JESUS’ PRAYER PLAN
Matthew 6: 7-15
In the 1940s in St. Louis,
“Civic leader Luther Ely Smith conceived the idea of building a memorial to help revive the riverfront and memorialize the story of the nation’s westward expansion. Through a nationwide design competition conducted 1947–1948, Eero Saarinen’s stainless steel Arch was chosen as the memorial that would celebrate the accomplishments of early pioneers. St. Louis celebrated with a groundbreaking on June 23, 1959.
Over the next few years, Saarinen perfected his design and workers began excavating the grounds in 1961.
Meanwhile, it took steadfast coordination to put every piece of the Arch into place until the final section at the top of the Arch was secured on October 28, 1965.”
The arch is 630 feet high, and 630 feet wide from the outside of the feet! It is made of 142 stainless steel sections. The structure was precisely laid out so that, building first the south base, then the north base, the two towers of stainless steel would meet in the middle at the top, and not miss each other, costing embarrassment and rebuilding costs! It was amazing planning.
Likewise the successful plan for the Panama Canal only worked after taking into account, soil, water tables, heat, insects, and diseases that the workers faced. Planning worked. When eccentric Howard Hughes built his gigantic seaplane out of wood. It was nicknamed “the Spruce Goose” as he became a super salesman talking the United States government into a contract to buy his Hughes Aircraft H-4 “Hercules,” billed as a “strategic airlift flying boat.” It was constructed almost entirely of birch wood because during the war, aluminum was in short supply. The fuselage was 5 stories tall and the wingspan the length of a football field! He was under contract from our government in 1942 to build such a plane that could lift tanks, weapons, or personnel up to 150,000 pounds, allowing precious supplies to be carried to Britain. In the end, he faced huge cost overruns and critical words from the public and from a Senate Committee. The agreement was the he would be paid only if the plane could actually fly! It did, in Long Beach Harbor, for a grand total of 70 feet! Hughes got paid for his contract, though the plane never flew again. Planning was complicated by cost overruns.
When you decide to pray, what is your plan? Is it, like a three year old, to get what you want, as if your desires are the most important in the world? Is it, like a panicked family member, to get healing for a very sick or injured family member? Is it hoping for a miracle, events that since time began are few and far between? What is your purpose in prayer? Better yet, what does the Bible teach as the purpose for prayer? And what does Jesus teach as the way and reason to do it?
First, in the Old Testament there are many cases of people trying to plead with, argue with, and persuade God. The purpose of prayer, according to one man, P. L. Hickling, “is communication with the Almighty, and perhaps the only satisfactory criterion of the effectiveness of a prayer is the degree to which that end is achieved. … Some prayers of the most pious of [people], even the Lord Jesus himself, have been answered with God’s refusal of their petition.” So the first purpose is communication. Have you ever been speaking to your husband or wife, during a ballgame or during a special show, when you get no response to anything you ask? Is that communicating? Or have you tried to talk with your young child who is concentrating on a video game, or to your teenager who is staring at an all-important cell-phone phone? Communication is not just jabbering to someone who is not listening; nor is it asking for something, ending it with a phrase like, “oh please, oh please oh please!!!!” In our house Mary Ann and I generally have to call each other’s names and wait for an acknowledgment before continuing with a thought or a question. Doing that makes all the difference!
In Psalm 25 David comes before the Lord for prayer and appropriately gets God’s attention first: “O Lord, I come before you in prayer.” That is a good way to start. In church we announce that we are about to pray with words like, “Let us pray.” Prayer includes words addressed to God, not to our neighbor or family. It bends the use of prayer to act like you are talking to God when really you are talking to your son. Like the mother, who heard her son creeping down the stairs, who folded her hands and said, “Dear God, I love you, but please remind Paul that there are consequences if he breaks his curfew.” Who was that prayer for? God? Or for the eavesdropping Paul? Don’t say to God what needs to be said to your children. One thing you can learn from children is to start on the right foot. Twice last weekend one of my two grandchildren turned and said to me, “I love you!” before continuing with their request of what they wanted from me. If we can see through that, surely the Creator of the Universe can to! Make your words genuine, and not conditional. It is “I love you,” not I’ll love you if ….” That is called Adoration, offered praise just because that’s the way you feel. Do that with God! If genuine loving words make us feel good, and we are made in God’s image, I’d imagine they’ll please God too. That’s a good start for a communication. That’s so different from the boy who, before the days of texting, wrote home from college. His father was surprised to see a letter from his son! Then he opened it and read: Dear Dad, College sure is wonderful! But everything is so expensive! Thank you for sending me here. I’d love to hear back from you! Love, Bill. Dad got the message when every letter “s” in the note was written as a dollar sign! Communicate appreciation and adoration, not just needs! That’s a good start with a mom, or dad, or a grandparent. And it’s a great start with God.
