Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia: “Praying Purposefully”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Set free, O Lord, any tension or anxiety which may keep us from fulfilling Your vision of what we can be. Fill us with the strength of Christ, the power of Your Holy Spirit, and the faithfulness of all true saints, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The minister’s little six-year-old girl had been so naughty during the week that her mother decided to give her the worst kind of punishment. She told her she couldn’t go to the Sunday School Picnic on Saturday.
When the day came, her mother felt she had been too harsh and changed her mind. When she told the little girl she could go to the picnic, the child’s reaction was one of gloom and unhappiness.
“What’s the matter? I thought you’d be glad to go to the picnic,” her mother said.
“It’s too late!” the little girl said. “I’ve already prayed for rain!”
Today is the last Sunday in the Season of Lent, and it is the beginning of Holy Week. We have been investing in this season by studying the New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christian Community in Colossae. Paul writes to these Turkish Christians who lived with false teachers and worldly temptations and threats against humanity and fear of domineering governments were all taking over, remind them who they were, to encourage their discouraged souls, to tell them again of who God is and what God had accomplished in Christ Jesus. In this letter we are invited to experience authentic ecclesia – to practice genuine Christian faith.
We have seen that this means: we have to learn to discern fake news from Good News; we are given Jesus as the visible image of the invisible God; real Christians really suffer, and when we suffer on behalf of another we become more like Jesus; living into these truths makes us free to be who God wants us to be; and from a practical perspective we are asked to shed our old ways of living and become brand new beings, children, in His Kingdom; and last week we saw that God’s ways of creating Communion Community works in 2017 as well as it did in 2,000 earlier!
Today’s short passage offers some suggestions for praying purposefully – praying with expectation of an answer, praying in a way that demonstrates our trust and faith in the God who alone answers those prayers.
Listen with me to God’s Word from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Colossae. Colossians 4:2-6 ….—-
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
The little 6-year-old girl prayed with a purpose: She devoted herself to prayer, she watched for and expected the answer, and she was … mad because she prayed for the wrong thing!
Paul says: Pray with devotion – with regularity. Pray with expectation, watching for the answer to come. Pray with thanksgiving – because God loves us and will always answer with the best answer (if not the “right” answer – please note the air-quotes)!
Paul is not afraid or ashamed to ask for prayers for himself! And he asks for specific, measurable prayers: that God will create an opportunity; that Paul will recognize that opportunity; and that Paul will step into that opportunity with confidence and wisdom.
But, praying is not the be-all and end-all. Especially in the context of this letter – his prayers are for success in sharing the Gospel (but the prayers really could be for anything), and so his advice is simple: Be wise in the ways you act with “outsiders” (people outside the faith), and be aware of every open door to bear witness of the Good News of Jesus. Be graceful, and be ready. Always.
This week, as we wander toward the cross of Jesus’ death, let’s wander with direction. Devote ourselves to prayer – expecting God to really and truly answer – and being thankful for God’s faithfulness to us, always.
I have, over the last month, introduced you to a few quotes from Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch watch maker during the days of Nazi occupation in Europe, and Jewish annihilation. The ten Boom family hid Jews in their home until they were discovered, and then Corrie and her sister Betsie and their father were all captured and put in concentration camps where they all died except Corrie.
Your Sermon Notes page has a few more CtB quotes – about prayer. Listen to these quotes and see if any leave their mark on you.
The first quote describes how Corrie ten Boom learned to pray with purpose:
“I prayed to dispel my fear, until suddenly, and I do not know how the idea came to me, I began to pray for OTHERS. I prayed for everyone who came into my thoughts – people with whom I had travelled, those who had been in prison with me, my school friends of years ago. I do not know how long I continued my prayer, but this I do know – my fear was gone! Interceding for OTHERS had released ME!”
The second quote describes a reality about prayer:
“The wonderful thing about praying is that you leave a world of not being able to do something, and enter God’s realm where EVERYTHING is possible. He specializes in the impossible. NOTHING is too GREAT for His almighty power. Nothing is too SMALL for His love.”
Syria is killing its own people. America drops bombs on Syria. I have NO power to do anything to stop that! Wait. I can PRAY! In God’s realm EVERYTHING is possible! NOTHING is too GREAT for His almighty power.
And NOTHING is too SMALL for His love – so I can pray for even my least problematic concern!
The third quote asks a question about how “devoted to prayer” we are:
“Is prayer your STEERING wheel or your SPARE tire?”
Do we rely on God to guide our every move? Or do we only go to Him when nothing else has worked?
The fourth quote gives advice about HOW to be “devoted to prayer”:
“Don’t pray when you FEEL like it. Have an APPOINTMENT with the Lord and KEEP it.”
The fifth quote is advice specifically stated for me:
“To pray only when in PERIL is to use safety belts only in heavy TRAFFIC.” … or only AFTER the accident…. or only when you see a POLICE officer watching you….
The sixth quote simply states a truth:
“A man is powerful on his KNEES.”
To assume that needing prayer is a sign of weakness is to not understand that our strength is rooted in Jesus!
The last quote on our Sermon Notes page is Corrie ten Boom’s testimony of what she learned from her sister Betsie – and a condition she hoped for for herself, and that I strive for in my own life:
“More and more the distinction between PRAYER and the REST of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.”
Paul says to pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks to God the Father, in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God!
Experiencing Authentic Ecclesia means becoming a people who pray like that!!
Let’s spend just a few minutes here. Someone tell us which of these quotes hit you the hardest; which one made you stop and reflect the deepest; which one convicted you into “devoting yourself to prayer” a little more diligently.
We are a Church on the very verge of truly experiencing all of that – and we are blessed, privileged to be in on the ground floor! Let’s join the Colossian Christians and be that kind of church together.
O how the world to evil ensnares me! O how my heart is tempted to sin!
I must tell Jesus, and He will help me over the world the victory to win. Amen.
Carson, H.M.; Colossians and Philemon; Tyndale new testament Commentaries; 1984; Pp. 95-98.
Hoffman, Elisha A.; “I Must Tell Jesus”; 1894.