Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you this morning about a former college professor of mine at Concordia named Larry. Larry grew up in Michigan in a good Christian Reformed home. Larry went into religious work with the intention of helping people, but eventually Larry got very jaded about the Christian faith. I once had a fellow professor describe Larry in this way, “He got his joy in life from questioning the faith of North Dakota farm kids”.
As I said Larry’s had cynical views towards religion. One time Larry was in a hospital working as a Pastor visiting a family whose Father/Grandfather was awaiting some medical test results. The Doctor walked in the room and gave the diagnosis, it was terminal. All the family members were devastated (Grandma, Grandpa, Kids, Grandkids).
They couldn’t believe that Grandpa had less than six months to live. An idea came into someone’s head (prayer). In Sunday school they had heard of Jesus healing people. They have heard other people express their belief in the possibility of miracle, the thought enters the head “maybe in Grandpa’s case- God will perform a miracle as long as we pray”. They turned to Pastor Larry to ask if he could lead them in a word of prayer. To which Larry responded “The Doctor made it pretty clear what was going to happen - there’s not much more than we can do.”
This story might seem shocking. Larry though was only expressing a common attitude that people have towards prayer. God has let them down before. They might have lost a loved one far too young. They might not have gotten the job they wanted. They might have had their heart broken, in spite of their faith at the time.
How do you answer a little girl who prays with her whole heart every night for Mom to get better- only for a few weeks later be crying over her casket?
How do you answer a parent who prays every night for their child’s health and safety only to have a trooper show up at the front door and say there was an accident?
How do we respond when someone starts praying as the only source of hope, only to see such hope crumble before their very eyes?
How do you answer disappointment, betrayal, confusion, heartbreak and weeping?
These situations naturally get people angry at God. When prayers go unanswered, it has the potential to destroy people’s faith.
Do stories like these make prayer a worthless activity? A lot of churches and preachers answer these questions in the simplest of terms? They say those whose prayers God didn’t answer, must not believe rightly.
Let’s look at the life of one of the 20th Century’s Most Famous Evangelists or Television Preachers after Billy Graham. A gentleman named Oral Roberts.
Perhaps the best known Oral Roberts story was in 1986- He sent a Letter to his followers stating if he didn’t raise eight million dollars within the next two Months, the Lord was going to take his life. “Time Magazine” wrote an article about this scam, but Oral Roberts had enough followers convinced that their giving would help God answer Oral Roberts’ prayer. This plan worked as Oral Roberts raised 9.1 million dollars.
Until the age of 29, Oral Roberts was a struggling part-time preacher in rural Oklahoma. Oral Roberts decided to open up his Bible and seek guidance for his lack of success in life. He opened it up to the Book of 3 John verse 2 which says “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”
Oral Roberts felt it was in these words that- God was directly speaking to him and saying “I want you to be rich and healthy”. The next day- Oral Roberts went out, still in debt, and purchased a brand new Buick. And as soon as the car keys got in Oral Roberts’ hands, he claimed to be given another direct message from God Instructing him “go out and heal the sick.”
Oral Roberts then formed a traveling healing ministry. Thousands of people would come to Oral Roberts’ Crusades with the belief that if Oral Roberts put his hands on them and prayed for them “they would return to health.” The only condition was that they needed to have enough faith for God to restore them to perfect health, because only if they had enough faith would God listen to their prayers. Oral Roberts even claimed to have resurrected dozens upon dozens of people from death all because people had faith.
What’s the problem with this belief that if you have enough faith- God will heal you? It only stands in direct contrast to the man who wrote more Books of the Bible than any other, the most influential leader in the Early Church- the Apostle Paul.
In the 12th Chapter of 2 Corinthian, the Apostle Paul speaks of having a medical ailment. Paul recalls praying on three separate occasions for the Lord to take this pain away. Yet nothing happened. Paul’s pain remained- even after he prayed for healing. Why was this? Paul had so much faith- he was willing to have his head cut off for preaching the Christian Gospel.
Is it possible that God might have had a reason for not healing the Apostle Paul? Paul seemed to think so when he said:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul’s whole point being “Why God allows bad things to happen to us as Christian people”.
