Pentecost 9 / August 10, 2014
Romans 8:26, 27 : Prayer
One of the benefits of being a diabetic is that I can take snacks with me in places that you can’t have food or drink. There was one place that I was rather amused to bring food with me. It was the White House. Passing through the metal detectors, I showed them my insulin pump, my blood sugar meter, and my granola bars. After a day of walking around in the D.C. area, my blood sugars were running a little low, so I needed to eat a granola bar in the White House. Of course, right on cue, one of the security guards looked at me funny, to which I responded, “I'm diabetic, I need this!” I thought it was pretty cool getting to have my afternoon snack with the President. Well sort of. I don’t think he was even there, but we’ll count it. Nevertheless, security is tight there. I can’t just waltz into the oval office and inquire the President how politics are going. I would probably be tackled by security. Visitors pretty much need an invitation to come in and speak with the President. Just taking a tour of the White House was a lot of work! I practically needed a background check. So, for me, little ole Pastor Walther of Appleton, Wisconsin probably would never have an audience with the President. I would either need to be someone with government clearance, or at least know someone important, like a senator. So, I’ll consider myself blessed to be able to have had a granola bar in the President’s house.
So much of Scripture describes God as if we are standing before a king in his royal court. Kings and royal courts aren’t such a part of our everyday society. After all, our nation was built on trying to get away from kings. But, in those days, the people owed allegiance to the king and in return, the people would receive protection. Even though that lifestyle is not our normal, the idea isn’t foreign to us. After all, we can still read history books about what it would have been like to be in the presence of the king and in his royal court. We also hear so many different stories and fairy tales about kingdoms that all share the same idea of regality, royalty, respect for the authority figure. The kings would always be set apart from their subjects. Usually, he was located in a grand hall with servants, advisors, body guards and jesters. When someone came to speak to the king, that person didn’t just waltz in and begin to speak. There wasn’t an “open door” policy! First, they had to seek approval. Then they would be announced. And the king had to care enough to actually let you into his presence and listen. Just like I couldn’t walk into the President’s oval office and say hello.
Yet, the Scriptures don’t speak of an actual place as it does so much a relationship: a relationship between our King, the Almighty God, and us, the people of this earth. God wants us to be a part of his kingdom. But, in order to come before the king, status is everything. Usually aristocrats or other high ranking people could come before a king. Having audience before the king was an incredible privilege. Our status is the opposite of what you’d expect. We are the rebels. Kings are powerful, and they use their power to carry out justice. God is a just ruler and doesn’t tolerate insubordination and lawlessness. We are the one’s who deserve the king’s wrath and fury. We remember all the times God displayed his anger and justice: the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, or the 10 plagues in Egypt.
God described all people in the psalms with the fact that no one does good, not even one person. We are out of favor in God’s divine court because of our sin. We are sinners. No way around it. Sin is that barrier between us and God. Even if we seem to be a somewhat good person. We failed to keep the king’s laws. So of course, the Lord will not listen to those living in rebellion, or those who refuse to listen, or those who ignore the Lord and his will.
However, the Bible also reminds us that our King is a compassionate king, like he was with Adam and Eve, or Jonah and Nineveh. Our audience with the King, with the Almighty God of the universe, came about only through one man who owned the right to be heard in the court of the king. Jesus is the only person in the kingdom who had this right because Jesus is righteous and because he is true God. God put the punishment of our sins on Jesus, for our sake. We now stand in God’s favor and he even answers our requests. As Christians, we are members of God’s kingdom. We have the privilege of speaking with God, one on one! God simply invites us to speak with him. That’s what we call prayer and that’s all prayer is: Speaking to God. Incredibly, in prayer we are invited to have an audience with the King of the universe, which isn’t our natural born right. But just like knowing a senator, or someone important, we know Jesus. Therefore, the king grants us the audience. Prayer is such an amazing blessing that God has given to us.
But what do you pray for? How do we pray? I’ll answer that with a question. Why did people need to speak to a King? Well, it was either to bring a request, or to give gifts, or plead for mercy, and the list continues. As Christians, sometimes, we praise God and adore him. So often, we plead for mercy, both because of our sins and for our every day troubles. We give thanks for all blessings he has given us. Sometimes, we cry for help. Sometimes, we even pray for others that they might reap blessings from God.
