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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
Pushy in Prayer

Pentecost 8     Luke 11:1-13  (also for Pentecost 20, Luke 18:1-8)

This past week, I have been thinking about the words, bugging and bothering. I have been thinking about those situations in which someone is bugging and bothering me; they are being pushy and persistent. Those people have crossed that fine line so I am feeling their pushiness and persistence 

For example, the other day down at Salt Water Park, I ran into Spence Braden, a single father, and his little red haired, browned eyes, five year old son by the name of Christopher. Young Chris had found portions of sea shells, and this little five year old boy was bugging me to identify the shells: the little necks, the butter clams, the horse clams. Little Chris was persistent; he was pleasantly bothersome as he repeatedly bugged me again and again to identify those sea shells.

That’s the way five year old children are. They bug you. They bother you. They are pushy. They are persistent. They are bugging and bothersome as they push for a new “game boy” or a new scooter. A few years ago, they were bugging and bothering for Nintentos and Ataris. I remember years ago how our children bugged us for new bicycles.

I have also discovered that spouses can be bug and bother with the best of them. In my marriage relationship, my wife bugs me no end about fixing the dripping faucet, taking the garbage out, or getting rid of the barrels of leaves. The nature of our marriage relationship is that we bug and bother each other about all sorts of things.

Through the years, I have discovered that you bug and bother people who are closest to you. You don’t bother and bug family who are not close; you don’t be persistent and pushy with neighbors who are not close friends. It is only people who are the closest to you that would tolerate you being so pushy and persistent.

We find this same attitude in the Old Testament lesson for today. Father Abraham was a close friend of God and walk with God daily, and out of that closeness, felt free to bug God at certain times. In the story for today, Abraham says to God: If you find fifty righteous people in that wicked and immoral city, Sodom and Gomorrah, you won’t destroy it, will you, God? God said, “No, if I find fifty righteous people in the city, I will not destroy it.” “How about forty righteous people?” “No, I will not destroy it.” “How about thirty righteous people? Twenty? Ten?” This class story reveals Abraham’s closeness to God and in those closeness, how Abraham felt the freedom to bug God.

It is with these stories that we approach the Gospel lesson for today about the persistent friend at midnight in Luke, chapter eleven. But is it not only this story but the parable from Luke 18, about the widow whining night and day at the judge, that illustrates the theme for today. Both of these classic parables of Jesus illustrate that we are to bug and bother God, that we are to be pushy and persistent with God in our prayer life. I would like to retell both stories. As we have said before, Jesus does not quote the philosophers of his day or the erudite rabbis of his era. Rather, Jesus always finds moral and spiritual truth in everyday experiences. And again, we discover Jesus telling parables about everyday happenings.

The first parable is this: It was about midnight and a friend unexpectedly showed up to stay for the night. The friend had been perhaps walking from sundown until midnight in order to avoid the hot dessert midday sun, and so the friend shows up at midnight. The owner of the house does not have any bread or wine to give his guest, and so the owner of the house goes to his next door neighbor and knocks of the door loudly. (Knock loudly on the pulpit or communion table.) He is persistent in his knocking until a sleepy voice is heard, “I’m asleep, and so are my kids and the donkeys and goats and chickens, and you are going to wake everybody up.” Being a good, good friend and neighbor, the owner of the first house is persistent in his knocking until he wakes up his neighbor, his kids, his animals, and his whole household.” Jesus then commented, “The neighbor will give the wine and the bread, not because they are friends, but because of the friends’ persistence.” And so also with you and me in our prayer life, we are to be persistent and pushy, bugging and bothering God with our requests. Jesus then continues with a very famous saying, and “so I say to you. Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be open to you.”  Asking, seeking and knocking are examples of being persistent and pushy.

Now, the second parable is like the first. Again, Jesus finds his parables of spiritual truth in everyday circumstances. Before this parable, the Bible says, “We are always to pray and not lose heart.” Jesus then tells this parable. There was a whining widow, with her shrillness of voice, who persistently found the judge standing on at a busy corner of the main gate to the city, and she persistently whined to the judge to support her in his case against her accuser. She leaned on the judge night and day, until he finally relented and agreed to support her position.” And Jesus said, “And so it is with us in prayer. We are to cry out to God night and day, with our petitions.” In other words, the widow was bugging and bothersome, pushy and persistent, and that is the way we are to be in our prayer life. We are not to be reasonable and rational and proper in our request, but we are to go over that fine line into being pushy and persistent.

