“Pray with Humility”
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Luke: 18:9-14, October 27th, 2019
“Hear now this parable from the gospel of Luke chapter 19, verses nine thru fourteen”
9 Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’
13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
“Having heard this parable attributed to Jesus, consider how you pray verses how you might pray.”
“Pray with Humility”
Recently, I pointed out that my spiritual advisor asked me if I invited God into in all areas of my life. It has occurred to me that many of you may think of me as your spiritual advisor. If I asked you this question how would you answer? Do you invite God into all aspects of your life? Perhaps you and I both need to pray about this, as we are only human. We are each on a spiritual journey which is moving us ever closer toward God. Consequently, the goal is certainly to move toward trusting God more and more as we grow and journey ever forward into the future. Our prayer life, yours and mine is very telling as we strive to improve our relationship with God. Remember how I shared that my advisor stated that “God is a very polite God, and will only enter into our lives, our very homes, when and if we invite God in.” This has caused me to stop and reflect, especially when my day isn’t going well. Even getting down on my knees and talking with God somehow increases my sense of sincerity. If you have never tried it, give a go. You can’t get on your knees? OK many of us, as we get older, can’t, but at least you can turn off the television or stop playing games on your cell phone and intentionally invite God into your life through the art of conversation. When you pray ask for guidance and direction. Ask God to be with you as you enter discussions and especially when you are making decisions – even little ones. I am still amazed at what God can do in my life, when I open the door, saying: welcome, come help me with this.
Being the grandson of a minister and a nephew of one, I frequently was led to pray. My father had gone to school to be a missionary and thus became fervent about his prayer life, and he strived to instill that in his children. Going to church on Sunday mornings was not a choice, nor was Sunday School and participating in a Christian Youth Group! Although, I learned the rudiments, the basics of prayer, I never learned to focus upon whom I was praying to. Nor did I learn to pray with humility for others, verses asking for selfish things for myself. With these as the memories of my youth, I find myself, concerned that others of us, were not taught the core fundamentals of prayer. In our scripture lesson we hear Jesus strongly criticizing the prayer habits of a trained Rabbi, a Pharisee, whom represented the religious leaders of the time. Apparently, proper prayer practices have been problematic throughout the ages. This leaves us needing to clarify for ourselves, what is a fitting prayer?
Jesus has left us many examples of prayer, beyond grappling with this parable from the mouth of Jesus. His most classic example is in his endorsement of the prayer which we have come to know as “The Lord’s prayer.” As Christians we have come to know this as a prayer which is central to our understanding of how we might converse with God. Let us take a moment to look at it more closely, examining the rudiments, the essentials it sets before us to glean all there is to learn from it. This will take us deeper than our weekly ritual of saying it together as a group. Consider the first phrase: Our Father whom art in Heaven. We have now entered-into a community of believers – having acknowledged we share this God with others. Furthermore, we are expressing a belief in Heaven, (a place of peace, joy and nirvana – a state of grace.) The prayer causes us to honor the name of God and welcome the Kingdom of God both here on earth and in heaven. We go on to ask God to give us nourishment, food and forgiveness as well, while passing on that mercy and compassion to others. Again, we invite God into our lives to protect us from temptation, protect us from the very lure of evil and shield us from sinfulness itself! We close by declaring that it is God’s kingdom we seek, acknowledging that God has the power and glory for ever and ever. This is a prayer for the ages; from birth till our dying breath let this be the prayer in our hearts!
