Kye Ryssdal, host of the NPR show Marketplace, did an interview recently that has stuck with me for several weeks. It was with Ken Langone. Perhaps, you have not heard his name, but you probably have heard of some of the things Ken has done. Ken is an investment banker and entrepreneur who has been involved in a variety of deals in his career. But he is best known as the co-founder of The Home Depot. Most recently, he is author of the book I Love Capitalism! An American Story.
In the interview Ryssdal noted something unusual about Ken’s book. Ryssdal makes it a practice to the read the acknowledgement section of a book before he reads anything else. Most books have this section at the end of the book. But Ken had his acknowledgement section at the beginning of the book. And his acknowledgment section Ken went on for five pages thanking all the folks who had helped him along the way in his career. To quote Ken, “I am anything but a self-made man. You need to have a team of people, and you need to have them feel they are with you, not for you. And that list — I deliberately wanted that list, and I pray to God I haven’t left anybody off the list. If I did, it’s a mistake. But every one of those people on that list in one way or other contributed to my journey through life.”
One particular person was key in Ken’s life. His name was Russ Headley. He was a professor of economics at Buckley College, where Ken attended. The fact that Ken got into college and graduated was a little bit of a miracle, because Ken hadn’t really planned on going to college, and when he attended he was more interested in partying than academics. His freshman year Ken was about to flunk out and Professor Headley sat down with him. He told Ken that he believed that Ken was a diamond in the ruff, and that he was going to go around to all his professors and tell them to give Ken another chance. Ryssdal asked Ken where he thought he would be without Professor Headley? Ken admitted he probably wouldn’t be where he was now. Then Ryssdal asked a thoughtful question. What about those in this economy who don’t have people to help them?
Ken replied that he felt very sorry for such folks. It must be a lonely existence. But he remembered the advice of his Father, “My father had a wonderful expression. He said if you want to have a friend, you got to be a friend. So maybe that fellow wants to take a step back and ask himself the question, what has he done to nurture those kinds of friendships and relationships?” And this is good advice especially in our day and age. In an age of the selfie, and thousands of facebook friends, it is a good point that perhaps we have forgotten how to be a true friend. Perhaps we have forgotten how to care for others more than we care for ourselves. And, yet I found as I listened it did not seem that Ken was being a good friend to Professor Headley. He was more concerned with partying than being a friend to his Professor. Instead, Professor Headley was a friend to Ken before he knew how to be a friend, and this act of Grace opened a door to the rest of Ken’s career.
The Bible says that Jesus is the ultimate Professor Headley. The book of Revelation says that Jesus has the Keys to the Kingdom, he opens doors no man can close and he shuts doors no man can open (Revelation 3:7). God’s grace works through our work but God alone determines the fruit and outcome of our work. And the good news today is this.
When we wish to proclaim God’s word God will open doors for us to walk through.
First, Paul tells us how to be given and to recognize a divine door or opportunity. He gives us three steps.
- Continue steadfast in prayer
- Be watchful
- Do all of this with thanksgiving.
First, Paul tells us to be steadfast in prayer. The word here can be translated variously as being devoted, to be loyal, to serve and wait upon. In essence Paul is asking us to have grit in prayer. Grit is an old fashion idea that has been getting some more study of late. Psychologists have found that people tend to be more attracted to the idea of talent than the idea of grit. If we see a talented musician who wows us in a performance, and we believe that they just have an innate ability to play, that we cannot learn how to play like that, then we can just sit back and enjoy the show. But if we believed that such competency can be learned, we might be challenged by the performance, that we too could play that well if we put in the time. We would also be challenged as teachers. Challenged to put more energy not in the star pupil but in the one who is discouraged, the one who has a hard time learning.
The scriptures tell us that while Jesus didn’t stop being God when he became a man, that he gave up his rights as God to live as a man. Jesus power in ministry came through prayer. This is clear when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, before he went to the cross. He prayed not because he didn’t know the Father’s Will. He had predicted three times that he would die and rise from the dead. He prayed that he might be given the strength to accomplish His Father’s Will. Being persistent in prayer is primarily about gaining the strength to do God’s Will. Sometimes we will find God’s Will in a particular matter to be aligned with ours. God is not necessarily against giving us the things we want. But other times God knows what we want is not what we need. Until we overcome our own unwillingness we will not be able to walk in answered prayer. We overcome our unwillingness by being devoted to prayer itself.
The second key to effective prayer is being watchful. Jesus uses the theme of being watchful when he talks about his return. In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the story of ten virgins who are waiting for the bridegroom to come. Five were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but took no extra oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. The bridegroom was delayed so all the virgins became weary and slept. Around midnight the message came that the bridegroom was coming and they should go out to meet him. Those with extra oil were able to go to the bridegroom for the wedding feast. But those who came unprepared had to buy more oil. When they returned the door was already shut and they could not enter. They begged for the Lord to open the door. But the Lord replied, “truly I do not know you.” (Matthew 25:13).
This parable is illustrating a principle about the return of Christ. But because the same concept of watching is used in this passage it can also be used in prayer. We should note that the Lord is not judging the brides maids for growing tired or falling asleep. There seems to be a recognition of their human nature, a recognition of our short attention spans. The issue instead is who comes prepared, who brings extra oil, for when the bridegroom arrives. Oil is sometimes used as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, the one who gives us the strength to pray. But the main issue is not what the oil represents but why some of the virgins brought more than others. And Jesus seems to suggest the difference is how well the guests know the bridegroom. If you think about your own experience of weddings how long would you wait for a bride and groom to show up at a wedding reception? If you are a wedding crasher, who did not get an invitation, but just came to party, you probably won’t stay very long. You will just eat some food, get bored and leave. If you were a distant relative who was invited out of courtesy who didn’t really know the couple, and the couple was supposed to get there at six but didn’t get there till midnight, you might assume that the couple is being rude and decide you have better things to do with your time. But if you were the one who introduced the couple, who had been with them through their trials, and came not for the free dinner, but to celebrate their union, you would wait as long as it took. Jesus says his mother, his brothers, his friends, are those who are concerned with doing God’s Will, who are willing to do what it takes to see God’s Kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven, even if it conflicts with their own desires. If we are more concerned about Jesus’ glory being revealed to the world our prayer will make us more aware of opportunities to make that happen.
