Written by Pastor Bryan Niebanck
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.Luke 10:33
So far, we have focused on three aspects of prayer: hearing God in unexpected ways, equipping ourselves, and breaking what is holding us back from God. Today, we will review a fourth aspect of our introduction to prayer. A fourth way that we can and should pray is asking for help.
Do you ask for help? If you are in a foreign state and do not know where you are, are you likely to ask someone for help? Is it true that men don’t ever ask for directions? I was attending a Yankees game against the Cleveland Guardians – the one that was rained out of course – and the cheaper parking garage was four blocks away. $50 or $20? The choice was made. I thought I would get my run in before the game on my way there, but before long I realized that I got turned around and I wasn’t sure if I was going towards or away from Progressive Field. So there were enough people around and I asked someone wearing Guardians clothes, who was walking in the opposite direction as me, if I was going the right way. I turned around and continued my run.
Our opening hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory” is essentially a prayer for help. We sung, “God of grace and God of glory, on your people pour your power. … Fears and doubts too long have bound us – free our hearts to work and praise. … Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore. … Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, lest we miss your kingdom’s goal.” Do you know people in your lives who do not feel like they need to ask for help? They like to do everything on their own. They don’t need a God to save them. They are doing just fine. Or they seem to be. We, however, are smart enough to know that we cannot do it on our own. We are bound by fears and doubts. We are resigning to the evils that we see around us. We are feeling defeated by the world. No, we cannot rise from the ashes under our own power. We need strength that is not our own. We need God’s help.
When you ask for help, and you ask God to give you the wisdom and courage to make sense of what is put before you, what do you do when you are at a loss for words? For some of us, we will turn off prayer-mode right then and go do something else. But I came across this beautiful illustration to illustrate the right response, and I am going to share that with you: “When you don’t know what to pray, wait. Psalm 80:18 says, “Quicken us, and we will call unto you.” So wait. Get into the presence of the Lord. Focus your mind on Jesus. Offer yourself; offer your attention. Put away all distractions and let the Holy Spirit guide you. How does the eagle soar to such heights? It will flap its wings, expending its energy, until it comes to a certain altitude. But once it reaches that certain altitude, it just expands its wings and surrenders to the streams of wind. And that is what it is like in prayer. Sometimes we feel like we are toiling and exhausting ourselves, but when we come to a certain place in prayer in the spirit, you can just spread your wings, and off you go. That comes by waiting.”
Luke 10:25-37, our gospel reading today, tells us of the story of the Good Samaritan. This story contrasts the unwelcome Samaritans that we read about two weeks ago in Luke 9:51-62. Jesus was traveling through Samaria on the way to Jerusalem and “they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53). Josephus, a major early historian responsible for much of the historical context we have on the days of Jesus and the second temple period, records continuing acts of violence against Jewish pilgrims passing through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem (Jewish War 2.232). After Jesus and the disciples were not welcomed, they might have been harboring ill will towards them, as they had no towns to sleep in and rest their heads. Yet the disciples are trained to look ahead to the future, and not to the past. They are trained not to look at the violence of the past, but look at the love of the future. Just one chapter after the unwelcome Samaritans, we have the parable of the loving Samaritan. Jesus presents an alternative for the disciples to believe in. It is that much more shocking because of what the Samaritans often did to the Jews. But here, the prayer that the disciples could pray is, “Grant me wisdom and courage, Lord, to go against the status quo and give them respect despite their violence. Help me, Lord, to expel my anxious thoughts and love my neighbor, as my teacher asks me to do.” It might be impossible on your own power to go against the status quo and your very own reactions. But with God’s help, you can lead by example. You can show that there are people in the world who are not led by fear and resentment, but by forgiveness and love.
The next how of prayer is to pray with confidence. To get there, we first need to ask for God’s help, of course, to overcome our own barriers of connecting with God. But then, we can have confidence like we have seen as examples among our biblical figures. After Elisha had been shadowing Elijah for some times, learning from him, he showed exemplary discernment. I said three times, “I will not leave you.” He confidently, not timidly, said, “I want a double share of your spirit” (2 Kings 2:9). Elisha had no guarantee that God would give him the same gifts that Elijah had received. Yet Elisha pursues his call with no guarantee that God would respond.
