Gimme This

I’m not a preacher, but when I was an elder at Tyre Reformed Church, I was pressed into pulpit service. I came across this the other day and thought I would share it. It’s longer than usual {after all, it is a homily}. Here goes …

I don’t know how I get myself into these things. I just casually say something and the next thing you know I’m behind the pulpit. As I’ve said before, I’m not a preacher, but as I prepared for today, I was reminded of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. And, I, brethren when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not without enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God … (I Corinthians 2:1-5)

It’s that power which I will try to bring today.

In one of Chevy Chase’s films, Funny Farm, he gives up his reporting job to write the great American novel … a dream many writers have. So he secures an advance, sells his house and moves to the country with his wife to live out his dream. Like many dreams, and in only Chevy Chase fashion, the experience turns into a nightmare.

As a journalist, it’s not uncommon to sit and stare at a blank piece of paper. Well, actually, today, it’s not uncommon to sit and stare at a blank screen. As you try to prioritize your facts and intersperse your quotes and develop a storyline, the task is sometimes overwhelming. Add to that the pressures of a  deadline and it’s not hard to see why there are so many ex-journalists in the world.

Over the years, I’ve had more than my share of times when I just couldn’t get started. Before the days of computers, I had my share of overfilled waste baskets containing crumpled up leads and rewrites. To this day, the most used key on the keyboard is the delete key.

In those times, I often sit back, fold my arms, close my eyes and enjoy the quietness of my soul. I let the God given thoughts emerge from the cacophony of ideas rolling around in my brain. I unleash the power of the Spirit.

Not everything I write is good. In fact, most of what I write isn’t good. But it comes not from heart but from the soul. You see, long ago and far away I committed my life to Christ. And my only desire was to have His light shine … Through the years, often that light was shaded or shunted or downright hidden. But the commitment was to Christ and He will not be denied.

That’s the convention I used in preparing this text. Over the past couple of weeks, I have had literally hundreds of ideas on what to say and how to phrase it. But when it came down to making those words permanent, I was staring at a blank screen. Thus, with eyes closed and arms folded, these words emanate from my soul … and I believe they are Spirit-driven.

I share this because I am going to take a different tact in discussing the power of prayer.

Most of us can rattle off reasons why we pray. In fact, let’s make this an interactive discussion. You guys help me out. Why do we pray?

Worship/Praise

Healing

To Lift Other Believers Up

For Our Families, Friends, Neighbors, Country, World

Now comes the harder question. Listen to this with me and see if you see anything familiar as I ask, How do we pray?

How do we pray?

I don’t know about you, but I heard the word “me” an awful lot. What’s worse, I saw “me” an awful lot in that song.

The song struck me a couple weeks ago serendipitously. As I was heading to the printers, I grabbed a couple of tapes to listen to and this ditty was among them. I didn’t choose it consciously … but I listened to it over and over and over.

Please, please, please listen. There are a couple of points I am about to make that may sound wrong. But they are not. They are not heretical but come straight from our only source {as  I held up a bible).

With that caveat, here goes.

We like to think of the power of prayer in terms of success stories. There is the old tale of the missionary and his helpers who were forced to camp out in the open on a hill. They carried money and were afraid of an attack. After prayer, they went to sleep. Months later, a brigand chief was brought to the mission hospital. He remembered the missionary and asked him where his guards were, especially those who were with him that night he was on a hill in the open, ready to be plundered. “We intended to rob you,” the chief said, “but we were afraid of the 27 soldiers.” When the story was told in the homeland, a member of the congregation remembered it vividly. “We had a prayer meeting that night,” he reported, “and there were just 27 of us present.”

That’s the success story. Others recall miraculous events and even cures. The one I like to latch onto is Mary’s simple request of Jesus, as reported in the Gospel of John. On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage with His disciples. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine. “And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Now six stones were standing there, for the Jewish rite of purification, each holding 20 or 30 gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them to the brim. “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him (John 2:1-11).

The story always intrigued me for a number of reasons. First it was a reminder anyone can come to Christ in prayer — like Mary did — and Christ can answer. But there’s a deeper part. Mary didn’t know what to expect. She made a request … a petition … and turned it over to her Son.

The story tells of the power of petitional and intercessory prayer. But it is still not the power I’m after.

Unfortunately, we don’t see the burning bush or hear the voice of God. If we’re lucky, we can see the power of the Almighty in everyday life. But often, what we see are prayers that appear to be unanswered.

When preparing this text, I went to Nave’s on prayer. Surprisingly, there are a number of Scripture references to answers withheld, answers delayed and answers much different than requested. Even Jesus Himself had a prayer withheld. My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt (Matthew 26:27-28); Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt (Mark 14:35); Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Thine be done (Luke 22:42); Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say, “Father, save Me from this hour?” No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. (John 12:27). The psalmist David penned, My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning (Psalm 22:1).

We’ve all had similar experiences. We’ve gotten on our knees in sorrow or agony and asked for deliverance. We’ve prayed for the sick and dying. We’ve prayed for health, wealth and guidance. We’ve prayed … We’ve prayed … We’ve prayed … and often things have gone from bad to worse. The sick die. The roof collapses. Our world is tossed and overturned. Just like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, we pray and get punched in the nose.

It doesn’t make sense. Why would this loving God turn His back on us just when we need Him most?

Did you catch that last sentence?

Let me repeat it. Why would this loving God turn His back on us just when we need Him most?

The two words I call your attention to are “us” and “we”. And that’s what we tend to do … use those words — and others like “I” and “me” in our prayer life. We expect God to drop everything and solve our problems. We expect Him to alter His plan to suit us. Like Frankenstein, the creation somehow “thinks” it is more important than the creator.

