"Living Prayer"

Matthew 7:1-12 and Ephesians 3:14-21

(From the series, “Summer School: The Core Teachings of Jesus”)
By: Michael Roberts

I am not good at sitting still and focusing on one thing for too long. I only half-jokingly say that one reason God called me into this ministry is because God knew I couldn’t sit out there for a whole hour. As I grew through school, I did learn how to sit in class and even learned to enjoy it. My method was to actively take notes. That helped me a lot. But when it comes to worship and prayer, it is still hard for me. Profound, holy, life-giving thoughts get inside me, and it makes me want to move. Sometimes it is just more than I can take. I need to process it. And for me, that means that physical movement is needed. Around here I get accused of pacing a lot.

This is one reason that I think of exercise as a part of my prayer time. I have discovered that I can swim laps at the fitness center, or run, or walk, and my racing mind empties of all my immediate worries. I dedicate that open space in my heart to God. I don’t try to fill that space with my words, or my desires of what I want God to do for me. I just swim or run and trust that God is there, knowing that God honors all those prayers that have been racing through my mind and heart. Very often, in this open space, I am given a glimpse of God’s advanced desires for me. And remember that’s what the word prayer means in the original language. A prayer is literally, “an advanced desire.” Praying is about moving from our little selfish desires into God’s desires – for us and for the world. So, that is a part of my personal testimony about prayer and worship.

In our lesson, Jesus calls us to “suspend judgment.” It’s another way of saying, “Be open.” In our natural state, our minds and hearts become so cluttered with judgment, and these judgments get in the way of God’s transforming grace and guidance. Judgment blocks this light of God’s love. It can also be so hurtful. A server spills something and someone at the table rushes to judgment and calls them incompetent. I witnessed that recently. A politician says something and they are immediately deemed as stupid. I “may” have said that recently. A group of teachers recently did an experiment. One day, they all intentionally made some noticeable mistakes. One teacher messed up a simple equation. Another teacher wore mismatched shoes. Another forgot to shut their car door. Those are examples of some of the “mistakes.” Then these teachers listened closely to see how long it would take for students to publicly ridicule them or laugh at them or spread rumors about them. It did not take long at all. The next day they gave their report, and hopefully lessons were learned.

Jesus says, “Judge not.” It is not our place. It is so damaging when we focus on the speck in another’s eye in order to not deal with the board in our own eye. And it is so easy for us to project onto others in this way. Suspend judgment long enough to listen, long enough to see what is really going on beneath the surface, long enough to build a relationship. This is God’s advanced desire for us.

In the lesson, we are once again called to prayer – to ask, seek and knock. This is our constant work as we seek to grow in God’s love. So, the question becomes “for what?” What do we seek? We seek God’s advance desires for us. We seek opportunities to be peace-makers. We seek out ways to actively show love, not just to those we know, but especially to those we don’t know, even to those that others might put down in some way. We have been challenged with such advance desires throughout this series. In this sermon on the mount, we are called to put our prayers into action for others, actions that build community and make love come alive. Prayer does require movement.

When we don’t act upon our prayers in this way … it is like taking what is holy and throwing it to the dogs. That’s the image that Jesus used. We profane the treasures of God when we try to store them only for selfish gain. We profane the holy love of God when we only think about what we want. God wants all that is good for us. By this goodness is found as we open our hearts to others. God wants life-giving blessings for us. God wants the fruits of the spirit for us – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness. And, as we say often, these blessings come to us on their way to someone else. They grow as they are shared. To hoard them or use them to manipulate things to our own ends, is like taking what is holy and throwing it to the dogs, so to speak. It is to waste the gifts of God.

All of this leads to the golden rule. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus says that this is a summary of all the law and the prophets. And here is a good lesson about that. Jesus said the same things about another key teaching. When Jesus talked about loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, he also calls that the summary of all the law and the prophets as well. So, there is a connection here. “Do unto others” and “love your neighbor as yourself” are two ways of saying the same things. The bottom line is, we are those who are called to actively love others. That’s what we ask for. That’s what we seek. That’s what we do.

Yes, prayer requires movement. Prayer is meant to lead us into love. So, I invite you to ask for real opportunities to give this witness. Do this daily. God might lead you to walk over to a new student and say hello. You might be called to sit next to someone who others avoid. You might realize that the person who hurt you is only human and needs to be forgiven. You might be given the courage to notice the board in your own eye and to deal with it.

Here is my prayer for all of you, and especially for all who are starting school again tomorrow. In addition to math, science, language arts, and social studies, my prayer is that you will also be able to comprehend, as our first scripture lesson said, the heights and depths and breadth of God’s love. May God’s love grow here (heart). And that will happen as you get up and move, and actively seek God will for you. Seek that and receive the blessings that God wants for you. Amen.