2 January 2022

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.”  Philippians 4:6:7

Last week we heard from Psalm 148 which talked about praising God in all ways.  It referred to all things under heaven praising and glorifying God: even the sun and the moon, and the snow.  In the gospel of Luke, the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke the disciples.  Jesus responded to them by saying, “If I tell my disciples to remain silent, even the rocks will cry out.”  In Luke 19:40 we read that “even the rocks will cry out” if his followers were to keep silent.  Because God is so great, everything under heaven can and should praise the Lord.  If we keep silent, God will still be praised.  We should also always find ways to not be silent, to always praise God in everything that we do.  If we seek to praise God in all things, we are much more likely to see the positive things that are happening around us.  If we do not, the world can and will overpower us.  The negative that we see each and every day will not be confronted with the power that is God.  It is much more joyful for us to join in the singing rather than abstain from it.  It is better for us to join in with the churches praising God by living the lives that God has called us to live.  That is, we live lives of service for God, praising God, praying to God, listening to God, and sharing God with others.  We are considering all four of these areas; last week, we talked about praising God continually.  This week, we focus on praying to God. 

George Sears is a Catholic recruiter for the priesthood. He was quoted saying, “When Jesus called his disciples, he didn’t put flyers in the synagogue and put some type of poster in the village square. It was a personal invitation.”  As Christians, I think that we need to call attention to this quote.  For many, being asked among a group of people, such as what a flyer does, is uninspiring.  The feeling is that someone else more capable than I will step up.  Being asked directly, however, is an indication that someone believes in you.  Jesus asked his disciples directly showing them that he believed that they had something to offer to God.  Someone believes that you are up for the task.  That someone, is of course, God.

God came to earth for a visit because he believed in the world so much that he knew he could save it.  Yet he needs people up for the task of doing his will in order to make that happen.  To discern God’s will, we need to be open to listening to God as well as speaking to God.  Though God has a different will for each of us individually, the will for Christians in general remains the same: Invite others to come see what Jesus offers us.  This past month, we have been invited to see the gift in the manger, which is the very gift of God’s continual presence, Emmanuel, God-with-us.  How can we invite others to come see what we have seen, just as God invited us to be witnesses at the manger scene?

As you think about your goals for 2022, however, include God at the top of that list.  God wants you to set personal time aside with God on a regular basis.  While personal devotion time is certainly a must, serving God as a part of a community is also crucial to putting God first in our lives.  We pray about how we best follow God both in our personal lives and in our public lives.  Jesus came to us to show us the way to live.  Following that example is a step beyond learning about it.  We come to learn about the example of Jesus, and what his disciples did, and what Jesus would have us to, and then we take that out into the world as Christian disciples and followers of Jesus following God not just on Sundays or holy days such as Christmas, but on every single day of the year.  Are you undecided as to where you will fit in or what you might be called to do?  In that case, always go to prayer, and then come talk to us or the leaders at whatever church you are committed to.  But do commit your life to service and discernment wherever you best do that.  When you are unsure of or not confident in something, whatever it is, God wants you to take it to the Lord in prayer.

We have unofficially named our book group the “Take it to the Lord in Prayer Book Group” as we discern how to most closely devote ourselves to God.  One of the most important takeaways has been that there is nothing too small to take to God.  God wants to hear what is on your heart and what is on your mind.  If you are unsure of how to best be a follower of Jesus, take it to the Lord in prayer.

We read about the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6.  We could spend an entire month on this one prayer, as there is so much to dissect in this common prayer that nearly every church restates every week.  But there are some things that we can learn even in a brief mention.  We begin the prayer by praising God.  We talked about praising God continually.  Every week as we say the Lord’s prayer, we begin by praising God, saying, “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.”  Whenever you come to God in prayer, the first thing that you should strive to do is to begin in praise.  See the awesome wonder in the glory of God.  Focusing on praise gives us the confidence in God’s greatness and in God’s ability to fulfill the requests that we are making.  Next, we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  We want God’s will to be done.  If we really do want God’s will to be done on earth, it is only natural that we would pray to God asking God what he would have us to, so that we might fulfill that will.  Third, as we pray, “Give us today our daily bread” and “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” we show confidence that God will provide for our every need.  We should pray with the confidence that God is our provider and that God will give us whatever we need.  Already in the Lord’s prayer, we see praise, we see God’s will being done, and we acknowledge confidence in God.  The last thing that we need in prayer is God’s help.  We need to ask for God’s help as we do when we say, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  We cannot not be led out of temptation by ourselves.  We need God’s help and God’s power, which is greater than our own power.  We need God’s power to help us to avoid temptation and the ways of the evil one.  The fourth key element of prayer is asking for God’s help.

Philippians 4:6-7 tell us to pray about everything: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.”  It does not matter how small or little you think that request is.  If it is on your mind, God wants to hear it.  1 John 5:14 affirms that God always hears: We hear, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  Have confidence that God does hear your prayers.

Isaiah 60, in our reading today, tells us, “Arise and shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  Can we see the same for ourselves today?  The light is Jesus Christ.  The light is already among us.  We have celebrated Jesus’ birth, and now we can call on Jesus to be our own model as we strive to be followers of Jesus Christ.  Further, a light is shining into our lives in this new year in the form of a new hope and in a renewed focus on a relationship with God.  As a church body, we can also be confident that our light has come among us today, in a new year, as we celebrate being together, praying for each other, and for the church community.

I challenge all of us over this upcoming year to focus more on prayer.  Put God a bit higher on your list of priorities if God is not already your highest priority.  Paul told us in Thessalonians to pray unceasingly.  And when you pray, remember to pray these four things: Remember to pray God’s praise, remember to pray for God’s will, that you might know and do God’s will, remember to pray in confidence that God is here and will fulfill your every need, and remember in prayer to ask for God’s help.

When you pray, also pray for one another and also for the church.  As the church, we want to pray about how to reach out to the unchurched, because that a primary goal among Christians should be reaching those and welcoming those who do not have a church home.  If we turn to prayer, God’s will shall be known to us, as individuals and as a congregation.  May we all focus on placing God as a higher priority on our lives as we think more about prayer this year.  God is our hope.  God is our help.  Thanks be to God.  Amen!

Scripture Readings:

Isaiah 60:1-6
60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Psalm 72:1-7
72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

Matthew 2:1-12
2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
2:2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
2:3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;
2:4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
2:5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
2:6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.
2:8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
2:9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
2:11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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