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Category: Prayer

Pray and let God worry

“Pray, and let God worry.” ― Martin Luther

Many years ago, Professor Rod Rosenbladt was teaching at an evangelical college. He taught a class on reformation history. During this class, some of his students became curious about the Lutheran expression of the Christian faith. One question really stuck with him. They asked, “Do Lutherans pray?”

The above question shows us that we need more people like the Rev. Dr. Rosenbladt to communicate the nature and content of the Lutheran expression to a Christian community which sees you and me as something of a mystery.

But, the question also reflects a sad belief that Lutherans are passive in their prayer life. That’s unfortunate. Luther, himself, said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” He was not a fatalist. He did not believe in Que Sera, Sera. He believed in a God who actively answered the prayers of His people.

“Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of His willingness” (Martin Luther). Many times, our mindset is that we have to “set aside” time for prayer. We need to have a prayer corner or a prayer closet to do this heavy lifting. Yet Paul writes this to the Thessalonians, “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

What is your idea of prayer?  Is prayer a formal practice?  Is it an action that demands all of your mind?  Do you have to have all of your heart in it for it to work?  What obstacles prevent you from praying?  Paul didn’t command people to pray so they would be righteous in God’s sight.  That already happened at the cross outside of Jerusalem where Jesus died for you.

That cross wasn’t neat and tidy.  The instrument of Christ’s crucifixion was gruesome.  His death was messy.  And, it is the same way with prayer.  If we believe that prayer has to be at the right time, in the right place, with Holy piety, then we will never pray.  No, prayer is mostly a messy, half-spoken, half-believing mess.

We pray when we’re tired.  We pray when we’re in pain.  We pray when anxiety has overtaken us.  We pray when despair has already robbed us of faith.  We throw up figurative ‘Hail Mary’s and gamble on the chance that God hears us.

But, does He?  Does He hear me?  Sometimes, it seems He has locked Himself into a room and ignored my pleas.  It’s enough to make most people give up.  And some have.  It’s easy to become lazy or tired of repeating the same things.

“God wants us to pray, and he wants to hear our prayers—not because we are worthy, but because he is merciful” (Luther). Adding to this thought; God does hear us. Why? Because we are such good prayers? No, but because we pray them through Jesus Christ (Rev. Ron Hodel).

So, pray! Pray for yourself, your family, your church, your community. Pray for wisdom. Pray for guidance. Pray for help. Pray for healing. Pray for peace. Pray for hope. Pray for the proclamation of the Gospel every Sunday.

Pray, and let God worry.

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Hard of hearing

English: Ear. Good for hearing.

English: Ear. Good for hearing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Psalm 28:1:

“To you I call, O LORD my Rock;

do not turn a deaf ear to me.

For if you remain silent,

I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.”

From Psalm 39:12:

“Hear my prayer, O Lord,

listen to my cry for help;

be not deaf to my weeping.”

Sometimes, it seems that God doesn’t hear our prayer(s).  To be more precise, we don’t always get answers to our prayers that we are aware of.

Prayer might start of as a simple request.  It’s something like a brief mention of a need to our heavenly Father.  As time goes on, and need becomes more acute, prayer becomes more earnest and urgent.

Then, Christians really ratchet things up.  We fast, we ask others to pray for us, we “look for the sin in our lives”.  We become introspective and self-judgmental.

Most of these activities are good.  The last two, however, can be the condition Martin Luther called incurvitas; that is, “curved in on oneself”.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think we live in a society and a culture that lacks self-reflection (TMZ is proof of that).  Most people could define sin, but don’t believe it pertains to them.

What I am referring to is the belief that my prayer is not heard because of some deep, unknown sin in my life.

Perhaps this is the case.  Think of David.  He wasn’t very self-reflective.  In fact he was a gross sinner as he took Bathsheba from Uriah.  His arrogance and sin litters the story.

But, it was Nathan who had to point out his sin to him.  He was blind to it (or, he excused it).  Self-referential self examination is not objective.

