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Prayer, Does It Make a Difference #3

February 20th, 2018

Prayer, Does It Make a Difference  #3

1 John 7-16 and Luke 11:5-13

(Quoted scripture is New International Version)

 

I the Lord do not change.’ (Malachi 3:6) ‘My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger,’ (Hosea 11:8) ‘God is not man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.’ (Numbers 23:9) When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.’ (Nineveh’s story in Jonah 3:10)

How do we reconcile these seemingly opposing views of whether God changes his mind? One verse says he does not change, another verse says he does. Which is it? When we pray, does it influence God?

This is the 3rd in the series, Prayer, Does It Make a Difference, based on Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference? Today we will explore the question, do our prayers change God’s mind?

Origen, an ancient Christian scholar said God is changeless. “First, if God foreknows what will come to be and if it must happen, then prayer is in vain. Second, if everything happens according to God’s will and if what He wills is fixed and none of the things He wills can be changed, then prayer is in vain.”  Some people use this philosophy as a reason not to pray.

In Psalm 139:1-4 we read, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You

know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going

out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.”

          If God has already ordained what will happen to us, and if he already knows what we are going to say and do, what difference does prayer make? How do we reconcile the changeless God described in the Bible with the responsive God also described in the bible?

C.S. Lewis was fascinated by the questions about the sovereignty of God and how he might listen and respond to our prayers. Lewis came to the conclusion of human history being as one “in which the scene and the general outline of the story is fixed by the author, but certain minor details are left for the actors to improvise. It may be a mystery why God should have allowed us to cause real events at all; but it is no odder that He should allow us to cause them by praying than by any other method.” Prayer is a designated instrument of God’s power, as real and as “natural” as any other power God may use. (page 137)

Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years. There was no one like him among the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. (2 Kings 18)

Then the prophet Isaiah came to him and said, “This is what the Lord says; Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him. “Go back and tell Hezekiah, — this is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says; I have heard your prayer and seen your tears, I will heal you.” (2 Kings 20:1-5, my emphasis)

Philip Yancey quotes contemporary theologian Clark Pinnok, who says, “Since God’s nature is love, God must be impressionable and sympathetic. Because God’s love never changes, God’s experience must change.”  (page 134)

Gail bears witness to this. “If I ever doubt that God hears and responds to our prayers, I pull out my prayer journal. Reading it over, I’m simply amazed at how God worked in response to my prayers. I see a softening in my niece’s husband, an agnostic. I see transformation in the members of my small group, and spiritual awakening in my neighbors. I see growth in my own marriage. (page 135)

When I look back through the prayer journals I have kept over the years, I can see God has answered many of my prayers. Prayers for protection for my children and grandchildren. Prayers for healing of friends and family. Some of those healing have been when that person crossed over into the arms of Jesus, becoming free from pain and suffering. Rev. Wayne Sparks once told me, ‘Be careful when you pray for healing, complete healing for Christians comes when we go home to God.’

1 John 4 tells us that ‘God is love.’ God does not merely have love or feel love. God is love and is unable to not love. It is out of this love that God answers our prayers with what is best for us and for the people we are praying for.

How often and how long should we pray? Jesus tells us in Luke 11, after telling the parable of the persistent neighbor; we are to “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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead: Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:9-13)

The fact that God yields to man’s persistent petitions, responding to our prayers, is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of power. God likes to be asked. When our children ask us for something over and over again, it is a sign they are serious about it and willing to come to us in humility and ask, over and over again. It is the same with God. When we come to God in humble prayer, we acknowledge He can provide what we are praying for. We acknowledge that God is God and we are not! God wants us to keep praying, keep asking, seeking, knocking. When we are persistent in our prayers, we are building a relationship with God. History is a test of faith, and the correct response to that test is persistent prayer. (page 148)

Philip Yancey writes, “Persistent prayer keeps bringing God and me together, with important benefits. As I pour out my soul to God, I get it off my chest, so to speak, unloading some of my burden to One who can handle it better. –What I learn from spending time with God then better equips me to discern what God wants to do on earth, as well as my role in that plan.” (page 152) The real value of persistent prayer is not so much that we get what we want as that we become the person we should be. (page 153)

At the Ontonagon Christian Centre Thursday evening, a man gave part of his testimony of faith. He and his sister were traveling to western Minnesota on icy winter roads, when the car coming toward them began to swerve. The result was a multiple vehicle accident. The man’s car was split in half.

His mother, who was in another town, was prompted by the Holy Spirit to pray for her son and daughter. She stopped what she was doing and began to pray with the people she was with, pray for her children’s safety.

The man found himself under the split in half car without a scratch on him. His sister was found a little way away with a concussion. People in the other vehicles in the accident were taken to the hospital with broken bones and serious injuries. One of the people involved had to be cut from his car by the jaws of life.

