Praying with Humility and Gratitude

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 23, 2022

Scriptures: Joel 2:23-32; Ps 65; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14

I have preached here before on the fact that our God answers our prayers. He tends to answer in one of the following ways:

1. Yes, that’s something I am happy to do for you right away.

2. No, I am omniscient and know that would not be good for you.

3. Not yet.

a. I am working out all the intervening variables;

b. Or, I am waiting on you to develop further.

He also likes for us to have an humble attitude toward Him when we pray. In our Gospel Lesson today, Luke 18:9-14, Jesus contrasts the opposite attitudes of the Pharisee and the publican/tax collector.

The Pharisee was a man at the top of the religious ladder of the day. Was he praying out loud or silently? If out loud, how arrogant of him! He appears to be talking to himself, about himself, rather than dialoguing with God. His prayer is a soliloquy, a speech made by himself to himself. Lord, I’m thankful that I am not like other men (v.11)…YIKES! There’s his first mistake. He should have said, “Thank You that You called me to be a Pharisee; I am so happy to serve You and Your people, Lord!” He might have added, “Thank You for keeping me from becoming a robber, an evildoer, an adulterer, or anyone who mistreats others. I know that there, but for the grace of God, go I.” And he would have been very Christ-like to have requested of God, “Lord, I ask you to bless this tax collector and bring him to repentance for any theft or fraud he has committed.” Instead, being very self-focused and lacking humility, he considers himself a cut above other sinners.

The Publican or tax collector, was considered a low-life in that culture (definitely a sinner!). Unlike the Pharisee, however, he seems to have been very well aware of his deficiencies/his sins. He knows that he has denied his nation (as a Roman collaborator); he knows he has alienated himself from his countrymen. The Romans let tax collectors set their own salary, which they did by demanding a certain percentage above what he was required to collect for them. So typically, tax collectors charged extra, taking care of themselves at the expense of their own fellow citizens. Additionally, they didn’t think they needed God or were too ashamed to approach the Lord (We’ve all known people who have said, “If I entered the church, the roof would fall in.)

But notice his prayer, and contrast it with that of the Pharisee: The tax collector admits he’s a sinner! He is humble and humiliated by his past, his present, his bad choices, his wrong actions. He is so aware of his deficiencies before God, he cannot even raise his eyes toward heaven. His prayer is one sentence (v.13): God have mercy on me, a sinner, or God be merciful to me a sinner. This is where we derive The Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is a famous old prayer uttered from foxholes, places of danger, and traumatic situations.

I once was visiting some friends when someone they knew asked me to minister to their adult daughter. She had been car-jacked at night, kidnapped, and pistol whipped by two men. She feared for her life, sure she would be raped and murdered. She was a believer and knew to pray “The Jesus Prayer” throughout her entire ordeal. The felons took her to a deserted area, blind-folded her, and told her to remove her clothing. She was sure this was the end for her. Suddenly, however, she heard the sounds of the two men running away. She suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress afterward but also knew that God had saved her in answer to her prayer. We believe the men must have seen a large angel behind her who frightened them away.

So what is the right heart attitude? From what attitude should our prayers arise? Not that of the Pharisee—arrogant, going on about how great we are, how much we’ve done for God, how much better we are than others. Rather, Jesus says the right heart attitude, especially when we pray, should be one of humility–and of gratitude. He says in verse 14–For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. We want to approach God humbly, acknowledging and confessing our sinfulness. And, we want to approach God with gratitude for His mercy and love:

Our other lessons today explain why we should pray to God with gratitude:

A. 800 years before Jesus, the prophet Joel warns the Southern Kingdom (Joel 2:23-32) that the Great Tribulation of God’s Judgment is coming. Actually—even now—we haven’t yet seen the End Times. The prophet assures the people that if they repent and turn back to the Lord, He will respond, take pity on them, and call off the conquering Babylonians.

He foretells that they will rejoice in the Lord because…

1.). He will bring life-giving rain (v.23);

2.) He will repay them (v.25) for the years the locusts [enemies; evil-doers] have eaten.

3.) He will provide them with plenty to eat (v. 26);

4.) He will “pour out His Spirit on all people (v.28), empowering them and us to accomplish miraculous things we could never produce in our own.

5.) Best of all (v.28), Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This prophesy predates the saving work of Jesus Christ, but it does infer that redemption is coming.

B. In a similar vein, Psalm 65 is called a “Restoration Psalm” and also prophesies what will occur at Christ’s 2nd Coming: King David wrote it in celebration of God’s goodness to him/us. He knew, historically and personally, that God saves His people from our enemies. He also experienced God’s forgiveness for his (and our) sins. Furthermore, God also draws us near to Him—He wants to be with us!

David recognized that God answers our prayers with what he called (v.5) —awesome deeds of righteousness, and addressed the Lord as, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas…. As a former Sociology major, I believe our younger American generations now—who do not know God—are suffering from what the French Father of Sociology, Emile Durkheim, called, anomie. This is a sense of purposelessness, of alienation. It occurs when people’s lives lack meaning, when they fail to see they have a reason for living. If unrelenting, it leads people to suicide and to other acts of desperation, like running people over in a parade, or shooting strangers in a grocery store. But for those of us who know and believe in God, we always have meaning and purpose in life (See Psalm 139), and, we are never alone!

Finally, David praises God for His loving provision for us.

C. 2 Timothy 4 constitutes Paul’s farewell address: He wants Timothy, his spiritual son, to know he has—(v.7)…fought the good fight, like a loyal soldier; I have finished the race, like an Olympic runner; and I have kept the faith—remember in our Gospel lesson of last week (Luke 18:8), Jesus wondered, When the Son of Man comes [when Jesus returns], will He find faith on the earth? Paul has kept the faith. He was, in fact, martyred for his faith. Paul is encouraging Timothy and us to keep our faith in Jesus, no matter what comes.

Why? Because death for us is not the final word/final chapter! It is a release:

1.) From the battles of life—or, “the rat race;” and

2.) From the frailty and failings of our mortal bodies. It is like a ship being untied from a wharf, freed to sail out to sea.

3.) And it is a release that frees us to accept our final reward, what Paul calls a crown of righteousness (v.8). It’s not a wreath of olive leaves, like the original Olympic winners got, or even a medal, like present day athletic stars. It is something Jesus, the Son of Righteousness, gives to each one of us who loves Him. Truthfully, I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I want it when my time comes. Death is not the end for those of us who love Jesus.

So why should we pray with gratitude in our hearts?

1.) Because our God is our creator, our provider, and our protector.

2.) Because He loves, forgives, and redeems us.

3.) Because He gives our lives meaning and purpose.

4.) Because He is present to us.

5.) Because He hears our prayers and responds to us

6.) And because He rewards us with a new and a better life—and some special reward–on the other side of death.

The next time you are feeling downhearted, discouraged, or alone, grab onto any one of those reasons to feel grateful to God. Remember, our God is for us, not against us. Thanks be to God!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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