If we were all Millionaires- who never had any problems in life (Always got along well with our family, loved every minute of our work day) we’d be prideful and reject God and his grace. We would have no need for the promises of eternal life. Life would be pretty swell as we’d be living in a world without any sin or any problems.
We must reject the idea on both counts that unanswered prayers serve as either a failing on God’s part or our own.
Why should we pray then, if it doesn’t guarantee us miraculous healings, or lives without problems?
I think one thing that should always be noted is “How prayers are answered is not always going to be clear”. We’re often not going to have dramatic proofs like an ailing Grandma getting up from her wheelchair and doing a jig across the stage.
Yet we know that God encourages us to pray and God promises to hear our prayer
“Call upon me and I will deliver you in the Day of Trouble”- Psalm 50:15.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”- Matthew 7:7
How then shall we pray?
I’ll come across people that when they’re asked to pray out loud in front of others, they get nervous and scared and don’t want to do it. The reason is simple- they’re worried that their prayer might not be good enough. They’re worried people will look down on their faith.
Today’s Gospel lesson provides Jesus giving us an example of ‘How to Pray.” It is a prayer we say every Sunday- the Lord’s Prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer gives us words to say that are simple and easy to remember. It’s a prayer that you can pray together with Christians from all over the world. I wish to reflect briefly as to what exactly is Jesus teaching in this prayer.
In looking at the Lord’s Prayer, the first thing that stands out is the simplicity. For a lot of people think that God doesn’t answer their prayers since they didn’t pray long enough or maybe not enough people were praying. Or maybe people weren’t praying the right way- if only they had kneeled then God would listen to the prayer more.
In the Lord’s Prayer- the focus is always on God’s action, not our own. The focus of the Lord’s Prayer is shaping a kingdom in God’s image, not our own.
We must always remember when considering whether God wants someone healed is that true healing does not take place in this world. Sure- Jesus raised a few people from the dead in the scriptures- Jairus’ Daughter, the Widow’s Son, and Lazarus, but such healings were only temporary acts of God’s Grace.
These miracles served the purpose of pointing to the power of the grace of God in sustaining life when it was impossible; thereby pointing to the day that God shall restore our body, mind, and soul to a state of complete health through his resurrection. All these people raised by Jesus eventually succumbed to death in this world, only to be raised up to something much greater.
For if the ultimate sign of faith was our own physical health this would be terrifying, since even the great Oral Roberts died in 2009. So have all the greatest teachers of the Church. Instead we trust in the words of Our Lord and Savior- “that a day shall come when we shall be with him in Paradise.”
In fact- if one is looking at the Lord’s Prayer- the Hardest Words to pray in there are the words “your will be done”
Let me tell you something this morning, that some of you might consider surprising and I hope I don’t offend anyone with what I’m about to say .
I’ll often encounter people in hospital rooms that want prayers said for healing. Such requests make me really nervous. In fact, I won’t pray for individual healing. The reason being such action might not be God’s will.
The last thing I want to promote is the belief that if Prayers go unanswered God isn’t good or loving. We can make sense of God’s will. Every event that causes us to question or wonder in this life “must be interpreted by the Cross of Christ”.
There will be a time in each of our lives that we’re no longer healed physically. Hopefully I don’t shock anyone in this room as I proclaim “We will all die”.
A day will come whether this week or 75 Years from now that we will breathe our last breath. Granted it’s a lot easier to make sense of this being God’s will in the case of a blind, deaf, sickly 110 Year Old man than in the case of the young child.
Consider God works in this world in ways that might not make sense even to us. The Lord might be calling the young child home to a place far better than anything this world can offer. The Lord might also be working in such situations to bring people to repentance as they come to terms with the weakness of human existence.
For example, people are way more likely to listen to the impact of the Gospel at a funeral than a wedding, since it’s a those moments that issues of faith are hitting the closest to home.
God’s reasoning isn’t always going to be clear, yet proof of God’s love has been clearly made known through Jesus death and resurrection.
And this is how we know that God answers our prayers.
Not by always giving us what we want, but in giving us something much better.
This might not always be easy to understand in this life, for it is in the Cross that we have a promise that God will lose his own life to save ours. It is because of the Cross that we should have no doubts that God will always do what’s best for ourselves and our loved ones.