As I try to imagine what I should write about, I consider the state of the world, and particularly the state of the members of our congregation. Every single one of us has our own burdens to bear. Some of us are ill, hearing diagnoses that terrify and stagger the imagination. Some of us are dealing with on-going issues of health that are not so urgent, and yet are frustrating and gnaw on us relentlessly. Yet others watch loved ones facing immanent difficulties, elderly parents, surgeries, long-standing heartbreaks that simply refuse to recede into the background and stay there. And most of us think about the troubles of one another and long for something that we can do to make the burdens easier to bear.
The one thing we need most fiercely is comfort. We need to decompress our own worries and fears, and we need something that we can hand to one another that makes things easier to bear for another day. Having started at the top of the page, it would not require a great deal of psychic ability to know where I am going with this. We have been given the means to that comfort: Prayer.
Of course, to get prayer to work requires a couple of things. First, it requires that one prays. Second, it requires that you believe what the Scriptures teach about prayer. Thirdly, it requires trust in God grounded in the Gospel itself. Only one of those things is entirely in our power - and that is the part where we actually get down to praying.
You would think that would be the easy part, wouldn't you? Everyone is capable of prayer, and lots of people do it. People who don't have the faintest notion of who God is or what they are doing in prayer take the time and seemingly expend the energy to pray [so-called]. Studies have been published showing the medical and psychological benefits of prayer - for whomever, without regard to their religion or religiousness! Most every religion has some sort of ritual to deal with prayer. There are prayer wheels, prayer coins, prayer beads, and special "helps" for prayer like special clothes, rugs, incense, and music to accompany prayer, to make it more effective, or to focus the mind, or to accompany the prayer on its journey to the deity. Praying should be the least of our worries.
And yet, many Christians have trouble praying, trouble taking the time, or trouble actually getting down to it. God put it this way (through James), "You do not have because you do not ask". Some Christians report that they "do not want to bother God with all this little stuff". Mind you, God has invited and, yes, commanded us to pray - and promised to hear us. He wants us to call upon Him. Jesus tells us that our heavenly Father will listen to our prayers and answer them simply because He loves us - and He loves us because we believe in Jesus! Imagine that! God covets [earnestly desires] our prayers! But we sometimes think that we are too much of a bother. How silly!
Some state that they don't pray as they ought because they are so busy, and fail to take time for prayer. That sounds to me like needing money, having a rich relative who has indicated that he (or she) is willing to just give you some money whenever you need a little, and being too busy to go and ask -- or being sick, and having the medicine you need to recover and not die, and being too busy to bother taking it. Once again, silly.
Then there are those who offer the excuse that they forget to pray. I could use the 'silly' word again, but, in reality I don't really mean "silly", I mean something far less flattering. Each of these - and any other excuses one might suggest - indicate unbelief. It doesn't mean absolute and total unbelief, but what else could account for having the privilege of talking directly to the Creator of all that exists and who is omnipotent (all-powerful, can do anything and everything)?
The lack of faith may be about God's desire to hear our prayers , or His promise to answer each and every one. It might rest in our experience of praying, and not noticing the sort of response to our prayer that we were hoping for. Perhaps God is a comfortable fiction in our minds that allows us to deal with life, but from whom we expect nothing real. We might even think that we are not all that important. You know, God has better and more urgent things to attend to.
If the unbeliever and the pagan can pray, having no such promises and not a single solid reason to expect anything in return for their prayer. We who know God - who have been claimed by Him, and called by name, and made members of His family, certainly should be ready and willing to pray. After all, God did invite us to call upon Him - in both the Old and the New Testaments. Psalm 50:15: "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me." I mentioned the words of Jesus above from John 16:27, and we can go to 1 Peter 5:7, "Cast all you cares upon Him for He cares for you.", or 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing", or James 5:16, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much."
For the Christian, who is the child of God (and who alone is the child of God), prayer is like exhaling. We 'breathe in' the Word of God and we breathe out in prayer, talking with Him who is our Life and our Strength and our Joy and our Salvation. He talks to us through His Word in preaching and in our reading of Scriptures, and we talk to Him in our prayers. We tell Him how life looks and feels, and what we desire and need and hope for - both those spiritual blessings that we can be utterly assured of by reason of the cross of Jesus Christ, and those temporal blessings of this world about which we do not always know His will, and so we pray with the single condition that our prayers be granted only if it is also His will; Thy Will Be Done.
