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If you don’t pray more after reading this, you didn’t read this!

By Intersections

What Is Prayer Actually Worth To You?

Photo credit: Joshua Hanks

“The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).

What is your response when someone offers to pray for you? You welcome the prayer, right? Have you ever replied, “No thanks, I don’t want your prayer”? Some people may resist the suggestion of prayer for any number of reasons, but most of the time, people welcome prayer. Our congregation’s active prayer list engages us and every week as we share requests and answers to prayer encourage all of us. But how much is prayer actually worth to you?

What is Prayer?

Prayer may best be described as a conversation with God. While folding our hands is frequently associated with someone praying, hand-folding is not required for God to hear us, of course! Eyes open or closed. Standing, sitting, walking, driving, or any possible activity can be a perfect context for taking to God. Remember, the apostle Paul said to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Since we can pray anywhere, we can also pray about anything and about the full range of life’s experiences. Alone or with others. No special formula, language, or method is required, either. No practice is necessary to make a connection to God. Just direct your thoughts to God. God even offers the Holy Spirit to help us when we just don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26-27).

Our prayers may be for ourselves or others, silent or spoken aloud, expressed in words, art, music, or dance, or any other medium. Prayer can be urgently offered in crisis or during planned, peaceful, or contemplative moments. Succinct or expansive, and capturing our every possible feeling and emotion, and concerning any and every imaginable situation, prayer with God is an amazing, personalized, way to be in touch with God through Christ.

Prayer In the Bible

In God’s word, people interacted with God believing that prayer was also a method of changing a situation or themselves for the better. Abraham prayed that God would not destroy the city, Jacob prayed for strength when he was going to a stressful family reunion, Moses prayed for mercy for his people, Joshua confesses his people’s sins, Hannah prayed for a family, Daniel for freedom, Nehemiah for transformation, Job prayed for his friends (Job 42:10) and Solomon prayed for wisdom (1 Kings 3:1-15). The Book of the Psalms is filled with prayers from requests to expressions of anger and sorrow, including intercessions, praise, and thanksgivings. Certainly there must be value to prayer because interacting with the Creator is a real life experience. People correlate praying with results, either experienced inwardly, or externally.

Jesus practiced what he preached about prayer and made it a priority, both in private (Mark 1:15, Matthew 14:23), and in public (Luke 22:32, 41-44), and famously from the cross where he died for the sins of the world, praying, “Father, forgive, them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus taught us how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:1-13), to not use prayer to get attention from others (Matthew 6:5-6), to pray before making an important decision (Luke 6:12-13), to pray boldly (Mark 11:24), and pray for the success of God’s mission (Luke 10:22, Matthew 9:38). Jesus continually prays for us, too! (Romans 8:34). If prayer didn’t matter, would Jesus pray?

The letters of the New Testament are similarly filled with reminders of the value of prayer. In James’ letter, “…pray for each other…” because, “the prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with” (James 5:17). The apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” (Philippians 4:6-7 The Message). We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), and to pray for our civic leaders and neighbors (1 Timothy 2:1-3, 1 John 5:14-15, 1 Peter 3:12, Colossians 1:9-12).

What About “Thoughts and Prayers”?

In our experience, prayers matter. But can we learn anything about what people ion general think about prayer? Following natural disasters, mass shootings, or catastrophes, politicians and religious leaders often offer up their “thoughts and prayers” to victims. Our nation historically values prayer. For example, both houses of Congress open each session with prayer, the government continues to provide chaplains for the armed forces (an important part of their ministry is prayer), and other civic, public, and private organizations may include prayer in their proceedings. Detractors criticize the phrase, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” as meaningless, asserting that prayer offers no real value. In a recent issue of the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers sought to quantify the value people attributed to prayer. Critics argue that the phrase is cheap, and it doesn’t equate to real action. It may be offered to sound like “I really care,” but really means “I won’t do anything.” Christians frequently seek other’s prayers, especially during difficult or painful times.

