Friday, October 9, 2015

Turning our prayers of the heart from prayers of a sinful heart

PRAYER PRACTICE

And will not God vindicate His elect who cry to Him day and night?  Will He delay long?  For their sakes, I say to you, that He will vindicate them quickly.  Luke 18:7

IN today's Collect we pray that the Holy Spirit would govern and direct our hearts in all things.  It is a good and God-pleasing prayer, but one that Old Adam doesn't like very much, which is exactly why the church wrote it down, and regularly puts it on our lips, so that we would not be left to our own devices, each person praying as seems right in his own eyes.  For there are, you see, two versions of the Christian faith:  God's and the devil's.  The devil is too smart to try to tear us away from the faith.  He knows the power of the Spirit.  He knows how much we depend on it, and that it is our refuge and strength, so he goes to Plan B.  He creates a counterfeit version of it, one in which we are in control, not God, His Spirit or His Word.

In the false version, which seems to be the prevailing one, we are able to twist God's arm.  We are able to overpower Him with our persistence, just like the widow did the judge in today's parable.  In some circles they even refer to certain people as "prayer warriors," as if God were an unjust judge who needed to be wrestled to the ground, like Jacob tried to do to the Lord, instead of the Father of all mercies, and God of all comfort, who adopts us as His sons in holy Baptism.

What does Jesus mean when He says quickly?  He was talking about His suffering and death which would shortly take place, for the Lord's crucifixion is the Great Event by which God vindicates His people, and gives them victory over their enemies.  For our true enemies, you see, are not the many unjust judges of the world -- distressing though they be.  Neither are they the impossible circumstances that we live in: the illness, poverty, suffering, danger, injustice and insecurity -- agonizing though they be.  When St.Paul writes, "...for thy sake we are killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered, " he is talking about us.

No.  Those terrible things are merely the symptoms of a world marked by sin.  It is not now, nor will it ever be, the utopia that many think it should.  Neither will these things stop happening until the world stops spinning.  It doesn't matter how many pink, or purple, or red ribbons we wear, or how many slogans we chant.  Behind all evil is something invisible to the human eye; something that internet campaigns, or even prayer campaigns, cannot fix: the power of hell, death and sin.  That is the battle that Jesus engaged on the cross; one so immense, that all of earth's endless and cruel wars combined do not even come close; a battle that the holy Son of God -- He who IS the life of the world -- fought to the death, and won the decisive victory for us, a fact that was made clear to all the world by his resurrection from the dead, and uninterrupted preaching of that joyful message to the ends of the earth.  Easter is God's declaration that death is dead and that the sin and devil which brought death into the world are now powerless to harm us.  They can still hurt us, but they cannot harm us.  They were conquered at Calvary and at the empty tomb.  This is how God vindicated His people.

We are those people elected by God, chosen by Him before the foundation of the world to be adopted as sons through Christ Jesus. He is the key, and not we ourselves.  Our salvation is not based on a flimsy decision that we made to follow Jesus.  No.  It is based, instead, on the choice and decision of God, who knew us before He formed us in the womb.  This is the meaning of the Lord's words, "you have not chosen me, I have chosen you."  And of St. Paul's words, "For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves.  It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast."

But what about today?  Does the promise still hold true?  Does God still give victory to this people, and avenge their enemies quickly?  Yes!  Because we are made His people, by the new name given to us at baptism, we are now the beloved children of God, and one of the chief privileges of that sonship is to cry out "Abba, Father,"  That is to say we have an open line of communication with the One who, according to our Collect, is All Mighty and Ever Lasting.

Thankfully, when we call out to God we never get a busy signal, voice mail, or an endless menu option that drives us insane when we need Him the most.  Instead we call on Him day and night to pardon our sins, to right what is wrong, to fix what is broken, and to deliver us from evil whatever form it might happen to take at the moment.  "Ask and it shall be given you!"  There is nothing too big, "for with God nothing shall be impossible."  As we sing in the hymn, "Thou art coming to a king, large petitions with thee bring.  For His grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much." (TLH #459)

We can pray any time and any place, using the words that seem best at the moment, but we should take our cue from the prayers that the church teaches us in her catechism, liturgy and hymns, for they are the "sound words" that God gives us in Holy Scripture.  We should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, so that we might always learn to think aright and pray aright, not only with our spirit, but also with our mind; and we should never stop; not because we think that for our many words we will be heard, but because that's what children do when they are in need, and we are always in need!  They cry out to their good Father, who knows how to give good gifts to His children, Who will vindicate His elect, and do so quickly.  Come Lord Jesus!  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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