Second, petitions. Petitions are when we put one, or two, or three, begs in one ask-it! Yes, the Bible says, “The prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective.” David prayed. Isaiah prayed. Many people prayed in the Old Testament. Eljiah, a chief prophet of God, indeed prayed that it not rain in one time in 1 Kings 17. Then in chapter 18, God had already communicated with Elijah (see how good communication is a two-way street?) that he was going to send rain; when Elijah announced rain, he knew it ahead of time. The state of being a beloved child of God because of constant prayer, rather than coming to God as an estranged prodigal son or daughter, is the best way to learn God’s will for you.
Finally, here are Jesus’ own words. In Matthew chapter six we get his best teachings on prayer. “When you are praying,” he told his listeners, “do not heap up empty phrases.” Empty phrases in prayer may sound like the repetitive words of a praise song, or sometimes they are inflated words without actions to back them up. Jesus says in so many words, “Do not pray like that!” He goes on: those people “think they will be heard because of their many words.” He then reminds his listeners, “your Father knows what you need before you ask.” Asking comforts God by indicating that you have discovered what page the Almighty is on for your life. It’s as if you went to your earthly father and said, “I’m not going to ask you for a car, you’ve already done so much for me. But with the money I’ve saved, I’ve bought myself a bicycle to get me to and from work.” Do you think the father will be proud? Do you think that, later on, he might help his son or daughter with the purchase of a car because of the good choice already made? Remember: life on earth is practice for life in Heaven! Jesus says, “pray like this.” Here is the lesson.
“Father.” It is addressing God the way Jesus did it. Last week I suggested beginning your prayer, “God, for whom all things are possible.” Whatever you say, address God in a loving and respectful manner. “Our” is added because you are not living in a vacuum. God hears the prayers from all who offer them. It is often good to remember your need is not the only or the greatest one on the planet. “Heaven” is a description of the Holy Place that could be light years away, or just another dimension with God right beside you. It indicates God’s holy presence. And the next line “Hallowed”—holy—says to your soul, “I am entering holy ground when I am in God’s presence. Some say they pray at stoplights, or on golf courses, or before tests. I believe them. But to prepare yourself for the most fruitful communication possible takes more time and more preparation than that. Every week in Peninsula Hall, faithful people who have been helped by our yoga classes, gather. The room is darkened, soothing words are said, and a gentle bell is rung, all to prepare for yoga. Imagine how much more it may take to open prayer channels with the Heavenly Father of our Lord Jesus? Prepare carefully and thoughtfully.
“Thy,” or “your” Kingdom come. This is a prayer not for God’s action, but for your engagement with God’s will. You will be an active participant in bringing God’s Kingdom to earth when justice rolls down like waters. You will do your part when peace, like a river, accompanies you until we gather at the river that flows by the throne of God. God’s kingdom will come when you will seek not so much to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand. In this part of the Lord’s Prayer; it is not saying, “We have a God who needs to get moving.” It’s saying, “I get it Lord; and I need to get moving in the world for you!” That is what you are praying. “Help me see that others and I don’t go hungry.” The daily bread petition is for “enough,” not for abundance. Then the forgiveness petition is the big one. I dare say forgiveness is truly offered and accepted, could change the world. Instead many live in passive-aggressive anger, or in partitioned sections of our global ghettos, where we choose not to speak to or encounter family, or friends, or neighbors we want to avoid; all because we are withholding forgiveness. But this prayer says something startling: “I am saying dear Heavenly Father, to forgive me to the same degree that I forgive others.” Wow. God hasn’t forgiven millions of people on this earth yet because their petition in prayer has been to not do so until they forgive those who have wronged them. Our prayer, and our pride, has withheld the life-giving forgiveness of God. Even Jesus showed the way. On the cross, in the midst of executioners, he said not privately, but out loud: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Although we know we will be constantly tested, we pray that God will not refine the fire of our souls more than it takes to separate the dross from the gold. Who wants to be tested like Job all their living days? So we pray that we might be protected from the demons and darkness of the earth. The ending line is not in some Bibles, but it is usually in the footnote. It comes back to why you are praying in the first place; it is the main reason for prayer: not so you get what you want; it is so God hears our words of love and praise! From the bottom of our toes, sometimes with our faces on the ground in contrition, we pray “for the Kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever.” That shows you are very tuned in. That will connect with the Almighty. And that is the ultimate purpose of prayer: to keep saying, and believing that last line. And if you do that, your will lines up with God’s will faster than any other way.
In the name of the one who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. Amen.
Jeffrey A. Sumner August 13, 2017