Formed by God to be More Than Indignant Fools
Texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 13:10-17
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
August 25, 2013
Prayer Is a Lifestyle; Not an Emergency Exit
Texts: Colossians 2:6-10; Luke 11:1-13
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
July 28, 2013
Do you pray?
In fairness I know I’m asking a group of people sitting in Worship on a Sunday morning which means that everyone hear prays. Worshiping God in a community like this is really the ultimate form of prayer and considering that only 15-20% of the American population attends Worship on Sunday morning, the people who do probably pray a lot more than the average person does.
Prayer is not something we just know how to do. Christian prayer is not an innate thing; it is something we need to learn how to do and it is something that we need to practice. Often people say, “Well, I pray but I get frustrated and don’t feel anything, so I give up.” If that is how you feel, please know you are not alone.
Luke tells us that Jesus was praying and one of the disciples asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus’s response was to give them the words of what we now know as the Lord’s Prayer.
Let’s talk a little bit about this prayer.
A couple of weeks ago when I did the Bible Study at the Logos Snapshot I asked people if they knew the words of Matthew 6:9-15 by heart. No one raised their hands, but when I pushed them, everyone knew those words by heart. The words are the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew’s Gospel. In fact, at Worship every Sunday we pray those words directly from the King James translation of the Bible. We end it with words not in the New Testament, but from an early Christian church document, the Didache, “For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.”
Luke’s version of this prayer is shorter. Most scholars believe that Luke’s reflected the original words of Jesus more than Matthew’s version as Matthew’s is more defined. Potentially the two versions reflect different ways Jesus himself used it, teaching us HOW to pray more than exactly what words to say. When you look at what Jesus is saying and doing, in the context of what he’s saying and doing, is that it’s not just saying a specific set of words, but making prayer a lifestyle.
My sermon title is: Prayer is a lifestyle, not an emergency exit.
For many of us prayer is an emergency exit. We don’t pray until we have some sort of crisis in our lives and feel an overwhelming need for God’s help. We don’t know what to do so we turn to God.
Now this is a good thing, but we often turn to God without a good sense on how to turn to God. Prayer is learned behavior and praying is developing a lifestyle and until we learn to pray, we struggle.
I had a friend of mine, a wonderful man, who had been married for 50 years and his wife died. She was a wonderful person and had done all the cooking and laundry for them for their entire married life. When she died he was confronted by two painful realities. He had a washer and dryer that he had no clue on how to work, and a refrigerator full of food that he did not know how to cook. He had never, in his entire life, done laundry and had never cooked anything more than toast or steaks on the backyard grill.
Here was a man in his 70’s and many people in his position in life would have felt lost and overwhelmed. He went to the library and took out books. He read about how to use a washer and dryer and did his laundry. He got some basic cookbooks and cooked his way through his refrigerator. He became self-sufficient. What he found out was that it was less the books and research he did, it was actually doing it. Unless we take the time to actually sit and pray, we never really learn.
The second thing is learning to listen at prayer.
Years ago, at my previous church the tradition was that the pastor would turn and face the altar and do the Offertory prayer facing the altar. I did this every Sunday so it was automatic. There, like here, I say the exactly same prayer before the sermon, “My the words of my mouth,” prayer. Like here, I did it every week.
I plead guilty to getting into prayer ruts and I did the same prayer every week for the Offertory. One Sunday I placed the gifts on the altar, turned and face the altar and said, “My the words of my mouth…” One person figured this out listening to a recording of the Worship Service. I didn’t realize I had done it and no one in the congregation had listened to the prayer either.
I went to a workshop in seminary once and the leader gave us a demonstration of a prayer and said that in his opening prayer, which was a tad lengthy, ended with him asking God that we all be struck with malaria and leprosy and our cars turn to rust and our houses burn down, as we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. And we all said, AMEN. He played it back to us. No one in the seminary had picked up on the ending of the prayer. We had all tuned out.
Part of my daily prayer is praying Psalms. I try, and I’m not always successful, to pay attention to the words with the intention of listening to what the words are saying.
Sometimes I read the words and pray the words and they fill my heart. Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, when I listen and pray attention, my heart is filled with comfort and joy. Other times I end up reading Psalm 137 and it ends with the words, O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
Really listening to the words of the prayers forces me to confront all my thoughts and all my emotions.
Today we’ll pray the Lord’s Prayer. We do this every Sunday. It’s printed in the bulletin today and it’s Luke’s version. I’m not doing this to say the version we use is bad, or that we have to change. Next week it’ll be back to normal. But today, I’m using a different version from a different part of the Bible to force all of us to slow down and listen to the words.
Prayers is not just about saying words, it’s about listening.
The last thing I want to say is that prayer keeps us focused on God. When we take time to pray every day we have the ability to remain focused on the way of God.
Paul, in his letter to the Colossians references people who are captive through philosophy and empty deceit. Being someone who majored in Philosophy my ears perked up.
Paul is making a reference to what we would call the secular world and the religious world; the realm of humanity and the realm of God. Philosophy can live in both or it can live in just the secular realm. I taught Ethics in a college and I had to focus on Philosophical ethics as opposed to Christian ethics. They often come to the same conclusion and often use the same reasoning to come to those conclusions. One, however, adds the issue of faith and God’s will into the picture.
It is, however, easy to get lost in the world of pure reasoning and pure logic and reason our way away from God. It is easy to put our hope and faith in things that are not related to God. It can be money, power, technology, and other people.
When we pray, we keep our focus on God. It does not mean we can no longer integrate logic into our lives, or technology, or money, or power, and especially other people. We cannot survive in a world without these things and people. But our world and our lives are greatly lacking when we do not make God a central part of our lives.
Do you pray? Everyone here does. To be at Worship in July speaks volumes. But we probably all strive and desire to pray better. The best way to do it, is to do it. It’s important to listen, and it’s important because it keeps us connected with God.
Prayer, after all, is a lifestyle, not an emergency exit.