by Rev. Randy Brown

Our scripture for the morning is taken from the 18th chapter of the gospel of Luke, the first eight verses. Out of reverence and respect for our Lord would you stand as we read His words?

And then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them how they should always pray and not give up. And he said  in a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought and there was a widow in that town that kept coming to him with the plea: grant me justice against my adversary.

But for some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow continues to bother me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me. And the Lord said listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night?

Will he keep on putting them off? I tell you that he will see that they get justice and quickly. However when the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth? This is the word of God for the people of God. We’re going to pray together would you be seated as we pray? Lord in these moments together come and speak to our hearts. The most important power that you’ve given us is the power of communication and the power of prayer.

We need to learn about that more. We need to incorporate that more into our lives and so on this day, Father accomplish your will.  And as I stand here as you’ve given me the opportunity to share I pray once again that you will come and rescue me from me. That you would hide me behind your cross, that the words that are spoken are your words and not mine. But the one who is seen is you and not me.

And above all else may we hear the quiet shuffling of sandaled feet and know that it is Jesus the Christ who comes to walk in our mist. It’s in his name and for his glory I pray, Amen. One the things that has always troubled me is that sometimes when people talk about Methodists they say well you can believe anything and be a Methodist.

I take offense at that because I think there are some things that are in our very DNA and the very fiber of our being that would contrast that. One of the things that we talk about when we talk about who we are as a Methodist people goes to our membership vows. When a person becomes a Christian and then later unites with the Church and it needs to be in that order, because the most important thing is faith in Jesus and living a life of Christ.

But after that happens then we have an opportunity to invite folks to be a part of a local congregation. And when that happens, a membership vow is taken and the membership vow is this: will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church and will you support it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.

That is the membership vow of the church and if you’ve come and stood before this congregation or another congregation and you’ve joined with that local United Methodist Church that was the membership vow that you took, to support the Church by your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.

We are in the beginning of a series of sermons today about stewardship. Now stewardship doesn’t talk just about money, we water it down when we say that stewardship is all about money. Stewardship is a lifestyle and I want us to look at the lifestyle of stewardship through the United Methodist lens and the membership vow that we’ve taken.

Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church and will you support it first of all by your prayers? I want us to talk about that. We’re going to be talking about prayer today. And we’ve read the scriptures about it and you by now surely have caught on to today we’re talking about prayer.

A young couple went to a new church, it was a Methodist church, and to be quite honest their first impression of that church was its dead as 4 o’clock. This young couple went to see the girl’s grandfather who was a retired Methodist preacher. And they began to share with the grandfather their concerns. They liked the church but they just thought there’s nothing happening and there’s nothing going on. We don’t know whether to look for another place or whether we should just kind of stay there and see if we can make a difference.

The retired Methodist pastor, grandfather said I got one question for you. Is anybody praying for that church? Is anybody praying for that church? And they said quite honestly we don’t know. He said why don’t you become the ones who are praying for that church? Is anybody praying for your church? What happens is they began to pray and as they became prayer warriors things began to happen and God’s spirit began to move among the congregation.

And I think it was in large part because this retired Methodist preacher baited the hook, planted the seeds and his granddaughter and her husband took seriously the question “is anybody praying for your church?” Prayer warriors are vitally important. This church has many different prayer ministries. It’s got the prayer shawl ministries, it has the prayer chain ministry. On the internet it has the prayer group that meets on Wednesday nights. Healthy churches are praying churches.

And praying churches are healthy churches. I had a group one time who had a Saturday morning prayer meeting and a Saturday morning prayer group. They met on Friday at noon but they called themselves the Saturday morning group. They started out on Saturday morning praying and through the course of situation and life experiences they needed to move it to Friday at noon but they kept the name Saturday morning group.

They met at Friday at noon but they prayed. And I asked them, I said why is this so important? And one of the people in the group, an older lady, said my parents and the Bible tells me that prayer is important. Did you get that, my parents? I doubt very seriously if her parents ever gave her a lecture about prayer. I think what happened was she saw the importance that they placed on it and they transferred that to her through their actions.

My parents taught me it’s important to pray. We talk about this from time to time and we have a lot of teachers in the audience this morning. I don’t want the schools teaching my kids how to pray. That’s my job and parents and grandparents that is your job. It’s not the school’s job, it’s your job. Now I do believe this-if you ask me and you push me on it, I will tell you this: as long as teachers give tests there will be prayer in schools.