So, what are we to do if our prayers are not heard?  More to the point; what are we to do if our needs and security are not met?

Express yourself.  This is not just a song from Madonna.  Honesty in prayer is utterly critical.  Tell God you’re frustrated.  Ask Him to examine you and reveal any sin.  Don’t get caught up in “trying to solve the problem”; that will only lead to frustration and anger.

Ask God your Father not to turn a deaf ear to you.  Ask Him to hear you.  And why?  Because you are such a good prayer?  Because you are so law-abiding or morally upright?  Because you fasted for eight hours?

No.  Because God poured His wrath out on His only Son to open up the Holy of Holies to His Children.

Hebrews 4:16:

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This is preceded by Hebrews 4:14-15, “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,e Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses …”

And, this Son of God, this Word who is our prayer is praying for you too.  To the Glory of His Holy Name, Amen.

boldness in prayer

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane),...

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane), oil painting by Heinrich Ferdinand Hofmann (Heinrich Hofmann). The original is at the Riverside Church (Riverside Church, New York City). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you

I like to fish.  I like the quiet, the outdoors, but I really like to catch something.  It’s an achievement.  And, to do it well, you have to learn how to cast.

My father taught me to cast.  He used different methods, and he was always careful, because he didn’t want his fishing line to get caught in trees behind him.  He wanted to place that hook in just the right location.

Sometimes, we are tempted to think of prayer in the same way.  We have to create the right atmosphere, come with correct intentions, and deliver a well-spoken request to God our Father.  And, it’s true that proper reverence has its place with the living, All-mighty God of the universe.

But it’s equally true that integrity, “being real” with God also has its place.

The worries of this life grow the older you get.  Some of these are like a gentle hum in the back of our minds.  We are aware of them sometimes, but we can handle the background noise.

Other worries are more pressing.  They take center stage and we get worn down with concern.  In fact, we become spiritually strangled by the trials of life and the worry generated as a reaction to this.

In my church, we reflect on our sins at the beginning of the service.  We think about ways that we might have injured others.  We never take the time to consider the worries of this life that burden our hearts.  Yet, this is exactly what we see happen over and over again in the Scripture.

David pours out his heart before God in the Psalms.  Daniel prays for three weeks, multiple times a day, before Yahweh.  Jesus sweats tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane in prayer.

It was not time for proper decorum in these situations.  It was time to recklessly cast prayers to God the Father.  It was time to groan over their situations.  It was time to ask for rescue.

And we are called to do the same.  If the Christian faith means anything at all, prayer is an essential part of the spiritual life.  It is not in the many or beautiful words that we will be heard, but because our prayers are prayed through Jesus that they are unquestioningly heard.

Cast gives me the sense of throwing up all our deepest worries before God.  Throw them hard and wide.  Throw them with abandon.  Throw them knowing that the Holy Spirit intercedes for you (Romans 8).  Throw them knowing that Jesus intercedes for you (Hebrews 7:25).  Throw them knowing you have nothing to lose, except worry.

And expect peace.  A peace that passes all understanding.  And if you don’t get it, wrestle with God for that.  Tell Him it is His promise.  Tell Him it is His responsibility to give you peace.  Tell Him you are His child because of His dearly beloved Son.

At times, we will cast our worries on Him.  Maybe soon, we will cast our praise for seeing us through trials on Him.  Eventually, we will see crowns of Glory being cast before His feet because of the great and awesome work He has done.  To God be the Glory now and forever, Amen

Meditatio

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Eugene Delacroix c. 1861

Jacob provides a good example of Christian meditation.  I don’t mean that he picked on angels in bar fights.  I mean he was willing to go to the mat with God until he received the blessing from the Angel of the Lord (see Genesis 32:26)

Christian meditation is reading, or listening to, or reciting out loud a particular passage of scripture expecting the Holy Spirit to give a person an understanding of the passage.  The Holy Spirit will show one who “wrestles” for understanding the Law and the Gospel in the passage.  This is what makes a true theologian.

