Ho, Ho, Ho

To quote Uncle Albert, “I love to laugh”.  The other day, on my way through airport security my carry-on luggage was flagged for further inspection.  The suspicious article that showed up on the x-ray was my shaving mug and soap.  When I was trying to explain what it was, and that it wasn’t a liquid or gel, I noticed the lady who was questioning me kept glancing at the mug and at my mug.

Trying to ease the situation I said, “You’re probably wondering why I need shaving cream.”  To which she replied without missing a beat “Oh, I know why you need it, I just don’t know why you have it.”  And then she laughed and I knew all was good.

The Bible tells us that laughter is a good medicine. And the great thing is, that unlike most medicine, it’s cheap, you don’t need a prescription and there are no side effects.  And laughter is readily available, but only if you want it.  And if you feel that you’ve lost your laughter then the promise of Job 8:21 is for you,  “He (God) will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.”  Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but He will fill your mouth with laugher again.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Healing Prayers

I love
this story.  Here we see Jesus healing
not one person or two but four in three separate instances and if we had of
kept reading we would have discovered that after leaving the blind men he
healed a man who was mute.
And this
wasn’t an isolated incident in the story.  
Contained within the 4 Gospels are 16 specific instances of Christ
healing people, He healed the lame, the blind, the lepers, the epileptic, he
even healed one of the soldiers who came to arrest him.
And after
Matthew had recorded these four specific healing incidents, he tells us Matthew 9:35-36  Jesus
traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the
synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every
kind of disease and illness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on
them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
 
As we
read through the gospels one thing that we discover is that Jesus really didn’t
seem to care who he healed, he wasn’t all that selective over the type of
disease, the geographical area, the race of the healee or the technique that he
used.
He healed
blindness, epilepsy, leprosy, and paralysis. 
He healed in Galilee, Nazareth and Jerusalem, and he healed Jews,
Samaritans and Gentiles.  Some people he
touched, some he spoke to, some he made mud packs for their eyes.  Some he didn’t even see but simply spoke the
word from a distance and the healing took place.
And in
all the charges that Jesus’ enemies brought against him they never doubted that
he healed people, there was just too much evidence.  In some instances his critics  saw it with their own eyes.
The one
common denominator that we see in all of these healings is the element of
faith.  Time and time again we hear Jesus
tell people “You are now well because of your faith.” and
sometimes it didn’t even have to be the sick person who had the faith, in the
book of Mark some guys brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus and when they
couldn’t get him through the crowd they went up on the roof tore a hole in the
roof and lowered their friend down listen to what it says in Mark 2:5  Seeing
their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are
forgiven.”
Notice it
wasn’t how much faith the crippled man had but the amount of faith the crippled
man’s friends had. 
Years
ago, I met a man by the name of Rod Lewis. 
He was a singer, and had been in a wheelchair since birth.  And he told me about how he’d been prayed for
at different times through the years to be healed and when it hadn’t happened
he had been rebuked for not having enough faith. But throughout the bible we
see people being healed and a lot of times it wasn’t necessarily their faith
that was commended. 
Sometimes
they didn’t even know that a healing was in the cards.  One of my favourite stories in the bible is
from the book of Acts when Peter and John were on their way to pray in the
temple and saw the crippled man laying outside the gate begging. 
And Peter
goes over and tells him Acts 3:6  But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for
you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,
get up and walk!”
The
beggar didn’t have a clue who Peter was or what Peter had to offer, all he
wanted was some change and he was healed, not because of his faith but because
of Peter’s faith. 
The
story is told that Thomas Aquinas, was being entertained by Pope Innocent IV.  One day the pope, looked around at the Papal
palace and told Aquinas: “You see that the Church is no longer in an age
in which she can say, Silver and gold have I none” “It is true, holy
father,” replied Aquinas, “nor can she now say to the lame man, Rise
up and walk!”  That is what is known in preaching as “An aside”.
But what
is faith?  The Bible defines faith in the
book of Hebrews
11:1
when it says Faith is the confidence
that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things
we cannot see.
Often
when we think of healing we think of a physical healing, the lame walk, the
deaf hear, the mute speak the blind see. 
But that isn’t the only type of healing we see in the bible.
There is
a Healing for our Spirit.
  Sometimes we view the people of
the bible through rose coloured glasses, never believing that they might have
problems or be in the least bit down or depressed. 
In the
book of 1 Samuel we read the story of Hannah, maybe you know the story, maybe
you don’t.  In the first chapter, we discover
that she was married to Elkanah and they loved each other very much but they
couldn’t have children.  And that was
something she wanted desperately. 
It’s so
hard for those of us who have children to understand sometime the heartbreak
felt by those who are childless.  On the
other hand, It’s so hard for those who are childless to understand sometime the
heartbreak felt by those of us who have children.
And it’s
not all that uncommon, just off the top of my head I can think of a number of
couples within my circle of acquaintances who
can’t have children for one reason or another and I’m sure that many of them
share the feelings that Hannah expressed in 1 Samuel 1:10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord.
But
Hannah wasn’t the only person in the Bible that experienced the blues listen to
what Moses had to say in Numbers 11:14-15 I can’t
carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy!  If this is how you intend to treat me, just
go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!”  Sounds like the life of the party
doesn’t he?
And
listen to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:4 Then he went
on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary
broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take
my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” 
And then
there was King David, who wrote most of the Psalms, who penned these
words:  Psalms 22:6-8 But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all! Everyone
who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying, “Is this the
one who relies on the Lord?” Each of these people needed to have their
spirits healed because they had given up.  And each of them eventually received the
emotional healing they needed.
I’m not
saying that their problems weren’t severe, but their problems certainly weren’t
unique nor were they fatal.  In 2017 our
country and our churches are full of people who have fallen and can’t get
up.  And here is the good news for the
morning, we will all fall.  You ever
watch babies learning how to walk?  They
don’t just get it.  They try and they
wobble and they fall down, and they get back up again and they try again and
they wobble again and they fall down again. 
It’s kind
of a recurring theme until they finally get it right, because babies have
discovered the truth of life and that is “If you walk you will fall.”  Sometimes we fall because of fear, or
inexperience or lack of preparation or over confidence or sometimes we just
fall.
And the
more we attempt to do the more likely we are to fall.  Like it or not them are the facts.  Can anyone remember where they were on
January 28, 1986?  No how about this can
anyone remember where they were when Christa McAuliffe died?  She was the school teacher aboard the space
shuttle Challenger when it exploded 73 seconds after take-off. I was driving on
Pictou Road in Bible Hill when I heard the news on the radio.
There are
those who would say that had Christa McAuliffe not gone into space that she
would have survived, yes but the question is would she have lived?
Life is
going to be full of falls, the farther you reach, the faster you run, the
longer you go the percentages begin to pile up. 
The privilege of success is tempered by the risk of a fall.
The
difference between Success and failure is contained in our reaction to our
falls. 
Some people center their entire experiences
around one fall, they look at it, replay it, over and over again but they never
get on with life.  It doesn’t matter how
successful they had been and can be all they see is the fall.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,
you’re not a failure until you quit. 
Never be down, either be up or getting up.
And if
you are down, and you don’t think you can get up by yourself maybe you’re
right.  But then again if you are a child
of God then you don’t need to get up by yourself cause he’s there to help you
up.  When Christ started his earthly ministry,
he began by making an appearance in the synagogue he
read a passage of scripture that would shape his ministry listen. 
The
scripture that Jesus read that day were the words of Isaiah 61:1  The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and
to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.
If you’ve
fallen then God is there.  If you can’t
get up, if you’re too tired and you’ve called it quits, don’t despair listen
again to the words of Jesus He has sent Me to comfort
the brokenhearted.  Do you fit in
that category?  Has your heart been
broken, has your spirit been crushed?  But
you have to be willing to be picked up.

