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Building Your Faith

Week03CycleA-10x10_apparel - Week 3

Matthew 11:2-11

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Messengers from John the Baptist

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus Praises John the Baptist

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

This week has been filled with stories on the news about Nelson Mandela.  I graduated from college in 1990, the same year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison.  As stories about his life were explored at this time, I realized then what an incredible man he was.  I became hungry to learn more about his struggles for freedom from oppression for the majority of the people of South Africa. As I learned then and and has been reinforced this week as his life is reflected for all to see, Nelson Mandela rose from the humblest of beginnings, experienced some of the most extreme hardships that people can face and came from all that to change an entire nation and impact people far beyond the borders of his country.  I’m sure he had days, weeks and even years of doubt that his work would have meaning or make any difference at all. And the leaders of South Africa surely hoped that this felon would never make a ripple in the ocean of discrimination. But the legacy of his humble life continues to this day and well beyond his life here on earth.

Today’s Gospel reading highlights a portion of the humble life of John – no razzle dazzle at all.  As he spends time in prison for his work paving the way for the Messiah, he himself has doubts about Jesus being the Messiah – the very reason he is living life as a prisoner. Jesus doesn’t really answer the question with a definitive “Yes,” (no surprise there!) but rather he proves it by sending John’s followers back to him with tales of miracles.  The kind of acts that can only come from the Messiah. But he takes it a step further by teaching his followers about John himself.

Jesus teaches his followers that the job of John the Baptist is a tough one.  No “soft robes” or well dressed man would do for this important job – to go out in the world John needed to “be of the world.” Jesus pays, quite possible, the biggest compliment of all as he wraps up his lesson about John’s important work by telling the listeners and us as readers, that no one was more important among the people.  This, right after John voiced his doubts about Jesus and his role in the world. I’ll be that when word got back to John about this, he felt more than a little like a jerk for wondering whether it was all going to be worth it.

There is only one John the Baptist, but the doubt he articulates is real for us all, right? Who hasn’t had those doubts? Even in the face of the evidence of God working directly in our lives and the lives of those we love and live with?  Each of us as Christians is called to do our work in the Kingdom of God here on earth – much less substantial than what was required of John for sure, but look how far we can take it when we act on faith in the example of Nelson Mandela!  I’m certainly no potential world leader destined to change the face of my country, but every day, I am tasked with waking up grateful, loving the hardest to love along with myself as a child of God, praying for guidance and studying the Word. If each of us committed to these seemingly small thoughts and actions, imagine the way the world would change right in front of our eyes?  And the bonus?  The building of our faith and the squashing down of our doubts.

As we spend these last weeks in Advent preparation, remember that preparing the way for the birth and coming again of our Savior is not passive in nature.  Building our faith to prepare the way – now that is action that will bring about the best gifts of all!

All of our gifts come from you dear Lord, and we stand before you not worthy to receive them. Help us to remember we are worthy of your miracles and tasked with spreading your love in your Kingdom.  Our faith in you is stronger than we think and we commit to building it in preparation for your coming.  AMEN.

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Persistent Prayer

persistent prayer

Luke 18:1-8

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge

18 Then Jesustold them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Big themes in our Gospel for this week!  Here are the ones I teased out during my reflection:

  1. Jesus needs us to pray.
  2. Persistence works.
  3. Justice from humans = flawed/imperfect.  Justice from God? Perfect.
  4. Keep working on faith.

The use of parables in Luke’s Gospel is a successful way to get me to think.  I love to tell stories myself as well as hear others’ stories too – and parables make it easier for me to relate to God’s teachings.  And this parable starts off strongly with, “Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not lose heart.”  It’s not written in the form of a question either – not we “should” pray, or “ought to” pray…but rather that we NEED to pray.  And then the implication of patience is stated when Jesus tells them not to “lose heart.” That reminds me of the story of how long and how hard St. Augustine’s mother prayed for him to find a relationship with God.  I bet she was frustrated with the seemingly lack of answer to that prayer, but she kept praying without ceasing.  A great life lesson as she must have wrestled with faithfulness as she begged God to be able to reach in her son’s heart and see him turn to the Lord.

