Dedicating our Prayer Chain

         Below are various special services used during the morning worship hour at Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren to consecrate this important ministry of the church. To intercede for others in prayer is a calling of God. We dedicate these persons and what they do as a way of lifting up the importance of prayer, and helping them (and all the rest of us) to know this is a special ministry in which they are involved. A prayer chain is not a gossip line, but a holy calling. Every prayer request that goes out via phone and/or email is posted on the Internet (minus certain personal info, which we generally don't send out through the chain, either), with updates listed. These are also posted on our church bulletin board, so those on the chain, as well as others, might be able to witness the effect of prayer, when it is observable. Often, prayer is answered by God in ways we don't see. Furthermore, prayer is not just a matter of telling God what we want, but of opening our lives to the One from whom all blessings flow.

Dedicating our Prayer Chain

             When we pray for people going through difficult times, we are praying into a future we cannot yet see. However, through our prayers - with hope and by faith, we step into what God is already doing. What will happen down the road is out of our hands. We simply make our requests known, and trust in God who says, ďI am about to create new heavens and a new earthÖ be glad and rejoice in what I am creatingÖ before (you) call I will answer, while (you) are yet speaking I will hearĒ (Isaiah 65:17, 18, 24). We pray, mindful of what Jesus said: ďif two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among themĒ (Matthew 18:19-20). We trust in the Holy Spirit who, as the apostle Paul wrote, ďhelps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for wordsĒ (Romans 8:26). Prayer goes hand-in-hand with re-building and planting, upheld by the promise that such labor will not be in vain.

             Our congregationís prayer chain has been revised. There are fewer receiving requests by phone and more doing so by email. As we set this renewed chain in motion, let us dedicate it with prayer. If you are on this chain, whether by phone or email, would you please stand?

             I encourage you to faithfully engage in this ministry, using the requests that come your way not for gossip but for mutual aid. Hold these persons in your heart as you bring them to God in prayer, whenever and however you connect with the Lord on a regular basis. Uniting our voices in dedication just now, letís pray together what Jesus himself taught, saying,

 

Our Father who art in heaven,
            hallowed be thy name.
      Thy kingdom come,
      thy will be done,
            on earth as it is in heaven.
      Give us this day our daily bread;
      and forgive us our debts,
            as we forgive our debtors.
     
Lead us not into temptation,
            but deliver us from evil.
      For thine is the kingdom,
                  and the power,
                  and the glory, forever. Amen

 

(2013)

Dedicating our prayer chain

On this Pentecost Sunday, when we remember and celebrate the first time the Holy Spirit fired up the church, it is appropriate to dedicate ourselves anew to the burning task of praying for one another. We call this ďintercessoryĒ prayer. What I just shared with the children is what Iíd also like you to remember. Scripture says that the prayers of those who have been brought into a right relationship with God through what Jesus did upon the cross, that these prayers are powerful and effective. (James 5:16) But that power is not out own, it is the wind of God, just like our righteousness is not our own, it is the grace of God.

When we pray for others, even when we canít seem to find the words, and all that comes from our lips may only be groans or sighs or cries, we are joining God in planting and nurturing seeds of hope in the lives of people for whom we pray. To help all of us to remember this, I ask the ushers now to come forward and help distribute to all of us one of these zip-lock bags of seeds that I just gave the children. While they do so, please keep listening.

There is nothing magic about these seeds you will soon hold in your hands. They wonít grow overnight into tall stalks upon which you might climb to heaven. Likewise, prayer is not magic. There are no ďabracadabraĒ words which transform things in a puff of smoke. Even though Jesus said, ďask and you shall receive,Ē prayer is not an ďopen sesameĒ that automatically gains us immediate access to treasure. It is, however, more like a seed planted in the soil of our lives which slowly but surely emerges from the ground and grows. Of course, sudden miracles can happen, but more often it is the gradual, often imperceptible, transformation wrought by God that makes prayer powerful and effective.