Did prayer make a difference? You bet it did! Would the son and daughter have been injured more seriously if mom had not prayer for them. I believe so! James 5:16 tells us, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

I believe our prayers can change God’s mind. Why would Jesus encourage us to ask, seek, knock, and be persistent in prayer, if they did not?

If you have kept a prayer journal, I encourage you to go back and read some of the prayers you prayed. You may find those prayers were answered, some in the way you desired, and some in the way that was best for you or for the person you prayed for. If you don’t keep a prayer journal, I encourage you to begin one. It will make a difference in your spiritual growth.

Next week we will address the language of prayer. What words to say and how to say them. Have we been praying the right way? We’ll see.

 

Pastor Rosemary DeHut                                                     February 18, 2018

 

 

References: Yancey, Philip (2006). Prayer: does it make any difference? Grand Rapids, MI,

Zondervan

By: Ironwoodumc

February 20th, 2018

#2 Prayer Does It Make a Difference February 11, 2018

February 13th, 2018

Prayer, Does It Make a Difference? #2

James 2:14-17 and Matthew 26:36-46

(Quoted scripture is New Revised Standard Version)

 

A woman, age forty-one, wrote first about her conversion as a Jewish believer in Jesus, and then of a daunting trial she faced, breast cancer that had spread to lungs and liver. Sometimes she would pull away from God completely, but then writes, “after sulking in silence for a period of days or weeks, I would come back to God slowly and reluctantly, a pout still on my face, but recognizing that I didn’t know how to live apart from God.” She agonized over how to pray.

“What is the point of praying for something to happen? I can understand the point of praying as a means of simply trying to establish communion with God. But why should I pray for someone to be healed or for my husband to get a job or for my parents to come to salvation. I pray for others because I often feel helpless to do anything else, and I cling to the hope that maybe, just maybe this time it will matter.” (page 75)

We’ve all had these questions about prayer. Does prayer really make a difference; to God, to us?

This sermon series is based on Philip Yancey’s book: Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference? In the book Philip writes that a physician friend of his learned he was investigating prayer and told him he would have to begin with three rather large assumptions: (1) God exists; (2) God is capable of hearing our prayers; and (3) God cares about our prayers. “None of these three an be proved or disproved,” his friend said. “They must either be believed or disbelieved.” (page 79)

As Christians, we believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior of the world. As Christians, we believe God exists, God is capable of hearing our prayers and God cares about our prayers. As a Christian, I think the best reason to pray is because Jesus did.

Jesus prayed early in the morning to gain strength for his earthly ministry, for the battles he faced.  (Mark 1:35). Jesus prayed all night before he chose the 12 disciples from the many who were following him. (Luke 6:12) In the Gospel of John 17, Jesus prays that what he is going to go through would glorify his Father God, he prays for his 12 disciples and for future disciples that may come to believe through their words; you and me.  When his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he taught them what we have labeled The Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:9-14)

Over and over again we see Jesus, the Son of God, turn to His Father God, in prayer. Some of Jesus’ prayers went unanswered, as the prayer he prayed in Gethsemane.  ‘Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:36-39) Jesus returned to Peter, James and John and finds them sleeping, and then goes again to pray to His Father. “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ (Matthew 26:42)

Jesus’ prayers for not having to suffer the crucifixion, went unanswered, still he prayed from the cross as he was crucified, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) And then a prayer of desperation, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) And finally a prayer of submitting to God’s will, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)   Then God’s Only Son, a part of God himself, died to pay the punishment for the sins of all mankind.

Why pray? Because Jesus did. Why are some of our prayers unanswered? If some of Jesus’ prayers were unanswered, why then should we expect all our prayers to be answered?

In his book, Philip Yancey writes that from his experience, he can identify three stages of prayer. The first stage is a simple childlike request for something we desire. Think about the blind man in Luke 18:41, “Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus restored his sight. (page 107)

The second stage of prayer, on the same level with the first stage, is keeping company with God, meditation. (page 107) I encourage you to spend time in quiet mediation because I have found that when I do, it changes me. I become more aware of God’s amazing love and grace. I gain strength and peace to continue to serve God and the people God puts into my life. Quiet meditation away from the chaos and anxiety we face every day is a ‘must do’ if we are to remain confident in our faith. If it worked for Jesus, it will work for us.

