An old saying goes, “A day hemmed in prayer is less likely to come unraveled.”1 And even though that’s true, Christians still need encouragement to pray. Here are nine sermon illustrations on prayer to help provide it.
1. How God listens
In 2009 news surfaced that Mark Ciavarella, a judge in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, had sentenced around 3,000 children to months of detention after they had committed minor infractions. This corrupt judge was later sentenced to 28 years in prison for accepting $2.2 million as a “finder’s fee” for the construction of a for-profit facility—the same facility to which he had been sending these so-called delinquents. When the truth came out, 2,480 of those convictions were reversed and expunged.
Corrupt judges like this one do not fear God or other people. However, the Bible indicates [Luke 18:1–8] that even a corrupt judge will respond to the persistent pleas of people. How much more will God listen to people who cry out for justice?2
2. Why pray with confidence
Supposing you should say to me, you who keep a warehouse in the city, “Call at my office, using my name, and say that they are to give you such a thing.” I would go in and use your name, and I would obtain my request as a matter of right and a matter of necessity. This is virtually what Jesus Christ says to us. “If you need anything from God, all that the Father has belongs to me; go and use my name.”
Suppose you give a man your checkbook signed with your own name and left blank, to be filled up as he chose. That would be very nearly what Jesus has done in these words, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” If I had a good name at the bottom of the check I would be sure that I would get it cashed when I went to the banker with it. So when you have Christ’s name, to whom the very justice of God has become a debtor, and whose merits have claims with the Most High—when you have Christ’s name there is no need to speak with fear and trembling and bated breath.3
3. How God answers prayer
God does not give up his prerogative as King when he tells us to pray, and promises us to answer. He still holds everything in his own hands. You say to your child, “My dear, I will give you anything that is for your good.” He asks you to let him have his father’s razors to play with. You know that very soon he will be cutting himself, and you say, “No, my child; that is preposterous.” Or he asks you to let him have those sweets that are poisonous, and you say, “No, my dear child; I have no doubt they taste sweet to your palate, but think of the bitter medicines you would have to take afterwards, and of how much mischief they would do you. No, I cannot let you have those.”
So it is with our God. He denies us many things we wish for because they are not good for us. But there is one thing that is certain: “He does not withhold good from those who walk blamelessly” (Ps 84:11). If it is really good for you, you shall have it, and God shall be glorified by it.4
4. How not to pray
In 1972 Joan Baez was a singer and activist who was always working on a cause. During the Vietnam War, she traveled to Hanoi with a peace delegation and was there during an American bombing campaign that lasted 12 days. “We spent the whole time in the basement of our hotel. I have never been so afraid in my life. I thought I was going to die. But I learned something—when the flames start coming towards you everyone starts praying, even the atheists and the agnostics, but when the flames start fading away we all go back to the structures and beliefs that we had before.”5
5. Prayer and coincidence
The leaders of the Clapham Sect of British social reformers such as William Wilberforce, daily gave themselves to three hours of prayer and organized Christians throughout the country to unite in special prayer before critical debates in Parliament. William Temple replied to his critics who regarded answered prayer as no more than coincidence, “When I pray, coincidences happen; when I don’t, they don’t.”6
6. Prayer and action
Dwight L. Moody on a trip across the Atlantic helped the crew and other volunteers put out a fire in the hold of the ship. A friend said to Moody as they stood in the bucket line, “Let’s go up to the other end of the ship and pray.” Moody, the common-sense evangelist, said, “No, sir, we will stand right here and pass buckets and pray hard all the time we are doing so.” Prayer and action go together.7
7. The power of prayer
Some years ago, a young girl was very sick and not expected to recover. Because of her love for Jesus, she was troubled that she had not been able to do more for Him in her short life. Her pastor suggested that she make a list of people in their little town who needed Christ and pray that they might put their faith in Him. She took his advice, made a list, and prayed often for each person.
Some time later God began to stir a revival in the village. The girl heard of the people who were coming to Christ and prayed even more. As she heard reports, she checked off the names of those who had been led to the Lord.
After the girl died, a prayer list with the names of 56 people was found under her pillow. All had put their faith in Christ—the last one on the night before her death.
Such is the power of definite, specific, fervent prayer. Do you have a prayer list?8
8. Consistency in prayer
In one region of Africa, the first converts to Christianity were very diligent about praying. In fact, the believers each had their own special place outside the village where they went to pray in solitude. The villagers reached these “prayer rooms” by using their own private footpaths through the brush. When grass began to grow over one of these trails, it was evident that the person to whom it belonged was not praying very much.
Because these new Christians were concerned for each other’s spiritual welfare, a unique custom sprang up. Whenever anyone noticed an overgrown “Prayer path,” he or she would go to the person and lovingly warn, “Friend, there’s grass on your path!”9
9. Daily prayer
Once there was a rich man who had a son to whom he promised an annual allowance. Every year on the same day, he would give his son the entire amount. After a while, it happened that the only time the father saw his son was on the day of allowance. So the father changed his plan and only gave the son enough for the day. Then the next day the son would return. From then on, the father saw his son every day. This is the way God dealt with Israel. It is the way God deals with us.10
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- Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes (Thomas Nelson, 2000).
- Jim L. Wilson and Marla Harper in 300 Illustrations for Preachers edited by Jim L. Wilson (Lexham Press, 2015).
- Charles Spurgeon, 300 Sermon Illustrations from Charles Spurgeon (Lexham Press, 2017).
- Jim L. Wilson and Rodger Russell in 300 Illustrations for Preachers edited by Jim L. Wilson (Lexham Press, 2015).
- David Watson, Called & Committed (Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton, IL; 1982), p. 83 in 10,000 Sermon Illustrations by Galaxie Software (Biblical Studies Press, 2002).
- David F. Burgess, Encyclopedia of Sermon Illustrations (Concordia, 1988).
- Henry G. Bosch, Our Daily Bread, March-May, 1996, p. for April 3 in 10,000 Sermon Illustrations by Galaxie Software (Biblical Studies Press, 2002).
- RWD Our Daily Bread, November 18, 1996 in 10,000 Sermon Illustrations by Galaxie Software (Biblical Studies Press, 2002).
- 10,000 Sermon Illustrations.