Praying Disciples: Growing in Faith Through Prayer and Perseverance
Topic: Biblical Verse: Philippians 4:1
Second Sunday in Lent
"Praying Disciples: Growing in Faith Through Prayer and Perseverance"
It's week 2 in our Lenten journey as we focus on "Praying Disciples: Growing in Faith Through Spiritual Disciplines." We're examining different spiritual disciplines that can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, help us to grow as Christ's disciples. We have looked at an introduction to spiritual disciplines in general, as well as prayer and fasting, and prayer and self-denial. Today we'll look at prayer and perseverance - that is, not giving up, remaining steadfast, being persistent as a disciple of the Lord Jesus. Sermon notes are found in the back of today's worship bulletin for you to follow along. May God's rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus' sake.
Paul the apostle encourages us in that closing verse from the second reading to "stand firm in the Lord in this way" (Philippians 4:1). The truth is that we are often tempted to stand down rather than stand firm in the faith. We may be ready to compromise in many areas of life, and at times this is needed. When it comes to our faith, are we also willing to give in and compromise? We need help to stand firm, to persevere, in our faith. We need help most of all from the Lord, who urgently invites us to seek his face in prayer, casting all our anxiety upon him, asking for his strength to persevere. Lent is a call to stand firm in the faith. Today's Scripture lessons tell of individuals who did persevere: Abram (Genesis 15:102, 17-18), David (Psalm 27), Paul (Philippians 3:17-4:1), and the Lord Jesus (Luke 13:31-35). Abram (or Abraham) was called to leave his comfortable, familiar life behind and follow God to a new land and a new home. God's covenant with him was that Abram would become the father of many nations. Even when he didn't see proof of this promise, he stood firm in trusting that God would be true to his word. David, the author of today's psalm, likewise stood firm in his trust of God, even when things seemed to be falling apart in his own life. Paul the apostle remained steadfast to the mission that Jesus gave him to proclaim the Gospel to the nations, even in the midst of persecution. And the Lord Jesus himself, in today's Gospel lesson, is warned about a death threat against him, but He stands firm. In fact, Jesus' concern is not for his own security, but for the people of Jerusalem who refuse him. Fast forward several thousand years to today. Just like Abram, David, Paul, and the Lord Jesus, we're also called to persevere - to stand firm in faith. The resources to persevere and stand firm are right here: God's own strength and power that come to us in Word and Sacrament. That's why it's vitally important for us to come together for worship and Bible study - that's where the strength and power are, not in us but in God who comes to us through his saving Word, through holy Baptism, through the Lord's Supper. Persevering in faith - standing firm - calls for us to see ourselves not as members, but disciples. It's more than having our name on the church roster; it's seeing ourselves as students and pupils of Jesus Christ, and following him, serving others in Jesus' name, just as Christ came not to be served but to serve and to offer his life as a ransom for us all (Mark 10:45).
So, what gets in the way of standing firm as disciples of the Lord Jesus? Lots of things, but at the top of the list is fear. This isn't new to us. What did God say to Abram at the start of today's first reading: "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield" (Genesis 15:1). So, Abram knew fear in following God. David reassures himself: "The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom then shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1). When the Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him, they were expecting that Jesus' reaction would be fear. In our own lives, we may be fearful of letting go and allowing God to rule our lives. We may be afraid of what others may think of us if our faith shows too much. Complacency and status quo can get in the way of standing firm. There's a song called "Brave," by Nichole Nordeman that I want to share with you. It's a song that speaks to our fear about standing firm (play song). Today's psalm tells us: "You speak in my heart and say, 'Seek my face.' Your face, Lord, will I seek" (Psalm 27:11). Together, let us seek the Lord's face.
Even when we are seeking the Lord's face, we won't always stand firm. We are prone to fall away and seek other faces. What happens when we try to persevere, but don't? What happens when we stand down instead of standing firm? Let me ask another question: can we think of God as a chicken? Lots of images come to mind when we think of God, but a chicken usually isn't one of them. But that is the image which Jesus puts forth in today's Gospel lesson. Jesus wants to gather his people together like a mother hen gathers her chicks under the protection of her wings. There is safety and security there. There is love there. Nowhere is that love more real than when Jesus gave his life for us - for all the times when we don't persevere, for all the times when we don't stand firm, for all the times when we seek faces other than God's. Despite our unwillingness to be gathered under Jesus' wings, Jesus does gather us together around his cross. And He calls us into a community, a fellowship, where there is forgiveness and grace to help in time of need, even when we don't stand firm. During a particularly dry summer, there was a grass fire in the barnyard of a farm. After the fire had been put out, the farmer walked around to assess the damage. He found a chicken that perished in the fire; its wings spread wide, its feathers black and burned. When the farmer picked up the dead bird, out scampered her little chicks. Just before the fire, that mother hen had gathered them under her wings in the face of danger, and she gave her life to save them. So it is with Christ Jesus, who freely gave his life to save us.
Because of all that Christ has done for us, offering his life upon the cross for us, we are moved to follow him, to be his praying disciples, to grow in faith through prayer and perseverance. We are moved by the Spirit to stand firm in the faith, to hold on even as Scripture encourages us: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord; knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58). May God help us to stand firm in the faith, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
More in Lent 2007 - Praying Disciples
April 5, 2007Prayer and Service
March 28, 2007Prayer and Submission
March 18, 2007Praying Disciples: Growing in Faith Through Prayer and Celebration