Funny thing is, when we pray for another person, growth happens within us. Godís seed sprouts and rises and we (who bring others to God in prayer) are changed in the process. Intercessory prayer, thus, is a joy, not a burden. God is alive and active within, the Holy Spirit doing its workÖ Many of us have committed ourselves to the intercessory prayer ministry of this congregation, which we call a prayer chain. We get word out to you in one of two ways. The first and oldest method is by phone, which this year includes 20 persons or households. The newest means through which we get the word out is by email, which at present is sent out to 74 persons or households. 9 of these are also on the phone chain. If you are not on either list but wish to be included, all you have to do is tell us.

However, this is not an exercise in handing out information, simply because ďinquiring minds want to know.Ē It is not meant for gossip. It is, instead, a call to prayer. We give out minimum information. We donít need to know all the details in order to pray, so donít expect nor ask for them. Simply pray, with or without words, and Godís seed will grow Ė whether that growth happen in the life of the person for whom you pray, or in you as the one who prays. To dedicate, once again, this ministry of the church, please pray with me.

We breathe in your Holy Spirit, O God. You draw us into the work of your kingdom. You plant concerns upon our hearts where, like seeds, they germinate and grow. You listen beyond our words, and hear what you have planted. And the ground changes, little by little. We believe you are at work in the lives of those for whom we pray, as surely as you are at work in our lives, and that seed rises little by little and grows beyond what we can imagine. Here and now we rededicate ourselves to the task of intercessory prayer through this chain. But it is you who make it possible. Yours is the power and the glory, in Christ and the Spirit. Amen.

(2012)

Prayer Matters!

         You have responded to an awesome calling of God, some of you for one more year, others for the first time. As brother James wrote, "the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective," strengths and weaknesses alike. Your ministry undergirds much of what we do as a church. As one minister among many here - set aside to the specific ministry of being your pastor, I count on your ministry of prayer. When, for instance, I and some deacons or others are asked to anoint someone, and we are able to send this through the chain, you widen the circle of Godís care through us, you amplify both our concern to God and Godís loving-kindness to us, even after the fact. Your prayer matters!
         I challenge you to be faithful in this calling, to carry each request to God. I admonish you not to use this chain as a form of gossip, passing on to others news entrusted into your hands only. Remember these persons in your heart throughout the day. If need be, anoint them with your own tears. Do not grow disheartened by discouraging news in follow-up, but believe that "all things (somehow, in some way that we may not comprehend) work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
         In consecrating ourselves to this ministry of prayer, I invite you to turn in your hymnal to #733, a familiar prayer by St. Francis of Assisi. As the words can apply to us all, the rest of the congregation is likewise invited to stand and pray it with us. Shall we join our hearts and our voices in unison?
   
                            Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
                                          Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 
                                          where there is injury, pardon; 
                                          where there is doubt, faith; 
                                          where there is despair, hope;
                                          where there is darkness, light; 
                                          where there is sadness, joy.
                            O divine Master, 
                                          grant that I may not so much seek 
                                                 to be consoled ,as to console; 
                                                 to be understood, as to understand; 
                                                 to be loved, as to love.
                            For it is in giving that we receive; 
                                          it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
                                          it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.   AMEN

(Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, 13th c.)

         Closing Hymn - "Thou true Vine, that heals"   -  #373 in the hymnal

(2000, 2016)

The Ministry of Prayer

         An important ministry of any church is intercessory prayer. This is an intentional, specific lifting up of persons in need to God. It is something that, as followers of Jesus Christ, all of us can do. Many of you have this year heard the call to be "on call" for this special task - to be a link in our congregation's Prayer Chain, ready to pray when asked. This morning we want to consecrate you to this ministry.
         When we call your name, would you please stand where you are - a prayerful presence in the middle of this fellowship. Now weíre listing only the names we received. If your name is not read alongside that of your spouse, or someone in your household, and you are committing to be in prayer alongside them, then please stand when their name is spoken.                                          (each name is read alphabetically)