What that meditation time does is bring us into the third stage of prayer, the stage Jesus reached after a long night in Gethsemane, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ (Matthew 26:42) Yancey writes, he has become convinced that the phrase, “Your will be done” belongs at the end of his prayers. He continues, he has learned that God has ordained prayer as a means of getting God’s will done on earth, not ours. (page 109)

Eugene Peterson writes, “Be slow to pray, Praying puts us at risk of getting involved with God’s conditions…Praying most often doesn’t get us what we want but what God wants, — and when we realize what is going on, it is often too late to go back.” (page 109)

Which brings me to what God wants. I believe God wants us to partner with Him in building His kingdom here on earth. In my reading the Bible through each year, I use the daily reading plan from Our Daily Bread; some Old Testament and some New Testament scripture each day. I’ve just finished reading the last few chapters of Exodus, in which God is instructing Moses how he wants the traveling tabernacle constructed and who he wants to do which task. God names specific people with specific talents to do specific jobs. Each of us has been given specific talents as well. I believe God gives us these talents to be used for building His Kingdom here on earth.

I agree with Philip Yancey when he writes, “In prayer we stand before God to plead our condition as well as the conditions around us. In the process, the act of prayer emboldens me to join the work of transforming the world into a place where the Father’s will is indeed done as it is in heaven. We are Christ’s body on earth, after all; he has no hands but ours. And yet to act as Christ’s body we need an unbroken connection to the Head (of the body). We pray in order to see the world with God’s eyes, and then to join the stream of power as it breaks loose.” (page 124).

James tells us today in 2:14-17. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So, faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 25, what we do for those in need we do for Him. Wherever Christian missionaries have traveled they have left behind a trail of hospitals, clinics, orphanages, and schools. (page 125) To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ without being the hands of His body, is to preach God’s kingdom without God.

When Joe and I were on vacation in Mexico we were also engaged in some mission work in Mayan villages. My brother Mike and his wife Cecilia have begun attending a church in Paa Mul, a residential community about 15 minutes north of where they live in Puerto Aventuras on the Yucatan Peninsula. The church is engaged in mission work with the Mayans. Pastor Doug and his wife Darla have built a Bible Park, which includes an outdoor worship venue, a school, and eight-foot high walls enclosing the park with pictures telling stories from the Bible. Murals from Creation to the Baptism of Jesus have been painted by a young Mayan man. A picture is worth a thousand words! They are in the process now of building a swimming pool to attract the children and youth, because just as in this country drugs and alcohol are stealing the young people’s lives. You are familiar with the phrase, ‘If we build it they will come.’ Pastor Doug is counting on this truth.

There is also a group, mostly from Canada, some of whom attend this same church, who are going into Mayan villages and installing simple cement block stoves which vent the smoke outside. The Mayan women cook on open fires in their simple houses, which may be made from thick sticks, or cement blocks. The smoke is not vented outside and there is a lot of respiratory illness in the women and the young children. Bringing in a simple block stove with a smoke pipe which vents the smoke outside is helping the women and the children to breathe better and to be healthier.

This group is also installing water tanks which enable water hoses to be run to all the homes in the village. During the week the Mayan men leave the village to work construction in towns sometimes hours away. They stay in the towns they are working in, which means the women are in charge of everything at home. One of the things they have to do is to haul water from the nearest cenote. A cenote is a deep clear clean natural water hole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. This group pumps the cenote water into an elevated tank, which then is gravity fed by hoses into the homes.

The other thing this group is doing is offering scholarships to the children and youth to attend school. They understand they cannot change the older generation, yet they can educate the younger generation, so they can have a chance at a better life.

Prayer does make a difference. It makes a difference in each of us as we build our relationship with God. It makes a difference in the way we view our world and the way we view our lives. It makes a difference in how we live our lives as well. When we spend time in prayer, Near to the Heart of God, it will make a difference in our life.

Next week we’ll explore whether prayer can change God’s mind. Malachi 3:6 tells us, “I the Lord do not change.” And yet we read in Hosea 11:8, God says, “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” Does prayer change God’s mind? We’ll see.

 

Pastor Rosemary DeHut                                                               February 11, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

References: Yancey, Philip (2006). Prayer: does it make any difference? Grand Rapids, MI,

Zondervan.

By: Ironwoodumc

February 13th, 2018

Prayer, Does It Make a Difference? February 4, 2018

February 13th, 2018

Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference? #1

Philippians 4:4-7 and Mark 1:29-39

 

  1. S. Lewis said, “The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”

Some of you know that when I’m home I get up each morning at 5:00 A.M. to spend time reading my devotions, and time in prayer. For the past two weeks I’ve been on vacation, so I didn’t do this. I got up at 6:00 A.M. instead I still had plenty of time for prayer, because my brother and his wife, at whose house we were staying, are both retired and Joe was on vacation, so no one got up until about 7:30- 8:00.

I began this practice of getting up at least an hour before the rest of my family, when my children were small. Being married and raising children had drained my energy; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I found myself needing time with God that I simply couldn’t find during my busy day. I needed a source of strength for the daily battle of life.

