Reading: 2 Corinthians 1.12-24
When we watched the contestants in the Olympics last year, we were aware of the vital importance of how they start. Some are so eager to get a good start that they "break" - two false starts and you are out! Others are too slow off the blocks and are chasing the field for the rest of the race. In a sprint, when there may be only hundredths of a second in it, a good start is especially important. In the marathon too you don't want to be at the back of the pack. But there's more time to make up for a poor start. Whatever the distance, the essence of a good race is how you finish.

We have been considering the various phrases of the model prayer. Today we reach the "finish-line" as we move on to consider its final affirmation - "Amen!" But don't get me wrong! Prayer is a way of life - we should never "hang up" on God and, thankfully, he never "hangs up" on us!


So often we haven't thought much about the meaning of "amen." We have simply used it as a "correct ending" for prayer - a "finishing line."

"Amen" is actually a Hebrew word which is closely related to the words, for "truth", "faithfulness", "trustworthiness"... It was used to acknowledge that an oath had been accepted (as in Numbers 5.22), to welcome a prophecy of good (as in 1 Kings 1.36), to express agreement with a doxology or benediction (as in 1 Chronicles 16.36).

Jesus used the word many times to emphasise that what he was saying is reliable and true. His "truly, truly (or verily, verily), I say to you..." is literally, "amen, amen, I say to you..."

At the end of a prayer, it means "so let it be". We are affirming our faith in the God to whom we pray. We are also affirming our agreement with the prayer and our desire for it to be fulfilled.

In effect, we are saying, "Lord, these are our prayers. We commit them to you, our Father and our Lord. Hear these prayers and answer them in your wisdom and will!"

Praying in Faith

The attitude of Christian praying isn't a vague wishing, but a confident expectation and trust in God our Father. What Jesus taught about this was quite unmistakable. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7.7). "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer" (21.22). "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it " (John 14.13,14).

Those are clear statements and promises. Yet there are many earnest people who have prayed for something, yet there has been no apparent answer. Perhaps that has happened to you. How do we reconcile these statements with this experience?

There are no "cut and dried" answers to this question. Yet the three texts we have quoted do provide some important pointers.

The first text suggests that our prayers are not always answered right away. Sometimes in our praying, we receive simply for the asking. On other occasions, however, we may have to "seek" or "knock". In this tenacity we learn patient trust in God. Our desires are purified and directed to receive God's best. James, for example, wrote that "when you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your own pleasures" (James 4.3). Sometimes, as we persist in prayer, there is a significant shift in what are asking for and in how we ask. We are prepared for receiving God's best.

In the second text we must bear in mind that our faith is to be in God, rather than in our praying. Sometimes people have said to me, "I have great faith in prayer." James wrote, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (5.16). But the mighty potential of believing prayer is the powerful God to whom we pray.

The third verse emphasises that believing prayer is in Jesus' name. We come, not on our own authority or seeking our own will, but his. Some people use "in Jesus' name" as a kind of magic formula - a special guarantee that the prayer will be answered. But this misses the point of what Jesus was saying. What Jesus means is that we are to come in an attitude of continuing dependence on his grace. We are to come as his representatives, his family, his Body, those who are committed to doing his will on earth.

Prayer and Commitment

In the fifth study we noted that the prayer for God's will to be done ought to express commitment, rather than resignation. And this is to be a part of all our praying. It is always within our relationship as children of the Father that we are to come in prayer, and, in our praying, to commit ourselves to action.

Sometimes God answers prayer in what we call "supernatural" ways, but usually his ways of answering prayer are much more ordinary. Even when a Cornelius prayed and the record speaks of an angel and a vision, it was a Peter who was sent (Acts 10). Prayer should produce within us an openness to God's purposes in us and through us - so that he can use us in the answering of our own prayers and the prayers of others.

In our Bible reading, Paul says that "no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ. And so through him the 'Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 1.20). For our "Amen" expresses our confidence in the trustworthiness of God and the certainty of his promises.

Yes! Amen! Already, Lord, you have said your "Yes"! Our "Amen" commits us to your "Yes". Lord, lead us into effective prayer and into effective living. Amen!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 14 October 2001
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.
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