         Encouraging believers to turn to the church when in need, to confess and release sin, and be anointed for healing, the writer James makes this simple statement: "The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective." (5:16)
         Such words can catch us up short, for we do not consider ourselves in the same league as an Elijah who held back the rain from heaven for three and a half years, and then returned this healing flow of water - all through prayer. We may consider ourselves a weak link in the chain of prayer, for our faith seems shallow or full of ambiguity, or our righteousness seems more like filthy rags than a clean outfit.
         Know that both faith and righteousness flow from God. It is the Lord who makes right our relationship with him, it is the One who moves mountains who steps through the door we open, even when we can manage to open it only a crack.
         You have heard the call to pray for others. May God honor this step of faith by increasing it. May it all be for His glory and our neighbor's good. May the power and effect of our prayer point beyond ourselves to the One who said "Come to me all who labor and are heavy-burdened, and I shall give you rest."
         Would you please pray in unison the prayer found in your bulletin:

Gracious Holy Spirit, so much of my life seems to revolve around my interests and my welfare. What could happen if I followed your leading and spent just one day in which everything I did benefited someone besides myself? Prayer for others is a starting point. Help me to reach out in such prayer without any need for praise or reward. Anoint these steps of faith that, together, we can truly be Christians, "anointed" for bearing one anotherís burdens. In the name of Jesus, our Christ. Amen.

         May God bless and honor this prayer in your ministry. The next request for prayer will use the new chain you already have received in the mail. Please be seated.

(1998, 1995)

The "Heart" of Prayer

         Back in 1983, Dr. Randolph Byrd conducted a study of the positive effects of intercessory prayer on 393 patients in the Coronary Care Unit of San Francisco General Hospital. Following strict scientific methodology, every person admitted to the CCU during a 10 month period was invited to participate. 57 persons declined. The rest were randomly divided into 2 groups, but were not contacted again. All of them received standard medical treatment, but half were prayed for by a group of 18 committed Christians, local and distant. There was no other communication between these intercessors and the patients for whom they prayed. Even staff and Doctors, including Dr. Byrd, did not know which patient was being prayed for by these intercessors.
         What happened? Let me quote Dr. Byrd. "Patients receiving prayer as well as standard medical treatment had less congestive heart failure, required less diuretic and antibiotic therapy, had fewer episodes of pneumonia, had fewer cardiac arrests and so on. In 21 of the 26 categories we had monitored, patients fared better when they received prayer...."
         An important ministry of any church is intercessory prayer. This is an intentional, specific lifting up of a person in need to God. It is something that, as followers of Jesus Christ, all of us can do. Several persons in our fellowship have this year heard the call to be "on call" for this special task - to be a link in our congregation's Prayer Chain, ready to pray when asked. This morning we want to consecrate these persons to this ministry.
         When I call your name, would you please stand where you are - a prayerful presence in the midst of this fellowship.
                                             [Reading of Names]

         You, who are standing, have heard the call to pray for others. May God honor this step of faith by increasing it. May it all be for His glory and our neighbor's good. May the power and effect of our prayer point beyond ourselves to the One who said "Come to me all who labor and are heavy-burdened, and I shall give you rest."
         I challenge you to consider the offering of prayers - when called upon - to be of primary importance, instead of merely a last resort measure. I encourage you to pay attention to your own spiritual growth, to continually discipline your life with regular Bible reading and prayer. I charge you to pass on concerns accurately to the next person on the chain, but otherwise not to gossip about those for whom you are called to pray. If you are willing to so commit yourself to this chain of intercessory prayer, please respond by saying, "I will."              Shall we pray...

         Divine Healer, you have called these persons to a special task. Empower them with your Spirit to be intercessors in Jesus' name. We trust in this Spirit who, as the apostle Paul wrote, "helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." (Romans 8:26)   We commit these persons to your service, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

(1996)

"Under His Wings"