Are you crying out to
God today for an emotional healing?  If
so he’s there.  David must have
discovered that as well because he wrote in Psalm 34:18  The Lord
is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose
spirits are crushed.
And so Jesus is there
to heal your broken spirit, but more then that we read in Jeremiah 3:22 “My wayward children,” says the Lord, “come back to me, and I
will heal your wayward hearts.”

There is
a Healing for Our Souls 
Sometimes
we pray for a physical healing and neglect a spiritual healing.  As a matter of fact, I marvel when I hear
Christians ask for prayer for the physical healing of an unbelieving loved one
and yet they’ve never asked for prayer for their salvation.  
If we go
back to the scripture we started with we read in Matthew
9: 36
When he saw the crowds, he had
compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without
a shepherd.
Why did Jesus have compassion on
the crowds?  Not because they were sick
but because they were lost.
As much
as we place a high premium on physical health, think of weight loss centers,
gyms, fitness clubs etc. we need to put an even higher premium on spiritual
health.  Psalm 41:4 “O Lord,” I prayed, “have mercy
on me. Heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
Let me
paraphrase the words of Jesus from Matthew 10:28 Jesus said “Do not be afraid of those
diseases which can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of
those diseases which can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  That disease is sin. And it is a
terminal disease.  Listen to what the
Bible says in Romans
6:23
For the wages of sin is death.
That’s
not physical death, because if you haven’t heard yet we are all going to
die.  Instead it’s a spiritual death.
Sin is what separates you from
God, it creates a chasm that you cannot cross, and the only part that you have
in your spiritual healing is repentance. 
Repentance is simply telling God that you’re sorry for what you’ve done,
not just a little sorry but so sorry you’re not going to do it again.  That’s the message that Peter was teaching in
Acts 3:19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins
may be wiped away.
Did you
catch what happens there, your sins will be wiped away, that’s called
forgiveness and that’s God’s part.  Are
you crying out to God today for a spiritual healing? If so he’s there. 
But the
healing that Jesus offers is not just for our spirits and our souls.
James 5:14-15 Are any
among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them
pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. And their prayer
offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make them well. And
anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.
There is
a Healing for Our Bodies
 This is the one you were waiting
for isn’t it?  You are wondering “Where’s
he going with this, does he believe in divine physical healing?”  I not only believe that Jesus Christ healed
people when he walked through the Holy Land 2000 years ago, I also believe that
he heals people today.  You with me?
But in
saying that here a couple of things to think about:  
1) Let’s
keep God’s will in mind.
  Probably praying for your 96
year old granny to be healed physically may not be what God has in mind.  We need to admit that some people are ready
to be with God, and when we pray for their healing we are praying out of
selfishness, cause we don’t want to lose them. 
We say
that heaven is a wonderful place, but we don’t always act like we believe
it.  Sometimes we need to use common
sense when we pray for physical healing. 
Adam
Clarke, a
preacher from the late 1700’s wrote that when we pray for healing it ought to
be like this:  “If
it be most for thy glory, and the eternal good of this man’s soul, let him be
restored; if otherwise, Lord, pardon, purify him, and take him to thy glory.”
2)
Healing isn’t absolute
  We don’t know why but God
doesn’t always heal.  Paul spoke about
his thorn in the flesh, we don’t know what it was but most scholars feel that
it was some type of physical ailment that Paul wanted removed, listen to what
he said in 2
Corinthians 12:7-9
even though I have
received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming
proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me
and keep me from becoming proud.
Three
different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace
is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast
about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
If God
healed every physical problem then people would never die and people do die.
When you
say “Faith Healing” a whole generation of people think of Kathryn Kuhlman who
traveled the world doing Healing Crusades from the late 40s to the mid 70s and
she died of heart problems on February 20th 1976.
John
Wimber one of the founders of the Signs and Wonders movement in the seventies
wrote “Power Healing” and yet he died of a brain hemorrhage on November 17,
1997. 
I saw a
sign in a doctor’s office once that said, “Don’t take life
too serious you’ll never get out of it alive.” Ain’t that the
truth. 


When I
was in High School in English we had to take poetry, remember?  And as a 17 year old one of John Donne’s Holy
Sonnets struck a chord with me, perhaps you remember it as well.
Holy Sonnet # 10 or Death Be
Not Proud
Death
be not proud,
though
some have called thee
Mighty
and dreadful,
for
thou art not so,
For
those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die
not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From
rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much
pleasure: then from thee much more must flow,
And
soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest
of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou
art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And
dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And
poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And
better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One
short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And
death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
The
ultimate healing for the Christian has to be death, and that’s not a cop out,
death may be the enemy but it’s a defeated enemy, the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:
54-55
“Death is swallowed up in
victory.  O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
3) Let’s
recognize that we don’t pray enough for divine healing.
  People have died because they had not been prayed
over, do you believe that?  God does heal
and he expects us to pray for healing. 
Does that mean we should neglect proper medical care?  No, being a believer doesn’t mean that you
are stupid, or at least it shouldn’t. 
God can and does heal though doctors and hospitals.  
4) It is
an act of faith.
  The term faith healer is
redundant, it’s like a Born Again Christian, you can’t be a Christian unless
you’re born again, and you can’t heal without faith.  But the onus appears to be on the healer not
on the healee.  How much is enough faith?
 I don’t know, obviously enough to
heal.  And faith will never ask less than
that you believe.
5) The Bible gives us clear
direction for healing
and that’s
laid down in the scripture in James 5:14-15  Are
any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray
over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer
offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if
you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.
1) They
should call the elders of the church. 
Who does the calling? The person who is sick. You can’t force a person
to be prayed over, and we can’t force our desire for someone to be healed on
them.
2) The
leaders should pray over the person who needs to be healed for healing.  Specifically for healing, let’s not beat
around the bush on that one.
3) There
is an anointing with oil.  And I’ve read
that because oil was considered. . .
4) It
should be done in the name of the Lord
5) It
must be a prayer of faith.
So, where
you at? 