American Christians don’t pray like this at all. American Christians knock on God’s door once a day (knock once on wood pulpit or communion table) whereas Jesus taught that we to knock often and long. There is an enormous contrast being the teachings of Jesus about prayer (knock, knock, knock, knock, knock) and the prayer life of American Christians (knock). I would like to give you four reasons that American Christians don’t pray much.

First, American Christians are very busy. The richer a culture is, the less time it has for prayer because money and wealth gives one so many opportunities to be busy. Through research, we discover that the average American Christian prays four minutes a day and the average American pastor prays seven minutes a day. We are so busy, we just don’t have time to pray. I recall the book about preaching by Dr. Arndt Halvorson in which he said that the first thing to go in the life of a busy pastor is his or her prayer life. That same principle is true for all American Christians. In the life of a busy American Christian, the first thing to be let go of is one’s prayer life. Could I see a show of hands? How many of you are busy people? 99% and the other 1% are lying. We are all busy people, and the first thing to go in the life of busy people is our prayer life. … Someone has suggested that if we only had 25% more time, we would pray more. I think that is true: our prayer life would increase 25% to five minutes from four minutes for the average lay person; to nine minutes from seven minutes for the average pastor. Why don’t American Christians pray very much? Because we are inordinately busy.

A second reason that American Christians don’t pray very much (e.g. four minutes a day) is that we don’t believe prayer does that much good. For many Americans, prayer is essentially talking to yourself; prayer is positive pep talk; prayer is psychological motivation to be a better person. … In the mid eighteen hundreds, in Great Briton, there was an organization of Religion and Science that studied the efficacy of prayer. The first study was to study the effects of prayer on the royal family because no one in England was prayed for more than the royal family. The Scientific Institute concluded that the royal family was just as screwed up as anyone else, and all the prayers in England did not help the royal family. A second study became a classic which has been repeated often through the decades. There were two hospital wings: wing A and wing B. People in neighboring churches prayed intensely for all the sick in wing A; they didn’t pray for anyone in wing B. Sure enough, the healing rate in both hospital wings were about the same. Prayer did not help people medically in wing A.  … In other words, prayer is about as effective as star gazing. It is beneficial to gaze at the stars; it is a lovely and beautiful experience, but star gazing doesn’t change the stars. Likewise, prayer is like star gazing. It is lovely and beautiful but it does not change the mind of God. And so many American Christians don’t pray much because they don’t think it does any good.

A third reason that American Christians don’t pray very much (four minutes a day) is that American Christians often believe that a good God should protect them from the disasters of life, from cancer, car accidents and coronaries. When God doesn’t protect their friends and family from cancer, car accidents and coronaries, then there must not be a God. Following this logic, the Apostle Paul should have been protected from his epileptic seizures. Three times Paul asked God to remove his epileptic pain, and God didn’t protect him. God should have protected Job from the disasters of life. God should have protected the righteous man, Job, from the loss of his wife, children, healthy body, wealth and riches. When God didn’t’ protect Job from personal and economic disaster, that proves that prayer doesn’t really do any good. God should have protected Mother Mary from the loss of her son on Good Friday. She was at the foot of that cross, most like praying that God would prevent his disaster from happening. And when God didn’t prevent the disaster from happening, that proves that prayer doesn’t do any good. And so American Christians often don’t pray very much because we intuitively believe that God should protect us from the disasters of life; that God should prevent the disasters of life from happening to us and our loved ones.

A fourth reason that American Christians don’t pray very much is that we don’t walk closely with God. To have any close relationship, you need to talk often and deeply. You can’t have a close relationship with anyone without persistent intimate conversation. That is just the way it is with marriage, family, friendship, and God. Four minutes a day is not much intimate conversation with God.

