Lent Wednesday 1–Prayer
March 12, 2014
Psalm 28, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, Matthew 6:7-13
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Imagine a family where the parents and children never talk. The father gives long pronouncements on how the children should act, but never asks about what’s going on in their lives. The children, in turn, only talk to the father when they need to borrow the car keys or want a new cell phone. It’s not a very healthy family, is it? The relationships between the father and the children are pretty weak. The father doesn’t know what’s going on in his children’s lives, and the children know even less about their father. They may love one another, but when trouble strikes, it’s going to be very hard for them to work together as a family. And even when times are good, it will be very easy for them to drift apart without even realizing it because there just isn’t that much holding them together.
For many people, that’s what their relationship with God is like. They’ll sometimes listen to God’s Word in worship, but they don’t really respond to it, and their prayers are mainly a laundry list of what they want or need in their life. If they’re generous, they’ll pray for other people’s needs, too. And if God is listening to their prayer, he’ll respond by granting their wishes. If God doesn’t respond, then he must not be listening. When you think about it, this kind of an attitude reduces God to one big vending machine up in the sky: you punch in the combination for what you want, and he gives it to you. It’s not about building a relationship; it’s not about walking with God through the joys and sorrows of life, it’s about getting God to give you stuff.
But listen to the words from our reading from First Thessalonians. Paul is concluding his letter with a bunch of general advice on how to be a Christian community. There’s lots of stuff about how to build right relationships—respect the leaders, help the weak, always seek to do good to one another, greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss: it’s all about relationships. And prayer is part of that! “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Instead of just giving God a laundry list of things that need fixing, thank God for what you have, and rejoice with God and your fellow Christians. And pray without ceasing—in other words, prayer isn’t just something you do right before bed and when things are truly dire, prayer is part of every breath you take and everything you do.
Consider the Lord’s prayer, the model of how to pray that Jesus gave to his disciples. We recite it every week in church. Think of it like a framework for prayer. You start off with the address—hey, God, how are you? And, by the way, the word Jesus uses, it’s not a formal word like “Father.” It’s more like “Daddy.” It’s not about calling on some distant father-figure, but rather about a close and loving relationship. Then you move on to talking about God’s kingdom and God’s will—basically, what God is doing in the world. Then you move on to your own concerns, not just what you want but everything that’s going on in your life—your need for daily necessities, the times you’ve messed up, the times you’ve done good, the concerns you have about your life, the temptations and the evils. Then you bring the focus back around to God for a little bit, before ending the prayer. When you think about it, it’s a lot like a conversation. If you recorded one end of a conversation over the phone, it would probably sound a lot like that.
How many of you have seen the musical Fiddler on the Roof? It’s a movie about a devout Russian Jew named Tevye and his family. Tevye narrates the story partly through his conversations with God. God doesn’t answer back verbally; there’s no dramatic voice from heaven. But Tevye keeps up a constant stream of commentary: what he’s thinking, his joys, his hopes, his fears. All directed towards God. Of course, God knows what’s in Tevye’s heart already … but speaking those things to God helps Tevye build a relationship with God. It is definitely a relationship. Tevye may not always understand why God allows some things to happen, but Tevye knows God intimately and has confidence that God knows him just as well. God isn’t just an afterthought of Tevye’s routine, or a vending machine to be manipulated. God is a real presence in Tevye’s life, because Tevye is paying attention to God, and Tevye has confidence that God is listening whether Tevye’s requests are answered or not. Tevye is sharing all of his burdens and joys with God, and in so doing he leaves space for God to be in his life. And it doesn’t just affect Tevye; Tevye’s faith and love ripple out through his family and his community.
What would it be like if we all prayed that way, without ceasing, confident that God listens to us? If we truly brought all our joys and hopes and fears and concerns before God, and not just our requests? If we built a relationship instead of just treating God like a vending machine? I think our faith would be stronger, and our love for God and one another would be stronger, too. I pray that we may all learn to pray as Jesus taught us.