Written by Pastor Bryan Niebanck
He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.Luke 10:2
Many of you know that I am a Boy Scout. After I earned Eagle Scout in 2010, I had three and a half years left in high school to stick around the troop and help the younger members of the troop on their quest to advance their rank. I wanted to stick around and work with these scouts. I thoroughly found enjoyment in it. I still do, but I cannot spare as much time as I used to. It was common, when teaching a skill, that scouts would not know what they were doing. We used a method that we call the EDGE method in Boy Scouts. It stands for the four steps that we use to teach a skill. Explain. Demonstrate. Guide. Enable. Explain how to do the skill, and the purposes for it. Demonstrate it by doing it yourself in front of the student. Guide them by allowing them to do the skill with your assistance. And then enable them to do the skill without any assistance at all by simply providing the materials they need to do it. During the guide phase, the most common question that they asked was, “Am I doing this right?” Sometimes the answer was yes, and sometimes it was no, but I was always able to help them fix any issues or mistakes that they were making along the way. I really think that the EDGE method can be used beyond Boy Scouts as well. I have carried it with me and put it to use whenever I have tried to teach a skill to anyone.
I have been on the receiving end as well. When I first started as the Trading Post Assistant Manager at my Boy Scout camp, I had to learn how to use the cash register. I was told that this was a pretty finicky cash register. It had you type in the price of the item that was being purchased, however part of the confusion was that you could never press the decimal point. The decimal point button was there, clear as day, but if you pressed it, it beeped at you and cleared the whole transaction. I have no idea why that button had to be there because it confused everyone who I successively taught as well. I asked, “Am I doing this right?” quite a few times, I am sure, and with a little patience and enabling, the Trading Post manager taught me how to use it.
I know that many of us ask ourselves this question when it comes to prayer as well. And this is not a bad question to ask. Do you think kid Jesus may have reached out to God at twelve years old when he began teaching in the temple and asked, “Am I doing this right, Dad?” Did Moses ask that question? Most certainly. If you are wondering if you are doing this whole thing right, you are in great company.
Let us take a moment to review this whole big prayer series that we started on Pentecost Sunday. It was a month ago, so it is good to recap. I mentioned that some of the questions that we think about when we pray are; first, how do we pray; second, how do we know that God is the one we hear; third, what does prayer do for us; and fourth; why does God answer some prayers and not others. We started with reviewing why we pray – to help us believe in an alternative to a world full of evil and see a world with hope, because we are told that we have to call on God, and thus pray, in order to be saved, and because prayer and devotion increases our belief in God if we do it consistently, to a point where our belief enables us to do greater works than Jesus does! We then continued by recognizing some barriers to prayer that we have to move past with God’s help: We do not think our prayer can make a difference, we do not know how to pray or what to say, we do not feel worthy perhaps because of past guilt, and we manage our time inconsistently and so give ourselves no time to pray. In the last two weeks, we started discussing the first question “How do we pray?” which is a question we address only after we accept the why of prayer and move past the reasons we often do not pray. We pray by being open to hearing God in unexpected ways, such as allowing God to be the voice in silence, and by focusing on God’s ability to give us the tools we need to enable us to have a growth mindset for the kingdom of God. Our mindset is determined by focusing on God enabling us, and praying to that effect, rather than merely for our own benefit.
For the next couple weeks, we will continue to focus on The How of praying. As we do so, I invite you to picture God being the one to enable you, perhaps even using the EDGE method. God explains to you why prayer is necessary. God demonstrates prayer by the faithful ones who have gone before us both in the Bible and in our lives. God guides us as we try praying and ask if we are doing it right. And then we realize that God has given us the tools that we need to be able to do it on our own. That is my ultimate goal in this series. At the end of it, I want you all to feel super comfortable praying to God about anything and everything. I believe that God is enabling me just as God is enabling you. (If you have something about prayer that you think should be addressed, please let me know and we will address it this summer or fall!). See how the seventy disciples confirmed that God had enabled them: “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” (Luke 10:17).
