Reading Ramblings – July 28, 2013


Date: Tenth Sunday after
Pentecost – July 28, 2013

Texts: Genesis 1817-19)20-33;
Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15(16-19); Luke 11:1-13

Context: There are few areas of
the Christian life so widely acknowledged and yet so elusive and full
of guilt as the practice of prayer. While Scripture often invites us
to prayer, it barely defines it, opting more often to demonstrate
examples of it. So it is that men and women of faith have struggled
to figure out what prayer means, how it works, what to do or say. In
the end, prayer remains alive and indefinable as God himself. It is
not a mechanical process, neither exclusively rote memory or mandated
originality. It is the expression of ourselves to God, and of God to
us, from one moment to the next different and yet comforting and
familiar. Our Old Testament, Psalm, and Gospel readings for this
Sunday direct us to consider the nature of prayer.

Genesis 1817-19)20-33
Continuing on from the Gospel lesson last week, we realize that
Abraham’s messengers are no less than the Lord (we would say the Son
of God in a ‘sneak preview’ of his incarnate human nature) and two
angels. They are journeying to Sodom and Gomorrah to see firsthand
whether the reports of their terrible natures are accurate. The Lord
confides in Abraham what He intends to do, and this worries Abraham.

While we can commend Abraham for his
merciful spirit, he also has specific links to Sodom – his nephew
Lot lives in that city (Genesis 13:12-13). What ensues is an amazing
demonstration of the power and privilege of prayer. God invites
Abraham to push for grace, and Abraham responds. In part, Abraham’s
role here is what God has already promised him it would be in
Chapters 12 and 15 and 17 – Abraham is to be not merely a
receptacle for God’s blessings, but a conduit through which those
blessings flow out to the world. Prayer – in this case a
face-to-face bidding session of sorts – is one channel for such
blessing to be expressed.

Psalm 138 – This psalm of
praise is also a prayer of praise, and can serve as another model for
what prayer can look and sound like. Verses 1 and 2 indicate the
speaker’s intent – to praise God. Verses 2 and 3 begin to explain
why such praise is warranted – the law and Word of God is
unsurpassing in beauty and holiness. Furthermore, God has responded
to the speaker, and God’s responsiveness has been a source of

Verses 4-5 envision a proper order –
where the rulers of earth are obedient to God and praise him,
following the Lord’s law and glorifying God for giving it. If this
were the way things worked, what an amazing world we would live in!
This is the proper role of a ruler – to be subject to God and to
model and guide such a role for all those who live within their

Verse 6 changes the focus – God is
not merely the protector of the ruler, but of the weak and lowly.
God always keeps even the least of his creation in his vision. As
such, in verse 7 the speaker can assert that regardless of his
struggles, they are not the result of God’s slumber or preoccupation
elsewhere. God is present with him and his continued life is proof
of that. The verse transitions to a declaration that the Lord has
and will save him from his enemies, culminating in verse 8 and a
final plea for God’s mercy and rescue.

Colossians 2:6-15(16-19)
Paul exhorts the Colossians to remain steadfast in the true faith,
rather than becoming enamored or confused with alterations of the
Gospel that might make it easier to understand or believe by relying
on human reason or other explanations. The Gospel is that in Jesus
the fullness of divinity dwells. Jesus truly is the Son of God
incarnate. As crazy as that might sound, it is the Gospel, and this
Gospel is what builds up the Colossians to their full identity in
Christ. Moreover, the Colossians’ faith in Jesus has effected their
spiritual death and resurrection. They are new creations already,
and it is not their actions or efforts that will one day make them

Luke 11:1-13 – Without a doubt
the most direct teaching on prayer in Scripture. It was the custom
for a rabbi or teacher to teach his students special things, and this
included insight on how to pray. John followed this custom
apparently, so Jesus’ disciples want him to give them insight as
well. What is recorded for us is the Lord’s Prayer (recorded
in more fullness in Matthew 6:9-13). The prayer clearly addresses
God as our Father, glorifying his name and seeking for his will
(kingdom) to be established fully. Daily needs are prayed for, as
well as forgiveness of sins and protection from temptation.

Beyond this, Jesus tries to illustrate
what approaching God in prayer is like. No metaphor or analogy is
perfect, but we are to understand that while we may fear to come to
God in prayer for any number of reasons, God does and will respond to
us. We should be diligent in what we ask for in prayer because God
is sometimes moved to respond because of our tenacity. God is not a
harsh god, waiting to trick us or to abuse us for his own amusement
(which was believed of gods in surrounding cultures). Rather we are
told that God the Father is truly like a good father, and a good
father always seeks the best for his children. If human fathers are
capable of responding to the needs and requests of their children,
how much more will God!

Prayer remains complicated to us, most
likely because we are fond of focusing on the outcome rather than the
process. We want to know if God will do what we ask. We assume that
prayer is something that, when done properly, will yield specific
results. We ought more to focus on prayer as a conversation, a
conversation with someone we love and value. What matters is not
necessarily an outcome, but rather the fact of communicating,
intentionally aware of one another. If there is a warning regarding
prayer, it is that we are practical people, and we easily view prayer
as a means to an end, rather than as part of a relationship.

What matters most is not whether God
does what we want, how we want, when we want. What matters is that
we are privileged to commune with the creator of the Universe! He
hears us, is concerned about us, and hasn’t simply promised us his
best, but has already given us his best in his Son Jesus the Christ.
What an amazing privilege! What an unearned merit – to be able to
engage God in prayer at any moment, expressing fear, joy, praise,
thanksgiving, or need – knowing that we will always be heard and
God will respond according to the parameters of his plan for creation
and for our own lives.

Yes, prayer often times involves
specific requests for healing or safety or any number of other very
real needs. But just being intentional about communicating with God
– both speaking and listening – begins to change and alter how we
respond to the events and people in our lives. It is not an
obligation, but a privilege. God is God, and if God wants our
attention He will get it!

In the meantime, spend some time
getting to know the Creator of the Universe.   

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