Sunday, October 20, 2019

Let us pray ...

Luke 18:1-8



Jesus told a story: There once was a widow who pestered a judge to give her justice. But he didn’t want to listen to her. Maybe he was friends with the person who was hurting her, so he kept telling her no. And she kept telling him she needed him to say yes. It seems she approached him every day while he was at work. But the text gives us the impression that she was constantly bothering him, so it may have looked more like this: 

She was nagging him so much, he was afraid she would give him a black eye. To get rid of her, the judge granted her petition. Jesus tells the disciples they should pray persistently, like this woman.


Based on this story, it is tempting to think that this is how we should pray, that we need to constantly beg God because God doesn’t want to answer us. But God is not like the judge in the parable. God wants to give us what we need. But that doesn’t mean God says yes to every prayer.

Do you remember the movie Bruce Almighty? God gave Bruce some divine powers, and he had to figure out how to use them. He discovered that there were so many incoming prayers he couldn’t manage them all. So he set up an email automatic response to say yes to every prayer. What happened? It was a disaster! Competing prayers made for chaos. Imagine if your prayers conflict with the prayers of someone else:


For example, Suzy wants to go to the Prom with Jake, but so does Nancy. When the answer to both prayers is ‘yes’, Jake finds himself with two dates to the dance. And he really wanted to ask Betty to go with him. … And, Mack wants rain for his crops, but Bob and Mary want a clear day for their wedding.


Imagine how hard it must be for God to sort out all the options. It would take a massive spreadsheet to take in the millions of intersecting individual requests. Rather, I assume that God prefers to let us manage the small stuff, while God focuses on changing hearts to bring us closer to Godself. This is what God is good at, having a relationship with each of us through prayer.


I find it helpful to think of prayer the way Anne Lamotte does in her book Help, Thanks, Wow. Anne calls these the three essential prayers. I have always liked her honest approach to connecting with God.  She makes the complex seem simple, and doable. Anne came to faith the hard way, and now that she has faith, she writes and speaks to help others find faith also.


In our prayers for help, sometimes we are on our knees. We need healing, for ourselves or a loved one. We need help with broken relationships. We need help with paying our bills or finding a job or moving to a new place. We have messed up our lives and we need to confess and be forgiven. We need help forgiving someone who hurt us.


Sometimes we focus on a long list of needs of our friends and friends of friends. It is important to lift up our prayers to God on behalf of those in need. I believe it is true that with many people lifting prayers to God on behalf of a loved one, healing does happen, for some people.


I believe we have seen such healing here and in the lives of friends and family members around the world. Do we really need to name every person, every time we pray? Personally, I think God already knows who is on our prayer list. Still, most days, I lift up a few people with special needs for prayer. Sarah, Beth, Louis, Haddon.   


We don’t as often say Thanks, God. But we should. Decades ago, Oprah Winfrey started a movement, with the suggestion of having a gratitude journal. Each evening, write down five things for which you are grateful. I remember she said that if we were really stuck, we could include ‘still breathing’ as one of the five.


Just as we are taught as children to use our manners, saying please and thank you to God is important. Saying thank you reminds us that everything we have comes from God. We can say thank you to God for so many things, for family and friends, for a place to live, for enough to eat, for a variety of clothes.  


 Some days, I even say thank you to God for waking me up, since I get to enjoy another God-given day. And, we can say thanks to God for our church family. The amazing thing is how large our church family is. Many of us have belonged to a number of faith communities and have church family in many parts of the country or even the world.


One of my faith communities was a group of Women of the ELCA Synodical Presidents. They were an extended support group when I was going through my divorce. I had pray-ers all over the country, and I still give thanks for them.


Sometimes we remember to say Wow. When a baby is born, when we see something beautiful, when something unexpected delights us. When we say wow, we recognize that there is something wonderful about the world around us.


The other day, when I got home, Mike was standing with his camera, focused on an insect on the plant near our yard light. The critter had blue wings with white spots, and a very red end of its body. It turns out it was a polka dot wasp moth. The red made me think it would give a nasty sting, but it turns out it was just a moth, so the red was a false alarm. When I read about this bug, I said, Wow!


These three prayers, Help, Thanks, and Wow, are ways for talking to God. We forget that we need to shut up and listen to God as well. A true conversation goes both ways. Sometimes, God gives us signs, making things happen that cause us to listen.


We narrowly miss another car while driving. A medical test is a false positive. A gift of cash comes in the mail to help us pay a bill. For others, it is more a sense that something is missing. And we pause, and sit still for a few minutes. Maybe we feel a sense of peace, or simply the assurance that all will be well. Those who practice silence with God discover a better sense of who God is.


It’s important in our relationship with God to stop talking, and instead, listen to and for God. One way to do this is: read a Bible passage or story several times. What word or phrase catches your attention? Why? What does it say about God? What does it say about you? Thank God for spending time with you.


Or, simply sit with God. Take your morning coffee or tea, find a comfortable, quiet spot, and sit. Imagine Jesus in the chair next to you. Hold Jesus’ hand and sit together in silence. Even if you manage only a minute or two, Jesus will be glad you were there with him.


We may believe we need to pester God, nag God, to get what we think we need. But, in truth, God already knows what we need. Through prayer, we learn about what God wants for us.