Lent Sermon 2…

Prayer: Living in Relationship with God – Ephesians 3:14-21

Last week I asked the question, “If you were to teach someone how to pray, where would you start?” This question might sound ridicules for some, but it is a very valid question. You must realize that in the world that we live into today people are not being taught how to pray. More and more people are being raised outside of the church or any religious group. Prayer is something that all religions have in common. I have not come in contact with any religion that does not have prayer as one of its practices. A lot of us want to bring prayer back in the schools when in reality prayer has not been out of schools. This is what I am talking about when I say people do not know how to pray. In all actuality we pigeon hold prayer as something specific, when prayer is something grander and mightier than what our minds can imagine.
To remind you of the fine points I made last week; At the heart of prayer is how God created us and is renewing us today. All humanity was created in the image of God. We were created to reflect the image of God to all creation. The image of God is Holy Love. A love that is completely different from any thing else. Since we were created to reflect Holy Love then why do we not do it. Sin entered into the equation after God created us, but we never lost our created nature. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection God is restoring our created nature as the image of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the heart language that we give to God. It is the language we use to speak and communion with our Heavenly Father. Out of our hearts comes the truth of our existence. We our defined by our hearts because out of the heart comes our affections and faith. In prayer our hearts are united together with the heart of Christ as we enter the very presence of God. We were created to pray. Since we know how God is transforming us then our prayers are directed toward this end because our heart yearns and desires this new creation God is doing. The question is, is prayer something we do or something that does something to us?
Well, you have had a week to mull this question over. Which is it, is prayer something we do or is it something done to us? In other words what does prayer do that nothing else does? I mean if we can accomplish that which prayer does by doing something else then prayer is no longer a necessary practice in our relationship with God. Now that is an interesting concept, “Relationship with God.” What does that mean? We always talk about having a relationship with God, but do we really understand what that means? How do you describe to someone who does not know God that they can have a relationship with God? Where do you start? How do you relate to God? What do you have in common? When we describe God we usually point out just how different God is to us. If this is the case, how do you relate to something so different? We are created, God is not created. We sin, God does not. We are finite, God is infinite. You see where I am getting at. When we teach people how to pray we must consider how we can live in relationship with God.
In Utah there is a national park named, “Lake Fish National Forest.” I have never been their, but I have decided to put this on my bucket list. Why would I want to go to a forest in Utah? I mean you seen one forest, you have probably seen them all. Usually if I want to visit a place there must be some special reason. This place falls under that “special reason.” Aspen trees can be found all over North America. There are plenty of Aspen trees to look at, but at Lake Fish there is a special group of Quaking Aspen trees called a clonal colony. A clonal colony is a colony of trees that are actually one tree. You wouldn’t know it if you drove through the forest, but when you come to these Aspen trees and you see thousands of trees you are truly looking at one tree. This area is called Pando. Pando is considered the oldest and largest living organism in the world. Each tree that you see in Pando is a clone of the original tree. All the trees living in Pando share the same root system and have the exact same genetic make up, making it one organism. It is said that Pando has been around at least 80,000 years and possibly could be upwards to 1 million years old. It covers roughly 106 acres and weighs around 13 million pounds or over 6,000 tons. It is truly fascinating how this tree could live for that long. Think of all the changes that area has gone through over the last 80,000 years and yet this tree has stood that test of time. It does it by how it is produced. You see Aspen trees produce asexually. This means that the roots of the trees spread out searching for water and send up shoots to keep growing. Now Aspens do produce sexually, but they only bud and pollinate once a year. Once an Aspen is secure in the ground the asexually reproduction begins. So at Pando you have what looks like a lot of trees when under the surface at the genetic level in the root system, out of creation comes one tree. Amazing!
You see, we were created to share a root system. Our passage tells us to let love be the root of our foundation or very being. We were fashioned and created in the image of God and we share this foundation with all humanity. So out of the roots of God we spring up and grow in a dangerous world. Prayer is the nutrients we receive through our root system. Prayer makes us grow and multiply. Through prayer we grow in the depths, heights, and lengths of God’s love. In prayer God reveals His fullness to us in our hearts. It is God once again that does something to us in prayer. If we do not pray we might spring up, but the nutrients needed to grow will not be there. As beautiful as Pando seems, it has a lot of problems. According to scientist Pando is struggling to grow. A lot of factors play into this, bugs, disease, other trees growing, and animals eating the sprouts all play into the demise of Pando. You see without prayer the outside events in our lives begin to uproot us as God’s created image in creation. When we are uprooted, sin replaces this need to relate to God with something else.
When we talk about having a relationship with God we are discussing prayer. We are discussing how the fullness of God can live within us. We relate to God because in prayer we recognize that God is already here, in our lives. Prayer connects our hearts to God. We can relate to God because we were created to relate with God. Even though God is completely different, yet God has established our relationship through prayer. This is why we believe that our relationship with God hinges on Jesus Christ. Yes, God is completely different from us and we would be foolish to think otherwise, but God become us. God entered into humanity by becoming a human; Jesus Christ. Since God has done this we can relate to God because God relates to us. We now share with God the hurt, pain, anger, joy, happiness, and sadness of life. The depths and lengths and heights of God’s love are manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we pray we are united with the very essence of God and we recognize the importance of God in our lives.
