01.22.2023 - Prayer that Moves Us - The Prayer for Mercy
Scripture: Psalm 27:1-9
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. 4 One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. 7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! 8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
The Prayer for Mercy
The Prayer for Mercy
If you knew you were about to utter your last prayer in this life, what would it be?
I had a friend who was driving once and nearly had a fatal accident. He hit a slick spot on the road, slid sideways a bit, and almost went down a ravine. He told me he came close to losing his life that day, and he said he also realized he had a problem. If he had died that day, his last words would have been pretty colorful language and not particularly God-honoring.
That was nearly 20 years ago, and I don’t think I will ever forget that story. It made me pause and realize that someday, I, too, will have my own last words. I will get just one chance at them, and I don’t know when they will be or who I will say them to. There will also be a moment when I have my last prayer to God before I meet Him face to face. So what will our final prayer be?
We shared some of our experiences with prayer among the staff this week, and I told them that most of the prayers I pray out loud are for the benefit of others. They usually are more prepared and therefore make more sense than the ramblings that go on inside my head that God gets to listen to. On my most stressful days, I find it helpful to say those nonsensical ramblings out loud to help me process what I’m thinking and feeling. Usually, after ten or twenty minutes, I calm down and have less to say. For me, it is almost as if the stuff I’m thinking and speaking are words that get in the way of what I want to pray. I have to go searching for those words, though.
I know God does not judge me for any of this. But, sometimes, I wonder if it is entertaining to Him. Sometimes I think He jumps in and helps me to find my words to pray back to Him, not because He needs those words, but often because I need to hear myself say them out loud. It helps keep me honest.
A few times, I thought I was praying my last prayer. The first time I remember getting food poisoning, I was a freshman in college. I had no parents to help me, my roommate was gone for the weekend, and I thought I was dying. So I got a bit of bread and a bit of grape juice from my mini-fridge and gave myself Tony’s version of the last rites. I was wrong, of course, and I felt much better after a good night’s sleep. While God did not take me home to heaven, away from that awful experience, He brought me healing and a new chance on a new day.
My prayer of salvation took several weeks for me to pray. The first part of that prayer was only one word: “Help!”. However, that one word was enough for God to begin pouring His Spirit into my life and drawing me into a saving relationship with Him. He didn’t need anything more in quantity or quality of words. One was enough.
God responds to humble prayers for help.
Asking for God’s Help
Asking for God’s Help
God knows we need His help and loves answering those prayers for help. That might be our favorite thing about Him. If people were to listen to us and not have the scripture or their own experience with God, they might get the wrong impression about God. Through the words we share, we often tell others that God is always with us and that He will never leave or forsake us. We can turn to Him whenever we have a need. We sometimes claim that this is the best thing about being a Christian. All of that is true. And, if we don’t share anything more, God sounds like the ultimate helicopter parent who never trusts their children to grow up.
There is the other extreme as well. Some proudly preach that God helps those who help themselves, which makes God appear as a miserly tyrant, waiting to see which of His servants will finally learn to live right enough to get a small promotion. That might be worse than portraying God as a helicopter parent, and it is the gospel according to someone’s culture, not the gospel according to Jesus or any of His disciples. We all need God’s help.
When we ask for and accept God’s help, we can then say with David,
“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?”
God helps us from our troubles and holds us in our strife. David knew both what it meant to have God rescue Him and what it meant to wait on God in the middle of his trials and tribulations, trusting that God would see Him through, even when David couldn’t see a way through himself. So, while it might make sense that our prayers for mercy eventually fade into prayers of trust, we never grow out of our need for God’s mercy. There will always be reasons that we need God’s help.
As we grow more like Jesus, learning to trust Him and love like him, our prayers for help will also change. As God shapes and empowers us and we find our place serving beside each other, we learn exactly where we need to ask for His help to see God’s vision come true in our lives. We learn to allow God to live with us.
So, what would you ask for in your last prayer to God?
Living with God
Living with God
Jesus asked for two things in His last prayer to God. First, he asked God to forgive us, and then He asked God to take Him home when He said, “Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46). Curiously, those final words of Jesus on the cross were not His own. Instead, Jesus chose, as His last prayer, to pray those words which were part of a prayer of David from Psalm 31:5.
In our Psalm today, David did not give us his last prayer. He gave us a summary of all his prayers. He wrote,
4 One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
Hebrew poetry doesn’t use rhythm and rhyme the way we do in English. Instead, it uses a much older technique: repetition. Sometimes the repetition occurs with exact phrases. Other times, like in verse 4, it repeats a concept and emphasizes a particular aspect. Here David said the one thing he wanted more than anything else was “to live in the house of the Lord.” What did David think that entailed? Beholding the beauty of the Lord and inquiring at His temple.
Those are David’s inspired thoughts, not the one prayer we are all supposed to pray. Yet there seems to be a connection between David’s prayer, desiring to move into God’s house, and Jesus asking God to take Him home. Jesus had to wait a bit longer before ascending to heaven. But David would have to wait as well. He offered to build God’s house, and God told him that his son Solomon would finally build it. David asked to dwell in God’s house, a place he never saw in his lifetime unless he was referring to the tabernacle, the great tent they moved from place to place to worship God under. No, I think David grew a realization that it was a good thing to invite God into his palace to live with him. But it was even better to leave the palace and go to live with God.
On the simplest level, this prayer for mercy moves us from God with us, which we hoped for in Advent and celebrate with Christmas, to us with God. God’s last act of mercy in this life will allow us to move in with Him for eternity.
Two attitudes can lead us into a prayer life that will draw us closer to God and keep us there. Both are simple yet challenging. The first is humility.
Humility is connected with living with God on nearly every page of scripture. Both the Old and New Testaments express that God lifts up the humble and puts down the proud. We see it in the Old Testament prophets, such as Micah 6:8, in the writings of Paul, such as 1 Corinthians 13, and the response of Mary to the Angel Gabriel, when she was told that she was called to bear the Messiah. It is everywhere.
It is also challenging to be humble all the time. In times of stress, we lose our humility (and sometimes our humanity) when we allow anger, grief, overexcitement, obsession, and many other feelings or temptations to overrun and overcome us. We all face Mondays. What do we do when we recognize we have lost our humility?
We can embrace the second attitude: Courage. If we cannot be humble, we can be brave enough to pray for God, in His mercy, to make us humble. I say this takes courage because if you have ever prayed for humility, you know it is a prayer God is often quick to answer, and we may not enjoy the experience He gives us to help us regain our humble perspective. It takes courage to recognize that there is a difference between feeling good and being good and that sometimes we are most cooperative with God and His work in our lives when we are not feeling our best. If we cannot find a way back to humility on our own, we can be brave enough to ask God to lead us there, and He will.
I think both of those attitudes are essential to a life with God. Can you imagine getting to heaven and dealing with people who have been there for centuries and acting like they own the place? Can you imagine living with them for eternity? Can you imagine what it would be like to become that kind of person? That would take the shine right off those golden streets rather quickly.
No, for heaven to be all that God promises it to be, we need to be the people He has created us to be, and that happens as we allow God to work in us, in part through our prayer life and the path is through courageous humility. As we walk that path from God with us to us with God, we will see and have the opportunity to express the fruit of gratitude all along the way. And one day, you too will find yourself praying these same prayers that David and Jesus prayed as you find a deeper yearning to leave everything else and be in God’s presence.
Sunday school starts in just a moment, and we invite you to come back at 6 pm for our evening worship.