Get ready to receive what we are praying for.
Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning. (Luke 12:35 KJV)
Be ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with your lamps lit. (Luke 12:35 GNT)
We have a saying, “If you pray for rain, carry an umbrella.” As those who trust God’s love, we take this teaching and the parable it comes wrapped in as a promise, not a threat. Some people take it the other way around, and prepare themselves for God’s wrath, always afraid that any minute now they will be destroyed. Christ is actually inviting us to get ready to celebrate the wonderful surprises God has in store for us.
Paul wrote, But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV).
Manuscript of the sermon preached on August 7 2022, at Briensburg UMC [Audio Podcast]
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 33:12-22; Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Jesus challenges us to have our “Loins girded about” (KJV) – “Dressed for action” (GNT).
At the earlier end of my pastoral ministry, an older and wiser minister once told me “The call to preach is a call to prepare.” The same principle applies to all our callings, including the prayers God lays on our hearts. Dressed for action is a metaphor for establishing our priorities. “Study and show thyself approved,” the older and wiser Paul advised the younger Timothy in the early years of his ministry. Consider options and contingencies for how the answers to our prayers will come. “Let us lay aside every weight,” as Hebrews 12:1 puts it. Set aside the things that might prevent or distract us from being able to accept and receive the things we are praying for.
Organize around the expectation that the answering of our prayers is already in progress. Prayerfully develop plans, structures, budgets, and schedules to be ready for implementation as the answers to our prayers unfold. Shore up our facilities and make decisions about the equipment needed to complete whatever projects we are praying God will help us with. Make the necessary connections with other people and organizations God is using to share the burdens and the blessings of the work we are called to do.
Keep those “Lights burning” (KJV) – “Lamps lit” (GNT). We light candles in our service as a reminder that God is present with us in the sanctuary. Some churches maintain “sanctuary lights” burning 24/7 to communicate the same message. We have our cross & flame insignia turned on 24/7/365 in our sanctuary to remind those who pass by on both the highways that run alongside our church that God is always present, always loving, always inviting, and always answering prayers.
Think of Christ as coming soon with all the help and answers we seek. God’s perception of time is more mature than ours, just as our perception of time changes as we age. Peter wrote, “Dearly beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord, as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 KJV). We have the saying, “Time flies when you’re having a good time.” For the children, a promise we make about tomorrow often seems to them to be a lifetime away, but for us, it may be a rush to get ready. When the time comes for just about anything, we often have realized we were not yet fully prepared for whatever it was.
“Expect a miracle” is another saying. We may miss out on a lot of what God is doing just because we aren’t paying attention or watching for how God will answer our prayers. Answers to prayers usually come at surprising times in surprising ways. Sometimes we don’t even realize a prayer has been answered until we see it in retrospect.
Faith itself is a sign of impending answers to prayer.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)
The Living Bible translates that verse:
What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead. (Hebrews 11:1 TLB)
Faith is substance, or “confident assurance” as the Living Bible puts it. The NT Greek Lexicon definition includes “substructure, foundation, actual existence, firm trust.” Evidence is described in that same lexicon as proof or conviction. Things hoped for are things not yet seen, not yet visible, but coming. The answers to our prayers started before we started praying but are yet to become finished enough to become manifest. Still in the abstract, they are gradually becoming crystalized, eventually to be completed
The Bible equates confidence in God with holiness.
And [Abraham] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6 KJV)
Paul quoted this verse in Romans 4:3 and James referenced it in his letter when he wrote, “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” (James 2:23 KJV)
Faith is about believing
and is reflected as such throughout the Bible.
John 3:16 & 17 applies, not only to getting saved initially but also
to continuously trusting God for the answering of our prayers for ongoing salvation
for ourselves and for everyone else in whatever circumstances we find ourselves
at any given time. Let’s say that
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not
his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him
might be saved. (John 3:16-17 KJV).
Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 KJV). In other words, when we pray, we have to at least have some confidence that God exists, and that God is responding to us.
It may only be a mustard seed of faith in what we are praying about, even if we have a lot of faith in other ways. That too will grow as we keep on praying and developing a clearer understanding of what prayer is, and of what we are praying for, and of what our own part is in the answering of our prayers.
Faith is counted as it says in Genesis and Romans, or imputed as it says in James, as righteousness.
Our confidence in God is considered to be a matter of friendship as James points out in reminding us that Abraham was called “a Friend of God” because he believed God. When we trust each other, we cultivate a relationship of love and friendship with each other. Peter observed in his letter that “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8 NIV). Even though the Bible ascribes to Abraham what we may consider “a multitude of sins,” yet because Abraham loved and trusted God, he was still able to have a close loving, forgiving, developing friendship with God. So it is with us and our relationship with God.
Faith is the entry-level point into a personal saving relationship with God. It may be the tiniest and shakiest, most skeptical and unorthodox kind of faith there is, but it will grow from there into a full-blown friendship that will last throughout all eternity.
As faith grows, there is more to be imputed. Our growing faith gradually displaces our doubts and fears and replaces them with a growing love that reflects various facets of the perfect love God has for us and for everyone.
Some synonyms of righteousness include justice, holiness, piety, goodness, and virtue. Just as faith is the entry-level point into a friendship with God, faith is also the entry-level point to the justice and holiness God calls us to, and the entry-level point to experiencing the answers to our prayers.
In all these ways, faith grows. Jesus described it in the Parable of the Mustard Seed as a tiny seed being planted, which then grows into a large enough bush for birds to make their nests in. Likewise, our friendships with God and each other grow. Our sense of justice and holiness and righteousness grows. And our realization of how God is answering our prayers grows. This growth does not stop when the bush gets a nest; it keeps growing throughout this life and on through the eternal life of the world to come. Think of the imagery in Revelation of the tree of life growing along the banks of the river of life as it flows through the city of New Jerusalem, bearing all kinds of fruit, “and its leaves are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2 KJV).
We praise God for how our prayers are answered
Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee. (Psalm 33:22 KJV)
May your constant love be with us, Lord, as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:22 GNT)
God’s mercy, or constant love, is like food and water for our faith. The more we experience God’s love, the more confidence we have in the divine relationship with our Creator and with each other, and with all Creation. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter, as translated in the Good News Translation, “Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 GNT).
Our hope in God includes joyful anticipation as we wait with expectation to discover how God, who loves us unconditionally, will answer our prayers. We join Jesus in praying, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42 KJV).
Let us work with confidence based on the trust that our prayers are being answered in far better ways “than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20 RSV), as Paul expressed.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.