I know I’m way behind on my blog! Forgive me! As an itinerant United Methodist pastor, I’m preparing for a transition this June to a new appointment in our North Georgia Conference. So while I still have important work to do at my current appointment, I’m also busy getting ready for a big move. I’ll catch up on the blog, I promise!
In the meantime, here is the homily I shared at this week’s National Day of Prayer service at my church, which was attended by Hampton Mayor Steve Hutchison and his wife, Linda, many city officials, and local pastors in the area—among others. Enjoy!
Homily Text: Luke 11:5-13
Until about a year ago, I thought of myself as a pretty tough guy. What changed? I started taking Tae Kwon Do with one of my sons. I thought it would be good exercise… As it turns out, it was a good exercise in humility. Not only did learn that I was terrible at Tae Kwon Do, I also realized that I did not like getting hit, especially in the face, which often happened to me when I sparred.
After a couple of minutes of sparring, I would be like… [imitate breathing very heavily]. What was wrong with me? Why am I so bad at this? The Tae Kwon Do instructor, Master Joaquin, told me: “You’re not breathing… You’re holding your breath. You must breathe.” “But I’m holding my breath because I’m about to get punched in the face!” So that was my problem…
Tae Kwon Do is hard. Breathing ought to be easy. And prayer, according to today’s scripture, ought to be more like breathing than Tae Kwon Do—if you know what I mean. Prayer ought to be easy!
But we often make it hard. We worry, for instance, that we’re doing it wrong. So I want to set your mind at ease: If you don’t pray as often as you should because you’re worried that you’re doing it wrong, I want to set your mind at ease: You are doing it wrong! We all do prayer wrong! Listen: If no less a saint than the apostle Paul was “doing it wrong” then we all are. Listen to what Paul said in Romans 8:26-27:
We don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.
But this is good news, because the Bible tells us that our prayers are effective, not because of who we are or what we do, but because of who God is and what he does. In other words, our prayers are effective—even when we do it wrong—because of God’s grace!
This is the main point of this parable that Jesus tells in today’s scripture: a man who has company goes to a friend’s house—at midnight—and asks him for bread. Because he has nothing to feed his company. According to the rules of first-century near Eastern hospitality, this is deeply shameful; this is a crisis!
Nearly everything this man does is wrong. First of all, shame on him for not being prepared for company! Why does have “nothing to set before” his friends when they come for a visit? “Be Prepared,” the Boy Scouts used to say, and this man isn’t. It’s like when my wife, Lisa, innocently mentions that her parents are coming over for an unexpected visit and, inevitably, the grass hasn’t been cut for a couple of weeks! And I’m like, “I can’t let my father-in-law see my yard like this!” It’s deeply shameful to me!
But notice the man in the parable has no shame! His neighbor lives in a small house. In order to give this man his bread, he would likely wake up the rest of his family—and what if he had babies or small children? It’s so rude for this man to be asking him to do this! This is why the ESV calls him “impudent.” That’s not a word we use very often. But it means being bold to the point of rudeness; showing a lack of respect. But he doesn’t care what his neighbor thinks! He needs bread! And, Jesus says, in spite of all of this, he gets what he asks for! Isn’t that amazing?
Jesus’ point is not that our heavenly Father is like the grumpy friend who doesn’t want to be bothered when his friend shows up at midnight; Jesus’ point is, “If even the grumpy friend ultimately gets up and gives his neighbor what he asks for—despite how rude and inconvenient the request—how much more will our heavenly Father, who “neither slumbers nor sleeps,” gives us what we ask for!
After all, if we are in Christ, we are God’s children. And not even his grown-up adult children. We are like very small, immature children. Have you ever noticed the way a child simply asks for what he or she wants? That’s because they’re shameless!
This is one reason Jesus tells us that we must become like little children to enter God’s kingdom! A little child simply can’t ask his father for something in a “wrong” way. A loving father wants to give his child what they ask for, if possible. And more than anything, a loving father loves it when his child asks!
But if we’re like little children, that means that even when for things that would be bad for us—snakes and scorpions instead of fish or eggs—we can be confident that God will give us what’s good for us. In fact, I like the way pastor Tim Keller puts it: “God gives us what we would have asked for if we knew everything that God knows.” God gives us what we would have asked for if we knew everything that God knows. Notice, however, what Keller isn’t saying: He isn’t saying, “God gives us what we would have asked for if we had bothered asking at all.” Because here’s the truth: There are things that God wants to give us but won’t give us because we don’t ask! What does James 4:2 say? “You do not have because you do not ask.”
God wants us to ask! We need to be bold and shameless enough to ask!
Let me ask you this… Do you think it was hard for the man in this parable to go to his friend at midnight and ask for bread? No! Why? Because he was desperate, and he knew that only his friend could give him what he needed. And we probably know from experience that we do some of our best praying when we’re desperate, right?
I remember many years ago I was at the Western Wall, or so-called “Wailing Wall” of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where millions of people go each year to pray. As long as you cover your head, anyone can go and pray there. So I did. And as I was at the wall, I noticed a man next to me pouting the wall with his fists, crying out to God with tears in his eyes. It was such an emotional display. But he didn’t care. He was speaking Hebrew; I don’t know what he was asking God for, but he was desperate!
Lamentations 2:19 is about this desperate kind of prayer. It says, “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord.” Prayer is “pouring your heart out like water” before the Lord. I like that! Charles Spurgeon, in his notes on this verse, says the following: “How does water pour out? The quickest way it can—that’s all; it never thinks much about how it runs. That is the way the Lord loves to have our prayers pour out before him.”
Every morning I bet you have something on your heart—something that’s making you feel anxious or afraid—for yourself, for someone you love. What is it? Pour it out before the Lord! Tell him about it! He wants to hear from you!
Finally, I’ve been talking about how we are children of God, and this is the basis on which God our Father wants to hear from us. Please note, however, we are not children by virtue of being born; we are children by virtue of being born again… through faith in Christ… who took our sins upon himself on the cross and suffered the penalty that we deserved to suffer, who died the death we deserved to die, who experienced the hell we deserved to experience. As I said earlier in relation to prayer, our standing before God does not depend on who we are and what we do, but who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ… That’s grace, and that’s a gift that God longs to give you!
Well, there are more than a few pastors around from churches in the area who can tell you more about that. Talk to one of us if you have any questions!