Tag Archives: prayer

More Prayer Much More Prayer 1 Timothy and Luke 16 shrewd steward

[for the audio of this sermon click on the icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who want to be shrewd for Jesus said … AMEN!

Leveraging, OPM, basic B-School concepts. We Christians have become so caught up trying to appear pious and that is not what we are about. For example “money is the root of all evil”, complete quote is the “love of money is the route of all evil”. Money is a tool, how do we use that money, are we using it for the Kingdom, the proclamation of Christ or does our money go to things that are worldly?

This is not the only place in Scripture that Jesus tells us to be shrewd. Despite what many think, there is nothing in Scripture that says “be stupid”. Seems as a Church we’re supposed to roll over and play dead for every ridiculous concept the world foists on us, meekly schlep along, agreeing with everything the world says about the hottest topics now: “Obviously the Bible is wrong about these things, because our human/earthly institutions insist that these things are right. So maybe the Bible needs to be updated. We find over and over again that the Bible is indeed right, but it seems we all have to crash and burn with the rest of society when we fall all over ourselves to accept what is the newest and coolest. We have a loving Father who waits for us at the crash site to keep us from getting seriously hurt, while many insist on avoiding God’s outstretched hand and hitting the hard ground.

Not only does the Bible not tell us to be stupid, Jesus has told us a few times, be smart. We can play the world’s game in the power of the Holy Spirit beat the world at its own game, we leverage what the Spirit gives us in the world. But we insist the institutions around us are right. Jesus commends shrewdness in Matthew 10: Jesus sends His disciples to the world with these words: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” He tells them a lot of the people they go to meet are going to be judged, they will be condemned and destroyed. He qualifies that in the same passage by saying His disciples are going to get the brunt of things too. They are going to be delivered before governors and judges and will be cruelly punished. Not because what they are saying is wrong, but there’s a cruel world out there that rejects Jesus and His hope and promise and insists on its own silly, worthless words that it always finds out are wrong in the end.

Let’s talk about prayer, something very much on my heart. Before I really realized the importance and need for prayer Marge and I were the coordinators for the National Day of Prayer in our hometown of 100,000 and after three years, the coordinators of the Commonwealth of Mass. We had some really great day long rallies on Beacon Hill and got a lot of attention from elected officials, some of whom served on the state committee and who actively participated. Even bugged a governor because we went over time in front of the “Grand Stairway” in the state house and cut into the governor’s time. But we realized that when we took prayer right to the public forum, leveraging prayer to the best interests of the worldly people around us who saw how we could come together, grow in prayer, especially when those same people were included and helped to understand the importance of what we are doing.

Leveraging, OPM, often used cynically, by practitioners of these trades. The Gordon Geckos who have a very narrow vision of what life is about. We in a shrewd manner, like the steward in the pericope, use the resources of the world, not cynically, but positively, we stand strong in the things we do as Christians, in prayer, faithful to Christ’s teachings, ignoring the nonsense the world continually foists on us. That other “churches” buy into and are never successful in pursuing, even worse trying to leverage what the world tells them to those who are seeking Christ, they are revealed as phonies and cause many to become disillusioned in Christ because of their dysfunctional church, even reject Christ and condemn themselves. I don’t want to be a leader of any of those churches, I don’t want to stand before the Judgment Seat and explain to our Lord why I was the instrument of so many people denying their faith and coming into eternal destruction.

We can be smart about it, we can be shrewd about it. Talk about the ultimate “leverage”, that Jesus “gave Himself as a ransom for us”. Technically, it’s more in the sense of propitiation, He paid the penalty for us to be free and saved. But for us what He did really is OPM. That we have been given eternal promise and hope by what Jesus did. If you look at this as leveraging OPM so that we derive the return, that would be a great way to think about it. Not in a cynical way, but in a way that gives us a bright future of eternal bliss, and eternal life, what Jesus says is “life and life more abundant”. Paul is emphasizing prayer to his student, one of the men who he calls his son in Christ. What does he say about prayer? “ESV 1 Timothy 2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

When we did the National Day of Prayer we had the mayor of a large city, other city officials. At the state house we had many legislators, some city officials, both parties who were very supportive. None of them got upset that we were praying for all our public officials, they seemed to be quite pleased to be prayed for like this. No cynical attempts, a very shrewd, positive outpouring that we wanted to pray for these men and women. That the more we supported them in prayer, they would lead our state, communities in ways that would be positive, and help us all to grow.

