The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
July 28, 2019
A businessman was late for an important meeting and couldn’t find a parking space, John Beukema shares. As he frantically circled the block, the man got so desperate that he decided to pray.
Looking up toward heaven, he said, “Lord, take pity on me. If you find me a parking space, I’ll go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life, and not only that, I’ll give up drinking.”
Miraculously, a parking space appeared.
The guy looked up again and said, “Never mind. I found one.”
Have you ever prayed and not realized an answer from God was close enough that it could reach out and touch you?
People’s experience with prayer is varied—some welcome conversation with God in prayer, and others are leary of it; some experience God’s answers dramatically, and others claim God’s answers are non-existent. Many fall somewhere in the middle with their overall prayer experience.
This passage suggests two contributions we can make to prayer:
1) Apply ourselves to it with full engagement and
2) Do so with a faith expectancy that there will be a good pay-off for our efforts.
Let’s first look at what our passage has to say about putting ourselves into our praying.
Imagine that you received a knock on the door long after you had gone to sleep. You get up and go to your door only to discover a friend, Jo, that you haven’t seen in years. You are so excited to see Jo, but suddenly realize that you don’t have any food to offer her — you hadn’t gone to the store recently and you haven’t any leftovers in the frig. There are no restaurants or stores open, so you invite Jo in, offer Jo a cold glass of water and a comfortable chair, encourage Jo to make herself at home and say you will be right back. You go out the back door and run over to the home of another friend, Shannon. You knock on the door but Shannon won’t answer. You keep knocking and calling out … and finally, Shannon comes to the door, annoyed that you woke up everyone in the house with your noise-making. You tell Shannon about having no food to serve an old friend who just showed up, but Shannon acts like he could care less.
Finally, Shannon reluctantly gives you some food just because he wants to be done with you, get everyone settled back down for the night, and go back to sleep himself. Yes, you get the food and can now fully care for Jo’s needs after her journey, but you only get the food because you troubled someone else to provide what you couldn’t.
We might be tempted to hear that story and think that God might be like Shannon, someone who has to be troubled by you enough to bother himself to help you. The truth is God is not reluctant to help us. The truth is he loves to help us. We engage fully in praying over a long period of time not because God is like Shannon or a rancher I will soon tell you about, but because God is just the opposite of them.
A Colorado rancher hadn’t gotten around to renewing his National Geographic subscription and was likely to forget about ever doing it. But a huge computer mistake made by a company that sends out renewal notices for national magazines scared him into doing it. The company accidently sent this poor rancher 9,734 separate mailings informing him that his subscription to National Geographic had expired.
Now those 9,734 notifications got the rancher’s attention! He dropped what he was doing and traveled 10 miles to the nearest post office, where he sent in money for a renewal, along with a note that said, “I give up! Send me your magazine!”
Unlike the rancher caving into the multiple subscription requests or Shannon giving out food just to get rid of an annoying friend, God does not need to get worn down to respond. He is eager to bless us. He only asks that we ask with persistent hope and deep trust in his goodness. How do we know that God is eager to answer our prayers? Because today’s scripture lesson tells us that God makes some very encouraging promises: Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
Now, don’t think you can just get whatever you want. The Bible suggests that you have to ask in line with God’s loving purposes for all the people involved. It talks in today’s scripture lesson about providing food for a hungry visitor, nourishment for a growing child, and the fullness of God’s life for spiritual seekers.
George Mueller wanted everyone he knew to experience the joy of walking through life knowing Jesus and being uplifted by His Spirit.
In his diary, George, a Christian social reformer from the Victorian era, chronicles his devotion in prayer:
In November 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land, on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day, I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. These two remained unconverted.
Thirty-six years later he wrote that the other two, sons of one of Mueller’s friends, were still not converted. He wrote,
But I hope in God, I pray on, and look for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.
In 1897, fifty-two years after he began to pray, these two men were finally converted – after Mueller died. Mueller understood what Jesus meant when he told his disciples “that they should always pray and not give up.”
To have a rich prayer life means that we need to keep on praying just as George Mueller kept on praying for the blessing of the people he knew.
We can share George Mueller’s expectation that there will be a payoff for such persevering in prayer. But how do we gain the faith Mueller had to sustain that expectation?
By focusing on who God is and what God is like. We have faith when we bear in mind how faithful God is. We anticipate generosity from God when we remember how generous he is and how he loves to love us.
We keep our focus on God by keeping alert to signs of God acting on our behalf even through setbacks and events that would suggest that God is absent and uncaring. Let me tell you what happened with my campus ministry office at Cal State Long Beach.
Over the past 25 years, the University Interfaith Center, where I am the campus minister for the Cooperative Protestant Campus Ministry, has been housed in 7 different places. You could safely say that we have not had a stable location in decades due to changing university plans and natural disasters. About 9 years ago, our office in the Student Union was destroyed by flood water. Three months later a room was found for us to call home in the administration building off the loading dock. We did our best to make this room a spiritual home and a safe zone where students could explore faith and nurture spiritual growth. Administration then moved us to the Soroptimist House on the campus.
For over nine years we have had short term leases with the University, with no assurance we’d have a place on campus the following year. The last two years we kept hearing rumors that the Soroptimist House was scheduled for demolition. Then, early this summer we received word that the building would be torn down by summer’s end and we would be relocating yet again. We packed things up and were ready for our next move — this time to the library — when the Ridgecrest earthquake hit in early July. The shaking from the quake was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the rickety, old Soroptimist House was red-tagged. Due to the danger of its collapsing at any moment, we were given only about 15 minutes, under close escort, to get out what we could. That meant we had to leave a lot behind!
But thanks be to God and all the prayers of many years, we now have a better home than we’ve ever had before, awaiting us—one at a place that students frequent a lot and one that is stable, clean and beautifully appointed. Through disaster God delivered us; through prayer we never lost hope; through something bad, God has brought us something very good. With God having heard our prayers, we are able to keep on keeping on.
We are not unique or special, God has promised to give to all who ask. May our experience encourage you. Put your all into praying and continue to pray by bearing in mind that God gives you good reason to have hope that your need and those of people around you will be met. Let us seek that we may find. Let us ask that it might be given us. Let us pray that we might know abundant blessings from heaven.