We have reached our fourth week of our Prayer Dare… so far: praying for justice (living justice); praying outdoors–either in God’s creation or in public; recognizing what gets in the way of fully following Jesus; and this morning I dare you to pray with joy. We are filled with joy at the birth of a healthy baby (or two!), at a wedding or a birthday party. At a graduation, on a vacation with family, watching young people lead worship as we did last week. Usually those occasions are also filled with gratitude to God because joy brings gratitude. If you have something or someone which brings you joy, you will, I hope, be grateful for it or him or her.
Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi is not long–4 chapters. You may want to plan to read it through sometime this week. The missionary and the congregation clearly have a close relationship. Despite the fact that he is writing from prison, either in Rome or in Caesarea or in Ephesus, Paul frames the entire letter in joy. He starts out with his own joy at their shared commitment to the good news of Jesus, at the work of God begun among them, to be completed at the return of Christ, and at the fact that the Philippians hold him in their hearts. He obviously is holding them in his heart as well. Then he is weaving joy through the chapters, encouraging the congregation to be full of joy as well in chapter 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!”
He is joy-filled because of his relationship with the congregation, because of who they are, because of their shared belief. And his joy translates to thanksgiving! Every time he prays, he mentions the congregation to God, and every time he mentions the congregation to God, he thanks God. I love it. I wonder if Paul’s practice could become our practice– to regularly mention your church family to God with joy. That means more than just on Sundays. You might join in the Wednesday night prayer call, when Hunting Ridge and its members are lifted up to God with thanksgiving. In your prayer, you could mention them by individual name, or by group name–like the choir or the teachers or the deacons or the session, or as an entire family of Christ at Hunting Ridge. Put your church family on your regular prayer list, not because so and so is sick or so and so is traveling or so and so is experiencing a loss. Put your church family on your regular personal prayer list with joy! Be thankful for who they are, because you share the same faith with them, because you can call one another brother and sister.
Today we will celebrate with joy the baptism of Ruth Gachao. Baptisms always bring smiles to your faces. What is it that brings such joy at a baptism? It is the recognition that we have a new sister in Christ as a part of our family. It is the anticipated joy of getting to know a new family member, learning about her gifts, her hopes, her concerns. Along with our joy, let us give thanks for Ruth and her walk with God which has led her to walk alongside of us at this time in her life.
Paul regularly prays a prayer full of joy and thanksgiving. And then he describes his petition for his church family in Philippi– The Common English Bible, which I use for my devotional reading at home, translates Paul’s prayer for the Philippians like this: “I pray that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters… so that you will be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ”. The more they know, the more they understand, the deeper their love becomes. Equipped by Jesus Christ, they will be able to live in such a way that the trivial, unnecessary things sift to the bottom of the pile, and the issues which really matter rise to the top. Their actions will show they are living in a right relationship with God. That is a powerful prayer! Can you pray like that for your congregation? Can you pray for your brother or sister in Christ to live with love informed by knowledge of God and Christ? To have the wisdom to decide what really matters in their life as an individual, in their home, and in our church? To be visible testimonies to what a relationship with God looks like? Why not?
My prayer dare for you this week is to pray with joy for your church family. It will take commitment. It will take a reminder perhaps. I am going to suggest a very simple way to get started praying for one another. I am going to ask you to take one of the small pieces of paper being passed out to you. Simply write your name on it. In a few moments we will collect the names in one basket. Together we will pray for everyone here and for those who are not here. Then the basket will be passed around again. Pick a name out of the basket and take it home with you. Remember throughout the week to pray with joy and gratitude for that particular child of God. Put it on your phone calendar or your wall calendar. Tape the name to your bathroom mirror or your car dashboard. If you don’t know him or her very well, you might make an effort to find out a little more– what about him or her can you be thankful for? What about him or her brings you joy?
Praying with joy does not have to be hard. It is just that we so often fill our prayers with petitions and complaints– petitions for healing, for change, for peace, for comfort, etc. Complaints about our own situation or the crises all around us in this world. Praying with joy does not ignore the other kinds of prayer, but it recognizes that there are many petitions that have already been answered, there are ways God has provided for you that you never noticed, there are people in your life who bring a smile to your heart and to your face. Praying with joy carries gratitude with it. Praying with joy for your fellow church members helps to create a stronger bond between you. I will be curious next week to see what your experience is like as you take up the prayer dare for this week: praying with joy for another individual. How might you greet him or her differently the next time you see one another? What kinds of things will God show you about that person which can bring a smile to your heart? I dare you to try it! Amen.