We seem to get a little prissy when we come to passages like this one. We’ve been dealing with passages like this all summer. Jesus isn’t some milquetoast, quaking, pious little fella, who doesn’t want to offend. He’s not concerned with who He offends. If someone takes offense from God the Son, the One who makes the rules, who created all of everything, that’s on them, it becomes their problem. If they are so obsessed with their way, their agenda, and they reject God and His agenda, and then they’re surprised they end in eternal condemnation? Who’s being dumb here? Doesn’t sound like a shrewd move on their part. These people love to tell you how smart they are, genuinely smart people do not try to outsmart people they know are smarter and will shut them down. Smart people are shrewd people, they leverage what they have in order to move in their lives. Jesus wants us to be shrewd and smart, for the Kingdom, for the eternal life and salvation of all those around us. We can go right down the street to the county seat, we can go right across the bridge to the state capital. We can leverage our power of prayer, using OPM, in this case God’s currency and show people what life genuinely is in Christ. Or we can keep being hang-dogs, follow along in the world’s agenda, then wonder why we’ve crashed and burned with the world. We had the shrewedest, smartest, most powerful of all in Jesus and instead of being smart and shrewd, threw Him over for the silly, naïve, greedy, grasping, immaturity of the world. I’m smart enough to know where I should be focused.  Amin and Shalom  Christ is risen! He has risen indeed Hallelujah

Spiritual? Cut it out! Isn’t it time to get serious about Jesus?!

“If you live in me and what I say lives in you, then ask for anything you want, and it will be yours.” John 15: 7

Why do we study history? There is such great wisdom, people who’ve confronted the same issues we’re confronting today and have given us such deep thought. Dr Martin Luther wrote voluminously is his time. He has created such incredible wisdom, he really did conflate the left and right hand kingdoms (the left is the government/society, the right is the church) in that both are in God, and both need to be focused on God’s will and not man’s. He gave us so much guidance in how we should deal with trials, he spent a good deal of his life being a marked man by the Roman Catholic church which wanted Luther burned at the stake. He certainly knew how to deal with the trials in his life. He gave us so much on how we as Christians should see those who are lost in the world.

I refer you to Dr Luther in a particular writing on prayer. I would stipulate that many people who pray and who are not Christians, and what Dr Luther points out as the profound difference between the two types of people:

“This is a miserable world for unbelievers. They work so hard, yet accomplish nothing. They may even pray a lot, search all over and knock at the door. Yet nothing is gained, found, or achieved, for they’ve knocking on the wrong door. They do all this without any faith. That’s why they can’t really pray.”

“Prayer is the work of faith alone. No one, except a believer, can truly pray. Believers don’t pray on their own merits, but in the name of the Son of God, in whom they were baptized. They’re certain that their prayers please God because he commanded them to pray in the name of Christ and promised he would listen to them. But the others don’t know this. Instead, they pray in their own name and believe they can prepare themselves. They think they can read enough to make themselves worthy and smart enough to make prayer into an acceptable work. And when we ask them whether their prayers have been heard, they reply, ‘I prayed, but if my prayers were heard only God knows.’ If you don’t know what you are doing or whether God is listening, what kind of a prayer is that?”

