When Jesus prayed

Luke 9:18-27

I want to know what it’s like to sit close to Jesus while he’s praying. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus prays often. In chapter 9, he “was praying alone, with only the disciples near him” (vs 18).

How long did Jesus pray? Did Jesus pray with his eyes closed or opened to heaven? Was his face to the ground as he prayed on bended knee? How loud did he pray? Did he mix it up?

We should find different ways to pray. Think of it as taking a different way home. When you change how you travel home, you notice other parts of your community. There are new homes, new places to see. Then there are the same old things you remember that you forgot.

However Jesus prayed that day, it got him ready. His praying feels different. “Thank you, God, for this day. Keep my family safe and bless us all today.” That’s a simple prayer. That’s an important prayer to us all.

I imagine Jesus prayed for his family and his disciples. But this scene tells me his praying went deeper than that, too. Luke doesn’t say Jesus finished praying. There’s no “Amen” and moving on to the task of the day. Instead, the text says when Jesus was praying he asked his disciples two questions. Does that mean the questions were a part of his praying? If so, Jesus included his followers in prayer.

He asked, “Who do people say that I am?” After hearing their response, he asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

Preachers love that passage. It gives us the chance to ask our congregations, “Who do you say Jesus is?” That is an important consideration, after all. But let’s look again at Jesus. Why did he want to know what people thought of him? What his disciples thought of him?

Read again what he says after that to appreciate everything Jesus has in his mind. My impression is this may be a moment Jesus is making sense of his ministry. He’s contemplating what it means for others to walk in his name. In order to do that faithfully, he needed prayer.

Our Lord knew prayer strengthened his communion with God. That allowed him to juggle the thoughts and wonderings of his life. I’m never quite sure how to explain how prayer works. I’m not sure it’s good to say it does. But I do know it was a part of the life and faith of Jesus. And if our Lord needed prayer and worshiped God through prayer, then I need it, too.

Stay blessed…john

Night and day

Luke 2:25-38
We typically read the account of Simeon and the prophet Anna together. They both are a part of the scene when Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple. What was a customary visit for the young family, turned to a moment of praise and worship for many others.

Luke tells us the Spirit guided Simeon to where the parents were (Luke 2:27). People often ask what it means to hear from God. This is a perfect illustration to consider. How was Simeon guided? Was it a voice? A feeling? Were there step-by-step directions? I consider myself someone who has never heard God’s voice but has heard the voice of God. Or maybe I’ve never heard the voice of God, but I know I’ve heard God’s voice.

Either way, there was something about that moment that guided Simeon to meet Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

Let’s also consider Anna. We know a few things about her that set up her appearance. At the time, she was an eighty-four-year-old widow. She never left the temple. Fasting and prayer marked her life. 

Simeon and Anna recognized the birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s redemption promise. Both represent faithfulness in different ways. Each praised God in response to meeting Jesus. Their witness reminded me today of two ways God leads us. 

I assume whatever guidance the Spirit gave Simeon was a bit sudden. The devout man responded in that moment to the Spirit’s nudging. Now, Luke doesn’t tell us the Spirit guided Anna to meet the family. But that doesn’t mean she was any less guided by the Spirit. 

After all, remember what we know about her. She filled her life with worship. And let’s be clear. Worship for Anna was not music or liturgy or special occasions. Luke describes her worship as “fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37). 

There are sudden moments God gets our attention. What our next step is becomes clear in an instant. Praise God when that happens. Most times, though, our experience is more akin to Anna’s. There may be fewer sudden flashes of clarity. She has learned to follow God with each breath and live in constant communion with God.

So, the question for us is, How do we become more aware of God’s presence around us? How do we recognize Christ among us? It isn’t by accident. 

Worship recenters our selfish attention. Understanding prayer and fasting better also prepares us. Prayer is not a mere communication tool. It is worship. Fasting isn’t a way to tell God you really want something. It is worship. 

The more willing we are to worship night and day, the better we get at following the Spirit’s lead. 

Stay blessed…john

Heavy metal Jesus

Acts 9:32-35
I met two young men yesterday with a unique ministry.

They lead worship for and preach, primarily, to young people. That’s not the unique part. Their ministry is heavy metal music. When they’re not playing for music festivals or recording albums, they host a worship service here in Corpus Christi. I’ve tried to go several times. We’ve wanted to take our youth group, too. It hasn’t worked out yet.

And though I haven’t been, I know one thing for sure. It gets loud. Ear plugs are a must!

What I appreciate most about their ministry is their focus on teaching others to worship God. The mostly young people they see in their services don’t always fit in most other church corners. In fact, that’s part of the worship leaders’ testimony. Their musical interests and visible tattoos were too much for their home churches. It’s not that there wasn’t room for them there. No, many in the church pushed them out of the little bit they had.

This is a sad, common story. I’m sure you’ve heard others like it.

What should we learn from these experiences? Well, I’ve learned we’ve got a lot to learn.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain about the faith of young people. As if they’re supposed to have it all figured out. Instead of encouraging their walk with God, we complain how much it doesn’t look like ours. And look where that’s gotten us today. In my conversations with people, I’ve heard that people haven’t given up on believing in God. They’ve given up on the church.

The church has been a place of contempt and bitterness for them. People have told me that’s just the way church is. We just need to learn to live with it. I say that’s a lie from the enemy.

Part of our growing and maturing faith is letting go of our need for control and selfishness. It also means we become examples of true faithfulness. We have no business discouraging the faith of others. But here’s the reality. If we are open to welcoming others, people come. People who may find heavy metal worship meaningful. People who might need to express their trust and love for God in different ways than you.

Can you handle that?

As Peter went from place to place to encourage the saints of God, the church grew. The church’s growth, both spiritual and numerical, is a precursor for Peter’s own evolution. He will come to recognize the room God makes for all people. He does so after the Lord teaches him.

Now, does all this mean heavy metal belongs in your worship gathering? Maybe not. But we should give people room to grow and to explore their sense of calling. Who cares if it doesn’t quite look like ours!

The guys I met told me about one of their regular worshippers. She is in her eighties. Her walk is slow and she doesn’t quite sing along with the loud group. But she is there with ear plugs in. If she isn’t there to sing, what do you think she is doing? What kind of faith compels her to show up? And what kind of compassion do you think she has for all those screaming-heavy-metal-Jesus-loving young people?

Stay blessed…john