Christian meditation is not sitting in some sense-deprived environment and emptying the mind to have an “alpha state” experience of God.  It is not employing the words of scripture as a mantra to repeat over and over again with a view to have an ecstatic experience.

In comparing Roman Catholic Lectio Divina “Four Moments” practice to Luther’s concept, Rev. Jeffrey Ware wrote:

“Luther also completely redefines meditatio.  Whereas in Lectio Divina meditation is focused on the human memory and its ability to make the text personal through the recollection of past events, Luther’s understanding of meditation focuses on God’s word.  For Luther, meditation is simply the continual study of scripture.  God’s word is not a mere sign that needs to be internalized in order to be heard properly, it is the very voice of God that comes with power both to kill and make alive” (A Lutheran Perspective on Lectio Divina, from SoundWitness.org)

As Luther noted:

Let him who wants to contemplate in the right way reflect on his Baptism; let him read his Bible, hear sermons, honour father and mother, and come to the aid of a brother in distress. But let him not shut himself up in a nook . . . and there entertain himself with his devotions and thus suppose that he is sitting in God’s bosom and has fellowship with God without Christ, without the Word, without the sacraments (The Kindled Heart – Luther on Meditation, John Kleinig).

What is the result of the type of meditation that wrestles with God through the word?  First, one is humbled through the working and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  Second, one’s faith in Christ is deepened and grown.  Third, one serves others selflessly.  Fourth, over time, a desire and ability to teach is developed in the one who practices Christian meditation.  Fifth, one is brought into trials and temptations, which I will describe in my next article: Tentatio.

Oratio (Prayer)

“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart” (Bonhoeffer, Psalms, 15).

Most Americans pray.  According to this article from the Washington Times (based on a Brandeis University study) 90% of Americans pray.

That sounds really good, doesn’t it?  That means that a lot of people believe in God.  And, they believe God hears them and (sometimes) answers prayer.  If nothing else, a person who prays feels like their problems have an audience.  This can give a person greater psychological stability.

But prayer isn’t always defined by talking to God about our problems.  Some people believe that prayer is a matter of “unplugging” from the conscious mind and entering into direct communion with God.  In some cases words are used as a mantra, or not at all.  The mind is a hurdle which prevents one from a naked encounter with God.

For Martin Luther, however, prayer (oratio) is derived from the Scripture (Bible) which is a type of incarnation; the “Spirit-breathed” words of God.  This is in contradistinction to the above examples which are both derived out of individualism and personal experience.

I think it is fair to say that Luther did advocate a type of experience.  But the experience was the enlightenment of Scripture that only the Holy Spirit could lead one in:

This is the prayer that is modeled by David in Psalm 119: “Teach me, Lord, Lord instruct me, lead me, show me” (Psalm 119:26 et al)…Although he well knew and daily heard and read the text of Moses and other books besides, still he wants to lay hold of the real teacher of the Scriptures himself, so he may not seize upon them pell-mell with his reason and become his own teacher. For such practice give rise to factious spirits who allow themselves to nurture the delusion that the Scriptures are subject to them and can be easily grasped with their reason, as if they were Markolf or Aesop’s Fables, for which no Holy Spirit and no prayers are needed” (AE 34:286).

And, it is also to be noted that Luther didn’t reject reason.  He rejected naked reason just as he rejected naked experience.  Without the Holy Spirit guiding one in the reading of Scripture, one would inevitably be lost in the forest of speculation and man-centered faith.

As Koberle states:

“Prayer escapes the danger of disorder and confusion only when it is enkindled by the words of Scripture. From the Word proceeds its inner justification, as well as its life-giving power and the clearness of its petitions. A prayer that does not stick to Scripture will soon become poor in ideas, poor in faith, poor in love and will finally die” (Adolph Koeberle, The Quest for Holiness Ballast Press, 176-177).

So we can pray before reading Scripture, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:9).  It is not in this submission we are right with God, or our naked experience, or what we understand from the Bible.  Instead, we are made right with God by the Priest in Heaven who is constantly making intercession on our behalf.  He is the one through whom we pray.

