July 24, 2016
I hope you have noticed by now the little quiz included in your bulletin. It is intended only as a way to provoke our thoughts on our individual prayer lives. The disciples in today's gospel asked Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus answered with what we now know as the Lord's Prayer. That is one prayer, it is not the only way we pray. But it does give us a certain guideline to direct our prayers in the proper manner. I don't believe it was intended to be a prayer memorized and repeated over and over without much thought. And that happens far to often...for me and I assume for others. But we do need direction and today I'm going to use this passage on prayer to try and share some tips and ideas that I hope will help you in your prayer life.
First and foremost, we will pray often and regularly when we see prayer as a truly important part of life. I've always had a good opinion of prayer and I said my nightly prayers for many years. Then it became praying when life became rough. And I don't think I'm alone in that. In fact, as a pastor I run into that often. People tend to turn to God, to the church, to prayer as kind of a last resort. I was fortunate that while I was in college I was involved with a Christian group that taught the importance of prayer. I got into the habit of daily prayer time. To have an effective prayer life we need to practice prayer on a regular basis. And that word practice is key. I've heard prayer compared to an athletic event. If you are an athlete and wait until a critical point in a ballgame to decide you need a certain skill you've never practiced, you will fail. If you are a Christian and reach a critical point in life; a life changing decision, an accident, … that is not the best time to start praying. Exercise your skills in talking to and listening to God while life is good and that relationship will be stronger to weather the tough times. And the practice you've had in daily times with God will make that prayer in desperate times more natural and more effective. Don't get me wrong, I believe God hears all our prayers...but the desire and the practice and the priority we place on prayer will affect us. And after all, prayer is not really about getting God to do what we want. It is seeking that God's will be done. We say thy will be done in the Lord's prayer. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, in his most desperate moment, prayed that the Father’s will be done. Jesus prayed often. For us, we are reminded that practice will help us learn to lean on the Fathers' guidance and teaching and we will be more likely to seek God's will, and recognize the answers to prayer that are different than our expectations may have been.
What pulls us to pray? As I said, difficulties may be the strongest draw. But others in question 2 are good answers, Jesus' example and his promises, the desire to know God are all right answers. But we will do much better to pray regularly rather than in times of difficulty alone.
And just who is it we are praying too? There is a lot of discussion these days about what the Christian God is like compared to the Jewish God or the Muslim God. Well, there is only one God. Our understanding of God is based upon the teachings of Jesus. And Jesus taught of a very near and loving God, of a God who is a loving parent, the Father Abba which is our equivalent of daddy. That prayer in the Garden I mentioned, let me quote more of his prayer, “Going a little farther, Jesus fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” The prayer life of Jesus was such that he was very close to his daddy, father. The qualities of God that Jesus taught was clearly “e” in our quiz question number 3; a loving daddy who is always willing to listen and guide me. And that understanding of God the father is much different than a Father who is constantly disappointed in us or who is too busy to hear us when we come to him or one who is there in the good times but absent in the bad. God is always willing to listen. God loves us, that's the God that Jesus came to teach us about. And so that understanding means that we can share everything in our prayers. We share our failures as well as celebrate our successes with God. We offer God our hopes and dreams and we can complain when they don't come to fruition. We confess our sin and we accept grace, lavished upon us. We are allowed to share our anger, even if we are angry at God. Jesus sits at God's right hand and Jesus suffered on this earth the sorrows and trials and anger at injustice and troubles. God understands. That is the father to whom we pray. Not one we fear or one we need to hide our flaws from. God knows us thoroughly and loves us fully and wants to share every bit of our lives and we do that best one on one in prayer with our heavenly Father.
God's goodness in hearing us is my third point, and this is where so many faithful Christians find doubts winning out over their trust. How many of you have prayed for something that didn't result in the outcome you prayed for? All of us I dare say. And how many of us believe that God is good? Most of us I think. If God is good, and if we are praying for something good like healing or safety or faith for someone we love, why doesn't our prayer come true. Come true, I used that on purpose because I think we get prayers mixed up with wishes sometimes. If we tell someone our birthday wish, it won't come true. Wishes may or may not come true, it is just a wish after all. But if God doesn't heal our friend, then is it right to say our prayer didn't come true? God is not a fairy God-mother nor a genie granting wishes. God is... (I wrote these two words then struggled. This is a hard sentence to finish here.) God is... our creator, our redeemer and savior... God is loving and seeks the very best for us. God is good. The trouble here is that when we don't get what we seek, either we are failures in our prayer life or God is not as good and loving as we claim. God is... we need to know that God is seeking relationship with us. Relationship is what prayer is really about and so none of our prayers are in vain, but they are not magic either. I'm trying to avoid the too often trite sayings about God and prayer...
