Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Pentecost 10

"Practicing Persistence in Prayer"

Luke 11:5-10

July 24, 2016

How do you become accomplished at something? It's one thing to think you're talented and another to show that you are. Look at all the people who really believe they can sing who show up for American Idol auditions thinking they're the best voice in the room only to find themselves being laughed off the stage by the judges. Sadly, what they thought and reality were two different things.

So, how do you become accomplished? Natural talent is important but more important is the combination of practice and perseverance. It's easy to give up or become lazy. It's much more difficult to become disciplined to practice your skill daily. This leads us into the Gospel reading for today. Jesus is using the parable as an instruction in prayer.

Luke 11:5-10. Then He said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and from inside he answers and says, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened."

In this lesson on prayer, our Lord tells us that prayer is work. Think of it this way. Or sinful nature really isn't interested in being connected to God. Prayer is not natural to us. If it were, why would we struggle so much in our prayer life. We will become proficient in prayer only with practice and perseverance.

Here are some thoughts on the practice of prayer.

Pray continuously. St. Paul encouraged the congregation is Thessalonica to "pray without ceasing." [1 Thessalonians 5:17] In his book on prayer, Ole Hallesby, said that our praying should become as natural to us as is our breathing. Our prayer life should become as close to us as is our next breath. Our Christian life is in continuous connection with God. That on-going connection helps shape our thoughts which will then positively impact our words and actions. With every breath we take, we thank God for the gift of life and the blessings that flow from Him to us.

Pray formally. Jesus gave us His prayer. In the Lord's Prayer, He is both teaching us the example and the manner of prayer. Some people refuse to pray the Lord's Prayer or any other written prayer because they "don't come from the heart." But, consider this. Before you become proficient at anything, you need to know the basic foundations. After you have mastered the basics, you can apply the shortcuts.

We teach our children the formal prayers for eating and bedtime. They learn the Lord's Prayer as they hear others paying around them. These formal prayers become the foundation of their spiritual life. As they grow in their spiritual life, they will build on these prayers.

Yes, we need to learn to also "pray from the heart." As you grow in confidence, you can begin to pray with your personal words and thoughts. Still, there are times when you will fall back on that which is familiar and comforting. In such times, prayer books and devotions are particularly helpful. When we are distressed and find that our words and thoughts just don't seem to be cohesive. Formal prayers help us at such times to focus and express what our hearts are too burdened to form into thoughts and petitions.

Pray extemporaneously. After you have learned how to pray formally, you can begin to pray more extemporaneously. These are the thoughts that flow and are formed into prayers in your daily routines. These are the short prayers we send to the Lord as we are busy being about our daily lives and vocations. These may be short prayers of thanks, or quick prayers for help in the moment. This is part of what it means to be in continuous prayer.

Pray intentionally (in intercession for others). If your prayers are "all about me," you are not growing in the grace of loving your neighbor. Intercessory prayer leads you from selfishness to selflessness. Intercessory prayer for others lifts you from the narrow of "me" into the broad communion of saints. Intercessory prayers unite us with the communion of saints in the church throughout the world.

In the prayers of the church, we may not personally know any of the persecuted Christians in the Middle East or Africa but the Lord does. Our prayer unites us with them in their struggles against the evil that is destroying their lives, homes, family and friends.

We may not know all of those who protect us from harm and evil but we pray that the Lord will watch over them as they watch over our towns, cities and nation. We can never know how often the Lord has protected us as He foiled evil plots through the vigilance of those in law enforcement and the military. Yes, some evil always manages to manifest itself but we thank God for all the ordinary days and times when He has shielded us by delivering us from that unseen evil.

Prayer is work in that it is intentional and deliberate. Yet, we have not been left without tools and mentoring. The Holy Spirit aids you in your praying. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning's too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. [Romans 8:27, 28]

The Holy Spirit schools us in the blessings of prayer. He directs our prayers. He helps us learn from our prayers. Sometimes, we learn that our intercessions need to be refocused. Prayer is the means that the Holy Spirit moves you from where you are to the place where the answer to prayer awaits. In a sense prayer is from God through you and back to God again. The Holy Spirit directs our prayers from focus on self to focus on the goodness of God to us, in us and through us to othes.

Jesus Christ taught His disciples the importance of praying. He wants us to know that our prayers are not just thoughts or hot air. Prayer is one of our connections with the Him. That connection becomes stronger with practice and perseverance. In prayer, we find the intimacy and joy of knowing that with God all things are possible and all things work for the good to those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. Amen.


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