December 2, 2007

"Praying For Advent"
Scripture: Matthew 7:7-12
Sermon by Rev. Kathleen Groff
Dundee United Methodist Church

  I remember the days we would take our youngest daughter to a store around Christmas time. We would watch as she eyed the toys up and down the isle. When she happened to get excited about some toy, we found a clue as to what she might want for Christmas. As long as the toy was appropriate, not expensive and within certain other parameters, one of us would keep her distracted in another department while the other would go back to the toy department, get the toy she had been excited about, check out at the counter and take the toy to the trunk of the car where the unsuspecting daughter could not see it. And for awhile the unsuspecting daughter did not know she was picking out her own Christmas presents. One thing about kids is that they don't hesitate to ask for what they want.

  What happens when we grow up. We seem to be conditioned to hate to ask for the things we want. We hate to ask our parents for money when things seem to be tight. We hate to ask to come back home to live for awhile to get our feet back on the ground. We hesitate to ask for help when we need it.

  The same thing happens with God. Little children's prayers are sometimes about anything. They seem to be able to ask for the silliest of things. They ask for toys. They ask for general prayers for their moms and dads. And sometimes they ask for much more serious things, i.e. "make my puppy well!" "Bring daddy home!" Somewhere along the way to growing up we lose our eagerness to ask God for what we want and need.

  Perhaps it's because we have been disappointed in God's apparent non-response to our prayers as a child or as an adult. Perhaps it's because we don't think God wants to hear all our trivial concerns and seemingly endless requests. Perhaps it's because we're afraid God won't answer or God is mad at us, or we are unworthy. Perhaps we believe there are only "right" things to pray for, that we don't want to take up God's time when much more important things need His time and attention, like world peace, world hunger and natural disasters. In the face of all that our concerns seem so trite. Whatever the reason, we curb our prayers and are reluctant to ask God for simple things.

  But, I think there are a few things we need to know about God that might change our reluctance. First and foremost is that prayer is always a mystery. We simply do not know why some prayers are answered and others are not. Just because a prayer seems to go unanswered our way does not necessarily mean that it has gone unanswered entirely.

  Second, God loves us beyond what we can imagine, similar to the a good parent loves a child. A good parent wants to know what their child needs or what's going on in their mind as they grow. God wants to know what it is we are thinking about, want, and feel we need and wants to respond in ways that give us what we truly need. It's not that God doesn't know what we need, it's more that God wants to hear us name what we need so God can better work with us. We may want Aunt Milly to get well, but what we may need is the strength to let her go, free from pain and suffering and be able to grieve in healing ways. We may want a certain new job but we may not be the best qualified and what we need is the courage to face "no" and keep looking until the right one presents itself.

  Third, God can handle all the requests and prayer that bombard His omnipotent presence. There is never such a thing as too many trivial prayers. If we keep on praying God will mold our faith into asking for the things that truly matter. To believe that God doesn't have the time or has much more important things to work on is to limit God's capacity to love and provide for us.

  So why are we hesitant to pray for all things? God is waiting for and wanting to hear our wants and needs. In this season of Advent let's not hesitate to pray wholeheartedly as children do. Naming our fears, our disappointments, our desires, our joys, our angers, our doubts gets them out of us so God can help us work with them in healthier ways. It is through incessant prayer that God teaches us what we truly need and what is important in the long run.