10th Weekend After Pentecost, July 23rd & 24th, 2016 “Teach Us To Pray”
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
If you want to know something where do, or rather who do you go to for the answers? When I was growing up my first stop was my mother. However, instead of answering the question that I asked she would tell me where I could go to find the answer. It used to bug the heck out of me! I would ask her how to spell a word; she would tell me look it up in the dictionary. To which I would always reply, “If I knew how to spell the word I wouldn’t have to look it up!” I didn’t appreciate it when I was a child, but I do now. My mother did not give me the answers, she taught me how to find my own answers.
There are many verses in the New Testament where Jesus is observed praying. Probably the scripture that comes to mind is the one we hear during Holy Week, when Jesus is praying at the Mount of Olives the night he is taken captive by the Roman guards. So the disciples had many opportunities to see Jesus praying and to join him in prayer. but in today’s lesson we hear the disciples asking show us, tell us. There is such a childlike quality in the words of the disciple, “Lord, teach us to pray”. And so Jesus gives the disciples, and us, a framework for prayer:
The gospel continues with Jesus telling a parable about a man going to their neighbor’s house in the middle of the night to ask for a loaf of bread. The first few times I read this I was a bit lost. What does knocking on your neighbor’s door have to do with praying to God? That’s when I heard my mother’s style of teaching. In the parable Jesus makes God real to us. God is the neighbor being the door. The parable is the “ah ha moment” to understand that God is always waiting for us to come to him in prayer, in conversation and in quiet. We do not need an invitation we just need to open our hearts.
If you recall the readings over the past few weeks the Gospel stories have been about Jesus teaching us how about what it means to be Christ like. Two weeks ago we heard the story in Luke about the Good Samaritan. If you were here or if you remember the story, a lawyer asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds very much in the way that my mother answered my questions; he answers the lawyer with a question.. Last week the Gospel was the telling of a time when Jesus had been welcomed into the home of Martha and Mary. Martha is ‘unhappy’ that her sister is shirking her household responsibilities. Mary is found sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him preach. Again Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Choosing the better part. All of us have our own stories of a time when we were advised to choose the better part. We could have been advised by our doctor to exercise more or to lose weight. Making a choice could have come from a teacher to study more and seek more help for a subject that they were struggling with. How many of us would consider making time to deepen our faith as something we choose? Jesus speaks to us today to choose the better part; to seek a stronger relationship with God, to find time to pray. And I don’t just mean speaking to God, but rather taking time to listen to what He is saying to you.
Most of the choices in our life come down to one thing, choosing to make whatever we want to change a habit. I recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It was a fascinating book that explains where in our neurological system memories and habits are rooted. It also had many stories of people who chose to change their lives by developing habits that supported the changes they wanted. One of the stories was about Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life. When he was a young Baptist Pastor who was just starting his life in ministry. The core of his church’s growth was simple, it was teaching people to choose the better part. Rick Warren said “The only way to get people to take responsibility for their spiritual maturity is to teach them habits of faith. Once that happens, they become self-feeders. People follow Christ not because you’ve led them there, but because it’s who they are.” In essence, he was stating that faith needs to become a habit.
In 1989 Steven Covey published The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. These habits have been been expanded to the 7 habits of highly successful families, kids and college students. When my daughter was in grammar school the principal, Dr. Deborah Pinnell, introduced her school to the concept of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Students. What impressed me was that all the children in the school from kindergarten to fifth grade understood what the habits were and how they could be used to make a difference in their lives.
We discussed the habits at a Christian Education meeting a few years ago. We discussed the idea and visioned how these could help develop “highly effective faith families.” We then wrote Our 7 Habits for Highly Effective Faith Families. Our goal was to use the habits as a framework for our Sunday School Families. Lauria DiStasio was kind enough to donate her time and her artistic talents to transform our thoughts into the beautiful posters you see hanging on the walls of the sanctuary. We had the signs hanging downstairs in the hallways of the Sunday School for a few months and then I took them down and put them into storage. They had not helped to do anything to make faith a habit.
A few years ago when I was attending Youth and Family Ministry Certification School in Gettysburg. The culmination of the course was that each student was to present to the director and instructors the ministry plan that each of us would bring back to our congregations. I struggled about what would be my core message and then remembered the posters. I pulled them out of the closet and I used them as the core of my ministry plan.
The feedback from the instructors was pretty positive. But the one comment I clearly remember came from director of the program Chelle Huth. She asked me what was I going to do differently this time to create faith habits in our youth and families? And so this weekend I have taken the posters out of storage and I ask you to take time and reflect on the words and give me your thoughts. What do you think we as a faith family can do for our children and families to help make faith and prayer a habit?
Rick Warren said, “If you want to have Christ-like character, then you just develop the habits that Christ had.” In our gospel lesson, the disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” Prayer is nothing more than a dialogue with God. It is an opportunity to lay down our concerns and raise up our hopes for guidance, support, healing or reconciliation. Speaking with God is not just a time to ask God what he can do for us, but rather an opportunity to listen and understand what God wants us to do with our lives.
So the challenge I extend to you is to make this a week for “deliberate practice” of prayer; to make prayer a habit for yourself. Angela Duckworth uses this term in her book Grit. She explains that deliberate practice is time set aside to do something with specific intention. Perhaps you will take up my challenge to try deliberately prayer practice. You could set time aside every day to randomly page through the bible, stop on any page, and read a chapter on the page that it opens to. Or you make time to read Chris Ann Waters’ writing in this month’s Lamplighter titled “Jesus the ANCHOR”. Use the mnemonic to start your day focused on God. Maybe you will consider taking home a copy of Christ In Our Home and starting your day reading the bible verse, devotion and then spending some time in prayer and reflection. The last two items I mentioned on are the table as you enter Fellowship Hall. So I encourage you to take this Seven Day Challenge and let me know about it. Regardless of how you do it, I challenge all of us to “Just Do It”.
Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” My prayer for all of us is that we continue to search to see where and when God is present in our lives. May we all seek to make prayer a habit and that we always remember that we don’t need to knock to have God open the door because there is no door between us and God - Amen.
Holy Trinity’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Faith Families
Seek first to understand, then to be understood
Let’s prayerfully listen to the Lord. Share ideas to help the faith family and the whole world.
Let’s think win-win with the Lord. If we follow the Ten Commandments and live our lives the way Jesus wants, the world will be a better place.
Sharpen the Saw
Commandment #3: Rest on on the Sabbath. Going to church is resting from all of our struggles and just praising the Lord.
Let’s come together as a faith family we worship God and serve the world.
Put First Things First
Commandment #1: You shall not bow down or worship any other god. Always put God first and everything else falls into place!
Let’s take charge and come to worship. God is always here for us. Don’t just go to church. Be church.
Begin with the end in mind
Let’s always listen to the Lord and let God’s goals be ours. Live a life of faith.
“The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg, 2014 Random House Trade Paperback Edition
“Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covery, 1989
“Grit”, Angela Duckworth, 2016