September 25, 2022. Sermon Title: Prayer and the Pray-er (Precant)

First Mennonite Church

September 25, 2022

Text: Psalm 119:169-176

Prayer and the Pray-er—the Precant

How often do you pray? And when you pray, what concerns or petitions you bring before God? Have you seen God answering your prayers?

Last week, before Jasmine went back to Davis, she was telling me about the testimony of one her mentors regarding prayer and answered prayers especially regarding healing. And then she asked me if I ever had a healing experience as a result of prayer. I told her that when I was about her age, I noticed that my sight on the left eye was blurry. I could not read if I covered or shut my right eye because my vision on the left eye was double. Letters had a something like a shadow around them that made it impossible for me to figure out what they were. I told her that I prayed about it and that in the mornings, when I went to wash my face, I would take something to read and checked to see if there was any difference in the sight of that eye. After some days of praying and checking, one morning I was surprised to notice that my sight was perfect. My only explanation was, I told Jasmine, the result of prayer.

As a pastor I pray for many people, besides my family and the church family. This week I was praying, over the phone, for and with someone thousands of miles away. I know you pray for me and many others too. Thank you!

But when it comes to praying for yourself, what do you pray for? It is here where I would like for us to consider the prayer found in the last section of Psalm 119.

So, once again, just to refresh your memory on what I said a couples of Sundays ago regarding acrostic poems, Psalm 119 is one of those. An acrostic poem is one constructed using the letters of a word or a name and in which each letter of the name will appear in the first word in each line of the poem. In this way, the letter down the lines of the poem will spell the name. A classic example is how the image of the fish became an early Christian symbol. The first letter of the name and titles for Jesus: Ihsous, Xristos, Theou, Uio, Soter: Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Savior in Greek spell Icthys, fish in Greek. When Christians were persecuted, they used the fish symbol to mark places of gathering, tombs or to identify themselves to other believers. This symbol raised less suspicion than if they were to use of the cross. When a Christian met with a stranger, he would draw an arch on the ground and if the other recognized the picture being drawn, would put the other arch forming the basic shape of the fish; thus, both identifying themselves as a fellow believer. But if the person did not understand the first clue in the drawing, the believer would know that the stranger is not a fellow believer.

In the case of Psalm 119, the acrostic is by using the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew alphabet has 22 characters and the writer wrote eight lines, or verses, using one by one each of the 22 characters at the beginning of each line or verse in each of the sections. That is why there are 176 verses in this chapter. The eight verses we will consider today correspond to the letter Taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

The Psalmist expresses his earnest desire that God would take notice of his prayers. He desires to connect with God in prayer, that his time and the concerns of his heart reach the presence of God. Let my cry come before you, O Lord. And in the following verse, he pleads, “Let my supplication come before you.”  Prayer was not a duty and neither a religious practice in and of itself. Prayer was intimate encounter with the Almighty God who is concerned and wants to be involved in the daily life of those who approach him. Yet, in this intimate and solemn encounter that prayer is, the intention of the pray-er, the supplicant, is also of great importance. Prayer requires attentiveness and full intentions of the heart from the one who prays. We cannot just mumble words and believe they will reach the heavens. We cannot, as Jesus warned, pile empty words and believe that because of either the eloquence or number of words God will hear our prayers. The psalmist pleads with God to take notice of the psalmist prayers. He pleads for God’s attention.

The first petition is, “Give me understanding according to your word.” In this convoluted world of ours, we need God’s wisdom and understanding in order to keep a godly life and to know how to deal with the issues we face in the world. Every day we make decisions, sometimes these are important decisions. So, we need discernment and we need guidance. However, this cry for divine discernment is not only for what is best for me or what is more profitable or what is the easiest way out of a difficult situation, but what is best for me according to your word. What the psalmist is asking God is to help him think and discern according to God’s heart. There is a caveat and condition to this way of praying. We must know the Word of God. We must be familiar with what the Bible says in order to know that God is indeed leading us according to his Word. Not knowing the Word of God, we can be led by our own ideas or the ideas of others.

Then the psalmist moves to worship and praise:“My lips will pour forth praise; My tongue will sing of your promise.” Praise and songs to God flow out of knowing God and his word. I praise and sing to you, because you teach me your statutes and because all your commandments are right. This morning our hymns were on the theme of prayer. The American Sign Language song this morning is actually a prayer.

The psalmist then expresses his yearning for God’s salvation, followed by a plea for a prolonged life in order to continue praising God. I long for your salvation, O Lord,and your law is my delight.Let me live that I may praise you, and let your ordinances help me.

When we pray for healing, the obvious intent is that we do not want to die, but to stay alive. What might be the reasons in asking God to prolong our days on earth? For us parents, we would say for the sake of our children, others might include the enjoyment of their retirement years. And, there is nothing wrong with these reasons in asking God for longevity. Here, however, the psalmist asks God to keep him alive so that he may praise the Lord for a longer time. He prays that God would allow him to live longer for the purpose of growing in sanctification. “Let your ordinances help me.” 

In a sudden move, just after psalmist expresses his deep longing for God’s salvation and pleads for longer life to grow in sanctification, the psalmist says, I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”

This last verse not only seem to interrupt the flow of the poem, but it also seems to contradict everything the psalmist had said thus far. However, in light of everything the psalmist had said, this last verse reveals the truth about being a lover of God. We know by experience that no matter how long or short our walk with the Lord is or has been, we have not known everything there is about God; we have not arrived at a point where we do not need God anymore; we have not risen the spiritual heights where we are not vulnerable to temptation and sin that can lead us astray like a lost sheep. However, despite our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and doubts, in God’s pure mercy, down in our heart of hearts, we have a love for God. Down within our heart there is fear of God and we long to walk closer with the Lord every day. Deep in our heart and soul echoes the living Word and Commandments of the Lord. All of these good reasons should move us to pray with the psalmist:

Let my cry come before you, O Lord;

Let my supplication come before you;
    deliver me according to your promise.
And . . .
Let me live that I may praise you . . .
    for I do not forget your commandments. Amen!

Pastor Romero