Why Pray? #2 – What do we hope for?

What are your expectations when you pray? Our scriptures show us that God can and does do great things. What are you hoping for?

Read Isaiah 62:1-5, John 2:1-11 here.

Listen here:

Last week, we answered the question “Why pray?” by remembering that God loves us.  We talked about praying with clasped hands as a way to remember that God tells us that he is holding our hand.  In God’s perfect timing, this past week our women’s group that meets together once a month over lunch started a new study about God’s promise of his presence.  I often say in sermons that God is right here, right now, and our women’s study pointed out to us that God’s promise to be with us is the most frequent promise in the Bible.[1]

This morning we’re continuing to talk about prayer because it’s so fundamental to our lives as Christians. God sent his son Jesus to ensure that we could have access to God 24/7. We tap into that thorough prayer.

Last Sunday I was down in Pratt for the installation of their new pastor, Judy Arnold, and in my charge to her I mentioned that one of my seminary professors told us to plan to pray at least two hours a day.  Everybody laughed.  But I’ll bet we get closer to that then we think.  Many of us wear step counters these days, or have them on our phones, to keep track of all the walking around we do.  If those would count our prayers, I wonder if we might be surprised how much time we actually spend?

Most of us pray, even if only a little, so let’s talk about it.  What do we hope for when we pray?  What do we expect?

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Where do our expectations come from?  (The Bible, experience, faith…)

What we expect when we pray is that something will change.

This is a fully justified expectation.  We can’t always see the change, sometimes because it is different than what we expected, or sometimes because it happens gradually over time, or because it’s happening inside us.

In our reading today from Isaiah 62, Isaiah tells us that Israel can expect change. And he tells us in the first verse that he has been praying for this change.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,

and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,

until her vindication shines out like the dawn,

and her salvation like a burning torch.

We get the sense that he has been praying for Israel all along, and he tells us that he will not stop praying until their righteousness and salvation make Israel a blazing light to the world.  He tells us that God will change their image. No longer will they be called Desolate and Forsaken, but instead they will be called Hepzibah, which means the Lord delights in you, and Beulah, which means married or taken care of. Though Israel may feel lost and forgotten by God because of the downfall of Jerusalem and being carried off to exile in Babylon, they are not forgotten, and God still cares for them.  There is hope.

Reading in Isaiah about these name changes got me to thinking about something that God has changed in me.  Twenty years ago I think people might have said that my name was Judgmental. Everywhere I went I had some criticism for the people, the place, the music, the décor.  There’s a Christian comedian named John Crist whose videos get shared on Facebook quite a bit.  In his videos he is intentionally overly judgmental. His satire can be a bit harsh, but he does it in a funny way.  I, on the other hand, wasn’t funny.  One of the ways I realized I had a problem was that I found myself being so critical everywhere I went that I could never enjoy myself.  When God started showing me that I needed to change, I had no idea how to do that, so I started asking God to make that change in me. I had only a faint hope that it would even be possible.  I prayed almost daily for God to stop me from being judgmental, and I prayed that for years.  Then one day I realized that I hadn’t prayed about that in a while, because I wasn’t finding myself being so judgmental anymore.  I don’t know exactly how or when it happened, probably in a variety of ways, and little by little over a long time, but it did happen.

If we are seeking God, if we are spending time with God, we will change.  God changes us.

That’s what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians:

“…all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)

The more we spend time looking to God, the more we reflect his glory.

Sometimes we know something needs to change, but we don’t know what or how, so we just bring God the problem and ask for help.  That’s what Mary does in the story we read from John 2.  Jesus and the disciples are at a wedding, and Mary, Jesus’ mom, notices they’re out of wine, so she brings the problem to Jesus. “They have no more wine” (John 2:3).  We don’t know whether she had any idea how he was going to fix the problem, but we can see that she expects that he can.  She does a little extra to help Jesus by telling the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

I don’t know if you read it this way, but I can imagine Jesus sighing at his mother as he responds to her.

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

But then he DOES fix the problem, and he does it in a big way.  He makes a LOT of wine, and it’s really good wine.

