Trinity 21 - Persistent Prayer

A sermon preached by Clare Heard at St John's Holland Road on 20 October 2013

How much do you pray? And what do you pray for?

I’m willing to bet that at least some of you have been incredibly persistent in your prayers about the church roof! The amount of money that you have managed to raise has certainly been the result of much hard work, but I am guessing also the result of prayer.

My question is, will you carry on praying with such persistence once the new roof is on? Because God doesn’t want you to stop.

This Sunday could be called demanding believers’ Sunday. There is a theme within the scripture passages of persistence – a refusal to let go or give up.

As someone who, on the odd occasion, has been called stubborn – I quite like this. The gospel reading is basically about a nagging women – and this is praised as a good thing!

However, before we all think that we have the perfect excuse to become endless nags – we need to note what she is nagging for….

This is a widow, one of the weak and vulnerable, and she is asking for justice – not riches or favours to get her ahead, but simply justice. This passage is a good reminder to check our prayer list – are we praying for the right things?

The persistent widow shows us that it is alright to pray for our own needs – they are not too small or insignificant for God to care about. Christians seem to range from those who pray about everything from what colour socks to put on, or God providing a parking space, to those who believe God doesn’t care about the small stuff and that we should only be praying for the real tragedies around us – famines, disasters and terrible suffering. I have to confess that I do sometimes pray about parking spaces but that I’m not sure God minds what colour my socks are (or even whether they are matching)!

Whilst the Bible clearly acknowledges the preference for the poor (just look at the Beatitudes if in doubt), it also teaches of a God who cares about each one of us and knows every hair on our head (Luke 12.7).

Earlier in Luke, Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray (Luke 11:1-4). The Lord’s prayer also affirms that we can pray for our own needs, that we can call God Abba, or Daddy, allowing us to reflect the closeness of that relationship – is there anything a child wouldn’t ask their parent for? Certainly my children are forever asking for anything that they want regardless of importance or need!

However, the Lord’s prayer does not stop with meeting our needs, and neither should we.
Jesus has given us a prototype for our prayers – acknowledging God’s sovereignty, asking for his will to be done on earth (that would include justice, eradicating poverty, healing the sick and so on), providing for our needs (this includes trusting him), seeking forgiveness and forgiving others, and praying for protection.

We say the Lord’s prayer every Sunday and sometimes more, but as we pray, how much are we bringing in to those words? I have a tendency to rattle through them, often without much further thought. Yet every phrase is a calling to something more.

After the Lord’s prayer, Jesus then tells his disciples to be persistent in prayer (vv5-9), asking for what they need. Coming back to the loving father language, God will give us what we ask for. There is an abundance of God’s generosity in the Bible, from the creation narrative, to the manna in the desert, to the baskets of bread left over after the loaves and fishes miracle.

This clearly does not mean that God will give us anything we ask for (and I’m not sure if we will even know why God answers some prayers and not others)….but God does want to give to us…. and he particularly wants to give the Holy Spirit, and all the fruits that come with it (patience, gentleness, self control, to name but a few). The persistence in prayer in Luke 11 is all about asking for the Holy Spirit – this is what the Father will definitely give to us if we ask.

Receiving God’s Spirit may not mean a radical experience or a rush of emotion, after all God is the still small voice who comes after the earthquake and fire. Even if we don’t feel any different we are assured that God will give his Spirit to those who ask and if we look carefully, we may notice the impact.

This is probably the most important thing to pray for – we will both pray better and live better in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that allows us to pray and intercedes for us. It is the Spirit who blesses us and allows us to bless others.

If we look at the Genesis passage, Jacob is wrestling, refusing to let go of God until God blesses him. We too need to be persisting in prayer, refusing to give up until God has blessed us and filled us afresh with his Spirit.

My next question is….How big are your prayers? Having prayed about a new roof, What about praying for new facilities – but don’t stop there…what about praying for abundant growth, and a thriving church community? Are we willing to dream big and then pray big?

We always need to dream bigger – every Sunday we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done” – we want our churches to overflow with people who love God and love each other, we want to create communities who provide for those in need, comfort those who suffer, and fight for justice for the oppressed. It’s simply not enough to pray for anything less.

There is so much we can and should be praying persistently for – the widow demands justice, Jacob refuses to let go until he has been blessed. What should we be praying for today?

However, be warned, prayer changes us. If we open ourselves up to God’s spirit as we pray we may well find our prayers grow or change. Prayer can be scary. We can be worried God won’t act – or we can be worried he will – are we willing to face the consequences of our prayers?

I used to pray for humility and found that all sorts of terribly embarrassing things happened to me shortly afterwards – I have to be feeling quite brave to pray for humility now!

The prayer – your will be done, on earth as in heaven, may well require some serious changes in our lives. Father Robert preached two weeks ago on the faces we see on our plate – and that is just one part of the whole story of our messed up world.

However, if we start praying about these things, we may find our hearts start to soften, we may allow God to change us, we may start to let go of our security nets.

The more we pray and open ourselves to God’s Spirit, the more God will be able to transform us to the person he created us to be….. Transform us to be truly free to worship and love both God and neighbour.

Are we willing to pray persistently for God’s blessing on ourselves, on our church and on our community? Are we willing to pray for his will to be done? Are we willing to pray big?

This type of prayer will certainly require persistence and a refusal to give up – and I think that is what God wants from us all.
Holland Park Benefice