And so if you add it all up, if you add up all these reasons and more, American Christians ultimately conclude that prayer doesn’t work, that it is like star gazing, that it doesn’t change the nature of things. And so our society concludes that prayer doesn’t work. Our society, that is addicted to sex and violence, that our televisions are filled with so much sex and violence that we have actually become numb to it. Our society,  that is filled with broken down marriages and broken down families. Our society, that has the highest rate of people in prison in the industrial world. Our society, that has twenty percent of our children living in poverty.  Our society, that has the largest economic difference between the rich and the poor. Our society, that is known world wide for our moral decadence and spiritual poverty. Our society then concludes that prayer doesn’t’ work. … It is similar to finding a drunk on the street and in the midst of his drunkenness to ask him, “Does alcoholic treatment work?” and he replies, “O no. Not at all.” And so it is with asking American Christian who pray four minutes a day, “Does prayer work?” And the American Christian replies, “Well, I don’t think so.” Whereas, if you ask Christians in South America, Asia and Africa about the effectiveness of prayer, they answer, “O yes. Prayer works enormously well.” You don’t ask for a drunk for advice about drinking and you don’t ask American Christians for advice about prayer.

Jesus was not at all like this. Prayer was enormously vital to him. I would like to share with you four Biblical facts about prayer.

First, Jesus was a man of prayer. All through his life, we learn that Jesus was vital in his prayer life. In the gospel lesson for today, we notice that the disciples, after they saw that Jesus had finished praying, they approached him and asked Jesus to teach them to pray. They physically observed Jesus praying; they saw and experienced him praying. … Jesus prayed ritually and his ritual prayers were real and authentic. That is, he prayed first thing in the morning to thank God for the night. Do you? He prayed at noon time, to thank God for the day. Do you? He prayed to God before he fell asleep, thanking God for the day and asking God to keep him through the night. Do you? He also prayed at very meal, before breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Jesus knew that all food for his body was a gift from God, and so he thanked God at every meal. Do you?  Jesus’ rituals for prayer were real and authentic for him. … Jesus also prayed at all the disaster times of life such as at the temptation by the devil in the wilderness or in the garden of Gethsemane or on the cross itself and in the midst of all of its pain. Jesus also prayed at the blessed times of life such as the wedding Cana or his miracles and healings. During good times and bad times and at all times, Jesus was a man of devout prayer, and seeing that Jesus was a man of devout prayer, his disciples asked him to teach them to pray.

A second Scriptural fact is that Jesus wanted his disciples to be people of prayer. The first quality that his disciples asked for was to learn how to pray. Before they asked for the power to preach. Before they asked for the power to do miracles and healings. Before anything else, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and Jesus’ disciples have been asking that same question through the centuries: Jesus, teach us to pray. … Church history shows that disciples pray fervently and faithfully. Mother Teresa is the greatest Christian of our century and before and after she received the Nobel Price, she began her day at 4:00 AM with prayer. The same is true of Martin Luther who wrote numerous volumes of religious books and was the Father of the Reformation. Before he was famous and after he was famous, he was up each day at 4:00 AM to pray. And so it is with our current Pope Paul. If you read books about his life, you learn about his devout prayer. I am not suggesting that any of us are getting up at 4:00 AM to pray, but that their prayer lives are signs to us of their deepest of faith and devotion that we imitate in our own lives. It is a Biblical fact: Jesus wanted his disciples to be people of devout prayer.

A third Biblical fact is this: Christians are to be bugging and bothersome, persistent and pushy in our prayer life. We find this theme often. From the book of Romans: be constant in prayer. From Ephesians, pray at all times. From Colossians: be steadfast in prayer. From Thessalonians: pray constantly. We hear it from the parable in Luke 18. Pray always and do not lose heart. We are to cry night and day like a whining widow pleading her case. We hear it in the Gospel lesson for today from Luke 11: the neighbor, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking, so persistent, so pushy. And so it is with our prayer life. … In the story for today, we hear three teachings of Christ which are an illustration of the parable: “Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.” This teaching is connected to the parable about persistence (both the parable and the teaching use the word, knock) and it is not to be taken literally. We are to ask, seek and knock and these teachings are samples of persistence. Taken literally, asking, seeking and knocking indicate that the prayer will be answered positively for you. This is not what it means. I remember intensely praying that Pat Dale would get over her brain tumor but after years of medical treatments and prayers, she died. I remember praying intensely for Ray Osterloh, but after years of medical treatments and prayers, he died. The same for the Skelly baby. For so many others. These teachings of Jesus are not to be taken literally but are examples that we Christians are to be persistent in our knocking on God’s door and persistent in our prayer.

