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Songs of Faith – Sermons of Grace: Getting Back On Top When Life Gets You Down

Luke 11:1-4

I want to tap into your mind and heart today by sharing with you one of my favorite stories. It is called “The Legend of the Touchstone.” It is not a true story but it is a “truth story.” I think you will see what I mean.

According to the legend, if you could find the “touchstone” on the coast of the Black Sea, and hold it in your hand, then everything you touch from then on will turn to gold. The way you would recognize the touchstone was by its warmth. All other stones, when you touch them, feel cold, but the touchstone, when you pick it up, would suddenly turn very warm in your hand. As the legend unfolds, we are told of a man who sold everything he had and went to the Black Sea in search of the touchstone. He began by picking up every stone he could find on the coastline. After some days passed, he realized that he was picking up the same stones again and again. So he decided that to keep that from happening, he would pick up a stone, and if it was cold, then he would throw it out into the sea. This he did for weeks on end. He got into the habit of picking up a stone, feeling it cold, and firing it out into the waves. Then one morning as he continued his search for the touchstone, he picked up a stone—it was cold and he threw it into the sea. He picked up another … cold … threw it into the sea. Another … and another … and another. He then picked up yet another stone. It turned warm in his hand, but before he realized what he was doing, he instinctively threw it far out into the sea. He had the touchstone in his hand and he threw it away. He was so dulled by the routine that he didn’t notice what he had and he tossed it aside.

That can happen to us with the Lord’s Prayer. We hear it so often. We say it so often. We pick it up so often. We repeat the phrases so often that if we are not careful we miss the specialness, the sacredness, the power and the profundity of that prayer. Before we even realize what we are doing, we casually, carelessly, toss it aside. That’s a shame because the Lord’s Prayer is a priceless treasure, and we have it in our hands. Jesus gave it to us. It’s a sacred gift from our Lord.

Do you remember how we came to have it? The disciples of Jesus said to Him one day: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Notice something here. When did they ask for this? Was it after Jesus gave a lecture on prayer? No. Was it after Jesus preached some powerful sermon? No. Was it after Jesus worked some incredible miracle? No. Listen to how Luke describes it: “Jesus was praying in a certain place and when He finished, they said to Him: ‘Lord, teach us to pray!’” The point is clear. They saw what prayer meant to Him and what prayer did for Him. They saw the amazing spiritual power released in Him and through Him as He prayed, and they wanted that for themselves. So in response to their request, Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer and, by so doing, He gave them the key elements for unleashing God’s power in their lives.

Now, listen closely. I want to give you the greatest definition for prayer I have ever heard. Here it is: Prayer is friendship with God. If you will remember that, it will not only change the way you pray, it will change the way you live. If prayer is friendship with God, then that means that we can talk to God the same way we talk to our best friend. We can lay out our fears, our failures, our triumphs, our defeats, our joys, our sorrows, our difficulties, our dreams, our worries, our concerns, and know that God will understand and will love us and help us and support us come what may—because He is our best friend.

Joseph Scriven understood that truth better than most—and out of the crucible of his own experience, he wrote one of the best-loved hymns of them all. He was born in Ireland in 1819 to prosperous but not faithful parents. When Joseph Scriven embraced the Christian faith, his parents disowned him. That was tough enough to bear, but then on the night before their wedding, his fiancee was accidentally drowned. Bereft and alone, he decided to immigrate to Canada to try to build a new life. In the name of Christ, he gave himself to serving the needs of the sick and the poor in the streets of Port Hope, Ontario. In 1855, he fell in love again, but, unbelievably, before they could be married, his fiancee died suddenly. Not long thereafter, Joseph Scriven was taken ill, and his life seemed to hit bottom. However, in total reliance upon his best friend Jesus, through the gift of prayer, he managed to climb back to the top of his spirit. It was then that he wrote those dearly loved words:

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear,
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.

The words of that hymn are an echo of the teachings of Jesus. Jesus understood prayer to be friendship with the Father.

Therefore, Jesus could pray consistently.

You know how it is—if you have a best friend, you make time to communicate with that friend, to spend time with that friend. You do it regularly, consistently. Jesus saw God as His best friend, so He took the time to pray. He made it a vital part of His daily schedule. He disciplined Himself to pray consistently. We need to do the same.

