Church Membership 2: To be Faithful in Private Prayer

pregariaA Short Guide to the Privileges of Church Membership
To be Regular in Private Prayer

Two weeks ago, I woke from a brief Sunday afternoon powernap to find a black spot on my arm. I thought it was a piece of mud, but it would not come off. When I looked closely I realised it had legs and was moving. Alone in the house and unable to remove the tick sucking my blood, I did what any man would do, I drove to St Peter’s A&E. I kept watching it closely to see if it was burrowing its way into my arm. I imagined it disappearing into my bloodstream, like in the film Alien … Sitting for two hours in casualty did not improve my peace of mind. The nurse who saw me admitted having removed several from herself in the past, but only managed to pull the body off leaving the head inside my arm. She called a doctor who, with the aid of a magnifying glass and scalpel, performed micro surgery, removed the head, cleaned the wound and prescribed a heavy dose of antibiotics. Back home, an internet search for the symptoms of Lyme Disease did not improve my well being. Apparently these little creatures feed off foxes, deer, dogs and humans and the disease they carry can attack your brain, heart and other vital organs.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

I am sure it is purely coincidental but in the space of a couple of weeks, I have left my iPad at the Archdeacon’s home in Ripley, I’ve left my my laptop at my mother’s in Lowestoft and my Fitbit Flex fitness wristband, well, I have no idea where it has gone….

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

And then Thursday, I lost Dilly our Labrador Retriever, in the woods behind the Vicarage, for a worrying 15 long minutes. Long enough for me to begin thinking, “how am I going to explain this to Joanna”?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

I’ve shared some of my worries this week – what about yours? Has it been an anxious week for you? Any sleepless nights?  It seems appropriate today, as we come to the second in our series on the privileges of church membership that we address the need to be regular in private prayer. For there is no greater antidote to worry than a conversation with the Lord.

Please turn with me to Philippians 4 and lets learn about the value of prayer. First, I would like us to observe the reason for praying regularly. Second, the rhythm to praying regularly. And third, the result of praying regularly. Lets read the paragraph and get these verses in context.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything,but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peacewill be with you.” (Philippians 4:4-9)

1. The Reason for Praying Regularly

“Do not be anxious about anything,but in everything, by prayer…” (Philippians 4:6).

What is anxiety? The word translated here literally means “to be pulled in different directions”. What are some of the thing that pull you in different directions? People’s expectations, our own expectations, our hopes, our fears, can all pull in different directions. Worry literally pulls us apart. The old English word from which we get our word “worry”, is even more graphic.

It means “to strangle or throttle”. Isn’t that what it feels like when you are really worried? Paralysed from the neck down? Worry has definite physical consequences. Headaches, neck pains, ulcers, indigestion, nausea, even our coordination is affected. When Paul says “Don’t worry about anything” he means “everything”. Worry is forbidden. Why? Because from a spiritual point of view, worry is the result of wrong thinking.

Or from wrong feelings. Worry is the greatest thief of joy. When we worry we are really saying “God, you’re not big enough to handle this one.” But it is not good enough just to tell ourselves to “stop worrying”. That kind of reasoning will never catch the thief who has robbed our joy. Worry is an “inside” job, and it takes more than good intentions or a positive mental attitude to overcome it. The antidote to worry is regular prayer. If anyone had an excuse for worrying it was Paul. His friends at Philippi were disagreeing with one another, and he was not there to help them. On top of all that, he didn’t know if he was going to live long enough to see them anyway. Paul had every good reason to worry, and you and I do too, but he didn’t and we shouldn’t. If we are to conquer worry and experience a secure mind, we must prayer regularly. The reason for praying regularly – anxiety.

  1. The Rhythm to Praying Regularly

Last week I spent a good deal of the time with Muslim friends. You may know that Muslims are expected to pray five times a day. It provides a rhythm to their day. It is a priority. And being around them, I found myself praying more regularly too. Paul uses three different words to describe how we should talk to God. These words provide both variety and a kind of rhythm.