Seriously

It was one of those newspaper articles that made me go:  Seriously?   Garage owner Chad Rankin is appealing a court decision that found him to be responsible for an accident involving two teens in 2006.
The teens, who had been drinking and smoking pot, trespassed onto Rankin’s property and stole a car that had been left at the garage. The driver had never driven before and ended up crashing the car leaving his passenger with horrific head injuries.
The injured passenger, who was fifteen at the time, sued the driver, the driver’s parents and the garage owner for negligence.  And won!
The court placed most of the blame on Rankin, saying people entrusted with motor vehicles “must assure themselves that the youth in their community are not able to take possession of such dangerous objects.” 
The rationale was if the garage owner hadn’t left the car unlocked with the keys in the ashtray the teens wouldn’t have been placed in a dangerous situation.
The garage owner was found to bear 37% of the blame while the teen who stole the car was only assigned 23% of the blame.
The Word of God tells us that ultimately our sins will find us out and at that point it will be all about grace and not about blame.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

Unanswered Prayer

God Answers Prayer, But Not
Always
Prayer
helps us feel closer to God, more connected to the church and extremely guilty
if it is perceived that we don’t do it enough or correctly.  And this is one of the verses that is often
claimed as a promise for praying Christians: 
James 5:16 The earnest
prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful
results.   And no matter what translation you read it in it is just as
powerful, the King James Version says James 5:16 The effectual
fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
While
the New International Version reads:  James 5:16 The prayer of a righteous man
is powerful and effective.
And
it is my opinion that this is the one
of the most encouraging verses for praying Christ followers and in the same
breath one of the most discouraging verses for praying Christ followers. 
Encouraging because it truly is a great
promise, listen to it again: James 5:16 The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and
produces wonderful results.  If you are a righteous person and if you pray
earnestly your prayers will have great power and produce wonderful
results.  And we have all heard
incredible testimonies about the answer to prayers, people healed, love found,
employment gained, children saved, football games won. Obviously, those who prayed were righteous people who prayed earnestly.
But what about when people aren’t
healed?  When love is lost, a job can’t
be found, children continue to wander and the football game is lost?  What then? 
What does that say about the person who prayed?  Are they not as righteous? Are their prayers
not as earnest because the results are not wonderful and not powerful?
This scripture came to mind a couple of weeks
ago in a matter of answered prayer, and because I’m older than dirt I
remembered it in the King James James 5:16 The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.  And
as I thought about it and celebrated it I realized that James didn’t finish the
thought, what he should have written was James 5:16 The effectual
fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, but not always.
Now before you get out your torches and
pitchforks in an effort to run me out of town you need to recognize two
things.  The first is “You can’t” and the
second is that I’m right.  Because no
matter who you are, no matter how righteous you might be, no matter has
fervently you might pray, not all of your prayers have been answered.  And if you were feeling particularly honest
then you would admit that you don’t always understand why not and sometimes you
get a little cranky about it.
If we are truthful, there have probably been times that you felt
like David when he wrote in Psalm 22:1-2 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away
when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.
And if the truth be known you don’t need a
sermon on how to pray, you’ve got that figured out.  You might not feel comfortable praying when
other people are around or praying out loud or in in public but you have no
problem praying then you know how to pray, it’s just talking to God, even if it’s
as simple as “Dear lord I pray his radar wasn’t turned on, or help my baby get
better, or let me win the lottery.”
But prayer shouldn’t be a shopping list, it
should be a conversation between hearts. 
A conversation between your heart and God’s heart.
And we know why we pray, we pray
when we feel helpless and when we can’t do it ourselves.  So we know the why and the how of
prayer.  Sure we might need to be
reminded that prayer is supposed to be an ongoing conversation with God and not
simply a shopping list of things we want, that it should include some thank-yous
along with the pleases.    Because we’ve
been quoting Meister Eckhart a lot lately he
once said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your
entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
But for the most part we all know how to
pray.    Maybe we don’t do it enough but
most of us do it, even if it’s a prayer like 
Jacob
Astley’s 
“O Lord! thou knowest how busy I must be this day: if I forget thee, do
not thou forget me.”
So here is the question, why aren’t some
prayers answered?  Good question, so I
Googled it and got a whole bunch of reasons. 
Here are some of those reasons:

1. You are out of fellowship with
God.
2. You aren’t trying to please God
3. You have Unconfessed Sin in
your Life
4. You’re praying with Improper
Motives
5. You don’t know how to pray
6. You have a lack of faith
7. You quit too soon.

And well those are undoubtedly reasons;
I don’t think it’s super productive to tell people “The reason that your
prayers aren’t being answered is “you”.
“You” have no faith, or “You”
have the wrong faith or “You’re” just plain sinful.”  “Well thank you very much.” 
But without getting personal
there are some reasons for unanswered prayer and some things we need to
understand about prayer and about limits that God places on prayer.  Now I know that we like to think that the
power of prayer is unlimited, and in theory it is. But remember “In theory
there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.”
But for all practical purposes
there are limits on prayer that are imposed by God himself.
And there are things we need to
understand
We Need to Understand that God
Has a Plan. 
At this point we could say that prayer is limited by God’s will,
but we all have different ideas of what God’s will is, so let’s stick with understanding
that God has a plan for this world.
God’s design for this world is
that we would accept him as our Saviour and so when we die we will live with
Him for all eternity.  From time to time
I hear people talk about healing and occasionally they will say that God wants
everyone to be healthy and within certain limits I still believe that.  
However, the bible does say in Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is destined that each person dies only
once and after that comes judgment.   People do not live forever, that’s a plain and
simple fact of life, and because of that we shouldn’t be surprised when prayers for healing are not always
answered.
In 35 years of ministry I have
discovered 2 things.  The first is that
everybody dies.  The second is that in
most cases everybody dies too soon (Give
Examples)
I believe in the power of God to
heal, and I know that God does heal people, but I also know that not everyone
is healed.  And people die, Jesus died
and was raised to life again.  Our hope is a resurrection hope, that’s God’s
plan for the world and our prayers are limited by God’s plan.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t pray for
healing, but pray knowing that God is in control. 
I love the quote from John Wimber, one of the founders of the Vineyard Church, who
said “When we prayed for no one, no one was
healed.  Now we pray for lots of people
and some people are healed.”
When I was younger I thought that
when you prayed for healing and added “If it’s your will” that it was just a
cop out, that by adding that disclaimer you could always fall back on the “Well
I guess it just wasn’t God’s will.”  But
as I gotten older and perhaps wiser, depending on who you talk to, I’ve come to
understand that ultimately God knows what he’s doing, even if we don’t
understand it or agree with it.  And I’ll
talk about that later.