Erma Bombeck was a homemaker from Dayton, Ohio, whose wonderful knack for finding humor in the everyday experiences of life led her to become one of our best-loved syndicated columnists. One of her columns was entitled “Some Simple Prayers to Help Mom Survive the Summer.” Then, in comical prayer parodies, she offered a string of little prayers concerning things like mosquitoes, a visit to the dentist, the surprising appearance of her son in church, and the poor driving ability of her husband. She ended with what she called “The Big Prayer.” Here it is:

“Please God, have I ever called upon you for a ‘biggie’? When my washer overflowed, didn’t I offer to build an ark? When I burnt the first Communion chicken, didn’t I laugh? (Ho, Ho … remember?) Now, Lord, all I am asking … before I go into the room filled with the class of 1949, is to make me look thin! You can do it. (You are the only one who can do it.) Do you know what it’s like to suck in your stomach and have nothing move? Please, Lord … dim the lights, crush me in the crowd, make me look sleek and slender. And Lord, if you can’t make me thin on such short notice, could you please make Elsie Hartfly look fat?”

In her inimitable way, Erma Bombeck was reminding us that too often we misuse and abuse the gift of prayer. Prayer has to be more than a vague nod in God’s direction or a magical lamp to rub in a time of crisis. From childhood, Jesus had prayed at regular intervals throughout the day. He knew that consistent prayer can produce the kind of vitality in one’s spiritual life, the kind of dynamic in one’s faith practice, the kind of depth in one’s awareness of God that is just not possible with the “hit and miss” approach most of us use in our prayer life.

Let me tell you something. I know about busy schedules. I know about deadlines. I know about time pressures and stresses and demands in life. I live in the world too. But I also know that when we feel that we are so busy and our schedules are so hectic and the competition is so fierce and the times are so tough and the problems are so overwhelming that we can’t afford to take the time to pray—well, that’s the moment when we need to pray most of all. But what’s even better is to be praying all along. It’s the best way I know to get back on top when life gets you down.

Something else. Because Jesus understood prayer to be friendship with the Father,

Jesus could pray confidently.

Jesus came to God like a child coming to a wise, gracious, loving, understanding Father, knowing full well that the Father knows best. Paul Hawkes discovered that for himself in a rather unusual way. Paul Hawkes served with our forces in the Korean War. One night on patrol, he became disoriented, got lost, and wound up behind enemy lines. He was captured and then tortured unspeakably. On two different occasions he was made to dig his own grave, then stand in front while a firing squad lined up before him. They aimed their rifles at him and on command, they pulled the triggers but nothing happened. The guns were not loaded, but it was a beastly form of psychological torture. One day, in the midst of the cold North Korean winter, he was taken outside, stripped, and ice water was poured over his head over and over and over until he became the victim of complete amnesia. He couldn’t remember anything. In fact, the only thing Paul Hawkes could remember was that he couldn’t remember. He didn’t know who he was or where he was or what he was doing there. Day after day, he kept trying frantically to pull something out of his suddenly darkened past. Finally, after a long struggle, he remembered something—two words, “Our Father”—just those two words. He didn’t know what they meant or where they had come from, but he began to repeat them over and over, hoping that something else would come. Finally something did—the phrase “Who art in heaven.” So he kept repeating that until another phrase came, “hallowed be Thy name.” He kept at it until he had reconstructed the entire Lord’s Prayer, and then he remembered his parents who had taught him that prayer. Then he remembered his church and his neighborhood. Finally, he remembered his name. Isn’t that amazing? Paul Hawkes rebuilt his life and his memory around the Lord’s Prayer, particularly the words “Our Father.”

Now, I don’t want us to go through what Paul Hawkes went through, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone of us could rediscover ourselves and rebuild our lives around the Lord’s Prayer, especially around those two words “Our Father”? If we could really know God as a loving, caring parent who knows what’s best for us and a faithful, devoted friend who would stand by us, then every prayer and every day would be entrusted to Him and to the doing of His will.

Leslie Weatherhead once told of an elderly Scottish man who was quite ill. The minister came to see the dying man. The man said: “Please sit in the chair down at the end of the bed. Don’t sit in this chair right beside me.” The minister asked why. The man replied: “Years ago, I hit a tough time in my life. I shared this problem with my pastor then and he said: “Don’t worry about getting in the right position or saying the right words. Just sit down, pull a chair up beside you, and imagine God sitting in that chair and talking to Him as you would talk to your best friend.” The older man said: “It worked, and I’ve been doing it ever since.” Some days later, the daughter of this older man called the minister to tell him that her father had died peacefully. And then she said this: “For some reason, his hand was grasping the chair at the side of his bed. Doesn’t that seem strange?” The minister said: “No, it’s not strange at all. I understand perfectly. In the last moment of his life, he was reaching out to his best friend.”

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear,
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.

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