I will write my Church Write-Up about the Sunday services this coming Wednesday. In this post, I will write about a prayer retreat that I attended last Saturday morning. It was at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church that I have been attending. Here are some select items.
A. We were discussing how prayer changes us, the people who pray. If we find ourselves feeling cold towards God, we should pray, as Martin Luther said. Someone said that praying with a person creates a bond. The pastor said that lifting up people one dislikes towards the throne of grace softens one’s attitude towards them. Someone else stated that praying for others makes us less self-centered: we can pray even for people we do not know, on the Max. A lady was sharing her story about how she lost a child to a disease, and prayer got her through the aftermath of that. She found that she was anxious, desperately trying to prevent anything bad from ever happening again. But she decided to trust God, and she thanked God for the time that she got to spend with her daughter. She had apprehensions about her elderly father, due to his declining health, but she is thankful that he is still able to visit churches and to preach.
B. The pastor expressed disagreement with a particular interpretation of the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge in Luke 18:2-8. Often, he said, pastors assert that the meaning of this parable is that we need to keep praying to wear God down, so that God will finally respond. The pastor said that he thinks the widow knew that the judge would eventually respond, and that encouraged her persistence. That is how it is with us and God: we can trust God’s faithfulness, and that encourages us to persist in prayer. One person talked about how he tried to wear God down, but he eventually arrived at a point of dependence and surrender.
C. We read Psalm 34:1-9. The superscription sets that Psalm during the events of I Samuel 21:10-15. David is on the run from King Saul and flees to Philistine territory. David, of course, had a bad reputation among the Philistines, since he has slain ten-thousands of them. David pretends to be a madman before the Philistine king, who consequently decides not to take David seriously as any sort of threat. The pastor likened this to Obi-Wan saying to the Stormtroopers in Star Wars, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” Psalm 34:1-9, in light of the superscription, is David’s expression of relief that God delivered him from peril, that the Philistine king bought his act. Psalm 34:9 exhorts people to taste and see that the LORD is good, and the pastor said that a lesson he gets out of this is that God puts answers to our prayers in the tangible world: it is not just a head thing. God tangibly delivered David, and God reaches out to us through baptism, the Eucharist, and the aspects of creation that remind us of God’s goodness. Later on, the pastor said that God can use things to reach people that were originally designed for other purposes. The woman who had lost a child talked about a church sign she saw that really ministered to her and gave her hope, saying “Your answer is in here.” The pastor said that sign may have been put up by a snarky pastor, but God used it to minister to her.
D. The pastor was interpreting Matthew 21:21, which states that faith can move mountains, and John 15:7, where Jesus promises that God will grant any request made in Jesus’ name. The pastor was contending against name-it-claim-it folks. He expanded upon his treatment of John 15:7 in his sermon on Sunday morning, so I will address that in my post on Wednesday. On Matthew 21:21, he said that the fruitless fig tree represents the Jerusalem Temple system, and the mountain that would be moved and cast into the sea would be the Temple Mount: the Temple would end, and what Jesus offers in relationship with God would replace that. Derek Leman has a similar, yet different, interpretation, which preserves what makes sense in the pastor’s interpretation, while redressing the parts that (in my opinion) do not fit the text as well.
E. One point that was made was that our relationship with God does not rest on formal prayer, for we are continually connected with God in spirit. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we lack the words to pray (Romans 8:26). The pastor shared that he missed a prayer before bedtime when he was a child, but he concluded that he was still connected with God, and God was bigger than he thought.
F. The lady who had lost a child was talking about ways to pray God’s word: to absorb God’s word and to pray in response to it. She gave us a sheet with Scriptures about God’s Word. Someone remarked that the first passage on the list, II Timothy 3:16-17, primarily depicts Scripture as informative: it imparts useful information, which could even guide non-believers. The Scriptures after that on the list, however, go a step further, depicting the Scripture as spiritually powerful and transformative.
G. Prayer stations were set up throughout the church, according to the ACTS acronym: there was an Adoration station, a Confession station, a Thanksgiving station, and a Supplication station. People could go to a station, pick up a sheet with Scriptural passages, and pray about those passages until a bell rung, after which (if they chose) they would go to another station. In this item, I will share what passages stood out to me.
Before we started the stations, we practiced praying over the Scriptures with Psalm 91, which was about God’s protection of people. Somewhere in my mind, I wondered if God truly protected the righteous or the faithful: if it really was the case that others would die of a plague, whereas the righteous and faithful would not. There are stories of that sort of thing, but there are also stories of godly people suffering peril. The question is legitimate, but, in that setting, I decided to put aside debating and “but what about”s and just to absorb the Psalm. I felt safe and secure as I did so.
The verse that stood out to me at the Adoration station was Psalm 139:9-10: “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (KJV). I thought about the story of when George H.W. Bush was a soldier in World War II and was stranded at sea, and his faith got him through that. The part about God being available for guidance, wherever we may be, also stood out to me.
At the Confession station, the verse that was salient to me was Psalm 51:6. Whatever translation we were given says: “Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.” Looking at my BibleWorks, I can see that there are other ways to understand and to translate that verse. The way that the sheet rendered it, however, made me think about how God created us in the beginning with some innate sense of right and wrong.
At the Thanksgiving station, the passage that stood out to me was Psalm 105:16-22. God sent famine to Egypt, but God providentially sent down Joseph, whom the Egyptians shackled and imprisoned. But the Word of God that Joseph proclaimed was fulfilled, and Joseph was released and exalted, to instruct princes and elders in wisdom. Some of this can be disturbing: God caused a famine? But, in a sense, it is edifying: God worked to teach people wisdom.
At the Supplication station, the sheet had a list of topics, and Scriptures we could look up if we were struggling with those topics. The topic I chose related to conflict in relationships. The Scriptures talked about God being our Father when we are alone and the importance of forgiveness, putting aside resentment, and love. Usually, I am defensive when it comes to my willingness or ability (or lack thereof) to forgive or to love. That time, though, I just absorbed the passage, and they made more sense to me.
H. Near the beginning, the pastor said that we may pray for a person’s healing and be disappointed when that person dies, but the person is in heaven: the person is happier where he or she is, than if he or she were still alive on earth. I was a little ambivalent about that. See Steve Hays’ post here, especially the third item. Also, I wondered if we should see any health related concern on earth as tragic, if a person’s death leads that person to go to heaven. Jesus on earth certainly cared about people’s experiences on earth, for Jesus healed, and even resurrected, people. At the same time, I think of people I know who have died, some even dying early deaths. I was looking up a pastor from my childhood, and I remembered that his wife had a beautiful singing voice. I learned that she died in 1999, at the age of 50. How tragic. But the Christian hope is that death is not her end: that she will live on.
I will leave the comments on, in case anyone wants to add anything. I do not particularly want to read snarky atheist comments, though.