Now we are going to briefly address the next part of how we pray. I would like to address it using Valerie Woerner’s explanations in Chapter 2 of her book, Pray Confidently and Consistently: Finally Let Go of the Things Holding You Back from Your Most Important Conversation. I say the full title of the book to emphasis that prayer IS our most important conversation. This is why we need to take it seriously. And we need to take the things that are holding us back from it very seriously as well. The three keys to prayer that she mentions in her second chapter are humility, confession, and faith. Humility means that we should make more room for God and less room for ourselves. I still remember the prayer that one of my seminary professors would pray before every class: “Lord, help me to diminish so that you may increase.” As Woerner states, “More of God is better than more of me in any equation” (23). Further, in the face of God’s greatness, our greatness cannot compare. Just as Psalm 77 transitioned from an “I” into a “Thou” as it progressed, Psalm 30 does the same. It begins, “I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me” (Psalm 30:1-2). The focus starts on what has been done for the author of the psalm. But as it ends, the “You” is moved to the beginning of the verses. God’s response ceases to be seen as a response to the cry: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (Psalm 30:11-12). It is not all about you and I. Everything is all about God. If we always pray expecting God to do something, saying “You do this, you do that” we are praying in the wrong attitude. God may be just as likely to do that thing you are commanding God to do as you would be if your child told you, “You do this and that.” Our requests come across much better to God if we humbly request them rather than command obedience.
Confession is the next big “how” of prayer, and it is important to realize that fostering sin in our hearts can hurt our relationship with God. If sin is a big word, think of it as iniquity, or immoral behavior that does not correlate with God’s commands. I like to think of the following question when wondering if I need to confess something as a sin: Is this thing interfering with my relationship with God? If yes, then do something. If not, it is okay. If you cannot find anything to confess, ask God to search you. Read Psalm 139 and pray it as your own: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). And if you do find something that interferes with your relationship with God, and confess it, but cannot figure out how to stop doing it, there is another prayer for God. It extends beyond a repeated prayer asking God for forgiveness. Obviously, if we keep doing it, we need more than just that prayer. We can pray for God to break me. Break me, God, of this habit or of this thing that is taking my attention away from you. We need to get out of our system everything that takes us away from God and hinders our prayers! Then, we can pray the third dangerous prayer: God, send me. Search me, break me, and then send me, because I am now ready to be sent. We need confession as a regular part of our prayers, as well as these three more dangerous prayers that we often avoid, so that we are always one hundred percent authentic with God and always pursuing an unhindered relationship with God. Valerie puts it clearly: “If we long to draw near to God, we absolutely need to be cleansing our hands and purifying our hearts before him” (25).
And finally, in addition to praying with humility and confession, we need to pray with faith. Valerie states plainly, “We can talk about removing weights and learning new habits for prayer, but our methods don’t matter one lick if we do not believe God is who he says he is” (31). In Mark 6, among a crowd who only saw Jesus as Joseph and Mary’s boy, Jesus “could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them” because of their unbelief (Mark 6:5). A lack of faith can stop miracles from happening. If we do not believe in God’s power to change something, it may not be changed. If we do not believe in it, why are we even praying for it? We need to pray with faith, and if we have trouble doing that, we can pray, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). We can also pray, “Lord, break me of this thing that is preventing my full belief in your power to make this change.” We don’t need to break something that is a comfort to us, like comfort food or time taken for ourselves; we don’t need to break anything that does not take away our attention from God. But the prayers Search me, Break me, and Send me should be a regular part of our prayer life, as we always seek to pray humbly, confess our sins to God, and strengthen our faith. If you have weaknesses in any of these three areas, your challenge this week is to focus on that area. If you are lost, give me a call, and we will talk about it.
When you ask God, “Am I doing this right?” I believe that God will help guide you, especially if you are following the three key prayer focuses we have outlined. Never be afraid to ask, because, after all, prayer is our most important conversation we can have. We need to make sure that our interactions with God are fruitful and meaningful. We need to make sure that there is nothing that is knowingly or unknowingly drawing our attention away from God or in any way negatively affecting our relationship with God. May you be blessed to uncover these hindrances to prayer and relationship if you have them – and I think all of us do – so that your prayer life may become more fruitful. May all honor and glory be to God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
2 Kings 5:1-14
5:1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.
5:2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.
5:3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
5:4 So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said.
5:5 And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments.
5:6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
5:7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
5:8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”
5:9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house.
5:10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”
5:11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!
5:12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.
5:13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
5:14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
30:1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
30:2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
30:3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
30:4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
30:5 For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
30:6 As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
30:7 By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
30:8 To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication:
30:9 “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
30:10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!”
30:11 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
30:12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.
10:2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
10:3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
10:4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.
10:5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’
10:6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.
10:7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.
10:8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;
10:9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
10:10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,
10:11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
10:16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
10:17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”
10:18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.
10:19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.
10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”