GRACE, MERCY AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM JESUS CHRIST, THE FATHER’S SON, WILL BE WITH US IN TRUTH AND LOVE. (2 John : 3)
Welcome to our Sunday web-worship!
Old Testament reading: PSALM 25
…SHOW ME YOUR WAYS, O LORD, TEACH ME YOUR PATHS; GUIDE ME IN YOUR TRUTH AND TEACH ME, FOR YOU ARE GOD MY SAVIOUR, AND MY HOPE IS IN YOU ALL DAY LONG. REMEMBER, O LORD, YOUR GREAT MERCY AND LOVE, FOR THEY ARE FROM OF OLD… (Psalm 25: 4 – 6)
New Testament reading: MATTHEW 7: 7 – 12
ASK AND WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU; SEEK AND YOU WILL FIND; KNOCK AND THE DOOR WILL BE OPENED TO YOU. FOR EVERYONE WHO ASKS RECEIVES; HE WHO SEEKS FINDS; AND TO HIM WHO KNOCKS, THE DOOR WILL BE OPENED. WHICH OF YOU, IF HIS SON ASKS FOR BREAD, WILL GIVE HIM A STONE? OR IF HE ASKS FOR A FISH, WILL GIVE HIM A SNAKE? IF YOU, THEN, THOUGH YOU ARE EVIL, KNOW HOW TO GIVE GOOD GIFTS TO YOUR CHILDREN, HOW MUCH MORE WILL YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN GIVE GOOD GIFTS TO THOSE WHO ASK HIM! SO, IN EVERYTHING, DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU, FOR THIS SUMS UP THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS.
This passage is about the power and wonder of prayer, the faithfulness of the Father, and the acknowledgement of our own helplessness and absolute dependence. It is significant that Jesus discusses prayer twice in His Sermon on the Mount. It seems that he wanted to make very sure that His disciples understood that discipleship and a life of perseverance in prayer go hand to hand. The very first step towards a life according to Jesus’ counsel was a period of meditation and prayer. He tells His disciples that they cannot do it in their own strength: – first, reflect quietly in God’s presence, and then pray, pray, pray! Without prayer no-one can walk the road of discipleship.
Prayer is not simply a pious gesture of respect, a desperate request for help in a crisis situation, or an escape from reality. Prayer is an acknowledgement of our dependence on God. It is part of our indispensable communication with God. Prayer helps us to gain perspective of the greatness and glory of God and of our own abilities and inabilities. It is like standing in a control tower to get a clear view of the airport around us with all the landings and departures, – a view the Great Navigator wants us to have.
A disciples’ communication with his Heavenly Father is not as simple and straightforward as one may think. It can be quite stormy in the inner chamber. The three communication channels Jesus mentions here – pray, seek and knock – demand perseverance and effort. Prayer is not an emergency service. Prayer is persevering action. It is an attitude of life. We remain seekers all our lives, constantly standing at the door; we are beggars knocking at the door. Disciples are always dependent on God’ grace. Obviously, this does not mean that prayer should be regarded as some kind of magic formula. For instance, Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane did not change the circumstances of His atoning sacrifice- in fact, things remained exactly the same – but in struggling with His Father in prayer, His attitude towards the forthcoming events changed. I believe, this was the way how He was equipped in God’s strength to face the circumstances of the Cross. Pray, seek and knock is an open invitation to everybody seeking access to the Father, but to devoted Christians it is more than that, it is a command. Jesus states the fulfilment of the promise as a fact: prayers are heard, seekers find and to those who knock it is opened. But this causes us problems. Can anybody qualify for the fulfilment of the promise? What about the long list of prayers each of us has seemingly not had answered? There is a very important rule regarding the Word of God: always read the Bible within its context. Do not use Bible verses out of context, because a verse usually is part of a larger message. This passage about prayer is part of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, part of a required attitude of devotion and sacrifice from His disciples.
