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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Luke 11:1-13

“All Work and All Pray”

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church USA

Sunday, July 29, 2007

[This sermon is a personal revision of PART of a sermon by Rev. Charles Royden, Vicar at St Mark's and Putnoe Heights Churches, Bedford, England. My many thanks to him for sharing his inspiration.]

Last week we talked about Mary and Martha. Martha was “worried and distracted by many things.” We talked about how important it is to do stuff. Especially when the stuff you’re doing is God’s stuff. If you’re like Martha – if you’re cooking dinner for Jesus – or if you’re cooking a casserole to take to someone in need – that’s good stuff. Keep doing it. But not all the time. And not first. Jesus tells Martha that the decent and orderly way to live your life isn’t “work before pleasure,” but “God before you.”

What WAS Jesus teaching Mary as she sat as his feet? The Bible doesn’t say. But it does give us a clue by where the story goes next. Which is what we read today. Maybe Jesus was teaching Mary private lessons about today’s public teaching to the disciples. Maybe after overhearing Jesus teaching Mary to pray, and after watching Jesus disappear into the wilderness to pray, maybe that’s why we get the disciples saying, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

How do you pray? Instead of getting into the content of the prayers, today I want to focus just on the posture of prayer, the personality of our prayers. Before we all go off working for the kingdom, HOW do we all pray? I think that if we can get into the right posture for prayer – the HOW of prayer – I think if we can get the HOW right, the WHAT of prayer will take care of itself.

How do you pray?

Have any of you ever bought or sold something on eBay? Here’s a deep theological concept for you: eBay is not God. You’re thinking, “Good. Didn’t think it was.” eBay is not God – we know that. But do we ever pray as if God is like eBay?

Those of you who’ve used eBay (or any other online store) know how it works. You sit down, hopefully someplace quiet where you can concentrate, log on, then go through all the things you need. You click and make a bid on an auction. And if your bid is high enough, and if the seller is righteous and faithful enough, in a couple of days you kind of magically get delivered to your door whatever it is from the virtual garage sale in the sky.

How do you pray? Are your prayers like bidding on eBay? You figure out what it is you need from God, and then you put in your bid. And if you’re earnest enough, if you’re saavy enough, if you’re rated highly enough – you win. God says, “OK. Here you go.”

Now for a lot of people this is prayer. Sitting down with the shopping list and waiting to see if it arrives. Prayer is essentially asking God for stuff. (And like eBay, a lot of stuff we ask for, if we get it, turns out to be somebody else’s junk that we don’t really need in the first place.)

If we were to superficially scan over today’s scripture, especially verse 9, it sounds as if prayer is about going to God and asking for things. “Ask and it will be given to you; ‘google’ and you will find.”

But that’s not what Jesus is teaching about prayer. Look carefully. In that line about “whatever you ask, God will give,” all Jesus is saying is: God isn’t dishonest. Jesus is saying that when we ask God for good things, God won’t give us bad things. Period.

"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

God is not a trickster. If you ask God for good stuff, God won’t send you bad stuff. Doesn’t mean God won’t send you DIFFERENT stuff. But God won’t send you bad stuff. Which means – in answer to the question, “How do you pray?” the first place to start with prayer is using our brains before we pray to figure out what’s good. And if we can’t say with certainty we know what’s good for us, then how do we pray? We listen. Instead of handing God our shopping list, we listen. And if you listen until you hear, maybe God will tell you what you need. Maybe you’ll start to see the good stuff you already have, hidden away in the attic of your heart. Maybe – after you've tried this a few times - you’ll want to start not by asking, but by listening – and saying “Thank you.” Maybe when Jesus went off into the wilderness to pray, maybe that was all he was doing – listening and saying thank you.

If you’re disappointed with prayer, it’s probably because you were taught prayer is about your wants and your needs. Whoever taught you that set you up for disappointment. Whenever our demands of Jesus start with us and what we’re doing (remember the lesson of Martha and Mary), whenever prayer starts with us and what we want, it’s at the very least biased, and at worst superstitious and self-centered. Prayer that begins with us is at its end unworthy of the pattern of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples.

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. They must have seen his spirit, his rapport with God. So, they said, teach us to pray.

So Jesus taught them,

"When you pray, say: " 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins [or our debts or our trespasses], for we also forgive everyone who sins against us [or owes us debts or steps on our turf ]. And lead us not into temptation [or the time of trial].' "

If you have trouble knowing what to pray, start there. In fact it might be a good experiment to try praying nothing but the words Jesus taught. Try that for a couple of weeks. Whenever you feel yourself getting ready to pray, put your own words aside, and just use the words of Jesus. Try it as an experiment. Not to see how effective Jesus' words are at getting you what you want. But try it to see how Jesus' words mold themselves around your life. Or, more correctly, maybe your life will start molding itself around Jesus.

Prayer isn't just about saying words. Prayer is an attitude of life, a personality of the heart. Prayer is about stirring up the complacency of our lives. It's about putting our wants and our needs at risk. Because the kind of prayer Jesus practiced, the kind of prayer Jesus taught requires the readiness to rest in the presence of God. To try to look at life through Jesus' eyes. To put our days under his sovereign will. To carry that will to those who have a claim on our attention.

Pray as if your life depends on it. Jesus did. The gospels overflow with examples of Jesus getting away and praying so that he could find the strength to do his ministries. Before we all go work, let's all go pray. And let's do it as he taught us, saying...

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.