We Need to
Understand that God Designed the World
A pastor came into his church one day and noticed a boy at the
front praying, he went over to comfort the child and when the boy was done the
pastor asked him, “I know you were praying but why did you keep repeating Calgary,
Calgary, Calgary?” To which the boy responded, “I just finished my Canadian geography
test and I was praying that God would make Calgary the capital of Alberta.”  Probably not going to happen. 
There have been times that I’ve prayed for 48
hour days and unlimited energy so that I could accomplish all I wanted to
do.  But the sun still set at the usual
time and I still needed my rest.  Step
off a building you will get hurt, because gravity isn’t just a good idea, it’s
the law. 
God created this world with certain laws in
effect. We need our rest, and we need the universe to be a stable place to
live.  Design and order are necessary.  I know that in the book of
Joshua, Joshua prayed and God made the sun stand still but when we pray for
such things we must know that we’re praying for a miracle.  And a miracle
doesn’t require God to violate a “natural law” so much as it requires God to
violate the consistency of the universe.  
Psalm
104:19
You made
the moon to mark the seasons and the sun that knows when to set.
Prayers for God to move outside of those
boundaries affect the very course of nature.
We should not be surprised when our prayers
for miracles sometimes go unanswered.  
We Need to Understand the Primacy of Free
Will 
Who remembers the movie “Bruce Almighty”?    If you didn’t watch it you probably still
know the premise.  Bruce Nolan, played by
Jim Carrey, is a reporter in Buffalo New York who is constantly gripping about
how God treats him, so God, played by Morgan Freeman gives him his power,
temporarily,  to see what it is like to
be God.
Here is the scene where the rules are
explained:  (Clip from Bruce Almighty)  You got that right?  Don’t mess with free will. 
God didn’t violate your free will to force
you to become a Christian and he won’t violate the free well of others to force
them to become a Christian.  Nor will God
force people to give up alcohol or drugs or a destructive lifestyle. 
The greatest gift that he ever gave us was
the freedom to make choices for ourselves and he isn’t going to take that gift
away from someone else simply because you pray for it, no matter how noble your
motives are.  We should not be surprised
when some of our prayers for others go unanswered.  
Now if you’ve ever asked me to pray for the
salvation of a loved one, I will pray for their wisdom, I will pray that God’s
brings people into their path who will share a positive witness, I will pray
that you become a better example of Christ’s love and that you will have the
courage to share Christ with your loved one, but I will not pray that God will
make them a Christian.
Nor will I pray that God will make them stop
drinking, or smoking or cheating. 
We Need to Understand That We Are Not the
Only One Praying
How should
God decide whose prayers to answer. 
During the Super Bowl I wonder how many Falcon
fans were praying as compared to the number of Patriot fans? Do we presume that
more New England fans prayed than Atlanta fans? 
And they have a lot more mega churches in Atlanta, there’s a Wesleyan
Church in Atlanta whose Sunday morning attendance is great then the Sunday
Morning Attendance of every Wesleyan Church in Canada combined.  So And there are more mega churches in
Atlanta than there is in all of New England, so what does that say about their
the prayer lives? 
Probably the great example of this is
weather.  How many people pray for
specific weather requests?  We are
probably all guilty of that, aren’t we? 
Lord let it be a nice day for my wedding, let it be a nice day for the
picnic, let it rain for the crops and snow for the skiers.
What would happen if God granted everyone’s
weather requests?   Can you imagine it?  I mean the weather would
have to be different about every hundred feet!  It would have to be rainy
in this field and it would have to be sunny out behind this house.  It
would have to be twenty-eight degrees down Main Street and there would have to
be a ten-foot pile of snow in every child’s back yard!  It would be
ridiculous!  
And we shouldn’t be surprised that isn’t how
things work!  The Bible tells us that God is concerned about us as
individual people but it also tells us that God is concerned about nations and
groups of people and on some level that means God has to be concerned about all
of us together.   
If you remember in Bruce Almighty, Bruce gets
so overwhelmed with all the prayer requests that he answers everyone’s prayers
with a collective yes and everyone wins the lottery, they each get $17.00.  But that wasn’t what they were all praying for.

And some of those prayers are selfish.  If you are praying that you will get that
great job you are praying that someone else won’t.  If you are praying that someone you know gets
into surgery sooner because of a cancellation what are your prayers saying
about the person who had to cancel?  And
where will they go in the line-up.  And
what are we praying when we are asking for an organ donation for someone.
We Need to Understand That God is Probably
Smarter Than Us
Outside of
the limits that are on prayer we also need to realize that God created the
universe and most of us have a hard time putting our kids toys together at
Christmas. This would lead me to believe that God is smarter than we are.  Often prayers aren’t answered because it
wouldn’t be in our best interest.  Just
for a minute ask yourself what would happen if every prayer you had ever prayed
had been answered.  Who would you be
married to, what would you be doing for a career, where would you be living.
Sometime we just have to believe that God
knows best.  Maybe
St. Teresa of Avila had it right when she said There
are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.  Which is very similar to the words
written by Garth of Oklahoma who said “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers,  Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man
upstairs That just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
Have you ever made a purchase or decision
that you regretted soon afterwards?  You
know, buy a computer or phone and the upgrade comes out the next week.   Start
dating Mr. Right and then meet Mr. Right 2.0. 
Jump at a job opportunity and the company folds a month later.  Order the burger and then see the nachos at
the table next to yours. 
Sometimes God is waiting for even greater
things for you, more than you can imagine right now.
What
should we do when our prayers aren’t answered?

That wasn’t all that helpful, was it?  Learning why our prayers might not be
answered.  So what do we do when the sick
friend or loved one doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and the wayward
child still hasn’t come back to God. 
Does the fact that there are limits on our prayers mean that we should
just give up?  By no means.  Here are a few suggestions.
1.  Be Patient
First of all and maybe most importantly, be
patient.  Many of the things that we pray for we expect to happen
overnight. “Lord teach me to be patient” we pray one evening and expect to
have the patience of Job by daybreak! Be patient!  Just because it didn’t happen today doesn’t
mean it isn’t going to happen tomorrow, or next week or in a year.  A request delayed is not a request denied.
2.  Trust God
     Be patient but also trust
God’s wisdom.  Every child knows that there are times when parents say
“no” and that there are demands that parents don’t fulfill.  When it looks
like a prayer isn’t being answered don’t get your knickers in a knot!  God
hasn’t fallen off His throne.  The angels sent to guard you didn’t take a
wrong turn on the trans-Canada and wind up in going to Florida for the winter.
Whatever is happening for whatever reason God knows. Trust His wisdom and
goodness.  I always go back to a story I
heard years ago.  Two women were talking
and one say “Maybe God will be good and will heal your little boy.”  To which the second responded and said “God
will be good whether he heals my little boy or not.” 
Can we trust the wisdom of God even when it
runs contrary to what we think should happen?
3.  Ask Why or Why Not 
If a prayer isn’t being answered and God
knows why and what’s happening then we should also ask for some insight.
 We’re often told “don’t question God.”  True, it isn’t healthy to
doubt God’s intentions, but often I hear this kind of thing said of situations
when we should ask God.  If God knows then we might stand to learn
something if we ask.
What if we stopped and asked, “God why didn’t
I get that job?”  or “God why don’t I
have a relationship right now?”  
Think about a child who begs continually to
eat sweets. What would happen if they asked why? Think of what they might learn
about nutrition and discipline and about always getting what we want!
 Think of how much more they could know than that “mean old mom won’t let
me have what I want.”  
It’s the same way with God.  When we don’t
get what we ask for it’s a good idea to ask for more information.   And as parents you know that sometimes the
answer is “Because I say so.”  And
sometimes God’s answer is very simply “Because I say so.”
4.  Keep Praying  
     Perhaps the best thing we
can do when a prayer goes unanswered is to continue praying. Keep praying!
 But remember prayer isn’t just asking. 
It’s a conversation.  Sometimes we
see God as a giant vending machine, you put in a prayer, pull out a healing,
stick in a prayer pull out a solution. 
Have you ever had someone in your life that
every time you see them they ask for something? 
Gets a little annoying doesn’t it. 
Sometimes prayer is just talking to God, telling him about your day and
thanking him for all he’s done for you.
It’s easy to get discouraged when a prayer
hasn’t been answered. It gets hard to keep praying when we don’t see direct
results, but we ought to keep praying because the Bible and our experience both
tells us that God answers prayers.  Every time we pray there is the real
possibility that God will do something about our request.
Be patient! Trust God’s wisdom and goodness!
 Ask Why!  Keep Praying!

And as Jesus said John 13:7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but
someday you will.”

And Jesus still reminds us of
that promise 2000 years later. 

Where’d it go?

