We finish our sermon series today on being committed to Christ. Over the past couple months, we have looked at different practices of discipleship, and considered if we have room to grow in our faith in any of these areas.
We first asked ourselves about our commitment to faith. For our discipleship to have any chance at being where it should be, we must first identify if we have committed our lives to the will of God.
Then we made our way through other aspects of discipleship. We focused on a need to strengthen our commitment to Christ in reading the scripture. We were invited to consider increasing the amount of time we give to reading and understanding the Holy Word.
We then focused on service. We celebrated the many ways you are involved in the life of Washington Street United Methodist Church and our surrounding community in the Harvest of Hope. You were again invited to consider increasing your commitment to Christ by becoming more involved in serving God by using your gifts and passions through the church.
We talked about using your life as a witness to God’s love. You were invited to consider how your every move is reflection of your belief in Christ, and is seen as a witness of God’s love by any and all with whom you interact.
We then looked at financial giving. We identified how financial giving is one of the most spoken of practices throughout the biblical text when it comes to being a faithful believer. You were invited to consider your financial commitment to the church, encouraged to consider what it means to be sacrificial in your giving, like the widow who gave the two coins in the temple – giving all she had. Just as naming your passions, your talents, and your desire to be involved in the service life of the church, and naming your availability and desire to be involved in bible study and small groups is important, so too your financial commitment helps for faithful planning for the upcoming year. If you haven’t turned in a financial commitment card and are ready to take that step in your discipleship, those cards are available in the back by the bulletins, and you can put them in the offering plate or on the altar railing during communion. There are envelopes for the cards if you’d like to use one.
Last week we focused on the importance of worship for the life of a disciple. We talked about the emphasis of worship throughout God’s relationship with God’s people. And you were invited to consider taking a step toward a more faithful weekly attendance in worship as a way to strengthen your commitment to Christ.
This morning, we focus on an aspect of discipleship that has been a common thread throughout each of our previous weeks. In each commitment you have been invited to consider, you have been encouraged to consider your commitment with a focus on seeking God’s will – you have been invited to spend time in prayer.
Prayer is a necessity in the life of a faithful disciples. We cannot make a faithful commitment to Christ without a focused prayer life. Our guiding example for prayer, our teaching around prayer, is directed by the practice of Christ.
Our scripture this morning is just one example in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus retreating to pray over significant decisions. The text begins, “During those days, [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray; he spent the night in prayer to God. When he returns from his time of prayer, Jesus called his disciples and chose from among them 12, whom he named apostles.
The story line leads us to believe that in this time, there were more than 12 who had committed to following Christ and his teaching. In this moment, Jesus, returning from his time in prayer, is naming the 12 apostles – leaders among the many who were devoted to be his followers.
Jesus is seen retreating for prayer multiple times in this Gospel. At Jesus’ baptism, as we read in Luke 3, we find that when many people had been baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened.
In Luke 5, after Jesus cleanses a Leper, we’re told Jesus would withdraw to deserted places to pray. The wording is offered in the continual format; this was not a singular time of retreat, but a practice of regular retreat and prayer.
In Chapter 9, just before Jesus asks the question, “Who do the crowds … and who do you say that I am?” we read that Jesus was “Once again … praying alone, with the disciples near him.”
Again in Chapter 9, Jesus goes up the mountain prior to the transfiguration, and we’re told that he went up the mountain to pray.
In Chapter 11, at the time of Jesus’ teaching the Lord’s Prayer, the story begins by saying, “[Jesus] was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
There are other examples as well, more than are needed to highlight the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life.
There are some who when talking about Jesus’ prayer life, name their lack of understanding for the need of Jesus to spend so much intentional time in prayer. If we are correct regarding the Christology of Jesus, and Jesus was, as we believe him to be, fully divine – why would Jesus need to pray so often if at all? Jesus is understood to be the second person of God. Is Jesus not just speaking to himself?
Bob Crossman, in his book on being Committed to Christ, names that while we are right to identify Christ’s full divinity, and perhaps not incorrect in asking this question, our Christology – that is, our understanding in the study of Christ – doesn’t define Jesus as ONLY fully divine. Christ, while fully divine, was also fully human. Jesus of Nazareth, was the incarnate one – God with us. He came as humanity. As fully human, he shared the same pains, concerns, and suffering you and I experience. And in his human nature, he sought the will of God the Father in prayer.
Christ exemplified right relationship with God in all aspects of his life. Christ came to teach us faithful discipleship, and how to be in right relationship with God. All good relationships rely on healthy and excellent communication. Our relationship with God is no exception. Just like in any other relationship, the more essential conversation becomes – the more essential prayer becomes – the more we learn to listen, and the more we learn the nuanced ways the other speaks – the more we learn to hear God.
Our prayer practices may vary – from the silent prayer uttered in the quiet of our heart, to the prayers of desperation screamed at the top of our lungs. From prayers uttered in spoken word, to prayers offered in writing poetic journaling. From prayers offered in corporate and small group gatherings, to prayers offered in solitude at our bedside at night. From prayers offered in thanksgiving, to prayers offered seeking supplication.
Our prayer life is a testimony to our belief that God hears and that God speaks.
Christ’s example in our text this morning shows us that Christ felt the need for a higher input in choosing the 12 apostles. Our prayer is not just a way to name for God what’s going on in our lives – it’s not just about ensuring God is aware of our decisions to be made. God, the omnipotent one, is aware of these events even before we speak. Our prayer – like Jesus in this text – is our intentional seeking of God’s will. Our faithful commitment to prayer indicates our desire for God’s input – it identifies and acknowledges that God’s will is more important than our will.
As Fred Craddock defies prayer in commentary on Luke, “The might of prayer elevates the act into the larger purpose for God.”[i]
We see in this text, Christ spends an entire night in prayer preparing for a very important decision. What kinds of events and decisions do you spend all night preparing for? Preparing a budget for the office? Finishing, if not starting, workplace or school related assignments? If we spend so much time preparing and planning for these kinds of decisions, should we not also be spending similar time in prayer in preparation for important events and decisions?
The invitation to consider a step toward increasing your commitment to Christ through prayer is not just about inviting you to spend more time in prayer, though certainly if there is room for you to grow in the amount of time you pray, you are invited to grow in this way. But the invitation to increasing your commitment to prayer is primarily about identifying that there is no decision in your life that does not deserve God’s input. Whether it be your commitment to service, to witness, to financial giving, or any other life decision – a decision toward relationships, housing, work and employment, use of time, and use of resources. A commitment to prayer is about naming the need to seek God’s will in each and every decision you make.