Prayer Sermon Illustrations

Prayer Sermon Illustrations

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In Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" we have the poetic conception of how sin hinders prayer. After the Ancient Mariner had killed the sacred albatross, in his distress he tried to pray. But his lips could not pronounce the words:

I looked to Heaven, and tried to pray
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.

It was only after his repentance, and when the spell of judgment had been lifted, that he found himself able to pray, and set out on his pilgrimage from land to land, to teach by his own example love and reverence to all things that God made and loves. The great poem comes to a conclusion with the Ancient Mariner telling his delight in going to the church with the goodly company to pray.


When Senator Penrose of Pennsylvania, stricken with his last sickness, was being wheeled about in a chair, his once gigantic frame shrunken and haggard, Penrose said to his faithful Negro valet, "William, I want you to tell me the truth, not what the doctors tell me, but the truth. Do you think I'm getting better?"

With tears in his eyes, the Negro answered, "Senator, I will tell you the truth. You are not far from the end. Amen."

With that Penrose lifted a once mighty hand and said, "Then, William, when you go to church tomorrow, put up a prayer for me."


In Dick's Philosophy of a Future State, the book which converted David Livingstone, there is preserved a beautiful prayer made by a Mrs. Sheppard, a lady of Somersetshire, for the conversion of Lord Byron. In the prayer she referred to him as one as much distinguished for his neglect of God as for the transcendent talents God had bestowed upon him. She prayed that he might be awakened to a sense of his danger and led to seek peace and forgiveness in Christ.

After the woman's death her husband forwarded the prayer to Byron. It took him in one of his best moods; and he responded, "I can assure you that not all the fame which ever cheated humanity into higher notions of its own importance would ever weigh in my mind against the pure and pious interest which a virtuous being may be pleased to take in my behalf. In this point of view, I would not exchange the prayer of the deceased in my behalf for the united glory of Homer, Caesar, and Napoleon."


The head of an insane asylum for the inebriate in New York testified that those who were sent there by their relatives or neighbors or by the state simply to get rid of them and to restrict their liberties never recovered. The ones who recovered were those who had some loved one, father or mother, or wife or child, or sister, praying for them. Suffering love has the power to restore. So the suffering love of God in Christ can restore the sinner.


What could be finer than that final touch which Thackeray gives to the beautiful character of Amelia in Vanity Fair: "No more fighting was heard at Brussels. The sound of battle rolled miles away. Darkness came down on the field and city, and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face dead, with a bullet through his heart." Sorrow, anguish, battles, wounds, darkness, and death; but shining in that darkness the calm star of a faithful woman's intercession!


Here is a great modern cannon, one of those big guns about which we have heard so much. Here is the long and graceful barrel of the gun pointing loward the foe. But there is nothing in that barrel by itself. Birds could nest in it. And here is the wheel that elevates and lowers the gun. But there is nothing in that wheel itself which could strike against the enemy. And here is the range finder, a delicate and beautiful instrument. And here is the shell, or cartridge, with the powder back of it, ready to be hurled against the foe. But there is nothing in that shell of itself which can injure the enemy. And back of the gun is the gunner, ready to do his work with strong mind and trained hand. But in himself there is nothing, no power, that can hurt the enemy. It is only when the spark of fire is applied to the powder that that great cannon with its intricate mechanism and its death-dealing shell and its trained gunners becomes an instrument of power and destruction.

So prayer is the spark that brings the power of man into action.


Doctor Charles Parkhurst, distinguished preacher and reformer of New York, in an address in which he dealt with his early religious life related how he had often heard his father pray in the church, at the family altar, and at the family table. But it was only when he heard him praying aloud on his knees in the barn that he knew the reality of prayer and the deep reality of the religious life.


In his Confessions Augustine relates how he set out for Rome from Carthage against the prayers and entreaties of his godly mother, who was praying earnestly for his salvation. Augustine deceived her when she was weeping over him by telling her that he was merely going on board to see a friend who was sailing for Italy. When his mother refused to go home without him, he persuaded her to pass the night in a memorial chapel of the martyr Cyprian. But that night while his mother Monica was praying in the chapel, beseeching God to prevent him from going, Augustine set sail.

This departure of her son must have seemed to Monica at that time the refusal to grant her prayer; yet in the providence of God the journey to Italy was to be the means of Augustine's conversion. The denial of the mother's prayer was in the end a great answer to her prayer for the salvation of her gifted son. "But Thou," says Augustine, "in Thy hidden wisdom, didst grant the substance of her desire, yet refused the thing she prayed for in order that Thou mightest effect in me what she was ever praying for. . . .' She loved to keep me with her as mothers are wont, yes, far more than most mothers, and she knew not what joy Thou wast preparing for her out of my desertion."

Here we have a striking and beautiful illustration of how God sometimes answers a prayer for the salvation of a soul after what seems, to the one who prays, a long delay.


There are answers beyond our answers—that is, beyond what seems to us an answer. David lay on the ground all night and prayed for the recovery of that child of love and sin; but the prayer, as he asked it, was not answered. The child died, but David did not cease to pray and to believe in prayer. He comforted himself and said of the child, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (II Sam. 12:23).

Paul prayed earnestly, if ever man did. He besought the Lord three times that his grievous and painful thorn in the flesh be taken from him; but his prayer, in that form, was not granted. The thorn remained to pierce and harass him to the end of his days. And yet at the same time God answered him when he prayed, and this was his answer: "My grace is sufficient for thee" (II Cor. 12:9). Paul found that to be the answer to his unanswered prayer.


On the wilderness journey the people had been saved from starvation by the manna which fell for them from heaven. But they began to weary of it and lusted for the fleshpots of Egypt, saying: "Who shall give us flesh to eat? . . . Our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all save this manna to look upon" (Num. 11:4, 6). The answer of the Lord to this complaint and ingratitude was to give them as a judgment that for which they asked. A wind blowing in from the sea covered the ground about Israel's camp with quails. For a night and two days the greedy, flesh-lusting people gathered the quails and ate them; but while the flesh was yet between their teeth God smote the people with a great plague. The place where the victims of the plague were buried was called the Graves of Lust. God let them have the quails for which they asked, but with them he sent the plague. The psalmist's inspired comment on that bit of Hebrew history is this: He gave them the desire of their hearts, but sent leanness into their soul (Ps. 106:15).

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