The mail always gets through, eventually.  I read a news story a number of years ago about a post card that arrived in Aberdeen Scotland from Brisbane Australia a little late.  In most cases surface mail from “Down Under” can take up four to six weeks to make the journey to Scotland.
The problem was that the card wasn’t sent six weeks before, it had been sent 5,830 weeks before.  That’s right, the post card had taken a tad over a hundred and twelve years to travel 16,197 km. 
Aberdeen postmaster Peter Smith said, “We have no idea where it’s been.”  Really? No idea? 
Do you ever feel like your prayers have gone wherever Colin Wadrop’s postcard had been stored?  We need to remember that unanswered prayers aren’t unheard prayers.  The problem in my life is that unless God answers the way Denn thinks He should, then it’s was considered unanswered prayer.  Gradually I’m learning that God is smarter than Denn and that not everything Denn asks for in prayer is always in Denn’s best interest.
And there is a remote chance that if God is smarter than Denn, He might be smarter than you.  And so maybe your prayers have been answered, just not in the way you expected.
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

How You Pray

If I was to ask for a show of hands as to
how many folks here pray I would suspect that virtually everyone would raise
their hands.   If I was to ask how many
folks believe their prayers would be answered hopefully the same number would
raise their hands.  I mean really, if we
don’t believe that our prayers will be answered then why pray? 
Some do it because it’s expected, others
because it gives them something to do, others are just hedging their bets.  I had a friend in high school who wore a
cross and a Star of David on a chain. He wasn’t a Christian or a Jew but he
said he was trying to cover all the bases.
The bible teaches that not only should we
pray but we should expect answers to our prayers, that is we should be
surprised when our prayers aren’t answered. 
Not when they are.   
Last week we looked at this same passage
from the book of Matthew and dug a little deeper into what Jesus meant when he
told the apostles “When you pray” and we discovered that he laid out some ways
for us not to pray and some ways for us to pray.
And we can boil it down to say that our
prayers are meant to be a conversation.  
A conversation between our heart and the heart of God.  And that won’t happen if we are just reciting
words without thinking about what we are saying, or if we are praying for the
benefit of human ears. 
And then Jesus said When you pray, pray
like this. . . and he gives us a template for our prayers.  And remember it is easy to fall into the trap
where the Lord’s prayer becomes the very thing that Jesus was warning us
about.  Just words, babbling and vain
repetition. 
So, let’s dig a little deeper into the
Lord’s prayer and see what it can teach us about prayer.
Last week I introduced you to a 14th
century preacher by the name of Meister Eckhart, a member of the Dominican
order who died while answering to the inquisition in Avignon France around 1328  after being accused of heresy by Pope John
XXII
And Eckhart
wrote “Good and earnest prayer is a golden ladder
which reaches up to heaven, and by which man ascends to God.”
 And that is where
Jesus begins by leading us up this golden ladder to heaven.
Matthew
6:9
 Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.   So, first of all Prayer Looks Upward    Jesus
begins by telling us who we are to pray to. 
And this establishes the premise of our relationship.  This concept of God being our personal father
wasn’t a common Jewish expression.  In
the Old Testament, we see the concept of Father used in reference to God and
the collective people of Israel, but here Jesus is telling us that God wants to
be our Father and he wants us to be his children.
And that might be tough for you to accept
if your experience with your father wasn’t a great one.  But, we can’t let our concept of our earthly
fathers colour the words of Christ. 
Because he was speaking from his concept of father, a loving, affirming,
protecting father.
And the Father’s name is to be seen as a
hallowed name, a holy name.  We can’t
blaspheme his name one minute and then call on his name in prayer the next
minute.   And I’ve spoken about this
before.  Keeping his name holy means that
we don’t trivialize it by using it as a curse or as an exclamation.  
Remember the name of God shouldn’t be used
unless you are talking about him or to him. 
And using the shortcut OMG is trivializing the name of a Holy God.
And after we establish who we are praying
to we need to establish where He is in our lives, Jesus continues:  Matthew 6:10  May
your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Prayer Looks Outward
The Kingdom of Heaven was very
much on the heart of Jesus.  And the
Kingdom exists where His will is done.  
The question is what are we
praying for?  The people that Jesus was
talking to would have had a very definite view of the Kingdom of God.  To them it was going to be an actual physical
place where the Roman oppressors were going to be overthrown and all good Jews
were going to live in some form of political Utopia.  This may not have been what Jesus had in mind
when he spoke of the Kingdom of God. 
Remember the very first line that
he spoke in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:3
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom
of Heaven is theirs. That wouldn’t seem to be indicative of a political
kingdom but the fact that Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom of God, or the
Kingdom of Heaven would indicate that it was something in the forefront of his
thoughts. 
The Gospel of Mark was said to be
the first written account of Christ’s ministry and the very first words that it
records of Jesus are found in Mark 1:15 “The time
promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near!
Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” 
And in Luke 4:43
But he (Jesus) replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in
other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” So it would appear
that the need to preach about the Kingdom of God was a priority for Jesus
almost to the point of being an obligation.
It’s always important to remember
that Jesus was a Jew.  And as a Jew he
thought like a Jew, he reasoned like a Jew and he taught like a Jew and in this
instance, he uses a very Jewish literary device called parallelism.  And what that does is to make a statement and
then it clarifies the statement by restating it.  That is, it repeats it a different way.  It would be like saying “It’s a great day out
there.  It’s hot and sunny.”  Two statements “It’s a great day out there”
is the first one, the second statement clarifies the first one “It’s hot and
sunny”
One of the most famous Psalms is
the 23rd Psalm, and it begins with a parallelism, Psalm 23:1
The Lord is my shepherd . . .  I shall
not want.  David actually uses
this device quite a few different times. 
Psalm
44:1
O God, we have heard it with our own
ears . . . our ancestors have told us of all you did in their day, in days long
ago:   Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength . . . always ready to
help in times of trouble.
These Psalms were making use of
parallelism to teach and that is what Jesus is doing in this verse, listen to
what he says, May your Kingdom come soon. That’s
the first statement the next statement then clarifies the first statement May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  When does God’s Kingdom come? When His
will is done on earth as it is in heaven. 
It’s interesting to note that in
different places in the New Testament Jesus uses the term Kingdom of Heaven in
the past, present and future tenses. Something that happened, was happening and
would happen.
The Kingdom of God comes when his
will is being done.  So, the very essence
of the Kingdom of God is to obey the will of God.  This Kingdom has nothing to do with nations
and countries instead it is something which happens in the heart of each one of
us.  That’s called Holiness.
You ever struggle with the term “holiness?”  The best definition of holiness that I ever
heard came from Mother Theresa.
Mother Theresa said, “Holiness can be summed up in one word, obedience.”  And let’s go back to Meister
Eckhart who wrote   “Love God, and do as you like, say the Free Spirits.
Yes; but as long as you like anything contrary to God’s will, you do not love
Him.”
The kingdom of God is a personal
responsibility because obedience happens with my heart and my will and my
thought life.  The most important thing
in the world is to obey God and the most important words that we can speak are,
“Your will be done”  But only if we mean them. 
Two things you can be assured of
as a Christian when you say “Your will be done”. 
1. You Can Be Sure God Knows What
He’s Doing 
Have you ever taken something to an expert?  You know to have it repaired or altered or
built?  What do you tell, “Do what you
have to do”, “Do whatever you think is best.” 
Why do you say those things? 
Because you know that supposedly they know more about the subject then
you do or you wouldn’t be using them.
Do you know what really
frustrates a professional or an expert? 
It’s when someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about tries to
tell the pro how to do it.  You know when
the guy takes his car to the garage and tells the mechanic what’s wrong and how
to fix it.  I’m sure more than one
mechanic has wanted to say, “Hey if you know so much why’d you bring it to
me?”  God knows what needs to be done and
he knows how it needs to be done.
2) You Can Be Sure God Loves You.
 As you
read through the Gospels you realize that Jesus was praying to a Father whom he
knew loved him, period.  There was no
doubt at all.  And God loves us   We don’t serve a cruel God who plays games
with us.  Thomas
Hardy finished his novel “Tess” with these words, “The President of the Immortal had finished his sport with
Tess.” That’s the way some people see God, some cosmic chess player who
gets his chuckles out of losing a pawn. 
We serve a God whose greatest
attribute is love.  John was one of Jesus’
closest friends and he wrote in 1 John 4:16 We know how
much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all
who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 
Next month is Easter and nobody
can look at the cross and see the sacrifice God made for us and not see his love. 
When we are sure of the love of
God then we can find it easier to say, “Your will be done”.  You notice that I said easier and not easy,
because by our very nature it’s difficult to give control to somebody
else.  And when we surrender that control,
we have the option of doing it begrudgingly or willingly.
And now Jesus goes
from the spiritual, the will of God to the physical.  Once we have
established who we are praying to, and align ourselves with His will, Jesus
reminds us that we are dependent on God for all that we have.
And it’s here we discover that Prayer Looks Inward  Contrary to popular opinion it’s not
selfish to pray for ourselves.  As a
matter of fact, the remainder of the Lord’s prayers deal with what we need.
And so Jesus tells us to pray,   Matthew 6:11  Give us
today the food we need
Prayer
Deals with Our Today
Now this would appear
to be the simplest part of the Lord’s prayer. 
Well, let me tell you that nothing is so simple that it can’t be
complicated by a theologian.  Someone
once said, “A theologian takes the simple things
and makes them difficult, it’s up to a preacher to take the difficult things
and make them simple again” 
1) Some say that bread
is to be identified with the last supper and so we are asking to be able to
celebrate the sacrament of communion on a daily basis.
2) Others say that
this actually refers to spiritual food, that is the word of God, the
Bible.  And so, these people would
maintain that this is actually a request for spiritual feeding.
3) Then there are
those who tell us that the bread is a reference back to Jesus who called
himself the bread of life in John 6:33-35. 
And so the prayer is “Lord let me feast on your presence daily.
Now in keeping with
all of those eminent scholar’s theories let me share with you my theory, now
hang on because it’s deep.  I think that
what Jesus meant by “Give us today the food we need” was “Give us today the food
we need”.  I think it was just a request
for God to provide the things that we need on a daily basis.  Deep, huh?
When I first went to West Africa in 2007 I
saw first-hand what is meant by subsistence farming.  The people in the villages grow and raise
what they need to survive, and it is a daily existence. 
And up until the last century subsistence
farming was a reality in most of the world, and for most of history the prayer
to provide daily bread was a meaningful prayer.   And it is still a reality in many parts of
rural Africa and Asia. 
Today perhaps we need
to change the wording, Presbyterian minister J. Vernon McGee
wrote
 “I don’t think that a
Sunday morning crowd should get up and pray, “Give us this day our daily
bread” when they have a roast in the oven at home — they already have
their meal. It is a very meaningful prayer for those who are hungry, but a
well-fed Sunday morning congregation ought not to pray this because for them it
is vain repetition.”


