May 20, 2018
“One Odd Prayer”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Co
When you five Confirmands are confirmed today I’m going to say this nice sounding blessing over you, “[May] The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you new birth by water and the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting. Amen.” Nice words. They have been used for years over many Christians, including you.
That is not the odd prayer I am going to be speaking about today. And our prayer from Ephesians 1, that I will read in a bit, is not odd either.
But I do have an odd prayer for you. The odd prayer is the prayer that I have used at every wedding I have done in the last twenty years. The prayer is written by a Presbyterian pastor, Louis Evans. Evans pastored in California and in Washington D.C. When Ronald Reagan was president he went to Evan’s church. Here is the prayer, “Lord, Give them enough tears to keep them tender, enough hurts to keep them humane and enough failure to keep their hands clenched tightly in Thine.”
I know that you’re not getting married today, but Confirmation and Weddings have something in common. Both of them include wearing white, they usually center on nervous people, and both of them includes vows that are to last forever.
But why would a prayer be made on a wedding day that includes tears and hurts and failure? Why would that be your prayer on this big day? Well, I use it on a wedding day because I think it is the right prayer for that great day. And today I pray that prayer for you because it is the right thing to ask of God for you. “Lord, give them enough tears to keep them tender, enough hurts to keep them humane and enough failure to keep their hands clenched tightly in Thine.” That odd prayer is my prayer for you.
You’ve learned a little bit of the Bible in the last few years. You’ve heard about David and Paul. When did they seek God? When did new life begin for them? When were they saved and received forgiveness? When?? When they had tears and hurts and failure!!
David had committed murder and adultery and then he was trying to cover it all up so no one would ever see his filthy heart. But it didn’t work. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” (Psalm 32:3) He was confronted with his sin and all he had were tears and hurts and failure. Only then did he realize how deeply he needed God.
How about Saul/Paul? He held the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death. He was on his way to Syria (Damascus) to arrest, imprison and kill Christians. But God stopped him. He was blinded. Physically he couldn’t see a thing. At that moment he realized how lost he had become. He was shown that Christ was great and awesome and that Jesus was the answer God had sent for every person. Tears, hurts, failure was a necessity. First.
How about you? I’m not praying this prayer to get even with you for not always listening to me during Confirmation class (though sometimes you tried my kindness!!) I don’t pray for bad things to happen to you, rather, when you are hurt, when you have grief, when you have failure, that you would know where to go. At that moment when all is dark and everything is hopeless, know this truth, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) Don’t run away from Him. Don’t say that He doesn’t care. Don’t believe that He can’t help. God is your refuge.
Maybe I chose this odd prayer because you are an odd group. You really are. 4 of you were born within 14 days of each other. 3 of you boys (Ben, Josh and Ethan were born within 5 days of each other. (Ben, June 16; Josh, June 19; Ethan June 21) (I’m thinking with Reese born on the 7th and three of the boys on those days, 9 months before those birth dates, September of 2003, must have been pretty cold with some snuggling going on!!) Jake, your March birthday, makes you the only 14 year-old in the group. And get this – the youngest, Ethan, is the tallest of the group!! What an odd group!!
You are an odd group who knows a great God. When Pastor Louis Evans wrote that prayer he ended it with the words, “[With] enough failure to keep their hands clenched tightly in Thine.” I already know that it will not be easy to remain faithful to God. You have a ton of obstacles. Entering High School is a challenge to life and even faith. You live in a world that will test the values you have been taught and some in our world will challenge this faith that you say you will keep until the day you die. Please, hold to Him. And know that He will hold on to you.
I have another prayer for you. It is the one that Paul wrote to the congregation that he loved in Ephesus. Listen: “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.” (Ephesians 1:15-18)
Hold God’s hand tightly. Never let go. Confess always that you believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus as the only assurance that your sins are taken away and that you have peace with God. Confess always that you know that you are saved by faith in Jesus Christ only. Confess always that you will be faithful to this God until death. Such confessions will bring you a strong and joyous life. Paul would pray for his congregation, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…” That is my prayer for you – those eyes in your heart may see Jesus clearly and follow him daily.
And know this – God will hold you tightly. In many words you will say that you will be faithful to Him. That doesn’t mean that you will never sin, but that you will seek His forgiving, loving hand and seek to do His will in your life. Today I want you to hear clearly that God will always be faithful to you. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) A few weeks ago we read from John 10, the Good Shepherd chapter. It says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)
A month ago we sang the hymn, “O Love, How Deep” (544, LSB). Again and again the phrase, “For us…” is used. “For us He prayed; for us He taught, for us His daily works He wrought…For us by wickedness betrayed, For us, in crown of thorns arrayed…For us He rose from death again; For us He went on high to reign; for us He sent His Spirit here to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.”
To your world that will have tears and hurts and failure, comes Jesus, the one who came for us, for you. Today, for the first time, you will be receiving Holy Communion. Do you hear the words that are so personal and pleasing? “Take and eat, this is the body of Christ, given for you.” “Take and drink, this is the blood of Christ, shed for you.” The prayer becomes one spoken directly to you, knowing that your God knows your need, your heart, and will speak directly to you about His love, forgiveness and care.
To this odd group – I mean, unique group – I need to watch my words – I bring an odd prayer. I pray it with a hope of a great result – Your hands are clenched tightly in His and His are wrapped all over you – never letting you leave His embrace. May the very eyes of your heart see that.
If I am still around on the day that you get married, I’m going to make a very odd request of God concerning all the days that you are married. This is what I will pray, “Lord, give them enough tears to keep them tender, enough hurts to keep them humane, enough failure to keep their hands clenched tightly in Thine.” But if I don’t make that big event know that I’m praying that prayer for you on this day, for right now, for every day that you live.
It isn’t such an odd prayer, really. It is a prayer of our great need and the One who alone can meet those needs. Trust Jesus. Follow Jesus. He will be faithful to you. He will hold you daily and eternally. Amen!!