Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lord, Teach Us About Prayer

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy ( - Sermon Notes for 07/25/2010 at Soldier's Memorial Chapel in Fort Benjamin Harrison
“All we can do is pray.” I find myself saying that way too often. Why do we say “all” as if this is somehow an inferior act? Although I KNOW that prayer is important and powerful, somehow, it’s easy to lose sight of that. I wonder why? How is it that when we finally get to the end of our own power, our own strength, that we remember our most valuable Resource: we have the ear of the All-Powerful and All-Knowing God! Now for clarification, God is not some genie in a bottle that we command to do our bidding; He is God and we are His subjects. Still, why wouldn’t we go to the King of the Universe when we need anything? He is our Provider and Protector!
1One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."

2He said to them, "When you pray, say: " 'Father, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.' "

5Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'

7"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

9"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

11"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Luke 11:1-13 (New International Version)

Jesus’ friends showed humility and honesty when they approached Him: "Lord, teach us to pray..."(v1) I wonder if they ever looked at Him praying and whispered among themselves, “How can He spend so much time JUST praying!” One of the eye-opening concepts of prayer that changed my perspective was when I finally understood that prayer is a two-way dialogue. We listen as we read the Bible. We listen as we see how God adjusts the circumstances around us. And we listen as He speaks to us, whether audibly or as a “still quiet voice”. (1 Kings 19:12) We don’t have to pray; we get to pray! (ponder that for a few minutes) And the crazy, wonderful thing about this dialogue with God is that He is always waiting for us to start talking with Him! God is so great, that He is able to keep His eye and ear fully attentive on you, while He is doing the exact same thing for every single one of His loved ones… including me, and I’m pretty high-maintenance. And He cherishes it when our eye finally turns to Him. He delights in our prayers and desires to exercise His sovereignty when we pray in His will.

Now, I realize that I’m making some pretty bold statements about God, but I’m pulling it from the Gospel reading today. Look at the first Word the Jesus encourages us to use in opening a dialogue with God: “Father”. He did not say: “When you pray, say: Father of Jesus…” He also did not start off with “Almighty God” (El Shaddai) or “Lord” (Adonai). Jesus told us to refer to God as Father. Our Father.

So Our Father, Whose Name is completely set apart. Name, by the way is synonymous with Authority, and Holy means “to be set apart”, which is to say “Our Father is THE Sovereign King above all kings, presidents, prime ministers, rulers, CEOs, supervisors and all authorities”! It’s a statement to Father God that honors Him while reminding us that we are His children. It’s also a proclamation to all the spiritual beings around us that cries out loud: “My Dad’s bigger than your dad!!” (And what’s really cool is that: He REALLY is!!)

Now it’s true, as we recite in the Apostle’s Creed, that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, but we truly are the children of God.

“He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” ~Ephesians 1:5

Now I am the father the five children. I love each of them greatly; I love each of them equally; and I love each of them differently. My oldest is my daughter through adoption, and the biggest difference in the love I have for her is that I was able to choose her. I did not have to adopt her, but it was “in accordance with” my “pleasure and will” to bring her in as my own. She is a wonderful young lady now, and she is as equally loved as any of my children. Adoptive parents have a unique perspective on the love of God the Father.

But even after giving His disciples (and us) this radical perspective on God’s love for us, Jesus knew we’d have trouble grasping the whole idea and that our desire for immediate gratification would get in the way of our hearing from the Father. Our short-sightedness leads us to think: “God didn’t answer me today, so maybe He just doesn’t care”… or maybe “He’s not powerful enough to do anything about my situation”… or maybe “He’s not aware of my situation.”

But God knows all, can do all, and loves more intensely than we can fathom. His timing is not our timing, and He’s not the genie that comes out and obeys our every command. Bottom line is that He’s God and we’re not. He is in the process of refining each of us and is coordinating all things on our behalf. (Romans 8:28) He’s got the plan and it’s all happening even when we don’t see it.

