|I carved this little guy 5" tall from plaster of Paris and vermiculite in September 1967 and used him for the children's time with this message to talk about praying.|
May 5 and 6, 2018
King of Glory Lutheran Church
Sprit of Peace Lutheran Church
Formal prayers mark the steps as we move through our corporate worship. We give people opportunity to express their joys and concerns in a shared prayer. As familiar as we are with this, many people are intimidated by the prospect of leading public prayer. Together as church we seldom talk about our private prayers. We are a little squeamish about something so personal and intimate as our confidential conversations with God.
Luke reports Jesus praying more than the other Gospels. So for him to tell that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray is not at all surprising. (Luke 11:1)
In Romans 8:26, Paul acknowledges that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” but rather than scolding for that, he assures us that the “Spirit intercedes (for us) with groans too deep for words.”
Three patterns of prayer in the Bible have enriched my own practice of private prayer.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” I suspect he repeated this several times, as it occurs as a model prayer in Luke and in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the Psalms, “the prayerbook of the Bible,” suggesting Jesus learned to pray from them, and they shaped and informed Jesus’ praying. He got me started on a routine of praying with the Psalms I have followed for 48 years.
By my count, the New Testament Epistles include 15 prayers that I find particularly challenging. They push me to pray well beyond my comfort zone.
Today’s reading from Philippians includes one of those prayers in verses 3-11.
When we started the service by naming people for whom we are thankful, we were following Paul’s pattern of being thankful for the people of the Philippian church. Not that we shouldn’t be thankful for the things we enjoy, but our prayers grow as we are thankful for the people who have been part of our lives. When I start making an inventory of people for whom I am thankful, I begin to feel joy welling up from within me.
Even all these years later, I feel joy as I remember how my 6th grade teacher Bill Miller sparked a love of learning in me, and as I remember how my 11th and 12th grade English teacher Margaret Abbott invested herself in cultivating my writing. As you are thankful for the people who have contributed to you, your prayers will grow in joy.
Paul was thankful for the people of the Philippian church who had been partners with him in the Gospel. I have been very thankful for those with whom I have been privileged to serve in ministry: among them Jim Kraft and Phil Olson in NJ, Anita Dunlevy in TX, Julia Jordan Gillett in OK. I must tell you I am thankful for Pastor Tim who has nourished my journey with Jesus this year.
Paul was in prison when he wrote to the people of the Philippian church, and he longed to be with them. Who are the people you ache to see face to face? Candy and I are planning to go to PA in June for our grandson Isaac’s high school graduation and are anticipating seeing them. Thank God for the people you’d like to see.
Sometimes when I listen to prayers, including my own, I chuckle as they sound as if we think God is so stupid that God needs us to inform God about what needs attention in our lives and in our world and needs us to tell God what to do about them. If we start praying the things Paul asked God to do for the Philippian church for ourselves and the people we care about, our prayers will take us to a new depth of listening for what God wants for us, beyond what we want for ourselves, those we love, and even our world.
Overflow with love
Overflow with knowledge and insight
Determine and discern what is best for making decisions and taking action
To be pure and blameless. Rather than thinking of that as superficial moral piety, I suggest what Søren Kierkegaard wrote in his book Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Based on Jesus’ Beatitude in Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” he suggests if the only thing you want in your heart, unmixed with other desires, is to see God, you will indeed see God.
Produce a harvest of righteousness
I want to end by giving you an opportunity for guided private prayer informed and nourished by the prayer of Philippians 1:3-11. I know that sitting together in silence can be difficult and feel awkward, but I hope you will find this experience enriching. If you wish you may have a Bible open to Philippians 1, but that is not necessary. We will begin with a few moments for you to gather your thoughts about praying from the passage. If you wish to make a few notes, that is fine but not necessary. Then I will suggest people for whom you may pray for a few moments in silence using what you gained from the passage. You may relax and trust me to keep moving.
· For yourself
· For the people of this congregation
· For others who follow Jesus in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, in the United States, and around the world.
· For people who make no claim of a relationship with Jesus, though they may have some faith in God.
In the name of Jesus, I will read the prayer of Philippians 1:3-11 aloud as our shared prayer. I will invite you to say “amen” at the end.
3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Together we say, “Amen.”