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Gospel centred sermons, based on the lectionary often in advance.

5 purposes of prayer

Oct 23, 2021


Old Testament Job 42:1–6, 10–17

New Testament Hebrews 7:23–28

Gospel Mark 10:46–52

If God is God, then what is the use of prayer? God must know what we need before we even need it. Telling God about things is surely useless. I can imagine God looking down on me and saying. “There he is, “personsplaining” to me again. I already know all this, better than he does. In fact I know everything!” Surely God does not need our prayer, to be made aware of things or in order to do something. It is not as though our prayer will make God more powerful. 

I believe that in the story of Job and our Gospel reading and also the Hebrews reading we see a number of the purposes of prayer revealed. 

Job loses all his children all his wealth and then becomes terribly and painfully sick. While we get some sort of explanation, Job is never given a reason for this. He is a very good man, like all of us imperfect but if anyone deserved to have a good life based on their character and care of family and neighbours including those less well off it is Job. Job spends most of the book begging for God to give him a chance to defend himself and state his case. Job never curses God but he certainly gets angry and upset. In the end God speaks to him and still gives him no answer. God basically just says - how dare you question me. I am the one who made and sustains the universe. ““Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?... [when]“the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4,7 NIV) 

In today’s reading responding to God revealed in such a powerful way, Job humbly says “...Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3, NIV) 

But God does not punish or tell Job off for crying out, for questioning God’s justice, for being angry and upset. In fact God says to Job’s religious friends that Job has spoken the truth about God’s character. 

This is the first purpose of prayer. God is someone to cry out to. God has pretty broad shoulders. Not just Job but David & Psalm writers and Moses, Ezekiel, Hagar, Hanah and a number of others cry out to God in anger, despair and frustration and none of them are condemned for it. When you cry out to God in faith even if it is mixed with doubt and full of pain or anger or fear, God will not condemn us. 

Bartimaeus cries out loudly from the roadside. “Son of David have mercy on me.” It annoys and embarrasses the crowd. They tell Bartimaeus off. But Jesus is not embarrassed any more than he is embarrassed by the mums bringing their small children. And as an aside I don’t think you should ever be embarrassed by the Uniting Church’s practice of baptising Children, for Jesus welcomes all the children who are brought to him. 

Even if you don't believe that God does, or any longer does the miraculous; who better to cry out to than God? This applies not just to those like Job or Bartimaeus who are suffering some terrible loss or illness, it applies to those who know they need mercy and forgiveness. 

So the first purpose - someone to cry out to. God is someone we can offload to, spit the dummy to. 

Second prayer reminds! Prayer declares to God and to you and to others God's Character and it also reminds you of others’ needs. 

Job's confession speaks of how God is too wonderful for words. Much of Job is prayer, it speaks of God's justice, God's power, God is not domesticated or tame but God is good. God’s Character is revealed in prayer. 

Bartimaeus’ plea for help reveals his need to others. It also reveals God's healing power and merciful character. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” 

Prayers of praise remind us of God’s power and love and provision and awesome character. Prayers of confession remind you that God is merciful and forgiving. Prayers of intercession, prayers for others and yourselves remind you that God heals and provides and as others pray if it is a public prayer, it makes you aware , reminds you of the needs of others. Thanksgiving reminds you of how God has provided, in creation, in daily life and most wonderfully of all in the life of Jesus and in the puring out ot the Holy Spirit. 

First prayer gives you someone to cry out to. Second it reminds you of God’s character and others’ needs. 

Third it draws you into relationship. 

Public prayer, prayer with others in church or in Sunday School or a Bible study brings you into the lives of others and others into your lives. But in our Hebrew’s reading you also have this picture of being drawn into the divine relationship. You are brought by Jesus into the relationship which he shares with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. Jesus a human being like us but also God’s eternal Son brings us into the presence of God the Father. The Contemporary English version puts it like this: “He is forever able to save the people he leads to God, because he always lives to speak to God for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, CEV) Or as Romans 8:15-16 put it, his Spirit joins together with our apirit and we are able to Cry out to God “Abba (“Dad”), Father!” and so you know that you are brought onto a new relationship with God - You are God’s adpted children. 

First prayer gives you someone to cry out to. Second it reminds you of God’s character and the needs of others. Third, it draws you into relationship with God and with the church community . 

Fourth it gives you an opportunity to receive. Again in public prayer Bartimaeus’ need becomes known as does Jesus’ response and he his able to receive (help) an invitation through the crowd to meet Jesus. He receives word from Jesus - “Call him... What do you want me to do for you” Job also receives God’s word and through the witness of the Bible so do you. You hear the wonderful image of the beginning of creation, when the morning stars sang together and all the anges shouted for Joy. In answered prayer in the Boible and in your own prayer you receive the word of God. I believe you can also receive the miraculous. Job is healed and his fortune is restored. Bartimaeus receives his sight back. A little baby in the Tannum congrgation was prayed for and his bowel unblocked avoiding surgery in what doctors descibed as the worst blockage they’d ever seen cleared without surgery. In prayer you also receive forgiveness, the Holy Spirit and when you first come to faith you receive Jesus himself. 

Prayer gives you someone to cry out to, it reminds us of God’s character and other’s need, it draws us into relationship with God and others, it gives us the opportunity to receive and fifth... 

It gives you an opportunity to give. Often you are the answer to prayer. If we pray for lonely people perhaps God is asking you to be a friend. If you pray for the needy perhaps God is asking you to give. If you pray for the church or the community, perhaps God is asking you to lead or serve. People are so grateful to know that others pray. If only Job's friends had done what Job does for them and prayed for him instead of piling judgmental advice on him perhaps the book of Job would be shorter and less challenging. Sometimes you are the answer to prayer, sometimes God answers or provides and someime there is no answer you can see. You can not fix the problem or meet the need but you can take it and those who are in need to God. Ifyou can give nothing else you can still give prayer. 

So what is prayer good for? What is its purpose? It gives you someone to cry out to, it reminds us of God’s character and other’s need, it draws us into relationship with God and others, it gives you the opportunity to receive and fifth it gives you an opportunity to give.