Prayer & Supplication
How to Pray: Just Do It
Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:4-8; Mark 1:35-38
[©Eric Feustel, The United Methodist Churches of Pittsburg and Colebrook, NH April 25, 2021]
Ephesians 6:18 “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication . . .”
Today’s Bible Readings:
4 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 every situation, 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 and sisters, 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 peace will be with you.
Mark 1:35-39 NIV
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons
Paul is giving us instructions on how to pray, and that is the sub-title of this sermon: “How to Pray.” Really, there is no right or wrong way to pray. The second half of my subtitle is borrowed from the Nike people: “Just Do It.” I’m probably not telling you anything new; rather, I hope to give you some handles for your public and private prayers. Our text verse uses the words prayer and supplication. I’m thinking of prayer as referring to structured formal prayer, and supplication as it relates to our private prayers. Today’s message is almost a list, or actually two lists. First, how to pray, spur of the moment, in public; and second, how to grow your private prayer life.
Formal prayers, even when opening and closing a church meeting, can be intimidating for some. I’ve been in church meetings where someone is called upon to pray, and declines. This is a person who is otherwise well-spoken and if my passive observation is correct, they seem to be good Christians, but they just can’t pray in public, especially on short notice. It’s not just church or religious situations. I’ve seen successful professionals who were strong leaders in small groups yet struggled when facing a large group. I recall taking an F on a presentation, even though I was well prepared—I just couldn’t stand in front of my fellow 7 th graders and tell them about Burma or Tunisia or wherever it was.
It may happen at a church meeting (I always ask someone first, but some pastors don’t) or some other situation where someone knows you’re a Christian and asks you to say a prayer, maybe at a family gathering or some civic affair. Here is a quick formula for when you are asked to pray in public. It’s only four words: You, Who, Do, Thru and they will serve as an outline for your prayer. All you have to do is hang the appropriate thoughts on that outline.
You—How you will address God. The Lord’s prayer starts with the most common one, “Our Father.” You might be more comfortable addressing God simply as “Our God,” “O Lord,” or “Father of us all.” It might be related to the situation. Maybe if visiting a friend in the hospital the friend asks you to pray right then and there. It might help to address God as Great Physician. or Healer. If there is some danger, maybe Protector or Defender.
Who—Can you recall some biblical instance when God came through for His people, or maybe an situation where God was there when you were in desperate need? For example, “God who rescued Daniel from the lion’s den,” or “who led the Israelites out of Egypt.” You might also recall some promise from the Bible, like “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Knowing and claiming the promises of God are a tremendous asset for anyone learning to pray in faith.
Do—What is the particular need? If a meeting, pray for guidance, if a table grace, thank God for providing, whatever fits. If the situation is complex, be careful not to give God advice! If you haven’t a clue, just remind God that you are overwhelmed and are relying on Him to resolve the problem.
Thru—I’m using the shortened form of the word just to make this as simple as possible. God’s work on earth is always done through the Holy Spirit because the power of God is influential, and always end your prayer in the name of Christ or Jesus because as we learned in last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus told us to pray in his name (and be sure you’re asking for something he would want done. So you’ve involved the Trinity in your prayer! You, Who, Do, Thru—it’s that simple.
Part Two: Personal Devotional Prayer. I’ve already told you how the word supplication implies flexibility, i.e. be supple in your expectations, but the word used in Philippians implies intensity. A rough translation might mean indeed, or really. Paul is telling us to pray like we really mean it. I’ll be working with the outline St. Paul gave us in our first reading from Philippians. For the sake of helping you remember, all my points begin with the letter A.
Acclaim— verse 4 tells us to "Rejoice in the Lord.” This isn’t just putting on a happy face, but rather to bolster our faith by remembering just how great God really is. It also gets our eyes off any instant misery or troubling situation. When making hospital calls, I often share Proverbs 17.22 where we are told, “A joyful heart is good medicine.” Acclaim, praise, and rejoicing are all positive mental activity that will stifle any lurking depression and help us to pray in faith.
Ambience—verse 5 says, “The Lord is near.” Gentleness and humility when we are intentionally in God’s presence are also essential. Talking to God is a high privilege. God is more important than talking to the Governor or the President. James 4:8 tells us to “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.” Psalm 145.18 says, ”The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Never think that you’re praying to the ceiling or a wall across the room. God has promised to be near. If you must, remind God of that promise—you’ll be reminding yourself, too.
Anxiety—verse 6 tells us ”Do not be anxious about anything.” Charles Tindley wrote several wonderful hymns in our book and one contains the line, “Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.” That hymn is a sermon in itself and I wish I could have heard him preach the sermon that inspired that hymn. Share your worries, cares, concerns with God. God cares. First Peter 5:7 invites us to “Cast all your care on Him, for He cares for you.” Feel free to unload on God—there’s nothing going on that God can’t handle. Anxiety is a faith-killer. It is the opposite of Acclaim. Stifle the anxiety and the doubts with acclaim for the Lord of all!
Attitude—We’re still in verse 6. We bring our prayers to God “with thanksgiving.” This does not mean to thank God for the answer we want—that would be presumptuous. God may have an entirely different way of answering than we expect. However, we can thank God for whatever good might come out of the problem and we may find that sort of thinking is exactly what leads to a solution. Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.” I heard a wonderful sermon from Rev. Ralph Bruce our former District Superintendent on thanking God FOR our problems because for the believer our problems are an opportunity for us to see God working. God does not send trouble into our lives, but God is at work in the midst of trouble to make it turn out for the better.
Ask—Yes, we’re still in verse 6. There’s a lot here, isn’t there? Paul tells us to “present your requests to God.” This is your chance! God is not a rich uncle waiting to do you favors, but if God wasn’t willing to act why would we be told to present our requests? James tells us in chapter 4:2-3 of his letter, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”
Assess—Moving on to verse 8 we are given a precious list of things that should characterize our prayers: “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy—think about such things.” When we focus our minds on these virtues, they become a filter to keep us from asking wrong things. Right after James tells us to that we don’t have because we don’t ask, he explains that “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives.”Take the time to pray. Maybe begin by asking the Holy Spirit to bear His fruit in your life: “Love, Joy Peace, Patience Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-control.” You can find that list in Galatians 5:22-23.
If you are worshiping in person you will see the background graphic for my sermon. Pictured are a cup of coffee, a Bible, a notebook and a pen. The coffee represents our friendship with God. You can share a cup of coffee with God. God is near and is our companion on life's journey. The Bible is how God speaks to us. You can pray the words of the Bible, particularly the Psalms and Proverbs; simply take the words of Scripture and rephrase them into a prayer. The notebook and pen are useful for recording what God is doing in your life. I keep two: one for my devotional time, the other to reflect maybe once a month on where I've been in the past and where God may be guiding me in the future. It's interesting to look back to see what I was thinking 10 or 15 years ago. The Nike company wasn't thinking about prayer, but their slogan is apt—Just do it! Our hymn said it well, take time to be holy. May you take time to be holy this week, even a few minutes each day, to spend in prayer with God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.