But that’s not their job to teach my child how to pray, that’s my job, that’s your job. Is anybody praying for church? Everybody knows the name Billy Graham. Everybody around the world practically knows that name. But let me tell you something that you may not know about Dr. Graham. When he first started out going from crusade to crusade to crusade they would travel by train.

And there was a lady from his church in Charlotte, North Carolina who would meet them at the train station every time they got ready to go to do a crusade. She was a member of his church, she would gather with the other folks as they got on the train to travel wherever they were going. She got off the train with them. Dr. Graham remembers later thinking I never saw the lady unless we were getting on the train and off the train.

And one day that bothered him and so he asked her. He said why in the world do you come to all of our crusades then you go and just stay in town and shop while I’m preaching?, you’ve never come to hear me preach in the crusades. She said you’re right I’ll tell you what I do. I go when you go to the crusades, I go to my hotel room and the whole time you’re preaching I’m in my hotel room praying for you. And she said Billy, can you imagine, if I didn’t pray for you, I wouldn’t be doing what God told me to do.

And it was that woman’s prayers who I think elevated Billy Graham to the power that God used him with. Is anybody praying for your church? Is anybody praying for the ministries that the church is about? Prayer is the key. We are admonished to be prayer warriors. We are admonished to pray for one another.

Prayer is the key. Persistent prayer-if you read the scripture-reread the scripture that we read this morning, you will read the word persistent prayer. Prayer-it’s hard work. It’s not easy. Prayer is something that we learn by doing. You read books on it but you understand it better when you practice it. And when you do it and when you knock with bloody knuckles on God’s door.

That’s when you learn what prayer is truly all about. A friend of mine who’s the new pastor at our Brentwood church, his name is David Scalpel. And David, I was talking to him yesterday and we were talking about prayer and he said let me tell you about a congregation-a Lebanese congregation. When he was in Lawrenceville, Georgia there was a group of Lebanese people and they came and they asked him: we want to have a tarry meeting in your church.

He said you want to have a what meeting? He said we want to have a tarry meeting. He said what’s that? He said we’ll just need a room and we’re going to tarry. You know what tarry is, you just wait. They had a tarry meeting one Friday evening and it lasted from 6 o’clock to 10:30. That congregation, that group of Lebanese folks, they were wanting and trying to discern what God would have them do.

And they just went to a room and they had a tarry meeting. They just waited and waited and let God speak to their hearts. Doesn’t the scripture say to be still and know that I am God? Doesn’t the scripture talk about that still, small voice? Sometimes though we don’t want to wait and we don’t want to listen. We just want to get busy and ask God to bless what we’re doing.

Sometimes God calls us just to wait and to listen and to join in what he wants to do instead of trying to get him to join in what we want to do. Prayer is the key. Things are going to happen in your life and in my life and in this community. Things like the one day event, they’ve got to be undergirded by prayer. I said a moment ago, praying churches are healthy churches. You’ve heard the story perhaps of the little boy who went fishing with his grandfather. Now this was the way that I liked to fish when I grew up. When daddy said let’s fish this way I was ready. It’s called trotline fishing. You tie the line to a length and you take it down several feet, maybe yards, maybe a long way and you tie it off on the other end and there are hooks in between and you bait the hooks and you wait for the fish to bite.

Then you go do something else and you come back a couple hours later and there you got the fish. That’s my kind of fishing. A little boy went with his grandfather one day and they went out before breakfast and as they came back they set the hooks, they baited the hooks and went back to eat breakfast.  They came back and sure enough there was several fish that they caught.

So they cleaned the line and baited more hooks. As they got ready to bait the hooks the little boy said I believe we’ll catch more fish. Grandfather said why? He said because I prayed about it. The little boy said I prayed about it, grandpa and I believe we’re going to catch fish. Well, all of a sudden they go back and they looked the second time and lo and behold they caught more fish.

He said I knew we would, I prayed about it. They cleaned the line, they’d go back, they’d bait more hooks, he prays about it again. He says I think we’ll catch more fish. He said why do you think that? He said because I prayed about it. Sure enough, third trip they caught more fish. They were getting ready to really clean them and feed the whole family.  They go back one last time. They didn’t catch a thing. The little boy said I didn’t think we would.

