Monday, July 27, 2009

Jesus Went Up On the Pray

There is a lot going on in today’s Gospel Lesson (Mark 6: 45--56). You’ve got one of Jesus most well-known miracles—his walking on the water--and there’s a lot that could be said about that. You’ve got the God of creation showing that he still has power over the world he made. But that’s not what I want to focus on today. You’ve got Mark’s brief version of the stilling of the storm, as Jesus steps from the water’s surface into the boat and the wind stops. But that’s not what I want you to notice either, as amazing as it is. You’ve also got a familiar scene: once people realize Jesus is in their area, there’s a mad rush to bring sick people out to see him, in hopes that he will bring healing, and here in Mark we are told that even if people just touched the fringe of his garment, they were made well. Wherever Jesus went, he brought with Him new life. Wherever He went, he brought the Kingdom of God, or the reign of God, with Him. The old order of things was passing away. The demons couldn’t stick around because their conqueror had shown up. Jesus was obviously no ordinary man. He was nothing less than God-in-the-flesh, coming on the scene to reclaim His creation. What an awesome thought. But it’s not really our focus today, either.
No, the thing that I want us to ponder today is almost like an afterthought in today’s Gospel. It is easy to miss, especially when you’ve got miraculous healings and water-walking taking place. Before Jesus proceeds to do any of those things, Mark tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain to pray. That’s what I want us to consider, and it’s a simple thing, really, on the surface of it. Jesus routinely made time to pray. He created the time to communicate with His Father. If he needed to, how much more do we need to? We know this, and yet…I think many Christians struggle with prayer. I would be lying if I said that I never had any troubles with prayer. My prayer life seems to go in spurts. Sometimes it is great, and then, there are times that I just…don’t. If you aren’t satisfied with yourself when it comes to prayer, today’s message is for you. May the example of Jesus inspire us to regular prayer and heartfelt communication with Him and our Heavenly Father, guided by the Holy Spirit.
It is worth noting that this passage from the sixth chapter of Mark’s gospel picks up right where last week’s left off. That’s important because last week’s gospel told the story of Jesus’ compassionate reaction to those who were seeking him out. Remember, He had intended a time of rest for Himself and his disciples, just after they had been teaching, casting out demons and healing the sick. But instead, people who desperately wanted the blessings of this new kingdom followed them to their retreat spot, resulting in the miracle known as the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus’ time of prayer is sandwiched between the active service of this miraculous meal and their sailing to the Gennesaret region. If Jesus was not going to get physical rest, he was at least going to get some spiritual rest in quiet prayer to His Father.
Isn’t it intriguing that Jesus, in his humanity, valued prayer so highly? More than a good habit, it was a deep need for him. He was willing to set other things aside for a while, so that he could pray. He literally missed the boat so that he wouldn’t miss out on prayer time.
The implications for you and me are probably obvious. So often we fall into the trap of being “too busy to pray.” We sinfully assume that there are better, more practical ways of using our time. Perhaps part of us doesn’t believe that prayer is going to make any difference, so we don’t do it. Or, we paralyze our prayers by thinking they’ve got to be done in just the right, precise way or they won’t work. Whatever the reason, Jesus’ example puts us to shame. That is, of course, because Jesus’ motives for prayer were pure—perfect, in fact. He simply needed to talk to Dad.
The idea of prayer as an element of a relationship with God can be very helpful once it is understood. For example, everyone knows what it means when one person stops talking to another in any relationship. It means something’s wrong. It is never a good sign. On the other hand, we all have people that we enjoy talking to, because we know they will listen and understand our viewpoint. It is never a good sign when we find ourselves giving God the cold shoulder through a lack of prayer. It is a symptom of a deeper spiritual problem—it is evidence that sin is getting the upper hand. Why else would we refuse to communicate with the God who loves and saves us? We have a standing invitation to get back on speaking terms with God. We have an advocate with the Father—His Son, our Lord Jesus. God’s Word promises that when we can’t think of the words to say, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us—the Spirit interprets our thoughts and feelings so they come out right before the throne of God. Furthermore, you can talk to a God who understands—a God who has walked the proverbial mile in your shoes—a God who knows what it means to suffer, to hurt, to be lonely, to be scared—a God who’s been there, right where you are now.
