Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Missional Prayer

It was the one-time professional wrestler and Minnesota governor, Jesse Ventura, who said, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people.” No doubt he has a very low view of one of the principle aspects of true religion – namely, prayer. I agree that prayer may be thought of as a crutch or “support” that enables one to do what would be difficult or impossible without it. Prayer is a powerful and effective support – just as an electric wheel chair increases the mobility of a disabled person; or eye glasses enable a brain surgeon to do his lifesaving work. Prayer is a powerful support because it puts us in touch with the One who is the power behind the powers.

We like to think of ourselves as a pragmatic society. We’re much too busy doing to bother with things like prayer. Jesus seems silly to us when he scans the crowds with compassion in his eyes and then turns to his disciples and says – of all things – “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9: 37-38). We wish that Jesus would have said, “The harvest is huge…so get out there and get to work.” Instead, he calls a prayer meeting. Is this another example of what skeptics say “weak minded” religious people do – namely, nothing?

Before going any further I want to say that Jesus’ call to prayer does not mean we should sit around and have a prayer meeting when someone is bleeding to death in front of us. Check Matthew 9: 35 and you’ll find that Jesus called his disciples to pray after he himself had been out in the field “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness.” In other words, Jesus was a first responder -- as surely as the LA City Fire and Police Dept. were first responders after the train wreck on Friday in Chatsworth, CA when a Metrolink train had a head on collision with a freight train and at least 25 people were killed…a terrible tragedy.

I would bet that no one knows the value of prayer better than many first responders. Their eyes are wide open. They see the tremendous need. They understand the limits of what they can do. I’m thinking about that moment when an officer was found dead and then gently carried out of the mangled wreck, through lines of police and firefighters with their hats and helmets over their hearts. They paused for a minute of silent prayer. It was a moment of reverence and humility…after everything they tried to do wasn’t enough, and they handed him over to Another.

Jesus asks us to pray not just because the need is great, but because his heavenly Father is greater. He asks us to pray not because he wants us to sit on our hands when trains collide, but because the labor that a compassionate God inspires is what this world truly needs. Listen to Jesus’ words again: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” The phrase “to send out” is a translation of the Greek verb ekballō, and it means “to cast out or throw out.” It’s a request that God would catapult his workers out into the harvest field with Jesus’ message and ministry. The fact is, there are plenty of workers available in every church and community. What we need to pray for is that God will light a fire under us…and catapult us into a world of need; that he will empty our church pews…so that we might join the awesome work of harvesting the field of God.

I began by speaking of a deadly collision; let me end by telling you about a divine one. On September 17th Tiffany, a relatively new woman to our church, will be giving a gift to a man she hardly knows, a gift that is like no other. John has a genetically inherited disease that has left him with less than 8% of normal kidney function. Earlier this summer, John’s sister was ready to donate her kidney, but discovered that she had health problems of her own…and could not go forward with the procedure. Time was running out. John’s kidney function continued to deteriorate, and he would soon need to go on dialysis like his father did years before. Tiffany first heard about the crisis during a Sunday service in July; and though she has had challenges of her own, she felt the compassion of God move her to begin the screening process. She learned that she was not only the right blood type, but that she was a near perfect genetic match – it was a divine collision of one person’s need, and another another’s compassion. Last Sunday we thanked God for providing this gift of healing through Tiffany -- who not only prayed that God would raise up help for John…but was ready to be that help. Please keep them in your prayers this week.

“God of all compassion, Lord of the harvest, we ask that you would do more than open our eyes to see the sick and grieving, the lonely and the hungry, the harassed and helpless, the rebels who think that ‘religion is a crutch for weak-minded people,’ we pray that you would catapult more laborers into your harvest field – laborers that can bring the redemptive works and words of Jesus to this community – and we pray that we might be those workers today…for the good of this world and the glory of God.”


Mirja said...

Prayer has been a part of my life since I was a little girl. I prayed the words to "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep" in Finnish and find myself still doing that on occasion. My prayers were simple. I asked the Lord to take care of my mother, my father and my dog and I said it as if God was sitting on the edge of my bed listening to me. I always trusted that he would listen to my request and he always did. I prayed less often as I grew older until I found the Lord again and became part of the St. John's family. My prayers now are frequently for the animals at the West Los Angeles Animal Shelter. I prayed for a "forever home" for 2 German shepherds who were found on the street together and were very attached to one another. Mary came to the shelter and fell in love with them. They are now her dogs and will live happily ever after with her. More recently I prayed to God to help me make a decision about having my dog euthanized. God answered my prayer and I knew what I had to do. I held Princess in my arms as she took her last breath. She knew she was loved and I knew that God was watching over her. The power of prayer is awesome and I know that God listens and cares.

Steve Craig said...

Mirja, thanks for reminding us again that compassion and prayer are to be extended to "the least of these" -- which includes the animals. God's creation covenant with humankind included our dominion and wise stewardship of the animal kingdom which God called "very good" (Genesis 1:31). When Jesus was in the wilderness in prayer before his public ministry, Mark tells us that he had no company, save "the wild beasts" (Mark: 1: 12). The whole creation awaits its liberation from death and decay, according to the apostle Paul (Romans 8: 19-23). Certainly, we can include God's magnificent creatures in that category. We have a sacred responsibility to pray for and compassionately care for the creatures of the earth!