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Sunday, June 21, 2009

O Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz


Today's reading is about prayer. There are all sort of prayers. Something I read reminded me of the song 'O Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz'. Today of all days I can echo that prayer. The particular Merc that I would like is white with go faster stripes down the sides. It usually has the number 23 on it somewhere. By the time I get it, it will be second hand, but I'm happy with a used car. Especially this one. Before I have the Lord buy it for me, 'cause there's no way I could afford it myself, it's current driver must drive it to victory this afternoon. I'm talking about Jensen Buttons Brawn GP, which is powered by Mercedes engines. That's just my fantasy, of course.

The song does provide a way to contrast the worlds view of prayer with the view that Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the mount. Let me read it to you:


MERCEDES BENZ (Janis Joplin / Michael McClure)  Janis Joplin - 1971 Elkie Brooks - 1995   
O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?
My friends all have Porsches I must make amends
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends

O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?

O Lord, won't you buy me a color TV?
Dialing for dollars is trying to find me

I'll wait for delivery each day until 3

O Lord, won't you buy me a color TV?

Oh Lord won't you buy me a night on the town
I'm counting on you Lord, please don't let me down.
Prove that you love me & buy the next round.
Oh Lord won't you buy me a night on the town

From what you know of God, you may think it's obvious that a prayer like that won't be answered, so lets take a look through it as we try to understand what Jesus really meant when he said "Ask and it will be given". Well first you have to ask, and the song certainly manages that. There are times though when we don't ask.

When James is writing on prayer he says "Jas 4:2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill i and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God."

Sometimes we don't ask, because we can't believe that God could possible care about our request. Perhaps we think it is too trivial. Sometimes we don't ask, because we know what we want really isn't the sort of thing that God gives, or isn't the sort of thing that God wants.

In my case I have not asked for more healing for my shoulder because I just assumed that as it is healing up well that was all God wanted to do. After what we heard last week I now realise that may not be the case.

r1) Children don't get bad things from their parents (almost always)

Sometimes we are not sure that we have any right to bother God. Ephesians 1:5 tells us that we are adopted children. God is like any good parent and wants to hear from his children. In the second part of today's reading Jesus uses the parent – child analogy to show that even evil (earthly) parents give good things to their children. The examples here are clearly great contrasts – stones and bread – they may look the same, but they are very different. Fish (probably eels as they were classed as fish) and snakes. They may look the same, but they are also very different and the results from trying to catch and eat them could also be very different. You and I would not treat our children like that. We are in general careful to give our children things that are good for them, not things that will ultimately be bad for them, so we do our best to ensure they have a balanced healthy diet – not too much sugar, or too much fat, and a good mix of vegetables and fruit. We send them to school and encourage them and support them through University if we think it will be of benefit to them. We try to keep them away from excessive hours in front of the TV or computer. We long to see them grow up and become good parents in their own right. God is a better father than yours or mine – regardless of how good your father was God is better. God is a better mother than yours or mine – regardless of how good your mother was God is better.

Sometimes we have to give our children a negative answer. This can disappoint them and upset them. It is the same with God. If you are asking for something that is harmful to you He will say 'No'. God's no is more final than any parent's, but be sure that it is a 'No' and not a 'not yet'.

In C.S. Lewis' book Voyage to Venus (you may know it as Perelandra). It is the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve written as a Science Fiction story. The people on the planet live on large floating islands and are forbidden by God from setting foot on land. However once the temptation is over, they are permitted to move from the islands to the land.

My daughter Karen wanted her ears pierced. She first asked when she was about nine. Jo said 'No'. Karen is not one to readily take no for an answer, so sometime late she asked me. I said vaguely - “when you're older” Karen kept asking, Eventually we agreed she could have them done and set the age as 14. She stopped asking until she was 13½.

r2) The song is not persistent – Merc, Colour TV, Night on the town, Next round

Persistence is another attribute that God values – because it shows that you are really keen. In the song the singer starts by asking for a Mercedes Benz, by the second verse the request has been scaled down – to a colour TV, a long way from a Mercedes even in the Sixties, in the third it is scaled down again twice! First to a night on the town, then to the next round.