“But Christians don’t approach prayer this way. We pray in response to God’s command and promise. We offer our prayers to God in the name of Christ, and we know that what we ask for will be given to us. We experience God’s help in all kinds of needy situations. And if relief doesn’t come soon, we still know that our prayers are pleasing to God. We know that God has answered us because he gives us the strength to endure.” ( Martin Luther quoted in “Through Faith Alone” Concordia Publishing House 1999 Jun 11 page)

I’ve seen many genuine Christians pray, and yes I understand we all know to where/whom, they are praying. But I would certainly encourage Christians to end all their prayers “In the Name of Jesus Christ, I pray, Amen”. Then there’s no doubt what you are doing, that our prayers are only in the Holy Spirit to our Lord Jesus Christ. Any other prayer just doesn’t matter, so why even pray it? I was asked to open sessions of county commissioners meeting. The only caveat was not to pray in Jesus’ name. I respectfully refused. Why would I do that? What’s the point? I’m a Christian pastor, there’s only one way I’m going to pray. I understand in today’s world of American Christianity (which is at best nominally “Christian”), we have accepted this civic sort of “To whom it may concern” prayer. Again what’s the point? I’m frankly a little afraid of what/who we’re praying to if not in Jesus’ Name. Which of the many idols we see in America are we actually offering prayer? Jesus tells His disciples in John 14:13 that we should pray in His Name. There’s only one, God Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and it is in the all powerful Name of Jesus Christ our Lord that I offer any prayer.

God’s promises to us in prayer

The last Tuesday of the month is out monthly prayer breakfast at First Saint Johns Lutheran Church. It is a time to lift up prayer for each other, for the church that God has put us in, for our community, any other needs that people bring up. Everyone is welcome, it’s a great breakfast and a really great time of fellowship in prayer.

It is also a time for a little teaching. We can all always use a little more guidance in our prayer/devotional life and I found he following is from Martin Luther which will be a topic of conversation:

“Good prayer that is heard by God has two prerequisites. First, we must consider God’s promise that he will hear us. By reminding him of his promise, we can dare to pray confidently. For God hadn’t asked us to pray and hadn’t promised to hear us, then all people praying their requests together wouldn’t be able to receive even the smallest item.

So no one receives anything from God because of the quality of the prayer, but only because of God’s goodness. God anticipates all of our requests and desires. With his promise, he prompts us to pray and desire these things so that we will learn how much he cares for us. He cares for us so much that he is prepared to give us even more than we are ready to receive or to ask for. Because he is offering us so much, we can pray with confidence.

Second, we must not doubt what the true and faithful God promises to do. He promises to hear our prayers – yes, he even commands us to pray. He promises this so that we might firmly believe that our prayers will be answered. As Christ says, ‘That’s why I tell you to have faith that you have already received whatever you pray for, and it will be yours’ (Mark 11:24; Matthew 21:22). Christ also says, ‘So I tell you to ask and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who asks will receive. The one who searches will find, and for the person who knocks, the door will be opened’ (Luke 11:9-10). By trusting in these promises and obeying thee commands, we can pray with confidence.” (Through Faith Alone  365 Devotional Readings from Martin Luther October 30)

As in everything in our relationship with God it is about Him guiding us in prayer, it is about Him leading us in everything. We can certainly lift up inspired, high prose in our prayer, but that’s not really the point. Often we would do well to wait in prayer for the Holy Spirit to move us to understand what we really should be praying for and get on God’s track for us instead of us trying to force our prayer and struggle. God truly is waiting to God us in all parts of our life. That is faith, trusting His leading instead of fussing about what we’re supposed to do.

Prayer, let’s be proactive.

Some great words of advice from Dr Martin Luther:

[from 1 Thessalonians  5:17-18]

It’s good to let prayer be the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night. Be on guard against false, deceitful thoughts that say, “Wait awhile, you can pray in an hour  First, you must finish this or that.” For with such thoughts, you turn away from prayer towards the business at hand which surrounds you and holds you back so that you never get around to praying that day.