Let's look at what Jesus said after teaching the Lord's Prayer. He gives a parable whose point is clearly that we should pray and continue to pray. Persistence. Tenacious, dogged prayers to God. God answers, and Jesus promises that the answer is good. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, prayer changes us for the better. Persistent prayer will develop a relationship with God, a relationship that will transform your life, from the inside out. At a certain point, prayer is to be about God's will for us and for the world rather than our own will.
And I guess that begs the question of our last quiz question, how do you see the power of your prayers? If God's power is judged by how well God obeys our demands, perhaps we would say that our prayers don't have much power. “b” is an honest answer, and I like that it says responds to rather than answers my prayers. For God's response may not look anything like what we expect. There is that old saying, be careful what you wish for, it just may come true. I'd say, be careful what you pray for, God's will is a powerful thing. “c' says I know that God listens to and responds to my prayer. That is a great answer, but there are days when I wonder as perhaps we all do. We look around at some of the evil and violence in the world and ask if God is doing anything! The Lord's prayer opens up for our understanding the mystery and power of God that occurs beyond our vision or understanding. “Thy kingdom come” begs the question what thy kingdom looks like, what needs to occur before we see it fully engaged and what we are to do to bring along God's kingdom on earth. “Thy will be done” opens up our minds and our hearts to the possibility that we don't have all the answers and a big part of our relationship with our Father is trusting that God's will is the best path. “Give us our daily bread”. For too many in the world, that prayer is for literal bread. “About 21,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. This is one person every four seconds Sadly, it is children who die most often.” (poverty.com) For most of us, bread itself is not our need. Sp perhaps our prayer for bread may be for a spiritual need. My bread may be patience or compassion or vision for the future. Your bread may be something completely different, but bread can be so much more than our physical needs; spiritual, emotional, intellectual. Give us this day what we need to live our lives as your children.
Forgive us as we forgive. Too much there for us to go into today....
“Lead us.” May our paths go where you lead Lord, and not into areas of temptation but into paths of righteousness for thy name's sake. “Deliver us from evil.” God neither tempts us nor causes us to sin, I pray this as a prayer of protection.
That is the Lord's prayer. Here is how it is paraphrased in the Message, “Father,
Reveal who you are. Set the world right. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.”
The Lord's Prayer is a guideline for us to follow. It has become a part of the liturgy in the church and at some point a doxology was added, “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” That is not found in either of the gospels which record the Lord's Prayer. And a question that we face whenever we pray with other denominations, why do we Presbyterians say Debts and the rest of the world seems to say trespasses? We use the prayer found in Matthew which uses the Greek word opheilamata which is translated debt. In Luke which we read this morning, it is the Greek word amartias, translated sin in the bible but as trespasses in the the liturgical prayer. We are not the only church that uses debts, but we are far in the minority.
Prayer. It is communication with God, and not about repetitive phrases. It should be in everyday English speaking with your Father; you don't need to talk fancy. “Oh most excellent Lord who art the wind beneath my wings...” That's not our style. We can use the Lord's prayer as a guide, look online for good information on prayer, model prayer on pray-ers you appreciate. The thing is, pray. Do not wait for the trials that may come. Pray with thanksgiving in the good times. Pray with humility for your needs and wants. Pray with joy for the gift of the presence of Jesus in your life through the Holy Spirit. Pray for your family. Pray for your church family. Pray for our government. Pray for those who are sick—wellness prayer service is an especially focused time of prayer. We try to be regular in bringing those in need of God's touch to God's doorstep. God is little like the neighbor who refused to help at midnight in the parable. God wants us to come to the door and seek a response. God is more than willing to help at any hour day and night. The one similarity that Jesus points out-- God responds to persistence. Knock on God's door every day, every night. Practice, practice, practice. And when the day of trial comes, you will be ever so comfortable with your Lord and God. And the peace that surpasses understanding will be there for the asking...ask and receive, knock and God will answer. Amen.
Hymn: Sweet Hour of Prayer 434 HLC