First steps in prayer

Good morning, Friends!

It certainly has been a wet weekend. I thought about changing out one of our hymns for today and having us sing, There Shall Be Showers of Blessings, but I thought you all might start throwing things at me.

I don’t know if any of you might have heard the old story about the man who was going down a back country road. It had been raining pretty hard all week, and there were lots of ruts and mud holes.

He came to a mud hole that looked extra deep, and as he looked down, he saw a hat floating on the water. He took another look, and he saw that the hat was moving. In consternation, he picked up the hat, and underneath the hat he saw the head of his next-door neighbor.

He said to his neighbor, “John, you’re in trouble, aren’t you?”

His neighbor answered back, “No, I’m not in trouble. I still have my horse underneath me!”

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tent and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.

Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.

Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord!

– Psalm 27

We’ve been looking at some of the basics here in worship for the last several weeks. There’s a reason for that. We need to get to know each other, and the basics are a great way to do that. There is nothing more basic than the love of God, which we talked about early last month.

There’s also not much more basic than understanding that God provides for us, all the time. God’s love and mercy are fresh every day. We saw that in the story of the manna in the desert.

Last week we looked at the nature of the church. The church isn’t just boards and bricks. It’s a living structure, made up of living stones. That’s what we are – we are the church, the people, not the building. That’s a pretty basic idea.

This morning we’re looking at another basic area – we’re looking at prayer. There is almost nothing more important than prayer, in our daily lives and in the way we think about God. We all have different experiences, we all have different journeys, but we all pray.

I don’t want to tell you very much about prayer, because I think you all know much more than you realize. Prayer is simply the way we talk together with God. It’s a form of conversation. It’s a kind of communication.

It doesn’t need special thee and thou words. It doesn’t need to be done in a stained-glass voice. Prayer doesn’t need to be somebody else’s words, read from a book. I think it’s better when prayer is in our own words – the simpler, the better.

Tell me something. Do you ever pray to God when you’re upset? Do you ever pray to God in times of distress, or grief?

How about emotional stress? Do you ever pray to God when you’re angry?
Do you think that God hears you, when you pray at times like those?

Prayer is not just for times when our lives are together, when we’re calm and centered and peaceful inside.

One of the psalm writers starts out his prayer by saying, “Save me, O Lord, for the waters have come up to my neck!” (Psalm 69:1)

Do you think that sounds like the prayer of a calm, centered and peaceful person?
I don’t think so, either. I think that sounds like the prayer of a drowning person!

“Lord, the dam’s busted, there’s flash floods all over the county, I tripped and fell into a ditch, I’m in the deep end and I’m going down for the third time. Help!”

That’s one kind of prayer. It’s for when we’re in trouble, not when we’re in control. It’s for when we’re a mess, not when we’ve got our nice clean Sunday clothes on.

This morning’s reading from Psalm 27 says that. It says, “Help, Lord! I’m surrounded by enemies, they’re attacking me, they’re trying to eat me alive! Help!”

Have you ever felt you were in a situation like that? Have you ever felt surrounded, ambushed, battered, besieged and out of control?

Prayer is crying out to God, with whatever words you have. Sometimes you’re all alone. Sometimes you cry out with a friend, or a relative, or as a gathered meeting. Prayer is a cry from the heart.

I think we focus too much on nice manners with our prayer. I think we should care more about being honest with God, instead. Prayer is about reality.

Tell me something else.

Should you pray just once, and then forget about it, or should you keep on praying, and pray persistently? What do you think?

I thought so. Jesus told lots of stories about prayer. He once told a story about a woman whose husband had died. She didn’t have anyone to help her, and she needed a legal decision to be made in her favor.

She went to a judge, and he turned her down. The judge was crooked, and he expected a bribe before he’d help anyone. But the woman didn’t give up. She kept on, going back, again and again, until finally the crooked judge was disgusted and gave her what she wanted.

Jesus said, “If a crooked judge will do that, don’t you think that God, who loves you, will come running to help you when you need it? Don’t you think that God, who loves you, will want to show you his favor?”

So, yes, we should persist in prayer. We should never quit, no matter how bad things seem. Never stop praying. Never give up!
Tell me something else.

When we pray, should we only ask for the minimum? Should we only pray for second best outcome, or third or fourth best?

Or should we ask God for what we really want? Should we ask God for what we really hope for? Should we ask God to open up the full resources of what God has in store?

What do you think?

Here at Springfield, we’re starting to do a lot better than we were a few months ago. We’ve been to a pretty low place, and we’re starting to climb back upward.

Do you think we should ask God just to bring us back to where we were a year ago?

Do you think we should be praying for God help bring us back to where we were four or five years ago?

Why are we looking in the rear-view mirror at all?

I can see that this has been a strong meeting. I can see the faith and hope and love that so many people have had. I can see the evidence of so many programs and activities that have taken place here. You only have to look around to see the vision that people had in creating this place. It was tremendous!

But I don’t think we should be asking God to give us back our past. I think we should be asking God to lead us into our future.

I can guess at a few things that could happen here in our meeting. We can make plans and dreams and work on them together.

But you know, I wonder if God is willing to help us achieve more than our plans and dreams. Do you think God is really willing to help us to grow?

It would be great to have just a few more people around the meeting. It would be great to have some more financial stability, a few new programs, a few new ideas.

But what if God is willing to help us with more than that? Are we not praying for enough? Are our prayers too small?

Are we praying regularly, night and day, week in and week out, for God to bless us, and make us a great people again?

Are we praying for God to give us more than we ask for, more than we’re capable of dreaming?

Are we still looking in the rear-view mirror, or are we asking God to lead us into a bright future? Are we praying, not just to survive, but to thrive and grow?

Are we praying for God to make us a light on the hilltop, a new center of growth, a place where people come to learn how to love each other?

Are we praying to God for fresh life, fresh manna, fresh outpouring of wisdom and Spirit?

I’m teaching a class every week on Quaker history and beliefs, because I know that people are hungry for knowledge about how the early Quakers lived and believed.

But I don’t want us to be our Quaker ancestors. I think that our past is glorious, but I’d like our future to be pretty special, too! You won’t get anywhere, if you drive around with your eye glued to the rear-view mirror. You have to look ahead, and be excited by all the places God has in front of us!

One of the best lines in this morning’s psalm reading is,

“My heart says, ‘Seek his face,’
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper. . .”

Seeking God’s face is what prayer is all about. Prayer is seeking persistently for the face of God, wherever God’s face can be found.

It’s seeking. It’s asking. It’s knocking. It’s listening. It’s finding.
Prayer is hoping. It’s believing. It’s trusting.

Prayer is trusting in God, when we don’t see the way. Prayer is believing in God’s goodness and love, even when we’re tired and discouraged and uncertain.

Prayer is placing our hope – our future – in God’s hands, and then taking the steps that are before us.

This morning’s psalm ends by saying,

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Those are some of the greatest words in the entire Bible.
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

I will see that goodness while I am still alive. I will see that goodness while I’m here to enjoy it! Goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. God’s house will be my house. Pain and disappointment are in my past – they’re not in my future. My future is bright with hope! My future is in God’s hands!

The final words of the psalm are so important:

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart;
wait for the Lord.

Prayer is asking and giving thanks. Prayer is praising and saying we’re sorry for our mistakes.

But prayer is also waiting – not in fear, not impatiently, not dwelling in our past, not dwelling on our disappointments. Prayer is waiting, with love and joy and hope. Prayer is waiting for the love of God to break forth in our day, in our generation.

Prayer is being confident that good things will happen soon.

I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart; wait for the Lord!

Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Brown

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