Finally, Paul says God will reveal doors to us when we pray with an attitude of thankfulness. Even I as a full time minister I am rarely sure of God’s Will in every situation I face. If I were there would be no need for me to have faith. But I am certain that God’s general will is for us to be thankful. I believe this because scripture makes it clear that being thankful is God’s Will for every Christian. I know this because scripture tells us this is the case. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
As I have noted earlier in this series it is important to realize that this scripture says give thanks in all circumstances not for all circumstances. The scripture does not say we can never complain, if that were the case we should just throw out the Book of Psalms. The scripture doesn’t say that being thankful doesn’t mean we won’t be worn out or tired at times. Instead, giving thanks is an act of defiance. It is us saying in faith that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). The problem with us believing that we have earned our way through life, is that if we can’t recognize the help that people have given us, how will be able to recognize when Jesus is knocking at the door, when he is offering us help? Our nation was founded on a declaration of independence. But the church was founded on a declaration of dependence. As Jesus said to the Devil when he tempted Him to turn stones into bread, “ man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4).
Not only is thankfulness the will of God, Paul makes clear in Colossians that thankfulness is key to knowing God’s particular Will for our lives. It is key to us recognizing when Jesus is knocking at a door and for us to walk through it. It is key to us walking in God’s timing and not our own timing.
Paul tells the Colossians to walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. In the Greek there are actually two words for time. The first is Chronos. It is where we get our word for chronology. It means regular time. The second word for time is Kairos. It can be translated as God’s appointed time, the opportune time, a tipping point where things can change, a transition from the Kingdom of the world into the Kingdom of God. A moment of momentum where miracles are made manifest. Paul uses Kairos here. The idea seems to be after you find the door in prayer and you walk through it walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the opportunity God has given you, let your speech be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.
Now Paul is not calling us to have salty language like some of us may have when we try to drive through the Hampton roads bridge tunnel during rush hour. Instead, he seems to be referring not salt’s ability to destroy but its ability to preserve. We are to live in such a way that our lives are memorable and provoke questioning from those whom are not Christians about how we can live such lives. The book of James talks a lot about the wisdom of the Kingdom of God. And James tells us, “ Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Often our anger and criticism of others is more a result of our own issues and insecurity rather than God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness worked out in us causes people to question the way they live. The hand of grace upon our lives changes the lives of those around us.
If we are steadfast, watchful ,and thankful in prayer, then how do we recognize when we are in a Kairos moment? I think recognizing a Kairos moment is part changing our perception of our circumstances and part God changing our circumstances.
Strangely, Paul was a beneficiary of a jail break before this letter. God changed Paul’s circumstances yet because of his perspective Paul chose to do something different with the opportunity than most of us would. The book of Acts tells us that once Paul received a vision in the night of a Macedonian man asking him for help. Paul was not planning on going to Macedonia, but because he was willing, the Lord sent him specific direction in this case. Paul goes to Macedonia, and the Lord doesn’t tell him what to do. He goes down to the river, because he knows traditionally that is where the women hang out and will be praying. He witnesses to them and a few come to believe. One woman’s name is Lydia. She is rich, the seller of purple cloth, and her home becomes the base for a church.
Paul and Silas next encounter a girl tormented by a demon who is used for fortune telling by her owners. Paul let her bug them for many days because he knew that casting out the demon would cause problems and Paul wasn’t willing to make those problems his problem. Finally, Paul casts the demon out, and for his trouble Paul and his friend Silas are thrown into jail by the girls owners because while she was back in her right mind she has lost her power to tell the future and thus her owner’s livelihood was destroyed.
Around midnight Paul and Silas were singing and giving thanks to God in prison when a mighty earthquake shook the foundations of the prison and all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were broken including Paul and Silas. When the jailer woke and saw that all the doors were opened he thought the prisoners had escaped. He knew the punishment. His boss would have him killed, and perhaps punish his family as well. So the jailer drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul cried out that they were still there. And the jailer came to him in fear and trembling. Instead of escaping Paul and Silas told the jailer about Jesus Christ and the jailer’s entire household were saved. Paul and Silas would be later released by the authorities. But if they had been more concerned with their physical chains than the spiritual chains of the jailer he would have never heard the good news ( Acts 16-17).
Perhaps today you find yourself in a prison of sorts. A prison of sickness, a prison of pain, a prison of aging where your body doesn’t do everything it used to do. A prison of bitterness, a prison of despair, a prison of brokenness, a prison of the soul, a prison of the mind. And though we may struggle with chains let us move from struggling with our chains to struggling in prayer. And let our prayers shake the foundations of our own lives, the foundations of this church, the foundations of this nation. Let us show the world that we do not suffer as those without hope, but we suffer as those who have a hope within us, Christ within us the hope of glory. Let us be steadfast in prayer, watching in every moment for a Kairos moment, always in thanksgiving, so that we may be used to open doors for others. And when we turn to open the door for the person next to us may we find as the old negro spiritual goes that we may say, “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.”