Sunday, September 23, 2018

I would pray but… isn’t it just like talking to myself? September 26, 2018 FUMC

I would pray but… isn’t it just like talking to myself.
September 26, 2018
Have you ever browsed the self-help aisle at the bookstore?  Here are a few choice selections…
Act Like a man, Think like a Lady… by who else but Steve Harvey,
 How to Poo on a date, the lover’s guide to toilet etiquette.
 How to write a “How to write” book.
 Or how about  How to lose a person’s interest in 10 seconds: the secret to having no friends by 2012
Really? Now, these are not representative of all the self-help books, but they illustrate how silly the self-help industry has become.
 Christianity is not a self-help religion. Our faith is actually based on the premise that we can’t help ourselves. When it comes to important things we are completely dependent. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”(John 15:5)
I would never deny that there are ways to improve our lives and I would never deny human free will. From a Christian perspective, however, “self-help” is an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp,” “Christian self-help” makes no sense.

 So, what are we to do?  We would do well to know the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous: “Admit that we are powerless.”
Imagine you are totally paralyzed and can do nothing for yourself but talk. And suppose a strong and reliable friend promised to live with you and do whatever you needed to be done. How could you show your gratitude to that friend if a stranger came to see you?
Would you honor his generosity and strength by saying, “I can do it myself” and trying to get out of bed to carry him on your shoulders like an MVP at the end of the game?
No! You would say, “Friend, please come lift me up, and would you put a pillow behind me so I can look at my guest? And would you please put my glasses on for me?” And then you would say something like “Thank you.  I don’t know what I would do without you.”
From that, your guest would see the generosity and dedication of your friend.

Friends, the truth is, as Jesus says, we can do nothing without him… at least not anything important. That doesn’t stop us from trying though does it?
We are driven by the urge to self-help. We try to live life on our terms. We try to fix ourselves, try to make our own decisions, and like 2-year-olds we cry, “I can do it myself.” But the truth is we are more paralyzed and powerless than we even realize.  Jesus doesn’t say “apart from me you can’t do much.”  He says “apart from me you can do nothing”… nada…zilch… zero. 
On the other hand, in Matthew 19 Jesus looked at the disciples and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Take your pick… nothing or all things… powerless or all power.  It is up to you.

 Even since I have started this series on prayer I have heard folks describe how strange prayer seems.
“Isn’t prayer just like talking to myself?”
“It is hard to talk to an invisible person.” 
“I just feel self-conscious and don’t know what to say.”
Let me tell you, prayer is as far from talking to yourself as you can get.
Prayer has nothing to do with talking to an invisible person.
There is no reason to feel self-conscious. Over ½ the people report praying daily, and ¾ pray at least once a month.

Last week I said that we were made to pray… this week I want to add we need to pray. Until we admit our powerlessness, we are alone…trying to do it ourselves. Once we admit our powerlessness, we can reach out to the one who is more powerful than we can imagine.

 Our story from Acts is a great example. Paul and Silas were in jail.  Let me tell you why. On Paul’s second missionary journey he left Caesarea and headed for modern day Turkey. As he made his way through turkey he seemed to be blocked in every direction. Then he had a dream of a  man from Macedonia standing on the shore calling to him.  He immediately set off toward Macedonia, modern-day Greece. There he met and baptized Lydia.
When he got to Philippi, there was a slave girl who worked for her master as a psychic. She kept bothering Paul. He eventually cast a demon out of her and she was no longer psychic.  Her master was furious and brought Paul up on some trumped up charges. The man incited the crowds against Paul and Silas and they were stripped, beaten, and imprisoned in a maximum security cell with leg irons and extra guards.
That’s where our scripture reading picks up. At midnight, they were still praying and singing.  The other prisoners were amazed… and probably a little irritated that they couldn’t sleep.
Then the miracle… as they were praying and singing there was a great earthquake… and every door in the prison flew open.  No accident I would say. I smell the hand of God there.  The prisoners could have run, but they didn’t.  When the jailer saw the doors all open he was about to take his life before the governor did it for him.  Paul said, “No, we’re all here.  No one has run.” 
The guard was amazed at the faith of these men and he asked, “What must I do to be saved.” They began to tell the guard about Jesus. The jailer took them to his house where they taught about Christ all night. In the morning they baptized his whole family.  The message Bible says “it was a night to remember.” I’ll bet it was.
But notice how powerless they were… in prison,  maximum security, leg irons, guards… powerless. Paul and Silas could have lost hope.  They would almost certainly die there, right?  Powerless.
They prayed. They didn’t lose hope.  They prayed and sang. Prayed and sang!
They were powerless. But they prayed right there in front of the guards and prisoners and everybody. They prayed because they believed in the power of prayer.
And what happened… an earthquake. Not just an earthquake. A huge powerful earthquake. And suddenly everything was different.  Paul and Silas were no longer prisoners. Neither were the others in jail.  The guard thought life was over but his life was saved, physically and spiritually by what? The power of prayer.  Paul and Silas’ prayer set in motion this whole chain of amazing events that ended with everyone being free, everyone being saved, everyone coming to Jesus.
 Prayer changes things. In this story, it changed everything, but it can change your life too.

What imprisons you? What has you cornered? What keeps you from being the best you can be? What holds you back? What doors won’t seem to budge?
Is it your attitude? A relationship that sucks the life from you?  Your job or one of your classes? The tricks your brain plays on you with depression or anxiety?  Is it an addiction? A compulsive worry? What is the name of your prison? Is it “unforgiveness,” “grief,” “fear,” “pain,” “envy?”  What shackles your legs and keeps you from jumping for joy? Is it business? Is it regrets? Is it .. good grief I don’t know. What is it that you need to change in your life?
Admit that you are powerless.  Admit that you need to pray. And let the power of God lose through prayer.
Don’t get me wrong. Prayer does not absolve us from doing everything we can including learning, and growing, and medical care, and taking responsibility, and doing our best. But my point is no matter how much you do you can’t change the world, other people, chronic illnesses, unforgiving friends, or a thousand other things.  You can’t change those things but God can… if we pray.
Maxie Dunam asked a question 35 years ago that has just haunted me. It has also driven me to an unshakable belief in the power of prayer. He asks “What if, there are some things that God will not or cannot change until people pray?” Just consider… what if?
 Far from talking to yourself or talking to the invisible man, prayer is the key for you to unlock the most powerful force in the universe. Prayer is the means by which God works in you, through you, around you, because of you, and even in spite of you to do his will on earth just as it is in heaven.  Prayer is the door through which God accesses your human imagination, your will, your knowledge, your cooperation, your relationships in order to make us and the people around us more like him. And prayer is the power by which God takes people like us and changes the world.

Your choice… sit in prison feeling sorry for yourself… or unleash the earthshaking, door jarring, chain breaking, prisoner freeing, life-changing power of prayer into your life and world. What will you do?

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