Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (New International Version)
Ever since I blew into my first musical instrument, I’ve been fascinated with circular breathing. It’s a technique used by the instrumentalist (or singer) to produce a continuous tone without interruption. In other words, you can keep blowing or singing without doing the traditional stopping to inhale.
By breathing in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out through the mouth, using air stored in the cheeks, the person can maintain the sound. This might sound difficult, but it really isn’t. It’s just that circular breathing takes a lot of practice.
The hard part is unlearning how you typically breathe. I can do it, yet I’ve made the personal observation that it doesn’t happen unless you can be very relaxed, connected to your body, and grounded in what you’re doing.
I imagine that we all sometimes feel like admonitions to devote ourselves to prayer, pray continually, and never give up praying, are something like circular breathing.
Maybe the prayer thing is best left to the experts and the professionals, we may think. Yet, the Apostle Paul encouraged the entire Colossian church to keep up the praying, both leaders and laity.
“Never give up praying,” (Colossians 4:2, CEV) might sound unattainable. It isn’t. The catch to it is this: You’ll need to unlearn some old ways of praying before devotion to prayer is realized.
The ancient Colossians had fallen into the wrongheaded belief that Christianity could be reduced to a nice neat, packaged formula of do’s and don’ts. Do the right things. Say the right things. Don’t do the list of the terrible ten or the nasty nine, or whatever checklist you are using to live by your form of “Christianity.”
Paul was telling the Colossians to completely jettison such an approach to the Christian life. Instead, persevere in prayer without knowing the outcome. Pray relying on God and the mystery of Christ. Pray with uncertainty instead of continually believing you need sure answers to everything for everyone.
The Christian life cannot be forced into some geeky algorithm so that we can avoid suffering, know all the right things to say in a conversation, and always keep God happy.
God is not some algebra equation to figure out. The Lord is not a gumball machine to put a quarter in and get what you want. The almighty is not Santa God.
Christianity requires living in the tension of not knowing everything, and yet, having cogent answers for others who inquire about our faith. It is a dynamic relationship, in which we must continually interact in prayer to God, while mostly improvising our lives, spontaneously applying the understanding we have for each situation before us.
Breathing in and breathing out at the same time – that’s what prayer is really like.
Paul’s desire was to keep the church vigilant in prayer. He wanted all the churches to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the God who answers in his own good time, according to his own good will.
The believers were being taught a kind of circular praying whereby they make good use of the time God has given through choosing wise words to say, while simultaneously carrying on a silent prayer conversation with God.
This is a Christianity that’s far above rules and laws and checklists. It’s Christianity as it’s meant to be lived, depending on Jesus, and relaxed in the Spirit.
But again, the catch is this: Circular praying takes practice, practice, practice.
Failure is both inevitable and expected. And that’s okay. We’re not living by lists and human contrived rules. We’re living a new life in the power of Christ’s resurrection. So, it takes a new kind of praying.
God of Mystery, the One who conceals and reveals, forgive me for my attempts at reducing faith to a few spiritual rules to keep. Help me to speak in ways which are gracious, loving, and redemptive. May the person and work of Jesus come tumbling out of my mouth while I inhale the breath of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So, I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (New International Version)
Jesus, in his teaching ministry on earth, often used the “lesser-to-greater” argument in getting his point across. And that is precisely what he was doing with his disciples in today’s Gospel lesson, instructing them about the nature and motivation of prayer.
The lesser-to-greater argument implies a comparison of values. It’s grounded on a common sense and logical convention that if this lesser thing is true, then, of course, how much more is this greater thing!
If something less likely to happen is true, then something more likely to happen will probably be true as well. The technical phrase for this is the a fortiori argument. It’s a Latin term meaning, “for a still stronger reason.”
So, then, Jesus wanted his followers to understand that prayer has value because God is a loving Father, not a begrudging friend. Whereas the friend in the story was badgered just so the person could get some real necessities, God needs no badgering to generously give good gifts that may or may not be considered as necessities by us.
Prayer has veracity and potency because of whom those prayers are directed to.