Psalm 82 is a confident prayer: “God has taken his place in the divine council. … Deliver [the weak] from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:1, 4). The Psalmist prays with confidence that God does in fact sit on the divine council in control of things. Yes, God is still in control. So God, since you are in control, see what is happening here and deliver the weak. It is not a timid request. If we want to pray in the right mindset, we need to pray with confidence, not with a timid voice. We cannot pray a “God, this would be really nice if you are up there” kind of prayer. We need to pray, “God, I know you are there and I know you hear me, so please help me in this way so that your glory might be revealed. Help the world in this way so that your glory might be revealed. I know that you want the glory so that more people will see your glory and come to you, so that they may be saved from this world that we find ourselves in. Thank you, God, for hearing me.”
The prophet Amos, whom we heard from today, also exhibits superb confidence in his actions and his relationship with God. He is obedient to God even though it might cost him. He tells the king what the king does not want to hear because it was God’s message. Amos tells before the king, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ Therefore, thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’” (Amos 7:15-17). I cannot imagine any one of us saying that if we were called before the President of the United States! Amos is so confident before God that he does not need to be timid before anyone else, even before the king. We have three examples set by Amos here in this passage. First, Amos is called by God and is obedient to that call. Second, he is honest and does not back down. And third, he confronts the powerful. How can we do the same? How can we recognize our call and be obedient to it? How can we be honest to ourselves and not back down? How can we confront the powerful leaders and ideologies that contradict the kingdom of God? We take it to the Lord in prayer. We ask for God’s help. We ask the Lord, “Grant us wisdom and grant us courage, lest we miss your kingdom’s goal. Grant us wisdom and courage to go against the status quo and be obedient first and foremost to you, not to the world. Help us in our confidence in our ability and most importantly in yours, to make a difference in the world through our actions. Help us to not be timid, but bold servants in your grace. Help us to give you all the glory so that others will be in awe of you, and come to your saving power. Amen.”
I have one final thought to share this morning. It comes from Valerie Woerner’s book on prayer. When writing about gaining confidence in prayer, she tells us, “Our prayer lives will grow in confidence if we are growing into digesting first milk and then the solid food of scripture” (41). The milk that we digest first is what others teach us about God. We need it to begin our relationship with God. But we cannot rely solely on it to survive. We need to extend beyond digesting just milk and start digesting food as well. If the milk is what others teach us about God, the solid food is what we teach ourselves about God. We cannot survive on just milk. The process of feeding ourselves helps us to gain confidence in prayer. We feed ourselves by praying, not just listening to others pray. We feed ourselves by reading scripture, not just listening to others read scripture. We grow in confidence when we directly engage to deepen our connection with God. I believe that the king that Amos talked to was always relying on prophets to tell him what God said. If a prophet said something he didn’t like, he threw that prophet out and went to a prophet who did say something to his liking – whether it was a false prophet or not. What the king really needed was a personal relationship with God himself. He only had the milk that others taught him about God. He did not have the food that he himself taught himself about God.
If we want to pray in the right mindset, and truly feel rewarded in prayer, we need to pray with confidence. And we pray in confidence by asking for God’s help in deepening that confidence. It will not come just by going to church and asking others what God said. It comes in seeking God yourself. It comes in talking with God yourself. It comes with knowing God and building a relationship with God. As we do so, we praise God and give God all the glory, with every bit of confidence we have gained. May the congregation pray, “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage! Grant us confidence. We need your help. We cannot survive this world on our own.” May all glory and honor be to God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
7:7 This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.
7:8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by;
7:9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
7:10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words.
7:11 For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'”
7:12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there;
7:13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
7:14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees,
7:15 and the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
7:16 “Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.”
7:17 Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'”
82:1 God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
82:2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
82:3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
82:4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
82:5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
82:6 I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you;
82:7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”
82:8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!
10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
10:26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
10:27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
10:28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
10:29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
10:30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
10:31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
10:32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
10:33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
10:34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
10:35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
10:37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”