TO RETURN TO HOME
Read Romans 8: 26- 39 and Mark 10:46-52
Thoughts before coming to worship from John Wesley
How do we look upon prayer? Is it a normal part of our daily routine? Do we talk as much through the day to our heavenly Father as we do to members of our earthly family? Is it a familiar and comfortable thing to do? Do the words come easy to our lips or imagination? Or do we find prayer difficult? Do we struggle with finding time? Do we struggle with finding the right words to use when talking to God?.
Is prayer more a sort of spiritual lifeline that we throw out when we feel that we're drowning, in the hope that God will reach down in the nick of time and grab hold of it - dragging us clear of the particular mess we've got into this time? I must confess that I've used it as such on quite a few occasions; when circumstances stopped me from sharing a problem with someone else, and I didn't feel there that there was any one else left to turn to. A simple cry of 'HELP' when there didn't seem to be the words to express the hurt I was feeling at the time.
Of course there often is someone you could turn to in almost every situation, for that should be the very nature of the fellowship that we enjoy as members of the body of Christ.
But at particular times in our lives it's easy to forget, and to feel that we have to cope alone.
So, we throw out the lifeline………..and what happens? What does God do in a situation like that? Does he say 'How come you only talk to me when you're in trouble?' or 'Be sensible, talk it out with someone, you don't need me to interfere with something as trivial as that'?
Is it in fact a wrong use of prayer to use it as a lifeline? Because to a large percentage of the population, even those who never get around to entering a church building, this is the nearest they get to Christianity…..when a child or close relative is ill or involved in an accident perhaps.
I can't see how it can be dismissed as a wrong use of prayer, because a short walk through the pages of the bible to Psalms leaves us in no doubt that the writer often turned to the Lord when he could find no consolation or help elsewhere, and generally by the time he gets to the last few verses, inwardly he's received the comfort that he required.
As the BT advert used to say 'It's good to talk'
But this crying out to the Lord in our weakness, which is what the psalmist was doing, sometimes with nothing more than a 'Please help', because in our present state of mind we fail to find the eloquent words of a text book prayer - is that not exactly what Paul was talking about in the passage we heard from Romans?
'the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us…..'
And then we have the story of Bartmaeus , and hear more than anywhere I think we can glimpse the possible solution to a question I posed earlier, namely what does God do with all these sudden and unexpected calls from people who he's never heard from for some considerable time.
Have you ever tried phoning a large company, perhaps one of the public utility companies, and got through to their helpline only to be faced with a disembodied voice cheerfully stating 'Welcome to our helpline. If you have a star on your keyboard, please press it now three times.'
Then you are faced with more options. ' For customer services press 1; for sales press 2; to report a fault press 3; all other enquiries press 4'
You press 3, and are faced with another array of choices, which all takes time to deal with, and press the wrong one and you have to start all over again…….or simply give up, which is what I often do when faced with talking to a computerised answer-phone.
And so it goes on, seemingly in an endless spiral until at last, if you have the stamina and concentration to keep pressing the right button, you finally get a real living voice on the end of the line.
Somehow I can't imagine God using an answer-phone. I've never yet received an answer to prayer which started 'I'm sorry, there's no-one here to take your desperate cry now. If you'd like to leave your name and message, I'll get back to you as soon as I'm free'
Let's look at that story from Mark's Gospel, and two very important words.
Bartimaeus , blind and helpless hears that Jesus is nearby and cries out to him. The people around try to shut him up, but he cries out again and what does Jesus do.
'Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but Bartimaeus shouted all the more 'Son of David, have mercy on me!'
Jesus stopped. Not 'Jesus carried on for a while and then decided to do something for this poor man and his simply cry of anguish' , but Jesus stopped…..stopped what he was doing and dealt with the cry of one who was desperately throwing a lifeline out to God. Stopped what he was doing and asked what he could do for Bartimaeus.
No, I really don't think there's an answer-phone in heaven. Romans tells us that there are times when we simply don't know what we should pray, times when the words don't come easy, but that doesn't matter because the Holy Spirit fills in the blanks in our vocabulary.
'The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit.'
Yes, it's sadly true, and I plead guilty here, that we spend far too much time busying ourselves with everything except talking to our heavenly Father, and leave that for those times when we feel desperate. And we are fortunate in having a God who is still willing to drop everything and listen. But we must also make the effort to bring our everyday lives, our everyday joys and sorrows to him in prayer.
Prayer is much more than simply asking God for help. When we pray we enter into his concerns for the world, for others as well as ourselves. This is what we shall be doing in our time of intercession, but intercession isn't just something that happens on a Sunday.
We have concerns about the world in which we live, about the people among whom we rub shoulders; our friends, families and acquaintances - those we get on with and those we don't. We have concerns about inequalities, cruelty, waste.
So does God, and he wants us to share our concerns, our joys and our feelings with him as much as any human Father might want us to do.
Not only that but God expects us to go to him with our burdens as well as our joys, because that's what it means to belong to a family.
I said earlier that lots of people turn to God in prayer …..occasionally. And I'm sure it's to God's great sorrow, as well as our own loss, that when it comes to prayer most of s are mere novices. We paddle in the shallows of a relationship with God when he'd like nothing better than for us to wade out into the deeper water and into a deeper relationship with him.
It's a journey we travel with God, like the river that starts off as a tiny trickle on top of the mountainside and ends up as a mighty and powerful river…..if we are willing to make the journey.
Prayer IS power. It does get answered, it does change situations and people. but more than anything else it brings us into a closer relationship with our heavenly Father. We don't have to worry that words seem to fail us, that our vocabulary is always lacking when it comes to addressing the Almighty. We have the assurance that the Holy Spirit will take our words, however faltering, and make perfect sense of them.
We also have the assurance that when we pray we're not talking to some giant supernatural answering machine. When blind Bartimaeus called, Jesus stopped what he was doing and listened…..then acted upon the faith of that poor man.
What assurances……what power. Listen to this passage which echoes the picture of prayer life as a river.
© John Birch Top of Page