Of course, some tasks are as good as or better than prayer, especially during an emergency   Nevertheless, we should pray continually   Christ says to keep on asking, searching and knocking (Luke11:9-11). And Paul says that we should never stop praying (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Likewise, we should continually guard against sin and wrongdoing, which can’t happen if we don’t fear God and keep His commandments in mind at all times  in Psalm 1 we read, “Blessed is the person who reflects on His teachings day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2)

We shouldn’t neglect the habit of true prayer and get caught up in necessary work – which usually isn’t all that necessary anyway. We can end up becoming lazy about prayer, cold towards it and tired of it, but the devil doesn’t get lazy around us

(Martin Luther Through Faith Alone Aug 28)

 

Justified and sanctified in Jesus

I have been asked on a regular basis if Lutheranism is Christian. For all the denominations and “independents” and so many of these faux attempts at Christianity, YES! All of these other denominations and other presumed attempts at Christianity came from Martin Luther. In fact if your non-denominational “pastor” has any training at all (so many don’t and just presume to hand out a shingle calling themselves a church) but if he has any grounding in genuine Christianity he will, on a regular basis, quote Martin Luther. Dr Luther is the one who called out and broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman’s were right on one score, you open up Christianity, and you risk having a lot of presumptuous people thinking they know the drill who will pose themselves as “Christian” teachers and preachers. On the other hand the Roman Church was so wrong on many counts and we see those errors seeping into Reformed Christianity. Mainly in terms of “works-righteousness”. That is the idea that while Jesus saved us, you still have to do a few things to get you over that line into salvation. Make no mistake, we can reject our salvation. But as one Concordia seminary professor puts it, “God does the verbs”. That is God does what is necessary for us to be saved, there isn’t one thing we can add to what Jesus did for us to have salvation. It’s either all about him and nothing about me, or salvation doesn’t happen. There is also what is called antinomianism. That is that the Law doesn’t have any effect on Christians, we can go about and do just whatever we want and because of the grace of salvation, we’re forgiven of everything while we just flout God’s Law. There is no sin that Jesus didn’t die for. That doesn’t mean we can just go off and do whatever we like. There are consequences to our sin and at some point God decides that you really don’t have the fruits of the Spirit and that you’re just not really saved.

The point of this blog, though, is about the Lutheran teaching in terms of how our salvation is worked out. So for you who like to play at being a Christian, take some serious note here. We are saved because we are justified in Jesus. Justified, coming from the root word “justice” that we are completely innocent, completely guiltless because Jesus paid the price of our sin by dying on the cross. He took the punishment that we should have in order for us to be free of the guilt of our sin.

We are also sanctified, from the Latin “sanctus” completely holy, set apart, totally God’s man or woman. Again, that is only because we have been clothed in the holiness of Christ because of His sacrifice for us. If we are not completely justified, if we are not completely sanctified, and the only way that can happen is in Jesus, then we can not be saved. We cannot die and come into the presence of a completely holy and innocent God, God the Father of Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest Lutheran teachers, was C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church in the United States. I’ve started a book by Concordia Publishing House which is a collection of Walther’s writings in a daily devotional, translated by Gerhard Grabenhofer.

Walther writes: “Justification happens in a blink of an eye. As soon as a sinner, in despair, recognizes his sin and desires grace and redemption, God speaks a word in heaven and justification takes place.” ( p 670) Walther wrote in the mid 1800s and I really like the style of writing from that period and Walther doesn’t disappoint. Likewise, he doesn’t pull any punches.

While we are immediately justified in Jesus, there is a process of sanctification, of growing in holiness. “Sanctification, on the contrary, does not happen suddenly. It occurs gradually and it continues until the end of our life. Justification is immediately perfect. Each one who is justified instantly receives the full forgiveness of his sins, the complete righteousness of Christ, and a new status as a child of God. Sanctification, which follows justification , begins weakly and grows until death, but it never comes to perfection.” ( pp 670-671).

Having said that I would point out that while we are, hopefully, always growing in sanctification, when we die as directed by God, the Lord of our life, we come into His presence completely justified, completely sanctified, completely righteous, but not due to anything we’ve done, only due to what Jesus has done for us. In baptism we become that new child in God, therefore we become completely justified. Baptism is the “new birth” in Jesus. We become completely saved in Jesus. Yes people are baptized, then become as lost as anyone else in the world, through their own bad choices. But not because God failed them in anyway, they chose the way of the world, and the way of the world is sin, death and eternal condemnation in Hell. Sure, lots of people would like to amend that and make it according to their own plan, but this is God’s plan and that’s just the way it’s going to happen. You can continue to live in your little world of denial or realize that the only Lord of life is Jesus and He has revealed salvation to us and that’s the way it’s going to be.

