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The power of a mother’s prayers

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 6:6

On April 13, 1989, in Los Angeles, California, a little girl named Tiffany Schaffer was walking home from school clutching her teddy bear. Mrs. Johnnie Matheston, mother of one, was waiting at a red light where Tiffany was crossing the street.

All at once a man turned right on red and headed right for little Tiffany. Mrs. Matheston blew her horn, but it was too late. She watched in horror as the blue Datsun ran over the little girl. The car stopped, with Tiffany directly under the motor. Before anyone could react, Johnnie Matheston got out of her car, ran to the 2,600 pound car and picked up the front end four inches while someone pulled Tiffany out.

Tiffany escaped with only two broken bones and some abrasions. Mrs. Matheston pulled two muscles but was otherwise unhurt. Though six months pregnant, she dead lifted over 1,000 pounds—something no man has ever done, but one mother did.

On this Mother’s Day, we are grateful for the power of a mother’s love.

As you may know, a woman in Philadelphia named Anna Jarvis began a campaign in 1907 to honor mothers, for the sake of her mother. President Woodrow Wilson made the second Sunday in May an official national holiday in 1914.

And so the holiday is not found in the Bible or on the church calendar. As a result, preachers have often wondered what to do with it. My friend Daniel Vestal, now coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, preceded me as pastor of First Baptist Church in Midland. They tell the story about the time Daniel decided to ignore Mother’s Day in his sermon. It’s a secular holiday, he said, as he determined to continue in his sermon series for that day. He later called it the biggest mistake of his ministry.

It is interesting that you have come to church for Mother’s Day. Many of you would be here anyway, but most of you see worship as a part of your Mother’s Day observance. Some of you are our guests today as you have come to worship with your mothers. Most of you wouldn’t feel it was truly Mother’s Day without such worship.

Why is this? What is it about being and having mothers which requires spiritual connection, spiritual help? Why do we seek the vertical in the midst of the horizontal? What is it we need and seek by coming to church on this day?

Praying for an unborn child (1 Samuel 1.10-11)

In our text last week we studied Jesus’ admonition: “when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). The “room” Jesus mentions was the storeroom where the treasures were kept. A mother’s greatest treasure is her child. So how do mothers in the Bible pray for their children? Here’s what I discovered this week.

Some of you are not mothers, but wish to be. For you, this is a hard day. You watch the joy of the mothers and families around you in worship and don’t understand why you cannot join them. You know that you would be a wonderful mother. You hear of mothers aborting or abusing children, and you just cannot understand why you don’t have a child to love.

How did someone who wished to be a mother pray? Hannah was the wife of Elkanah. She desperately wished to bear a child, but the years passed with her prayer unanswered.

One time when she and her husband had traveled to worship at the sanctuary at Shiloh, Hannah “wept much and prayed to the Lord. And she made a vow, saying, ‘O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head” (1 Samuel 1:10-11).

Hannah made the “Nazarite vow,” dedicating her child to full-time service in the Temple and the work of the Lord. And her son became what she dedicated him to be. Samuel was Israel’s last judge, anointer of her first king, prophet and priest of God.

So why go to worship on this Mother’s Day? Why seek the spiritual today? Why did Hannah? Because she knew that a child is his gift. How would Hannah answer our question today? She would tell us that every child is the miraculous gift of God, and that he is to be praised and worshipped for such a grace and trust to us. Something in us draws us to worship on Mother’s Day, so we can praise the God who has given us the child we celebrate.

Lessons:

Never give up. Keep praying for God’s will to be done. Consider all the ways he might answer your prayer, through conception or adoption. Keep trusting him.

Dedicate your unconceived child to the Lord. This does not guarantee that you will have a child, and certainly does not suggest that you have not yet conceived because you have not made such a commitment. I do not know why God brings children to some and not to others. But I do know that every child he gives us is to be returned to him. This is a gift, a trust, a stewardship. Be in prayer now that your child will belong to him.

Praying for a growing child (Luke 1:38)

Some of you are hoping for a child. Some of you are expecting one. Next Mother’s Day, you’ll have a baby in the church nursery. And many of you have one. Your children are in the preschool, or beside you in church, or living in another part of the world, or preaching this sermon.

Here’s someone who was where you are. When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, a 13-year-old peasant teenager in the tiny village of Nazareth, he brought astounding news: this virgin would conceive a bear a child. How? “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). What a birth announcement! Outside Mary’s home there would not be a wooden stork with a baby in its beak, but an angel with a baby in its arms.