The researchers took an economic approach to determining the value of thoughts and prayers. (For the full article, “The Value of Thoughts and Prayers,” visit

For example, the findings showed that recipients of prayer often expect some kind of direct benefit (improved health or Increased wealth), or gain feelings of hope and connection to others, or to reduce their anxiety. Participants in the study self-identified as one of three groups: Christian, atheist, or agnostic. In the experiment, they were told that a stranger would be learn about their recent hardship and in return, the participant would receive that stranger’s thoughts and prayers. The experiment evaluated how much the thoughts and prayers mattered to each group. On average, Christian respondents valued the gesture, but nonreligious people negatively valued the gesture when offered by Christians, and were indifferent to receiving the thoughts and prayers from other nonreligious people. The study also suggested that while others may sincerely offer their thoughts and prayers, when no other gesture was offered, its impact was less recognized. Everyone agreed that the words alone were secondary if not also linked to other actions.

Prayer In Motion

Wait, that sounds like what we read in James’ letter when he wrote about faith in action:

“Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” (James 2:16-17).

The bottom line? Pray. It matters. To you. To (most) others. And, it actual

The bottom line?

Pray. But remember prayer may be like like faith, without a corresponding action it is, well, using the words of James, dead. Look for opportunities to do more than pray. Don’t stop sharing with God, listening, and learning with God’s Spirit in community with others. Pray. Do. That’s why faith communities gather…to provide spiritual resources to follow Jesus with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love! There are amazing benefits to prayer, both to the one praying and to the recipients of those prayers. (And when you want to offer prayer for others and want them to know you are praying for them, its a great idea to politely ask if they’d welcome the prayer to begin with.) Whatever their response can be a wonderful moment for engagement. Active, authentic prayer is always connected to active, authentic action.

Pastor Kevin

2019-07-28 Persistence Is Never Futile

By Sermons

Last week we revisited the first moon landing on July 20, 1969. Wow. (You may listen to the message, Mary, Martha, and the Moon, just below on this page.) This week, we hear Jesus teach his followers a prayer. We refer to it as The Lord’s Prayer, but is it the “Lord’s” prayer”? Maybe it should have been called the Disciple’s Prayer, but the Prayer, whatever its title, is a common-sounding prayer. What made the Prayer unique was not it content, but to whom it was addressed. No rabbi in Jesus time, or before or since, would have started any prayer referring to God as “Daddy”! That’s right. “Our Father…” is the term “Daddy” and Jesus shocked his listeners who were not used to having such a personal relationship with the Creator! What’s more, after Jesus’ outrageous prayer lesson, he tells a few stories that encouraged the disciples to even be persistent in prayer, courageous in prayer, with God. Now that’s shocking!

Become a part of Jesus’ prayer lesson and learn about why Persistence Is Never Futile when we are connected to the Jesus Force this week the Red Brick Church. You’ll want to bring along a few friends to worship with you, too! Everyone’s welcome!

2018-10-21 Message- What do you want me to do for you

By Sermons

Remember growing up with the Sears Christmas Wish Book? I do. Flipping through pages filled with toys and gift ideas delighted kids of all ages as they marked their favorite items, hoping mom and dad noticed in time for Christmas. What did you wish for?

Beginning in 1886, 22-year-olds Richard Sears and Alveh Roebuck did more than wish for a brighter future when they started a retail business that sold, well, anything. Whatever you wanted, watches, clothes, furniture, chances were that Sears, Roebuck, and Co., could deliver it to your door. In fact, they could deliver the door, too, attached to the pre-fabricated house you purchased out of the catalogue! The business seemed to peak in 1969, ironically as it built what was then the “largest skyscraper in the world” in Chicago.

Diversifying into other product lines from brokerage, insurance, and pre-internet services failed to improve the company’s health, and by the 1990’s, Walmart, and later internet companies like Amazon, made the Sears and the Christmas Wish Book obsolete. Desperate attempts to stay afloat couldn’t save the struggling retailer, which listed $6.9 billion in assets and $11.3 billion in liabilities. An economist explained the retailer’s demise: “Sears and Kmart simply trudged along and thought that was good enough.” Good enough is rarely good enough, and on October 15, the Sears Holdings Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after 132 years in business. While sad, there’s more for us to learn from the wish book story.

What do you want? Jesus asked this question of his good friends, James and John, and you wouldn’t have guessed what was on their wish list! This Sunday, let’s get our wish lists out for Jesus to examine. We will also take a look at Job’s wish list, too, and we’ll discover that God delivered more than Job bargained for!

