Faith + Hope = Prayer Recording:
Faith + Hope = Prayer
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 9, 2020
Passages: Jonah 2:1-9; Matthew 14:22-33
Back in April I spoke to you all via our Sunday emails about Faith and Hope. Our Faith which is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit enables our Hope in His promises. So, today I am adding a third component; Prayer. Prayer is our link to God, it keeps us in tune with Him and His Kingdom. But just like the disciples asked of Jesus; Lord, teach us to pray, so too must we focus on how and for what we pray. But be assured our Lord will enable us, guide us and comfort us when we tune into Him.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; 14 if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14-12-14
What does this promise from Jesus really mean? Can I just ask for whatever I wish in His name and I’ll get it? Is this the theology of “Name it and claim it” or is Jesus our “heavenly butler?”
Should I pray like Janis Joplin did in her song “O Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”
Or, should we pray that Jesus would be our “fixer?” “O Lord, please, if I only had a better job then I could………………..(Add your own petition here.)”
How many times have you prayed for something you thought was needed but instead something else happened? In my walk I can remember numerous occasions where I felt my prayers were ignored. A particularly difficult event occurred many years ago in business. I had entered into a contract with some people to do specific work. When the work was completed, I discovered that my perception of the completed work and the other people’s perception were far apart. Following numerous failed negotiations, I faced a choice: sue in court for contract enforcement or settle and move on. Trust me, I felt very strongly that I had been wronged and I sought relief through much prayer along with consultation with attorneys and the advice of my Bible study brothers.
But let’s take a closer look at what Jesus said in the passage from John. “…he who believes in me will also do the works that I do…”. Jesus is not saying that we need to tell Him what needs to be done. He is telling us to believe in who He is and that He represents God’s Kingdom and the spreading of God’s Kingdom on earth. If we believe He is the Lord of Lords and is God in the flesh then should we not want to be a part of His plan? Should we not be listening to what He says and to discern His plans so that we can be a part of those plans?
So, back to my story, after much angst I was finally led to decide not to sue but to settle. Not exactly what I had prayed for; but I felt via prayer and my Bible Study brothers that I was able to discern that the distraction of a prolonged multi-year suit would severely hinder all other aspects of my life and make me ineffectual for His work.
Yes, we can cry out in frustration or anger when things don’t go our way but the message here is to tune into God via prayer and see what His plans are. His plan may be just comfort at a time of grief and His plan may not appear instantly. But the way we seek Him is through prayer and confirming what we hear in scripture.
As an example let’s look at Jonah in today’s reading. Preceding these verses Jonah was instructed by God to go and preach to Nineveh which was not a place a Hebrew would want to go in those days – the Assyrians really did not like the Jews and vice versa, the Jews did not like the Assyrians. Jonah would rather disobey God then to allow the Assyrians to hear God’s Word. So Jonah fled as far as he could on a ship, but God intervened with a storm. The ship’s crew found out he was fleeing from God and they tossed him overboard to save themselves. Then along comes a very large sea creature and Jonah is now 3 days and nights inside this fish and he finally decides he needs to re-think his plan.
Our passage today is Jonah’s prayer and please note this prayer is a prayer of praise, not a petition. For me the key verse is 7 –
“When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord;”
Is this statement not true for all of us? I know for me it is. Do we not expend all of our energies until we realize things are beyond our understanding or abilities? Only then do we finally go to the Lord for direction. The solution may not be immediate nor might it be the solution we would have preferred. But, in time, as in my own story, I was able to look back and I saw that I survived, I was OK and I could see the benefit through God’s plan. I could feel the burden lifted from me.
The primary takeaway from Jonah’s experience can be expressed in verse 9 b: “Deliverance belongs to the Lord.” For all things work for the good of the Kingdom according to His Plan and Jonah expresses this in this prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
In our second reading we can also see a similar event take place, except in perhaps a shorter time frame. The disciples are in a boat far from shore and for hours they are being tossed by wind and waves. Suddenly here comes Jesus walking toward them. Rather than being relieved they think Him to be a ghost and they are more afraid. But Peter calls out to Jesus and asks to come to Him. Jesus bids him come and Peter steps out on the water. Again, rather than keeping his focus on Jesus, Peter’s focus strays to the apparent danger around him and thus begins to sink. Jesus rebukes Peter for his faithlessness but still reaches out to lift him from the water.
The key for me in this story is that Jesus is the living version of God’s Kingdom on earth. As long as Peter was focused upon Jesus, he did not sink; but as soon as his focus drifted from Jesus to the chaos around him, he sank. So it is with us, when we go to the Lord in prayer, we should be focused on Him, His Kingdom and His Plan. Yes, the world around us can cause us to be distracted, but as Peter cried for help, so can we. Although Jesus rebuked Peter for his unbelief, He was there to give a hand to Peter; and God is ever present to help us, too.
From these two readings we see that prayer should seek God’s will, not our own, and that the chaos of this world cannot blind us from seeking His Kingdom. For His Kingdom is where love rules, so that as Jesus did so do we. We pray to praise Him, we pray to thank Him, we pray for Him to guide and comfort us, we pray to find out how we can actively participate in His Kingdom and to share His mercy on those in need. Through prayer we receive His grace that enables us to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with Him.
In conclusion, the formula I have used as the title of this talk is intentional to convey that our prayers should never be “vain” or self-serving. For just as the Lord made us, he knows exactly what we need as He has told us in Luke 12:22-24
22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!
Our prayers are empowered by the Holy Spirit which enables our Faith which supports our Hope in His promises and in turn gives our prayers a focus on:
Seeking His Kingdom in heaven and earth, so that we can be His hands and feet,
Seeking His Will for others in order to care for our neighbor,
Being thankful that He feeds us physically and spiritually,
Asking forgiveness of our unholiness and
Guiding us away from sinful actions and thoughts.