Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 17, 2017
“Steering Wheel or Spare Tire?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I don’t think we pray as much as we should. There are times when we treat prayer as a last resort. Nothing else has worked, so I guess we should pray!! We have no hope, so we pray. Prayer in Jesus’ name is much greater than that!! Corrie ten Boom first asked the question, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” In other words, is prayer the guiding factor in all of your life, like the steering wheel on your car, or is prayer something you whip out in case of an emergency, like the spare tire in your trunk? Is prayer the first priority in your daily life, or is it the last resort? Is it your steering wheel or your spare tire? F.B. Meyer said, “The greatest tragedy in life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.”
How is your prayer life? Do you pray as you ought? There are times, when spiritual health is not very healthy, someone will say, “I can’t even pray anymore”. As that point prayer isn’t even a spare tire – it isn’t even there, it is as flat as can be. Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you are there.
But prayer is God’s gift to us. In Luke 18 Jesus begins the chapter with the direction, “Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Luke 18:1) In the reading that I chose for today, words that follow His giving of the Lord’s Prayer to His disciples, Jesus talks about using prayer while giving this picture, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you, then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:11-13) In Matthew 7, Jesus concludes that picture, “How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (verse 11b)
Do you know why prayer needs to be the steering wheel and not the spare tire? It is because God is good to us. He is our Father who would never give us something that is bad or evil. If you have been blessed with the gift of a child you would never give them something that would harm them. If they ask for something to eat – breakfast or lunch, a nice egg or a fish sandwich, you wouldn’t substitute it with a snake or a spider and try to bring them harm. Of course not!! Jesus then says that our Father will give good gifts, His Spirit, His graces, to those who ask Him. God is good to His children.
Jesus is so confident in the goodness of God and His desire to bring His best to us, that He says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)
Last week our worship services had a Jewish flair to them. Mike Zehnder, our director of music, had music with that strong Hebrew accent to it. One of the kids in our Confirmation Class when asked what he learned in worship said, “I learned that Hebrew words are very difficult to pronounce.” He was right!! At the Jewish Passover the worshipers sing a song that utilizes the Hebrew word, “Dayenu”. The word means “It would have been sufficient”, or, “It would have been enough.” The remembering that they do at the Passover is about Israel leaving the slavery of Egypt, receiving God’s provisions in the desert – water, manna, quail – going through the Red Sea and receiving God’s word on Mt. Sinai. During that Passover prayer, after one event is mentioned the worshipers respond, “Dayenu” – “It would have been enough”, and then the next remembering of God’s hand was given. God gives grace upon grace. It would have been enough if He had stopped after one gift, or two, or three, but He doesn’t – He keeps on providing, the cup runs over.
“If He had split the sea for us, and if He had not led us through on dry land”, Dayenu! It would have been enough.” But the fact is, He opened the sea for them AND He led them though on dry land. “If He had provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years, and if He had not fed us with manna”, Dayenu! It would have been enough.” But the fact is, He provided for them in the wilderness for 40 years AND He fed them with manna. For 15 stanzas the truth of His strong hand and His gracious heart was spoken.
That is why prayer can never be a spare tire – only used as a last resort. I guess we could take that Hebrew word and use it in our Creed, to speak about the generosity of God through the final word He has spoken – Jesus Christ. “If He had been born of the virgin Mary, but had not suffered under Pontius Pilate, Dayenu!, it would have been enough.” But the fact is, Jesus did come in humility to the virgin AND He did suffer for us under Pilate. The grace upon grace is spoken – all about the saving acts of Jesus for us.
We have to pray and we need to pray with faith and with full anticipation for God to answer in the right way because He is our Father and we are His children. We are not praying because of our goodness, but we pray because of His goodness. Jesus is our Savior, He bled for our sins, He rose from death, He has opened the way to God’s throne. Martin Luther had a great deal to say about prayer. Here is one quote: “As long as you live, guard yourself against ever considering yourself worthy or fit to ask or receive anything from God; do not pray unless you find that you may freely venture to base your prayer on the truthful and certain promise of your gracious God.”
Spare tire? No, steering wheel!! It is the direction of life because we place all our trust in this good God. First, because we are His beloved children. Then, because we know that He is wise and will give us what is best. “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father in heaven…” In the Lord’s Prayer, given to us by Jesus just before these words, the petition, “Thy will be done” is spoken. Though at times we don’t know the will of God, and sometimes we battle with this unknown, we pray trusting that God’s wisdom will be much better than our ignorance. Prayer is a steering wheel, asking God to be the driver. Can you submit to God in everything and for all things?
We have to pray because the needs are great. Did you catch the appeals from the governors of Texas and Florida over the last few weeks? They asked for many things. They need hands helping the folks who have lost many things and, in some cases, everything. In the midst of way too much water they need water, and clothes and food and just a few hundred billion dollars. And, they said, they need prayers. Our prayers. We pray to our God who is good, who cares for His children and who is wise is all things.
Others have needs. We must pray. And we have needs. We must pray. In Ephesians 6, St. Paul talks about how to fight against the devil’s schemes. He speaks about using the belt of truth, the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God. And then he adds, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this is mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:18-20)
It doesn’t sound like Paul considered prayer a spare tire, some type of last resort, throwing up a “Hail, Mary” when nothing else has worked. It sure sounds like it was his first priority in life. It was his steering wheel, a guiding factor in how he was going to live life, fight the devil and keep the faith.
If you have forsaken the gift and power of prayer it is time to return to it. God invites you to receive His Fatherly care, His wise guidance and His hand of grace. It is time to pray!! Amen!!
Today’s sermon thought and opening illustrations came from a sermon written by Pastor Mark Degner at Peace Lutheran Church in Arvada, Colorado. On September 17, 1995 he preached the sermon titled, “Steering Wheel or Spare Tire?”