The Mega-millions lottery jackpot peaked at $1.6 billion dollars this week. I didn’t win but I, and maybe you, had fun dreaming about what we’d do if we won. We planned to help friends, pay down debts, and start a hundred new non-profits to help feed the world. The big jackpot allowed me to spend the week quoting my dad (“you can’t win if you play”) and reminding everyone, if they win, to tithe. Lotteries are big business in the United States. In 2016, they generated over $72 billion in ticket sales. States used the money to pay for programs or, in the case of New Jersey, to help pay their state pension problems. The lotteries are a form of gambling even if the wager feels pretty small. And like all gambling, it can be a form of personal entertainment or grow into something destructive. Winning the lottery shouldn’t be our retirement plan but, for some, the lottery might feel like their only hope for a better future. A lotto ticket, in some ways, is like a prayer.
We sometimes believe prayer is like winning the lottery. Our words become our ticket to get God to work on our behalf. It’s a plea to God to just do something. But our prayer during worship is more than an attempt to win this “divine” lottery. Prayer is, first and foremost, rooted in our relationship with Jesus Christ. When we pray for the church, we ask God to make the Christian community as life-giving as Jesus’ own body is to us. When we pray for the earth, we ask God to renew the goodness that’s around us. When we pray for each other, we want people close to us to be made whole. And when we pray for our elected officials and other leaders, we’re not asking for their will to be done. We are asking, instead, for God to rekindle their commitment to justice, humility, and mercy. God already wants all these things. God is actively working on these things. And our prayers, spoken and unspoken, are already heard. But when we name these prayers out loud, we also remind ourselves of what the Christian life is all about. Our prayers for healing remind us of our call to heal. Our prayers for the earth are a reminder that we, as stewards, can take care of our environment. Our prayers for the church invite us to share our faith in Jesus. And our prayers for our leaders are a reminder of the ways we all promise to commit ourselves to love, honor, and help one another.
Jesus knows that prayer can be hard. There are days when we don’t want to pray and there are moments when we feel as if we can’t. Jesus wants us to pray for those it’s easy to pray for and to pray for those we don’t want to pray for. And if we can’t, that’s okay. That’s why we pray, in worship, together. Trust that the people next to you will pray the prayers you can’t. And make sure you’re here to pray the prayers that are hard for them. Our prayers are not about trying to win the lottery. Our prayers are about trying to live into the love Jesus already gave us. And unlike our really low chance at winning the lottery, prayer does more than just connect us with God. Prayer also repairs, renews, and revives our souls.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week (or about our liturgy). This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Reformation Sunday / 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, 10/28/2018.