Going further, we can explore and discover that prayer can be either a private prayer or a public prayer. It can be a prayer privately focusing on oneself as one enters into conversation with God. Or it can be an intercessory prayer, a prayer meant to be on behalf of another. Easy to confuse these, even a pastor like me can get confused about this from time to time. Prayer for the sake of others is an intercessory prayer, and it ought to be on our lips and in our hearts for a large portion of our prayer time. When I lead us in prayer each week this is what I strive to do: publicly lead us in prayer on behalf of others. Take for example praying for those whom have died while locked in an abandoned box car. Saddly, I read a headline about such a case just this past week. Then I googled this, and this has happened many times over recent years. What we need to remember is that prayer – prayer is always a good choice. Prayer in such a case, may seem like a futile effort, yet, it sure will cause each of us whom take time to pray, to be humbled, at least for a moment, about the plight of others; perhaps we will take the act of seeking justice for others more seriously. A private prayer of this sort is meant to be between you and God alone, even when you are asking in someone else’s behalf. Yes, that’s right, we can pray an intercessory prayer publicly or privately. Either way, it is imperative that we remember to whom we are speaking.
Let me point out something for you to consider: When we chat privately with our God, negative hazards and snares of our humanness seem to drop away. Private prayer eliminates the aspects of boastful or arrogant prayer such as that of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. Being it is a private prayer means you only chat with God, not blast it out in writing on your Facebook account or put details of it in a card to your family and friends! You and I, we need to be careful we do not get caught up in this tangled web of self-importance, arrogance or conceit. It is so easy to slip into our successes and begin thinking that it is ourselves, alone, whom are facilitating the success we have or are experienced. We need to be careful we do not find ourselves becoming prideful, at all we have accomplished on our own! The best way to avoid falling into this mode is to stay humble, recognizing that outward victory is not necessarily the goal, yet being in relationship with God is. If you are in a real relationship with your Creator, you need to acknowledge that you were designed or perhaps upgraded to have many valuable attributes. Therefore, use them wisely with humility and gratitude, in service to God and other.
When you are deciding to pray, privately, you are acknowledging God’s presence in your personal life. This is paramount, this is a huge! When you choose to focus on the needs of someone other than yourself, you are becoming a more-humble person, as you recognize that you are not always the center of everything! Let us not understate this point. Far too many people in our society and throughout the world have forgotten how to do this, or they never learned or were taught to be humble. Just imagine a world where folks did not boost of their accomplishments, nor seek only to promote themselves at ever opportunity! Think what it would be like if we all strived to be of maximum service to God and others, doing so with no expectation of a payback! Take for example: imagine if you will, being in a restaurant and your spouse passes you some shrimp or a few of those luscious sea scallops off his or her plate – without implying that now you must give up some of your perfectly cooked ribeye steak! When we give, it ought to be without expectations of something in return. The example of the food exchange is rather a small thing, yet, if we can not do this for those we love, how shall live into this methodology in the greater context of our lives. That is the challenge: to do unto others without expectation of something in return.
There are many good examples of prayer, which have been written by notable recognized theologians. Let’s take a moment to look at one or two. The prayer of St Francis of Assisi, dedicated in his honor, but ultimately scholars are unsure as to whom put it into writing. This is a wonderful example of selfless prayer. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is offense, let me bring pardon. Where there is discord, let me bring union. Where there is error, let me bring truth. Where there is doubt, let me bring faith. Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, let me bring your light. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy. O Master, let me not seek as much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that one receives, it is in self-forgetting that one finds, it is in pardoning that one is pardoned, it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.” No matter how often we have read or listened to this wonderful prayer – it always touches the heart while guiding and challenging us to consider how we might more fully live into it.
Then there are prayers which move us ever closer to a working relation with God, as we live in this all too real world. Listen anew to the depth and breathe of prayers which help us ask for that which we need in order to follow the will of God. Take for example the Serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. Within it we ask for grace and acceptance while seeking serenity, as we struggle with the seemingly impossible challenges presented to us. Asking for courage to keep working to overcome the odds. Staying open to God’s guidance as we live into each moment and situation with God at our side. With insight and feeling we shall live into each day, enjoying the fullness of life even in the face of hardship. Trusting God in all areas of our lives. Prayer is but a start; now we must conform and move toward the will of God. When we accept the rudiments of prayer, we shall be reasonably happy in this life and at peace in our relationship with God and others.