2.1 Prayer

This carries the idea of adoration, devotion and worship. In verse 5, he has already instructed us to Rejoice – in fact twice.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:5). Prayer must always begin with adoration, for it forces us to realize who it is we are talking to. Its only when we are single-minded that we can adore Him. A while ago I was visiting a local school. I noticed the children addressed the head teacher as “Sir”. A good idea? It shows respect, but it also reminds young people who they are speaking to. We need to do the same. Whenever we find ourselves worrying, our first action ought to be to get alone with God and worship Him.

Adoration dwells on the greatness and majesty of God. We begin worrying because we have forgotten that we are related to the One who alone is big enough to solve our problems. Instead of rushing into his presence with our shopping list of requests, the first step is to calmly and in deepest reverence, adore Him.

2.2 Petition

Its then that it is appropriate to share our needs and requests. There is no place for half-hearted, or general prayers.

The word ‘petitions’ has with it a sense of urgency, and intensity, of concern. When people came to Jesus, one of His most frequent questions was, “What do you want me to do for you?” It is helpful to have that question in our minds when we pray. To avoid prayer becoming monotonous, for many years I have used a simple system to enable me to be systematic in daily intercession. You may like to adapt this, print it and keep it in your Bible as a book mark and aid in your own prayer life. Using the Church Family Directory on a daily basis – praying for the people mentioned by name – one page a day  – is also a simple but effective method.

Your Close Relatives
Local Schools
and University
Christianity Explored
Your Small Group members
Thursday Night Training
Our Mission Partners
Preachers & Leaders
Emergency Services
Connection Magazine
Pastoral Care Team
Church Leadership Team
Our Mission Agencies
Musicians &
Your Neighbours
Community Leaders
Special Events & Festivals
People in the Church Directory
Church Council Members
Other Local Churches
Sunday Clubs & Leaders

 I am sure you can improve on this or personalise it – but I commend it to you to assist you in being regular in private prayer. At the heart of prayer is intercession. Prayer, petition and

2.3 Thanksgiving

Our Heavenly Father enjoys hearing us his children say “thank you!”. It is a sign of our trust and appreciation. Too often we are eager to ask and slow to appreciate. Because we forget His provision in the past, be doubt His faithfulness in the future.

The reason for praying regularly – Anxiety.
The rhythm to praying regularly – Diversity.

  1. The Result of Praying Regularly

“And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

This is our incentive. This is our motivation for praying regularly. Instead of anxiety we experience victory. Instead of panic we experience peace. The word “guard” is a military term and describes a garrison of soldiers. God will literally guard you with his peace. I obtained peace of mind last week because of your prayers and my preparations for this sermon. God gave me ultimate peace despite the darn tick, despite my aging forgetfulness, despite Dilly’s waywardness. In his will and in communion with him, I knew I was secure. The secret is not “prayer” in itself, as if it were some magical technique to get what we want. That is why I don’t like the phrase “the power of prayer”. We experience the power of God when we pray.

We experience the peace of God when we pray. Because we encounter the presence of God when we pray. Knowing the peace of God does not mean the absence of conflict on the outside, but it does mean a quiet confidence on the inside.

Regardless of our circumstances, other people or events.  In Britain we take for granted the privilege of being able to pray openly and corporately. In many countries, Christians are liable to be arrested and imprisoned if they are caught praying together. They can identify with the prophet Daniel who found peace through prayer. When King Darius announced that his subjects should only pray before a statue of himself what did Daniel do? He had every reason to be anxious. But instead, he went to his room, he opened his windows, and prayed as before. He broke the law because he would rather obey the Lord. Daniel 6 says he prayed and gave thanks before his God, and made supplication. Prayer-supplication-thanksgiving. And the result was perfect peace in the midst of difficulty. Verse 18 tells us that while Daniel had a good night’s sleep, tucked up in a soft warm bed of lions, the king in his palace of luxury could not sleep! So if you cant sleep tonight, remember Daniel’s example.

The reason for praying regularly – Anxiety.
The rhythm to praying regularly – Diversity.
The result of praying regularly – Victory.

Lets pray.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds safe in the knowledge and love of God and of his son Jesus Christ our Lord as we learn to be faithful in prayer. Amen