A fourth Biblical fact is that God answers prayers. Christians have always kept track of who and want they have prayed for and are often amazed at how faithfully God has answered our prayers, but not always in ways that we had asked. … Last year, when I was sick and almost died, many of you prayed deeply for my health and my family and those prayers made a difference. Eventually, I get better. My neighbor, Nancy Kennedy, has a mother from Pasco, Washington, and I was on the list of her mother’s prayer group. One day, after I was better, I was out on our deck and my neighbor’s mother from Pasco was visiting. Her mother shouted from her deck to mine: “Is that you Pastor Markquart? Are you better?” “Yes, I shouted back.” “Good,” she replied. “We will cross you off our prayer list.” I am sure a line was drawn through my name and the word, “answered” was written. My wife is the same. She has a long list of people and prayers through the years and she is constantly amazed at how many prayers are answered in ways that pleases her, but in God’s good time. … The most important prayer request is that God would give us his Holy Spirit, so that we begin to pray in the Spirit and not pray in the flesh. The resource and energy behind all prayer is the Holy Spirit living within, and so we Christians ask for the Holy Spirit to be given to us. You will notice this in the last sentence of the Gospel lesson for today,  “And God gives us the Holy Spirit.” The indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit in us is what enables us to pray spiritually so that our prayers are not merely mental exercises.

So these are the four Biblical facts about prayer: Jesus was a person of devout prayer; Jesus wanted his disciples to be people of devout prayer; we are to pray with perseverance and persistence, with bugging and bothersome qualities; and pray is effective and changes not only us but the heart and mind of God.

The last point is brief. I would like to tell you about my own prayer life. I really don’t like to tell you these things. Like a lot of things in life, one is private about these matters. But like stewardship and tithing, I need to talk openly about my giving patterns. So also, I need to talk opening about prayer and the patterns of my prayer life. Like all disciples, I ask Jesus to teach me about prayer. I have not been a very good prayer, and so I have asked Jesus on a number of occasions to help me in my prayer life. Those prayers have been answered over time and my prayer life has developed. Every person of prayer is unique, and there is a particular individuality to my prayer life as well. Yes, the rituals of prayer are important to me. First thing in the morning, at noon, and the last thing at night. Prayer of thanksgiving at all meals is important. These rituals are real and important. But also, there are other prayers. This is what happens first thing in the morning: I pray m mother’s morning prayer that many of you know. I then pray three Scripture passages: Psalm 23 with the Lord is MY shepherd, holding the fourth finger of the left hand. I also pray Psalm 139 and I Corinthians 13.  I then pray for my family: my wife, Jan; her parents, my parents, my siblings and their spouses. I then pray for my children, from the oldest to the youngest, and their spouses. I pray for myself as part of my family. I then pray for my friends and in that sequence, I name personally twenty five men friends. Then the Lord’s Prayer. I like to pray when alone in the car. I like to pray when walking alone. It is harder to pray with people around in those situations.  I have discovered that I have a long time spiritual disease: I have spiritual attention, deficit disorder. That is, I am spiritually flighty, and as I pray, my mind will fly in its flightiness. Again and again, I will start the 23rd psalm or Psalm 139 because I get four phrases into it, and my spiritual flightiness takes over. Like last week on the sermon about listening, a person gradually learns to listen and a person gradually learns to pray in the Spirit where the Spirit of God pulls my Spirit into the spirit of prayer. Through the years, I have learned to pray with people on the telephone and now leave many prayers on member’s answering machines and they tell me they save those prayers. I also pray for people in the prayers of the church. Of course, during the day, I will be thinking and praying for a friend in their need and myself in my need. What I am suggesting to you is that I have asked Jesus often to teach me to pray and Jesus has been forever teaching me.

Yes, that is what happened in the Gospel story for today. The disciples saw Jesus finish his prayers and they went us to him to ask him to teach them to pray. I am sure that is one of the reasons that you are in church today. You too have asked Jesus to teach you to pray and that prayer has been answered and is continually be answered. Amen.

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