In a continuing effort to answer questions you have been struggling with, I want to talk a little bit about praying today. I’m going to do this in reference to our second lesson from Paul to the Ephesians. But first, let me tell you a little bit about my week. Honestly, I am very tired. My week started with a jolt as I visited the ER. It was not, a visit for myself, which was a welcome surprise. Instead, I was there with Allen and his family. The visit, and his health, has worn on me all week. One of the joys of being your Pastor, is the honor of loving you as much as I do. And I hope you know how much I love you. Perhaps you have heard me say either to you or someone else that I love you an obnoxious amount. And this is most certainly true. So the joy of being a pastor, is loving all of you. The heartache of being a pastor, is loving you so much, and yet hurting when you hurt or are struggling. And that has been part of my battle this week. I hurt because so many of you are also hurting.
After I left the hospital on Tuesday, I got in the car. The weight of everything that has been going on finally hit me. And I sat in the parking lot of Mercy Hospital, crying. I felt really helpless. And so, I did the only thing I thought I could do, I started talking to God. I will save you a lot of the details, because honestly, some of the language I used is not appropriate for church. Yes, believe it or not, God will listen to you no matter how you speak. I was mad and I was angry so, of course, my language reflected that. It’s not something I’m necessarily proud of but I suppose it was a coping mechanism. So in my anger and through my tears I talked with God. Perhaps some people would call it a prayer. I called it a conversation. And that’s exactly what praying is. It is a conversation with God. I’ve often said that you should speak to God as if you are speaking to your best friend. Picture having coffee or maybe even a beer with God and telling God of all your joys, troubles, concerns, or thanksgivings. So as I stared blankly at my steering wheel, feeling helpless, I actually spoke out loud to God. “God,” I said, “what can I do? I’m feeling really helpless. And I feel like you are really far away. And honestly God it’s really ticking me off.” And, as God does, God spoke in a way that I would listen. And this text from the Ephesians today popped back into my head.
There is a lot of imagery in this reading today. Some people may hear it and think of a battle or a war. When you think of suiting up, you probably think so in regards to some kind of battle. But really, isn’t that what life is? Life is a battle. We are always battling sin. The sin we battle takes on so many different forms and it looks like many different things. But at the root of the cause of sin, is whatever comes between us and God. And as I have said before, if you look at the actual word sin, the middle letter is normally the main cause. So, I started to wonder, how do we arm ourselves against sin? This imagery of the breastplate of righteousness conjures up battle gear. How are we to arm ourselves against our battles? My battle this week was feeling helpless against an illness. I understand that I am not going to be the one to cure everyone’s ills. But, like many of you, when someone I love is not well, I feel helpless. And while that we should call on God during all times of the day and no matter what our situation, it seems that we normally call on God in times of trouble. This isn’t wrong by any means, but, in my experience, the most common.
In our baptism, we were called and claimed by Christ. We were promised a love that is everlasting. We however we’re not promised that nothing bad will ever happen to us. I talked about this a few weeks ago when we wondered together why good things happen to bad people. And the answer continues to be I don’t know. But, as baptized and called children of God, we can always always fall back on what is almost demanded of us, we can pray. Prayer is going to be our first and foremost and really our best defense against the forces of evil in this world.
If you have been in my office, or the parsonage, you may have noticed I have a collection of things from the Wizard of Oz. I love this movie. However, I think sometimes people think that speaking to God is like speaking to the great and powerful Oz. We should be intimidated and scared; maybe even bashful, not asking for what we really desire or need. But, if you have seen the Wizard of Oz, you know that the wizard turns out not to be so scary after all. By the way, spoiler alert. And while I think we should have respect for God, there is no need to be afraid of God. Remember, God loves you more than you can ever possibly imagine. There is no reason to be scared or intimidated by a force so strong and powerful that even death cannot overcome it.
I have said this before, but I think sometimes we believe that we have to approach God as perfect. Like we cannot approach God until we get ourselves in order. I have heard people say this before. I would come to church, but I need to work on my own stuff before I come there. I equated to trying to lose weight before you actually join weight watchers or cleaning before the maid comes. There is something in us, that feels like we must be perfect in order to approach God. Really friends, that’s not possible. We are incapable of being perfect. We are incapable of being perfect because sin always always has a place in our life. If you feel you need to be perfect before you can have a relationship with God, you will never have a relationship with God. And remember, God does not care. You were made in God’s image. You were saved by the waters of baptism, and you were worth dying for. The idea of perfection is whatever sin has a hold of us in our own heads. So let me challenge you today by saying this; you do not have to be perfect to approach God. You only need to be a sinner. So I am pretty sure all of us apply.
There is no need to use fancy language when speaking to God. When you pray, there is no reason to sound like you are reading out of the King James version of the Bible. Unless that is how you actually speak. Feel free to speak to God like you speak to your best friend or your spouse or your children. When I speak to God, I like to picture God looking at me with nothing but love. I used to think that God looked at me with pity. But I know now there is no reason for that. God loves me and God loves you. So that is the way that God looks on us. God is so desperate to love you. If God were the one going back to school this week, it would be your initials with a heart drawn around it on the outside of God’s notebook.
The forces of sin are all around us. And sometimes, it is easy to name that sin. We hear about it on the news every day. Murder, racism, hunger, wealth, injustice, and the list could go on and on. We know sin in our own lives. It looks different for each and everyone of us but we all know sin very well. The force of sin is strong enough that it might knock us over. For some people, the force of send is so strong, death may seem like a logical answer. So, how do we stand firm against sin? How can we possibly fight the forces of sin when it is all around us? We put on the armor of God.
The armor of God, first and foremost, starts with a cross on your forehead. This should serve as a constant reminder of who you are and whose you are. And then, my brothers and sisters, we pray. Because when we pray, sin loses its power. See, Satan does not want us to have a relationship with God. So, if we choose not to speak to God or listen to God, there is more and more room for Satan to do his work. You almost have to think of Satan as a jealous lover. Satan wants all of our time. Satan wants all of our energy. Satan wants all of us. Satan, definitely does not want us talking to God. And we protect ourselves by putting on the armor of God. And it is as simple as a conversation and prayer with God.
All of you can find a way to pray that makes sense for you and your life. I pray a lot in the car because I spend a lot of time in the car. If you like to exercise, perhaps that is when you have your conversations with God. For those of you who spend a lot of time in the combine or grain cart, perhaps that is where you hear God. No matter what, there is no wrong way to talk to God. There is also no wrong way to listen to God and for God. Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have against sin and evil in this world. Prayer, is sometimes the only logical answer. In a time when the world wants us to feel helpless against the troubles of this world, it is very powerful to be able to respond to the troubles of this world by saying I will pray about this. It seems so illogical and yet so simple to a world that responds to troubles with huge plans, huge weapons, and huge issues. But, that is what makes God and our relationship with God so amazing. Prayer is such a simple response that it almost makes no sense. And yet, it is the most powerful thing that we as disciples can do.