2018-10-21 Message for Kids- I have the faith of a mustard seed, and I’m not afraid to use it

By Sermons

What do you need when you go trick or treating? Candy, right? What’s you favorite? Sure. Twist. Snickers. Skittles! But, what do you need? Not candy! How about faith? Jesus said that if you have faith even a small as this mustard seed, you can move mountains! Here is a mustard seed. Can you even see it? It’s super small. It’s one of the very smallest of the seeds, yet it grows and produces a great plant. You probably don’t need more candy, and guess what? You don’t need more faith, either. All you need to do is trust in God and know that God loves you more than you could possibly know, and wants your very best and has given you all you truly need in Jesus Christ. So this Halloween, as you fill your bag with candy, fill your life with faith and see what God will do!

What do you want for halloween? Candy?

What do you need for Halloween? Faith!

Breath Prayers

By Intersections

From the Clerk’s Corner-   “Breath Prayers”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”  my father would mutter under his breath whenever he was emotionally distressed.  As the eldest of then three young boys, I wondered if my father was upset with something we had done to displease him. Being raised in another traditional faith in the 1950’s, I thought my father was being profane –wasn’t that sinful?  In a culture of “children were seen and not heard”, not one of us dared to even raise the question to my father!  Dad’s word was like God’s authority to us.  But that was then and this is now:  I have come to see that perhaps my father was really praying for help, that he was– in his way– reaching out to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to calm and center himself.  Instead of utilizing the oft-suggested secular “counting to ten”, he was actually relying upon his faith praying for heavenly assistance!  This was his “default prayer”, an invocation he reverted to use automatically when feeling distressed!  Upon reflection, I admitted that I did not have such a prayer in my “spiritual portfolio”; perhaps I needed to invest in one, a default prayer that would pay spiritual dividends down the road — an automatic muttering that would give glory to God rather than besmirch His name!

Do you have a default prayer to help you cope with an unexpected distressful situation?  From my life’s observation most people do not and probably have never given this a thought. Many people under distress simply blurt out “OMG”, “GDI” or “JC” without thinking.  As Christians we ought to do better than that; we can move from the profane to the sacred—even in our mutterings!

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” is the quintessential default prayer to use at any time. It quickly sets my mind and heart upon the One I can truly rely upon to help me through difficult times. It uplifts my plaintive cry for mercy –“help me Lord in my distress!”  It is one of the oldest prayers in the Christian community of faith, dating back to the third century from the Eastern Orthodox tradition; it is considered to be one of the greatest treasures of Christianity!  I learned about “the Jesus Prayer” last year while on a three-day monastic retreat. With a little practice, this prayer can become your default prayer too!  Now say (under your breath): “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” –and repeat. This is a “breath prayer” because it is said in rhythm with one’s natural breathing.  Inhale the first part “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” then exhale “has mercy on me, a sinner” –and repeat. When we connect the power of the Holy Spirit with “the breath of life”, we can fathom the deeper spirituality of “breath prayers” —breathing new life into our souls!  This practice of literally breathing our prayer lends itself to inhale the holiness and power of Jesus Christ and to exhale our petition. It is a “centering prayer”, a prayer of consent to God’s presence and action to me. I let other thoughts go –to create room to return to the presence of God. I focus on Christ Jesus acknowledging Him as both Lord and Savior of my life, the Son of the Living God –and my dependence upon His mercy, compassion, and divine forgiveness.

“The Jesus Prayer” is the ultimate source of intercessory prayer; the more I live with it, the more it will live with me!  Instead of “cursing the darkness” or “counting sheep” on a sleepless night, practice repeating this prayer — embed it into your consciousness as a profound gift from God, to be in continual communion with Him, as the Apostle Paul would say “pray without ceasing!”  Breathe in and out s-l-o-w-l-y:“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” —and repeat again and again until it becomes your default breath prayer!  One last thought to seriously ponder is the payoff of this sound investment:  when taking your final breaths of life, what better words — indelibly inscribed on your mind, in your heart, and within your soul — can be uttered from your lips than “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”!

.                                                                    –Rob Riehl, clerk of session, ruling elder