July 17th, 2020
On Prayer - Part 3
On Prayer – Part 3
This morning’s scripture from the Gospel according to Luke is the only reference to this incident in the New Testament. Mary and Martha were sisters of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus loved that family who lived in Bethany. He had come to call on them, and Martha was in a twitter preparing food for Jesus and his companions, while Mary, her younger sister, was seemingly idle at the foot of Jesus. The room was small and intimate, and Mary was perhaps the only woman listening quietly to the word of Jesus. In those days, theological discussion was reserved for the men, and Martha needed help in the kitchen. But Jesus tells her that Mary’s prayerful attention is needed and is good.
Let’s take a look at how Luke positions this story in His Gospel account in order to make a point about the life of the Christian and prayer. In chapter 9 Luke covers the following: the mission of the 12; Herod’s perplexity; Feeding 5,000; Peter’s confession; the Transfiguration; Healing a boy with a demon; Jesus foretells his death again; True Greatness (least made great); Another Exorcist (“he that is not against you is for you”); and would-be followers (“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”).
Chapter 10 begins with the mission of the 70; warnings to unrepentant cities; Jesus rejoices upon the return of the 70 (“Blessed are the eyes which see what you see!); then, just before our text this morning, is the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story of prayer-in-action. The story of Mary and Martha shows us that attention to the word who is Christ is likewise a prayerful action.
Then in Chapter 11, the disciples ask Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And Jesus gave them and us the Lord’s Prayer.
Understanding this context is essential in getting to Luke’s point is that while true prayer consists of active love for one’s neighbor, this activity does not necessarily mean “busy-ness”. Quiet devotion to Jesus is the foundation for good works, while good deeds in and of themselves mean little. Our “prayer-action” is to be moved by the love of God!
We started our series on Prayer a few weeks ago as we spoke of the Prayer as it effects the life of the believer. The basic point being that it is able to change our sinful behavior into righteous action. At the root of this alteration is God-given Faith. In our second sermon in the series on Prayer we talked about implementing Prayer as the spiritual resource for our inner life. In that the chief purpose of Prayer is to deepen our Faith and give us permanence in the face of adversity.
This morning we look at practical guides on how we might deepen our prayer life, individually and corporately. When I was in high school, at a church youth retreat I first heard of the “A.C.T.S.” of prayer. Which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
It’s an often used anacronym used as a guide to prayer. Now as a “professional pray-or”, I have found that over the years, this simple guide has served me like the Geyser, “Old Faithful”. It is regular, predictable, and certain in its effect. So in continuing our study of the power of prayer, and the purpose of prayer, we will explore these 4 elements of prayer that lead us to faith. These A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) will help you remember them in your daily prayers.
The first of them is Adoration. Many would interpret this adoration as the of Praise of God. While this is most true, it is also incomplete. Lately there has been a lot of attention to a concept called “MINDFULNESS”. In short, it involves paying attention “on purpose”. It is an interesting comment on the state of our society that this is considered something “NEW”! Indeed, it is as old as the hills. This “paying attention to” is the first step of “Adoration”. It involves preparation (heart, soul, mind, and strength); meditation; reflection; introspection (being self-aware before God).
Think of how we use the word adore: You see kittens playing on a You Tube video and say “isn’t that adorable”; or we say about all new born babies, “she’s an adorable baby”. The examples are endless. Simply stated when we say we adore something; it means that we look upon that person or thing with loving eyes. So in our prayer life, let’s begin by looking upon God with loving eyes – in our gaze is His glory. This is not “so many words” – trying to schmooze up to God – rather it is an attitude before the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. It is coming into His presence with singing!
Listen to David: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!”
Did you ever stop to consider why birds sing in the morning? They are singing praises to God and His Kingdom. It is easy and natural to Praise God the creator, particularly when we are living comfortably in his world. But how do we adore God when afflicted by the tragedies of life? How do we glorify His name after suffering an irreversible loss? How can we praise God when our families are torn apart by irreconcilable differences? How can we join together to exalt His name, when the Church, the Living Body of Christ on earth, is fractionalized?