In the ancient world, it was common understanding that you needed to get the local gods attention if you wanted something. Which is why, for example, in the prophet Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal, that Baal’s worshipers were yelling, gesticulating, and even cutting themselves for hours. They fully expected to put a lot of work into getting Baal’s attention, to convince him of intervening in their ancient version of a wild West shootout. (1 Kings 18:16-29)
In contrast to the four-hundred prophets of Baal, a single prophet of the Lord utters one simple prayer, then fire comes rushing down from heaven. (1 Kings 18:30-39) Much like the person who badgered the friend for bread, the prophets pestered Baal for hours.
It all comes down to who really cares. The friend? Not enough to jump out of bed right away and meet a need. Baal? Not so much. God? Now we’re talking.
We typically don’t ask, seek, or knock, if we believe we won’t get a response – or if it will take a lot of energy, time, and effort we don’t have.
Yet, if we are confident of being with care, then we are likely to have a habit of asking, seeking, and knocking.
If a friend begrudgingly gives to you because of persistent knocking, how much more will God graciously, generously, and with gaiety give you goodness when you ask? Because God is good, God gives good gifts. The largess of the Lord is willing and ready to dispense grace from an infinite storehouse of mercy.
This is why Jesus encouraged people to not pray like those who don’t know God, babbling on because they think they’ll be heard because of the sheer volume of words. (Matthew 6:7-8)
There are two misconceptions of prayer which existed in Christ’s day, and today. They come from non-Christian sources:
There must be a lot of prayer before prayer “works.” Although I believe repetition is important for forming good habits, praying the same prayers over and over again so as to be heard betrays an ignorance of God, not to mention an actual lack of faith. Many ancient religions were based in learning how to manipulate the spiritual forces out there to get what we need. It’s kind of like a divine version of hustling for love in all the wrong places. Christians need to know they don’t need to have thousands of people praying in order to get God’s attention to answer prayer.
I must convince God of the need to answer my prayer. God is not a reluctant listener. The reason the Lord already knows what we need before we ask is because God has been paying close attention to us well before we got around to asking, seeking, and knocking on the divine door. God’s ear is already inclined to hear us – expectantly awaiting our petitions. This is a tremendously freeing idea, that I can come to God openly and honestly, without wondering if I am heard, or not.
We might too often neglect to ask, seek, and knock because we rely on our own determination, abilities, education, or observations. Life can be hard. So, we keep on asking, seeking, and knocking.
No one enters God’s realm because of sheer determination. God’s kingdom is only accessed through humble prayer. God is the One with the supernatural resources to help us live the Christian life.
And God is pleased to provide what we need to live that life. God delights in hearing our asking’s, responding to our seeking’s, and answering our knocking’s. With God, there is no daydreaming while we ask, no avoiding us when we seek, and no pulling the shades on the windows as the door is being knocked.
In love, God looks forward to our asking, seeking, and knocking.
Repetition is important – not vain repetition which believes that the more prayer is repeated, the greater possibility of the answer we want – but a routine lifestyle of persistently and consistently praying.
You want something you don’t have, and you will do anything to get it. You will even kill! But you still cannot get what you want, and you won’t get it by fighting and arguing. You should pray for it. Yet even when you do pray, your prayers are not answered, because you pray just for selfish reasons. (James 4:2-3, CEV)
The Apostle James, learning from his brother, Jesus, gets behind the asking to the heart of why we ask and why we do not ask. This, in no way, is to discourage us from asking or to be doubtful whether God cares about our asking, or not. James also said:
Anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. Whoever asks shouldn’t hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting. (James 1:5-6, CEB)
If you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29, NIV)
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6, NRSV)
Prayer is much like a wrestling match. It requires a great deal of effort. In fact, every good thing in life demands blood, sweat, and tears. We are to keep on seeking, to continue searching and looking for God amid our life circumstances. The Lord will be found.
God has said:
“When you pray, I will answer you. When you call to me, I will respond.” (Isaiah 58:9, GNT)
Prayer isn’t all continual searching and diligently seeking. Sometimes, there is an immediate answer to our knocking on heaven’s door.