Here was her reply to such astounding news: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).

To be the Lord’s “servant” meant literally to be his “slave,” his bondservant. To do only his will and bidding, always. To belong to him, to be owned by him.

If a mother was such a servant to her owner, so was her child. Mary was here dedicating herself and her unborn Son to her Lord. In total surrender and obedience.

Why come to church in such circumstances? Why bring your child to worship, in our sanctuary or in your soul? Because you are where Mary was.

Yours is the greatest challenge in all of life: responsibility for a life. A baby will be dependent completely upon you for every day that it lives, every meal that it eats, every protection that it needs. Your life will center in the life of the child you carry today.

A growing child will be dependent upon you for its needs, guidance, and direction. Your children will never stop being your children. Their pain, grief, failures and problems will be yours. When they hurt, you will hurt, for the rest of your life.

So you need the help of God. The angel said to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God” (v. 37). Underline that verse in your heart. Keep claiming it as his promise, his guarantee to you.

Claim the fact that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13); that nothing can separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:35); that your Lord will be with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). God’s word calls you to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Cast and keep on casting. And God will hear and help your heart.

Praying for spiritual children (Luke 2:38)

Some of you have come to church on Mother’s Day as hopeful mothers, some expectant, and some the mothers of living and growing children. And some of you are none of these. You do not have physical children, or plans for them. You wonder what Mother’s Day has to say to you. Let’s close by thinking about spiritual children.

When Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to be dedicated at the Temple, they encountered an elderly woman, a prophetess and preacher named Anna. She had been married for seven years, and now a widow at the age of 84.

She “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2:37) Hers was a life of enormous spiritual significance. She had no biological or adopted children, so she made the children of Israel her own. She made their spiritual lives her concern and passion. She became a spiritual mother to all who knew her.

Now, with Jesus at the Temple in his mothers’ arms, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).

Anna became Mary’s spiritual mother, and Jesus’ spiritual grandmother.

Her words encouraged and affirmed Mary in her faith and her own spiritual experiences with the angel of God. They blessed and encouraged Joseph in his faithful commitment to this child which was not his.

And they would be remembered by Mary and given to her Son one day. They would be given to his biographer, the writer Luke. They have been given to you and me today. Anna has become a spiritual mother and influence for us all.

If you do not have biological or adopted children, would you adopt us? Would you be a spiritual example and mentor to those who know you? Would you give them the gift of intercession and spiritual guidance?

My spiritual mothers have included the Sunday school teacher who led me to Christ, the teacher who supported my commitment to ministry, the professor who encouraged my gifts, so many of you who pray for me faithfully. The world needs more Annas. Would you be one?

Conclusion

So, why are you in church on the “secular” holiday of Mother’s Day? Isn’t it because you know with Hannah that your child is the gift of God, and that he deserves your praise and thanks? Isn’t it because you know with Mary that you must have God’s help in raising and caring for the children whom he has entrusted to you, all the days of their lives? Isn’t it because you desire with Anna to be a spiritual mother, example, and influence on the lives you can touch?

Know that your prayers and your child are both in the care of God. One day, we trust, someone will say to your child what Paul said to Timothy: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).

Pray specifically this morning that God would make you such a mother. The world needs more Timothys. And so we need even more to be Lois and Eunice today.

Not all of us are mothers, obviously, but all of us have or had a mother. If your mother has been a woman of faith like Hannah, Mary, or Anna, you’re here to thank God. If she has not been, you’re here to pray for her.

And we’re all here to make a fresh commitment of our lives to the Father without whom we would have no mother and no life at all. The Father who sent his Son to die in our place, to purchase our salvation, to grant us his peace and life.

Let’s close again this year with Peter Marshall’s beautiful Mother’s Day prayer, and express in its words our commitments together:

“On this day of sacred memories, our Father, we would thank Thee for our mothers who gave us life, who surrounded us early and late with love and care, whose prayers on our behalf still cling around the Throne of Grace, a haunting perfume of love’s petitions.

“Help us, their children, to be more worthy of their love. We know that no sentimentality on this day, no material gifts—no flowers or boxes of candy can atone for our neglect during the rest of the year. So, in the days ahead, may our love speak to the hearts of those who know love best—by kindness, by compassion, by simple courtesy and daily thoughtfulness.

“Bless her whose name we whisper before Thee, and keep her in Thy perfect peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”