Keep Living in Prayer 7th Pentecost
Psalm 85 Colossians 2:6-19 July 28, 2019 Luke 11:1-13
Last week, our key idea was to “keep choosing Christ.” This week, the topic is “Keep Living in Prayer.” Prayer is central for the Apostle Paul. In fact, in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, he instructs them to “pray without ceasing.” Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? My prayer times always seem to be pretty short, so “praying without ceasing” goes beyond my imagination. I can imagine using all kinds of opportunities to pray, like the folks who use their morning commute to take to God the things that are coming up in their day. (I can pray while I drive, but I have to keep my eyes open!)
Of course, when she’s riding with me, I know my wife is in prayer. Occasionally her foot hits her imaginary brake or her hands fly out to brace for impact—but I’m sure she’s praying!
It reminds me of the state trooper who had to pull a car over for driving TOO SLOWLY. “Ma’am, did you know the speed limit is 75 here—and you were only going 42?” She replied, “I SAW the speed limit sign, and it said 42!” He responded, “Actually, Ma’am, this is HIGHWAY 42, and you must travel at least 55 mph.” He let her off with a warning, and turned to walk back to his car, when he noticed a woman in the back seat looking as white as a ghost. “Are you okay, Ma’am?!” She told him, “We just turned off of highway 102!”
Well, maybe it’s a good idea to pray whenever we ride with another person! We can make use of odd little moments throughout the day.
Our Gospel reading for today focuses on prayer, which I believe to be one of the ways we keep choosing Christ, choosing to stay connected. You see, Jesus tells us something about the posture of prayer—our attitude toward God and our practice of talking to God—and listening as well. Jesus is showing us how we can make prayer a regular, natural part of our daily life. And then Paul builds on it with his encouragement to continue to live our lives in Christ! Here are his words: “Continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith.” Rooted. Built up. Established.
This visual imagery reminds me of a climbing vine we bought in Elko, thinking it would climb up and cover a pergola Melissa’s step-dad built for us. We bought the plant in the fall, and we kind of forgot to put it into the ground next to the pergola. In fact, it stayed in its little plastic pot, and the wind blew it over, and the ice and snow of an Elko winter covered it up.
In the spring, the snow melted and I said, “Oh, shoot! There’s that little plant. It’s probably dead.” But I planted it (just in case it was still alive), and that little vine TOOK OFF! It grew so fast you could almost sit and watch it go! Eventually, it got to the point where I had to use the electric hedge trimmers to lop off the tendrils that were reaching everywhere, wrapping around anything they could get ahold of!!
It was amazing. Once it got well-rooted, it was vibrant and thriving! Paul says that you and I are to be “rooted and built up in Christ,” and that this provides a safeguard from falsehood, things that can trip us up. What kinds of things trip us up?
He mentions “philosophy and foolish deception.” He talks about human tradition which has been falsely elevated to “truth.” And Paul says that ritual activity is NOT a substitute for a relationship. Then he specifically names 1. Food and drink laws; 2. Festivals; 3. New Moons; 4. Sabbaths. (NO, these were the things which the Pharisees treasured!) Instead, he advises “Stay rooted in Christ!”
I love this imagery, taken directly from people’s familiarity with gardening and caring for trees and vineyards. You’ll remember that Jesus used that familiar imagery when he said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Cut off from me you can do nothing.” The idea here is that, IF we are connected to Christ, we will bear fruit. So it’s important to keep seeking that connection. And prayer is one way to do it.
In our Gospel reading for today, we hear the Disciples ask Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” So, he gives them a model prayer that has been spread around the world, and we know it as “The Lord’s Prayer.”
And THEN he shares a story that illustrates the importance of PERSISTENCE in prayer. A person goes to a friend in the middle of the night, asking to borrow bread to provide hospitality to a weary traveler. And, even though the friend is reluctant, persistence pays off.
(ASIDE—Jesus is NOT suggesting that God is like this reluctant friend, and that you and I have to keep banging on the doors of heaven in order to get God interested in our prayers. Of course not! It’s just a story about perseverance, even when we don’t get an answer.)
And then, in our text, Jesus tells his Disciples this: ASK and you will receive; SEEK and you will find; KNOCK and the door will be opened to you. Then he goes on to clarify that God is better than any human parent. “If your child asks for a fish, would you give ‘em a snake?! And if they ask for an egg, would you give ‘em a scorpion?! Of course not! And if you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?
I was recently reading some great theology (known to most as Calvin and Hobbes), and Calvin has asked his mother for a flame-thrower! She tells him NO, and then he looks at her with big, sad eyes. She responds, “Not even BAMBI EYES will work!” Good parents only give good gifts to their children.
That’s why we say with confidence, “God will only give us that which is good for us.” So, if God is not giving you what you are asking for, it’s possible that what you desire is not what is best for you. Hmmmm. Disappointment is part of the life of prayer.
Some of you may remember a song by Garth Brooks that was popular several years ago: “I Thank God for Unanswered Prayer.” The basic message of the story is about a fellow who had a serious crush on a beautiful girl at his school. He used to pray and pray that they would end up together. Well, it didn’t happen, and that was disappointing. But years later, the songwriter was able to say, “I Thank God for Unanswered Prayer,” and all he had to do was to look at his wife–and their kids–and understand that God had something BETTER for him!
And when I am disappointed, I remind myself of the advice from Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God, and God will make straight your paths.” Don’t rely on your own understanding!
Clearly, we all have a lot to learn about living a life of prayer! Consider this essay on prayer by James, found in chapter 5: “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
Now, friends, it is important that you do NOT misunderstand what James is saying here. He’s NOT saying that, if you don’t get what you pray for, then you don’t have enough faith, or that you are not good enough, or whatever! Remember—disappointment is a part of the life of prayer. So it’s best to pray the prayer that never fails: “Thy will be done.” Then God will do what is best for all concerned.
You know, Jesus told a story about two men who went to the Temple to pray. One of them was a Pharisee (considered to be the holiest people around), and the other was a tax collector (considered to be scum because of their cooperation with the Romans).
- The PHARISEE, standing by himself, was praying like this: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers…or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” (Sounds kind of smug)
- The TAX COLLECTOR, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
- Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified (which means that he was made right with God) rather than the other (who thought he was right with God); for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Friends, IF our prayer life reveals that we are acknowledging OUR NEED, and relying on God’s abundant provision—we are in a right relationship with God!
I want to finish today by looking at what to do about ISIS and al Qaida and other people who don’t want to talk, don’t want to cooperate in finding peaceable solutions—all they want to do is KILL us. What is the Christian response? Well, they have declared themselves to be our enemies! And the Scriptures are clear: by loving them and praying for them, we will heap burning coals upon their heads (and remember, burning coals is an imagery of cleansing and purifying, not punishment).
So we are being called to do the impossible: to pray for our enemies, for their eyes to be opened to the truth, for the miraculous healing of their hatred. And you and I can only do this if we are rooted in Christ!
It helps me to imagine the Christians in Damascus who had heard that Saul was getting ready to come and arrest all of them. Back then, he was the “enemy of Christ,” and they must have started praying for him. The Risen Christ met him on the road to Damascus and the world is a better place because faithful followers, rooted in Christ, prayed for a man who had declared himself to be their enemy!