Sermon: The Thumb: Foundation of Prayer and Bible Study
by Pastor Todd Buurstra
They looked like the perfect family. There sat the Stehouwers in my home church, all 9 of them, taking up an entire row! There were Ray and Thelma, their 5 kids, and the two, mixed race girls that they adopted. For a year they even had a tenth, a girl who ran to their house at high noon naked as a jaybird because of her mother’s abuse. Soon Ray went forward to lead the singing—always with a smile. Ray and Thelma were high school sweethearts; he, an outgoing business owner, and she a quiet, stay at home, mom. And daughter Karla? Well, she was hot!
And so you can imagine the church’s surprise when they got divorced! Turns out that lurking behind Ray’s sunny, church-smile was a temper. Thelma might have been intimidated. Either way, all I know is that hot Karla’s parents stopped talking—just how I don’t know. In effect, Ray and Thelma were Love Posers since without communication you can’t have true love
Too many in church are love posers, not only with family, but especially with God. And, we all are sometimes. So to lead us from going through the motions to true love, I begin this Rally Day Sunday by unveiling consistory’s new discipleship vision. It’s a hand; the way we receive God’s gifts and grasp God’s goals. And I start today with the thumb, a hand grip’s foundation, and discipleship’s foundation: communicating with God through prayer and Bible.
How does God build a loving foundation for our spirits?
First off, posers have always been around. In Jesus’ day part of the Pharisees posed. These folks saw love to God as expressed through fulfilling duty. Now duty, in and of itself, is not such a bad thing. They just took it to the extreme. So duty became rules not relationship.
The worst in this group of posers actually had nicknames back then. There were:
The bruised Pharisees who bumped into walls with eyes closed to avoid seeing a woman.
The humped back Pharisees who walked about in mock humility.
The shoulder Pharisees who touted their good deeds on, not their sleeve, but their shoulder.
The ever-reckoning Pharisees who were always counting up how many good deeds they did.
It was one of these hypocrites that set a trap for Jesus. The trap went like this:
If the law (like the ten commandments we just read) is from God;
And all of God’s laws are perfect;
Then which of the 613 commandments in the Hebrew Testament is better than any other?
Jesus cut to the quick in a surgery that exposed the heart of God’s law, and the heart of those proud to be holier than thou. The heart and purpose of the law is love. True love with God.
From time to time we are like those worst of the Pharisees. We may be here out of habit or because our mom made us. Or we may be “spiritual, but not religious” which often means that God and we are on speaking terms in a crisis–help!!–though God wishes it all the time.
So how does Jesus move us from posing to true love as the foundation of our relationship with God? Just as Ray and Thelma needed to learn how to talk again, so do we with God.
Thelma, I had a bad day at work again. I’m frustrated with the line manager’s performance.
Or, Ray, do you have any idea what its like to keep track of 7 kids all day?! I’m exhausted!
So, our greatest need is to learn how to communicate with God. That happens through the Bible and prayer. As conversation is made up of speaking and listening, the Bible is where we listen to God say, I love you, and prayer is where we say, I love you back to God. This is because God speaks to us through God’s Word, and prayer is us speaking back to God. If you only pray during the day, and not read the Bible, it’s like you’re one of those annoying people who talks non-stop, Did I tell you about…blah, blah, blah… to God, but you never stop to listen.
So let me give you two levels of growing communication with God.
Level 1 for those who may want to try on faith, or who are just starting to grow in your faith. Use a 5 minute devotional like The Upper Room or The Daily Bread which you can pick up at the doorways. Or go to our website, www.nbrc.com, and look on the lower right where you can find a Bible verse or more online resources. Go there for an inspirational message, a prayer, a devotional, etc. Then throughout your day carry out an ongoing conversation with God. At first you will probably ask more for guidance or blessing, but don’t worry, God is a good listener.
Level 2 for those who are maturing into a solid foundation of a loving relationship with God. This requires moving beyond what someone else has prepared for you to reading the Bible for yourself. This requires moving beyond the prayer on the go method to include a more settled prayer time that starts with praise and thanksgiving before it moves to the gimmes. Just like sitting down with a close friend or spouse with a cup of coffee to listen and talk every day.
Had they a lifetime of conversation Ray and Thelma may have been able to finish each other’s sentences. Ray, I know, you’re thinking she’s too bossy for her own good. Or, Thelma, I know you’re going to say ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ but… Wouldn’t it be cool if our relationship with God was so founded on the love of listening to the Bible and speaking to God in prayer, that we could finish God’s sentences? In other words, I want to tell him off, but I’m pretty sure that You want me to be gentle but firm. After all You say, “a gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh answer stirs up anger.” Such is the thumb foundation of your relationship with God.
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