Did You Remember Your Medication Today?
There’s a story about a small town in the Bible-belt whose citizens were proud of their reputation for being mostly tee-totalers. That is, until a businessman decided he was going to open a tavern right in the middle of their downtown and across the street from the biggest Baptist Church in town. The preacher and many of his flock decided to deal with this outrage in a Christian manner, so they gathered in front of the church for an all night prayer vigil, asking God to intervene. Two nights later there was a lightning storm and a bolt of lightning struck the nearly completed tavern and it caught on fire and burned to the ground.
The tavern owner was furious and he sued the church, claiming the prayers of the congregation were responsible. The church hired a lawyer to make a very solid case for this being a frivolous lawsuit, that the church could not possibly be responsible for an act of God. The judge, after his initial review of the case stated that, “No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in the power of prayer and the church people do not!”
For many of us, the large majority of our prayers are motivated by one of two influences; either a sense of obligation, as in, “Come Lord Jesus, Be our Guest, and Let these gifts to us….” OR out of a sense of desperation. “Lord, I hope You’re listening, because I’ve run out of all other earthly options!”
A mother sent her 5th grade boy up to bed for the night and a few minutes later she was walking by his bedroom and peeked in to make sure he had crawled into bed. He was praying aloud on the side of his bed and he kept praying over and over, “LET IT BE TOKYO.” When he finished praying his mom had to ask, Let it be Tokyo? He explained, “WE HAD OUR GEOGRAPHY TEST TODAY AND I WAS PRAYING THAT GOD WOULD MAKE TOKYO THE CAPITAL OF FRANCE.”
Now that’s desperation! A good reason to pray. But far from the best reason. The best reasons to pray, which we will discuss this morning are, firstly, because the only way we are ever going to hear God speak to us is if we take the time to speak to HIM. And the other best reason to pray is because prayer is the greatest anti-anxiety medication ever provided for us by a loving heavenly Father.
We revisit the Gospel lesson for today and find the disciples, who are observing Jesus immersed in prayer, yet again, and are obviously satisfied that Jesus knows something they don’t. He’s not anxious or stressed, not constantly measuring Himself against the competition, not desperately seeking recognition at every turn. Is it all the praying? LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY!
And so, Jesus responds with a prayer. THE prayer. The Lord’s Prayer. A prayer which recognizes that, when the disciples were asking ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ they were really asking, ‘Lord, teach us to cope. Teach us to be happy and contented.’
Have you viewed the Lord’s Prayer in that way lately, as an antidote to anxiety, as a stress reducer, a formula for contentment? This is truly how to pray. Let’s review, petition by petition.
Firstly, we pray to our holy Father that His kingdom come. As Martin Luther put it, “Oh, His kingdom will indeed come without our asking for it, but we’re praying that the eternal kingdom comes to us, too!”
THY WILL BE DONE. “Please, Lord, your will be done, because, frankly, Lord, I’d rather you didn’t leave those decisions up to me. Too much anxiety for one person. Let’s get together on this Father, and do Your will, not mine.”
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD. Remind me EVERY DAY, Lord, to be grateful for the basic necessities of life. Everything else is nice, but none of it has the power to turn anxiety into peace of mind.
FORGIVE US OUR SINS, AS WE FORGIVE OTHERS. Extending forgiveness is the greatest anxiety reliever we have that is in our power to initiate. That’s why Jesus includes this apparent addendum to forgive others. We HAVE to forgive others, or we have to learn to live with ever-increasing anxiety.
I read a fascinating article recently about a self-help, new age seminar called “The Landmark Forum.” The initial seminar lasts 3 days, costs over $1000 dollars, and includes usually 200 participants at a time. 2 million people in 20 countries have completed the seminar. The promise of the Landmark Forum? “Living life powerfully and living a life you love.”
A young woman in her late 20’s, fresh from a seminar and really on fire described the seminar this way: “IT’S ABOUT CHANGE. IT’S ABOUT TRANSFORMATION. IT’S ABOUT TAKING YOUR SELF-ESTEEM, SELF-LOATHING AND SELF-DESTRUCTION, YOUR DEPRESSIONS AND FRUSTRATIONS, YOUR ENVIES AND ANXIETIES AND HAVING IT ALL JUST DISAPPEAR, LIKE A TRAIN PULLING OUT OF THE STATION.THE PAST IS PAST AND HAS NO BEARING ON THE FUTURE.” Now, that sounds an awful lot like forgiveness, doesn’t it? The forgiveness God grants us. The kind of forgiveness that enables Christianity, at least the kind Jesus taught 2000 years ago, to become welcoming and inclusive.
The seminar, which proudly claims no religious connection whatsoever, has clearly borrowed Biblical, Gospel-centered principles! The difference being that the Forum suggests we can implement self-forgiveness and take control of our lives and our happiness. The Gospel says that, actually, since Adam and Eve, we haven’t been very successful at doing this by ourselves. We need and we have a Savior. Our baggage and our burdens become His.
Stage 2 of the Forum’s supposedly new approach to self-empowerment is that participants are ordered to let go of their anger toward those who have hurt them. It’s called GETTING COMPLETE. Each seminar has a bank of phones in the middle of the room. You are told to call up those who wronged you and, ready for this? – ask them for forgiveness. You are coached not to say, “I FORGIVE YOU EVEN THOUGH YOU WRONGED ME but PLEASE FORGIVE ME FOR NOT CALLING YOU SOONER TO LET YOU KNOW THAT I’M OK WITH YOU.”
How does the Lord’s Prayer say it? FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US. Doesn’t sound very hip or new age does it? Maybe because we’ve spoken it so many times, but it is immensely powerful. Forgive us our trespasses, in other words, “Forgive us Lord because YOU CAN.” And, two, as we forgive those who trespass against us, LORD, “WE IN TURN ARE GOING TO FORGIVE OTHERS.” Not conditionally, “I’ll forgive you if you prove worthy, or if you apologize. NO, I forgive you by loving you, so you’ll know I’m ok with you.” Forgiving unconditionally so that we can GET COMPLETE is going to fail – for there is no power behind it. Forgiving because God has first forgiven us is the power of faith. Believe God has done that for you and you are then CAPABLE of believing you can do it for others!
Withholding forgiveness, no matter how right we think we are, promises to induce anxiety and eventually injure our health. It may be time for you to simply let go of animosity and resentment and replace it with forgiveness. In the process we are reborn in the light of a God who has forgiven us.
And finally, LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL… “Don’t let me go that way, Lord. Lead me this way instead.” Even if we have gained the whole world, Jesus says…EVEN IF WE HAVE GAINED THE WHOLE WORLD…Forgive us our sinning, Lord. Lead us in the right way, and thereby teach us how to forgive. You don’t have to be anxious or despairing, you don’t even have to win! Jesus took care of that, too. So pray early and often, and try to get in the habit of regularly praying for others if you don’t already. The results of that effort will be stunning – in its effect on you! AMEN