Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20; John 1: 43-51
January 18, 2015
Our Psalm today speaks of God's intimate knowledge of us. And as we continue our look at prayer, I think it's important to look at this and consider why we pray when God knows us so completely. Here's what the psalmist wrote, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” Why do we pray when God already knows the words on our tongue? This type of question was put to me just this week in a counseling session. And it was answered by a non-christian who said, “God wants to know that we know what we need.” I thought that was pretty good. My answer is that God doesn't like to eavesdrop—God wants us to be direct with our wants and our needs. Last Sunday Bev pointed out to me that the devotional These Days had an article about prayer last Saturday. I share some of that, “Watching our church bell-choir I’ve noticed things that have helped my prayer life. Each single note forms the song, a beautiful whole. Each musician has to play his or her notes, but if someone misses one the song goes on. I am learning to pray this way: I show up with my prayers and concerns but let others voice their own notes to God. I realize I am part of something bigger that myself, my congregation, even my denomination: I am a part of a choir of pray-ers.” Our prayer lives mix and match with millions of others to join us as one in the presence of God...another reason to pray; individually and as a congregation.
We are spending January looking at our prayer life using Max Lucado's book Before Amen as our guide, “Father, you are good. I need help.” That's how far we've gotten in his pocket prayer (seen in your bulletin insert). I envisioned a 3 week series on prayer...I'm pretty sure we'll be well into February before we finish. But is there anything more important to our spiritual life than prayer? Perhaps not; church and fellowship are important, the sacraments reflect God's grace, our praises in the hymns bring our spirits soaring and teach us truths about God. The sermon teaches, entertains, compels us to action. But prayer brings us into the very throne room of God. We are exposed and God has promised to meet us there. Whether in our morning prayers where we meet one on one with God or in worship where I lead in community prayer or in special services like last week's ordination or the prayers of Rick this morning...God hears and God acts and we are changed. The how to pray isn't as important as understanding that God's grace allows us into the very presence of the Lord. God is faithful and graceful to hear and to be with us and to walk with us!
The pocket prayer continues: “Heal me and forgive me.” Looks like a simple pair of requests but they are broad and deep and wide. I'm not sure why Lucado listed them in this order; I think I'd have reversed them. But let's take them in his order.
Heal me—I have shared that my strong believe is that God wants wholeness for each of us. That's a driving force behind our quarterly prayer service for wellness and wholeness; seeking wholeness in body and mind and soul. And it's is not just my opinion, Paul wrote this, “ May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!” (1 Thessalonians 5: 23) That is from his epistle to the Thessalonians using Eugene Peterson's translation. Spirit, body and soul Paul writes. Max expounds on this, “God envisions a complete restoration of the garden of Eden. Everything he saw in his garden was good. This assessment included Adam and Eve. They weren't sick, crippled, depressed or afflicted. They were spiritually and physically sound. No emphysema, palsy or paranoia.” That is the picture God has for us. And yet we all know that is not what we live with. I look around this congregation and virtually everywhere I look I see people struggling with spiritual and/or physical issues. We live in a fallen world. And so this prayer-- God heal us.
We are a church who believes in the power of prayer; we've seen healing, we've got a baby here who was prayed into being; we've seen big and small answers to prayers for healing and wholeness. We are also a congregation who held 3 funerals in less than a month last fall. Those prayers for healing weren't answered, those bodies weren't healed...at least not in our world.
And understand that death is not the only enemy for which we seek healing. There are those who have been abused or molested. They need healing of the soul. There are psychological issues that are faced; counseling or medicine may be needed. Cancer, heart failure, depression, dementia...we can list the things in life that need God's healing touch. Things for which we may cry out, heal me. And Max assures us in his book that God can heal us; wholeness and health is God's original design. But we are not given a time line. When God heals, it can be instantly, or gradually or ultimately. We've read instances of Jesus healing the deaf or lame or sick instantly; with a word. Most of us have heard of instances of healing even today, but it is not a common occurrence. But we never doubt that it could happen.
God may heal us gradually; Jesus waited until Lazarus was in the tomb four days to heal him. He healed a blind man in stages; two times he rubbed spit on his eyes. He was healed completely the second time. Max doesn’t' say this, but medicine may fall into this category. God has given human beings tremendous capabilities in the world of medicine. Through surgery or medications or therapy or diet...humans can use the body's God-given recuperative capabilities to heal gradually.
Finally, and here is our highest hope, God heals us ultimately. In heaven, our bodies will be restored to their “intended splendor” to use Max's terminology. John wrote, “We know that when (Christ) is revealed, we shall be like him.” (1 John 3: 2) And Peter wrote, 1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
And what are we to make of it if we are not healed in our time frame? Know that God still loves you. The apostle Paul was a great worker for God. He wrote that he prayed to God for healing, for a “thorn in his side”. We don't know what that was, but we do know that God did not heal Paul. But that didn't mean that Paul wasn't loved by God. And it certainly didn't mean that God didn't use Paul to advance the kingdom. We know he did. And God can use your “thorns” to advance the kingdom as well. Perhaps the trial you are facing has drawn you closer to God because you feel the need to pray more often. Perhaps the daily pain you face has humbled a prideful spirit—your mantra may change from “I can do all things” to “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. (Philippians 4: 13) Maybe your loss or your suffering has made you more sensitive to others who are hurting. Perhaps in God's economy, your trial is serving to draw others to God as you share your faith and share God's peace.
God, heal me. A simple statement but one that speaks volumes when we consider how God works in our lives. We all want to be well. We all want suffering and illness to go away. But as we are so often reminder, God's kingdom is not yet fulfilled. We live in two worlds, the world which is fallen and world which is being redeemed by Christ. Max tells the account of a family where the father had Lou Gerhig's disease. For seven years he suffered as the family suffered watching him. After his death, the family chose two verses for the funeral bulletin. On one side it said, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” On the opposite side it said “My God, My God!...Why have you forsaken me?” You probably recognize the first verse, Psalm 23. The second you may recognize as the cry of Jesus from the cross. But what many of us don't realize is that Jesus is there quoting a Psalm, Psalm 22 in fact. In my bible, they are on opposite side of the pages when I open it. In times of sickness, we may be living with both psalms constantly on our lips. Cancer, heart failure, depression, dementia, all drive us to cry out, “Why have you forsaken me.” But our trust in God calls us to proclaim, “the Lord is my shepherd...”
I didn't plan to only cover two words from that pocket prayer today. But to consider the suffering in this world in light of God's love and care...it is a big topic, one that we must look at as we consider the place of prayer in our lives. The goal of this series is to lead each of us as individuals and all of us as a community of faith to make our prayer life a priority. Whatever healing we need, we are walking together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever suffering we are facing, Christ walks with us through that valley.
Our next hymn reminds us that when burdens press and cares distress; when we face the world in dread and fear, when we suffer tears and grief...Jesus cares. Bring it to the Lord in prayer and Jesus will be there. Will he solve all your troubles, heal you immediately? We can't say, but he will heal you. I pray it would be immediate; it may be gradual, but we can be sure of this—Jesus will heal each one of his children... ultimately. And the good shepherd will lead us beside the still waters, will guide us to pleasant pastures, will never, ever forsake us. By the way, that Psalm 22 that starts out with the psalmist asking why God has forsaken him... ends with him writing, “future generations will be told about the Lord and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn.” He discovers as we discover in our relationship with Jesus, we are never forsaken. God knows us intimately and completely and God will deliver us. Amen.
Hymn Does Jesus Care? 416 HLC