ďWhere to PrayĒ
February 15, 2015 - Transfiguration Sunday
†††††††† You might think the
simple answer to ďWhere should we pray?Ē matches our simple answers to ďWhen
should we pray?Ē and ďFor whom should we pray?Ē So just like we said that we
should pray all the time and for everyone, we should pray everywhere.
But Scripture does not contain any simple direction for the place of prayer
quite like it does for the time and subjects of our prayers. Itís not a bad
idea to think we should pray everywhere, but the Bible identifies specific
sorts of places to pray.
†††††††† We read Lukeís account
of Jesusí Transfiguration this morning, rather than Mark which is the Gospel
for this church year, because only Luke mentions Jesusí reason for heading up
the mountain with Peter, James and John. He went to pray. It wasnít just a nice
hike like our typical Eugene jaunts up Spencer Butte or Mt. Pisgah or even one of the Sisters. It was a climb with a specific spiritual purpose, to find a
place to pray.
†††††††† Why a mountain top?
Mountain tops are neat places. If you climb rather than drive up or ride a
helicopter, then it takes some effort that makes you feel pretty special just
because you got there. The views are often spectacular. Looking out on the
green Willamette Valley from high up inspires natural praise for our Creator.
†††††††† But Jesus and His
disciples did not climb the Mount of Transfiguration for the exercise or for
the view, at least not for the view of the country below. None of the Gospel
writers tell us which mountain they climbed, although Matthew and Mark tell us
it was ďhigh.Ē The point was not how far and what landmarks they could see from there. It was what they saw and experienced there.
†††††††† They went up there to
get away from the crowds and the calls for miracles and all the everyday
distractions of their life as traveling preachers and teachers. Unless itís
Spencer Butte on Memorial Day weekend, mountain tops are isolated, quiet, out
of the way places where you can focus your thoughts, where you can pray. The
first lesson here about the place of prayer is that where we pray is away.
†††††††† Look at the life of
Jesus and you will see Him constantly following that practice of getting away
to pray, separating Himself from His work, from the general public, and praying
in set apart, out of the way places. Thatís how His ministry began. After His
baptism, the Holy Spirit led Him out into the wilderness, away from everyone
else, where He prayed and fasted and prepared for His mission.
†††††††† It didnít need to be a
mountain top. It just needed to be quiet and apart. After talking about the
crowds that gathered around Jesus to be healed, Luke 5:16 says that ďhe would withdraw to deserted places and pray.Ē Sometimes it was just
out in undeveloped countryside. Sometimes it was up a mountain. At the end of
His life on earth it was in a still, deserted garden.
†††††††† You might take this
habit of Jesus praying in isolation and put it together with what He said in
our Ash Wednesday Gospel reading from Matthew 6:6, ďwhenever you pray, go into
your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret,Ē and
conclude that the place to pray should always be somewhere alone and isolated
and apart from everyone else.
†††††††† Yes, Jesus was often
alone when He prayed, but at key points, like that prayer in the garden and in
our Gospel reading today, Jesus had others with Him. He prayed with a small
group gathered around Him to support Him in prayer. At times, like when He
raised Lazarus from the dead, He prayed out loud in front of a bunch of people.
That point about praying alone in your room was to avoid the hypocrisy of
turning prayer into a show, not to command us to never pray with other people.
†††††††† As we said early in
this series on prayer, we see the first Christians often and regularly praying
together. We see this over and over in the book of Acts, starting in chapter 1
verse 14, where we are told that the male disciples met together with the women
disciples, ďconstantly devoting themselves to prayer.Ē Acts 2:42 says that the first gatherings of Christian ďdevoted themselves to the apostlesí
teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.Ē
†††††††† The fact that Acts 2:42 says ďthe prayersĒ makes it pretty clear that those original Christians
were, as I said a few weeks ago, following the Jewish practice of praying
together at set times of the day. They even still went and joined in the
prayers at the Temple, as we see in Acts 3:1 when Peter and John go ďup to the
temple at the hour of prayer.Ē
†††††††† To pray away, away
from ordinary life and distractions, can mean praying alone, but it can also
mean praying together, in places set apart for prayer, like the Temple was, like every Christian church is meant to be. Jesus said furiously that Godís
house is to be a house of prayer. And the basic Christian understanding of who
we are as the Church is that we are now Godís house, Godís temple.