         In the auditorium at Camp Mack in Indiana is a series of murals that portray the history of our denomination. Though the panels are different, each one lifting up a particular period or epoch of time, there is one consistent element. Every painting has the same border at the top. As you observe them, in progression from one to the next, you are barely aware of that border. That is, you are ... until you reach the final frame. Painted forty years or so ago, this mural includes some frightening images of the second world war, alongside the growth of a servant church reaching out to help rebuild. At the top, that border has expanded, and you realize when you see it that what is more fully displayed in this last scene has been there all along. In the middle, as well as above it all is our Lord, his arms outstretched, his wings unfurled. The top of those wings are on every panel.
         "... under his wings you will find refuge ... you will not fear the terror of the night, ... or the destruction that wastes at noonday" (Psalm 91:4-6). When we pray, we become more deeply aware of someone who is there in every frame of life, whose arms are outstretched, whose wings provide refuge, even in the most difficult of circumstances. When we pray for others, we are simply placing them under the shelter of these wings. Itís not that God has been absent from them, or that these wings have not been overshadowing those in need before we ask. As we pray, we are placing ourselves with them under those wings. Standing with and for them, we seek from the Lord whatever it is they need in that moment, whether or not we know what they truly need.
         In this way, God empowers us - something to remember at times when we feel pretty powerless. It is an awesome thing to pray, to intercede on behalf of another. It is a holy calling, something we must not take lightly. At times it can be frustrating, especially when it seems our prayers have not been answered, at least not in the way we thought they should be. Even so, it is a blessing to pray, for in so doing we consciously stand under those wings ourselves. And, if nothing else, we become aware that life is so much bigger than what we can comprehend.
         Those of you who have responded to Godís call to serve, intentionally, on our prayer chain for the next twelve months, would you please stand. Let us pray.

        Lord, just now we place these persons under your wings. Shepherd them in this special task. Help them to hold in their hearts the requests for prayer that they receive, to stand with the persons they lift up in prayer - even if they are strangers, to refrain from passing on gossip and instead pass on good news. We trust in your promise that whenever two or more are gathered in Jesusí name, even if that "gathering" is spread out across Baltimore and Harford counties, that you will be present among us, and you will hear our request, responding according to your abundant grace and wisdom. Through your Spirit, who intercedes for us even now with sighs too deep for words, in the name of the One whom you sent to intercede for us on your behalf - Jesus our Christ. Amen.

(2001)

"Binding up the brokenhearted"
(involves the children, based upon Isaiah 61:1-3)

         This morning, I need your help to dedicate a very important ministry in our church. Do you know what a "Prayer Chain" is? (note: the conversation may take a different path, depending upon the responses of the children) No, itís not an actual chain made of metal, like a "dog chain" might be. And, unlike a "dog chain," it isnít intended to make sure something doesnít escape. It does, however, tie together whatever is on either side of the "chain."
         When we talk about a "prayer chain," what do you think is on the ends of the chain? Someone who prays? God? Those are very good answers. A "prayer chain" is made up of many people in our church who are committed to pray. On the other end of the chain is God who promises to listen and answer. When someone is hurting, needing Godís help, a request is sent out to everyone on the chain to pray for this person. In a way, this hurting person becomes part of the chain also.
         Now, I donít have an actual chain, but I do have lots of rope. Iím going to ask everyone here who volunteered to be on the prayer chain to stand up. Weíre going to connect them all with this rope. Iíve asked one of the Deacons to stand up near the cross, and theyíll hold one end of the rope. This reminds us that this chain is about praying to God. Help me, extend this rope to everyone who is standing. No, weíre not tying them up. I have plenty of rope.
         Wow! Look at how this chain goes all through our congregation. And this isnít everyone on the chain. Some people couldnít be here today, but they still are part of this ministry. They are all tied together ... to God. Now, weíre going to pray for them. Iíve asked some of you ahead of time to help me with this. With this prayer, you will be dedicating our "prayer chain" for the coming year. Letís pray...

Dear God,
Bless this prayer chain.
We dedicate it to you.
When we pray to you, Lord,
Heal those who hurt,
Help those who need,
Just like you promised.
In Jesusí name.
Amen.

(ushers are instructed ahead of time to assist in the process - especially in the collecting of the rope afterward)

(2002)

"Prayer - anytime, anywhere"

         Anytime, anywhere, Godís people can pray. Of course, ninety percent of prayer involves listening, what the Bible calls "inclining our ears," quieting ourselves on the inside for God to speak. The still, small voice of the Lord breaks through the noise of our daily life. "Be still and know that I am God."

