Monday, July 28, 2014

Your Prayers are too Small

    Martin Luther, the namesake of the Lutheran church wrote the following words in his Large Catechism as he explained one of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.  He writes,

   For just as when the richest and most mighty emperor would bid a poor beggar ask whatever he might desire, and were ready to give great imperial presents, and the fool would beg only for a dish of gruel, he would be rightly considered a rogue and a scoundrel who treated the command of his imperial majesty as a jest and sport, and was not worthy of coming into his presence: so also it is a great reproach and dishonor to God if we, to whom He offers and pledges so many unspeakable treasures, despise the same, or have not the confidence to receive them, but scarcely venture to pray for a piece of bread.

    Now, what is Luther saying here?  Basically, he is saying our prayers are too small.  He’s saying that when we come before the creator of the universe–the one who made the heavens and the earth and who continues to sustain it each and every day–we ask for trifling things.  We are not audacious enough in our prayers to God.  Why so?

    Let’s delve into this by looking at our first lesson from the book of 1 Kings.  In this text, the great king of Israel, David has died and left the kingdom to his son Solomon.  Solomon is very young and unsure of himself.  God speaks to Solomon and basically says, “Ask whatever you want of me.”  Imagine God asking that of you.  Imagine God speaking to you and saying, “Ask what I should give you.”  What would you respond?  What would you say?

    Solomon, being young and unsure of himself in his new position of king gives a rather intriguing response.  He doesn’t ask for wealth or health or that he may defeat Israel’s enemies.  Solomon looks at the daunting task of ruling this kingdom, and he says, “9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”   It’s an interesting request if you ask me.  Really interesting.  Why do I find the request so fascinating?

    If you remember back in the garden of Eden when God placed Adam and Eve in it, do you remember which tree they were forbidden to eat from?  Do you remember what the name of that tree was called?  I do.  I remember it vividly.  It was named the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  “For on the day you eat of its fruit, you shall surely die.”  But wanting to be like God, the man and woman ate of the fruit after some prodding by a nasty little serpent, and all hell broke loose.  I find it interesting that thousands of years later, Solomon wants the knowledge of good and evil so that he may discern between them as he governs the people.  Anyone else find this fascinating?

    God is actually rather pleased with this request.  We are told

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

    All seems well and good, and if we just read this snippet, we might think our prayers should include this petition for wisdom and the discernment of good and evil.  But, as Paul Harvey used to say, now it’s time for the rest of the story.  Solomon started out in fantastic fashion.  He made some very good decisions.  He wrote a couple of the books of the Hebrew Bible–Proverbs and the Song of Solomon.  The Kingdom of Israel grew in power and prestige and wealth.  The discernment thing seemed pretty good.  But then something started to happen.  Solomon began doing some very wise things to help the Kingdom of Israel.  He began marrying quite a few foreign women.  Now, remember, marriages in those days were not for love.  Marriages were arranged for political and power purposes.  I mean, it was very hard to attack another nation when a king’s daughter was married to that other nation’s leader.  Solomon was making very wise decisions for Israel’s future, but it came at a great cost.  Solomon’s wives did not worship the Lord, and Solomon did not require them to.  He build altars to false gods and even worshiped them himself.  What happened to the discernment for good and evil? 

    Just this, Solomon’s request was too small.  It was too limited.  One cannot know and discern good and evil when one’s back is turned from the One who established the difference between good and evil.  Because Solomon turned his back on God, he is seen as a failure as a king despite Israel’s prosperity–and when Solomon died, the kingdom of Israel split apart.  It wasn’t pretty.

    Solomon’s prayer was too small.  He didn’t make a large enough request.  So, what might be a large enough request?  What might be a request befitting the Creator of the universe that doesn’t lead down the same path that Solomon walked?

    Interestingly enough, in the Gospel of John chapter 17, Jesus prays what is called the High Priestly Prayer.  In it, He says the following,

“20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

    Now, I want you to think about this for just a moment.  I know for decades pastors like myself have talked about church unity in regards to this prayer.  Church unity is important, but I think there is something much deeper taking place.  “Let them be one as you and I are one.”  What does this mean? 

    Remember, Christians profess God to be the Trinity.  From eternity, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have glorified, loved, and honored each other.  From eternity, these three have been in an inseparable divine dance filling each other with love and adoration.  They pour themselves into each other; never becoming empty; always remaining full of love and adoration.  As such, in their relationship, they are complete.  They are full.  They are completely and utterly satisfied, and Jesus prays that His followers may experience the same thing.

    How could such a thing be possible?  Let’s come back to asking God for something in prayer.  What is the most audacious thing we could ever ask for in prayer?  If, as Luther suggests, our prayers are too small, what could we ask for that would give God great honor and be so audacious as to seem over the top?  As I thought about this, it hit me: what if I prayed, God, give me You.  Yes, God, give me You.  I want You.  Nothing else is large enough.  Nothing else could satisfy.  Nothing else could bring comfort and peace and joy and security.  God, give me You!  What do you think God would say to such a request? 

    I’ll tell you what He’d say.  He’d say, “I already have.”

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.  While we were still sinners, God took on flesh and lived among us.  God became incarnate in Jesus and poured out His life for each and every one of us.

    St. Paul puts it this way in the second chapter of the book of Philippians:

    5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.  9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    God emptied Himself for you, and He still empties Himself for you.  Each time we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, we hear the words, “This IS the body of Christ given for you.  This IS the blood of Christ given for you.”  God gives Himself to you!!!  And we are told the Advocate, the Holy Spirit is our constant companion who lives in us and guides us in our daily activities.  God gives Himself to you!!!

    And yet, most of the time, we don’t even realize it.  We don’t realize that God has given Himself to us and delights in giving Himself to us–filling us so that we can pour ourselves out to Him and to each other.  We are constantly asking for health, wealth, healing, protection, peace, happiness, joy, and such things–which are not bad things, but they are too small.  They are bread crumbs compared to the one thing which can bring all of those things and much, much more.  The next time you ask God for something, be audacious.  Ask Him to give Himself to you, and don’t be surprised when you find: He already has, and He always will.  Amen.

1 comment:

Kathy Suarez said...

What you have just very eloquently described is Christian Perfection, Union with God. The Saints achieved this through reception of the Eucharistic Christ.

Luther's last words were: "We are all beggars."