Be Persistent in Prayer!
Pastor Jim Kniseley preached this sermon at Resurrection on July 28, 2013, the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost. The lessons are Genesis 18:20-32 and Luke 11:1-13.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The most persistent person I ever knew was my friend John. We met at UCLA and were fraternity brothers. Because I cared about John, I decided to introduce him to my friend Diane. John really fell for Diane, but she was shy and didn’t give him much encouragement. John took a summer internship at Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and was bummed that he would be away from Diane. He came up with a plan that I’ll never forget. He got me and other fraternity brothers to do something every day for 3 months. What we did was sneak up to her house, leave a gift and card, quickly ring the doorbell and get the heck out of there before the door opened. When John came back to town and showed up at Diane’s door, she was so impressed that she started going out with him and they soon became engaged. The end of the story is that John, an active Presbyterian converted to being a Roman Catholic and married Diane (who no longer was thinking of being a nun). They were married in a Catholic Church and one of the groomsmen in the wedding was a future Lutheran pastor: me!
Today in our scripture lessons, the words “persistence” and “boldness” are qualities that are to be encouraged when dealing with the Lord. Last week in Genesis we heard about three strangers who came to visit Abraham and Sarah. And amazingly from afar Abraham recognized them as angels. In fact the text implies that one of them is the Lord himself. And the Lord delivered the message that Sarah and Abraham in their old age were to have a son. And just as the 3 strangers are departing, the Lord gives another private message to Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah. He is going to destroy them. Now comes today’s lesson and we learn something about the close relationship between Abraham and the Lord. I think only someone on very good terms with the Lord, who knows that the Lord is a good and righteous and fair God, would be so bold and persistent. “Will you destroy them if there are 50 righteous men in the city?” No. What about 40 and 30 and 20 and 10? No.
How many times do you have to ask the Lord if you really want something to happen in your life? I remember Bernadette in La Canada. She was in her 30’s with an infant and a husband. She got cancer that eventually took her life. Pastor Carol and I would visit her often and we prayed every time for healing. One day she was really was perplexed because her brother had joined a super fundamentalist church and he had been given this advice: tell the Lutheran pastors to just believe more. All you have to do is ask once and then believe that God will answer your prayer. Bernadette wanted to know, should she and all of us at church keep praying or not?
Now keep the advice of the brother’s church in mind as we look again at today’s gospel lesson in Luke 11. The disciples want to hear from Jesus about how to pray. They are so impressed with how often he prays and they want to know the best way to engage in an obviously powerful God-connecting practice.
I think that Jesus is telling them that prayer is a wonderful relationship between the Lord and one praying. The relationship is one of mutual trust and confidence. Jesus says it like someone who needs some food for unexpected company at midnight and goes and knocks on the door of someone who has already gone to bed for the night. The person gets up to help because he is a friend. Jesus asks, if someone on earth would do that for a friend, don’t you think that our Heavenly Father would certainly do that for his beloved children?
Jesus uses three words to describe prayer: ASK……….it will be opened to you
SEEK……..you will find
KNOCK….the door will be opened
When I was in seminary I had a professor named Dr. John Cobb. In class one day Dr. Cobb lectured on prayer and how various Christians through the ages have understood the place of prayer. Then he shocked me by saying that in his own system of belief, he no longer believed that God answers prayer. He believed that God set everything in motion at creation, but no longer has an intimate relationship with the creation. We arrived at class the next day and found out that Dr. Cobb was in the hospital. The class decided that I should be the one to go visit him on behalf of the class and take a card. So I get to his hospital room and we talk a little. After chatting for a while, I said I didn’t know how to end the visit, since I usually pray with folks and I know that you don’t believe in prayer. I’ll always remember his reply: “I was raised by good Baptist parents who always believed in the power of prayer. I would like you to pray for me.” And I did.
So, what about you and prayer? Do you believe that there is someone out there listening and responding? If so, do you pray just once or are you persistent and bold in your praying? I long ago gave up the idea that God will give me just what I ask. I believe that you keep on praying (over and over again) until you become attuned to what God wants, not what you want. I call this “getting in sync with God”.
Mark Allen Powell, a remarkable Lutheran theologian, gave us this thought in his sharing with Virginia Lutheran pastors recently. I think it fits today. “As a child,” he said, “ I was always being encouraged to ask Jesus come into my heart. I’ve thought about that and concluded that the Jesus I know would have to be made very small to come into my heart. I think a better image is that Jesus is asking me to come into his heart. That would really expand my life and witness to be a part of the heart of Jesus.”
So, our encouragement for today is be bold, be persistent, and pray, pray, pray. Pray yourself into the very heart of Jesus.