Walther writes: “Perfection for the Christian is the clear recognition that he is imperfect in himself, but nevertheless perfect in Christ Jesus”. For those who think that they’re “all that and a bag of chips”, don’t need Jesus, ok, how’s that going to work out. While you’ve made an idol of yourself, because you think you know what it’s all about, the only way to eternal life is through Christ. You can make it up, but it’s pure fiction and you’ve basically told God “yea, not really happy about your way, I’ve got a better idea”. You may think it’s better, but without anyway to save yourself, again eternal condemnation. Harsh? Not really, we want to know how to be saved, but when we get God’s way and decide it just doesn’t work for us, well it’s God’s way or no way and you’re not god, deal with it.

“When a person is justified, God generally lets him taste the sweetness of His grace in order to draw the sinner from the world to Himself. At this point, many a beginner in Christ thinks he is rid of the world, sin and Satan. but if that were truly the case, it would not be long before such a person became secure and proud. Therefore, our faithful God removes the sweet feelings of grace and power from most of His believers and from that time on, He bestows such blessings meagerly and allows His Christians to grow in humility. When a person becomes truly poor, he must daily beg God for everything and adhere to Jesus’ word of grace so he is not lost. He also comes to realize that God’s work of grace in sanctification is revealed in the fact that his spirit continues to struggle against his flesh. If he feels that sin rages in him, but something else in him prevents sin from gaining dominion over him, this moves him to prayer and to the word of God.If he succumbs to sinful temptations, he goes to Jesus and prays to Him for forgiveness. Such a person is not dead, for a dead heart no longer beats.”

“We have been reborn into true life in Jesus in our baptism. We were dead in our sin with the rest of the world, now we have true life. When we are given that new life, we become completely righteous in Christ and as a new child in Jesus we begin the journey of Christian maturity in our sanctification in Jesus.” (pp 671-672)

This is what is truly important about being saved in Jesus. We can get into a lot of mushy, pointless, emotionalism, or we can understand that we are sinners, that our only salvation is in Jesus and only through Jesus do we become justified and sanctified and truly fit to be made a child of God and to be in His presence and to live in the resurrected, eternal, perfect world that God had always intended for us.

Prayer our all powerful resource from God Luke 11 First Saint Johns Church July 24, 2016

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that their refuge is in God the Father through prayer said … AMEN!

God gave His church the most powerful tool in the universe, PRAYER! Jesus gave His disciples, those who asked Him to teach them how to pray and His disciples all the way to you, me, and those growing into disciples. There is no greater power in the universe. Through prayer we are given access to God the Father. Prayer puts us very much in His presence, His power and glory. Even for the biggest and toughest, to be in the presence of Abba, Daddy. He is not only the most powerful being in all of creation, also the most loving. No matter who you are, you can take in all the love, peace and comfort of God in the simple act of sitting down and following Jesus’ directions; “When you pray say: “Father,…” Matthew writes that we start “Our Father” The Greek in Matthew 6:9 says: “Pa,ter h`mw/n” Many jump on that as another “contradiction” in the Bible. Why does Luke just say “Pa,ter”, ? While Matthew says: “Pa,ter h`mw/n” In any human dialogue there’s dozens of reasons why we say, or hear something different. Matthew was there, he heard, “Pa,ter h`mw/n” I took French for seven years, I have a plaque in the office with the Lord’s prayer “notre pere”, of course, at First Saint Johns, many times the German “unser Vater” has been used in the 140 year history of this sanctuary. Whichever language, He is “our Father”, just as Jesus told His disciples. The Bible is the inspired word of God. The Holy Spirit inspired the remembrance of Jesus’ words for Matthew and whoever told Luke. I’d like to think that the Holy Spirit wanted us to know either way is good, that He wants us to know that He is my Father, that I can, even should address Him as “Pater, Vater, Pere, Father”, but that He is collectively our Father. Because I am born again in Christ, the Holy Spirit has made me that new creation in Jesus, that I am a born again son of the Father, that He is very much my own Father, but that He is also Father to billions. I have billions of brothers and sisters in Jesus right now and through the last two thousand years of history. Brothers and sisters that are in all parts of the world, all over the world, and in all the ages of the last two thousand years. We are so vastly different as people, but through prayer, through our Father, through our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ we are all the children of the same God, through whom all creation was made, sustained and will be restored to the perfection that was intended by Him at the beginning. We all pray the same thing, different languages, different countries, even at different points in history, but Father, our Father, He hears us all calling to Him as Father.

