or, Kneeling Without Nagging
(Hey, starting Sep 12, Sunday sermons will address Dangerous Prayers. Be there or follow online.)
As a teen I had knee surgery. My leg was in a plaster cast for several weeks. On removal of the cast, that leg was skinnier! I couldn't stand, much less walk. So I sat and did leg lifts. Eventually I could with that leg lift a heavy flatiron. Yes, that was long ago.
That knee repair finally wore out. I had the knee replaced with titanium and plastic. Soon after I woke from that surgery, hospital staff wheeled me upstairs. They directed me: there's your bed; walk to it! Cautiously I walked the twenty feet to my bed. Amazing, I thought. No cast, no shrinkage, no limping. The next day, convalescing at Dwaine and Jackie's, I zoomed around their first floor, not really using my cane. Then the meds wore off. No more zooming. Leaning on a walker I lumbered around. Physical Therapy—in the form of various stretches and just keeping in motion—helped me abandon the walker, then the cane.
It seems to me that ability to pray can be injured and can atrophy. I've wondered, is there then therapy for prayer, spiritual stretching that will help me pray, a path through the "dark night of the soul"? This is my continuing research and experience.
In Luke chapter 18, Jesus tells a story—really two stories—about how people should keep on praying and never give up:
In a town there was once a judge
who didn’t fear God
or care about people.
In that same town there was a widow
who kept going to the judge and saying,
“Make sure that I get fair treatment
For a while the judge
refused to do anything.
Finally, he said to himself,
“Even though I don’t fear God or care about people,
I will help this widow
because she keeps on bothering me.
If I don’t help her,
she will wear me out.”
Think about what
that crooked judge said.
Won’t God protect his chosen ones
who pray to him day and night?
Won’t he be concerned for them?
He will surely hurry and help them!
But when the Son of Man comes,
will he find on this earth anyone with faith?
The widow's nagging succeeded with the crooked judge. But does nagging make sense with the Almighty? Jesus' summary here is emphatic: No, you need not nag God! The payload of this parable is that unlike the crooked judge, God hears, God cares, and God is not slow. Elsewhere, Jesus directly admonished, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Ooh. Conflict City. How do I persist in prayer but not nag?
I've learned this: Keep praying but go back to basics. That's not obvious. It's a stretch. But it works.
Does a request to God fail to bring desired results? I can—I must—keep praying--but about other matters. I trust that God heard me the first time. I trust that God understands the situation better than anyone else and before anyone else. Therefore I persist in the attitudes and actions that the Bible says enable prayer. These stretches include: humility before my Creator; confident trust in God as my Father; compassion to people, forgiveness, forgiveness, and forgiveness.
Jesus' second story in Luke 18 seems disconnected from the first story except for involving prayer. The second story mainly deals with humility.
Two men went into the temple to pray.
One was a Pharisee
and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee stood over by himself
“God, I thank you that I am not greedy,
and unfaithful in marriage
like other people.
And I am really glad that
I am not like that tax collector.
I go without eating for two days a week,
and I give you one tenth of all I earn.”
The tax collector stood off at a distance
and did not think he was good enough
even to look up toward heaven.
He was so sorry for what he had done that
he pounded his chest and prayed,
“God, show mercy on me, a sinner!"
Then Jesus said:
When the two men went home,
it was the tax collector
and not the Pharisee
who was pleasing to God.
If you put yourself above others,
you will be put down.
But if you humble yourself,
you will be honored.
The payload is this: God honors genuine humility.
Did you notice the large key above?
The ordinary way to ask for mercy is demonstrated later in this chapter of Luke. A blind man implores, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The tax collector uses a less common verb that can be translated, “God, show mercy on me!” In the New Testament, this show mercy verb appears in just one other place, referring to Jesus, “that he might pay for the sins of the people.” The tax collector knew he owed a debt he could not pay. Jesus paid a debt he did not owe.
The Sinner's Prayer is fundamental. The Sinner's Prayer opens the door. If genuine, it pleases God. But reciting the Sinner's Prayer is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, compelling God to show mercy. Jesus repeatedly connects my receiving mercy to my giving mercy. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
There are many examples in the Bible and experience of prayer enablers, prescribed stretches and encouragements to use when I seem out of touch with God.
“So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.” Matthew 5:23-24
1 Peter 3:7, Proverbs 21:13, 1 John 3:21-22, James 4:3, Psalm 66:18, ...
I'm thinkin' maybe churches should offer Prayer Therapy; not just fixing problems via prayer, but fixing prayer by exercising our abilities to appreciate God, to trust God, to discern what God wants, to give and receive mercy, to merge humility and boldness, and thus walk and talk better with God.
"Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear." - Isaiah 65
"I am the Lord, and I created the whole world. Ask me, and I will tell you things that you don’t know and can’t find out." - Jeremiah 33
"We have a great high priest, who has gone into heaven, and he is Jesus the Son of God. That is why we must hold on to what we have said about him. Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we. will. find. help." - Hebrews 4
"Without faith no one can please God. We must believe that God is real and that he rewards everyone who searches for him." - Hebrews 11
Next, in Part 3: The Lord's Prayer
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.