One time when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, after consulting with his officers, he said, “At such and such a place I want an ambush set.” The Holy Man sent a message to the king of Israel: “Watch out when you’re passing this place, because Aram has set an ambush there.” So the king of Israel sent word concerning the place of which the Holy Man had warned him. This kind of thing happened all the time. The king of Aram was furious over all this. He called his officers together and said, “Tell me, who is leaking information to the king of Israel? Who is the spy in our ranks?” But one of his men said, “No, my master, dear king. It’s not any of us. It’s Elisha the prophet in Israel. He tells the king of Israel everything you say, even what you whisper in your bedroom.” The king said, “Go and find out where he is. I’ll send someone and capture him.” The report came back, “He’s in Dothan.” Then he dispatched horses and chariots, an impressive fighting force. They came by night and surrounded the city. Early in the morning a servant of the Holy Man got up and went out. Surprise! Horses and chariots surrounding the city! The young man exclaimed, “Oh, master! What shall we do?” He said, “Don’t worry about it—there are more on our side than on their side.” Then Elisha prayed, “O GOD, open his eyes and let him see.” The eyes of the young man were opened and he saw. A wonder! The whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha! 2 Kings 6:8-17 (The Message)
What a fantastic story! I remember the first time I heard this story. I was a small little boy in Bible class. I was like most “small little boys,” I guess. I loved a good story about a fight, a war! A story, which pits two great armies against one another, a story where the good guy wins! This story has all the elements of a wonderful movie. The hero, Elisha, is facing terrible odds. Everyone thinks, “All hope is lost.” Even the closest friends and companions of the hero believe there is no hope, and suddenly, the good guy gains the upper hand and wins!
But this story has a twist. You see, the “hero” is not really the hero. Elisha is not really responsible for this victory at all. God is, and God’s large army. You know, I think many of us find ourselves, in life, like this servant of Elisha. Sometimes we face seemingly insurmountable odds. For some of us, those odds include cancer. Others have to pick up the pieces in their own lives after someone they love has finally lost their battle with illness. Your children have “gone off the deep” end, or, maybe, your children won’t even talk to you anymore. You are afraid of dying, and, some of you are afraid of life.
Like this servant, we find ourselves asking, “What shall we do?” Like every little boy’s dream, we really want to be the hero. We want to storm into the battle and save the day. I’ll say the right words and my children will turn their lives around. If I work hard enough, my marriage will become stronger. If I eat right and exercise and follow the rules, I won’t get sick. Have you ever had to admit to yourself: I’m not a very good hero? I think this story in 2 Kings is for you. More than a story about a great big battle, this story is about prayer, and not even necessarily the “power” of prayer to fix our problems, but really, it is a story about what prayer does in the life of a believer. To put in plainly…prayer opens our eyes. Prayer changes our perspective. Prayer allows us to see that God is the hero in this story, in your story. And knowing you don’t have to be the hero, now that can be a life changer.
Church, if you need help seeing God’s power in your life, try this: Bring prayer into your home. Last fall, we participated in our first Stand@Home campaign here at Glenwood. If you recall, our Stand@Home ministry is all about bringing faith formation into our living rooms. It’s not about programs here at the building. It’s about equipping families to engage in spiritual formation at home. Last fall, we had our first church-wide campaign, and it centered on marriage. Our Stand@Home Center highlighted many really good marriage resources. We offered you “recipe cards” with fun date night activities for you and your spouse.
We had a seminar here at our building: “The Art of Marriage.” Our fall centered on helping you build stronger, more God-centered marriages at home. This morning, I want to introduce our second Stand@Home campaign: Prayer@Home. Throughout this spring, you will hear a lot about how important prayer is in the life of a family. Once again, you will see, beginning this morning, new resources at the Stand@Home Center, which focus on prayer in the home. There are recipe cards with prayer ideas for your family. There is a prayer guide, designed to help you overcome obstacles to prayer in your home. How do you make time for prayer? How do you start praying if you’ve never done it before? How do you get past the awkwardness of praying with your spouse? We even have a prayer calendar that we will give each family this morning. Take these resources and use them in your living rooms. Can I explain to you why this is so important? In his book, The Higher Happiness, author Ralph W. Sockman describes the true intention of prayer:
“We use prayer as a boatman uses a boat hook: to pull the boat to the shore and not to try to pull the shore to the boat.”
We sometimes confuse prayer with a ritual we perform to get God to do things we want! Really, prayer is about opening our eyes so we can see what God is doing. Prayer is also about making our will more in line with God’s will. Prayer is not designed to move God. Prayer is designed to move us…closer to God. In prayer, we admit we do not have all of the answers. In prayer as a family, we surrender our agendas to God. We admit, collectively, that we are powerless to fix our issues. But, God is bigger than we are. In case you haven’t noticed, our families are need of help. The divorce rates in America continue to skyrocket, hovering around 50%. Relationships between parents and children are continually strained. More and more children and young adults are walking away from God altogether. Families are hemorrhaging, and I don’t mean to suggest that is a new phenomenon in our time. Families have always had serious problems. Read the Bible lately? Not too many “functional” families there! But prayer makes a difference.
The divorce rate in America hovers around 50%...
The divorce rate among couples that pray together is 1%.
--Study Conducted by Strong Families Innovation Alliance
Do I really need to say anything else? Some might say, “How is this even possible?” Because couples who pray together put their trust in God. They together admit that when trials arise, we are powerless to fix them on our own. But God is more powerful than we can ask or imagine. Divorce is not an option! Because we put our faith in a God who can part the Red Sea and bring His Son back to life, if God can do that, God is strong enough to save our marriage, and not only “save” it, but make it thrive! Prayer changes our perspective. It opens our eyes to the power of God.
I want to make a challenge to you. I want to challenge every family to become a 7-5-2 family. I challenge you to pray individually 7 days a week for every member of your family. I challenge you to pray at least 5 times a week together as a family, and I challenge you to pray at least 2 times a week with your spouse. Listen, “7-5-2” is no magic formula. I’m not suggesting that by simply checking this box, everything in your family will be great! I am suggesting that habits change hearts. If prayer has not been a habit in your living room, I believe this routine will help. I believe that a family that prays together does indeed stay together.
I don’t know where your family is. You may be experiencing a time of great blessing in your living room right now, and praise God for that. Or, you might be in the middle of a time of significant crisis. You may feel like you are completely powerless to fix your family. Gordon Johnson is a minister of a little church in New Jersey. The church sat in the most picturesque spot you could imagine. At the foot of the Orange Mountains in Montclair, the church was nestled on a little-used street. But the church was also not too far from “everything”. On the top of Eagle Rock, one of the Orange Mountains, there is a lookout. He could look east across the Hudson into Manhattan. And he could look south to Trenton, New Jersey. And he could look north into Connecticut. He would look out there and say, Gordon, 10 percent of the population of the United States is right there in your view. He was just that young preacher with 140 members in a little spot that you could hardly find, but it gave him a big feeling. It made a difference in Gordon Johnson. You may feel like a little person with little opportunity to change anything at all.
My prayer for you is that God would open your eyes. I pray you will be able to see the armies of God that surround your family, and I pray that you come to understand the influence your decision to pray in your living room can have…Over you, your children, your spouse, and countless generations of your family to come.