ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH April 19, 2015
Prayer Offers Peace
Psalm 4; Luke 24:36b-48
I don’t know about you, but I have nights where I just can’t get a good restful sleep! When I’m tired I fall asleep quickly, but then I find myself waking up in the middle of the night. I toss and turn, trying to get back to sleep. Often I’ll wake up thinking about something I have to do. This usually means waking up with an idea or thought for a paper I’m writing for one of my courses. Sometimes I just wake up and have a song running repeatedly in my head. If I’m anxious, I often lie in bed staring at the ceiling as I make checklists of everything I need to do. I love crossing items off my lists, but funny enough the lists themselves can be stressful, especially as they get longer and longer! Some evenings I find it hard to get to sleep, as I think about all the atrocities, disasters, and pain that people are suffering here and around the world. It would probably help if I didn’t watch the news right before bed!
I’m sure I’m not the only one with these problems. We live with worries and anxieties. We spend the day thinking and fretting about our family, our jobs, our health and the health of others, our finances, grocery lists, schedules, the future, etc. All these worries and distractions creep up on us throughout the day and accumulate. They all seem to come to a head as we lay quietly in bed trying to fall asleep. It’s so hard when our minds are racing, keeping us from relaxing. Our hearts and minds are troubled with the expectations, troubles, and uncertainties that surrounded us. We can go crazy thinking about our lives as well as those, we love, and that doesn’t include the unrest around the world.
With all that is going on, we are in desperate need of peace and tranquility. But how do we find such peace? Many have turned to yoga and meditations to help. Some seek out quiet activities and hobbies, such as reading, gardening, quilting, knitting, woodworking, playing or listening to music, etc. Others lean towards physical exercise, sports, and games to help relieve some of the stresses of life, and to create a momentary break to the worries of our world. Sadly, many seek to find happiness and peace, turning to drugs and alcohol, sex and other risky behaviours. But, these are only temporary ‘fixes’ if we can call them that. When the activity is over or the buzz or euphoria is gone, we find ourselves right back where we began. Finding peace and tranquility has become a growing concern and perhaps an obsession for our society. So it comes back to the initial question, how do we find peace in our lives?
The psalmist tells us that we need to take time for ourselves and to make time to be in the presence of God. In other words, we need to take time to pray. It sounds so easy doesn’t it, too easy really. I think we’ve all become leery of easy fixes and short cuts, and I don’t think that is unfounded skepticism. I mean it’s great that I can buy an exercise machine, and use it for only 5 minutes a day and have great abs, or that I can walk on a certain exercise machine for 30 minutes, three times a week and I’ll just shed the pounds. Then there are those quick and easy diets. I found one where I can lose 20 lbs. in 30 days without even exercising, how great is that! Although we may be suspicious about easy fixes to our health, easy and quick are very much part of our society. Despite our apprehensions, we tend to lean towards the easy way if we can. So if prayer is an easy fix, why not try it?
Our culture is impatient. We live in a fast food, on demand, and at our fingertips society. We have fast food chains and many prepared and pre-packaged foods for quick and easy meals. Smart phones, tablets, and computers, keep us wired to the internet and the world. This technology gives us instant access to information, news updates, games, social media, and whatever else we want with a few keystrokes or taps. Even on TV we can’t go longer than seven minutes without a commercial. Even some of the major sports leagues are trying to speed up games as they find they are getting longer than people like.
In our fast-paced world, with so much going on, it is not a surprise that we find it difficult to slow things down. It can be difficult to find time or take time for ourselves, especially if we have lots on our mind, or if we have others counting on us. Despite our busy lives, we always seem to find time to get things done. So is busyness an excuse why we shouldn’t pray? If prayer can help bring us some peace than shouldn’t we make room for it in our busy lives?
But, there still is that lingering doubt about prayer. Can something that appears so simple, be effective? Can prayer really be an answer to our concerns, anxieties, and fears? Can prayer give us answers to our problems? These thoughts go through our minds from time to time, and God understands. This is part of being human. We don’t have all the answers. We don’t have the knowledge or wisdom to understand everything. This is what makes us human and God knows and understands us more than we know ourselves. God has dealt with unbelief and uncertainty from the very beginning. The Old and the New Testaments are filled with examples of people who had doubts, yet God is still with us, our Lord has not abandoned us. In fact, God loves us so much that he longs for a relationship with us.
In the passage from Luke, the disciples are standing around and talking about an apparent sighting of Jesus. While they are speaking, Jesus appears to them and says to them, “Peace be with you.” They all react out of fear and question who this man is. They all doubt that it is indeed Jesus, even though they have just heard a remarkable story from the men who were travelling to Emmaus. Knowing their doubts, Jesus gives them physical evidence, showing them his scarred hands and feet. In seeing his tortured body, the disciples begin to fill with joy; however, doubt still lingers within their hearts. How could this really be their master standing there among them, they witnessed him die on the cross. Without scolding them for their unbelief, Jesus simply asks for food and eats, and then reminds them of his teachings and refers to the scriptures describing his death and resurrection. Their doubts turn to belief. The disciples had Jesus in the flesh, there amongst them, and they still had doubts. Even to this day, it is a remarkable event. We are a couple weeks removed from celebrating the resurrection of Christ at Easter. We live around two thousand years after this event, and rely on the Scriptures to tell us this story, so is there any reason we shouldn’t have doubts now and again too? Especially when we live in a society and culture that seeks facts and scientific evidence to prove everything. Doubting is natural; however, we must be honest with ourselves and try to work through our doubts.
The opposite of doubt is faith. We must have faith in something, to alleviate our doubts. If we only find faith in ourselves, then we fall short. Nobody can get through life on his/her own. If we find faith in God, we find ourselves surrounded by a God of love. A God that wants the best for us, that looks out for us, that wants a relationship with us. However, to become closer to God we need to respond. Like any good relationship, there must be communication and this is exactly what prayer is. Prayer does not need to be a long drawn out conversation. It can be a few simple words or an idea. Prayer does not have to use fancy words or titles for God. It could simply start, Father. It is not something only ministers, elders, or church members can do. Anyone can talk to God. Prayer is not something that has to be rehearsed or eloquent. It’s simply a conversation with the Creator, our Saviour, the Holy Spirit.
Prayer can take many different forms, from thanksgiving, to confession, to prayers for others. There are always different times and occasions for prayer. There are no set designs or structures we need to follow. Prayer is simply speaking with God in an authentic way, and we can be confident that God hears our prayers and answers them in God’s own time and way. Whatever the situation, whatever the time or place, we can talk to God. In Romans 8:38, Paul tells us, “…that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We can get caught up in our busy lives. Our checklists can continue to expand and the stresses of life overwhelm us. There’s always something demanding our time and energy. But, if we make time for God, than we can begin to feel peace in our lives. Psalm 4 is a simple yet effective prayer, asking for help. The psalmist has faith that God hears his prayers. The prayer ends with a bold statement of faith, which recognizes that God will bring him joy and peace, regardless of the worries and distresses he faces in life: “You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.”
We find peace and tranquility in our busy, hectic, and troubled world, through prayer. Even though sometimes we may have doubts, God will bring peace and joy to our lives, just as Jesus came to his disciples and offered them peace. Through prayer, we can unburden ourselves, and take comfort as we lie down after a busy or worrisome day, knowing that our loving Father is with us and watching over us. Amen.