Persistent prayer

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And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? (Luke 18:7)

Read Luke 18:1–14

Today’s reading looks at two parables about prayer – one about a persistent widow and one that compares prayers from a Pharisee and a tax collector. Together, they tell us our prayers should be persistent and humble.

Prayer, I think, is more about changing us than it is about trying to convince God to do what we ask. God already knows what we want and need, even before we put them into words. Is telling God the same thing over and over going to change God’s mind? If we get people to pray the same thing, God will be more convinced. I doubt it.

Instead, prayer focuses our minds on what is important in our walk as disciples. We need all the help we can get to live our lives as God intends and, even then, we will fail a lot. Discipleship is not a one-way street of improvement, always moving closer and closer to perfection. Instead, it is a cycle of being refreshed and strengthened by spending time in prayer and worship, sent out into a hostile world to follow God’s will, and then returning to spend time alone with God again.

We cannot live as disciples by our own strength and wisdom. Instead, we need to humbly approach God, over and over again, admitting our weaknesses and being filled by God’s strength and God’s wisdom.

God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I am weak; fill me with your strength. I am foolish; fill me with your wisdom. I am frightened; fill me with your courage. Amen.

By Neil Bergmann

Neil Bergmann worships at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Rochedale, Queensland. He represents the Lutheran Church on the Queensland Churches Environmental Network (QCEN), a commission of Queensland Churches Together.

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Jesus prays for his disciples

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As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world (John 17:18).

Read John 17:6–19

John’s gospel is unique in that it describes the Last Supper. Five chapters, 13 to 17, are dedicated to what is often called Jesus’ farewell discourse, where he prepares the disciples for his imminent arrest and execution. Chapter 17 is one long prayer in which Jesus prays to his Father to protect his disciples in the trying times ahead, and then extends that to prayer for those who believe through the words of the disciples, which includes us!

Why do the disciples (and us) deserve special protection and blessing? It is partly because Jesus loves them (and us), but more directly, it is because the disciples are being sent out to tell the world about Jesus, and that can be a dangerous thing to do.

Likewise, we are all sent by Jesus to tell a hurting and misguided world what it means to live in the kingdom of heaven. How we are sent out into the world will be different for all of us. It may be as preachers, or as writers, or as campaigners, or as carers. It may be to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to house the homeless, and to visit the forgotten.

In whatever way we go out into the world, Jesus’ prayer to his Father applies to us. We are under the protection of the creator of the universe. We will never be alone.

Jesus, you are sending us out into the world. You have prayed to the Father to protect us as we go. Give us the courage to step beyond our comfort zones, to stop depending on our strength, and to rely totally on our strength. Amen.

By Neil Bergmann

Neil Bergmann is the chair of Lutheran Earth Care, Australia and New Zealand. A retired computer engineer, he worships at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Rochedale, Queensland.

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The Tree Of Life

by Maria Rudolph

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They are like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever they do prospers (Psalm 1:3).

Read Psalm 1

This year the LCANZ has another simultaneous art exhibition across all congregations, and the theme to inspire artwork is ‘The Tree of Life’. I wonder whether you might be a person working on artwork for this exhibition, or if you know someone in your congregation who is.

There are endless possibilities to capture the topic, and inspiration everywhere, even within our church! The logo of Grow Ministries, which has resourced the church with child, youth, and family ministry materials, also depicts a tree. The very first psalm in the collection of 150 psalms in our Bible paints a picture of a person who follows in the ways of the Lord as a strong and healthy tree planted by a life-giving stream of water. Jesus talks of himself as the giver of living water and by drinking it we will never thirst again. The final book of the Bible, Revelation (22:1,2), talks about the river of life in the New Jerusalem, which flows from the throne of God, and that on each side of the river stands the tree of life, growing above the river, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. What an amazing vision! I wonder if we will get to see it in heaven.

Jesus tells us in Revelation (22:12–14): ‘Behold, I am coming soon! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and go through the gates into the city.’ So let’s be a tree in our current circumstance, today. Let’s wash our robes by laying down our sins and asking Jesus for forgiveness. Let’s immerse ourselves in the Living Water and sink our roots into this life-giving stream to drink God’s word every day. Then we are a big, strong, healthy tree after God’s own heart and the fruit of the Spirit will grow on and in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And then we will prosper by storing up treasures in heaven. God is growing you into a tree of life.

How can you sink your roots deeply into God today?

Loving God, it is only with your help, your nurture, and gentle pruning that I can be a strong and healthy tree. Guide me to sink my roots deeply into you and nourish me with your Living Water and Bread of Life. Help me to bear good fruit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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The kingdom of God is here

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Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation nor will people say, ‘Here it is’, or ‘There it is’, because the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:20,21).

