Carry Everything to God in Prayer

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Seventh Sunday of Easter/Year C: June 2, 2019
Acts 16:16-34, Gospel: John 17:20-26

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, June 2, 2019

What A Friend We Have in Jesus. What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer! We should never be discouraged—Take it to the Lord in prayer. And, may we ever, Lord, be bringing All to Thee in earnest prayer.

These are select verses from the Joseph Scriven’s Hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”[1] Our first lesson in Acts, and our gospel passage in John, lead us to this simple, but critical directive: Carry everything to God in prayer.

While on their way to the place of prayer, Paul and Silas were in the pagan, Roman colony of Philippi. While there, a slave girl, whose fortune-telling powers made a lot of money for her owners, followed them. She would cry out their identity—as slaves of the Most High God who proclaimed to the people a way of salvation. Apparently, the girl’s shouting went on for many days, and Paul had finally had enough. In the name of Jesus Christ, Paul exorcised the evil spirit from the girl and her owners were not happy. It seems their financial boom went bye-bye when the evil spirit came out of her.

Like Jesus who had gone before them, Paul and Silas had upset the status quo, and they were beaten and jailed for it. With their feet fastened to prevent their escape, they were completely helpless to save themselves from physical imprisonment. What was their response? Prayer and the singing of hymns—all of which wafted into the listening spaces of the other prisoners.

They carried everything to God in prayer and God acted on their behalf with an earthquake that left all doors open and all chains of captivity unfastened. Paul and Silas had been liberated and so were all of the other prisoners. Having been freed, they—and the other prisoners—did not escape the prison. Their inaction was a powerful act of evangelism.

Paul and Silas’ prayers to God were not about freeing themselves. Their purposeful prayers and purposeful singing, in a seemingly helpless situation, witnessed to their trust in God’s faithfulness. God acted and the newly-freed prisoners’ inaction in refusing to escape, saved the life of the jailer who promptly moved to kill himself when he assumed that he had failed at securing the prisoners. But a word from Paul saved his life, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”

By intentionally remaining in the jail after their chains had been broken, Paul and Silas witnessed to the good news of God in Christ. They trusted in the Lord’s liberating power, which no man-made prisons could ever hold. The jailer, the one who had enslaved others, had been exposed to the life-giving gospel message, and it mobilized him to seek salvation. “…Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household,” said Paul and Silas (v. 33).

Through Paul and Silas, the jailer witnessed what true freedom looked like.  Like the earthquake, which broke the prisoners’ chains, their unwavering witness shook the jailer; he was changed, and his entire household was transformed into believers, and all were unified in Christ through baptism.

What a friend we have in Jesus. We are reminded of this truth in our gospel passage today in John 17. From top to bottom the chapter is a prayer. The readers of the gospel overhear Jesus’ intimate communication with God.  In the first part of John 17 Jesus prayed exclusively for his disciple’s protection and unity, just as Jesus and the Father are one. In verses 20-26, however, Jesus broadened his prayer to include all who would come to believe in Him in the future through acts of evangelism.

Jesus prayed to God on behalf of those, whom Jesus said, will believe in him through the words of His faithful. As 21st century Christians, in an apostolic faith tradition, rooted in scripture, Jesus was praying to God about us.

It is comforting to know that Jesus, who existed with God before all time, and before all creation; Jesus who was God incarnate living amongst us; prayed for you before you ever existed in the flesh.  Oh what a friend we have in Jesus who prayed for us then, and prays for us still. This is indeed good news!

We must never take for granted the power of God that goes forth into the world through the vessel of our prayers. I recently prayed an invocation at the inaugural ball for Tampa’s new mayor. As you might imagine, not everyone gathered was a person of faith.  Throughout the night I met believers who expressed their appreciation for the message. But it was the atheist—a woman about my age—who came to me to say that she had been an atheist all of her life and really hated having to listen to invocations at these gatherings. She told me that she listened to the words of the invocation and needed to tell me that it was the first time that she ever felt the desire to pray.

Only God knows how the Holy Spirit moved in her that night, and I trust that the Holy Spirit is still moving in her, growing her desire to pray, and nudging her to seek an intimate conversation with the lover of all souls.

Witnessing to God’s saving grace in the complex navigation of an increasingly secular society is evangelism. We are the evangelists upon whom Jesus relies to make him known to those who don’t believe now, but will in the future.

It is our responsibility to pray for the deepening of faith for all who already walk a life-long journey with Christ. And, we must pray for those who wander aimlessly through life, seeking salvation not knowing the who, what, why, when, where or how.

The sharing of the gospel message, whether it is verbalized or embodied, saves lives. As our psalm says, “The LORD loves those who hate evil; he preserves the lives of his saints and delivers them from the hands of the wicked” (Ps 97:10).

What A Friend We Have in Jesus. What a privilege we have to carry everything to God in prayer. And, may we ever, Lord, be bringing all people—through our faithful acts of evangelism—to Thee, O Lord, in earnest prayer.  Amen.

[1] What A Friend We Have in Jesus. https://reasonabletheology.org/hymn-story-friend-jesus/. Accessed June 1, 2019.