Last night, I spoke about Samuel's great statement of the responsibility of praying for the people in our lives. He said, "As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you." That's 1 Samuel 12:23. The outline of the message went like this...
1. "I pray." That's the privilege of prayer.
What an honor to be invited by the Heavenly Father to participate in His work throughout the world simply by bowing our heads and expressing our thoughts and worship and requests to Him.
2. "I pray for you." That's the responsibility of prayer.
We need each other so much. We have not been sent out simply to pray for everyone everywhere, otherwise, we would get the phone book down and get started. However, we each have a circle of people who depend on us for prayer. In my case, it's my immediate and extended family first, then our church leadership and membership, and so on.
3. "I cease to pray for you." That's the danger of prayerlessness.
Many of us used to pray for people we no longer mention to God. What could cause us to quit? In Samuel's case, he had been rejected by the very people who were now asking for his prayers (12:9). He would have been within his rights to tell them to buzz off. But his devotion to them was not conditional on their response, so he would keep right on praying for them.
4. "Far be it from me to cease praying for you." This is the commitment to pray.
Samuel is not merely hoping he will pray or even asking God to help him pray; he is announcing to the people his intention of praying for them, period. He promises to intercede with God on their behalf.
5. "Far be it from me to sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you." This is the holy burden of prayer.
It is a personal matter between the Heavenly Father and me. When I quit praying, I not only disappoint you and weaken myself, more importantly, I sin against God. After all, "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." That's from Romans 14:23 and it applies to prayerlessness if it means anything.
I told the people about our recent meanderings around Manhattan by subway. Now, some of the Louisianans in our party had been there before and had some experience finding their way via the tube, but the rest of us were novices. We clustered around maps of the city, trying to find where we were, where we wanted to go, and which train to take. A few times we took the wrong train or missed our stop and had to back track.
But everyone was in good spirits - we laughed a lot - and tried to learn from the experience. Then, there were other times when we calmly walked to the correct station, took the right train, and got off at our stop with hardly a thought. Those were the times we had a guide along, a resident of New York City who negotiates the subways every day of their lives.
Think of that as a parable of life. God has given us the map, the Bible, to show us the way. But if He did nothing more - if we were on our own here - we would huddle around it trying to figure out where we are, where we want to go, and how to get there, making mistakes galore. But God took pity on His wayward children and gave us a Guide - Himself. The Holy Spirit knows the way and we follow Him. His leadership is always in accordance with the Map, since He wrote it! Our task is to stay close to Him and go where He leads.
This morning my daughter-in-law Julie called. "The Lord has really been impressing on me the need for praying for my children, and your message last night was from Him." She added, "Every morning when I take Grant (her 8 year old third-grader) to school, he says, 'Mom, did you pray for me this morning?' I assure him I did, and then he says, 'Are you going to keep praying for me all day?'"
I said, "Wow. I had no idea he was so attuned to the need for prayer. That is so wonderful." We pray for our little ones to open up to God and to become spiritually minded, and when it begins to occur, it takes our breath away.
A church member wrote on his worship registration form last Sunday, "Pastor, my wife and I pray for you and Margaret every day." I am so touched by those who call my name to the Father. God alone knows the debt we owe them for their intercession and the difference they make in our labors.
I once heard someone say, "My prayer doesn't count much. I'm only one person." I said, "Do you know anyone who is 'two'?" "I'm only one person" is the one excuse no citizen of planet Earth can use to get out of anything, since we are all 'ones' and no one is two. Therefore, all of us 'ones' may go ahead with the privilege and responsibility of prayer. There are people counting on my prayers today. God help me not to let them down.
Dr. Joe McKeever