Using the censored version, I submit to you, “Stuff happens.” There is an order in life … a God-created order. There are consequences in life … human-ordered consequences. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we are going to get sick. There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven … (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

So again I come to the basic question, why pray at all? What good is it if “stuff happens”? If God has a predetermined plan? If our natural tendencies lead to natural consequences? Why pray at all?

First and foremost, I think, is because we are told to. Repeatedly in Scripture we are told to pray … Seek the Lord and His strength … Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near … Pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly … Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you … Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit … Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus …

God can change things and events. God does change things and events. He does it not because of us; but rather in spite of us. We have to learn — as Jacob did, as Moses did, as Job did, as Paul did — to let God be God. He cannot be judged by human standards. What is needed is a God greater than any of us can imagine. We need that today when evolution is suggested as a substitute for the Almighty, when men are frightened out of their dignity by interstellar space, when the world’s evil piles so high nothing human or divine seems a match for it — not another god, nor even a greater God.

So difficult and dangerous is it, where God’s “answers” are concerned, to make any attempt at identification. The pattern of life is far too complex and ambiguous for any man to go about lugging with him a faith which never grows up, has to be bundled tightly in God’s “answers” to his questions and God’s “answers” to his prayers, cannot be set down to stand on its feet in the hurly-burly of a world where success may be a curse and failure a benediction. God does answer. He answers in His own strange way and He answers in love. Life — not an argument — provides God with His most effective means of self-revelation.

So what’s the power of prayer?

It’s a connection, a conduit if you will, from this realm — a mere speck in the timeline of eternity — to the next. Prayer, I’m convinced, is not for God’s benefit. It’s for ours. It is our way of seeking something we don’t understand. And therein lies its power.

It isn’t our words. God knew them before we even though them. It isn’t our actions. God knows them before we do. Yet, we continue to pray.

I don’t think we should ever be presumptuous enough to tell God what to do. We do it, though. If we truly, truly want to tap into the power of prayer, we have to take the lead from Jesus Himself. I touched on it before. My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt … Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt … Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Thine be done

Thy will be done. That should be the catchphrase in our prayers. That’s the power in the words. That’s the faith that stands — stands in the peace of remembered good; in the confidence that back of all life’s riddles there is meaning; that over all its evil there is God.

If what we see in life is monstrous, hate not love, ugliness not beauty, gloom not gladness, the chances are we are staring at a mirror of our own image. It is not just life around us, it is the life within us that needs a cleansing, healing touch. Just like Scrooge, Christmas didn’t change, he did. That’s the power of prayer.

And its a lack of prayer which stifles this power. If you are a stranger to prayer, you are a stranger to power. It provides an estrangement from God that throws us off center, drives us inward upon ourselves and our own abilities or lack of abilities, narrows our horizons and cuts off the view. A fear is no sooner feared than it becomes fact.

God sees us as His creation, able not to resist His might, but His love. Quarrels cannot be stopped until men are ready to stop them. People cannot be made good until they want to be made good. The wickedness of evil lives cannot be kept from spilling over and hurting the innocent, or airplanes from dropping bombs on children or shells from bursting and killing somebody we love. God’s glory is not so much shown in a devouring fire on the top of the mount, but, as Luke records, in the compassion that made its way down a steep hill towards a city and wept.

When God is invited He enters into a man’s solitude as a companion and a bearer of the burden. But we have to ask Him in. That’s the power of prayer … the conscious recognition there is something, Someone higher than us is in control.

In my Catholic upbringing, prayers played a key role in my life. Although the repetitiveness of prayer often loses its impact, it is the consistency of prayer that leads to an infusion of prayer into everyday life. You’ve seen the sign of the cross. Again, much of the symbolism is lost through rote practice, but it was designed in those days before the written Word, before mass education, to bring people to the realization of the Trinity … In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. In its own way, it’s a simple, elemental prayer.

That infusion into everyday life is the power of prayer. It keeps faith alive. True happiness consists in having someone to love, something to do and something to hope for.

But perhaps the biggest power of prayer — real prayer directed at acknowledging the giver — is the unexpected rewards. Mary told Jesus about the plight of the wedding party and Jesus responded by changing water into fine wine. Martha and Mary asked Jesus to come heal their brother Lazarus; Jesus delayed, Lazarus died but when Jesus came, He raised Lazarus from the dead. Paul asked for a thorn in the flesh be removed; the answer was a promise of grace to endure it.

Francis of Assisi figured it out. “Lord, make me a channel of Thy peace. That where there is hatred, I may bring love; that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness; that where there is discord, I may bring harmony; that where there is error, I may bring truth; that where there is doubt, I may bring faith; that where there is despair, I may bring hope; that where there are shadows, I may bring light; that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted; to understand than to be understood; to love than to be loved. For it is by giving that one receives, it is by self-forgetting that one finds, it is by forgiving that one is forgiven and it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.”

Friends, don’t tell God what to do. Forget the “gimmes.”

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: It’s great to go to church and celebrate God’s goodness, But your work continues when you step outside.

Advertisements

About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
This entry was posted in Faith, prayer and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Gimme This

  1. TamrahJo says:

    Excellent points – I pray/meditate/ponder to feel the connection that calms me and allows me to see options or solutions I can’t see when I’m scared and stressed.
    I pray to dip into the well of courage via the promise, “that which does not kill me will make me stronger”
    I pray to gain better understanding of what there is in front of me to do, that I can do, and what should be turned over to the Universe or others, because my meddling will only make it worse.

    Thanks for your post – reading it and others like it are another exercise I do to stay connected – –
    I really enjoyed this one

  2. Pingback: Five Minute Friday — Want | Father Says…

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s