But this request doesn’t just deal with our
next meal, It’s About All of Our
Physical Needs.
  Jesus didn’t just come preaching, he came
healing as well.  And he took the time
out to feed people, and provide for their thirst.  Do you remember what the Bible said when
Jesus saw that the people he was teaching were hungry?  It said that he was filled with
compassion.  Why? Because they were
hungry.  Not only was Jesus concerned
about the hunger of the people he did something about it, he fed them.
But Jesus didn’t just
teach us to pray about our present needs, he also taught us to pray Matthew 6:12   Forgive us our
sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
It’s here we discover that Prayer Deals with Our Yesterdays What
we have done. What we did last week, last year and 30 seconds ago.  When I was in Bible College I heard a
preacher say that we need to keep short accounts, and that is still good
advice. 
When you blow it ask for forgiveness and
when somebody blows it with you forgive them. 
It is is just that simple.  We can
complicate it but saying “yeah but you don’t understand what I’ve done or you
don’t understand what they’ve done.”  
But Jesus was very plain here when he taught us to simply pray: Matthew 6:12  
Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.  And he finishes that
thought with a period and not a comma.  
If you’ve ever prayed this have you ever stopped to listen to what you
are saying?  You are asking God to
forgive you in exactly the same way that you forgive people who have done you
wrong, no more no less. 
Many people have the same concept of God as
the German poet Heinrich Heine.  Heine was on his death bed and his priest
told him that God could forgive his sins to which the poet responded “Of course God will forgive me; that’s His job.”  Well according to this particular portion of
scripture, he doesn’t have to.
This one concept was so important that
Christ not only mentioned it in the Lord’s prayer he went back to comment on
it.  He literally uses three times more
words to define what he said then he used to say it.
When you get to this part in the Lord’s
prayer you are in effect saying, “Lord if there is someone whom I haven’t
forgiven then don’t forgive me.” Ouch! 
Forgiveness is tough.  There is no
doubt about it and you may have been hurt by someone in ways that I can’t
comprehend, but if you want to be forgiven then you need to forgive.
 You’ll remember perhaps the Guptill principle
of spiritual growth that says that “Everyone grows
in their spiritual life to their own personal point of disobedience.” Well
the addendum is “You will never grow in your spiritual
walk beyond your unforgiveness.”
Let’s keep going with the personal
requests, Jesus teaches us to pray,  Matthew 6:13  And
don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.
You see where we are going right?  The first request dealt with our present, the
second dealt with our past, what we’ve done. 
Here Jesus tells us that Prayer
Deals with Our Tomorrows,
our future. 
We are asking for help in what we will do.   
Too often when we think of the
word temptation we think sin.  And if
that is reality then we are confronted with one of two problems.  The first being how can we come to grips with
a God who would lead us into sin.  You
say don’t be silly preacher, God wouldn’t lead you into sin.  Then that leaves the second problem if
temptation is sin and God wouldn’t lead us into sin why for would Jesus put
this request in the prayer.
The easiest way to clear this up
is to find a biblical definition of temptation. 
At the very beginning of Christ’s ministry an incident happened I’ll let
Matthew tell you about it, Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was
led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.  You see what happened here.  Jesus was tempted by the Devil but it was the
Spirit that led him to that point.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13 . . .  He will
not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted,
he will show you a way out so that you can endure. So now we have God
allowing temptation.  Now the problem
here is that the word temptation is being misused.  Somewhere along the line we have given the
word temptation an evil twist, we have taken temptation to the next step and
made it sin.
What it actually means is to be
tested, to be proved, to be strengthened. 
That’s why the very best steel is called tempered steel.  It’s the same root word.  And so what Jesus is teaching us to pray is
this, “Don’t let me be tested by more than I can endure.”
Matthew 6:13
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.  You notice
that the request is “not deliver us from evil”, but “deliver us from the evil
one.”  Evil
is not an impersonal force which surrounds the world, instead it emanates from
one person.  And that person is Satan.  his very name means the adversary, and in the
Greek that is the one who pleads
a case against someone.  He is in name and fact the
accuser. 
Satan is real he is not a joke, he’s not some dude in long red
underwear with a pitchfork and horns, he is real.  Satan
is personal and his weapon is temptation. 
And like all enemies he
won’t attack until he finds a niche in your armour.
And do you really want God to keep you from
temptation or is your prayer more like Augustine’s
was early in his life when he prayed “Make me good but
not yet”  
Maybe you’re not even in the place where
your prayers can be answered because you’ve never actually established a
relationship with God, He’s not your father. 
If that’s the case He’s only a prayer
away.  As the worship team comes to lead
us in one more song I would encourage you to take a good look at your spiritual
condition.  If you need to start that
relationship with God it’s as easy as praying Lord I’m sorry for all I’ve done
to displease you.  Please forgive me and
make me a new creation.  It’s that easy,
and if you do that this morning we’d love to know about it.

