BASIC TRAINING-PRAY WITH BOLDNESS
Dear Christian friends,
9/11 2001 is permanently etched into the memory of those who experienced that day. It is one of those days that you simply remember where you were and what you were doing when the passenger jets hit the Twin towers in New York City. I was in my office at a different church in a different city. The phone rang. Val, my secretary, asked if I would get the phone. A friend of the church was on the other end and told me to turn on the TV. Our home was all of forty feet away. I saw the first tower burning. As I was watching the TV I saw another plane fly into the second tower. I wondered if I really saw that correctly. The late Peter Jennings, who was the newsman, didn’t say anything about the second plane for a few minutes. He was watching from a different angle. It took a few seconds. He confirmed the other had been hit.
There was chaos. Fifteen minutes later the first tower collapsed, then the second. It was hard to look at and mesmerizing at the same time. 3000 people lost their lives that day. Then news came of the other planes that hit the Pentagon, and the one that was going at the Capitol but passengers bravely took it down before then. Untold families were affected. The whole nation was horrified.
Many, I hope most, in America were driven to their knees. I was. I know you were too. We commemorate that day very soon again. There is much that needs our prayers. As we continue our basic training series we turn our attention to prayer. “Pray with Boldness,” 1) When it comes for whom you pray; 2) When it comes to how you pray.
Have you ever had some real important house guests? Perhaps you have had the person who owns the company where you work. Maybe you have an important relative. Judy and I hosted the president of our synod once. He would be embarrassed to think that we thought of him as a VIP, but let’s talk about Abraham. He had VIPs like no one else visit his home (or maybe we should say ‘tent’). There were actually three guests. They are identified. Two of the men were angels. The other was the LORD himself. Yes, you heard that correctly.
They had come for two reasons. They had come to announce that the very elderly and childless couple, Sarah and Abraham, would have a child within a year. They had also come to inform Abraham of the immoral mess polluting the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah where Abraham’s nephew had taken up residence.
When our daughter Courtney lived in San Jose, California and we went to visit her, her church friends found out we were going to visit San Francisco. People from the church said to us that we should not be shocked by what we see.
It’s not like we never heard about what everyone says about San Francisco. Yes, the have a strong and loud gay community. Frankly, I didn’t notice it. But Sodom and Gomorrah was the San Francisco of ancient days. From what chapters further into the book of Genesis say, those cities had no closets to hide in.
The LORD said to the angels within earshot of Abraham, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” Eventually God would destroy the cities. They have never been found. You know why? Because they are under the Dead Sea! But before that occurred, look how Abraham reacted to what the Lord was going to do. See what he does and doesn’t do. He didn’t jump up and down and high five the LORD for finally getting rid of those trashy cities. He prayed. It wasn’t to thank the Lord for getting rid of them but to ask the Lord to spare them.
He asked the Lord to spare the cities for the sake of the believers that were there. He asked the Lord to give them more time to repent and turn to him instead of away from him. Abraham dared to pray for the people who wanted nothing to do with God.
When I saw the twin towers come down, it was easy to pray for the people in the middle of it all. It was easy to pray for the families who were seeing their loved ones entombed in the mass of metal that came tumbling to the streets of New York. Yet it was also easy to despise the ones who perpetrated such a crime. It was easy to despise those who were captured by cameras celebrating the deaths of 3000 innocent people. It was easy to despise those celebrating the deaths of Moms and Dads who had left their homes that morning and had kissed and hugged their spouses and children good bye but fully expecting to repeat the scene when the came home. It was easy to be enraged with all the people who worship a god whom they say rewards the murder of “infidels.”
Who do you think Abraham would have included in his prayers if he had been living on 9/11/01? He dared to pray for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He prayed for the people who were committing sins that God was so disgusted with that he would one day destroy the cities with an exclamation mark and bury them under the Dead Sea.
Jesus once said, “You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
It is easy to pray for those whom we love and who love us. And there is nothing wrong with that. Continue to do so, but there are also those who if they died this moment would go to hell, but we must pray for them too so that the Word penetrates their hearts with the fire of the Holy Spirit.
I have to admit my failure here. I pray for the sick; I pray for our troops; I pray for our president, but it is also our duty to pray for those who in rage cry out, “Death to the Infidel!’ They certainly need our prayers as do the drug lords who are poisoning America; we need to pray for the corrupt politician who serves himself and not our country.
When the Bible says, “Pray continually,” that seems like a tall order. But it is a tall order only because it requires stamina and perseverance; it is not because we will run out of material to pray for.
Be daring in your prayers. Abraham surely was. "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." Then Abraham spoke up again: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?" "If I find forty-five there," he said, "I will not destroy it." We see how Abraham took God all the way down to ten people. If ten people were found in Sodom and Gomorrah who were believers, God said he would spare the cities.
God wants us to be persistent. He delights in it. Jesus once taught the disciples about prayer. In fact, he was teaching them the Lord’s Prayer when he told this little parable about persistence and boldness in prayer. Jesus said, “Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.' "Then the one inside answers, `Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”
Too often we give it one shot and then when if we don’t think he hears us right away, we give up. A father was teaching his family about prayer. The father told each member of his family to pray for one person. The son prayed that God help his friend Eddie to be better at school because he was getting into trouble all the time. When the family got together again, the father asked if his son was going to pray for Eddie again. “No, he said, “I prayed for Eddie last week and he was still bad.” Persist!
Someone once said that the church doesn’t have people who really grapple in prayer. He said, “The church sometimes has too many organizers but too few agonizers; too many who pay but too few who pray; too many resters but not enough wrestlers; many who are enterprising but too few interceding.” Persistence in prayer honors God. Praying persistently demonstrates where our help really comes from. “Our help comes from the Lord who made the heaven and the earth.” Dare to pray with persistence. Never give up!
Dare to pray boldly. Our Scripture says, “Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” As I looked at the Hebrew word translated ‘approach,’ I don’t get the impression that Abraham was shy and choked out his requests. The word means “to put the pressure on.” You can put pressure on friends for favors because of the relationship you have. We have such a relationship with the Lord. In fact, he is more than a friend he is our Father. Because he is our Father, the apostle said that we don’t need to be afraid to come to him but to do so with boldness and not fear. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.”
While he is our Father, he is our Heavenly Father. He is our God. When we ask friends around us for favors we need to remember that they are only human. They have limited resources. They have limited physical abilities. James tells us when we go to God that’s another matter, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” James says “don’t doubt.” Why should we doubt? If we doubt James says we are “double minded” and “unstable.” He is our God of unlimited love and unlimited power and wisdom. He will do what is best for us because he is our God of love. He proved it by sending Jesus. He gave us his best so we would receive.
So when we pray for rain, don’t doubt. He will do what is best. In fact, when we pray we should probably take an umbrella not doubting God can do whatever he wants to do. Pray boldly, dear friends! Never give up!