Sermon Seeds: Persistence in Prayer

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When I was in high school and experiencing all the typical teenage angst of relationship break-ups, peer pressure, and raging hormones, I had one encounter that forever shaped the way I move toward the future.

I felt a closeness to the the mother of one my friends…her whole family actually. This woman of faith died from breast cancer the fall of my senior year in high school—but not before imparting to me the words that became my mantra for life.

One evening, when my angst and stress was overwhelming, I went to her home. I poured out my heart, and at some point spewed my need to just give up.

She got right in my face, and quietly, but firmly told me to never, ever give up.

Here was this woman, my spiritual mentor at the time, dying from the ravages of cancer, on oxygen, barely able to move off the couch, telling me to never give up. Nothing in life comes easy, but it’s always, always, worth fighting for.

I can’t tell you how many times those words have come back to me, sustained me, pushed me, enabled me.

I apply them to work, to child-rearing, to writing, to facing the seemingly impossible.

And I apply them to prayer and my relationship with God.

The words of Jesus about prayer, “ask…seek…knock” are actually: keep on asking, keep on seeking…keep on knocking.”

Are you in a situation that seems overwhelming? Do you need a miracle? Never give up in prayer. God’s answer, his way, his truth, are worth fighting for.

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Hopefully Devoted: How much love?

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The trial of a serial killer has captured the attention of most of the people in my little town. Finding an impartial jury has not been easy. Opinions are expressed in the morning coffee gatherings, in the papers, and on the regional news.

I met recently with a group who were close to one of the victims. Very early into our meetng, one of people spoke up: “I have a question. Do I have to pray for that guy?”

Easy answer: no.

But I’m not into easy answers.

I helped my questioning friend to tease out what she was really wanting to ask. She was somewhat resistant—seeking to hide the truth she was trying to avoid. But we finally got there. “Do I have to forgive him?”

What followed was an honest discussion about forgiveness. No one was comfortable…needing to forgive can do that.

As we were wrapping up our meeting, a new question surfaced: Do I have to like him?

Even easier answer: no!

Scripture says nothing about liking someone. I don’t think we’re wired to like everyone.

But we have to care about them. We have to love them.

Loving someone…caring for them…praying for them doesn’t mean we have to like them—and we certainly don’t have to like or condone what they did.

Perhaps the only thing we can pray for them is that they will find the strength to face the consequences of their actions.

If I did something horribly wrong I would hope someone prayed that much for me.

Hopefully Devoted: Not What I Want…

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When the disciples of Jesus saw the followers of John had a “prayer,” they went to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray.

I wonder if Jesus shook his head, looked at the ground and thought, “You already have one…in fact you have many. What do you think the Psalms are? You already know this.”

But what he said and did was give them the format for prayer that we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.” And many parts sound like they come from Psalm 143. Consider verse 10: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground (NIV).”

Thinking then on Jesus praying in Gethsemene sent me to examine the rest of the Psalm:

1 Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
6 I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.[a]
7 Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
9 Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.
11 For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

In the Garden, Jesus’ prayer boiled down to: not my will but yours be done.

He taught us in word and action to pray for God’s will—not our will, or our wants.

Hopefully Devoted: Who is my neighbor?

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One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25, NLT)

When the expert in the Law asked Jesus what he MUST do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked his own question: What does the Law tell you? (Answering a question with a question makes my husband crazy!)

The man quickly demonstrated his knowledge: Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. And, love your neighbor as yourself.

Ding, ding, ding.

He probably should have stopped there, but…endeavoring to find out the least he had to do with the least amount of people…he asked the question of clarification: and just who is that?

So Jesus told him the story of the Good Samaritan.

Readers Digest version: A guy heads out on a business trip. Robbers attack him, beat him, and leave him to die. A couple of religious types avoided getting involved by passing on the other side of the street—can’t get too close!

Jesus then introduced the most unlikely of heroes, a despisssssssssssssed (hiss like a snake when you say that) Samaritan. And he does everything to care for the man—he hows him mercy.

Who is your neighbor?

A.N.Y.O.N.E. And everyone you can extend the hand of mercy to.

And how do we love that neighbor?

This afternoon while I took (yet again) the grandson’s dog out to do his business, a thought popped up through my grumbling. He says he love the adorable mutt, but only puts words to that love when it’s convenient or fun. He’s nowhere to be found when there’s puke or poop to clean up, or when it crimps his plans.

Love isn’t conditional or convenient. Love costs. Love changes the lover and the beloved.

There is no how or who, why or when—Our neighbor is everybody else and we love them by seeing them, not avoiding them, and offering them the amazing love of the Father.

Prayer thoughts: God, I confess I don’t always leap to love. Sometimes I wish someone else would do the tough stuff. But you never fail to love me—no matter what mess I’m in. Thanks. Sink your love deep into my awareness until I don’t worry about the least I have to do, but live into your fullness until that’s what people see in me. Amen.

Year In Focus: Thinking

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV)

Yesterday during worship we had a time of anointing and prayer. During our congregational time of sharing, a family member shared, from a broken heart, a desperate need of a family member. I felt nudged in my spirit to focus on the need, the individual, and the family.

As I began to pray, I sensed a childlike spirit—more like a self-centered, spoiled child wanting to demand my way. I didn’t understand what God was thinking, why he was allowing this horrible suffering and grief. My first thought was to tell God what he needed to do in this situation.

Now here’s one of the difficult things for me as I pray publically: even when I am aware of leading others to the throne of grace, I get there first and at times God starts working on me—and that’s what I felt happening.

Trust me.

But God…don’t you understand?

More than you’ll ever know.

So I don’t have to tell you what’s happening.

No. But I care about what you’re feeling. Go ahead and pour out your heart.

SELAH (Pause, reflect, and connect)

The truth is: we don’t naturally think like God or see things from his perspective. Can we? Will we ever?

I really don’t know to what degree we will, but here’s what I do know: God is in the business of transforming our thinking, maturing our understanding. And I know this because he tells me in his word:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2, NIV).

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5, Berean Study Bible).

Jesus extended this invitation to those weary from trying to “do” religion, trying to understand God—those who were ready to give up:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

Is your situation confusing? Overwhelming? Having trouble finding the mind of God? Stop trying to make sense of things with your limited knowledge…trust the heart and mind of God. He is gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your souls.

SELAH

 

 

Hopefully Devoted: Praying Specifics

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Do you ever wonder if God gets bored with our prayers?

I know I do.

A confession like that from a pastor might sound odd. But it’s true.

If my prayers are all fluff and stuff, lacking substance or direction: what’s the point?

They begin to sound as meaningful as Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah, wah, wah wah wah wah.”

Jesus had an encounter with a blind man. He looked at the blind man and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51ff)

The man didn’t hem and haw. He didn’t talk around the issue. He didn’t try to butter Jesus up to get him to do “whatever.”

To Jesus’ direct question, the man replied directly, “I want to see.” And that’s just what he got.

God doesn’t want us to hem and haw, dance around the issue, or butter him up.

God speaks us to directly because he loves us.

Why would we do any less?

Wednesday’s Word: Jesus

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Do you remember being a kid in Sunday school—back in the day when the right answer always seemed to be “Jesus”?

It still is.

When you have no words for the hurt in your heart.

Jesus.

When you find yourself at the end of yourself.

Jesus.

When the hours are long and the night is dark.

Jesus.

Or, even when the joy bubbles over in a completely uncontainable manner.

Jesus.

Whisper it…Jesus.

Shout it…Jesus.

Beg, plead, weep it…Jesus.

There’s power in the name of Jesus.