Let us Pray. . . I mean Play

I read the other day that 58 % of sport fans pray that their team will win. I’m not sure what to make of that, other than wild speculation concerning the spiritual condition of Atlanta Falcon fans during this year’s Super Bowl. 
Think about it, 58 %, so how would, or more importantly, how should God respond to those prayers? Is the outcome of professional and amateur sports dictated not by the warriors on the field but instead by the warriors on their knees?
I know that God cares about us and the Bible even tells us that He cares about the sparrows, but I’m not really convinced that He cares all that much about sports. 
I realize that God has an infinite ability to answer prayers but I sometimes wonder if believers have a limited ability or desire to pray. And if that is the case maybe the reason some folks find it hard to pray for the safety and salvation of their loved ones and for their church is because they’ve spent all their prayer resources on hockey games and weather.  I don’t want you to stop praying, but maybe we need to refocus our prayers where they have eternal consequences and let the players actually win the game.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

When You Pray

When you Pray.
I love the positive thought that comes
across in the statement that Jesus made to the disciples in the book of
Matthew.  It is found in what we refer to
as the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus says three words that reflect his positive
belief in the people who will call themselves by his name.
And those three words are “When You
Pray”.  He didn’t say “If you pray” he
said “When you pray”.  And that reality
is that we all pray.  It has often been
said “There are no atheists in foxholes.” And there are very few atheists in
emergency rooms either.
I love the story of the two old guys
talking after a really big storm went through and one said “That was a mighty
awful storm, wasn’t it?”  To which his
friend replied, “Yep, I bet God heard a lot of unfamiliar voices last night.”
I started this message on the cruise we
were on last week and I was sitting outside the room of prayer on the ship.  And you are thinking “Do they have a chapel on
the ship?”  Nope, they have a casino aboard
the ship.  And I would imagine that God
hears a lot of promises and is offered all kinds of partnerships in that room.
And so, Jesus began by telling us by
telling us How Not to Pray
Apparently, simply praying isn’t
enough.  Jesus doesn’t just say when you
pray, he also says “When you pray, don’t. . .” Don’t what? 
Well first we are told in   Matthew 6:5  “When
you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street
corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the
truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”
You see, Sometimes We Pray for The Wrong Reasons   Apparently, and I can’t imagine it
happening today, but apparently there were folks who prayed to impress other
people.  It would seem that they prayed
loud and they prayed eloquently, but it wasn’t how they prayed, it was why they
prayed. 
Their words were more directed to the
people around them then to God.  They
wanted people to say or at least think, “My, they pray well”. 
I’m sure it an apocryphal story, but I will
tell it anyway.  The story goes that many
years ago that the pastor in one of our district churches was known for how
long his pastoral prayers were and on one Sunday morning one of the professors
from our bible college was in attendance in this man’s church and after the
service when he greeted the pastor he whispered, “I’d recommend having your
personal prayer time at home.”
I don’t know if it’s a true story but it is
a great story.
The good news is that those folks get what
they want, that is they get recognition for their prayers, the bad news is they
might not get what they need and that is their prayers answered.
A few years back I was asked to bring the
benediction, that is the closing prayer. at the CPA graduation Ceremony.  Another pastor was to pray the invocation, that
is the opening prayer, and he prayed and prayed and prayed.  And finished by calling on the name of Jesus,
Allah and Krishna. 
And seriously, first of all there wasn’t
one person in that sweltering hot arena that day who had come to hear a
7-minute prayer.  And when he finished by
calling on three separate traditions, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person there
thinking “Come on, pick a team.” 
The only people who weren’t offended by
that prayer were people who weren’t Christians, who weren’t Muslims and who
weren’t Hindus.   And those were the
folks who were alreay offended by the fact that there was prayer included in
the graduation cermemony. 
The funny side of that story is that the
graduation went forever, it was like 4 days long they had 12,000 graduates and
47 speakers, some of you were there and remember it.  Well maybe it wasn’t that long, but it sure
seemed that long.  There were a lot of
graduates and each speaker that day spoke eloquently and at length. 
And as we came closer to the closing I
noticed people on the platform looking in the program where there was a
benediction listed and giving me nervous looks, wondering how long and to whom
I was going to pray.
And with great trepidation I stood up to
the mic and this was my prayer, verbatim. 
“Lord thank you for the graduates, keep them safe.  Amen.”   
And as I turned to walk back to my seat the auditorium erupted in applause,
which wasn’t my intent at all, I was hot and tired and wanted to go home and I was
pretty sure that God felt the same way.
But listen up, when I’m asked to pray in
public people will often tell me that I need to be sure to close my prayer with
the words “In Jesus’ name”.  And I wonder
if their main concern is to make a political statement, and if so then that is
as wrong as the Pharisees praying on the street corner for all to see.
I often close my prayers with “In Jesus
name”  but it is not formulaic and it is
never to make a statement.
Matthew 6:7  “When you pray, don’t
babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are
answered merely by repeating their words again and again.
Sometimes
We Pray in The Wrong Manner 
There is nothing deep here, Jesus is just
reminding us that prayer is a conversation, it is not a formula, it’s not a
simply repeating phrases or prayers that you have memorized.  It is a conversation between you and God.
It is interesting, ironic and kind of sad
that The Lord’s prayer has kind of become what Jesus was warning us about.
You know what I mean most of us can pray
the Lord’s Prayer without even thinking about it and often we do.  As a matter of fact when the scripture was
read earlier from the New Living Translation there were some of you who were
thinking “Well that’s just not right.”
If you come from a protestant background
you are probably familiar with it this way:
Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come. 
Thy will be done in earth, 
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation, 
But deliver us from evil. 
For thine is the kingdom, 
The power, and the glory, 
For ever and ever. 
Amen.


And if your background is Catholic then you
were probably taught to pray this way:
Our Father who art in Heaven, 
Hallowed be thy name; 
Thy kingdom come 
Thy will be done 
On earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread; 
And forgive us our trespasses 
As we forgive those who trespass against us; 
And lead us not into temptation, 
But deliver us from evil.