Here is a Divine Secret – Adoring God, coming into his presence consciously – and in praising the Goodness of God in your darkest hour, that you are enabled to come to Faith. When you grieve over the death or illness of a friend, loved one, or yourself, don’t forget to offer to God a word of praise, and an attitude of Adoration. I know that is hard, it is a narrow way, but finding God even in the darkness, enables FAITH to work, bringing us to the light of Christ.
The next letter, “C”, stands for Confession. Confession is two-fold. First, and most commonly used in our worship, is the confession of our sins, and admitting our guilt. Confession of our sins serves to bring us into a spirit of humility before the Lord. Mary listened to Jesus by His feet, and it is at the feet of Jesus that we must Confess our sinful nature and seek forgiveness.
To live in the spirit of prayer means to continually pray for mercy for our continuing sinful condition. And we are not to forget that Confession is meaningless without personal repentance. To truly confess necessarily means that we be truly sorry for our sins and try to change our ways. It is therapy for the soul. Scripture tells us: “A broken spirit and a contrite heart are the sacrifices acceptable to God.” A broken spirit? Really? That’s contrary to anything the world will tell you about “self-help”, isn’t it? Think of it like this – sometimes if we get a broken bone, and it is not healing properly, it is necessary for the doctor to break it again, in order that it might set properly. So, God seeks a broken spirit – so that our spirit can be properly healed by Him.
The other aspect of “Confession” that is less often referred to in our faith is our VOWS. Our profession of faith. Our affirmation and assertion before God that we believe in the One God. It is boldly declaring, even in the face of certain hostility, what one might generally be expected to be silent about. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” So in the practice of prayer – gaze upon God with all of your love; admit your shortcomings and failures; then – lean upon the promises – confess with your lips what you believe about God – let Him know. It will do you good.
Another purpose of prayer is Thanksgiving; showing our Gratitude; accepting our indebtedness. I once heard a self-proclaimed Meta-physician speak on meditation. He tended to blend Eastern philosophies with Christian principles. One thing that he said was that if you repeated the phrase “thank you God for everything”, one million times you would be elevated to what he termed Christ consciousness, that is you would have the mind of Christ. Now I don’t believe that we can do anything to receive the mind of Christ – that is a gift of grace alone. In fact, such meditative tricks as repetition can deceive us into believing we are capable of self-realization. But his emphasis is correct. To practice thanking God for everything, both good and bad, can open our eyes to see God’s particular plan for our lives, and our growth in faith. Thanksgiving is an essential for our journey of faith. Regardless of the assaults of human suffering, God has chosen us as His people. Pilgrim, have you taken the time to thank Him?
The last of the A.C.T.S. of prayer is Supplication. The definition of “supplicate” is to ask humbly and earnestly. A synonym would be to beg. It is to “entreat” God – to persuade or to overcome the resistance of God. This is both a privilege and a responsibility. The Bible is the recorded history of God interceding for His chosen people. It is an interesting and telling study of Scripture to see the number of times that God changed His mind. The most known is of Nineveh (which Luke references in the 11th chapter, following the Lord’s Prayer) – where God changed His mind about destroying the city. We are called to ask great things of God, even up to and including asking Him to change His mind! Even as Abraham asked the Lord to spare Sodom if he could find even ten faithful people in the city. What an awesome task!
Luke, right after the episode of Mary and Martha, reports to us the following words of Jesus: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” We are called to pray for the presence of the Spirit, that order might be restored to a chaotic world. The Spirit is our Strength and Comfort in the midst of adversity, and we as responsible Christians must petition God to send Him. We are all “beggars” before God. He does provide, doesn’t He? Our calling is to show all the other “beggars” where there is bread. The very bread of life.
The A.C.T.S. of prayer are Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. And the chief purpose of all these is to bring us to Faith in the one God, sovereign of all.