Wherever we gather to worship ought to become a house of prayer.
†††††††† Itís still apart,
still away that we pray in the best and most complete way. Yes, yes, yes, we
can pray anytime and everywhere. Pray before you get on the freeway. Pray
before you pick up the pencil and start that test. Pray as you go into the
doctorís office. Pray as you try to find a gentle answer to that annoying
co-worker. But then look at the example of Jesus going away into the desert and
up mountains, look at those early Christians gathering away in an upper room,
and make it a practice to also go away to pray.
†††††††† Thatís one big reason
we are gathered here in this church building, why we all made the effort to get
up, get dressed and walk or drive or bike here this morning. We came away from
everyday life and worries to be here and pray and to encourage each other to
†††††††† We need to pray away
but we cannot always do it privately and alone. A recent Barna poll shows that
47% of senior pastors believe that at least some people experience their faith
exclusively through the Internet. Thatís probably true but itís not good. If
Jesus needed friends gathered around Him in prayer, then so do you and I.
Thatís why we are here now. Itís why Momís in Prayer groups gather here on
Thursday and Friday. Itís why our menís group shows up here on Friday morning.
Itís why a fellowship group goes to the Willockís home on Friday evenings. Itís
why our Church Council is going to travel up the McKenzie to another church for
our retreat this Saturday. We come away together to pray just like Jesusí and
†††††††† Wednesday night you
are invited to come away for another time of prayer as we observe Ash
Wednesday. Then each Wednesday following in Lent Trudy Kutz will offer an
opportunity to come together and pray. I hope many of you will join her.
†††††††† We come away to pray,
but now we need to point out that where we pray is not where we stay. Thatís
also the message of our text. We laugh at how wrong Peter was in verse 33 to
say they should all stay up there, living in little huts made out of branches
gathered from the mountainside. But we need to apply that to ourselves. Letís
not kneel down to pray unless we are ready to get up from there and go where
God sends us.
†††††††† Jesus is the example
again. He prayed out in the wilderness for forty days, then came back to
civilization to gather disciples, preach the good news and heal people. He went
up on the mountain to pray and talk with Moses and Elijah, but look at what
they spoke about in verse 31: ďhis departure.Ē Jesus prayed and then still had
somewhere to go. As we remember now in the church season before us, after He
prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He got up and went to the Cross to die.
Letís not think that you and I are really praying unless we are ready to rise
from prayer, pick up our crosses and follow Jesus wherever He takes us.
†††††††† Those disciples who
saw the glory of Jesus had to come down the mountain and discover they still
had lots to learn. They came down and met that man with the demon-possessed son
and found they couldnít help him. As Mark 9:29 tells us, they needed to learn
to pray still more if they were going to be able to deal with that sort of
evil. But they could not learn that lesson up on the mountain, but only when
they went out among other people.
†††††††† Thatís another reason
you cannot truly live your spiritual life on-line. You think you are in touch
with the world, but you arenít really going anywhere, arenít really learning
the lessons that going out among people teaches you. Prayer is the beginning of
a journey, a journey with Jesus that will take you places you never expected.
†††††††† Forty-five years ago I
knelt down by my bed to pray one night and got up believing God had called me
to be a pastor. Now here I am, a long way down a road that began with prayer
and that took me back and forth across the country. Thatís how itís meant to
be. We donít stay where we pray. We pray and then go where God sends us.
†††††††† Maybe thatís why so many
people move away from Valley Covenant, like our friend who is here with us this
morning. We pray and then get up and go. Many of us have prayed, and met Jesus
and then followed Him where He led, across the country, across the world. Where
you pray is not where you stay. Itís a risky business.
