Friday, March 11, 2016

Hear my Prayers, O God (I Timothy 2:1-8) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A man said to his friend, “I'll bet ten dollars you can't say the Lord's Prayer by heart.”  His friend answered, “I'll take that bet.”  “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  When he finished, there was a pause, his friend shook his head and said, “Well I'll be, you do know it, and handed him the money.”

A young mother in a weak moment asked her 5 year old daughter, “How do you think I'm doing as a mom?”  The daughter thought for a second and said: “Well, you do yell a lot.  I know you've been praying about it, but it just isn't working.”

Is prayer central to your Christian life?   I am convinced that if a Christian is to be spiritually alive, if a Christian is to be joyful, faithful, Spirit filled and Christ centered, one must be continually bathed in prayer.  And likewise, I am convinced that if the Church is to be spiritually alive, if it is to be Spirit filled and Christ centered, it must be continually immersed in prayer.

In the Old Testament, the book of Psalms, which is often called the prayer-book of the Bible, we often hear the psalmists' say:  “Hear my prayer O God, give ear to the words of my mouth.”  The Gospel of Mark says: “And in the morning, a great while before day, Jesus rose and went out to a lonely place and there he prayed.”  Jesus Christ himself demonstrated for his followers, the need for prayer in one's daily life.   Friday, March 4, was the World Day of Prayer.  Men, women and children, in more than 170 countries, celebrated the joy and gift of prayer.

What is prayer?  It's certainly not a science, one definition of science being: “The intellectual and practical activity, encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world, through observation and experiment.”   Thousands of books have been written about prayer and yet prayer remains elusive.  Prayer is shrouded in mystery; we will never fully comprehend it.

Prayer is a gift of God's grace.  Prayer is a spiritual bridge in the divine-human relationship.   Prayer is the soul's approach to God.  Prayer is an encounter with God.  Prayer is communion with God, an intimate meeting with God.  Prayer is conversation with God, one that involves speaking and listening.  Prayer is a both a gift from God and a spiritual discipline for followers of Jesus.

Prayer is the path to a deeper relationship with God and to a deeper knowing of ourselves.  Prayer, transforms our minds, lifts our spirits, and enlivens our hearts.  Prayer is a way for our spirit to get in tune with God's Spirit.  Prayer is possible because we are created in God’s image.   Prayer is an expression of love.  Intercessory prayer is a way of loving and caring for someone, whether for members of your family or friends or strangers.

In the spirit of Lent, Professor Marlene Kroph writes: “In the daily round of life, dust and cobwebs accumulate in our souls.  During the weeks of Lent, God's Spirit is given opportunity to clear away the clutter, sweep away the dust and wash us clean.  We are invited to prepare ourselves—heart, soul, mind, and body—for the new life of Easter.”  Will you give the Holy Spirit through prayer, such an opportunity?

I believe prayer is the highest activity of the human spirit.  No, as I've said, we will never fully understand the nature of prayer, but should that keep us from praying?  We have a brain which we don't fully understand, but that doesn’t stop us from thinking.  We have emotions which we don’t fully understand, but that doesn’t stop us from feeling.    We have a soul we don't fully understand, but that shouldn't stop us from praying.  No, we don't always feel like praying, but that's just the time we need prayer more than ever.

There is a dialectical tension inherent in prayer.  Prayer expresses God's Spirit in us and at the same time it's an expression of our spirit.  Prayer builds faith in God and expresses one’s faith in God.   Prayer transforms our minds, feeds our souls, and enlivens our hearts.  Prayer empowers the church in its ministry and mission and influences lives and events around us.  We pray prayers of petition or supplication for ourselves and prayers of intercession for others.

In our lesson in I Timothy, we read:  “I urge you, first of all, then, that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”

It's amazing!  It's incredible!  One way that God accomplishes His will and purpose in this world is through the faithful prayers of His people, your prayers and mine.  God has chosen you and me to be living channels for changing lives through our prayers.  How this exactly works, how its accomplished is a mystery because of our limited understanding.  Yet scripture urges us to pray for ourselves and for others.

I Timothy is a shocking passage, why, because Kings refers to the enemy, Caesar, the Roman Emperor.   It refers to the Roman government, to the Roman Senate, to the high priests in the Sanhedrin, the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem, to Jewish kings in Israel, like Antipas and Agrippa, to powerful persons in Israel and Rome.

This passage is astounding because Nero, a cruel and brutal ruler, was the Emperor at this time.  Nero blamed Christians for Rome’s problems and persecuted them.  He made Christians the scapegoat for the fire that destroyed much of Rome in A.D. 64.  Nero denied Christians any rights, executed, imprisoned, and forced Christians to fight animals in the arena.  And yet, despite this fact, here is a request to pray for kings and people in powerful positions.  The word of God says just do it.

What a privilege to pray for our nation, for our government, from San Diego city hall to the White House, for our businesses, our courts, our schools and teachers, our hospitals, our doctors and nurses, our police and firefighters, our prisons, our neighborhoods, and yes, for our churches.  Our nation needs prayer.

Let us pray for President Obama, for Vice President Biden, for Congress, for the Supreme Court.  Let us pray for our military men and women and their families and our allies in our battle against terrorism.  Let us pray for innocent civilians of terrorist attacks in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, America and other nations.  Let us pray for Republicans, Independents and Democrats, now I know that here I may be pushing it.  Let us pray for our presidential candidates.  Let us pray for immigrants in our world, legal and illegal.   And yes, as Jesus commanded, as difficult as it is, as counterintuitive as it is, let us pray for our enemies.  Jesus said:  “For if you love only those who love you, what reward do you have?”

Our Scripture passage also urges us to voice prayers of thanksgiving for our lives, for this nation and our rights, and freedoms and blessings.  Let us pray prayers of thanksgiving for our religious and political liberty and economic opportunity.

Why pray? I Timothy says:  “So we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness and because such prayers are good and please God who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Intercessory prayer is made possible because of Christ’s Spirit in our lives.  Yes, our prayers sometimes feel futile, like we are praying in vain, but we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our intercessor.   I Timothy says: “There is one mediator between God and humankind, Jesus Christ, who gave himself a ransom for all.”  Scripture says Christ's Spirit intercedes with our spirit and gives us the power to pray even when we feel powerless.

Let us pray because Christ commands us to pray, because prayer is an act of love, because prayer is a gift of grace, and because prayer makes all the difference.     Amen.

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