God has also said:
“I will answer their prayers before they finish praying.” (Isaiah 65:24, CEV)
It is to God’s glory whether our prayers are answered quickly, or not. It is to our glory that we exercise our ability to enter God’s throne room and ask, seek, and knock. We have the assurance that whatever the answer is from God, it will always be a merciful response.
For God mercifully gives us what we ask for, and also mercifully does not give us what we ask for.
We do not know what tomorrow may hold for us. All we know for certain is that we are known by a God who hears when we ask, is worth seeking, and answers when we knock.
May you be encouraged to pray, to truly connect with God, because the Lord is available without appointment, and is waiting for us to ask with bended ear.
Eternal God, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: Guide and strengthen us by your Spirit so that we may give ourselves to your service and live today and every day in love to one another and to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For this reason, I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.
To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen. (Good News Translation)
In Jesus Christ, the believer has been given incredible blessings – adoption into God’s family and belonging with God, redemption through Christ’s cross and experiencing freedom from the power of sin, and intimacy and help by means of God’s own Spirit.
Today’s New Testament lesson is a prayer of the Apostle Paul for the Church. After three chapters of describing who we are and what we have in Christ as Christians, he goes to prayer, asking that the new life we have in Christ will be pressed firmly into our heads and our hearts so that this reality of spiritual blessings will be practically realized for the believer.
Here’s a quick remedial grammar lesson: a “verb” expresses an action between two things; a “participle” or “participial phrase” is a word or group of words which help describe the action of the verb.
There are two main verbs Paul uses: “I ask (pray)” for God “to give.” The participles all explain or modify the action of pray and give. In other words, the following actions are what Paul deeply desires that God will do for us as believers in Jesus….
To Become Mighty Through the Spirit
God grants us all the blessings of being in Christ. We are delivered from sin, death, and hell so that we will live into God’s purposes for this new life of freedom.
We live into the Christian life, on a practical level, as our faith is strengthened, and our inner person becomes powerful. This is the Spirit’s work in us – to strengthen our spiritual spine so that we can bear and carry our cross in this life, despite whatever the adversity or difficulty.
We are not alone. The Spirit is with us always. God is present. The believer is never promised that life will be a bowl of cherries and that being a Christian is all rainbows and unicorns. However, the believer is assured that God will be with us through the trouble – which is why we need a strong and robust faith.
You set a table for me right in front of my enemies. (Psalm 23:5, CEB)
To Dwell In Christ Through Faith
The “heart” in the New Testament is a reference not to the physical muscle in our chest but the seat or center of our inner person.
Paul’s prayer is that God gives or plants the seeds of the gospel in the hearts of people. Those good seeds then take root and become anchored firmly in the soul. They grow and mature, producing a harvest of love.
Not only do those roots grow down and deep, but they also grow out and connect with all other believers everywhere.
To Grasp God’s Love in Christ Through the Spirit
Enjoying this mystical union with Christ and connection with Christians, we come to experientially grasp together the vast dimensions of God’s love for us. God’s love is a multiverse of blessing. In fact, an eternity in heaven will never reach the bottom or top of the God who is Love itself.
When God our Savior made his kindness and love for humanity appear, he saved us, but not because of anything we had done to gain his approval. Instead, because of his mercy he saved us through the washing in which the Holy Spirit gives us new birth and renewal. God poured a generous amount of the Spirit on us through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:4-6, GW)
To be filled with all the fullness of Love, is to be filled thoroughly with God – because God is Love.
My dear friends, we must love each other. Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows we have been given new life. We are now God’s children, and we know him. God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him. (1 John 4:7-8, CEV)
Prayer is a gift. Like a little child bursting into her daddy’s office at work and crawling up on his lap, so we have the wondrous privilege of coming to God without hindrance and asking for whatever we need and want.
And what God wants and enjoys hearing, is us asking for spiritual strength, faith, and love. Because it is these things which create a thriving inner person who blesses others.
May it be so, to the glory of God, for the edification of the Church, and in the proclamation of the gospel. Amen.