But this command and invitation to pray is not unconditional. The promise of answered prayer is not a cheap kind of bait to draw people into churches. The key to understand the answering of prayers is found in verses 9, 10 and 11, in the words bread and stones, evil people and Good God. If ever we felt that we have received a stone instead of the bread we asked for, or even worse, a snake instead of a fish – then we are wrong. Our prayers are usually selfish and short-sighted. God knows better than we do what it is that we really need. A prayer for bread in time of famine; a prayer for healing of those infected with the new Coronavirus; a prayer for the restoration of a marriage – these things sound like prayers a loving Father could never refuse. Yet such prayers are not always answered. People still die of starvation; hundreds of thousands are dying of Covid-19, and the number of divorces is running high. How do we come to terms with this? Faith in prayer means total dependence on God who knows and provides. Even when we do not understand His way of answering our prayers – or of remaining silent – we must continue praying and believing. Paul Tillich, a Swiss theologian once said: – “The western world is not characterized by prayer. Our environment loves hustle and bustle, smooth organizations and powerful institutions, human self-confidence and political achievements…” To be really encouraged, this is what the Bible says: – …you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord (Jeremiah 29: 12-14), because often: – When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get…(James 4: 3).
…In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. The Golden Rule that Jesus presents here is also known in its negative form: – Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you. But Jesus gives a new meaning to these words. He loads it with action and makes it a challenge. If you like being treated with respect, be respectful; if you like people to listen when you talk, listen when others talk to you. If you value your property, respect other people’s property. If you believe you are entitled to certain rights in society, recognize and give to others those rights too. If you like eating a good meal every day, try as hard as you can to allow hungry people to have the same. Jesus’ motivation with this “golden rule” is the Law and the Prophets. This is how God wants us to live: – living by the WILL OF GOD, as it has been revealed in Christ.
If we are not willing to accept this teaching, we will remain nothing, but onlookers and spectators of what CHRISTIANITY is all about. What Jesus wants us to be is God’s fellow workers … God’s field, God’s building (1 Corinthians 3: 9), His own Body, THE CHURCH.
LET US PRAY:
LORD, OUR GOD, we call to You, but You do not seem to answer. We cry out for help, but often it feels in vain. Teach us at such times that You have not forgotten us; that You do hear our prayer and always seek to respond. Give us sufficient faith to keep on asking even when it seems pointless; to keep on trusting even though we feel abandoned. When we are tempted to lose heart, assure us that Your love continues, that You are still at work, and that, whatever Your answer may be, a response and aid will finally come. Help us to keep on asking, seeking and knocking even when we struggle in prayer, finding ourselves lost for words or endlessly repeating ourselves. Teach us to persevere, seeking Your answer until it becomes clear – not necessarily the response we hope for, but always the reply we need. Teach us to speak, Lord, knowing that You listen; and teach us to listen, knowing that You speak. Help us honestly, regularly and simply to express what lies on our heart, and show us, in turn, what lies on Yours. Minister to all who are broken: the sick and the suffering, – especially in the blast devastated Beirut – the terminally ill; victims of Covid-19, the homeless and dispossessed, the oppressed and exploited, the vulnerable and poor. Lord, bring blessing and healing to us and to all. Open our eyes to all the good things that surround us, all the reasons we have to give thank and praise. Awaken in us the joys and riches of the present that we receive each day as Your gift. Bless Your Church in this land and everywhere with all people that on earth do dwell… and may Your name be always glorified, and our lives blessed through Jesus Christ our Lord, in Whose Words we pray together and say: – OUR FATHER, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil; For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen
O FOR A CLOSER WALK WITH GOD, a calm and heavenly frame, a light to shine upon the road that leads me to the Lamb!
Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and His Word?
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed! How sweet their memory still! But they have left an aching void, the world can never fill.
Return, O Holy Dove! return, sweet messenger of rest! I hate the sins that made Thee mourn and drove Thee from my breast.
The dearest idol I have known, whate’er that idol be, help me to tear it from Thy throne, and worship only Thee.
So shall my walk be close with God, calm and serene my frame; so purer light shall mark the road that leads me to the Lamb.
MAY THE LORD OUR GOD BE WITH US AS HE WAS WITH OUR FATHERS; MAY HE NEVER LEAVE US NOR FORSAKE US. MAY HE TURN OUR HEARTS TO HIM, TO WALK IN ALL HIS WAYS AND TO KEEP THE COMMANDS, DECREES AND REGULATIONS HE GAVE OUR FATHERS. AND MAY THESE WORDS OF MINE, WHICH I HAVE PRAYED BEFORE THE LORD, BE NEAR TO THE LORD OUR GOD DAY AND NIGHT, THAT HE MAY UPHOLD THE CAUSE OF HIS SERVANT AND THE CAUSE OF HIS PEOPLE…ACCORDING TO EACH DAY’S NEED (1 Kings 8: 57 – 59.) … THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR.