WHY CAN’T PRAYER BE EASIER?
A Pastoral Message based on Matthew 5:43-48 prepared for and offered to St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC, by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, on August 1, 2021
God who teaches and nurtures us and empowers us for ministry in daily life, thank you for knowing us and thank you for wanting us to know you. Although we can be slow to learn, continue to teach us how to pray. Amen.
When you gather in the life of St. John’s, you expect to hear the name of Jesus.
Of course, as followers of Jesus should, we mention his name in many ways. However, we seldom refer to him in one particular way.
Jesus was a provocateur. He provoked people by his teachings and his actions.
He told stories that turned widely accepted views about God and human relationships upside down. Seldom do you read accounts of Jesus pleasing crowds of people.
The same multitude he fed one day abandoned him the next.
Thousands of people threw down cloaks and palm branches on Sunday and by week’s end were shouting, ‘Crucify him!’ Yes, Jesus was a provocateur.
HOWEVER, I DON’T THINK JESUS ALWAYS TRIED TO BE PROVOCATIVE. JESUS TOLD THE TRUTH AND CHALLENGED PEOPLE TO ALIGN THEIR LIVES WITH GOD’S VISION. Jesus taught people about God’s nature and will.
If Jesus were around today, he would teach and help people mature in godliness.
Jesus did not come to make life easier for us; he came to make our lives better.
He would not always intend to provoke. But, he would do so.
As I designed this summer’s regathering emphasis, ALL TOGETHER THROUGH PRAYER, I remembered a Sunday evening in Manor Baptist Church of San Antonio, Texas, when I was teaching about spiritual practices. While I was talking about prayer, a woman raised her hand to ask this question: “If God wants us to pray so we become closer in our relationship with God, why can’t prayer be easier?”
Again, following Jesus does not make your life easier. He makes your life better.
There are many reasons why prayer cannot be easier. You are speaking to a mystery; you are having to be still; you have to develop and practice a discipline; and you have to find within yourself a quiet place that embraces silence and an open spirit.
And, some reasons prayer is difficult can be overlooked
Here are 3 reasons why prayer cannot be easy.
FIRST, PRAYER CANNOT BE EASY BECAUSE IT CAUSES YOU TO REIMAGINE YOUR ENEMIES. (Matthew 5:43-48)
Sara read some words of Jesus from The Gospel of Matthew. This passage is part of what is called the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was just trying to mature people in godliness. But those who heard him internalized these as provocative words.
Jesus begins this teaching where his listeners were living with these words: “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But, I am telling you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
LOVE YOUR ENEMIES AND PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU?
Prayer cannot be easy if this is what we are supposed to do.
More than twenty years ago, I looked at a person who had persecuted me and told him, “I will be praying for you.” Then many times, for a couple of years, I prayed for him. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t want to pray for him. But I needed to pray for him. Hopefully, those prayers did him some good. One thing is for sure, those prayers helped me. Early on, I wrote in a prayer diary, “Lord, I don’t know how to pray for this man. I don’t even want to pray for him. But as a follower of Jesus, I know you have taught me to pray for those who persecute me and this fellow is persecuting me. So, please help me learn how to pray for him.”
PRAYER CANNOT BE EASY BECAUSE IT CAUSES YOU TO REIMAGINE YOUR ENEMIES
SECOND, PRAYER CANNOT BE EASY BECAUSE IT CONFRONTS YOU WITH THE WAYS OF GOD. (Luke 18:9-14)
In Luke 18, you find Jesus telling a prayer parable about two men.
In his story, Jesus makes a despised Tax Collector the good guy and a Pharisee, a position respected by Jesus’ listeners, to be the bad guy. Both men are praying. The Pharisee says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, con artists, adulterers, or even men like this tax collector over here. I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of my income.” It was as if the Pharisee was saying, ‘Lord, I am such a good person that you should be impressed that I am one of your people.’ On the other hand, the Tax Collector prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.”
This story of Jesus confronts people with sincerity, humility and trust as the way of the Lord – rather than self-righteousness and pride.
As you know, I often quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was imprisoned and murdered by Hitler. We have rescheduled my friend, Al Staggs, to come into our sanctuary in November to portray Bonhoeffer. One of the reasons I enjoy reading Bonhoeffer is because he wrote thoughts like this: “It is much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer or a praying prostitute than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.” When Jesus took a basin and towel, he put himself in the place of sincere humility as a servant. He could model servant faith because he lived in sincere humility in relation with God. Jesus’ prayer life shows us the ways of God begin with humility, trust, and sincerity. Again, Bonhoeffer said, “Prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual disciple of Jesus and the community of Christian faith must enter every day.”
PRAYER CANNOT BE EASY BECAUSE IT CONFRONTS YOU WITH THE WAYS OF GOD.
LAST, PRAYER CANNOT BE EASY BECAUSE IT PUSHES YOU TO PRIORITIZE GOD’S WILL AND GOD’S MISSION. (Luke 22:
When Jesus prayed prior to his arrest and crucifixion, he said, “Father, if you are willing, please remove this cup from me; yet not my will but Thine be done.”
Jesus prioritized God’s will and God’s mission in his prayer. He would have affirmed the Serenity Prayer: ‘Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’
Some people do not pray because they claim it does not work.
Some people propose every detail of life is controlled either by universal laws or is pre-determined by a divine power.
Yet, throughout the ages, across cultures, prayer has worked to shape the hearts, visions and commitments of millions of people.
Prayer does not give you whatever you want; it is not rubbing Aladdin’s Lamp.
Prayer is one of the ways God shapes your spiritual character – what Paul referred to as THE MIND OF CHRIST.
Mother Teresa offers us insight: “Prayer enlarges your heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of God’s Self.”
PRAYER CANNOT BE EASY BECAUSE IT PUSHES YOU TO PRIORITIZE GOD’S WILL AND GOD’S MISSION.
Lloyd Douglas was a Lutheran pastor. He wrote many works and is best known for The Robe, which was made into a movie. While Douglas was a university student, he lived in a boarding house. Downstairs on the first floor was an elderly, retired music teacher who was unable to leave her apartment. Douglas said that every morning they had a ritual they would go through together. He would come down the steps, knock and when invited, open the elderly woman’s door. Douglas would then ask, “What’s the good news?” The retired musician would pick up her tuning fork, tap it on the side of her wheelchair and say, “That’s middle C! It was middle C yesterday; it will be middle C tomorrow; it will be middle C a thousand years from now. The tenor upstairs sings flat, the piano across the hall is out of tune, but, my friend, THAT is middle C!” They shared the common truth of a constant on which they could depend in an ever-changing world.
Beloved, there are many things that will shift and change in your life.
In addition to middle C, I offer you another constant truth on which you can depend is this:
GOD HAS GIVEN YOU THE GIFT OF PRAYER TO MAKE YOUR LIFE BETTER.
I DON’T MEAN TO PROVOKE YOU, BUT PRAYER IS NOT EASY BECAUSE IT:
CAUSES YOU TO REIMAGINE YOUR ENEMIES;
CONFRONTS YOU WITH GOD’S WAYS; AND
PUSHES YOU TO PRIORITIZE GOD’S WILL AND GOD’S MISSION.
Please join me in recommitting yourself to the hard work of prayer?
Prayer may not make your life easier; but prayer will make your life better.
Your life will be better and the witness of our church will better enrich the world.
Amen and AMEN!
May it be so within us, so it can be so among and become so through us in the life of the world.