You’ve heard it said: "Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it!" That’s a scary thought isn’t it? We don’t always think too deeply about what we pray for, and so we might end up praying for things that are better off not being stated.
Well when Evan Baxter – a news anchor turned congressman who ran on a platform pledging to change the world – got on his knees the night before his first day in Congress he prayed for help. What Evan didn’t expect was that God would take his prayer seriously. Not only did God hear, but God answered it by giving Evan Baxter the tools he needed to change the world – in a sort of Noahic way. God delivered some tools, a load of wood, plans, and just a bit of incentive to build an ark. I know that some of you have seen Evan Almighty, so you know what I’m talking about.
Evan Almighty is a nice family comedy with a good message that’s now out on DVD. That’s my commercial interruption. The point of the movie is pretty simple – God gives us opportunities. The question is, will we take advantage of those opportunities? Evan asked God to help him change the world, and God, who appears to him in the form of Morgan Freeman, decides to help him do just that.
The only thing is, he has to build an ark in his back yard.
Prayer is also a central theme in this movie. In a very humorous way, the movie reminds us that prayer is really a two-way conversation with God.
1. A Call to Prayer
Life doesn’t work the way it does in the movies – which might be a good thing – but there is some truth to the idea that God gives us opportunities to do good things. What happens from there depends on how we respond. Evan tried to run from his opportunities, but they kept following him. In our case, the question is: Where do we start when opportunities present themselves? The answer is: Prayer.
Our text this morning is itself a call to prayer. In fact, it’s a call to pray without ceasing. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann says that "faith deepens prayer, and prayer strengthens faith, until we reach the point of ‘praying without ceasing’."1 Evan discovered that if he was going to complete his mission, he would have to talk to God – a lot.
The idea that we should pray without ceasing is a bit daunting. How do you talk to God all the time? That’s the point, prayer is more than talking to God. It’s not a question of the number of words or the volume used. To pray without ceasing is to be continually mindful of God’s presence in our lives. If prayer is, as Marcus Borg suggests, "primarily about paying attention to God," then the form it takes can be verbal or nonverbal, formal or informal. It can involve praise and adoration, thanksgiving and confession, intercession and petition.2 Because prayer is a two-way conversation, it involves just as much, if not more, listening as talking. And, if you’re like me, you do a lot more talking than listening.
Now God may not appear to us in the form of Morgan Freeman -- though that would be fun – but God does have ways of being known to us. We just have to keep our eyes and ears open.
2. Persistence in Prayer
Jesus illustrates the call to prayer by telling a parable about persistence. It has been said that God’s timing is sometimes different from ours. So you have to be patient and you have to be persistent. You can’t give up too soon.
Now the parable itself is just a bit odd. It seems to suggest that if you bug God enough, God will give you what you want. You know what I mean, if a kid is enough of a pest he or she will get what they want eventually! I’m not sure that’s the message Jesus wants to get across to us.
Instead, Jesus offers us a contrast. He tells the story of a widow who goes to an "unjust judge" looking for a bit of vindication. She’d been wronged and so she wanted justice. But this judge was just a little bit nasty. In fact, he was known for showing contempt for the people who came seeking his help. He’s supposed to protect the victim, but it seems that he could care less. In the end, he does the right thing only because the widow is a pest. He gives her what she wants just to get her off his back.
But God isn’t like the unjust judge. God does care about his children and he does what is right not just because we’re pests but because that’s the way God is. God is, after all, an impartial and gracious judge, who acts quickly on behalf of the plaintiff.
Still, even if God will act and do so quickly, Jesus encourages us to be persistent. Our persistence isn’t of the pest kind, but instead involves continually walking in the presence of God.
3. Praying Unceasingly for the Future.
This call to prayer is for all times and all places. Susan reminded us last week that prayer is one of those practices that define what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian is to be intimate with God, and that means we should be sharing in regular conversation with God.
This call to prayer is even more pertinent now than usual, because we stand here at a crossroads of sorts. We’re entering what you could call uncharted waters. We don’t know what the future holds, which can make us just a bit anxious. So, more than ever, we need to be vigilant in our prayers for the church and for each other.
I have been pastoring this congregation for the past three plus years. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time here. I’ve experienced healing and rediscovered my calling. I have no great need to leave, and yet we don’t know how much longer we’re going to be together. It could be a matter of months or years. This is why Susan called us all to be in prayer – we need to listen for God’s voice. You, as a congregation, need to listen for God’s direction. We have been in a process of discerning what this congregation is to be, now you will enter a time of discernment, seeking to know who will lead you in the next leg of your ministry in Lompoc.
Susan also had a word for me. She told me – be in prayer. Get close to God and listen for God’s calling. I too must discern where God is leading. I have to ask the same questions: where am I supposed to be? It’s quite possible that I’m supposed to be here, but it’s also possible that I’m supposed to be somewhere else. And the only way we can discover the answers to our questions is to be in prayer.
Ultimately this journey we’re on is about God. We are called to catch hold of God’s vision and then join God in God’s work of reconciliation. If we believe that God is capricious and unloving, then we’ll pray in fear. If, however, we believe that God is gracious and loving and just, we’ll pray with hope that good things are in a store for us. And so we enter a season of prayer, seeking God’s wisdom for the future.
1. Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life, (Fortress, 1997), 137.
2. Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, (Harper, 2003), 196
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
21st Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2007