Luke 11:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If 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!”
Prayer – confounded and confounding; wonderful and disappointing; mysterious and discouraging. Prayer: Who needs it? What is it? What are our expectations? This is a very complex topic.
It has been fascinating to me that as I began thinking of this sermon, I had more people – strangers – come to my door not only asking for assistance but more significantly – to pray for them or for a situation – as if I have a more direct line to God than they do. But I am always glad to do so.
And when you start looking there are plenty of stories about prayer that abound: “A mother sent her fifth grade boy up to bed. In a few minutes she went to make sure that he was getting in bed when she stuck her head into his room, she saw that he was kneeling beside his bed in prayer. Pausing to listen to his prayers, she heard her son praying over and over again, ‘Let it be Tokyo! Please dear God, let it be Tokyo!’ When he finished his prayers, she asked him, ‘What did you mean, ‘Let it be Tokyo’?’ ‘Oh,’ the boy said with embarrassment, ‘we had our geography exam today and I was praying that God would make Tokyo the capital of France’.”
Of this story, Robert Allen wrote: “Prayer is not a magical means by which we get God to do what we want. Prayer is an inner openness to God which allows [God’s] divine power to be released in us. Ultimately, the power of prayer is not that we succeed in changing God, but that God succeeds in changing us.” (Robert L. Allen, Greatest Passages of the Bible, CSS Pub. Co)
Another story: “Pastor Tom Rietveld tells an interesting true story about prayer. He says that when he was pastoring in Missouri his church needed approximately $10,000 beyond what they were able to give to close out the year. And so, Pastor Rietveld asked the church family and their church leaders to pray for that amount, specifically – $10,000. Unexpectedly, a few weeks before the end of the year, a gift came in the mail. It was for several shares of stock worth $5,000. Pastor Rietveld put out the word that God had supplied half of what they needed, and they now needed to pray for $5,000 more to meet their needs.
Their church board was to meet the next week regarding the gift of the stock as they were the only ones who could give approval to sell the stock. But a snow storm hit and snowed them all in, and delayed their meeting for a week. When they finally met they approved the sale of the stock. So the next day Pastor Tom went to a broker to sell the stock. But in the meantime, says Pastor Tom, God did God’s work. During the delay from when they were given the stock and when they finally could sell the stock, it had doubled in value, and was worth $10,000. Says Pastor Tom, ‘God had specifically taken care to the specific need we brought to God.” (sermons.com)
Oh okay, my skepticism is showing – God manipulating the stock market just so the church could break even that year. But yes, I have seen some of these miracles as well and cannot discount them. So, I think the deeper question is: “Why do some people pray and live what seems to be charmed lives while other people, good and decent people, pray, but just can’t seem to get a break? Even more importantly, with as many people praying for our world, why does it seem sometimes that things are getting worse, not better? Things like praying for the safety and well-being of the immigrant or the sick, or homeless or hungry. Praying for a better situation for someone we love or praying for world leaders to rule by the Golden Rule. Does God not hear? Speculation about prayer can often leave us with more questions than answers. (sermons.com)
“Some years ago, when Leonard Griffith was pastor of City Temple in London, he wrote a book entitled Barriers to Christian Belief. In that book he dealt with some problems that have over the years been real obstacles and stumbling blocks for people in their faith pilgrimage … specific problems that hinder people, that burden people, that disturb people . . . and keep them away from the Christian faith. One of the barriers he listed was . . . ‘unanswered prayer’.” It does seem to be a fact of our experience that many people do get discouraged and they up and drop out of church and lose faith because they feel a sense of failure in their prayer life. How can God allow these awful things to happen to my good friend, Mary? How could God allow the atrocities in the world to happen? Sometimes they may also feel they are just not worthy of being heard by God so they stop praying.
Griffith wrote: “One thing is clear. There are many questions and there is much misunderstanding about how you pray and why. Prayer must be more than an emergency magical lamp rubbed in a crisis. The truth is that many people give up on prayer because they never understand what prayer is. Much that passes for prayer is irrational, superstitious, and self-centered, and is therefore unworthy of the pattern of the prayer that Jesus offered to us his disciples.”(sermons.com)
“After Jesus finished praying in a certain place, one of his disciples requests spiritual guidance. Jesus responds by offering them what came to be known as the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, this is the only [guidance to] prayer that Jesus gives. It is [a] model. Kenyatta Gilbert writes: “In its words of petition, we get a glimpse of an alternative reality, what it means to participate with God in repairing the severed lines of communication between creature and Creator. Luke’s Jesus is a sage and prayer teacher who provides wisdom for finding safe haven in an unsafe world.
In this prayer there are ‘no appeals for divine favor’, what we have in Luke’s record are five requests for God to act. Every petition in the Lord’s Prayer is a request for nearness.” Prayer is primarily about relationship. Abba, Jesus said translates more easily to Daddy than Father, is about a personal relationship. The five requests of the prayer Jesus taught are: “1. Teach us to pray so we can know we are not alone in this world, 2. give us food daily for our bodies, 3. embrace us so we might know we have been forgiven, and 4. let your kingdom come, let it come as near as it is out of our reach. These are all requests for real presence except the final petition: 5. Let no trial come our way. Do not bring us into the time of trial.”
