(thanks for reading my sermon, hope it helps, please help me by simply clicking on one of the ads, I would greatly appreciate it!)
Dear Lord; Tomorrow is my birthday. Could you please put a rainbow in the sky? Dear God; I am saying my prayers for me and my brother, Billy, because Billy is six months old and he can’t do anything but sleep and wet his diapers. Dear God: This is my prayer. Could you please give my brother some brains. So far he doesn’t have any. Dear God: Please send a new baby for Mommy. The new baby you sent last week cries too much. Dear God: How many angels are there in heaven? I would like to be the first kid in my class to know the answer.
We laugh because we see the sincerity of these children’s prayers and we giggle at their simplicity. They are honest, raw and direct. There is no fluff or rhetoric in the way of their true desires or conversation with God. They are simple prayers of children and God would love to hear more of them from us adults.
This next month I will be doing a sermon series on what it means to be a member of a United Methodist congregation. Each time a person joins our church we ask them to be faithful by the giving of “their prayers, their presence, their gifts and their service.” Each week I will be looking at one of these promises that each one of you made and why it is important for the life of this church.
Today we will be talking about prayer. Many people wonder what prayer is. Prayer, at its simplest definition, is communication with God. It is talking to God and listening for a response. Like any type of healthy communication, prayer is talking and listening to God talk back.
Before we get to how to listen to God let’s talk about how we should talk to God. Many people have this notion that a prayer is suppose to be a certain way. That there is a formula that has to be followed every time you talk to God or God won’t listen. Sure there are some helpful tools to get someone use to prayer. There is the acronym ACTS. If you remember ACTS you have a basic premise for a prayer. Start with adoration, “God, you are so good.” Then move to confession, “God, I am not that good.” Then moving into thanksgiving, “God, thank you for being good,” and finally end with supplication, “God, please make me good.” Actually if you followed ACTS every night before you went to bed or when you wake up in the morning, you would have a good start into a positive prayer life.
But God doesn’t make us follow any type of script. God works best when things come from our heart. Dear God; I am saying my prayers for me and my brother, Billy, because Billy is six months old and he can’t do anything but sleep and wet his diapers. That is a real prayer which comes from the heart. When is the last time you lifted up to God the prayer that is held deep in your heart? When is the last time that you simply talked openly and honestly with God about your thoughts, desires, and feelings? That is what prayer really is.
One of my favorite movies is Bruce Almighty. I have been a fan of Jim Carrey ever since his skit, Fire Marshal Bill, on In Living Color. But when I saw this movie I was struck with the amount of deep theology that was in, actually good theology too. In one of the last scenes of the movie Bruce is at his wits end after his girlfriend Grace broke up with him. In this moving scene he is crying and walking down a road in the pouring rain. He finally falls to his knees and tells God that God’s will be done in his life, whatever God wants, he wants. Then he is hit by a truck and taken up to heaven to talk with God again. During their discussion they talk about how you cannot kneel down in a road and live to talk about it, but also prayer. It is my one of my favorite moments of the movie. Bruce looks at God and asks, “What do you want me to do?” God replies, “I want you to pray, son, go ahead use them [hands Bruce the prayer beads].” Bruce holds the beads and says, “Lord, feed the hungry and bring peace to all mankind. How was that?” God replies, “Great, if you want to be Miss America. Now come on, what do you really care about?” That changes everything. Bruce realizes what he cares about most is his girlfriend Grace and that he doesn’t want her back and then he prays this prayer, “I want her to be happy, no matter what that means. I want her to find someone who will treat her with all the love she deserved from me. I want her to meet someone, who will see her always as I do now, through your eyes.” God looks at him and says, “Now that’s a prayer.”
A prayer to God doesn’t have to pass a certain criteria to get to God and the best prayers are the ones that come from deep in your heart. God can see your motivation. God knows why you are asking for what you are asking for. In the scripture today Jesus tells us how to pray. He tells us “not to be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by everyone. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen…And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Jesus tells us to talk to God about what is on our heart and don’t fluff it up to impress God, because God isn’t impressed by that.