Read Luke 17:20-37

There has been a real surge of self-proclaimed modern-day Christian prophets since the internet has made TikTok and short videos on YouTube popular and easily accessible. The recent solar eclipse in the USA sparked people trying to pinpoint the return of Christ and the coming of God’s kingdom. But as we know from Ecclesiastes 1:9, there is nothing new under the sun. Some people who have studied theology for years and are actively teaching the faith to others are misguiding people today, and this already went on in the days of Jesus. The only way we can tell apart false and true teachers is to stick to Jesus and his teaching. Even when the words of Jesus do not necessarily fit into our theology or our understanding of God. Be prepared and open to being surprised by Jesus over and over, as you read God’s word.

Jesus said: ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ What a mind-blowing concept this was for all who had gathered to listen to him then. How could the kingdom of God be WITHIN someone? Did Jesus mean that the holy presence of God himself could enter sinful men, women and children in order to be present there? Back then, everyone knew the presence of God resided in the Holy of Holies at the Temple, kept separated from unclean filthy humans by a curtain and only to be accessed by a priest once a year, who had many atoning sacrifices made for his cleansing before entering. Jesus implied that all of this was changing. God became Immanuel, God with us. God came and dwelled among us and within us. Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. You have received the Holy Spirit at your baptism. You carry the kingdom of God within you. The decaying human vessel of our body carries the infinite divinity of God within. At the death of Jesus on the cross, the temple curtain in front of the Holy of Holies tore in two from top to bottom. It is too much even for us to take in. And yet it is true. That’s what we believe as Christians. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer for God’s kingdom to come, we recognise that the kingdom has already come in and through each one of us Christians, and yet we know that it will only be here in its fullness at the return of Christ. We don’t need false prophets to tell us when that day might come. Jesus tells us that we won’t know the day or the hour (Matthew 25:13). All we need is to follow him and to look to him for all things, and the kingdom of God is here in us daily.

How can today look different if you think about yourself carrying the kingdom of God with you wherever you go?

Loving God, help me fix my eyes on Jesus and your word. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Thank you that I carry God’s kingdom within me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

by Maria Rudolph

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A great last impression

While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven (Luke 24:51).

Read Luke 24:44-53

Today is Ascension Day! We celebrate Jesus being taken up to heaven. Luke is the only one who records this event for us, and he was so taken by it that he recorded it not once, but twice – it is the final story of his gospel account and the very first story of his other New Testament writing, the Book of Acts (1:4-9). If we put these two accounts together, our last impression of Jesus on this earth is that of him saying ‘You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth’, while blessing his followers. Talk about going out with a bang! The first impression Jesus made on the world was so impactful that we are still celebrating it year in and year out: his arrival was marked by a bright star and angels appeared to unassuming shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. His last impression on this earth left his disciples joyfully worshipping and praising God, while two angels appeared and foretold the next coming of our Lord. Through Jesus, God has made a lasting impression on this world: redemption, restoration, renewal. Jesus left to make way for the Holy Spirit to come and settle in each of our hearts. Jesus resided with God’s people, and the Holy Spirit resides within God’s people. Ascension Day is the fulfilment of Jesus telling his disciples (John 16:7): ‘It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’ Through his Holy Spirit, God is not only constantly with us, as Jesus was with his disciples, but in fact within us. Jesus departed this earth with a blessing – and now we are blessed to be a blessing, so the next generation can be a blessing, and then the next, until our Jesus comes again in all his glory.

Can you make today a day on which you pray God’s blessings over all the people who cross your path?

Ascended Lord Jesus, we stand in awe of you as we see you lifted up on the clouds to take your place at the right hand of the Father. Thank you for pouring out your blessings on us. Help us to bless those we love and those who are giving us a hard time, too. Make us ready for your return. Amen.

by Maria Rudolph

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Mightier Than Anything

Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea – the Lord on high is mighty (Psalm 93:4).

Read Psalm 93

For the people in the days of Jesus and even in Old Testament times, big bodies of water held a connection to the dark and demonic. Unknown creatures, unforeseen forces of nature and weather and the unfathomable depths of the sea contributed to this. But God is Lord over all forces and chaos and puts light and order into the dark and demonic. Some psalms talk about a great sea monster, Leviathan, lurking in the deep (Psalm 74:13,14; Psalm 104:26), yet the Lord God is mightier and stronger than this perceived threat. When Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee with his disciples in the boat, his rebuke of the winds and the waves not only calms the storm and settles the nerves of those with him; Jesus displays his power over the demonic forces of darkness in a similar way to when he is driving out demons. Our God is mightier than anything. The surging waves, the thundering wind and even the demonic forces of hell bow to his sovereignty. For us, as followers of Jesus, to know that Jesus is in the boat of life with us and calms the storms swirling all around is comforting to the highest degree – we know Jesus as our gracious, compassionate and loving Servant King, and also as our mighty and sovereign Lord and King over all things. Jesus is truly our stronghold and our fortress. When we stay close to him, we have nothing to fear.