And
while you are thinking they both come straight from scripture you’re not entirely
correct, the Protestant version comes from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer,
the Catholic one comes from Catechism of The Roman Catholic Church
Here is how it reads in the King James Version
of the bible, Matthew 6:9-13  After this manner
therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
 Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we
forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from
evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. 
It can also be found in the eleventh
chapter of Luke’s gospel
Now just to shake you apple carts a little,
back in 1993 Eugene Peterson, a pastor and writer published “The Message” which
we are told is an idiomatic translation of the original languages of the Bible.  That is Peterson attempted to
used contemporary North American idioms and slang to make the bible more
readable.  I’m personally not a fan of
the message, but that is a taste issue, nothing more.
But here is how the
Lord’s prayer reads in the Message. Matthew 6:9-13  With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are.  Set the world right; Do what’s
best— as above, so below.  Keep us alive with three square meals.
 Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.  Keep us safe from
ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re
ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.
However we read it or recite it we need to
acknowledge that The Lord’s prayer is probably the best-known prayer for
Christians. At least right up there with “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray
the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my
soul to take.”  A little creepy, anybody
else pray that as a kid, and then you’d do the God bless . . .
And the danger here is that the Lord’s
prayer can become the very thing that we are warned about in Jesus previous
words.  Because we go into auto pilot and
if we aren’t thinking about the words we are praying then they are just vain
repetition.
But not only does Jesus tell us how not to
pray but he tells us how to pray.
Matthew
6:6
 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and
pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will
reward you.
 
We
Need To Pray For The Right Reasons 
I’m not sure Jesus was speaking about our location here as much as
he was speaking about our attitude and our audience.
If we took this passage to heart there
would be no public prayer or corporate prayer there would be no table grace, no
benedictions or invocations at graduations, weddings or inaugurations. 
We wouldn’t begin our services in prayer,
include a pastoral prayer or end our service in prayer.
But remember throughout the New Testament
we see the early church praying together, in public.  Time and time again we read about the group
coming together to pray. 
One of the first descriptions of the church
tells us Acts 1:14  They all met together and were
constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other
women, and the brothers of Jesus.
When Peter had been imprisoned for
preaching in Jesus’ name and was rescued by the angel we pick up the story
in  Acts 12:12
 When he (Peter)  realized this, he went to the home of Mary,
the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer.
But I think we need to keep in mind that
when we pray, even in those public settings we need to be talking to God.
I went to Bible College with a guy, whom I
will call Kirk, mainly because that was his name.  And when a bunch of us went out for a burger
we never asked Kirk to say grace because if you asked Kirk to say grace, he
made sure that he said grace, very loudly for everyone in the restaurant.
If I’m eating out and sitting with folks
who I’m not sure what their faith or relationship with God is and our food
arrives I don’t take it upon myself to pray out loud for everyone at the
table.  I simply pause and silently thank
God for the food and for my dinner companions.  
I’m not trying to make a statement, I just
want to thank God for my food.
The questions that need to be asked of course
are: The first is Who are we praying to? And the second is: Why are we praying? 
The answer to the first question should be
God.  Sometimes it seems that we are
concerned when we pray about what others will think of our prayers, but the
reality is:  you’re not talking to them.
Understand we don’t pray to anyone other
than God. That is why Jesus told us in Matthew 6:6  But when you pray, . . . pray to your
Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
And we can usually find then answer to the second
question “Why are we praying?” simply by listening to our prayers.  Are they just shopping lists?  Do we view God and prayer as some great
cosmic vending machine?  You put in the
right amount of prayer you say they right words and then you get what you are
looking for.  You lose your job, the kids
get sick, your teen rebels so you pray?
Or maybe you don’t have enough faith to
view prayer as a vending machine instead it view it as a slot machine.  You put in the right amount of prayer you say
they right words and then you pull the leaver and hope that you will get what
you are looking for.
While I was on vacation I stumbled across a
German Theologian from the 14th century by the name of Meister
Eckhart, ring a bell with anyone?  Probably not. 
Eckhart was a member of the Dominican Order
of Preachers and a prolific and popular preacher and writer in the early 1300s.  I first discovered Eckhart in a novel I was
reading so wrote down his name and dug a little deeper.
The Pope at the time saw Eckhart as a
threat because of his popularity and had him accused of heresy.  Eckhart, who was 58 years old walked the 973
kms from Cologne Germany to Avignon France to defend himself against the
inquisition.  I mean seriously, who would
have expected the inquisition?
According to the authorities Eckhart
recanted all his false teaching before he died during their interviews.  Seriously? 
That was convenient.  And that has
nothing to do with the message, but simply is the back story because I’m going
to quote Eckhart a couple of times over the next few weeks.
Here’s the first one, Meister
Eckhart, wrote “But many
people want to look upon God with the eyes with which they look upon a cow;
they want to love God the way they love a cow that you love because it gives
you milk and cheese. This is how people behave who want to love God because of
external wealth or inner comfort; but they do not love God properly: rather,
they love their self interest.”   That could have been written in 2017. 
Methodist scholar and theologian Adam
Clarke answered the question about why we pray when he wrote
“Prayer is the most secret intercourse of the soul
with God, and as it were the conversation of one heart with another. The world
is too profane and treacherous to be of the secret.”   Prayer is the
conversation of one heart with another. 
It is the conversation between our heart and God’s heart. 


And then Jesus tells us that we not only
need to pray for the right reasons he tells us Matthew 6:9  Pray like this: He’s telling us that  We Need to Pray in the Right Manner  
Jesus didn’t say “Pray this” he said, “Pray
like this.”  What Jesus is giving us is a
template or an example of a prayer not necessarily a prayer.  We aren’t told to pray this prayer every day
at sunrise or at sunset and we aren’t told to pray this prayer every morning in
school or to pray this prayer every Sunday in Church.
Instead Jesus is telling us that when we
pray we need to be talking to God. 
Remember, it’s not just babbling, it’s not supposed to be vain
repetition, it’s supposed to be a conversation.
Through the bible we see people talking to
God.  Sometimes those conversations are
filled with praise.  Sometimes they are
filled with frustration and confusion. 
Sometimes we hear people make requests of God and sometimes we hear
people thanking God. But regardless of the content of the conversation they are
conversations. 
And conversations happen between people who
have a relationship.  When Jesus said
“When you pray, pray like this” he was talking to people he had a relationship
with and a group who had a relationship with God.   William Barclay reminds
us “The Lord’s Prayer can only really be prayed
when the man who prays it knows what he is saying, and he cannot know that
until he has entered into discipleship.”
Jesus had a relationship with the Father
and he was inviting the disciples to enjoy that same relationship.  You see, without a relationship with God
these words are simply babbling or vain repetition. 
And you can’t maintain a relationship
without communication and communication isn’t simply the same seventy words
repeated over and over again.  That
wouldn’t work in a friendship, it wouldn’t work in a marriage and it won’t work
in our relationship with God.
And if we are going to maintain our
relationship with God we are going to have to talk to Him, to communicate with
him.
Have you ever been in a relationship where
communication simply stops?  Maybe it is
the “Silent Treatment” and you know the relationship is strained. 
Or maybe you’ve simply drifted away from
the other person, there is nothing to talk about so you just stop talking. 
But when communication stops the
relationship is in trouble. 
Over the next few weeks we are going to be
looking at prayer.  Next week we are
going to dive into the Lord’s prayer and see how we can use it as a template
for our prayers. 
But this week, over the next seven days I
would challenge you to fit talking to God into your schedule.  Maybe before you go to bed, or perhaps when
you first get up or on your drive into the city.
Many of us at Cornerstone have our phones
set to remind us to pray for our church at 2:20 in the afternoon.  My phone also reminds me to pray for our
denominational leaders at 8:30 in the morning. 
Find time to talk with God, even if it’s just to check in and thank him
for your day.
But this morning, let’s finish this part of
our service by praying together as he taught us to pray.