"O God, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good
things as pass man's understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward
thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which
exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord" (the
Collect for the Day).
Many people treat prayer as if it were a religious version of the game
show Let's Make a Deal. The one who prays takes the role of the contestant,
and God is assigned the part of Monty Hall, the likable but tricky host.
The person praying bargains with God for a series of prizes, but there
is always the danger of a "zonk"óof going one deal too far, only to give
up all that has been won for a booby prize like a lifetime supply of thumbtacks.
Of course, if what one really needs is thumbtacks, then a lifetime supply
of them isnít really a bad thing. Thatís why the idea of prayer as a "game"
finally breaks down. In a game, neither the contestant nor the game-show
host actually knows what any particular person really needs to live, including
God, on the other hand, is all-powerful and completely self-sufficient.
He doesnít need anything from anyone, and so he canít be bargained with.
He can do anything that he wills, so that no one can force him to do something
else. And since he is also all-knowing, God actually does know what every
one of his creatures needs to live, including the men and the women that
he has created in his own image and likeness. He not only knows what they
need, but he is perfectly able and perfectly willing to give them exactly
Someone might ask, then, So why bother to pray? If prayer does not change
God, whatís the purpose? What such questions fail to take into consideration
is that praying to God changes us. As we tell God our troubles, our dreams,
our hopes, and our fears, his grace directs us to understanding (or at
least accepting) his will, so that very often we will discover that what
we are getting already is exactly what we need, and not a "zonk" or a "booby
prize" at all. Sometimes, too, when we pray, Godís grace in answering us
redirects our lives to the time, to the place, or to the entire way of
life that will make us ready to receive all the good things that our Father
in heaven has willed for us from before the creation of the world.
Prayer really isnít about "getting things," but about talking to the
God who made us and who loves us. Our faith (which itself comes from Godís
grace) draws us nearer to God, and into a deeper and deeper trust in his
complete and utter goodness. We call God "our Father," as our Lord Jesus
Christ taught us to do as his Eternal Fatherís adopted children. We open
our hearts with the help of God the Holy Ghost, and the purer our hearts
become through our fellowship with the Holy Ghost, the more we speak in
a single, united voice with God the Son and God the Holy Ghost to our Father
Our fallenness and the fallenness of the world around us make it difficult
to be so open, so pure, and so trusting. For us, prayer is often a tedious
struggle and a job of hard work, even as prayer is pure joy and the greatest
pleasure of all for the unfallen angels and the redeemed saints who gather
around our crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord in light. And yet,
the more we pray, crucifying the vanities of this world for the sake of
speaking love to our Father in heaven, the closer we come to our own resurrection
and to our own ascension into that light which is the glory of the Lord
St. Paul asks us in this morningís Epistle, "Know ye not, that so many
of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?"
(Romans 6:3). He wants us to know, we need to know, that a new life in
Jesus Christ cannot be merely "tacked on" to the fallen life of this world.
A "new life" is a "different life" altogether, so that we must die to the
old life before we can begin the new in the power of Godís grace. Just
as Jesus Christ departed this life for the life of the resurrection by
dying on the cross for us, we die for Jesus Christ by bearing the cross
that will lift us out of this worldís fallenness to join Jesus Christ in
And so, we pray with Jesus Christ to the Father "Thy will be done,"
trusting in the absolute goodness and perfection of that will. We pray
to glorify the Father, and to embrace the grace that we need to live for
the sake of the Fatherís glory and our own salvation. We glorify God by
confessing our sins, admitting that his will is greater and better than
our own, and that we do evil when we oppose his will. We ask the Father
to give us the life that he has chosen for us, and the grace to live it
well, submitting to the truth that his choosing will always be better than
Of course, we can always tell the Father what we think we are and what
we think we need, and he will always listen to us in love, because it is
our ongoing conversation with him that builds us up into the perfect life
that he has willed to give to each of us in particular, eternally. But
we must never think that Godís listening to every word of our prayers can
be turned into some sort of comparative test of the strength of our will
against his will. God has described the true case of our prayers through
the Prophet Isaiah, as we hear in this morningís Old Testament Lesson:
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose
name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is
of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and
to revive the heart of the contrite ones (Isaiah 57:15).
There is no way to reach that high and holy place where God is, except
by contrition and humility. When we have confessed our sins and humbled
ourselves before God, in our prayers and in our living, God lifts us up
to himself. He revives our hearts so that even if we are sometimes afraid
and perplexed in this world, in him we have the sure confidence that we
can never die because he has made us to love us, to preserve us, and to
keep us forever.
We do not even need to know what or how to pray. God has already made
the beginning of prayer for us. As he told Isaiah, "I create the fruit
of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near,
saith the LORD; and I will heal him" (Isaiah 57:19). Our Father, through
his Living Word our Lord Jesus Christ and through the inspiration of the
Holy Ghost, has taught us how to pray, and he has given us the sure knowledge
that when we pray he will give us peace and heal us at the last.
When we hold our Bibles and our Prayer Books in our hands, we are holding
a gift of prayer. We are holding the summary of the words of prayer that
God has given us over almost four thousand years, since the day that he
first called the Patriarch Abraham into the intimacy of prayer and eternal
life. All we need to do is to open these book and to begin on any page,
and we are at once praying with the Incarnate Son of God and with two hundred
generations of saints.
Our beginning with these ancient words of prayer will train our hearts,
our minds, and our souls to pray in words of their own, adding glory upon
glory in praise of Almighty God. And the more that we pray, the more we
will see that God has prepared for us such good things as pass any mortal
manís understanding. The more that we pray, the more Godís grace will open
our hearts to be flooded with his love, so that we will love him above
all things and trust in him alone. And the more that we pray, love, and
trust, the more God will prove by the excellence of his promises and by
the perfection of their keeping that nothing we can desire is as great
as what he has done for us and is doing in his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
All we can add is our "Amen," the Hebrew word that means "Let this be so."
Let it be so that Godís will is our prayers and that Godís will is their
answer, and we will pray aright, and we will be blessed indeed.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.