Sermon 01/10/21: Power Tool #1: Morning Prayer (Epiphany I)

At this time, due to surging Coronavirus rates, the United Methodists Churches of our Illinois Great Rivers Conference are not holding face-to-face services. Please click on the link below to watch the entire worship service as a video on your home computer, tablet or smartphone:

Link to Video




If you would prefer not to view the video, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a new tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with the words of the Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

HYMN Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us (lyrics) by 4Him

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: 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 trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN Have Thine Own Way, Lord
Have Thine Own Way, Lord – paulhornemusic

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Power Tool #1: Morning Prayer
Text: Mark 1:32-39, Romans 12:1-2
Series: Those Methodist Tools (Attend Upon All The Ordinances of God)

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.


Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Mark 1:32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered together about the door. 34 And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and those who were with him pursued him, 37 and they found him and said to him, “Every one is searching for you.” 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Image: New york times square-terabass.jpg from Wikipedia “Times Square”


HYMN Sweet Hour of Prayer
Alan Jackson – Sweet Hour of Prayer (lyrics)

BENEDICTION: Let us dedicate ourselves to the service of Jesus by joining in the Prayer of Saint Francis:

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
And 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
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life

(If you wish, you can listen to this prayer being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis )

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!


History has a strange likelihood of repeating itself. Many, many years ago, in the previous century, there was a revolution in Cuba against the Spanish governors and the United States began to be drawn into that conflict.

The United States sent a naval ship, the USS Maine, into the harbor at Havana to protect U.S. property and interests and citizens in the midst of that conflict. That night, the warship Maine was sunk in the harbor by a gigantic explosion.

They did not understand at the time what would cause such an explosion, although in 1976, many, many years later, a team of American naval investigators dived on the wreck of the USS Maine and there identified that the explosion was most likely caused by a flaw in the design of the ship that would allow a fire to spread into the ammunition storage area of the ship. And as you can imagine, this would cause the ship to blow up. But they didn’t know that 100 years before.

And something you may not know is that there were two newspapers in New York City. One was The New York Journal, the other, if I remember correctly, was the New York World. One was owned by the Pulitzer family, the other was owned by William Randolph Hearst. And they were in the middle of a circulation war.

Randolph Hearst had actually sent an artist to Cuba to draw pictures of the Cuban revolutionaries and he went all over the country on horseback and never could find any. So he wired the publisher back in a telegram, he said, “I can’t find any of these rebels. Please let me come home. There is no war here,” And in a very famous telegram–friends this is a fact–publisher William Randolph Hearst replied by saying, “You send me the pictures, and I will provide the war.”

And he actually did. He used his newspaper to stir people up, to put pressure on the politicians to declare war on the Spanish Empire. And this was the Spanish-American war. And he used his newspapers to stir up the people and get everyone angry because no matter what was true he would twist it, and exaggerate it, and make it even more dramatic so that people would get even angrier.

Down in the lower right hand corner there’s a copy of another front page. Supposedly there were Spanish vessels off the coast of the United States, supposedly they were going to be privateers. They were going to attack and steal like pirates … American vessels, fishing vessels, shipping vessels, private yachts. One of the most heinous pictures was something that Hearst completely, simply, made up, which is that the Spanish military were boarding American ships in open international waters to search the passengers. And they had this tendency to strip search American women. And, of course, I can’t show you this picture, but one of the pictures he published was supposedly of that act taking place. You see, it wasn’t about what was true. It was what he could do to stir up people’s sense of anger and outrage.

And that’s because if he can make you angry, he can make you do what he wants. There is a great deal of money to be made when you can grab the attention of people and get them all upset. And from that day on down to this day, the temptation has always been there for the news media to not say what is true, but to say the truth in a way that makes it less than truth because it gets people all stirred up and upset and angry.

And so consequently, you’ve actually heard me say, I posted it on Facebook: When you read something, the angrier it makes you, the more likely it is, in all honesty, that you are being lied to.

Watch out for people who will do anything they can to get your attention. Because when you think about it, your attention is worth a lot of money. The easiest way to make money is to get your attention, and then you’ll be interested in these products. You’ll be interested in buying that product. That’s the whole point of every sign, every billboard. If they can get your attention, they can sell you something.

Well, let’s be honest. They can sell you something that you don’t need. And the easiest way to get your attention, the easiest way to trap your attention, is to manipulate you emotionally, to stir up feelings of anger, to stir up feelings of envy, to stir up feelings of greed. “I just got to have that, whatever that is.”

