Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
††††† Lord, out of the silence, we come into Your presence. Truly help us to set aside all thoughts and distractions. Help us to lay them at the Altar as we give this offering of time to hear Your word for our lives. Help us to put our worries and concerns about all of life into Your hands for safe keeping as we worship. In Your hands they donít look quite so big, so urgent, so burdensome. Help us to come into Your presence this morning ready to receive what you would have us hear.
††††† Thereís an old story about a family with four children, who was celebrating Momís birthday. Dad and the kids decided to create their own birthday presents for Mom that year. Mom sat in her favorite chair expectantly.
††††† The oldest girl wrote Mom a poem. ďRoses are red, violets are blue; You are the best Mom, It really is true.Ē She had written it on a piece of paper and decorated the edges like a certificate. After Reading it, she placed it on a silver tray and presented it to Mom.
††††† The oldest boy took the tray and placed a carefully drawn and painted scene of their house and family. For a seven year old it wasnít bad.
††††† The youngest boy took the tray and set a paper dessert plate which he had colored and decorated on the tray. The plate contained 3 Oreo cookies from his school lunch. They were his favorites, so this was quite a sacrifice. (There were four but temptation got the better of him when he was setting everything up. Mom could see cookie crumbs in the corner of his mouth.)
††††† The youngest daughter girl was a little distraught. She hadnít thought of anything or made anything and in their excitement Dad and the other children forgot her. But she took the silver tray, set it on the floor in front of mom, stepped onto the tray and said, ďI give you me.Ē
††††† I love that story. Partly because itís just cute. But partly because I think it teaches us about what God expects in our everyday Christian walk. You see, I think what God expects can be summed up in the old Willie Nelson song, ďAll of me.Ē ďAll of me, why not take all of me, canít you see Iím no good without you. You took the part that once was my heart, so why not take all of me.Ē
††††† And thatís the truth, we are no good without God. God wants all of us. Not just our heart, not just our mind, not just our soul, not just our strength but every bit of us. And God wants us to bring it to Godís like that little girl, and place all we are and have and ever will be at Godís Altar.
††††† A. This morning we begin our Stewardship Series. I have some strong feelings about Stewardship. I personally think that once we accept Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives and give our life to Christ, all of life and all of faith is about Stewardship. Itís about the Stewardship of our Prayers, our Presence, our Gifts, our Service and our Witness. Those sound familiar donít they? Those are the membership vows we take when we join the church. And I think they sum up the Biblical Understanding of Stewardship.
††††† Stewardship is not just about money. For years we have tied the whole concept of Stewardship strictly to money. But by doing that weíve missed the full spiritual depth of what Stewardship is all about and hobbled our spiritual lives with unnecessary clutter and prejudice. Stewardship is not just about giving. Yes, part of it is about giving. But Stewardship is so much more. Itís about being a Disciple. Itís about learning those practices and patterns which help us grow as servants and faithful followers of Christ.
††††† I also think that each of the vows we take build upon each other. They are all necessary pieces to the puzzle or layers to the cake or however you want to describe it. And for me the first step is prayer. You can look at the life of Jesus and see just how important prayer was to Him. The passage from Mark 1:29-37 (NRSV) shows that pretty clearly.
† As soon as they left the synagogue, they
entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.
 Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.
 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.
 And the whole city was gathered around the door.
 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
 And Simon and his companions hunted for him.
 When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you."
††††† A. Notice, in the midst of the busy-ness of His ministry and because of that busy-ness, Jesus went out to a deserted place, a place of solitude, a place to be alone, and He prayed. He spent time with God. He spent time rejuvenating His Spirit. He spent time reconnecting and communicating with the ultimate source of power in His life and ministry, God.
††††† Is this what your prayer life looks like? For many of us, the deserted place describes our personal prayer life; not where we go to pray. For Jesus, the Deserted Place was simply a place of Solitude. A place where there were no distractions. A place where He could wrestle with God and wrestle with Himself about the decisions He needed to make concerning His life and ministry. The Deserted Place was a place to focus His life and refuel
††††† B.†† Personally, I think Iím a little ADD and if I donít spend time in prayer I can easily get distracted.
I donít feel like my day is focused unless I begin with prayer. You see, in prayer I find my best friend and my greatest advocate. In prayer I find my true self. In prayer Iím reminded that no matter what the world says, God says my true identity is a child of God, a brother and sister with Christ, an heir of the Kingdom and a servant set aside for ministry.
††††† If I don't begin with prayer, then it becomes easier for me to forget. And the further away from that moment of prayer I get, the easier that forgetfulness is because the cries and taunts of the world become. louder and louder. If I'm not careful by the end of the day I can forget completely who I am and who belong to. And if that happens, my soul is in jeopardy.
††††† And I believe that same thing holds true for every Disciple and follower of Christ. I also think that every other aspect of being a Disciple begins with prayer. It is the foundation upon which the rest of our daily life as Disciples begins. You canít worship or serve without prayer, you wonít understand what Presence, Gifts, Service and Witness are all about if you donít pray.
††††† You certainly wonít see or understand all of life, including your finances, as a gift from God and not yours, if you donít spend time in prayer and worship.
