1 Kings 3:5-12 Psalm 119:129-136 Romans 8:26-39 Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Last week we heard that one of the attractions of Islam to some is its spiritual disciplines of praying and fasting. About praying one of the things people liked was the physical aspect of it – kneeling and bowing. It’s funny because we Anglicans used to be known in our worship for sitting, kneeling, standing, sitting, kneeling and standing. We gave it up but apparently that is what people like about prayer. In our first reading, what we hear about is what God likes about prayer, and surely that is most important. What does God like ?
Number one rule about what God likes about prayer, is asking for what God wants “Thy will be done” we actually pray that in the Lord’s Prayer. We should honour it !
Number two rule don’t be selfish in prayer, asking for this or that for your own benefit. It is better to pray like Solomon asking to be a wiser person, a more useful person, and to pray for better skills to use in helping others than prayers for yourself, now that is very difficult to do because we often need things for ourselves, like a cure, or peace through a change in an enemy’s heart, or something to do with finances.
Asking for a cure is asking God to go against the Nature He created. Asking for courage and trust in facing a health problem is better, it may or may not yield a cure but you will have a better spirit by enduring the struggle if it is not God’s will that you heal, and far better than blaming God if your cure doesn’t seem to materialise.
Asking for a change in an enemy’s heart and for them to leave you alone is making the assumption that he/she is wrong and you are right. If you are right of course God will back you up but if you are actually in the wrong you will be asking God to side with the wrong side. I know you know that would not be right, so ask for understanding and peace between you instead.
Asking for financial help, is not really of much interest to God I’m sure, we know that from Jesus’ teaching on the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, they have enough in life (Luke 12:24-27) and from Paul who said “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Is God really going to put temptation in your way ? Often getting plain old cash is not the answer to financial problems, how many lottery winners can attest to that. And money by itself doesn’t make you happy, ask the rich. The answer to financial problems is to be found in handling what you already have, managing it better than the way that got you into the fix in the first place. Praying for budgeting skills and the will power not to buy that extra, large bag of potato chips would be a far better prayer. Canadians overall debt level is frightening, the whole country, including all its governments, should get on their knees and pray such a prayer.
But you know when we pray it might be better to start with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for that very moment; thanks that despite all the things we’ve done wrong we still know God is for us; thanks for our situation good or bad we are not alone so it is not all bad; thanks of course for our families and friends. Thanks as we get up in the morning and thanks as we go to bed. It has been said if you have difficulty praying then just saying “Thanks” is enough of a prayer.
It sometimes is difficult to pray. The Celtic Church from which we are descendants treated prayer as a parallel and accompaniment to every action, even simple things like walking, praying that each step will bring us closer to God; or when cooking or eating, praying a remembrance that God created all good things to eat and that as we nourish our bodies so may our eternal spirits be nourished for life’s journey; or working, remembering that God worked that first week and gave us a beautiful world and has hardly stopped since; or sleeping that our slumber will be as refreshing as when we lie down for the last time and are refreshed by heaven.
There is no moment in our lives when God is not present, so it makes sense to pray every moment to God, not just five times a day. That doesn’t mean that everything has to stop while we pray, not at all, prayer should be a part of every action. And I don’t mean “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” because God, prayer and violence are not compatible.
So on displays of praying let me remind you of what Jesus said “whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward” (Matthew 6:5). And on the matter of fasting, do so if it helps your spiritual discipline, but again as Jesus said “whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18). Now in all of this we must not lose sight of the truth that we worship the one true God, there is no other like Him. The Israelites, on their way to the Promised Land, were told “you shall worship no other god” and that they must not make a covenant with those of other religions because they would corrupt them (Exodus 34:14a, 15a). Surely those are words for these times just as much as then because “There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is no one besides me” says the LORD (Isaiah 45:21b). It’s right to understand those of other religious persuasions but we must not be distracted from the narrow way, the only road that leads to eternal life. So constantly pray to, and believe in, our God and His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Pray without ceasing for only through God in the Holy Trinity do we find the Kingdom of Heaven, there is no other Way. Pray on ! Amen.