Prayer certainly does unite us, reminds us that people all around the world are saying Father, Our Father. One of the most unifying prayers is in 1 Chronicles 7:14. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” By far the Gospel that is most focused on prayer is Luke’s, Luke makes constant references to Jesus going and praying, usually by Himself. That certainly is another model for us that we need time to be alone to focus on being in God’s presence, that there is nothing to distract us, to take us out of His presence, that nothing interfere with Him pulling us toward Him, uniting us with Him in our prayer. As His children we are entitled, we are expected to come before our Father, regularly, to be in His presence. Sure there will be times when we will come into His presence cowering, knowing what Ricky Ricardo used to say to Lucille Ball, “Lucy, you got some explaining to do!” Lifting up to God our repentance and asking for forgiveness. He does forgive, He certainly puts it on our heart that He expects better, that He is there, in prayer, to steer us away from the rocks and shoals that we launch ourselves onto and find ourselves stuck on. Through Him, in prayer, He reminds us of the things we need to stay away from and also that He is there, one short prayer away to keep us from hitting the bottom and damaging ourselves. More importantly He reminds us that He is our refuge. In his Psalms David refers to God as His refuge 46 times. In Psalm 64:10 David writes: “ESV Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult!” We all have God as our refuge and are united in Him when we take refuge in Him together through our prayers. We ought to constantly go to His refuge, the place where He provides for all that we need.

Too often though we come to Him only in times of desperation, how much better it would be for us if we were constantly in prayer relying on His refuge. Robert Pase writes: “But God’s intent in giving us the gift of prayer isn’t that we wait to pray until all seems lost. God intends that prayer be an everyday, every moment part of the Christian life, including when life seems to be clear sailing, a pleasure cruise. The fact is that God rights the ship, keeps the world on an even keel, by the prayers of his Church. The saints on earth and in heaven are constantly praying, and God is constantly answering – with good weather, good crops, good health and all sorts of things we might take for granted. God invites us to pray about everything every day, not just as a last resort.”[1] You thought I was the only one who used sea metaphors. The point being that prayer is not just for times of distress, but is for all the time and certainly in those times when we want to be in His very presence. His refuge provides us with peace, safety, strength, knowing that no matter what, He is in control, it is all according to His will and the more we align ourselves with His will in prayer, the more we will realize that we need to let go of our fears and worries and to pray to be in His will and set our agenda aside. Our peace is always in God and in the fact that He will be there through our trials and at the end to welcome us as His good and faithful servant. That will only be reinforced and hardcoated into our brains through prayer, constant prayer. There are a lot of sea metaphors, the sea was a metaphor to the Jewish person of chaos and danger. If you are far from shore, at the mercy of the sea you have an acute understanding of the day to day lives so many of us live with, a feeling that there is nothing that we can really secure ourselves to. E Stanley Jones, quoted in Chuck Swindoll’s book writes “Prayer is surrender – surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boat hook from a boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Payer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God.”[2] God has His line out to you through prayer. He is pulling you to Him, not the other way around. So long as we persevere in Him, He will be taking us to safety in Him.

