First Sunday of Advent November 28, 2021
“A Bold Prayer” Isaiah 64:1-9
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Some people live bold. They dress bold. They speak bold. They pray bold.
In November of 2014 the TCF Bank on East Sixth Avenue in Aurora was one place you didn’t want to be. There were two attempted robberies at that same bank on that one day. At noon a man walked in, demanded cash from a teller and left with some of their money. But at 6:00 another man walks in to the same bank, gives the teller a note telling them that he wanted their money. And they said “NO!” explaining that they had already been robbed once that day and they didn’t have any extra money to give away to robbers!! Now, that is one bold bank teller!! The robber left with nothing!!
During the glory days of the University of Colorado football, (a life-time ago, it seems) I got to hear Head Coach Bill McCartney speak. When he spoke there wasn’t anyone who fell asleep. He wouldn’t let you. He spoke about living the Christian life in a world that challenges Christian faith and Christian values. He was direct and loud. It was like being in the locker room at half-time when the coach has to get his players ready for the second half. And when he prayed, he prayed with a direct and bold heart.
Sometimes we pray the most pathetic prayers. They are weak and limp. We don’t ask for anything and we don’t expect anything. And I bet we don’t get anything!! They are just formal, impotent words. Shame on us for talking to the living God in such a miserable, thoughtless way!! Today I want to put before you, and in front of me, a call to be people who become bold in prayer, just as Isaiah was in this prayer from the Old Testament. We are to be bold pray-ers and we are to offer the boldest of prayers.
He prays with some passion, “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down…” (Isaiah 64:1). Bold prayer happens when we face real life. When our marriage is in trouble we then begin to pray. We get an honest look at how things went wrong and deal with our part in it truthfully. When we have real problems and real struggles, real sin and real guilt, we are forced to stop playing a phony life and start getting real with God and life. Sometimes we just go through the motions of church. We come some Sundays, maybe every Sunday, and we think that is all there is to religion and God. But such religion never gets real with us. Like Jesus says, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Matthew 15:8) Such man-made religion doesn’t change our life. We follow God sometimes, but not always.
But a bold faith and bold prayer and having a bold God does much more for us. At the darkest moment God becomes more brilliant. When life is the hardest we find His strength and comfort to be the best. The people of Israel were in trouble some 700 years before Christ was to come. God was angry with them for good reason. Their hearts and their ways no longer loved Him or followed Him and He promised their demise. So into real trouble came a real plea, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…” His request was the same request that the people of Israel had made years ago when God showed His face on Mt. Sinai, when He liberated His people from slavery, when He brought them to the Promised Land and when He fought with them in their battles allowing victory when defeat was the only reasonable outcome. In this reading Isaiah continues, “For when You did awesome things that we did not expect, You came down and the mountains trembled before You.” (Isaiah 64:3)
But there is one major obstacle to living in bold faith and praying bold prayers. We are the obstacle. Just before the prayer of asking God to rip apart the heavens and come down, he accuses God of being the problem, “Why, O Lord, do you make us wander from Your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere You?” (Isaiah 63:17) My, oh, my!! We can find fault everywhere for why sin has made its way into our life, can’t we? He accuses God of making them sin. In Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve walked away from the will of God and opposed the ways of God in their life, He came to visit them. They ran and still He found them. When Adam was asked, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” He responded, “The woman You put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:11b-12) It’s not my fault! It’s Your fault!! It’s her fault!!!
Bold prayer is not so hypocritical. It is honest. Isaiah, here, within a few words becomes honest. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on Your name or strives to lay hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.” (Isaiah 64:6-7) Bold prayer comes humbly before God. We understand our need, our failings – we speak of our sins, we are shamed by our weakness. We know that we are like a leaf that is withered and shriveled and the wind just moves us around. And if we come to God in our own self-righteousness we come only in filthy rags!! Jeremiah, another Old Testament prophet says, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5)
Sometimes our prayers are prayers we only speak but a few times. We give up so easily!! Maybe the petition really wasn’t that important, huh? Maybe God didn’t answer quickly enough and so we assumed that He had given us the cold shoulder, right? In this elongated prayer toward the end of the book of Isaiah listen to the boldness of which God speaks, “I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” (Isaiah 62:6-7)
What makes prayer bold? It is more than our great need. It is more than our honest assessment of how frail we are or how our sins have driven God away from our lives. God, Himself makes our prayers bold and certain. Isaiah, with appreciation says, “Yet, O Lord, You are our Father. We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all Your people.” (Isaiah 64:8-9)
The words of grace in this section are “Father”, “Redeemer” and “Potter”. Because He has established the relationship of Father-child, and has paid the price of redemption and desires to form us into His own unique person we are bold to pray.
The picture of God as our Father is one of the most gracious, tender and protecting images that we have in the Bible. It is the use of the person of “Father” in the best and greatest way possible. We begin the Lord’s Prayer with the words, “Our Father…” speaking those 7 prayers that make up that one prayer with boldness and confidence. He has chosen to be our Father and we delight in being His child. Be bold in prayer, the creator and maker of all things is your strong and present Father.
We come with boldness in prayer because our God is the One who redeems. The word “redeeming” is an ancient word that has to do with purchasing of another, usually with money. The purpose was not to make them slaves with that purchase but to grant them freedom. In the book of Ruth it was a man named Boaz who redeemed her land and redeemed her from a hopeless situation. We sing that word at Easter, about our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
We are bold and certain because Jesus is our Redeemer. In Titus it says, “We wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13-14) You may remember what Peter says about this redeeming – “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (I Peter 1:18-19)
We are bold to pray because God is at work within us. Isn’t that a great picture of what God wants to do in us? “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8b) In the hymn Have Thine Own Way, the author writes, “Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way. Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Make me and mold me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”
No more wimpy prayers!! No more prayers with no backbone!! With a bold confidence in our Father and Redeemer and Potter we speak, “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down.” You know, He did. In Bethlehem He ripped apart the clouds and sent His Son down. And as I told you two weeks ago from this pulpit He is going to rend the heavens and come down in the glorious return of Jesus to this earth. And right now He is still coming to us with all the gifts that Jesus brings us.
With boldness we can pray. After all, we are His and He is ours. Amen!!
(This message, originally, came on the last day of November in 2014 to the people of Ascension)