There is a story that comes out of World War II. After the Battle of the Bulge, a German officer was describing the capture of an American unit early in the fighting. This unit had in its possession a box which contained a cake. What was remarkable about the cake is that it had been sent to an American soldier from Boston and it was still fresh. This German officer described his feelings when he realized that the Americans had the resources to fly over cakes from home even in the midst of a global war. He said that he knew then, that they would never defeat an enemy that had such resources for the waging of the battle.

You and I have a resource that can help us in life’s daily battles, if only we will make room for it. It is time alone with God. It is one-on-One communication with the Creator and Sustainer of life.

As I read Mark’s Gospel passage for today, what leaped off the page was the reminder that Jesus also got up early in the morning to go to the source, for the strength to help with the daily battles he faced.

Jesus begins this passage by healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and when the word gets out, the whole town comes for healing. “That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.” (vv. 32-34)

I believe that after all this, Jesus was drained; physically, emotionally, spiritually; and Jesus had to go to the source, to gain the strength He needed to continue the battle.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (v. 35)

Two years ago, Philip Yancey was at the Winsome Women conference at Mackinac Island. He is one of my favorite Christian writers, and I picked up his book, Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference? I haven’t taken the time to read it in two years, so I took it along on vacation. It became my devotion book at 6 A.M. For the next few weeks, I’ll share with you some of the things I learned about prayer from Philip Yancey.

Yancey writes that when it comes to investigating prayer, he considers himself a “‘pilgrim;’ strolling about, staring at the monuments, asking questions, mulling things over, testing the waters. —With this in mind he writes, “I try to err on the side on honesty and not pretense.” — “I have come to see prayer as a privilege, not a duty.” — “I believe that life with God should seem more like friendship than duty.”  (page 17)

He concludes the first chapter with, “If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life, circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.” (page 17)

The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

          Philip Yancey writes that the best way to approach prayer is to admit that we are human, prone to sin. We are not human beings who once in awhile make a mistake, and God is not someone who forgives just now and then. Human beings are sinners and God is love and mercy. Henri Nouwen wrote, “To pray is to walk in the full light of God, and to say simply, without holding back, ‘I am human and you are God.’”

You and I do not have to be clean and shiny before we come to God in prayer. Think about your earthly relationships. Aren’t your most rewarding intimate relationships a result of honesty and vulnerability?  When we pretend, we build walls and hide behind them; we’re also building walls around our heart. We keep people out; we keep Jesus out. When we let those walls down, people may hurt us, yet Jesus can get in to heal us as well. Yancy writes, “in the presence of the Great Physician my most appropriate contribution may be my wounds.” (page 36)

Abraham Joshua Herschel wrote, “Somehow, in a way I can only trust and not understand, presenting to God the intimate details of my life, gives God pleasure,”

God said to the prophet Isaiah 49:15, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have

no compassion on the child she has borne” though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;”

Yancey was teaching a class at a church in Chicago, when a young shy conscientious student spoke up, “I’m not always sincere when I pray” she said, “Sometime it seems forced, more like a ritual. I’m just repeating words. Does God hear those prayers? Should I keep going even though I have no confidence that I’m doing it right?”

Philip replied, “Do you notice how quiet it is in here? We all sense your honesty. It took courage for you to be vulnerable, and you touched a nerve with others in the room. I imagine it is the same with God. More than anything else, God wants your authentic self.” (page 41)

He writes on page 55, “Though my needs may drive me to prayer, there I come face-to-face with my greatest need; encounter with God’s own self.”

When the disciples found Jesus, and told him everyone was looking for him, Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’ So, he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” (vv.38-39)

Jesus gained his strength for the battle he would continue to wage against evil, from his time spent in prayer.

This coming week I encourage you to be your authentic self before God. He knows you and what you are going through. Yet, in acknowledging what you are feeling; your struggles, your joy, all of your emotions; you say to God, ‘I am human and you are God. I need your strength in my earthly journey.’ If it worked for Jesus our Lord and Savior, it will work for you!

Pastor Rosemary DeHut                                                                   February 4, 2018

References: Yancey, Philip (2006). Prayer: does it make any difference? Grand Rapids, MI,

Zondervan.

 

By: Ironwoodumc

February 13th, 2018

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Our Hours

Sunday Service 11:00 A.M. Central Time (nursery available)

Phone Number: 906-932-3900

Pastor: Rev. Rosemary DeHut

Pastor Rosemary is in the office on Wednesdays and Thursdays

Prayer

~~ For the renewal of the church Spirit of promise, Spirit of unity, We thank you that you are also a Spirit of renewal. Renew in the whole Church That passionate desire for the coming of your kingdom Which will unite all Christians in one mission to the world. May we all grow up together into him who is our head, The Savior of the world. Amen. ~~