So Jesus gives us these stories in right after teaching His disciples what we now call The Lord’s Prayer (Hmm… maybe we should call it The Disciples’ Prayer?) that basically says: “Persevere! The Father has it covered!” And in the process, we get to spend some time with the Father, Who by the Way, longs to spend time with us. So persevere, spend time with God and wait on the Lord to move. (Psalm 37:7)

Here’s something that confounds me: Why is it so hard to reach out to God when inevitably, after the fact, we always feel so comforted? Isn’t that true about healthy activities in general? It’s so hard to get started and yet we always feel so much better after having done them? Sometimes I think this alone is evidence of an Enemy (a.k.a. – satan). Yet sometimes, that resistance comes from our own baggage.

For example: Forgiveness. It can be so hard to even want to forgive, but it feels so good afterwards… and it’s so important! After all, if we can’t forgive others, how can we believe that God the Father forgives us? (v. 4) Forgiveness is a little like that chicken and egg dilemma.

By the way, I heard on the news recently that scientists in England have found an answer to the age-old question of “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?”. Apparently, there is some protein required for the egg that can only come from the chicken, and therefore chickens win!

Forgiveness is similar. Knowing God forgives us, prompts us to forgive others. It’s like that necessary protein that comes from the chicken. We choose to forgive (whether we feel like it or not) because we understand the great sins for which we’ve been forgiven, including the sins of all our ancestors. However, our obedience in forgiving others reinforces our heart knowledge that we have truly been forgiven. It helps us feel forgiven.

It’s my belief that forgiveness is only understood when we are aware of the reality from the perspective of both the forgiven and the forgiver. Anyone unaware of their need for forgiveness lives a life apart from God; we cannot gaze upon His purity and not feel unclean. In other words: His holiness shows us just how filthy our righteousness is by comparison. (Isaiah 64:6) And as we forgive the person who does not deserve forgiveness, we understand in greater measure just how great Our Father loves us. It’s this knowledge that transforms us more and more into the image of His Son, our Big Brother, Jesus.

“As has just been said: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’" ~ Hebrews 3:15

I encourage each of us this week to set aside some extra time to just be with our Father in heaven. Have a date with Him. Wait on Him, and see what happens next. He’s a good Dad. The very Best.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Purpose, Passion and Pleasure-Seeking

I’ve noticed something about myself: when purpose drives my life, I’m passionate about life, but in the absence of purpose, I tend to focus on what pleases me, which leads to a lack-luster longing for more. I don’t think I’m unique in this, especially among guys. We thrive on purpose. Our identity rests on it, and in the absence of purpose, we find one: career, status, finances, skills, video games, drinking games or whatever else brings us pleasure. It can drive us to build great things, create new artwork, or just compete for competition’s sake. In the end, it can be filled with great worth or feed our vanity, and it whiles away the hours.

Now, there are a lot of worthy activities, and there are some less worthy ones. When we occupy ourselves with the less worthy pursuits, there’s a cost. When my purpose centers around my pleasure, the world suffers; I suffer. Whether it’s a short-term, immediate self-gratification or a long-term pursuit self-service, selfish ambition keeps me from developing more into the man I’m called to be and distracts me from building up others.

I believe one of our greatest regrets in eternity will come in the realization of the cost of our selfishness: the person who starved to death or the ripple-effect from our failure to come alongside our wounded neighbor or co-worker. What if we recognized in each moment our need to reach a hurting world, including the rest and self-preparation required to love on others?

But what a contrast when we live with a sense of greater purpose that flows from our identity! We are God’s ambassadors; He has reconciled with us, forgiven us, so that we can bring this Good News to others. What if we lived modestly so we could be better prepared to help others? What if we spent less on church building and more on Kingdom building. While the two are not always mutually exclusive, they far too often are: Empty halls except for one morning a week.

What if we looked at all our time, talents and treasures as a resource for building the Kingdom? What if we stopped focusing our attention on the lesser lights and truly lived in His Presence, joined Him in His work, and lived as if our identity came from more than what can ever be found in the temporary pleasures of this world?

Then, I think, we would look like the Body of Christ, and an unbelieving world would have cause to wonder why we live like this. They would ponder on the passion that came from unconditional and unwarranted love, and they would have no cause to label us as hypocrites, who profess one thing but live out something completely different.