On January 10, 2021, I was asked to deliver the sermon for the worship service at Grace United Methodist Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey.
Here is the worship service along with the written sermon (my reading notes) below that.
We all pray. Sometimes.
Everyone prays… Sometimes.
Name me a person who hasn’t prayed. You probably can’t.
“Dear God, let me pass this test.”
“Dear God, get out of this situation.”
“Dear God, let me strike this guy out… or let me get a hit… or let my team win…
Or let that girl go out with me…”
Or, “Just get me through this snowstorm safely…”
And, on and on, forever.
Sometimes we pray and say, “If you help me here, I’ll never ask for anything ever again.”
God knows we are lying when we say that.
Sometimes we pray and say, “If you make this happen, I’ll pray every day.”
Or “I’ll never do anything wrong again.”
Or, “And I’ll go to Church every single week, forever more.”
Until we don’t which will be the first time it rains or snows or it’s too nice outside or we’re too tired. In other words, the next Sunday.
Who of us hasn’t ever prayed and seen that what we asked for came true.
We won the game.
The girl said yes. You might have even married her.
You passed the test.
You survived the crisis of the moment.
And then we say, “God doesn’t hear our prayers.”
“He’s too busy to listen.”
“God doesn’t answer our prayers?”
Who among us hasn’t had a prayer answered?
We all have.
You did make it through the snowstorm. You asked. God delivered.
God does hear our prayers. He does listen. And he does act.
Do we ever say “Thank you?”
Somehow, when we do survive the storm, or pass the test, or whatever it was that we asked for, we attribute our success not to God, but to ourselves.
“How could she not go out with me?”
“I knew I was ready for that test.”
“I’m just a darn good driver.”
You know what? God has a lot of patience with all of us.
If you don’t think God forgives, write down all of the prayers of asking you make over a given time. See how many come true. And then ask yourself if that was God’s doing or your own.
I think you already know the answer.
We then move on forgetting our promises, the changes we swear we’d make, and we probably never even say thank you.
Here is a simple prayer we should all remember to say.
Always and often.
Thank you for all you have done for me, today, and always.
I know you love me.
And I love you.
Sometimes we go to church.
Sometimes the minister tells us that we should pray more often.
And sometimes we say, “I would if I could, but I can’t. Praying the way they want me to in church is too hard. I can’t pray the right way.”
We are lying to ourselves when we say this, for as I have demonstrated, we have all prayed, a lot. We do know how. But when it’s serious prayer, we feign ignorance.
“God, I’d pray more, but I just don’t know how.”
(It gets us off the hook.)
Or so we think.
Maybe once, a long time ago, back in a different time, more than 2,000 years ago, praying was hard. Maybe there were all sorts of rules and rituals and procedures and hand movements necessary to pray correctly.
But, if there were, if there was a time when prayer was difficult, that time is no longer. That time hasn’t been around in over two millennia.
Because Jesus taught us to pray.
He taught us how. And he proved that it is easy. And he proved that God listens.
And then he showed us how.
Jesus, the son of God, taught us how to pray to his father, to our Father. He taught us this in the Sermon on the Mount.
This is what Jesus said,
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen…
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
And then Jesus told us what to say.
It’s not difficult. At all.
Jesus gave us the owner’s manual for prayer.
Have you looked at an owner’s manual today? Have you ever tried to read one of those things?
Go in your car’s glove compartment and take out the owner’s manual. (You can’t. It’s too heavy.)
Do you have a cell phone? Of course you do. Did you ever try to read the manual that comes with that? (You can’t. The print is too small.)
Have you noticed that sometimes today you don’t even get a paper owner’s manual, but instead you get a DVD. That’s right, the company that made that product is saying, “We know you won’t read the thing, so let’s not waste your time or our paper.”
But God isn’t that complicated.
We know this because we pray.
We know this because he answers our prayers.
Still, knowing that we needed help with all of this, Jesus also taught us what to say.
And he was smart, and so was the church, because it’s a prayer we all know, and cherish, and say at least sometimes… at least when we’re told to.
We say it when we have to.
But here’s the thing.
Because God knows what is in our hearts and what it is we ask for, it’s the only prayer we need to say.
It really is.
It’s the prayer Jesus taught us.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,[j]
but deliver us from the evil one.[k]’
It’s about 60 words.
But by saying those words, by saying them and opening your heart, God hears you and listens to and blesses you. Always.
60 words to open your heart to God.
60 words. If you say one each second, the prayer will take you one full minute to say.
God already knows what’s in your heart. He already knows what you need.
Do you have the time to give God a minute?
He gives you every moment…
Can’t we give moments some back to him?
Praying is easy. When we pray, sincerely and from the heart, we find ourselves closer to God. Have you ever felt that connection? I’m sure have. If you haven’t, find a quiet place, alone, and open your heart to God.
He hears you.
He loves you.
He forgives you.
Even when you promise him everything you have and then you don’t deliver.
He just would also like you to pray to him and remind yourself of what it is to strive for a good life, to strive to be devout, to welcome him into your daily life.
Your name is hallowed.
This is your kingdom. I will follow your will on earth and in Heaven.
Thank you for providing for me (even though I want more).
Please forgive me – and I’ll forgive others.
Give me the strength to resist temptation and deliver me from those temptations when they come.
Because YOU are the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.”