Monday, April 7, 2014

Lent and Prayer

We have been studying the Great Prayers of the Bible. Since it was Lent, we started with Psalm 51, the great prayer of confession. No prayer better gives us words to express sorrow for sin and a cry for forgiveness based on the steadfast love of God. Next, we worked on 2 Chronicles 20: 1-12 which is the great prayer of Jehoshaphat the King of Judah. Faced with the impending threat of attack by three armies, the king gathers the people for a day of fasting and prayer in front of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is a prayer of help. He prays: “We are powerless to face this great army; we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you…” - a prayer of help. Of course, we worked on the Lord’s Prayer and this past Sunday we went with Jesus to pray for the will of God at Gethsemane. “Not my will but yours be done…” Jesus in Luke’s Gospel wrestles in prayer: “If it’s possible, please let this cup pass from me.” We pray asking for what we want. We give expression to our desires our wants before God. Now, admit it, must of our interest in prayer is an interest in getting what we want out of the Almighty. Sometimes I have prayed and my prayer was answered just as I wanted it to be. Sometimes when I prayed for help there was nothing else to do but pray. Often we think that there must be some technique that we could use, some special word, some special posture to get God to do what we want. In other words, we want to manipulate God, use him for our own devices. Many see God as a cosmic Santa Claus that must be bought off or manipulated- as if we could do either. But, prayer proves much more mysterious than that. Sure, we are invited in our relationship with God through Christ to ask for what we want. But, even Jesus doesn’t always get what he wants. So, he and we pray the second part of the prayer. Richard Foster says that this is a prayer of relinquishment. “Not my will, but yours, O Lord, be done…” Foster says that this is not a giving in to fate. We don’t believe in impersonal fate. No, it is releasing ourselves to God’s will. It is learning in prayer to release my hopes, my dreams, my family, my future to the will of God in hope. We pray this prayer knowing that we can be confident in the ultimate goodness of God. We have faith in the character of God. Whatever we wanted in the first place is not as good as what God wants for us. We embrace the present as it is and wait for God’s will. Sounds easy, but it’s not. We expect God to do what we want. Is it human? American? To expect that God will do exactly as we will. It’s faithful to trust God to do God’s will. This is our hope. In Gethsemane, Jesus rightly does not want to face his death and suffering like this. But, in faith Jesus knows that God’s will is ultimately better. From our vantage point, Gethsemane let to trial, crucifixion and death- awful. And, when all else was gone, God brought resurrection. Rather than believe in God’s gift of resurrection, we are fascinated by some child’s fiction about heaven. No. When all else failed. God came to bring life. Blessings! Dave Nichols

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