Psalm 70, 71; Ezra 7:1-26; Rev. 14:1-13; Matt. 14:1-12
‘Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me.’ I’ve led a pretty charmed life, on the whole. Oh, there have been pains and sorrows and I’ve been caught utterly off-guard by things that fell apart in front of my eyes. I’ve had loss and shed plenty of tears, but on the whole, a charmed life. Mostly healthy most of the time, never worried about my next meal, never felt unsafe except when I’d chosen to put myself in an unsafe place. And yet, things haven’t always worked out as anticipated. Middle of a major health crisis right now, and it came out of nowhere, and yes, I’m mostly doing well if constantly groggy, thanks, but it’s scary and I hurt at least a little bit 24/7.
Where does one turn in such moments? Well, to prayer, at least for me. I put my faith in science and do all I should and can according to the best advice I can get. I put my faith in a positive attitude and a get-‘er-done bullheadedness–something gets done every day, no matter how sick and tired I might be. Something. I put my faith in my family’s support and my friends’ prayers. But mostly, I turn to God in prayer. Because for me, the connection matters. Now, here’s the important part: that prayer doesn’t start when I’m sick and tired. I’m no prayer warrior: I struggle with my prayer life. Partially, that’s why I’m ordained: the rules of my order mandate daily prayer. I’m better at following rules than I am at self-motivating to do the right thing, and thanks so much, Book of Common Prayer, for shoehorning me into morning and evening prayer! But haltingly and stumblingly, I pray daily. For me and mine, of course. For you: the mailing list at Grace Church, and a lengthy list of personal contacts, gets named out loud once a month, and not just with a name: with a reason to be thankful, or to ask for something specific, for each name on the list. For the church, the world, peace, patience, the grace to forgive, the grace to ask for forgiveness, for the strength to make it through the day and to wake up to another, for courage to see opportunities to serve and wisdom to pursue them prudently and effectively. For silly things: I’ve been know to give thanks for eggplant, just because I love the color. And serious ones: our poor nation and its conflicted battered raw-anger-bellowing inability to talk nice with one another in the pursuit of the greater good.
And that daily prayer is what gives me the chutzpah to pray, in a pinch, for God to deliver me from the momentary passing affliction and plight that I face. Oh, I don’t demand: God’s plans are bigger than me, and I trust that His purposes will work out for good to them that love Him (which is another thing I pray for, that I might truly love Him and not just love the notion of Him). I know that I’m a minor cog in a very grand scheme indeed. But I do ask for what I want, as well as for the grace to accept that what I get is what was best for me all along. And I say this today because often, people tell me they don’t pray for themselves. ‘I’m not worthy to ask for myself, pastor.’ But that, friends, isn’t biblical. Today’s psalm: ‘Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me.’ It’s not just acceptable to ask on our own behalf (‘give us this day our daily bread’), it’s positively encouraged. What we’re not supposed to do is demand. We ask, and we accept. Because we know that a loving God will give us what’s best for us, even if it’s not what we asked for in the first place.
Don’t start praying when you need something for you: get in some practice first, praying for others, praying with gratitude to God for the immensity of your blessings and challenges. But also, don’t stop praying when your own needs, wants and concerns are next on the list. Because honestly, He’s pleased to deliver us. Just not, always, exactly how we’d like…