TITLE: People of Prayer -- People of Blessing
Can you imagine being too famous? Comedian Bill Murray, who became famous
for his roles in such movies as Caddyshack and Ghostbusters, says:
"Nothing can prepare you for being famous. It's completely different from the way anybody's parents raise them. You think it will be a life of leisure -- but it's also a 24-hour-a-day job. "
John the Baptist was famous. He was a famous preacher -- like Billy Graham or the Pope. He didn't mind the attention that came with the job. He was preaching in the wilderness -- the equivalent of a big-time tent meeting -- and people were coming from everywhere to hear him. He was telling them to repent and to get right with God -- and they were responding by the thousands.
There are three outstanding things about John’s message.
- It began by demanding that people should share with one another. It was a social gospel which laid down that God will never absolve the person who is content to have too much while others have too little.
- It ordered a person not to leave their job but to work out their own salvation by doing that job as it should be done. Let the tax collector be a good tax collector, let the soldier be a good soldier. It was a person’s duty to serve God where God has set them. And it still is.
- John was quite sure that he himself was only a forerunner. The king was still to come. John was one of the world’s supremely effective preachers.
So far, so good!
The problem wasn't that he was famous. It was that he was TOO famous! People were saying, "Wow! He must be the messiah!" John was NOT the messiah -- was called only to get people ready for the messiah. For people to believe that he was the messiah was wrong -- like having people mistake the preacher for God! No preacher can afford to let people make that kind of mistake.
And so John said, "NO! You have it wrong! I am NOT the messiah! Not even close! Let me explain the difference. The one who is coming is so great that I am not worthy even to tie his shoes. I just baptize you with water. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
In other words, "You ain't seen nuthin' yet! The one who is coming is not only greater -- he is altogether different. I am like a flashlight – he is like the 4th of July! I am like the one who hands out donuts at a disaster -- he is like the one who rushes into burning buildings to pull people to safety! I am just POINTING the way -- He IS The Way!"
After that story, we have Luke's account of Jesus' baptism. He is so concerned to subordinate John to Jesus that he doesn't even tell us that John baptized Jesus. He says only that Jesus was baptized. Then he tells us that heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form like a dove -- and a voice from heaven said, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
Note that the Spirit and the voice did not come during Jesus' baptism, but afterwards -- when Jesus was praying. Prayer was so important to Jesus! Luke often pictures him at prayer, but only occasionally tells us what he prayed about:
-- We know that he prayed for his disciples (22:32 -- see also John 17).
-- Just before his death, he prayed that, if the Father were willing, this cup might pass from him -- in other words, he prayed that he might escape death -- but only if the Father was willing. He concluded his prayer by saying, "Not my will, but yours be done" (22:42).
-- He prayed even for his enemies. "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (23:34).
-- As he died, he prayed, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (23:46).
But we don't know what he prayed after his baptism. We might think of Jesus' baptism as his ordination, so perhaps he was praying to be equal to the great task before him. Perhaps he was praying for vision to lead rightly -- for strength to withstand temptation -- for disciples who would be faithful -- for success in his role as savior.
But, whatever the content of his prayer, it was during his prayer that heaven opened -- and the Spirit descended on him -- and the voice from heaven said, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
In other words, while Jesus was at prayer, he received the blessing. That is instructive. Sometimes we fail to appreciate the power of prayer. Sometimes when faced with a difficult problem, we say, "Well, all we can do is to pray" -- as if hope has been exhausted, and we are left only with pitiful prayer. We would do better to say hopefully, "Well, we can pray" -- knowing that, in prayer, we connect ourselves to God -- to God's power -- to possibilities beyond our imagining.
Mother Teresa once said: Love to pray. Feel often during the day the need for prayer, and make trouble to pray. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of Himself. Ask and seek, and your heart will grow big enough to receive Him and keep Him as your own.
Every day, God answers prayers in astounding ways. Every day, God blesses people who have taken time to pray. That doesn't mean that God answers every prayer as we ask, but it does mean that prayer is a great power -- not a pitiful last resort.
But it is fair to ask why Jesus prayed. After all, didn't he come from heaven? Couldn't he somehow connect with the Father intuitively? Wasn't he always connected to the Father?
I believe that Jesus was always connected, in some sense, with the Father. But his prayer life shows us that he considered prayer to be something more than handing a wish-list to the Father. When he prayed, he wasn't like a college student writing home for money. He was a son coming home to visit -- to sit down and talk -- to further an important relationship -- to gain strength -- to keep on the right path.
Haven't you experienced a relationship like that at some point in your life? It might have been with your mother instead of your father – or with your husband or wife -- or with a trusted friend. The important point is that you could talk with that person and come away strengthened -- come away with truer direction. You didn't have to worry about their
leading you astray. You didn't have to worry about their hidden agenda. You knew them to be reliable and trustworthy. It isn't easy to find such a person, so they are as precious as a rare gem -- more precious really. A precious gem cannot guide you through a tough decision, but a trustworthy friend can.
I believe that Jesus had a relationship like that with his heavenly Father, and it helped him to do the right thing. We often talk about the sinless Jesus as if sinlessness was easy for him. I don't think that it was. If his sinlessness were easy, he would not have been tempted like we are tempted -- because our temptations are not easy. The scriptures tell
us that Jesus was, indeed, tempted like we are (Heb. 4:15), so I believe that his ability to stay true depended, at least in part, on his strong prayer life.
If prayer was important to Jesus -- if prayer was the source of his strength and true direction -- doesn't it make sense to believe that we need prayer for strength and true direction as well?
-- If it was while Jesus was praying that heaven opened and the Spirit descended on him, doesn't that suggest that our prayers are important to the Spirit?
-- If it was during prayer that Jesus heard the Father's voice saying, "You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased," wouldn't it seem wise for us to spend more time in prayer -- and is listening for the Father's voice?
After Jesus was baptized -- while he was praying -- heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove -- and a voice from heaven said, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
The Disciples saw Jesus in prayer often. The saw that is was of such importance to Him that they asked Him to teach them to pray. Today we call it the Lord’s Prayer. It is a powerful and meaningful prayer, but so often it is thought of as a child’s prayer. I would like to share some things to think about for the next time you pray that prayer.
- I cannon say OUR if religion has no room for others and their needs.
- I cannot say FATHER if I don not demonstrate this relationship in my daily living.
- I cannot say WHO ART IN HEAVEN if all my interests and pursuits are on earthly things.
- I cannot say HALLOWED BE THY NAME if I, who am called by his name am not holy.
- I cannot say THY KINGDON COME if I am unwilling to give up my own sovereignty and accept the righteous reign of God.
- I cannot say THY WILL BE DONE if I am unwilling or resentful of having his will in my life.
- I cannot say ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN unless I am truly ready to give myself to his service here and now.
- I cannot say GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD without expending honest effort for it or ignoring the genuine needs of my neighbors.
- I cannot say FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSERS AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US if I harbor a grudge against anyone.
- I cannot say LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted.
- I cannot say DELIVER US FROM EVIL if I am not prepared to fight in the spiritual realm with the weapon of prayer.
- I cannot say THINE IS THE KINGDOM if I do not give the king the disciplined obedience of a loyal subject.
- I cannot say THINE IS THE POWER if I fear what my neighbors may say or do.
- I cannot say THINE IS THE GLORY if I am seeking my own glory first.
- I cannot say FOREVER if I am too anxious about each day’s affairs.
- I cannot say AMEN unless I honestly say, “ Cost what it may, this is my prayer.”
Prayer is one of God's vehicles for blessing. Let us be a people of prayer -- so that we might also be a people of blessing.