The armies of Moab and Ammon, together with the Meunites, went to war against Jehoshaphat. Messengers told Jehoshaphat, “A large army from Edom east of the Dead Sea has invaded our country. They have already reached En-Gedi.”
Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he asked the Lord what to do. He then told the people of Judah to go without eating to show their sorrow. They immediately left for Jerusalem to ask for the Lord’s help.
After everyone from Judah and Jerusalem had come together at the Lord’s temple, Jehoshaphat stood in front of the new courtyard and prayed:
You, Lord, are the God our ancestors worshiped, and from heaven you rule every nation in the world. You are so powerful that no one can defeat you. Our God, you forced out the nations who lived in this land before your people Israel came here, and you gave it to the descendants of your friend Abraham forever. Our ancestors lived in this land and built a temple to honor you. They believed that whenever this land is struck by war or disease or famine, your people can pray to you at the temple, and you will hear their prayer and save them.
You can see that the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Edom are attacking us! Those are the nations you would not let our ancestors invade on their way from Egypt, so these nations were not destroyed. Now they are coming to take back the land you gave us. Aren’t you going to punish them? We won’t stand a chance when this army attacks. We don’t know what to do—we are begging for your help.
While every man, woman, and child of Judah was standing there at the temple, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly spoke to Jahaziel, a Levite from the Asaph clan. Then Jahaziel said:
Your Majesty and everyone from Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord says that you don’t need to be afraid or let this powerful army discourage you. God will fight on your side! So, here’s what you must do. Tomorrow the enemy armies will march through the desert around the town of Jeruel. March down and meet them at the town of Ziz as they come up the valley. You won’t even have to fight. Just take your positions and watch the Lord rescue you from your enemy. Don’t be afraid. Just do as you’re told. And as you march out tomorrow, the Lord will be there with you.
Jehoshaphat bowed low to the ground, and everyone worshiped the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohath and Korah clans stood up and shouted praises to the Lord God of Israel.
Early the next morning, as everyone got ready to leave for the desert near Tekoa, Jehoshaphat stood up and said, “Listen my friends, if we trust the Lord God and believe what these prophets have told us, the Lord will help us, and we will be successful.” Then he explained his plan and appointed men to march in front of the army and praise the Lord for his holy power by singing:
“Praise the Lord! His love never ends.”
As soon as they began singing, the Lord confused the enemy camp. (Contemporary English Version)
King Jehoshaphat and Judah were about to be attacked. War was imminent. Anxiety was high. The people were on edge. What were they going to do in the face of a combined army that seemed as if they’d steamroll over the nation of Judah?
Here’s what Jehoshaphat did: He admitted his fear, sought the Lord for help, and proclaimed a national fast for everyone in Judah. Then, the king prayed, and God responded.
A most unconventional method of defeating the enemy was put into motion. The king and the people of Judah put together a praise team and a worship gathering to go before the army; they believed God was good for divine promises and would deliver them.
The king’s prayer was a deeply felt and sincere belief that God could and would answer, according to ancient promises to the people. The meat of the prayer affirmed both the powerlessness of their situation and the power of God to transcend even the most difficult of circumstances. They didn’t know how deliverance was going to come; they simply believed it was going to happen.
This is, indeed, the kind of prayer God delights to answer! It was a prayer born of great need and desperation – a prayer upholding the name of God and discerning that unless the Lord showed up, all would be lost.
The foundational basis of all prayer to God is the recognition that we do not know what to do, other than look to the Lord.
We pray because we desperately need God to show up and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
We cry out to God in our affliction and believe that the gracious ears of the Lord will hear and save us from our terrible plight.
And once we pray, we are to stand firm, hold our position, and see the salvation from God on our behalf.
If we need some inspiration for prayer and find ourselves in need of faith to believe what God can do, then take the time to read carefully and prayerfully over today’s Old Testament lesson several times.
Then, let the prayers arise to the God of deliverance so that our stressful and worrisome pressure is transformed into praise for the Lord’s steadfast love.
Almighty God, you rule over all the nations of the earth. In your hand are power and might, so that none are able to withstand you. My eyes are fixed on looking for you to act on my behalf so that I might declare that your steadfast love endures forever, through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.