The other key thing we learn about prayer from Jesus is that he tells us to go to a quiet place. This is something Jesus did all the time. When he needed prayer after feeding the five thousand and before he walked on water, where did he go? He went to a mountain and was alone with his Father. When he knew the time had come for him to die on the cross, where did he go? He went to a quiet garden call Gethsemane to pray. Setting the scene is essential for productive time with God. Yes, we should always be praying but for those times where you need to have deep conversations with God you need to find special space. For those times when a big decision is coming and you need guidance, you need special space. Carving out time and a space for God frees you up to do the second most important part, if not THE most important part of prayer, listening.
Prayer is a conversation and part of having a conversation is to listen to the other person talking. There is a story told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Confused, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
God answers our prayers but we have to be in tune to him to hear them. If we do not carve out space in our lives to be quiet, to be still and to know that God is talking to us, we will never hear a word God is saying. Also if think that God will answer the way we want God to answer we will miss out on the true answer. God answers all prayers, God just says no sometimes and we don’t like that. We think that God will do what we say and what we want. Yet, that is not true and that is not how prayer works. God is not Santa Clause.
There is an old joke of a man who fell off a cliff but did not fall to his death. Instead he was able to grab a root on his way down and he hung there like Willey Coyote. While he clung to that root he prayed to God, “Lord, I have always followed you, please come and save me.” Just then a man leaned over the cliff and called out, “are you okay? I’m going to throw you a rope, grab it and I’ll pull you up.” “No”, replied the man, “my God will save me.” Then a Boy Scout Troop showed up and wanted to form a human chain to pull the man up to safety and once again he replied, “No, my God will save me.” Finally a helicopter showed up and a rope ladder was lowered towards him. Once again he said, “No, my God will save me.” Moments after the helicopter flew away the man fell to his death. When he arrived up in heaven he asked God, “why didn’t you save me?” God said, “What did you expect? I sent you a man with a rope, a Boy Scout Troop and a helicopter!” God answers prayers, they just aren’t always what we are expecting.
In the sequel to Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty there is another great scene that is theologically wonderful. God is talking to Evan’s wife who is mad that things are not going well for her and God starts to talk to her about prayer. God looks at her and says, “If someone prays for patience, do you think God give them patience. Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prays for courage, does God give him courage or does he give him opportunity to be courageous? If someone prays for their family to be closer does he zap them with warm fuzzies, or does he give them opportunities to love one another?” What did you pray to God for and how could God be answering your prayer? Have you spent time recently away from the noise of life, away from distractions and in a place where you can listen?
Why is prayer so important to the life of the church? You are asked to be faithful in your prayers because prayer is essential to life. Prayer, communication with the God we worship, is essential to the life of the church. When we lift up our prayers of intercession or our prayers for other people, we are asking God to be God. We are getting in touch with our source of hope and healing. When we lift up prayers for people around the world who are hungry, sick, broken, or at war, we are lifting up the mission of the church to go out into the world and be the hands, feet, and heart of God. When we come here to this place each week, and as a community say the simple prayer that God himself taught us to pray, we are lifting up the essential requests of our hearts. We are following the perfect example and trying to learn from it.
Prayer is essential because it holds us together as community. Starting Tuesday at 7:00, we will start a spiritual journey about different spiritual disciplines in the Jackie Boles Bible study. Prayer is one of the most important spiritual disciplines. All are invited and I have a feeling it will be a very moving and important study in the life of this church. I hope you will come and journey with us. Prayer brings us together, unites us, builds us up, provides us with strength and courage, and gives us the proper focus to live out our lives. What is your prayer life like? How often do you pray? Are you carving out time to talk with God daily? Do you hold the hand of your spouse and pray together? Are you teaching your children, your grandchildren, how to pray? You have made a promise this congregation and God to be faithful in your prayers now you must life up to that promise. To do so let us go now to a time of prayer, let’s talk to God today…
[Prayer with music being played in the background]
And all of God’s people said…Amen!