We can be bold to pray - fearless even - because we know how deep His love is for us, and how far He is willing to go on our behalf. We can dare to ask anything (except, of course, for blessings on sin) because we know that He will not do that which will truly hurt us. We can cry to Him. We can laugh with Him. We can counsel with Him. Instead of paying someone to sit silently by while we expose our soul and talk about our deepest urges and hurts, we can talk to God. He listens well, and rarely interrupts. He has heard everything before, so we cannot shock Him. He knows you better than you know yourself, so you will not tell Him something about yourself that He cannot deal with. And He can actually do something to fix things.
He can influence the world around you. He can give you blessings in the world. He can even repair what is broken inside of you, even down deep in the inner recesses of your mind. He can do it quickly, and He can do it slowly and patiently. Once He sets to work, you can be certain that He will accomplish all that He needs to, and all that you need Him to do. And He loves you!
He has your best interest at heart. He won't medicate you so that life passes you by in a stupor, and He won't just leave you hanging. He already laid claim to you with His love. He sent Jesus to live for you and die for you so that you might be forgiven and rescued from death and hell for everlasting life and glory with Him. Then He spoke your name at the Baptismal font as He laid claim to you, and adopted you into His family, and made you a member (read: body part) of the body of His Son, Jesus Christ. He cleansed you by that washing and gave you His Holy Spirit as a down payment and guarantee of His love and of your salvation.
Paul addressed this issue of trusting God with what it is you need in Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" The logic of this is that since He has already given the most precious, and the most difficult to give, what other thing can we imagine that He would withhold from us? Clearly, it would not be withheld for reasons of God not wanting to give, or not caring enough. Whatever is withheld must be not good for us, or is something that would keep us from doing all that He has planned for us in His good and gracious will.
Some of the things we ask for we seek without knowing the will of God in the matter. We assume that the blessing or advantage that we seek would be good for us - or would be the best thing for us in this or that situation. We have our reasons for seeking what we pray for, but if it is truly not given to us, God also has His reasons, and we trust in God that His reasons are better than ours.
We trust that praying is effective because we know what God can do and how far He is willing to go for our benefit and blessing. That is Gospel stuff. We trust in God's will as we pray, because it is a will that has been demonstrated to be good and gracious - that is, giving well beyond what we deserve, and far better than we have any reason to hope for, except when we measure God by the cross. At no time may we have more hope for a positive answer than when we plead for comfort in the face of life.
Faith is that thing which we cannot do on our own, but when we lean upon it and depend on God to make it be and happen, we have no reason to doubt it. We have no reason because the faith with which we trust is already the creation and gift of God. We just need to learn to lean on Him and stop listening to the temptation of our flesh to surrender to doubt. That is where comfort comes in.
We have God's promises and will, and we have the gifts which we can see and experience to bring comfort. What gifts, you ask? We have one another. God has given us the body of Christ - the Church - wrapped around us to comfort us by sharing and caring and standing with us. Each one of us has different gifts, and a different comfort to bring. We have the hand-holding comfort, and the exhortation speaking comfort. We have the reminder sort of comfort, which reminds us of God's love and good will when that is not so prominently displayed in our mind's eye, and the hand of assistance sort of comfort, when life begins to be more than we can deal with by ourselves.
Sometimes when we are wrestling with the troubles of our life, we are so focused on the moment that we forget to look up and glimpse the vistas of eternity. It is a those moments that we need to be offered someone else's view. There are times when we need more strength than we have, and God gives us a brother or a sister in the faith to share theirs. Sometimes He gives us the comfort of giving us someone else who needs our gift, our faith, our strength, or our vision. It has happened to me now and again that I go to comfort or cheer someone, and God gives them the words, God fills them with His Spirit to brighten my life , strengthen my faith, cheer me. In such circumstances it happens, almost without fail, that the people I go to aid turn out to be a greater blessing to me than I feel like I am to them, and it is in that very situation that I comfort and strengthen them - by the way God works through them, and by the gifts God gives them to build me up at the time.
God has the gifts, the power, the mind-changing, spirit-lifting, mood-altering blessings, and He shares them by what someone says or someone does. Sometimes the blessing is given by giving something similar to another. I honestly don't know the mechanics of it. I just know that God works in us and through us, and comforts us, and that prayer is always a part of it.
And I know without a doubt that God wants to comfort us. I know it because whenever He appears to His people, He begins with the words, "Fear not!"
So, in these unusual days, days in which we are challenged from without and within, we will want to seek - and find - that comfort which God so richly provides. We will do it first by prayer, seeking and finding comfort there - and then by using the gifts He gives us, particularly the fellowship of His saints around us. Comfort is His will: Isaiah 40:1, "Comfort, Comfort ye My people."
Yours in the Lord,
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