My aunt Barb has been diagnosed and treating uterine and ovarian cancer for about two years now. She has been through a few rounds of surgery, chemo, and radiation. Some of it has been successful! Some of the cancer has returned. It has been an up and down journey, but she has had quite a few healthy months in the midst of it all.
Through everything, family and friends have been a huge support and together they have participated in Relay for Life the past two years.
As Team Triple B, their slogan is “Keep PUSHing”
For them, PUSHing means that you Pray Until Something Happens.
Pray Until Something Happens.
In these past six weeks, we have talked a lot about prayer. We started out by talking about prayer as group activity… something we do together. Pastor Todd talked about prayer as an intimate relationship with our parental God. Trevor invited us to think about prayer as something that is always hard and always necessary – a sweet devotion. Our guest preachers, Pastors Ted and Mara, have led us in a variety of disciplines and continued to stretch our thinking on how we practice prayer.
While I was away on leave, I spent every single morning in prayer. I wish I could say that I always spent every morning in prayer, but as Trevor so eloquently stated in his message, prayer is hard work.
Yet, on my renewal leave, my only real task was to pray. To pray for you. To pray for our ministries. To pray for God to guide me and us. And I read a lot about prayer as well.
One of the things that kept striking me is that we need to pray like we mean it.
We need to pray about those things in this world that we really want to change.
We need to pray until something happens!
In our gospel reading, Jesus was walking into Jerusalem and he passed by a fig tree. Even though it was out of season, he looked for fruit and didn’t find any. So he said, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” The tree withered, dried up, and died within 24 hours.
Jesus prayed… and something happened!
Now, I’m going to be honest… this is a rather strange story that leaves us with all sorts of questions:
Why would Jesus punish the tree when it couldn’t help that it was the wrong season?
The scripture says he was really hungry… so maybe he was just really grouchy, like I often get when I haven’t eaten in a while…
Because, I mean, what kind of Jesus is this that arbitrarily causes things to die?
United Methodists don’t typically buy into the kind of prosperity gospel that says if you pray for what you want, you will get it.
We are fully aware that all kinds of faithful people pray for things like healing and miracles and help and the answers aren’t always what we want.
Maybe that is why even though it is a story mentioned in both Matthew and Mark, most of the cycles of scripture readings pastors use completely ignore this passage. We’d rather Jesus didn’t have this encounter with the fig tree.
Yet, the core of the message here… aside from the weird stuff with the fig tree… is repeated over and over again by Jesus.
Ask and it will be given to you.
Seek and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8 and Luke 11:9)
If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains… nothing will be impossible (Mt 17:20)
If we ask for anything in agreement with God’s will, God listens to us… we know that we have received what we asked from God. (1 John 14-15)
If we pray… stuff will happen! Not little stuff… BIG. GIGANTIC. POWERFUL. MOUNTAIN SIZED stuff!
That’s what scripture tells us.
That’s what Jesus keeps reminding us.
Prayer is powerful.
There is a important thing to remember in this power of prayer, however.
This power only works when our prayers are aligned with God’s will.
If I started praying for a bigger house today… I probably wouldn’t get it. Because that is not about God… its about me.
As 1 John puts it: If we ask for anything in agreement with God’s will, God listens to us… we know that we have received what we asked from God. (1 John 14-15)
Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for what he wanted… but he ended that prayer: not my will, but yours be done.
What I love about my aunt’s prayer during this time is that while she has all sorts of hopes and wants and desires for her treatment, their goal is for God’s will to be done.
They are going to Pray Until Something Happens.
That might be good news and healing. It might be deeper relationships. It might not be the ending they want, but they are open to discovering God’s blessings and God’s answers along the way.
And through it all… they are going to pray.
I have found that we don’t hesitate to lift up prayers asking for healing. We are even pretty good at lifting up prayers of gratitude.
But there are things in this world that we are called to do and change and work towards… and we forget to pray about it!
We get so caught up in what we are doing that we forget to ask God to be a part of it. We keep thinking it is all about us.
And when we do so, we forget to tap into the mountain-moving power of prayer that is right there at our fingertips.
And that is what we need to do.
Last fall, we sat down and spent some time asking God what we were supposed to do here at Immanuel. And out of those conversations as leadership, we set some goals around places we have passion and we felt God was moving. Now… we need to pray about it.
We need to Pray Until Something Happens.
One of those goals was that we wanted to increase our visibility in the community… We want get to know our neighbors better… And our goal, our hope, is that those new relationships will mean there are 10% more people here in worship at the end of this year.
But you know what… we haven’t really prayed about it. We haven’t asked God to help us with this work. We’ve been trying to do it on our own.
Another goal we set last year was create space for people to serve here at Immanuel. We want to make sure that everyone is connected to some kind of ministry beyond Sunday morning. And one of the pieces of this goal is to encourage new people to embrace God’s gifts in their life and we wanted to find a place for 10 new people to serve on our ministry teams.
But we haven’t been praying about it. We haven’t asked God to help us.
And as the Iowa Annual Conference, we have this amazing new goal. As United Methodists, we want to make a significant impact on poverty in our communities and we think we can do something really big by addressing the opportunity gap in education. And so, we are being asked to get involved with an effort to distribute half a million books and to give a million hours of time over the next year. And it is a big and awesome and mountain sized goal and we are just getting started…
So you know what… we had better start praying for it.
In fact, we need to start praying for all of these things.
We are going to need God on our side if these things are going to happen.
If the world is going to change… if the kingdom is going to come… if God’s will is to be done, we need to ask for God to be involved.
We need to start praying until something happens.
As we leave worship today, you’ll find that there are some tables at the back with three different stations.
Each station relates to one of those goals I lifted up in the message this morning.
And at each station is a prayer card I want to invite you to take with you.
I want us to commit to praying for mountains to move.
I want us to commit to praying every day that God’s will be done in our midst.
You don’t have to pray for every single one of them… but pick at least one.
Commit yourself to prayer by name.
If we have at least 50 people here in the church praying for every one of these goals do you think God will hear us. Do you think God will sense we are not only people who care about these things, but we are ready for change. We believe. We have faith that God can make a difference here.
Ghandi once wrote:
If when we plunge our hand into a bowl of water,
Or stir up the fire with the bellows
Or tabulate interminable columns of figures on our book-keeping table,
Or, burnt by the sun, we are plunged in the mud of the rice-field,
Or standing by the smelter’s furnace
We do not fulfill the same religious life as if in prayer in a monastery,
The world will never be saved.
We may not share the same faith as Ghandi, but we all believe in the power of prayer. And Ghandi’s words remind us that prayer is not just for the super-religious, and prayer is not only for renewal leave… prayer is something we are supposed to be doing every second of every day of our lives.
We should be praying when we work.
We should be praying as we play.
We can be praying as we brush our teeth and drive to work.
We can pray at the dinner table.
We need to be praying everywhere, all the time, about everything.
And what I want you to do is take one of these prayer cards this morning and pray your heart out.
Put it on your bathroom mirror and pray it every morning.
Stick it in your car and pray before you get to work.
Take more than one if you want to, and put them wherever they might be a reminder to you.
Bring your prayers to breakfast and take turns each saying your prayer together.
Pray… even if your faith is as small as a mustard seed.
Pray that mountains might move.
Pray that kids might learn to read.
Pray that we might meet and grow with new people.
Pray that every person might find a place to connect and serve.
Pray Until Something Happens.