Yet, when I come to God in prayer, my biggest problem is still that I don’t know how to speak to God. I feel like all sense of intelligence has flown out the window and I’m left tongue-tied. We are stuck in a world where, our body is decaying on a daily basis, our friends hurt us, our family lets us down, we feel lost, or lonely. But sometimes, it’s difficult to convey all the subtle spiritual feelings of the heart. There are times when our minds are racing so fast as we pray that we know what we are thinking and feeling but it still feels like we don’t know what to say! Think of when a family member is on their death bed. What do we pray for? What is God’s will for us? What would God want me to pray for in this situation? Do we pray for a miracle recovery, avoiding death altogether? If that seems beyond the realm of possibility, do we pray that God take our beloved family member away from the pain. Our hearts wrench over examples like that because we don’t know what is best for us, or for our family, or for God’s kingdom.
This past week in our Vacation Bible school we learned about different sea creatures, how they live or how they even survive, like the pufferfish puffing itself up to protect itself. When I was thinking of all these creatures under the sea, I couldn’t help but think of the movie The Little Mermaid. Who has seen the Little Mermaid? A lot of times, we are like Ariel who selfishly wants things done her way, instead of listening to her loving father, the King! Paul reminds us in our lesson that, as far as our prayer life goes, our weakness as sinful human beings is that we do not always pray as we should. We pray for ourselves in selfish ways, or we leave prayer unused and underutilized. Asking for the right things “as we ought” is the difficulty, especially when it comes to praying for God’s will to be done and not our will to be done.
Often, Christians are weak. That doesn’t mean that they are lifeless, but they cannot sustain themselves by means of their own strength. Let’s be honest! We need support in times of weakness, a helping hand. That is what is so awesome about our God. Not only is Christ our advocate before God the Father, but we have the Holy Spirit interceding for us as well. Literally, we can translate, “The Spirit extends his helping hand to us in our weakness.” Paul assures us that the Holy Spirit lives in us, speaks, groans, and prays for us! The very groans that we grunt in our prayers because we can’t articulate our frustrations and thoughts, are the very same groans that the Holy Spirit brings to God. Even though they feel like fruits of impotence on our part, they are at the same time the intercessions of the Holy Spirit on our behalf! These petitions of the Holy Spirit are understood perfectly by God, regardless of their form. The Holy Spirit steps in and does for us what we’re at a loss to do for ourselves. He pleads for us in harmony with God’s own will. The Holy Spirit speaks for us and most importantly, he moves us to focus on the salvation assurances we have in Christ alone.
We don’t often think about the Holy Spirit. We often speak of the wonderful acts that God the Father has done like creation or his rule over everything. Or, we speak of the Son and what He has done and is doing. He died for us, intercedes for us, rules over the church for our good. But how often do we speak about the Holy Spirit? He comes up once in a while when we speak of faith, and then we kind of forget about him. I think this section is so awesome because it shows how each person of the trinity helps us out!
How do you feel about your prayer life? We all feel guilty about our prayer lives. Read this passage, yes we are guilty. This is common with all Christians and it is part of the struggle. Don’t let it get you down, but don’t let it make you give up! Even though the Holy Spirit does cover for us when we pray poorly or too little, this does not release us from God’s command and encouragement to pray. God wants us to continue to pray to him, ALL THE TIME! God wants us to stay connected to him. God wants us to dive deeper into His word so that we learn more about God and his will for our lives.
This week, the children who attended our Vacation Bible School learned some simple truths that we need to remember! God loved us so much that he sent his Son to take care of our greatest need, forgiveness of sins. But God continues to watch over us every day, caring for us, providing for us, and protecting us. Who can fully comprehend the grace of God? Forgiven, Forgotten, For Good. Who can fully comprehend the fact that our God assists us with our prayers to God? Yet, we have this encouragement found in these verses. God gives to us the most amazing gift of prayer. Prayer is simple. We get to come into the royal courts of the King of the Universe, not as jesters or a conquered people, but as children of God, inheritors of heaven. We can speak one on one with God. Yes, sometimes we come before God in sorrow or even confusion. Because of our own shortcomings, we make prayer difficult. But, fellow Christians, pray, pray, pray! We can pray with confidence because even when we don’t know how to always pray, we have God's promise that he hears us, loves us, and cares for us.
Let us pray, Dear father in heaven, you truly are a loving God that you have given to us the awesome gift of prayer. We thank you for the Holy Spirit who helps us even when we can’t articulate the thoughts we would like to convey. Yet, you know us and love us. Help us to always come to you in prayer, to search your Word to know your will for our lives, and to trust in you. In your name we pray, Amen.