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The Adventure of Living Prayer

Dr. Bruce Lancaster

June 12, 2016
Acts 1:9-14

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

 LANCASTER, BRUCE; (Staff)49I ended the sermon last week with the basic convictions that form the basis of these three sermons: God is listening to you and me — and we enter into that relationship of faith as we listen to God.

As this relationship grows, we begin to grow into God’s will for our lives, not because we learn some magic formula about prayer, but simply because, through prayer, we are able to live more and more in Christ and Christ live in us.

The basic conviction, though, is: pray.  As Matthew Henry said, When God intends to bless his people, the first thing he does is set them praying.

That’s the setting for our story in our scripture lesson.  Jesus has ascended into heaven.  He has commissioned the Apostles to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. (And note that it’s not just the apostles, it’s a crowd of men and women.) They had returned to Jerusalem with a sense of joy, worshiping together, and they, along with other followers, gathered in a room to pray.

TO PRAY!

This might sound strange to our Presbyterian ears. They didn’t  ‘form a committee’…not ‘to establish a mission task force’…not ‘to prepare the liturgy’… “not even pass a potluck supper plate or offering plate!”

THEY DEVOTED THEMSELVES TO PRAYER!

As one preacher said, “Three realities launched the church: the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the people praying.”

Before there was Twitter and Facebook, before there was Texting and E-Mail and Skype – before any of the ways to communicate that we think we can’t live without – THERE WAS PRAYER!

These followers of Christ were inviting God to rule in their lives – and the rest of the story, the Acts of the Apostles, the history of the church, I see it as the adventure of living prayer.

Living Prayer in that it describes how we live our faith, and also that prayer is alive, fresh, a power that moves us.

I think Frederick Buechner, the great author and preacher,  captures this when he says of one of his characters: “Yet Godric prays the way he breathes, for else his heart would wither in his breast. Prayer is the wind that fills his sail.”

Prayer is not a matter of how – we pray in all sorts of ways; no magic formula for prayer, anybody and everybody can do it in their own way – prayer is a matter of relationship and living prayer, first of all, describes our relationship with the living God.

Sometimes I think prayer is difficult because praying contradicts our own sense of self-sufficiency – You see, the power is not in the prayer, but in the one to whom we pray.

I think of the man, according to the story I heard – one Saturday night after a football game, sitting in his truck in the parking lot.  Another driver came up to him, asked if he had a heavy tool, a wrench or hammer he could borrow. The man said “yes” and watched this other man go back to his car and break out the window, reach in and get the keys, which he had left locked in the car. The man in the truck said, “I wish he had told me his problem.  I’m a locksmith and I had my tools with me!”

We are the same when we ignore the available power that God has for us, if we don’t have a prayerful relationship with God.

Roberta Bondi, a wonderful teacher and author has said, “If I want a real relationship with God, I have to tell him what’s going on.  As with any relationship, you don’t know in advance how it’s going to turn out.  You just do it,  you make yourself accessible so you’re prepared to receive grace when it comes.”

Living Prayer prepares us to receive that grace from the living God. It also describes our relationship with others. Prayer can and will connect us to God and will strengthen our connectedness with each other.

I heard a wonderful story of a young husband and wife – he was looking for a new job – she tells him as he heads out for promising interview, “I’ll be praying for you.”

He gets the job, and when he gets home, a beautiful table has been set, the aroma of a delicious meal fills the house, and when she serves dessert, there’s a note on the plate, “Congratulations!  I knew you’d get the job.  You know how much I love you!”

After supper, as he’s taking the dishes to the kitchen, he sees a note that had fallen from his wife’s pocket.  It read, “Don’t worry about not getting the job.  We can make it.  You know how much I love you.”

Friends, we cannot go through this life alone.  We need support – both emotional and spiritual.  Living prayer gives us that support as we pray for each other and with each other. As we pray for others, we become involved in their lives, and as we become involved in their lives, our prayers come alive.

A man was telling the story of how his ministry to the homeless got started. He said that one day on the way to work, as he passed the homeless man he saw every day, that he prayed, “God, wrap your arms around that man that he may know your love.” He said that a voice came to him, “Why don’t you give him a hug, because through you my love is made real.”

Prayer does change things, in that it changes people who change things – that God’s love works through you and me to turn our prayers into effective action for the creation of a better life NOW.

Living Prayer describes our relationship with the living God, with others, and also describes our own life of faith. Prayer becomes living prayer when we pray our lives rather than simply say our prayers.

I have always liked the prayer by John Baillie that begins “Teach me, O God, so to use all the circumstances of my life today that they may bring forth in me fruits of holiness rather than fruits of sin…”

What about you – can use your disappointments as material for patience; your success as material for thankfulness; the praise you receive as material for humility?

Living prayer means to pray what we live, what we know, what comes into our life, being honest with ourselves and honest with God.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “I pray because I can’t help myself.  I pray because I’m helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping.  It doesn’t change God.  It changes me.”

The adventure of living prayer is to transform us, not just a paint job on the outside, but evidence that God has spared no expense in the divine restoration work among people like you and me. As John Leith said, “The Christian witness is that the mystery of life has been revealed and we cannot view it as spectators.”

Can you imagine any of those 120 in that room in Jerusalem, after devoting themselves to prayer, as the Spirit moved them out the doors into the world for the adventure of living the gospel, hesitating in their petrified pew, “We’ve never done it this way before?”

Which is why I believe this is the prayer for living the grand adventure of faith:

Day by day, dear Lord, three things I pray:

To see thee more clearly,
To love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by day, by day, by day.

The adventure of living prayer!

TO GOD BE THE GLORY.