Persistence is easy to have when we want it.  I have been known to shop for hours looking for the perfect shoes.  THAT is persistence!  When I want someone to change their minds about something, I can be pretty persistent in making the case for change.  Toddlers have persistence down pat at quite an early age, don’t they? So why do we give up so easily when it comes to prayer and building our relationship with Christ? Why do we walk away from the chance to have the intimacy of a relationship with God through our conversation and quiet listening time?  Why don’t we make the time for this important part of our walk with Christ?

The judge in this story is a self-proclaimed jerk and non-believer who basically rules in favor of the widow to get her off his back.  Whether that justice was deserved or not seemed to be a non-issue in the story (although widows in this day had very little influence at all).  We do that too – make decisions like this judge to mollify others whether they are right decisions or not. Maybe if the judge had been faithful to God the story could have been a different one because he would have relied upon discernment that comes from faith in God to help him with this and his many other cases.  But he held out as long as he could while she kept coming back for her justice.  Our God is much more generous and merciful than that.  He sent his Son to die for our sins; that is the kind of justice we can never deserve. And though it may feel as if the world is unfair and God isn’t listening to us, when we think about his gracious gifts to us it explains how we can find the strength in our times of greatest challenge.  In fact, without his grace, we wouldn’t be nearly as successful as we are now! And PS…his timing is perfect and way better than what we think it should be in the long run, right?

But the last line of this week’s passage is the real question, “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Gosh, I sure hope so.  And that starts with me.  Will he find faith in me if he comes tomorrow?  Will he see evidence of our love in the world we live in, building communities of faithfulness that are pleasing to him? Are we doing enough to spread God’s love in all we do and say?  Are we leaving the judging up to him and him alone? Is our praying persistent enough to keep our hearts and minds on his true love?

Lord, you are the great Judge.  You are merciful and full of grace and compassion.  Look generously on us as we strive for faith and justice and give us a heart that yearns for you.  For you are the one who knows what we need before we know for ourselves and your timing and answers to prayers is perfect.  Help us to be relentless in turning back to you each and every day.  Your saving grace is ours.  AMEN.

Knowing How to Pray

Luke 1

Luke 11:1-13

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Lord’s Prayer

11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Give us each day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Perseverance in Prayer

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 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!”

Two of my favorite memories from my personal faith journey converge today in this Gospel reading – the giving to God’s people the Lord’s Prayer and a reminder of my favorite hymn “Seek Ye First.”

I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but as a camper at Camp Weed in Live Oak, FL (check it out and send your kids there! http://www.campweed.org/), I remember one of our spiritual advisors (read: clergy) giving us instruction on the Lord’s Prayer.  I don’t remember ever “learning” to say this prayer; it has always been the foundation of my prayer life.  But I just went through the motions of saying it because – let’s face it – the word “trespass” isn’t really in a child’s daily vocabulary.  I wish I could give credit to that priest, because that day of learning changed the way I have prayed that prayer for the rest of my life.  We broke the prayer down into parts:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

This opening line is about adoration, honor and a reminder to give praise to God.  We were encouraged to think about every single word and its meaning, and I began to emphasize the word “THY.”  Thy is not a word kids use either, but to give it extra value helped me focus on my true north of following God.

Give us this day our daily bread.

The next part asks God to provide for our needs.  I remember a great discussion about the difference between needs and wants – the first time I really ever thought about that as a kid.  A reminder that God provides us our needs – and we should be much more grateful than we usually are.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

This forgiveness line was easy at first – I knew how to say I was sorry and I really meant it!  But there was another new concept for the kid version of myself – I had to forgive others????  Whoa…and if I don’t do that, then I may not be able to get forgiveness myself?  I think this is a very complex issue and because of God’s grace we get far more forgiveness than we could ever deserve.  I am a work in progress on forgiving others…two steps forward and one step back on my good days.  Still working hard on this one.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

I can get to temptation all by myself, but this part of the prayer is where I really ask God to save me from myself.  I am always my own worst impediment to success, but with help from God, I can turn away with a greater success rate than when I just rely on myself.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. AMEN

Again – “thine” isn’t in my every day vocabulary, but putting an emphasis (picture the word in bold and underlined!) on thine puts the focus where it should be; on living in God’s kingdom and giving him all the power and glory.  This prayer Jesus gives to his followers is so comprehensive that it can truly be a “square meal” when praying.  It has all the parts that God needs from us in our conversation with him.

Then the bonus part of today’s reading comes as the final punch when discussing the value and importance of our prayers and conversations with God – a reminder of that awesome song, “Seek Ye First.”  Ask and it shall be given, seek and we will find, knock and the door will open.  Matthew’s Gospel also has a similar phrase, which I interpret as the not so scholarly phrase, “Keep it simple.”  Ask for our needs, look for God and how we can serve him and take the steps we need to go out in the world.  I see this as God emphasizing our need to be relentless in prayer and service.  He gives us the words to use – a roadmap for our prayer life.  Then tells us to be singularly focused as we pray…ask, seek and go.  Simple for sure, but not easy with all life’s distractions.  Stay focused on the prayers and the service, and the rest will come with our faith in God.

Lord, thank you for teaching us how to pray.  You are full of mercy and deserving of our glory.  We praise you, we have faith in your love and care for us and we know you will lead us through all adversity we encounter.  Our faith is in you and you alone.  Your will is ours to follow.  In your glorious name we pray, AMEN.

Right Place and Right Time

Nain_widow's_son_is_resurrected_by_Christ

Luke 7:11-17

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Raises the Widow’s Son at Nain

11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Talk about being at the right place at the right time! Jesus has just left Capernaum where he healed the Centurion’s servant (https://paigehanks.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/not-worthy-just-faithful/) and he walks in the gates of the town of Nain.  He runs smack dab into a funeral procession, led by a grieving mother who has lost her husband and now her only son.  I can only imagine her grief spilling out of her as she begins to accept this unwanted reality.  I love verse 13 in particular; “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.'”  I love it because it is just so simple.  God then brings her son back from the dead with a simple touch.

In the presence of God, why should we weep?  I cannot begin to imagine this mother’s sadness and loss.  As a mother, I feel like my heart is constantly walking around outside my body every day, even more so as our daughter is approaching the time to set off on her grown up life of college and long distance from my “controlling” ways as a mom.  I know several friends who have lost a child and the pain is simply inexplicable and can cover up every other emotion; paralyzing grief I am sure.

But God’s promise for the world is that there is life eternal.  I simply don’t understand what that means in any tangible sense and I spend very little time and energy trying to figure it out.  I just know that it brings great comfort in times of challenge and overwhelming sadness.  But come on; who wouldn’t want to have our loved one come back from the dead?  That is one of the great pitfalls in this story of a great miracle.

God has a plan and we are given the greatest gift of love possible – to live life eternal with our Father in heaven.  Grief is for the living and as humans, is part of our human condition.  I lost my Mom last year after a swift and ferocious diagnosis of multiple primary cancers.  Mom was young, professional and worldly and it didn’t make sense for this to happen to a person at the top of her game of life.  We all reacted differently to the shock and pain, but for me, it gave me a challenge that was like a river of faith.  I don’t know why and it certainly didn’t match other family members’ responses to the situation.  And boy do I wish she was still here to talk to and guide me as a mom and our daughter as her beloved Kiki.

She wasn’t raised from the dead to come back to be with us, nor did I expect that to happen.  I even got my feathers ruffled a few times when folks said to me, trying to be helpful I am sure, that they were praying for a miracle and that she could beat this disease.  We knew better…the situation was grave right from the start.  So instead of spending time hoping for Jesus to walk right up to us and heal her, I thought a better way to approach this was to embrace life eternal and that precious gift of perfect healing. loving mom and providing peace and compassion as she lived through dying.

We can’t pray hard enough, do enough good in the world or do just the right thing to invoke the miracles.  They come when God’s plan matches our desires.  And although I would give just about anything for a few minutes with my healthy Mom, I was so very grateful that her incredibly debilitating pain ended much more quickly than anyone thought or believed.  Her healing didn’t bring her back to the human life but brought her into the presence of our Savior.

So we wept for our loss of her presence, just as the mother who met Jesus was doing.  This is normal for folks who love and all of us experience loss of this sort.  Jesus feels sorry for us too, but now that he gave his life for us, he can call upon us to look forward in anticipation to the great gift of our resurrection.  Maybe that is the miracle that is enough…we know what this grieving Mother did not know, that we have life eternal as our promise of perfect healing now.  I want to ready at the right place and the right time for that.

Saving Father, we are so very grateful for the gift of your Son, sent to save us from our sins and give us the promise of life eternal.  Comfort us as we grieve and teach us to trust your saving love for us.  Help us walk in faith and to accept your gift of mercy.  We thank you for loving us and protecting us.  In your Holy Name we pray.  AMEN.