Gilbert notes that: “the Lord’s Prayer is not some perfunctory prayer for the faint at heart. If we carefully consider this prayer, we discover that persistence – asking, seeking, knocking – gets rewarded with the gift of divine compassion.” Even though we may not always recognize the answers or responses. (Kenyatta Gilbert, Preaching the Word. Sojourners. July, 2019.)
| Benjamin Spalink asked: “Does God really always answer our prayers? That’s what is taught in Sunday school anyway, but it doesn’t always feel like it. As we grow older, we realize that things don’t always work out the way we had hoped. This shouldn’t cause us to give up on prayer, or worse, give up on God. The truth is that God always answers prayer, but in order to see how, we must have an open mind and an open heart.
There are two ways ‘unanswered’ prayers can turn out – one is coherently, and the other is mysteriously. There are times when God doesn’t answer a prayer the way we want and we will never know why. Something terrible is about to happen and we pray against it, but it happens anyway, and there is no possible human way to reconcile why God might have allowed it to happen. This does happen. But experience tells me that this is rare, and usually our disappointment or disillusionment is the beginning of something more.”
Spalink suggests: “What we must be willing to consider is that we have a tendency to miss out on the ways God is answering our prayers. If we allow disappointment with God to lead us to the conclusion that God doesn’t care, or that God doesn’t answer our prayers, we miss a tremendous growth opportunity as well as an opportunity to see God move in response to our prayers. There are numerous ways this can work out, but consider just a couple possibilities.
First, God could be saying, ‘Yes, but wait.’ In many instances, God is answering our prayer, just not at the speed that we may want. God has reasons and sometimes it is for our benefit that we are made to wait. Imagine what our relationship with God would look like if prayer took no effort and God simply gave us whatever we asked for whenever we asked for it. (All we have to do is think of children who are spoiled in such a way.) God is no genie in a bottle.
Sometimes, God is saying, ‘Yes, but not like that.’ We can never be too careful about putting parameters on God for how God will work and answer our prayers. It’s not up to us to determine how God will fulfill our prayers. God has a way of doing things, and we hurt only ourselves if we insist upon God doing something a certain way.” We really cannot and do not know the mind of God. If we are open-minded about how God answers our prayers, we will be delighted to see that God oftentimes does answer prayers we thought had been unanswered.” That has happened in my life and more than likely in yours, as well.
Spalink continues: “To be realistic, God also says, ‘no.’ But, God’s ‘no’ more likely reflects: ‘I have something better in mind.’ It’s important to remember, that a ‘no’ is not the same as an unanswered prayer. An unanswered prayer would be one in which you got no response. Think of “no’s” as good. Be thankful you got a response. But also remember, part of the whole reason we pray is to discern God’s will. A ‘no’ shouldn’t be taken as God not caring, or God ignoring you [or rejecting you]. A ‘no’ means that God has something else in mind, and God is always going to do what’s in your best interest. We must learn to trust that and use even the hard experiences of ‘no’ to guide us more fully into the life that God has for us.” Benjamin Spalink, Unanswered Prayers and the Dialectic of Disappointment with God, July 17, 2012. sermon.com)
“Remember that God wants us to lift up prayers for all things. It is inevitable that we will pray prayers that leave us feeling disappointed, but remembering that God is a loving Parent who wants to give good things to us, God’s beloved, God’s own children. [It is important to not] allow disappointment with God to lead to unbelief or giving up on prayer, but must allow this suffering [struggling] to make us stronger and ever more reliant on God’s grace and love. [Remember] The ultimate goal of prayer is not that we get everything we want, but that we grow to realize more and more that our life, our joy, our satisfaction, our essence, is found in our [deepening and ongoing] relationship with God. Even in disappointment, God is showing us how to pray and what to become.” (sermon.com)
Prayer, ultimately, is about continuing to grow in our relationship with God. So, if you think ‘I don’t feel God’ – then continue to pray. If you feel angry toward God – then continue to pray. If you feel disappointed with God – then continue to pray. If you are overwhelmingly grateful – then continue to pray. We are called to continue to work at our own relationship with God – 24/7.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a very complex topic, but it is also very simple. Meister Eckhart wrote: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Paul Bane wrote: “Silence is one of the purest forms of worship and prayer.” (Paul Bane, Patheos.com. 8-2-2018).
And from our bulletin cover: “Dear Lord, I can’t find the right words. Can you please just listen through my heart?” And from Anne Lamotte my favorite prayer: HELP HELP HELP!
And really, there are no magic words or formulas. There is no one right way to hold your hands. It doesn’t matter if you are kneeling or standing or sitting or if your head is on your pillow, or if your eyes are open or closed.
Prayer is the intent to place ourselves in the awareness of God’s real and a faithful presence in all our moments. And the reality is that God is always with us – always. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019