January 11, 2015
John the Baptist baptized the people of the region of Jerusalem with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. People came to John and he proclaimed that one was coming who was more powerful; who was going to baptize the people with the Holy Spirit. We don't read about the prayer life of John, but to be used mightily by God—prayer is an important part.
Today we look at our prayer 101 seminar, part 2. Last week we looked at the importance of prayer in our own lives; personally and as a church family. We used the Max Lucado book Before Amen to guide our discussion. I shared the pocket prayer which is printed in your bulletin again this week. I announced that we'd continue to use this pocket prayer to guide our close look at prayer. And we studied that first word in the prayer—Father. Today we take a look at the phrases following starting with: “You are Good”. It declares a truth about God that the scriptures repeat continually: Psalm 25: 7 and 8 “you are good, Lord, good and upright is the Lord,” Psalm 86: 5, “For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving.” Jeremiah 33: 11 “For the Lord is good, his loving-kindness is everlasting.” Jesus tells us, “I am the good shepherd”. To make this our opening statement in prayer assumes that we trust these affirmations about the goodness of God; and that we are willing to put our lives in the good Lord's hands.
Now this isn't a perfect example because, in the end, it was my prerogative to shake off that pitch and throw what I wanted to. Sons Matthew and Stephen were each a catcher for me late in my career. Stephen was catching and we were rolling; he'd put the signal down and I'd quickly pitch what I knew he'd be calling. Except once he called a knuckle-ball and I knew I wanted a fastball and I was already winding up...and shaking my head to let Stephen know I wasn't throwing the knuckle-ball. But he explains that he was in a bad spot—he knew I wasn't throwing the knuckler but didn't know just what I was going to throw. It worked out, I trusted him to catch it and he trusted me that the ball would be located in the strike zone. He was surprised, but know this, God is never surprised by what happens. And we can put our trust in an all-knowing loving God.
Trust can sometimes be a hard thing to find. We've all had prayers that seem to end up ignored or turned down. We've had examples here from this pulpit during our prayer time—some wonderful successes mixed with some great disappointments. But we don't stop coming to God because we don't get what we want. We trust that God knows what is in store for us, that God has a plan, and that God will work all things together for good for those of us who love God, who are called by God as children.
This quality of goodness undergirds all I can say about prayer. If God is not good and powerful and forgiving and upright...then why pray? If God has limitations or hesitations or mixed-motives, we might as well pray to the Wizard of Oz. This is Max's illustration and no denigration of our Holy Humor skit is intended!
We have a good God, a loving Father who wants to share our lives. A great way to start every day is by coming into God's presence in prayer. We call him by the familiar term Jesus taught-Father or Dad. We offer our praise—Jesus taught “Hallowed be thy name.” Max suggests the less formal, “You are good.”
The next line-”I need help.” Most of us see the honesty in that statement. We need help. It is not a list of demands or needs, simply I need help. I liked the illustration Lucado used and I'll share his with you. He goes back to the wedding in Cana of Galilee. If you've been around the church awhile, you may remember this was where the first miracle of Jesus took place. It was a common wedding, no dignitaries, no royalty, just a simple wedding in Galilee. We'd never have heard of it but for one fact; Jesus and his disciples were invited. John tells us that while they were there, the wedding party ran out of wine. A very embarrassing fact for the groom and the bride; somebody goofed up. Enter, stage right, Mary, the mother of Jesus. She goes to Jesus, she tells Jesus, “They have no wine.”
Note that Mary did not approach Jesus with a demand, she didn't say, “Jesus, they’re out of wine so here's what I want you to do. Go down to the grove at the corner and accelerate the growth of some grapes then accelerate the fermentation process then bring the wine here.” She didn't try to tell him how to fix the problem.
She also didn't criticize the cause for the trouble. “If only they had planned better, Jesus. People just don’t think ahead. What is society coming to? The world is going over a cliff. Fix this Jesus.” She didn't place blame. (Truth be told, this one hits pretty close to home for me)
She didn't blame Jesus. “What kind of Messiah are you? If you were truly in control, this would have never happened.” (another one you've probably heard-God, if you were really in control this disease, debt, trouble would have never happened).
Nor did she blame herself. “It's all my fault Jesus. I failed as a friend, now the wedding is ruined, the marriage will collapse, I am to blame.”
She did none of that; she asked Jesus to help. Here I quote Max, “In my imagination I see Mary turn and walk away. Her face is serene. Her eyes reflect calm. She is untroubled. She has done everything she was supposed to do. She has identified the problem, brought it to Jesus and left it with him.” We know the rest of the story; Jesus turned the water in 6 water pots in to the finest wine, more that enough to serve the guests.
What a wonderful illustration of what your prayers can look like. Bring your trouble to Jesus and trust the results to him. Too often I—and perhaps some of you—are more interested in blaming someone else for my troubles, or in trying to fix things myself and leave Jesus out of it. When we need help; Jesus is capable of helping.
Lucado's wonderful imagination tells us another possible way this story could have gone; in this one, Mary doesn't go to Jesus. Here's what could have happened, “Mary took the master of the feast to task for poor planning. He took exception to her accusations. Mary stormed out of the party. The groom overheard the argument and lost his temper. The bride told the groom to forget the marriage; if he couldn't handle his temper, he sure couldn't manage a home. By the end of the day, the guests left sad, the marriage was ended and Jesus shook his head saying, “I could've helped if only I'd been asked.”
How many trials, disasters, broken marriages, broken hearts, would have been averted if we'd go first to Jesus in faithful prayer? The message is clear, the moment you sense a problem, great or small, take it to Jesus. And if it seems that that would mean going to Jesus all day long...well that would be great, scripture tells us—“pray without ceasing.”
And even when we don't know what is best for us, God knows. I close with an anonymous, not a poem but a writing by a Confederate soldier over 150 years ago. It speaks to us as we go to God asking for help:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I may learn to humbly obey.
I asked God for health, that I may do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I may be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for but everything I hoped for.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
I need help. A simple statement, but, like Mary, we can leave the results to Jesus. Troubles come at us in many shapes and forms. Jesus says, “Bring your troubles to me.” We need help...Jesus is willing to help. Will the world be different because you prayed?...in one sense, no. Wars still rage, human beings still hurt one another, bills continue to come, disease, injuries still ravage human bodies. And we understand that as we go to our Father in trusting prayer, not everything will turn out as we want. But you will have been changed...for you will have been in the presence of the creator and redeemer, the presence of your loving Father. He bids us seek his face, believe his word and trust his grace. May we each make prayer the cornerstone of our faith journey this year and for all of our lives; and may God give us, not what we want, but what we need. Amen.
Hymn 434 HLC Sweet Hour of Prayer