††††† In a couple of weeks, you will be asked to make a commitment for the support of the Church. A commitment that involves your finances but also involves more than money. For when you fill out a commitment card, you are making a commitment to God, a commitment to your presence and involvement, a commitment to one another, a commitment to prayer. But you canít fully make that commitment unless you spend time in prayer asking God what God wants you to do.
††††† So, having said that, this morning I want to teach you a couple of ways to pray.
III. PRAYER PATTERNS:
††††† A. STRING PRAYER: First letís look at a fairly old pattern of prayer but in a new way which will help you remember how and when to pray. You were each given a piece of string. If you would take it out and tie a knot right in the middle. Then tie a knot in the middle of each of those sides. * [KNOT] When itís finished it should look like this. Iíd like you each to carry this in your pocket or purse. If you have it in a pocket, every time you touch it, it will remind you to pray.
††††† So, how does this work? Well, first notice that you have three knots. Three is an important number in Scripture and can represent Father, Son and Holy Spirit but for our purposes they also represent Morning, Noon and Night and remind us that we should pray at those times.
††††††††† But wait, thereís more. You also have four spaces before, between and after the knots. And those spaces represent a Pattern for Prayer based on the word ACTS.
††††††††† In this case the word ACTS is an acronym for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.This pattern describes a movement and a flow in prayer. You start with praising God and acknowledging your dependence upon God. Then you move to confession, for in your praise you realize more than just dependence, you realize where you havenít lived up to your end of the relationship. From Confession you move into thanksgiving. You give thanks to God for the grace of forgiveness that youíve experienced through your confession and you also give thanks for all the benefits and blessings of life God has bestowed upon you.
††††††††† Finally you move from concern for yourself to concern for others in supplication. Here you bring the needs and petitions of others before God. Here is where you pray for Godís intercession. And where you ask God to give you guidance in a situation.
††††† Letís practice. Take your string and hold the first space. It doesnít matter which side. You can pray with me outloud or you can simply pray silently as I pray. Letís pray.
††††† Lord, we praise Your name. Only You are God. You created all that is and was and ever will be. You give us life and created us in Your image. You give us hope. We sing of Your Glory because no matter what we face, you have been there before us.
††††† Lord, as we stand in Your Awesome Presence, we realize that we have not been the people you have called us to be. So we ask Your forgiveness. You know the areas in our lives which need forgiveness. We lay those before You now.
††††† Gracious Loving and Holy God we give thanks for the Salvation and forgiveness we have received and experienced through your Son. We give thanks for the presence of Your Holy Spirit in our lives reminding us that we belong to You.
††††† And today we bring the cares of our hearts. The cares of our friends and family and place time in Your hands. Hear our prayers. In the name of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.
††††† Itís that simple. All from a piece of string.††††††††††
††††† B.†† HAND PRAYER: So what happens if you lose your string or forget it one day? Or what if you donít know who to pray for? Well thatís where the next prayer comes in handy.
††††† Some of you may have heard this before, I ran across it years ago and really donít know who first came up with it but itís a very simple way to remember how to pray those prayers of supplication. All you have to do is fold your hands and look at each one of your fingers. The fingers of your folded hands symbolize someone in your life. When you look at that particular finger, remember them and pray for them. As you do, you will be deepening your own spiritual life and theirs.
††††† THUMB: Look at your Thumb. It's the nearest finger to you and it symbolizes those who are the closest to you. Your nearest and dearest. In this prayer, you simply take a minute to think about those you love the most.
††††† INDEX FINGER: Next, look at your Index Finger. This is the one you point with. This finger symbolizes those who try to point the way for others. Pastors, Teachers, Missionaries, Professors. Whenever you look at your index finger, remember those who work at pointing the way.
††††† MIDDLE FINGER: Next is your Middle Finger. This is the tallest, this is the longest finger. It is used to remember Leaders in every sphere of life. This includes all of our elected, government and church officials. When you use the Hand Prayer, remember those in leadership.
††††† RING FINGER: Now we come to the Ring Finger. Iíve been told that every pianist knows, this is the weakest finger of all. This finger symbolizes those in trouble, those in pain, those in need of any kind. It symbolizes the weak and forgotten in our world. Pray for them when you look at your Ring Finger.
††††† LITTLE FINGER: That leaves the Little Finger. The smallest and least important of them all. This finger represents us. Whenever you look at it, pray for yourself.
††††† That's all there is to it. Just use your fingers to remind you of who and what to pray for.
††††† Thereís just one more point I want to make. When we pray, itís not all about us. Weíre not called to run of at the mouth in Holy Language. Sometimes, we simply need to listen. Watch This:
††††† If we donít take time to listen, we will never know Godís Will for our lives. In the next few weeks Iíd like you to begin Altaring The World through Altaring your Prayer life. If you havenít had one, nowís the time to begin developing that daily discipline. If you have a prayer life, nowís the time to be more focused and listen to God.
††††† All Stewardship begins with prayer, so pray. Or as the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonians, ďpray without ceasing.Ē In that way you will be like that youngest daughter and be able to say to God, ďI give you me.Ē
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
Other References Consulted