         Another part of prayer, though, is intercession - placing before the Lord persons who are in special need. As we pray, it is as if we stand before an altar, and there we lay someone whom we have allowed God to place upon our hearts. We may not know anything about this person other than their name (if even that, sometimes). Godís gift of compassion, however, makes us a part of what the Lord is doing. In opening our hearts toward the need of others in this way, we are blessed. We donít have to know details. We donít have to know outcomes. As we pray, we trust the details and the outcomes into the hands of God.

         In this congregation, our prayer chain stands ready to pray - anytime, anywhere. Today we dedicate those who have volunteered for this important ministry. Through this chain, persons in 33 household within our fellowship are linked in a common mission. Many will receive telephone calls when there is a need. Others will be connected by email. Some have asked for both phone and email.

         Instead of reading off all the names, would you please now stand if you have volunteered to be on our prayer chain. Hopefully you received a letter or email confirmation this past week.

         I challenge all of you, yet again, to take this ministry seriously. Receive all requests for prayer as they are given. Please donít go in search of information. In many cases, more cannot be said without breeching confidentiality. Furthermore, requests are kept as simple as possible because the sharing of them can get garbled when passed through the chain. Besides, you donít need all sorts of information when you pray.

         Just open your heart and receive each request as a gift from God. The Lord is with you when you do so, and God knows the details. Be thankful for the blessing of this person or persons, and let them go into Godís hands. It may sound strange to keep remembering people when you pray throughout the day, yet also to let them go, but thatís how it is when Godís people pray. Just know that what you are doing is important. Letís pray.

         Lord God, thank you for being so available that we can come to you anytime, anywhere. Thank you also for the privilege of compassion, that you have invited us to participate in your work in this world. We will receive each request of this chain as coming from you. We will open our hearts to you as we open our hearts to the persons behind each request. And we will release them into your hands, thankful for the blessing, and for the grace-filled power of prayer. Your Holy Spirit overflows. Because of, and in the name of, Jesus our Christ. Amen.

(2003)

Dedicating our Prayer Chain

         "Keep awake," Jesus once urged those who followed him, "for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:42).

         A number of years ago we held a prayer vigil in preparation for a spiritual renewal weekend here. As part of it, folks were invited to choose a specific Ĺ-hour or more time period during the day or night to pray for this event - for the speaker, the congregation - that we might receive what the Lord wanted to share with us. Some of us wondered how we could pray that long? Others of us, especially those who picked a time after midnight, worried if we could stay awake between the previous personís phone call to when we passed it on to the next person. Falling asleep is not just a concern, by the way, of those who pray after bedtime. Itís easy to zone out any time of day. Interestingly enough, many of us discovered that time passed very quickly and we had little trouble filling it with prayer. Others of us actually stayed awake. God had much to share.

         Leading up to the birth and dedication of Jesus, there were two persons who kept vigil. Simeon, who was presumably a priest, though scripture doesnít actually say so, was "looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him." He prayed at the Temple, and when Mary and Joseph brought their baby boy to be circumcised, Simeon praised God for answered prayer, for he recognized the Messiah in Maryís arms (Luke 2:25-35). Anna also kept watch. This 84-year-old widow, called a "prophet" by Luke, "never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day." Talk about dedication! She also came to this tiny child and his startled parents on that day and praised God, telling everyone who would listen to an old lady talk about this baby (Luke 2:36-38).

         Did you know that there are Simeons and Annas in this congregation? Oh, they may not spend night and day here at church, but they consider prayer to be something powerful - especially when it comes to praying for others. When they receive a request for prayer, they donít consider it a tidbit of gossip to be passed on. Rather, they take whatever information is given - sometimes not very much - and begin holding these hurting persons in their heart - placing them on their inner altar, lifting them up to God, looking for the redemption, the consolation, the healing of these persons.

         I doubt any of these would consider themselves worthy to be called an "Anna" or a "Simeon," but - then, again - I doubt the original Anna or Simeon wouldíve thought they were doing anything worthy of being included in a gospel story. No, itís just "salt of the earth" folks simply "keeping awake" to the coming of the Lord.