Grandpa said why didn’t you think we’d catch fish this time? He said- I didn’t pray about it. He said why didn’t you pray about it? He said we didn’t bait the hooks. Prayer is baiting the hook. Prayer is baiting the hook. Is anybody praying for your church? Will we be persistent in our prayer? If he had not asked but one time the answer would have been no.

But he kept persistently asking his parents for the trumpet and worn them down. And they said yes. God looks at our hearts, he looks at our motives. You’ve had children ask you can I do this, can I have this? And they don’t even remember ten minutes later that they asked you. They didn’t really want it, did they?

Sometimes that’s the way we treat God and prayer. But the scripture lifts up persistent prayer. God doesn’t answer vain repetition. He’s not interested in vain repetition. He’s interested in relentless prayer warriors. You want a model for praying, the model is found in the scripture that I read to you earlier today. The persistent-you can adopt it like this: adopt an attitude in prayer that’s called pushed. Pushed, you know what pushed means?

Pray until something happens. That’s persistent prayer. Not just the one time cast of the fishing rod, but pray persistently. Pray until something happens. The scripture tells us that the man who had the power-he didn’t really care but he just was tired of being aggravated by the woman. Persistent prayer, God wants us to be persistent in our praying.

Pray until something happens. We all remember, most of us do, remember the TV scene on the news, President Reagan stood there and he said to Mr. Gorbachev: tear down this wall. Long before he ever said that, history documents that there was a group of Methodist missionaries who gathered at that wall and prayed that one day it would come down.

That’s when it started to come down. It wasn’t when Mr. Reagan said that to Mr. Gorbachev. That wall began to come down when Methodist missionaries prayed. And they were persistent in their praying. Pray for God to give this church and to give you as individuals an opportunity to be a witness for him. Now God will answer that prayer, you just need to be aware of it and sensitive to when he’s going to answer it.

If you pray God give me an opportunity to do something for you today, God will answer that prayer. Just don’t overlook it. When you ask God to give you opportunities he’ll do that. The story’s told in a little neighborhood there was a little girl who lived next door, she and her parents lived next door to this guy and it was one of those guys that moms and dads would tell their children-now don’t go over there.

Don’t speak, just go on by. Don’t go over there. One day the little girl had prayed for her neighbor and then all of a sudden she couldn’t stand it anymore. She was out playing he was sitting on the front porch of the house and she just couldn’t stand it. She looked around, mama wasn’t watching. She walked over to that man’s house and she opened the gate. She went up the main walk, she walked up to that man and she said mister, are you a good man or a bad man?

He said honey, I’m afraid I’m probably a bad man. And she says, but mister my Jesus can make you good. Do you know what happened? The tears began to flow and that man was changed because of the witness of a little girl who prayed for her next door neighbor. Pray until something happens. Is there anybody praying for your church? Let me close with this.

Sometimes we struggle with prayer. We struggle with it and our mind wanders and sometimes it’s just hard work. A pastor friend of mine tells me the story about a gentleman who came to his pastor and then said you know I’m just really struggling with prayer.  And I want a more effective-I want a more meaningful prayer life.

He said, well have you ever tried the principle of the empty chair? And he said I reckon not because I don’t know what you’re talking about. And he said well when you begin to pray rule out all the other distractions and sit in a chair and put an empty chair in front of you and just visualize in your mind that Jesus is sitting in that chair in front of you.

And just start talking to him. He said I can do that. He did that. A few weeks later the man had to go into the hospital and later died in the hospital-very unexpectedly. The daughter’s pastor came to visit with her and console her as her father had passed way in the hospital very unexpectedly. And he said to the daughter-the surviving daughter-tell me about his death.

And she said well we really don’t know. It just happened all of a sudden. She said it’s the strangest thing though he had a chair sitting beside his bed. He was lying on the bed. But, his arms were outstretched to that chair. She said I don’t understand. He said I think I do. You see he was talking to his Lord and his Lord just said come on home. Practice the empty chair.

If you’re struggling in prayer life, just talk to him, just talk to him. Is anybody praying for your church? I think there is. I think there are a lot of people praying for this church and I’m looking at you. But we all need to be praying for the church because God wants to do marvelous things with us. Our membership vow says that we will be loyal to the church and we will support it with our prayers. I ask you today to recommit in praying for this church as we live out our vow of membership together.