Your attention is worth a lot of money, and that’s why they’re out to get it. When you think about it, the only thing that Facebook has to sell is your attention. And they actually have studied this: Facebook and all the other media sources from the national television networks, you name it, they are literally designed to almost be addictive. You need to go on Facebook to see if somebody has responded to the picture you put up of your little baby taking his first steps. You have to see what people said about that. You have to see if people liked it, or people made a little heart symbol. And it can almost be an addiction.

Now, we are familiar with temptation in all kinds of ways, but we may not be so familiar with the addiction and the temptation to give our attention to something that it would be smart if we would ignore it.

I’ll give you some of my own personal temptations. I have finally been able to convince myself that there is nothing on sale on Black Friday that I need. The temptations still there, though, just because I’m German on my dad’s side. I’m Scottish on my mother’s side. So I get it through both sides of the family. If it’s on sale, I need it.

My primary goal in the New Year is to lose weight, but I need to tell you where all my excess weight came from. What’s around my waist today is from all of those buy-one-get-one-free sales because I ate the one Whopper, and then the other Whopper moved into my waist and has been living there for over a decade. It’s not the Whopper I paid for that’s causing me a problem, it’s the one they gave me for free, and that’s true for all kinds of things. I cannot begin to tell you how exciting it is for me to go to a buffet where I pay five dollars and eat thirty dollars worth of food. But the extra twenty-five dollars worth of food, it still lives around my waistline. It’s not really a bargain if you don’t need it.

But that’s just some of the temptations I deal with. You may deal with different ones, but it all starts when they get your attention. Then they’re able to manipulate you and tell you, “Go over here. No, go that way. Buy this. No, don’t buy that.” They’re able to manipulate your behavior, and they know about it.

In the new year, it’s a caution for us because certainly, a lot of the problems that we face come because people are manipulated. There’s a devil whispering into one ear and an angel whispering into the other. They’re not quite sure which one is right. So what distracts you, and how distracted are you? Is there something that you do that you can’t stop doing, a television show that you can’t stop watching, a radio dialogue that you can’t tune to something else? Is there something that distracts you from your children? Is there something that distracts you from work that needs to be done? Is there something that distracts you from taking care of your home or taking care of your health … because if that’s true, someone has taken ownership of your attention.

If you think back to days in high school or junior high school, we were always distracted by what the cool kids were doing, what the popular kids were wearing– and if we got in trouble, it’s probably because the popular kids told us that we ought to be just like them, that we ought to do what they’re doing– do you find yourself tempted by what’s popular but not good for you?

Are you tempted, perhaps, to please people? That if you can make other people happy, certainly, that’s the best possible thing that you could do. Have you figured out yet that it never works and it never lasts?

Perhaps like me you’re a little bit of a rescuer. If you can do good, if you can help someone— that’s certainly a powerful attraction to me. And I still do struggle with that.

But what helps lots of people, what is popular, what makes other people happy– those aren’t always the good things that we should be doing either as human beings, as United States citizens, or as people who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

How do we stay on course in the middle of an environment that continually manipulates us to do, maybe not what is wrong but what is not for the best. Earl Nightingale said it many, many years ago. “The strangest secret–” that’s what he called it. “The strangest secret is this– we become what we think about most of the time.” And if that’s right, you become what has your attention … either because you’re happy about it and you want more of it … or because you’re afraid of it.

What has your attention makes you more and more anxious and afraid and angry. But what has your attention foretells the future of what you will become.

Jesus had a way to deal with this, and it’s something that can greatly benefit us. In Mark 1:32, Jesus has become a celebrity. Jesus has become famous. It’s gotten around that Jesus can heal people. Jesus can set people free. Jesus can change people’s lives. So Jesus goes to the home of Peter, and his mother-in-law is making supper. And they can’t even get done with the meal before, at sundown, all around the home are gathered a gigantic crowd. In fact, it says, literally, “The whole city.” That evening, at sundown, Mark 1:32– that evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons, and the whole city was gathered together about the door. You see, there were those who were sick and those who brought them, and there were those who just simply wanted to watch for their own entertainment like the healing of sick people was a circus. The whole crowd had come together for a circus.