Paul promises us in: “ESV Romans 8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Even in those times we just fall on our knees and have no idea where to begin, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. He knows what is on our heart, what we need to pray and He will lift those prayers to the Father for us. But we can also look at the prayers that King David makes in the Book of Psalms. Psalm 86 is called a prayer of intercession where David is desperate for God’s attention, he prays: “ESV1 Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2 Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you- you are my God. 3 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. 4 Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. 5 For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. 6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. 7 In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me. 11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. 12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. 15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

God is our Father, for those of us who are fathers, we would do whatever we could to provide for our children. We passionately want what is best for them. Yes it is often in a selfish way, but we don’t want to see our children hurt or struggling. I know my heart is often hurting for one of my children. Jesus puts it directly to us: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent, of if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11: 11-13) Certainly for those of us who are fathers, we know well how much we want to help our children to live a life that glorifies God where they know who their strength, provision and refuge is. Our all powerful, all loving God knows that infinitely better than us and waits for our prayers, waits for us to ask, to seek, to knock so that He will pour out His love and strength on us. We here at First Saint Johns know the power that we have in prayer. Many of us have worked hard to provide many ways to lift up prayer and to keep us focused on being united to the Father in prayer. If we are ever in need of prayer, we know that we will be included on our weekly prayer list and those in the church, the Lord Jesus in whose Body we share, that we will be prayed for. A prayer room has been made ready by loving hands on the second floor as a place of peace, quiet and refuge. A group often meets after worship to join together to lift up others and themselves in prayer. We gather together for a monthly prayer breakfast for our individual needs, the collective needs of First Saint Johns, for our church and those outside of our church who are looking for support in prayer. That we are always looking for opportunities to come together in prayer and to encourage individual prayer. That we maintain an environment here that is a constant reminder to all of us of the strength and power we have when we go to the Father in prayer that our refuge is always in Him.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Robert J Pase  “Concordia Pulpit Resources” Volume 26, Part 3, Series C p 17

[2] E Stanley Jones, quoted in Chuck Swindoll’s “Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes” p 453

Suffering/hardship is often God’s way of teaching

“If you become bitter over your hardships, you close some parts of your life from God.”(Experiencing God Day by Day Henry and Richard Blackaby p 27) And certainly many just close off their entire life to God. Increasingly people really expect that they should go through life with nary a bump, when that bump happens, they often shake their fist at God and berate and reject Him. “How could You let this happen?” They shriek.

“Some place in your soul can be reached only by suffering. The Spirit of God has important things to teach you, you can only learn these lessons in the midst of trials.”(Ibid) I’m not going to stake my theological reputation on this statement, however, it does seem that what we learn through trials/suffering/hardship, does stick with us, makes a more long lasting impact on what we do, then if life is just a breeze and we are handed everything. “Ok, I pick God, OK, now make me happy, healthy, wealthy, famous …” Just doesn’t work that way. Did God put us here just to hand us stuff and then bring us into eternal life in the resurrection? No, we’re here to grow, build character, integrity, follow Him as He makes us worthy of being with Him in the eternal life. That only comes through growth and growth only comes through trials and maturity.

“David spent years in suffering and heartache. When he finally ascended the throne, he was a man after God’s own heart.”(Ibid) Jesus certainly had reason to be bitter, through His incarnation, He was being put upon, pushed, threatened. But even on the cross He says “forgive them Father for they know not what they do”. Clearly bitterness turns us away from what Jesus wants for us, and leaves us to flounder around in our personal pity party. What’s worse we expect to drag others down with us in that pity party. I would submit that God uses the suffering and trials to make us complete. That if we resist what God is doing, sort of like not taking our math finals in high school, then we have not completed what God’s doing in us. If we somehow avoid or chose not to deal with some trial God intended for us do we become that person we should be in Jesus? I think a case could be made that we don’t. Do we want to be a lesser person in that eternal life in the resurrection with Christ? We should try to be as much as we can and trust that God is giving us the faith we need to follow Him while He is teaching us. Sure we don’t want to, but on the other end we become more in Him and less in the world. Shouldn’t we be doing that as we move to eternal life?