There are some amazing stories of persistent prayer. The Israelites were held in slavery for four hundred years – I bet some of them were praying the whole time. Before the Welsh revival at the start of the last century (1904) there had been prayer groups meeting for another century. One of its Leaders – Evan Roberts, had been praying for revival for Eleven years. There was a member of our church who was praying for her husband for almost all his life. When he finally gave his life to Christ the holy spirit came on him and spoke to him in dreams and visions, which almost overwhelmed her. Be careful what you pray for – you may get more than you asked for!

'Ask and it will be given' sounds easy, but Jesus does not stop there. 'Seek and you will find' Seek sounds a bit harder. There's some work involved in seeking, you have to get out of your prayer chair and go an do some serious looking. This is not about asking God to help when you've misplaced your keys or you cheque book. In 2006 a team of explorers set out to find the true source of the river Nile. It's source had been a British obsession during the days of empire and many expeditions had been sent to find its source. On their 80 day expedition, the 2006 team faced dangers including crocodiles and warring tribesmen in Uganda who killed one of the diplomats helping them, but they did find the longest tributary. That is extreme seeking.

Martin Luther: "Pray as if everything depended on God, then work as if everything depends on you"

'Seek and you will find'. Much harder than 'Ask and it will be given' Jesus doesn't even stop there. 'Knock and the door will be opened'

A bishop ( I can't remember which one) once said that prayer was like knocking on the door of an apparently abandoned house repeatedly because you once thought you saw the curtain move. I found that a rather depressing description. It does however give some idea of the feeling of 'Knock and the door will be opened.' In the bishops case I don't think there is much chance of the door being opened, but Jesus promises that it WILL be opened.

That final step must be taken, you have asked for directions, got lost, gone another way, stopped and asked for directions again a number of times, and now you have finally arrived at the house. You must walk up to the door boldly and knock.

What will you find behind the door?

There is a sense in all of this that the heat is being turned up with each of the statements. Ask is straight forward, Seek is more forceful, and a Knock at the door requires it to be answered. I had not heard this type of forceful prayer until last week, when Neil told us how he prayed for his Sinus headache. 'I'm not having it Lord, I'm not having it Lord'.

He was praying from a sense of need, if you've ever suffered with migraine of sinus problems you will understand how completely debilitating they can be.

r3) Motive

There are two lines in the song which suggest that the singers motives are not based on any need. They are not what they should be. 'My friends all have Porsches' – so what – do not covet your neighbour's Porche. And 'Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends' gives the impression that the singer is somehow owed something by God. The Psalmist recognised the need to have the right motives Ps 51: 5 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Greed and envy can take no part in our prayers, if they do we cannot expect a positive answer. Only if our prayer is within the will of God can we expect it to be taken seriously. That doesn't mean there isn't room for debate.

In Genesis 18 Abraham has a long debate with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Will you spare the cities if there are 50 righteous men, then 20, then 10. Each time God agrees with Abraham – no He will not destroy the city if this number of righteous men can be found.

r4) Not in Scope

The last reason why our singer may not get an answer is because the prayer is not within the scope of things that God is prepared to debate. What good is a Mercedes in the Kingdom of Heaven. If you want one, or if I really wanted to be the proud owner of a Brawn-Mercedes, I would have to demonstrate that there is some role for it in my ministry.

So the Mercedes, the colour TV, even the last round are not going to be considered because they are requested from selfish motives, and have no use in the Kingdom of Heaven. In this case seeking and knocking will add nothing to the chance that the request will be granted

What then can we ask for?

Anything – the thing is not the issue. The qualification for a positive answer is whether it is good for us in the long term. In a similar passage in Luke (11:13) “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

God is waiting for us to ask, hoping that we will seek, and eventually knock on the door.

What would you ask God for?