Verse 34, “And he, Jesus, healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons.” And that went on, I can assume, until late in the night. And in the morning, a great while before day, before the sun was up, I can assume, Jesus rose and went out to a lonely place— not a crowded place, not a noisy place, not a place where there were any distractions. He rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed. I assume he prayed for hours.

Meanwhile, it says that Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and they found him. And they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” Now, we can’t really blame the disciples for this because when you think about it, whenever you can attract a crowd, the crowd has money. The crowd represents an opportunity and I can imagine the way Simon Peter and the disciples are thinking, “Lord, there’s a big crowd of people here. We could build a church. Then we become the largest church in Israel. Lord, the sick people are lined up. They desperately need you. We could build a hospital. We can make billions of shekels. Lord, there’s a crowd of people, and they all need you.” And that means power and influence.

But you see, here’s the whole point. Jesus is not attracted to power or influence. Jesus is not attracted to running a business of healing people.

But even beyond that, we would assume that Jesus is attracted by the idea of helping people. And certainly, it’s a lot less work if they come to him. And maybe Jesus might be tempted by the idea of a very large synagogue where he could have a great deal of spiritual influence.

“Everyone is searching for you,” Peter says, “Because everyone wants you to pay attention to them. Everyone wants a piece of you, and everyone has their will for you to follow.”

But Jesus had spent time in prayer. And in fact, Jesus had spent time in the worship of God. In this pandemic, we can’t have public worship like we used to. But we can have private prayer. And there in the dark in the hills, praying, Jesus, Simon and the disciples were worshipping God. And that gave Jesus the strength to understand God’s will, to understand something that the disciples did not understand.

Peter says to Jesus, “Everyone is searching for you.” As if that meant that Jesus should do whatever they wanted, as if they should be the priority, as if pleasing them should be the purpose of His life. But Jesus has been praying, and Jesus understands that his life has another purpose. And Jesus said to them, “Let’s go.”

“Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out. That is the purpose for which God sent me to this earth. This is what God wants me to do.”

And if you think about it, Jesus and the disciples left that deserted place and never showed up to do anything for the crowd, just walked away and left them sitting there wondering where Jesus was. How could Jesus do that? Well, because God had another purpose than pleasing the crowd. God had another purpose than Jesus being popular. God had another purpose than Jesus being influential or the disciples making a bunch of money or whatever it was that concerned them. Jesus had another purpose.

But the thing that we need to understand is the reason that Jesus knew what that purpose was because he walked away from the crowd and took time to pray, and not all the time to pray but first thing in the morning. So the rest of the day he would be doing what God wanted, not what everybody else wanted.

John Wesley gave us the idea that there are habits and practices that are like power tools. And they are powerfully effective to help us to grow spiritually. Prayer in private, prayer with your family, worship, if you can’t do it in a church building, you can do it in your home.

But worship is a powerful way to grow your spirituality. And the reason is because, before you’ve done anything else, you have focused your attention not on the world, not on the noisy people, not on the people complaining and trying to get you to do what they want, you have focused your attention on the living God because first thing in the morning, just like Jesus, you set aside time to pray and seek God’s will.

And then the rest of the day was about doing what God wanted, not what everybody else wanted. And he went through all Galilea preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons and healing people and then going on and doing it again because this was God’s purpose for his life. What a tragedy it would have been if he had given up God’s purpose to make other people happy! There’s a lesson in that for us.

There’s a wonderful book written by Gary Keller, who is a very famous realtor. It’s called The One Thing. And it’s well worth your purchase. It’s well worth your reading.

The point that Gary Keller makes in the book, it’s based on what’s called the Pareto Principle that out of 100% of the things you do, 20% will bring the greatest benefit. But if you look at that 20% – guess what? – only 20% of that 20% will bring the greatest benefit. And then if you look at the 4%, only 20% of that tiny little section brings the greatest benefit. And the point that Gary Keller makes is that if you apply it again and again, what you realize is there’s just one thing, there’s one thing. And if you can figure out what that is, it will bring more benefit to you and people you love than anything else that you could possibly do.

So the question Gary Keller asks is this, “What’s the one thing I can do, such that, by doing it, everything else it will be easier or literally unnecessary?

Because that one thing is my most powerful opportunity to change things for the good. I want to suggest to you that Jesus figured out what His one thing was and His one thing was to begin His morning with worship, to begin His morning with prayer. And during that time of prayer, He renewed His commitment and His covenant with God. As He prayed and talked with God, He came to understand His purpose. And He started from the big purpose of what God wanted and worked it down to, “Well, Lord, what is it you want me to do today?”