Don’t believe it? Let’s go to the garden of Gethsemane, the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. With the events of His passion mere minutes away from unfolding, guess where we find Jesus? That’s right—in prayer with his Father. Mark chapter 14 tells us that Jesus began to be greatly distressed and troubled. He deals with this distress by going to his Father in prayer. And what a prayer it is:
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
This is a wonderful model for prayer. It begins with an indication of relationship: “Abba Father” is the equivalent of saying, “Daddy” or “Papa.” There is intimacy here. There’s also an acknowledgment that Daddy just happens to have all things under his Divine control: “All things are possible for you.” When we pray, we begin from this same belief—that the God who created and preserves and still manages His world—invites us into the closest possible relationship with Him. He is all-powerful, and because He loves us and forgives our sins, we have access to him. In this way, prayer is an act of faith—if we didn’t love God and if we didn’t believe He has the power to change things, we would never pray in the first place.
Jesus continues, “Remove this cup from me.” He is not afraid to be candid with His Father. He can speak his mind to Dad, and is bold to ask for what is in His heart. We, too, can simply be honest with our Heavenly Father, and reveal ourselves to Him without fear. Nothing is too big. Nothing is too small. He can handle whatever is on our minds.
Finally, Jesus says, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus was willing to accept “no” as an answer to his prayer. His prayer to his Father was not “My Will Be Done” but “Thy Will Be Done.” This is one of the secrets of prayer that is hiding in plain sight. Both here in Gethsemane and in the prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us that prayer means seeking the Lord’s will. True Christian prayer doesn’t stop with making our requests. It goes an extra step, and says, from the standpoint of faith, “Not what I will, Lord, but what you will.”
In this sense, prayer leads us to surrender. Jesus teaches us that prayer involves letting go of what I want, and learning to become satisfied with what God wants for me. Maybe that’s why we have such a hard time with prayer. The last thing the sinful self wants is to be more concerned with what God wants than what the self wants.
But let’s not forget the reason Jesus prayed that prayer in Gethsemane. He knew the road ahead was leading to the cross, and before He even got there, the suffering would be intense. Prayer kept him in line with His Father’s will, and His Father’s will was that Jesus would suffer and go to that cross so that your sins could be wiped out. The Father’s will was that His one and only Son be punished for the sins of many—indeed, for our sins, so that all trace of sin could be removed from our record. Prayer helped Jesus see the joy set before Him in His Father’s will, so that He could endure the cross to pay off your sin in full. Thanks to Jesus, no sin counts against you; sin does not enslave you or hold you in hell; thanks to Jesus, you are free to live His new life and heaven is your destination. Jesus did all these things for you, and His prayers kept him on target and on mission.
You’ve probably heard stories of people being rescued from injury or death by total strangers—and oftentimes the person who was rescued has a deep desire to meet their rescuer again and talk to them and say “thank you.”
Wouldn’t you like to talk to the person responsible for your freedom? Don’t you have something to say to the One who saved your life for eternity? May the Holy Spirit help us to find our mountain—our regular place of prayer—that we might be refreshed in holy conversation with our loving Father; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gadget's Garage Vacation Bible School--What A Blessing!

What do you do with 131 children? You thank God for them! And try to find a place for them all to hear the Word of God, do crafts, sing, and play (on a rainy day, no less).

GADGET stands for God's Always Doing Great Exciting Things through Jesus, and He really is doing them here at St. Paul's. Please continue to pray that the Word of God would be heard and believed by the children and young people gathered here.

Thanks to ALL our exceptional volunteers for actively sharing the love of Christ so well!