I am convinced that each church today across America has one vast, under-utilized resource. We are in day and age where most churches are declining, and resources of volunteers and finances are low. Older churches look back with nostalgia to the good ole days, when many more people were in their buildings and more cash was in their coffers. Smaller churches look to larger churches, or even mega-churches, with envy, wishing they had the facility or the staff that they possessed. Congregations find themselves feeling competitive with the other church down the road or across the river that have a slightly more attractive program or one or two extra staff members. We’d like to see more people coming to Jesus, but it isn’t happening. We’d like to see more energy and enthusiasm, but regardless of how we yearn for it we don’t perceive it. We’d like for our members to place a higher priority on attendance and show a greater level of commitment to church family, but we will still it as low. So when we find ourselves in that situation, what do we do? There are a host of bad responses that all come from our fleshly, carnal nature. I won’t take time to describe them here. The godly response that is described over and over again in Scripture and in church history, is to gather together and pray. I’ll let you do the Bible research and historical research on your own – you’ll be amazed at what you find. What we really desire in our individual lives, in our families, and in our churches, is not to see people working, but to see God working.
The first step to see God begin working among us is to pray. If we want to experience the fires of revival, the prayers of God’s people as they have gathered together is the kindling. As we pray, the wind of the Holy Spirit begins to blow and to accomplish what we could never accomplish in our own strength. Jesus says to us in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Matthew 7:7-8 tells us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Jesus also promises us in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” So when we gather together in prayer, Jesus is with us. When Jesus is with us, and we are “abiding” in Him, thing happens that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Our passage for this morning describes for us three different gifts we receive through the power of prayer.
First of all, the power of praying together is in the relaxation it gives. The word “peace” could also be used, but we hear it so often we often don’t grasp what it means. So “relaxation” is a term we can all understand. Prayer produces that relaxation or peace, because it reminds us that God is in control. When we focus on Him, that He is all-powerful and is perfectly loving, the stress and worry begin to drain from our hearts and minds and bodies. In 1929, J.C. Penney, the founder of the large department store chain, was just getting started with his business. In the early stages it was highly unstable. 1929 was also the year of the great stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. He could not think of what he could that would be more innovative or more productive. He had done all he knew to do. He had come to the end of his resources. So he began to worry. He started losing sleep, and was troubled to such a great extent that he developed shingles. Shingles are terribly painful. He was admitted to a hospital, where he was given medicine to settle him down. It didn’t work – he still was plagued with worry. On one night he felt as he would die before the next day dawned. He was lying on his bed, when he heard singing from the small chapel room next door. This small group of Christians sang, “No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you.” The music resonated deep within him. He say up in bed and realized, “It is real! God loves me and will take care of me!” He left his bed and went to chapel and joined them as they met together. That night a miracle took place in his heart and soul. It was as if a bird had been released from a dungeon to the bright sunlight. Penney said, “From that day forward, I was never crippled by worry again.”
We live in a pressure cooker world. Stress hammers us from every direction. When we are excessively stressed, the Word of God is choked in our lives and we can’t bear fruit that gives God glory. We’re no longer looking to God, but we’re looking to self and to others for the solutions to the challenges we face. There’s a popular saying that goes, “turn your cares into prayers.” Cares tighten us and make realize how little we or other can do. Prayers relax us and focus us on how much God can do. As we pray, our passage says that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The power of praying together is in the relaxation it gives.
Then, the power of praying together is in the inspiration it provides. Verse 6 says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” “Let your requests be made known to GOD” When we pray, we are spending time with the Creator of the universe. We are interacting with the One who can do anything. Jeremiah 32:7 says, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” We’ve heard several news reports lately about tornadoes. Years ago there was tornado approaching a farm, probably in the Midwest. All the people there, the family and the workers on the farm, gathered together in a dark storm cellar. The winds began howling, and the only door giving protection from the fierce weather was rattling on its hinges. Their fear was that the door would be sucked off the frame, and then they too may be pulled into the storm. An old preacher was among them, and he began praying with great oratorical effects, “Lord, send us the spirit of the children of Israel, the children of Moses, the children of the Promised Land!” An old man with far less education but much more directness lifted his voice and prayed even louder, “Lord, don’t send nobody. Come yourself! This ain’t no job for children!” When we pray, we are talking with almighty God, and He is the One who will come to our aid. Remember this saying, “When we work, we work; but when we pray, God works.” The power of praying together is in the inspiration it provides.
Then, the power of praying together is in the transformation it brings. Verse 8 of our passage says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” There is no way we can truly change who we are and where our minds dwell apart from prayer and the Word of God. When we pray together, it changes us for the better as nothing else can do. It changes our thoughts, it transforms our emotions, it transforms our relationships and our lifestyle. We all have a tendency to let our minds and our emotions dwell on the negative. It is only through God’s touch that we can be changed. When the twelve spies looked at the land of Canaan in Numbers 14, ten of them returned with a negative report – they were focused on the flesh, their own abilities compared to the abilities of the Canaanites. Joshua and Caleb them focused on their God, and had a positive report. They were focused on God and what He could do. They weren’t worried about the negative report the other 10 spies gave – they remained focused on God and what He could do. David challenged Goliath when everyone else was fearful of doing so. Spending time alone with God, and depending on God, while tending the sheep had changed David. He had no fear of Goliath, and he was not fretting because no one else was willing to confront him. His mind was fixed upon God and upon His promises. Prayer is not a ritual for God, it is a relationship with God. That relationship transforms us as nothing else can do.