†††††††† Of course, getting up
from prayer and going where God sends doesnít always mean a long-distance move.
You may pray and find God telling you to go across town and volunteer at a
school or hospital, or just walk next door and get to know your neighbor. He
may tell you to get up and go out to a Bible study group or to work a shift at
the family shelter or help someone move through Love INC. Just donít pray
expecting to stay there in some holy glow. Pray expecting to get up and go.
†††††††† We pray away. We come
away, apart from our busyness, our distractions, our entertainment, all our
ordinary work and places, and in those away places of prayer we meet Jesus and
see His glory. So we pray, but we do not stay. We realize that we cannot bottle
up and hold onto whatever spiritual blessings God pours down on us in our
prayers. We cannot stay there in the peace and quiet of prayer just because we
like peace and quiet. No, we get up from prayer and let God lead us.
†††††††† But thereís one more
thing to say. Peterís desire to stay there on the mountain with Jesus and those
prophets was not all wrong. He was experiencing something that in the end is
meant to be what we all experience forever. That moment of seeing Jesusí face
shining with all His divine light of love and power is what we all hope and
look for someday.
†††††††† Go back to the verse
just before our text. Jesus had been telling the disciples about how He would
die and rise again. He had been telling them about how they themselves would suffer
persecution and even lose their lives for His sake. But then in verse 27 He
told them, ďtruly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste
death before they see the kingdom of God.Ē Thatís what Peter, James and John
went up that mountain to see. They saw in the face of Jesus the hope of the
world, the glory of Godís kingdom in His own beloved Son. They saw where and
what we were made for. They saw that where we pray is where we will be someday.
†††††††† Where we pray is where
we meet our Lord, where we kneel or sit or stand and see the light of His face
shining on us. Right now it is dim. Right now we donít see very clearly or
understand very well. But we pray in His presence, and into His presence is
where by His grace we are headed.
†††††††† Beth and I try to talk
to our daughters by Skype every week. We used to do the same with our parents
by phone many years ago. Itís good. We get to hear their voices and see their
faces smile at us, even if their images do freeze up now and then when the
connection gets flakey. Iím so glad for the blessing of those conversations and
the sight of those faces. But what we really hope for, what we really want is
to see those same faces in person, not pixilated or frozen on a screen, but
shining in full glory in the flesh. Skype is nice, but real face to face is
†††††††† Those disciples got a
foretaste of the kingdom of God, which is all about being with Jesus, face to
face in His presence. They saw what it would be like someday to see His face in
His full glory. We get a little foretaste ourselves when we come away and pray
and find our Lord near us, sense the love and smile of His face shining on us.
As I said, we know we canít stay there. We have to get up and follow Him. But
if we keep on praying and then following, then we will eventually come to where
we can stay, where He has come to be with us in His kingdom forever.
†††††††† Prayer is like Skype.
The face of Jesus is in heaven right now. The only way we see it now is
long-distance, in prayer and in His Word and at His Table. But those glimpses
of Him in prayer and worship are the promise of something far better when He
comes again. Then we too will see that glorious face which the disciples saw on
†††††††† Jesus came so you and
I could get there. As He told the disciples and as He talked about with Moses
and Elijah, He came to die and give His live so that our sins could be forgiven
and we could come freely to Him in prayer. Then He rose again so that the glory
of His face could keep shining on us, could give us the true hope that like
those three men, we will see the beloved face we only see dimly now.
†††††††† We pray away because
that is where we can focus on Jesus. We donít stay where we pray because Jesus
is leading us on. But we know that where we pray is where we will be someday,
because Jesus is there. Letís keep meeting Jesus in prayer, following Him into
the world, and being ready to meet Him in person when He returns to light our
world with His glory forever.
†††††††† Valley Covenant Church
†††††††† Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
†††††††† Copyright © 2015 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj