Living sacrifice and transformed lives
12 So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.
3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6 We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7 If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8 If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.
9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord.20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.
Thoughts on the passage:
We are probably all guilty at one point or another of uttering the parking lot prayer. “God, just give me a spot near the door please.” If we have not done that than we likely have fallen prone to the bargaining prayer. “God, if you just let me have this pony (insert object of desire here) then I will never miss church again.” As noble as we all probably like to think ourselves, we are guilty at one point or another as seeing God like a giant vending machine where we insert our prayers and offerings and expect something we want to drop out of the slot. This is human nature, but it is not what we are talking about when we talk about the need to be a praying church member.
In his book, “I Am a Church Member,” Thom Rainer focuses on the need for members of the church to pray for the pastor. He outlines the many struggles of being a pastor and he highlights the pressure a pastor is under. All of this serves as a reminder to the readers of the need for us all to be praying for our pastors. While I do not disagree with his arguments I think it would be a little self-serving of me to spend a whole sermon talking about why people should be praying for me. I also think it would be another way of limiting the power of prayer. When I think about praying church members, I don’t just think about them praying for me, but prayer at so many levels.
As we talked about getting ready for this worship service, the worship team started thinking about all the different accessories that we have in the church when it comes to prayer. There are Catholic rosaries and Protestant rosaries (I am a proud owner of a United Methodist one). We have prayer shawls and prayer blankets. Candles and “singing bowls” can be used to help us in our prayers and books of prayers abound from formal ones put out by denominations to books written by individuals reflecting their own prayer life. All of these things are tools that help us in the practice of praying.
When it comes to prayer there is the inward tendency to think of ourselves and our needs. Even as a pastor, I tend to be self-interested in my prayers. Not that my prayers are simply for me, but that they come from my own interests. I pray for church members and I pray for their friends or relatives because of their relationship to me. What I am not as good at is praying for people who are not connected to me or for people who might be considered my enemies. Granted, I do not really have a long list of enemies, but still, my prayers are rarely for them.
Last week I shared the JOY acronym as a way of helping us to be uplifting. I think it can also apply as we think about our prayer life. When we pray we should pray in the same order, Jesus, Others, Yourself. When we do that, I think we have the potential to turn our prayers from business transactions with God into much more of a relationship. By using this structure, it helps us to avoid the temptation to only turn to God about our needs and wants, but instead be listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit and thinking about the needs of others as much as ourselves.
It is good to start first in our prayers by talking about God. You can do this in a lot of ways. Often the Psalmists start by praising God. We do not do this because God is vain and needs to hear how awesome God is. We do it because it helps us remember how awesome God is. Praying first about Jesus can also be a form of surrender. We start by praying for what Jesus wants to happen in the world. We pray for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives, our families, our church, our community. We pray about what Jesus would want for us, for our leaders, for our nation. We can also start by taking some time to listen for what God wants to say. For prayer to be relational we need to let both sides have a say in the conversation.
Next, we pray for others. Again, I want to stress that in my mind this is more where we pray for our enemies or those we see as different than us. If you are born and raised Republican, pray for Democrats. If you are a peace-loving hippy, pray for members of the NRA. This is also a good time to pray for our leaders and I would argue the leaders of others. Does anyone not think that the world would be better if the Holy Spirit was stirring in the heart of Kim Jung-un (leader of North Korea)? When we pray for people other than ourselves, we also need to make sure that the prayer is still not about ourselves. For example, praying that your neighbor would stop playing his music so loud when you are trying to sleep is not really praying for your neighbor. Praying for others means praying for them as people, as children of God, as just as beloved and important as we are. When we pray for others first it reminds us of the fact that we are meant to live in community and be in relationship not just with God, but with God’s creation and God’s people.
Finally, it is important to pray for yourself. When Jesus gives the great commandment to love God and love neighbor, he likes it to love of self. If we do not love ourselves we will not have anything to give to others. It is good to pray for ourselves. I believe that when we start first with praying for God and then praying for others, by the time we get to ourselves the petty stuff will have gone away. It is hard to pray for God’s will to be done in the world, to pray for our leaders that they might be moved by the Holy Spirit, and then to also ask God for that pony we have always wanted. Part of the transformative power of prayer is how it opens up our hearts and minds to be in connection with God and it changes how we think of things.
“Devote yourself to prayer.” This is Paul’s charge to the Romans and to us. We need to be devoted to prayer. It is too easy to forget that prayer is one of things that makes the church so different from business or other non-profits. We believe that through prayer greater things can happen then we can imagine or understand. We pray because it puts us in touch with the divine and opens us up to seeing the world through God’s eyes. Prayer is a way of getting past ourselves and our own inward focus and instead seeing our part in the world. Prayer is how we remain a connected and vital part of the Body of Christ and it is how we live into our work as members of the church.
Questions to Ponder:
What is your preferred time for prayer and reflection?
When is a time you have tried praying for your enemies and what happened?
Who is someone in your life who you look to as a model of a praying church member?
When is a time that God answered your prayers and what happened?
Fourth Pledge (taken from “I Am a Church Member” and modified from singular to plural):
I am a church member.
I will pray for my pastors every day. I understand that our pastors’ work is never ending. Their days are filled with numerous demands that bring emotional highs and lows. They must deal with critics. They must be good spouses and parents. Because my pastor cannot do all things in their own power, I will pray for their strength and wisdom daily.