When do you pray? Most people pray when they need it. It is funny that people who do no live a life spent with God will pray when the rubber hits the road. Lets face it I am probably talking to one of you right now. This does not mean you do not believe in God, but thought prayer is something that you do. I want to teach you that prayer is an expression of what God is doing to you. Prayer does something to us. When we pray we usually fold our hands and close our eyes. We set time aside in the mornings or evenings and pray. My question is, if prayer is searching the depths of God’s love, wouldn’t we want to do this more often?
There are a lot of maxims given to us in scripture. One of my favorites set of maxims is given to us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. Avoid every kind of evil.” These are great truth’s to live by. Of course I want to talk about one specifically; Pray continually.
How do you pray continually? You can’t go around with your eyes closed and your hands folded. Let’s be honest again, when we think of prayer this is the image that comes to mind. So how do we pray continually? There is an old story that comes out of the Christian tradition about this very truth.
“Some of the monks who are called Euchites went…to see Abba Lucius. The old man asked them, ‘What is your manual work?’ They said, ‘We do not touch manual work but as the Apostle says, we pray without ceasing.’ The old man asked them if they did not eat and they replied that they did. So he said to them, ‘When you are eating, who prays for you then?’ Again, he asked them if they did not sleep and they replied that they did. And he said to them, ‘When you are asleep, who prays for you then?’ They could not find any answer to give him. He said to them, ‘Forgive me, but you do not act as you speak. I will show you how, while doing my manual work, I pray without interruption. I sit down with God, soaking my reeds and plaiting my ropes, and I say ‘God have mercy on me; according to your great goodness and according to the multitudes of your mercies, save me from my sins.’ So he asked them if this were not prayer and they replied it was. Then he said to them, ‘So when I have spent the whole day working and praying, making thirteen pieces of money more or less, I put two pieces of money outside the door and I pay for my food with the rest of the money. He who takes the two pieces of money prays for me when I am eating and when I am sleeping; so, by the grace of God, I fulfill the precept to pray without ceasing.’”
An interesting way of looking at prayer, but the truth of the matter is that we should strive to pray continually. We should strive to be in relationship with God at all times. If we are continually seeking the heights, depths, and lengths of God’s love then we are continually praying and continually living in relationship with God. We continually connect with God on many and often all levels of who God is. As I said last week, when we pray we are living in the very presence of God.
Now we come to the point; Prayer is living in relationship with God because in prayer we sit, stand, sleep, eat, and work in the presence of God. Prayer is the continual presence of God in our lives. Brother Lawrence was French monk who lived in the 1600’s. He did not consider his life anything of importance, but through his life we can truly learn what it means to pray continually. As a monk he dedicated his life to living with God. Through this dedication he found that everything he did was a moment in the presence of God. From the greatest things to the most mundane things he believed he was in the presence of God. Of course we say this of our own lives, but do we truly live as if we were in the presence of God continually. Brother Lawrence came to believe that when we are in the presence of God we are living in prayer. This is how Brother Lawrence described this way of life, “The holiest, most universal, and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God. To practice the presence of God is to take pleasure in and become accustomed to His divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly in our hearts with Him at all times and at every moment, especially in times of temptation, pain, spiritual dryness, revulsion to spiritual things, and even unfaithfulness and sin.” Do you see how he describes practicing the presence of God, “speaking humbly and conversing lovingly in our hearts with Him at all times and every moment.” Brother Lawrence is stating what most people understand prayer to be; speaking with God, but instead of having times when we do this in our days, he exclaims that this should be done at all ties because we take “pleasure in and become accustomed to His divine company.”
Do you take pleasure in and have you become accustomed to God’s divine company in your lives? Do you believe that God is with you always in every moment? Psalm 139 communicates the presence of God in this way, “Where could I go to get away form your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I could fly on the wigs of dawn stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean – even there your hand would guide me; even there your strong hand would hold me tight!” The reality of life is that God is always with us. Our existence is drenched in the presence of God. We are always and in every ways living in the presence of God. Prayer is living a life in the presence of God. When we pray always and everywhere we are continually changed and transformed by the presence of God. No matter what season of life you are in, the presence of God has not left you. No matter the sin you are living in you are living in the presence of God. Prayer is the reciprocal attitude given to God as a result to His very presence. As God is entirely and forever present in our lives, prayer is living in the reality of the presence of God. Prayer is living in relationship with God. As our scripture passage tells us; when we live in relationship with God we carry the attitude that gives, “Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us.”
P.S.-
My quotes were taken from two sources:

“To Pray & To Love: Conversations on Prayer with the Early Church” By: Roberta C. Bondi; Fortress Press

“Practicing the Presence of God” By: Brother Lawrence – Paraclete Press

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