray because of what PRAYER itself is.
1. WE SHOULD PRAY BECAUSE OF WHO WE ARE
WHY PRAY? We should pray because of who we are. Some of you will know the story of the Minister who visited one of his older member who was in residential care - she has become rather confused and forgetful and so to test whether she really knew him or not he gently sat beside her, took her hand and asked her “Now - who am I?’ to which nodding in a kindly and understanding way she replied:
“Don’t worry son, lots of folk forget who they are in her - but if you ask that lady over there, she one of the care staff and she’ll tell you who you are - and perhaps” she added smiling, “you’ll be able to remember!”
We should pray because of who we are!! One of the reasons why we don’t pray is that we’ve forgotten who we are!!
We remember that “no man is an island” - we know that we were not made to live in isolation - but in our preoccupation with human relations and culture’s encouragement to live this life to the full we have forgotten that we were not only made by God but are made FOR relationship with Him - to know Him and enjoy Him.
OUTSIDE OF GOD WE ARE INCOMPLETE
In God we find our fulfilment and satisfaction, but outside of God we are incomplete. We should pray because of who we are ! We are part of the animal creation, but we are unique within it, being made, the Bible tells us, “in the image of God” Alone, within the animal creation, we have the capacity of knowing God and relating to Him.... and this is not an “extra” - the “icing on the cake”, so to speak. It the supreme purpose of our lives.... but it is also, or it is intended to be, the essence of our lives - its what we’re made for!!
Now Springtime’s coming and before long the spring flower will be braking through the ground to greet the returning warmth of the New Year’s sun. But what happens if a bulb’s planted upside down....if it produces a flower at all it produce one that is stunted and weak - it may still be a snowdrop or daffodil. But it is isn’t half the snowdrop of daffodil it would have been if it had been the right way up!!
We cannot be complete without prayer because we cannot be completely human - complete persons - without God. A life that neglects its spiritual nature is like a bulb planted upside down!!
WHY PRAY? We should pray because of who we are. Individuals made for relationship with God.
2. WE SHOULD PRAY BECAUSE OF WHAT WE ARE
We should PRAY also because of WHAT we are. All of us are different - every single one of us - but none of us, not a single one of us is all we should be!!
Our weakness are many are varied - in this we are all different. What is not a temptation to one person may be a great temptation to another. To steal, to thieve, to commit adultery, to lie, to abuse the body or the body of another, to be callous cruel or violent.
The spiritual DNA of every person is different, but in this we are identical and equal- that we are at fault, guilty, we’re not perfect. We’re “damaged goods”, if you like........we have ignored God,, despised His will and disobeyed His commands.
i) We should pray because of WHO we are - each one and every one of us is made for relationship with God.
ii) We should PRAY also because of WHAT we are - SINNERS! Sin is simply falling short of God’s perfect standard. A miss, here is as good as a mile!! Who today dare stand before God and claim to be as good a father, mother, son, daughter, colleague or friend to others as we could have been.
Who amongst us can claim no regret. Aren’t there things you wish you’d done differently - things you wish had never happened. Things you know you’ve done wrong!! Are you the only one who’s never said “If only.....”?
Remember that heart stopping drama pictured by John in Chapter 8 of His Gospel when the self-righteous Pharisees bundles a women caught being unfaithful to her husband before Him. And they sneered and pointed their fingers and poked her:
“The Bible says that women of her kind should be stoned!!” they urged.
But Jesus, looked at one and then another - and it was a s though his gaze read their inmost hearts and unravelled their darkest secrets :Let the person without sin throw the first stone!” And one by one they left!
Since the days of Adam there has only been one Person without sin - and that Person was Jesus Christ Himself. He alone was “without sin”
Prayer is therefore not an irrelevance for us; it is a necessity for us, for prayer is the hand of faith reaching out to accept God;’ offered forgiveness. All true prayers begins with this:
“God be merciful to me, a sinner!”
WHY SHOULD WE PRAY?
We should pray, first,because of WHO we are - persons made in the image of God to know Him - this is the language of intimacy, even of intercourse. We were made for God!!
We should pray, second, because of WHAT we are - people who have let others down and let God down People who need, though we can never deserve His forgiveness.
3. WE SHOULD PRAY BECAUSE OF WHO GOD IS!
We should pray, third, because of who GOD is!! He is the all powerful, all wise, all knowing, all holy, all merciful, all loving One - perfect in His nature, His being and all His actions. He is the supreme, preeminent One. We should pray because of WHO God is - we should praise Him because He expects and commands our praise.
Of course, this may seem strange - unchristian almost!! If God wants us to praise Him all the time is He not proud and self-centred. Someone who wants to be praised and thanked all day long is unattractive to us...
But it is not for any selfishness in HIM that God wants us to praise Him, but to deliver us from the self-centredness that’s in US!!
We should praise God for who He is, because praise and worship is the natural thing, once we know how much we owe Him and how great His love for us, for us to do!
A passage in C S Lewis’s book “Reflections on the Psalms” offers a profound insight into the nature of prayers of praise and worship offered to God:
C S. LEWIS
“I had never noticed” he writes “that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others i deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise - lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game - praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges countries, historical figures, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, sometimes even politicians or scholars.
I has not noticed how the humblest and most capacious minds praised most... I had not noticed, either, that just as persons spontaneously praise what they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely?! Wasn’t it glorious?!! Don’t you think that’s magnificent?!!
The Psalmists, in telling everyone to praise God, are doing what we all do when we speak of what we care about!”
Why should we pray? Do lovers never talk together?
Why should we PRAY - we should pray because of who GOD is - as children we were taught to say thank you - “What do you say to the lady? And at first, perhaps we recoiled with embarrassment and shyly hid behind mummy’s legs!! But we learned to say thank you - not just to be courteous and polite but to be be appreciative and grateful.
As children we we’re taught to say thank. As parents, in turn, we have taught our children to say “Thank You “ and they are teaching their children to say thank you!
Peter’s thank-you letter.
Many of you know we have three grandchildren - Peter, Anna and Matthew. On Friday - just a couple of days ago - I received a Christmas “thank you” letter from Peter, who’s four:
Dear Grandma and Grandpa (it read)
This is grandpa watching a scarey programme. Thank for my spaceship but some of it is broken....but I like spaceships.
Love from Peter.
How much more then, do we owe thanks to God for life, for all that makes us happy and for His Son?
WHY SHOULD WE PRAY?
3. WE SHOULD PRAY BECAUSE OF WHO GOD IS!
Finally, and briefly, we should pray because of what PRAYER IS
In relation to WHO WE ARE - it is the means by which we may enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ - and then it is the enjoyment and deepening of that relationship. It is the relationship of the loved to the Great Lover. - intimate and sublime - a love affair with God!!
In relation to WHAT WE ARE - it is the means by which through Jesus Christ we access God’s heart and daily find His pardon.
And in relation to WHO HE IS - it is the key to the door that leads weakness to the help of Divine Omnipotence, worry to the feet of the All wise God, and loneliness to the heart of an Everlasting Friend.
To refuse prayer - is to walk away from the most immensely satisfying and enriching relationship possible to any individual.
To refuse prayer is to withhold thanks from the Author of Life and giver of every good gift.
And to refuse prayer is to reject the only Hand that, in the worst of times, can still lift us up.