Summary: What are faith basics? The Lutheran/Biblical Mind Knows the Importance of Praying, Pondering, and Persevering.
OK you car fanatics, I have a question for you. What are the basics of car maintenance? One website I read listed these items. Regularly change the oil and oil filter, replace dirty air filters, and keep your tires pumped to the right pressure. There is more that you need to do to keep your car running well of course, but those three things are a good place to start right?
Do you suppose there’s such a “basics” list for maintaining our faith in Jesus and therefore our hold on eternal life? Martin Luther came to that conclusion after studying Psalm 119. We’re going to look at a portion of that psalm to learn what it means that the Lutheran/Biblical mind knows the importance of praying, pondering, and persevering—the basics of maintaining faith in Jesus. Listen to our text.
Prayer has been called the believer’s life-breath. It’s what you do if you’re a Christian: you talk to God. But what do you talk to God about? How do your prayers compare to the one offered in Psalm 119? The unnamed author of the psalm wasn’t having an easy time of it. He said that his life was down in the dust (Psalm 119:25). But then look at what he asks for—not rescue him from his troubles, but that the Lord would give him better understanding of his Word! The psalmist prayed for spiritual strength rather than physical.
Is that what you ask for—that God would provide your spiritual needs—or do you primarily ask God to take away your aches and pains? Do you supposed that the best thing God could do for you is to make you rich, or give you a better paying job with a gold-plated retirement package? When you pray for family members, is it that God would keep them safe or that he would strengthen faith?
While we can and should pray for physical blessings, Jesus emphasized the importance of praying for the spiritual when he taught the Lord’s Prayer. Consider the First Petition: “Hallowed be your name.” The first thing that we ask for in the Lord’s Prayer is help in keeping God’s name holy. If we call ourselves Christians, then we will want to act like little Christs. We will shun temptation. We will willingly help and encourage others. But as we were reminded last Sunday, our sinful nature doesn’t want us to act like that. It’s running interference so we need God’s help in carrying out his will. And carrying out God’s will should be the most important thing to us—more important than acquiring fame and riches.
But does God really listen to our prayers? The psalmist was confident that he did. He said: “I told You about my life, and You listened to me” (Psalm 119:26a). I love that verse. I can just picture the psalmist plunking down next to God on a flight to Toronto and even before the plane has taxied away from the terminal, he begins telling God his whole life’s story and he doesn’t stop until the plane touches down four hours later. If you’ve ever had a seatmate like that, you probably wished they would be quiet after a while and leave you to your book. But God is not like that. He invites you to pour out your life’s story to him…even though he already knows it. He enjoys giving us his undivided attention because he really cares about what’s going on in our lives and in our minds. He wants you to pour out your life in prayer because by doing so you’re not giving him information, you’re giving him your heart. It’s when we fail to pour out our hearts like that in prayer that we became overly anxious and walk around with a short fuse ready to snap at the slightest provocation. Instead take all your cares and concerns and give them to the Lord. Do this often. It’s one of the basics of maintaining our faith in Jesus.
While prayer is an important part of a Christian’s life, there’s more to maintaining our faith in Jesus. Can you guess what that is from these verses in our text? “…teach me Your statutes. 27 Help me understand the meaning of Your precepts so that I can meditate on Your wonders. 28 I am weary from grief; strengthen me through Your word. 29 Keep me from the way of deceit and graciously give me Your instruction” (Psalm 119:25b-29).
In those few verses the author uses four different terms to describe God’s Word. Yes, it is the study of his Word which is also important, even crucial, for maintaining faith. It is the Lord’s instruction that keeps us from the way of deceit. Satan continues to tell lies meant to keep us from heaven. Lies like “It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you behave.” But it does matter what you believe. For it is only faith in Jesus as our savior that we have forgiveness. Doing your best to behave isn’t good enough in God’s eyes, you need to be perfect all the time. The other lie is that it doesn’t matter how you behave as long as you believe. Perhaps that lie is more dangerous for us Lutheran Christians. We take such pride in proclaiming that it is by grace that we are saved and not by works. But do we use that truth to excuse our sins? Do we not bother to reign in our tongue when it comes to gossiping about others because, well, nobody’s perfect and we can ask for forgiveness anyway? But God’s Word exposes those lies. As we learned last week when were reminded how we are sinner-saints, we will want to keep struggling against sin. If that struggle ends, then we’ve either gone to heaven where we are perfect or we’ve become unbelievers.