The UMC Membership Vow –

Our Prayers

When we join the United Methodist Church, we vow to uphold it with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. Where does that come from? Did the bishops get together for a brainstorming session, or what? It turns out that there is a sound Biblical basis for each one of these promises. In this study we will look at five scripture texts – out of dozens that could be chosen – that support the UMC emphasis on each one.

Numbers 14:1-35, The power of intercessory prayer
Mark 11:11-24, Prayer is effective and powerful.
Luke 18:1-8, Keep praying and never give up!
James 5:7-20, Pray for all reasons.
Luke 11:1-13, The Lord’s Prayer

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Numbers 14:1-35, The power of intercessory prayer (10/12/2009)

Moses was one of the all-time great pray-ers, so great that "the LORD knew him face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10).  Because he had a right relationship with God, he was especially effective at intercessory prayer.  Even the most effective intercessory prayer isn't going to save you from the earthly consequences of your actions, however.  
When God took the children of Israel out of Egypt, he wasn't able to take Egypt out of the children of Israel.  In Egypt, they had been enslaved, forced into heavy labor, and killed.  In the wilderness, all that started to look pretty good to them.  When God guided them to the borders of the Promised Land, they whined that they were all going to be killed in the battle to take it.  God decided to start over with Moses, as he had with Noah. 
In today's prayer, Moses never says that the people haven't sinned and been a thorough pain in the neck, but he does argue against the plan to kill them all.  He suggests that it would make God look weak in front of the other nations, when the whole idea was to impress them with his reality and his power (Exodus 9:16).  Moses confidently reminds God that it would be out of character to slay these people, when really he is "slow to anger, and plenteous in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression."  He begs God to pardon them.
God decides that Moses is right, and he does pardon the Israelites and spare their lives.  But remember what I said about the earthly consequences of your sin?  God says to them, "You had such little faith in me that you wouldn't go into the Promised Land when you had the chance.  Now that chance is gone.  You said you would all die in the wilderness, and you are right!"  Even the most powerful intercessory prayer can't retrieve a lost opportunity to do God's will.

Mark 11:11-24, Prayer is effective and powerful. (10/13/2009)

You've heard about the agnostic who prayed, "O God, if there is a God, please save my soul, if I have a soul."  And probably you've also heard about the dyslexic, agnostic insomniac who lies awake at night wondering if there is a dog.  The problem these folks have is not disbelief, it's doubt.  They lack confidence in God's power to deliver on his promises.  This is exactly the same problem we saw with the children of Israel in the wilderness, so it isn't confined to agnostics. 
Now, those of you who've been around for a while know that
I am not a very good pray-er.  Personally, I never doubt God's power, I just doubt his willingness to grant my request.  My prayers tend to go like this:  "O God, I know you're there.  If, you know, you might have the time?  I'd sort of like for thus and so to happen?  But if it's not convenient, it's okay, I understand."  Jesus says this sort of request is not going to be granted!  (See also James 1:5-7.) 

Obviously, you could be absolutely convinced that your request for a good smiting of your no-good neighbor will be granted, and you would still be wrong.  And God no doubt (hee hee) makes allowances for people like me who think too much and pray too little.  Nevertheless, our overall prayer motto should be, "If you pray for rain, carry an umbrella."
Luke 18:1-8, Keep praying and never give up! (10/14/2009)

Today's scripture has two things to say about prayer.  First, Jesus tells us to keep on keeping on in prayer:  a petition that isn't granted today may very well be granted later because of our persistence.  (Providing, of course, that it is within the will of God, doesn't cross the will of another person, doesn't change the past, doesn't excuse you from the inevitable earthly consequences of an action, and doesn't very often violate the laws of physics. See
Sometimes the answer is "No.")
But Jesus also talks about another important reason that our petitions are granted:  to increase our faith.  One of your fellow-readers, Daryl L., had this to say about yesterday's study tip:  "Long ago, Anita and I were in a Bible study group, where one of the ladies said she was now praying that she'd stop being surprised when her prayers were answered.  I thought that was something we could all use a good dose of."  This is so true.  By now, most of you are convinced that I am a real person in part because your suggestions help determine the course of this bible study.  Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician and religious philosopher of the 17th century, said, "Why has God instituted prayer? ... To impart to his creatures the dignity of causality." (Pensees, #930)  When we pray for something and it happens for us (per yesterday's passage), we have cooperated with God in determining the course of history.  But even though we have seen our prayers answered, will the Son of Man find faith on earth when he comes?

James 5:7-20, Pray for all reasons. (10/15/2009)

Whatever your circumstances, James says, you should pray.  It's interesting that James begins and ends his letter with the importance of patient endurance and prayer.  The last verse is particularly interesting:  if we bring a sinner back to the right path, we will sosei psuchen autou save his soul from death.  I was reading a commentary the other day that said this means, save his physical life from the earthly perils of a sinful lifestyle.   Although I don't want to be too dogmatic about this, I think that's right.  We usually read the words sosei save and psuchen soul/life with the idea of eternal salvation in mind, but normally in the Bible it just means to preserve one's physical life.  People who live sinful lifestyles have shorter life expectancies than people who live Godly lives – this is well documented.  So if you can – through a combination of prayer, example, and encouragement – draw someone back from that path, you will save his life. 

Luke 11:1-13, The Lord’s Prayer (10/16/2009)

We taught our kids from earliest childhood that there is no point in arguing about facts:  just look them up.  Consequently, we all have a tendency to grab reference books at the least provocation.  Mostly we want to prove that the reference-grabber is right and the other person is wrong, although we are all reasonably gracious no matter how it comes out. 

Last Friday evening, our youngest came home from a business trip and announced that in future he does not want to be routed through Kansas City International Airport.  Naturally, this led me and my husband to sing him several verses of "Kansas City, Here I Come."  Unfortunately we could not agree on the words.  Our youngest has probably never heard the song in his life, but this did not stop him from weighing in with an opinion.  So I looked the lyrics up on the Internet, and (somewhat to my surprise) there are two versions.  We each correctly remembered the version we had learned.

There are two versions of the Lord's Prayer in the Bible, one in today's passage from Luke's Sermon on the Plain, and one from Matthew's Sermon on the Mount (Mat. 6).  Some scholars have assumed that the two sermons were actually just one, reportedly differently, and they have invested a lot of angst and inks in "reconciling" them. I wrote a paper in 3rd-year Greek comparing the two, and it appears to me that they are in fact reports of two different occasions (just like it says!).  I think Jesus taught the prayer in two slightly different forms, and Luke and Matthew each correctly remembered the version that he had learned.  Notice that Jesus says to use this prayer when "you all" pray, and all the pronouns referring to the pray-ers are plural – it is intended for communal use in the church.  The ending of the prayer that we all know, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen," is not in the best manuscripts of scripture; the very early church added it to the prayer.
After teaching his disciples this prayer, Jesus reiterated his instructions to be persistent.

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Our Prayers
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Copyright 2009, 2013 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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