It is His death that makes prayers heard.  “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him”(John 9:31).  And who is the one who has done His will?  In all of human history it is Christ alone.  He has done this on our behalf.  Any confidence we have in being heard can only come from Jesus Christ; the sacrifice for all sin.

We therefore pray, In His Name.  Amen.

 

Please see http://www.alts.edu/pastoral_formation.html as the source for the various quotes above.

Jesus is the Gospel

The gospel is not:  a decision to receive, believe, retrieve your own personal Jesus.

The gospel is not: making Him Lord, re-dedicating your life, saying a “sinner’s prayer”

In fact, the Gospel is completely outside of your (or my) activity.

The Gospel is ALL God’s activity through Jesus Christ.

What is ‘Gospel’?  It means ‘Good News’.

It is Jesus dying on the cross for your sin and my sin, and being raised in resurrection, so we can have the gift of resurrection in Him.

What’s the bad news?

First, the world is fallen and it can’t get up

Second, the devil is a fallen angel, not an archaic, pre-logical myth

Third, we have fallen into our coffin, and are bound to a horrible eternal end unless there’s an intervention

In other words, the situation is hopeless.

God loves hopeless situations.

God loves hopeless sinners.

Because Jesus was given as a sacrifice for sin.  He came to seek and save that which was lost.  Jesus came for sinners (including me).

And, He continues to be the good news for us.

When we confess our sin (not a feeling), He is faithful and just to forgive us based on His bloody death.

When we have doubt (by the way, doubt means you have faith to begin with), He remains faithful as a priest before the Father in Heaven.

When we are hungry for good news, we can find it in the promise that God has sent a deliverer in Jesus.  He hasn’t come for “good people”, but for those who have no hope in themselves.

He is hope fulfilled.  Both now and forever.  Amen.

Double dipping

Since my first daughter was very little, she liked to dip things into ketchup (catsup) or ranch dressing.  It really didn’t matter what the food was.  Even if we put teriyaki chicken on the table, she would say, “ketchup!”

You and I aren’t much different; think of your favorite spinach dip, or nacho cheese dip.  Sometimes, the food we eat is simply a “delivery method” for the condiment.

If the dip is really good, you might wait until everyone looks away at the party and dip that baby carrot into the ranch dip after you’ve already gnawed on it.  Our society frowns on double dipping, though.  It has a negative connotation.  It’s kind of a germ issue.

In truth, though, we live in a ‘germy world’.  Staph is everywhere, bacteria grows in places that are apparently clean.  Even when I am careful not to touch public handles and doorknobs, I come into contact with strains of things that make me sick.  And, inevitably, it gets passed on to those around me.

Sin is like that in a way.  When Adam and Eve made their choice, they chose against the will of God.  They chose sin, and became infected with a life-threatening disease.  More than that, they were guaranteed to die.  Without the proper medication, they were doomed for all eternity.

Their offspring were also doomed, because we inherited the infection of utter sinfulness.  Now, we have no choice, but to sin.

Into this dark situation, the Son of God and Light of the World provides another option.  It took His entering into this world and becoming sin for us to set us free from the Law of sin and death (Law is best understood as “rule”).  But, His death on the cross is not merely historical, static fact.  It was an intercession that continues to this day.  The following passage illustrates this;

Romans 8

31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”l

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,m neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This passage is pure gospel for those who are persecuted, ill, suffering, dying, poverty-ridden, or undergoing various trials.  It also identifies what kind of Jesus we have; a double dipper.

Although He fulfilled the Law and died for our sin as intercessor, He so identified with our continued need that He intercedes for us continually.  Our living Christ, our living King, comes before the Father and talks to Him on our behalf.

Is there a greater love possible?  And He is active in other ways, too.  He comes to us in our water baptism.  He comes to us through the communion table.  He comes to us in the hearing of the Word and the rightly divided Law and Gospel preaching of the pastor.

Jesus doesn’t merely double dip as an intercessor.  He lives as our intercession.  For now and forever.

Amen

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