         We call this ministry of our church a "prayer chain." I consider it one of the most important things we do, especially when we do it in the right spirit - for the glory of God and our neighborís good. Just now, would those of you who are covenanting to be on this chain for the coming year please stand. The rest of you, would you reach out and touch (on a shoulder, arm or hand) one of these persons nearest you. If youíre not close to one, touch someone who is, or connect to a chain - so to speak - of those who are. Understand? Letís pray.

         God, we thank you for the good news of Jesus, our Messiah who has come into the world. He taught us your way. He showed us your way by living, and dying, and rising again. We thank you for your Holy Spirit, who empowers us to follow the Christ today. We pray for the continued ability to keep awake, not only to the future return of our Lord, but also to the ways in which you come into peopleís lives today.
         We ask your blessing on these persons in our midst who desire to minister with intercessory prayer for those in need, as they are called upon. Help keep them awake to this task, to the presence of your Holy Spirit in them, to the need for confidentiality, and to your redeeming, consoling, healing power. Help them to pass on by phone only what is shared, and not to gossip along the way. We know that you know the details. However you make us, like Simeon and Anna, to become part of your ongoing good news story.
         Send these servants forth in peace, that their eyes open wide may see your salvation, which you prepare in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation and for glory (adapts Luke 2:29-32). In your name we pray. AMEN   

(2004)

Dedicating our Prayer Chain

[follows reading of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24]

         "Pray without ceasing..." Thatís what the apostle Paul encouraged those folks long ago in Thessalonika to do. "Pray without ceasing..." Sounds good, but how does one go about praying without ceasing? Are we to be on our knees every moment of our days? Of course, that probably wouldnít be all that bad an idea. Some days are "down on your knees" days, when circumstances place us not far from the floor. Had any of those days this week?

         Still, to "pray without ceasing" sounds like an impossible ideal amid hectic schedules. Sometimes we only remember to pray as our eyes are closing at bedtime. How on earth am I supposed to pray in the middle of traffic? When Iím tabulating numbers on a worksheet, Iím supposed to pray? What about a task that requires my total attention, should I pray even then? How? Thereís not enough of "me" to go around!

         Which is precisely the point. There isnít enough of "me" to go around every moment of every day. Life, however, is not just about "me." A higher power is part of our days, a grace that goes beyond our ability, a presence that connects us to the source of our strength. To "pray without ceasing" involves an awareness that Godís Spirit, as Paul wrote elsewhere, "intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." That is, even when we arenít actually praying (at least praying as we think praying is Ďsupposed toí happen), God is part of those moments as well. Even a sigh is a prayer. Itís sort of like that strange word, "joy," which seems to bubble up out of nowhere. "Rejoice always?" Well, yes, joy is there even on a difficult day. Gratitude, too - a grace God freely gives, rather than a demand we cannot fulfill.

         "Pray without ceasing..." Just now we want to consecrate our churchís prayer chain to another year of service. If you have volunteered to be part of this chain which connects us together with God and those for whom we will be specially called to pray over the next year, would you stand right where you are. It doesnít matter if you are part of the phone or the email chain.

         I encourage you to be aware of Godís constant presence, such that this assignment ceases to be a burden and becomes, instead, a grace. When you receive a request, count it a joy to carry this person or persons in your heart throughout the day. Yes, there are times for concentrated, focused, intercessory prayers for these persons. Hopefully you know, however, that there is a grace to prayer. God prays through you even when you are not especially aware of it. Our prayer is not like paddling a boat upstream. Rather, it is like moving in the current of Godís Spirit. Letís pray.

         Lord God, we thank you for the opportunity to allow another person into our boat, carrying them toward you in prayer. When we pray for another, we are in the same boat with them. Carry us where you need us to go. Bless our future prayer "passengers," and bless us as we steer this craft throughout our days, even those crazy days when joy and thankfulness seem like a distant song. We consecrate this chain to you, in the name of the One whose advent we celebrate. Amen.

(2005)
   

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