And it turns out … it’s not to go back and make a crowd of people happy. It turned out that it’s not to go backwards, even to help a bunch of sick people. But the one thing for Jesus to do is to go forward to do God’s will right here and right now. And what helped Him to do that was the spiritual tool of setting time aside for morning prayer.

Now, I’ll be blunt. You should do this.

If you don’t have a second to spare when you wake up, maybe you should set your alarm clock 30 minutes early so you could spend time with God first thing every morning, because this is a powerful way for God to bless your spirit.

Because at the heart of that practice of morning prayer is this, you are rededicating your life to obeying and living for and following Jesus Christ in this world today. Morning prayers.

Romans Chapter 12 tells us what the real meaning of worship is. “I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” In other words, there’s an altar in your private life. It’s a place where you come to pray and that you bring to that altar yourself as a sacrifice. And Paul defines this as what it means to worship, which is, Paul writes, “Your spiritual worship.”

The Greek word that is used there for worship is called proskuneo. It’s a Greek word, interesting enough, that literally means to kiss.

Now there are other words used for worship. One is the Greek version of the word liturgy. It’s all about how we’re going to stand up. We’re going to sit down. We’re going to read this. We’re going to say that. We’re going to read this responsively. We’re going to sing this hymn. It’s about all the stuff you do when you worship. But the point that Paul wants to make is unless you give yourself to Christ as a living sacrifice, it’s not really worship. You’re going through the motions of worship.

Verse 2, Romans 12 do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God.

Do you want to know how to understand the will of God? Well, you see, it’s like this. You go down to your knees and give yourself as a sacrifice, “Lord, thy will be done”. That’s the prayer we pray, isn’t it? And as you rise up from that prayer to stand your feet, you understand what it is God wants you to do. You are now able to prove what is the will of God because you go out and do it. And in the demonstration of what God told you on your knees, it will be quite obvious what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Do not be conformed to this world that tries to get your attention, that tries to manipulate your behavior, that tries to sell you something you don’t need, that tries to get you to do something you’re going to regret because they got you by your eyes. And the more you give them your attention, the more you become the person they want you to be and, perhaps, very different from the person that God wants you to be.

So here’s the question for your prayers. At what time, is there a kiss?

The implication here in the Oriental world where Jesus lived is you would kiss the hand. You would kiss the ring of the ruler as a sign, “I will obey.” You would fall upon your knees, and you would touch your forehead to the ground as an expression of profound reverence, profound willingness to obey. These physical demonstrations, when done in prayer, what they say is, “Jesus is Lord.” What they say is, “Not my will be done, but thine.”

And if that’s a part of your morning prayer, maybe it’s kind of like a kiss, as the Greek word implies.

I remember a kiss. I remember a kiss on my wedding day because that day was all about making a covenant that would be a permanent relationship that would last forever. True worship points us toward a relationship with God and Jesus Christ. True worship renews the covenant to love and to follow. Let’s not trade that for a mess of pottage, a stew like Esau did. Let’s not trade that for something of this world. Let’s let our attention be focused on the relationship that brings us the greatest joy.

One of my favorite little proverbs is this. And it’s one that I pay close attention to because I believe it’s true. I’m sure you’ve heard it. “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” And I will tell you … if the happiness of your bride is very important to you, it’s very likely that you’ll be living a happy life.

But think about this on a slightly bigger context. If God isn’t happy, how can you ever be happy? If Jesus isn’t happy, how can you be happy? We need morning prayers in our lives to start our day with that most important thing, “My Jesus, I love you. Lead me. Guide me. Forgive me. Help me to do your will.” Because if Jesus isn’t happy, ain’t nobody going to be happy.

Please pray with me. Lord, we have many priorities in this life. We have many priorities in this world. And everyone is wrestling with us, trying to control what we choose as a priority. Lord, help us to get it right, first thing in the morning, the first thing that we do, the first opportunity to do what’s right. And Lord, through morning prayers, make you the priority of the rest of our day. We ask these things in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

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One Response to Sermon 01/10/21: Power Tool #1: Morning Prayer (Epiphany I)

  1. Gerri says:

    Wonderful sermon just what I needed for today ! Always refreshed for the week after the service! Thank you Pastor and Cathy for this opportunity each week!

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