In Isaiah’s prophecies about the messiah, he says:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines. –Isaiah 25:6

In the story in John about the wedding, John wants us to see that Jesus fulfills the prophecies about the Messiah and brings blessings and abundance because he is the Messiah.  Jesus changes everything by bringing us an abundance of grace.

To help you see abundance in this story, let’s do some math.

  • John tells us that there were six jars that each held 20-30 gallons. Jesus had the servants fill the jars to the brim with water.  That means there were 120-180 gallons in those jars.  (6 jars x 30 gallons = 180 gallons)
  • Since most of us don’t buy our wine by the gallon, let’s convert that to bottles. There are about 5 standard bottles in a gallon.  So that means there were about 900 bottles of wine.  (5 bottles x 180 gallons = 900 bottles)
  • According to wedding planners, there should be 2.15 bottles of wine per guest, so that means Jesus has made enough wine for almost 2000 people.[2],[3]
  • Weddings then lasted longer, but that’s still a lot of wine. An abundance of wine. And not just plain wine, but good wine. Well-aged wine.

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In today’s terms, it might be like Jesus changed that grocery-store aisle full of bottled water into bottles of wine, like in this picture.  Here the shelves are full of wine bottles, but the sign over the aisle says “water.”

Speaking of wine, what did the grape say when it was crushed?  Nothing, it just let out a little wine.

John, our gospel writer, wants us to see that Jesus’ presence changes things.  Jesus takes care of the problem and makes it better than ok.  That’s grace.   Jesus brings an abundance of grace.

What should we expect when we pray? Change and grace and unexpected blessings.  That’s why our memory verse for today is about trusting God to be working.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. -2 Corinthians 4:16

Paul’s telling us here to hold on to the hope we have in Jesus Christ, and to keep trusting in God’s promise of renewal.  Keep on praying and expect things to change.

Just as Isaiah was incessantly praying for Israel, it’s important that now more than ever we all pray for our church, both in our time together, and individually in our private prayer times.  We are in transition.  We are in a time of change.  I’m still relatively new here as your pastor.  We’ve done a lot already, but we have a lot more to do, and we want to make sure we’re doing and being all that God is calling us to be as God’s church in this time and place.

In your bulletin on the prayer page each week we have a list of the officers of the church who are leading us.  Keep on praying for them.  On the calendar page we list all that’s happening here during the week.  Pray for those things, too.  That’s why we also include them in our weekly prayer email.

This week you’ll see that our session is meeting for the first time this year.  At this first meeting we’re going to need to spend some time in prayer and discussion about how we reorganize so that we’re best prepared to be doing all that God has for us in the days ahead.  Pray for our session and especially be praying for us on Wednesday night.

Keep on praying that our church would be a place

  • where people find love and grace,
  • where people find Jesus,
  • where the Holy Spirit is breathing new life into us, and
  • where we keep on growing as Jesus’ disciples.

Keep on praying that this would be a place where people are renewed and strengthened to go out into the world and share God’s love and grace.

church_pictures_2013_4_of_24Have you ever seen a church called Hepzibah?  In South Carolina, we lived near Hepzibah Baptist Church.  It turns out there are lots of Hepzibah churches, and not just Baptist ones.  Methodist, Assembly of God, even Presbyterian. I used to wonder why in the world anyone would decide to name their church Hepzibah. It seemed like such an odd choice.  Now, after reading our passage from Isaiah, we know that Hepzibah means “the Lord delights in you.”  Isn’t that what we want to be true about us?

So let’s be praying this week about how we can delight God, both as individuals, and as United Presbyterian Church of Sterling.

[1] Amy Poling Sutherlin, God’s Promise: I Am With You, 2018 Horizons, Presbyterian Women PC(USA), pg 5.

[2] https://winefolly.com/tutorial/buying-wedding-wines/

[3] Do you prefer your wine by the glass?  A bottle pours about 5 glasses, So Jesus turned water into about 4500 glasses of wine.  http://winefolly.com/tutorial/how-many-glasses-bottle-wine/

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