What unsettles you or makes you anxious at the moment? Hand it over to your God, who is mightier than anything.

Almighty and powerful God, you are the creator of all things great and small. You are sovereign over the whole world, and yet you also know me and care for me day in and day out. Your ways are too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Take all that fills me with fear and anxiety at this moment. I hand it all over to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Ignorance Or Unawareness?

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice (Luke 17:15).

Read Luke 17:11–19

My daughter came home from school with glowing eyes. ‘Mum, I had a real God moment today!’ I was astonished. ‘What happened?’, I asked. She told me how she had to go to a room in an unfamiliar part of her large new school and quietly prayed in her head that God could help her find the way and that, next thing, an older student took notice of her and asked whether she needed assistance, and then ended up walking her to where she needed to be. My daughter recognised God’s help at that moment and said a quiet prayer of thanks to God. It made me think, how often have I been lost, literally and figuratively, and was gently pointed in the right direction or set on the right path again by God, but failed to recognise it? How often have I failed to give thanks to God when thanks was due? How often have I acted like the nine lepers who didn’t return?

The story of these 10 lepers healed by Jesus gives me so much hope. You see, Jesus knew before he healed them all that not all of them would return to give thanks – and healed them anyway. Jesus knew Judas would end up betraying him – but he called, journeyed with, and taught him anyway. Sometimes I’m ignorant of God’s goodness to me, but he lavishes blessings upon me regardless. Jesus also did it for the thief on the cross, the soldiers who crucified him, and Saul who persecuted the Christians before he became known as Paul: Jesus embraces, prays for and blesses those who are most unworthy of his love and grace. So radical, so unexpected. So Jesus.

What are you thanking God for right now?

Gracious Jesus, you are gracious, loving, and compassionate even when you know I don’t deserve it. Grant me the strength and guidance of your Holy Spirit to act graciously, lovingly and compassionately towards others, and to give thanks to you in all circumstances. Amen.

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Humility

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’ (Luke 17:10).

Read Luke 17:1-10

It helps to be reminded of important matters over and over. Humility is a core matter for Jesus. He keeps reminding his disciples, and us, to be humble. In the Sermon on the Mount, he carefully explains that ‘when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’ (Matthew 6:3). Likewise, he tells us, ‘When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen’ (Matthew 6:6), and, ‘When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting’ (Matthew 6:17,18). Jesus’ disciple Simon Peter himself expresses Jesus’ emphasis on humility in his epistle (1 Peter 5:5,6): ‘All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, so that He may exalt you.’ Humility is a big deal for God, and so it should be a big deal for us. Let us be guided by Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5,8) when he says, ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus … He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!’

Does humility come naturally to you or do you sometimes struggle being humble?

Loving God, help me to be humble. Use me to be a servant to others and to do the work you demand of me with a willing heart. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

by Maria Rudolph

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Chosen To Love

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last (John 15:16).

Read John 15:9–17

I didn’t know Jesus growing up. My family were not Christian. I became a Christian as an adult. There’s a lot I can tell you about having a conversion experience, weeping tears of joy as I was overcome by the Holy Spirit the first time I ever went to worship at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Adelaide. I can tell you how transformational it was for me to read the Bible for the first time, and that I have kept a diary of that time in which page after page I tell God that I will follow him and live for him. Throughout that time, a small LLL tract was stuck to the wall near my pillow, and I read what it said every night before I closed my eyes. A Lutheran friend had given it to me: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’ (John 15:16). Etched into my memory forever. I didn’t understand those words, at the time, but they seemed important. Now I get it. We do not choose to follow God, God comes to us.

Three lost and found – or chosen – stories in Luke helped me to understand. The parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1–7): The sheep was too stuck and too lost to turn around and choose to follow the Good Shepherd again. But he went out looking for the sheep until he found it and threw a joyful party! That’s our God. The parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8–10): The woman searched high and low until she found her treasured coin – and then threw a party! That’s our God. The parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11–32): The prodigal son was too disgraced to return as a beloved son, so he asked to be taken on as a servant. But the overjoyed father ran to meet and embrace him – and then threw a party! That is our God. God turns to us in love and joy. There will be rejoicing in heaven over you. You are chosen. Jesus says: ‘Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:9,10,12). You are chosen to love.

Who can you show Christ-like love to today?

Jesus, thank you for loving me as the Father has loved you. Help me to remain in your love by loving others. Thank you for choosing me to love and for not giving up on me. Amen.

By Maria Rudolph

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