Saturday, July 27, 2019

Year C, Pentecost 7, Luke 11.1-13, Prayer Changes Life

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
In Romans the 8th Chapter it is written:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

“Tell us about your personal life of prayer.”
That is a question that I’ve was asked in my interview for the position in Sandpoint twenty years ago.
I actually rather resented the question.
The reason being, that if I have to tell a call committee in an interview about my “personal” life of prayer, and be judged on that basis, then it is no longer a “personal” life of prayer, but a “professional” practice.
It’s not that I don’t have a personal life of prayer.
I do.
But it is quite private.
Over the course of my life and ministry I am often called upon to offer prayers, many times at the most critical moments in their life.  There have also been those times that I would pray for a person who is dying, knowing that my words may very well be the last words that person hears in this world.
Whether I’m asked to pray before a congregational meal, or in a hospital room, there is a bit of a performance about it.  At least I can’t help but feel the necessity of doing a “good job” at it, after all, I’m a pastor and pastor’s ought to be able to pray well.
The truth is that sometimes the words flow easily, as naturally as a conversation with someone we love.  That of course is what prayer is.
At other times, though, finding the words is just difficult.
More times than not, this is where I find myself in my personal prayer life.

Professionally, I’m paid to find the right words.
Personally, I don’t always know how to pray as I ought.
But I’m very good at sighing.

“What did you say?” Karla will ask.
“Nothing.”  I reply. 
“You sigh and groan a lot.” She responds.  “A lot.”

And that, I believe, is truly the Spirit interceding for me, with those sighs too deep for words.
“Teach us how to pray.” The disciples asked.
And so Jesus taught them what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that has been on the lips of nearly every Christian since.
Teach us how to pray.

I’ve had another struggle with prayer over the years.
It’s the whole “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike” thing.
Does prayer work?
I pray that people will be healed.
                Sometimes they are.
                Sometimes they are not.
The same can be said for people who never pray at all.
Some of them live, some of them die.
What difference does prayer make?
I don’t know the answer to that question.  What I do know is that Jesus did teach his disciples to pray, and so we do.
Prayer, in this regard, is a most basic act of obedience.
We pray because Jesus taught us to pray and told us to pray. 
Not only does he tell us to pray, he tells us to be persistent.  Almost as though he is saying that we can wear God down and get him to do what we want by just continuing to nag him time and time again.
And yet our experience is that often, even when we persist, our prayers are not answered as we like.
“God always answers prayer,” people say, “it just that sometimes the answer is ‘Yes’, sometimes it is ‘No’, and sometimes it is ‘Not yet.’”
But again, my cynical side struggles with such a response.  How is that any different than not praying at all.
So if we’re sick, and don’t pray, we will either get well, or not, or maybe it will take some more time.
You see those three possibilities cover all the bases. 
And so what difference does prayer make?

Sometimes, the reason that it’s hard to come up with a satisfactory answer is because we are asking the wrong question.
Often, when we ask if prayer works, what we are actually asking  is if I always get what I want when I pray.
The answer to that is quite simple.  “No.”
No, I don’t always get what I want when I pray.  Nobody does. 
But there is something that always happens when we pray.
When we pray, we develop a faithful relationship with our Lord and God.
Prayer is no more about asking God for one thing after another, than a conversation with our spouse is just about getting our own way.
We don’t just talk to our spouse when we want something.
We talk to them because we love them, and that’s what lovers do.
We talk to them because we care for them, and that’s what caring entails.
We talk to them because we enjoy it.
We talk to them because our day is not as good without it.
And sometimes, we simply sit in silence, yet know that they are still there at our side.
That’s the way it is with prayer.
We talk to God because we love him, and care, and enjoy it, and benefit from it.
And sometimes, we simply sit with God in silence, knowing that even then, he is still there.

“3If you then, who are 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 him!”
Here I’m going to tell you what is most important.
If you were confirmation kids taking sermon notes, I say, “Write this down”.  It’s the main point.
Prayer is about the Holy Spirit, not about our getting what we want.
Prayer always involves the Spirit.
Without the Spirit we cannot even so much as say “Our Father.”
And so to pray is to experience in a first hand, concrete way the presence of God’s Spirit in your life.
Sometimes when people pray they talk about “praying in the Spirit”, and by that they mean praying in tongues or other such charismatic practices.
What I’m saying is that all prayer is ‘praying in the Spirit’ because whenever we pray the Spirit is there.
And whenever the Spirit is present in our lives, we are drawn into a relationship with the Father and the Son.
Finally, there is one thing that prayer ALWAYS does.
Prayer always changes us.
I may not be able to change you with my prayers.
I may not be able to change God with my prayers.
But always, I am changed.
As I pray, I will grow and mature in my faith and relationship with God.
It’s that simple.  It will happen.
Every time.
And one of the changes that will take place is that I will develop a sense of gratitude toward God, and an appreciation of all that God’ has done for me.

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