Prayer is Great Joy

“Bishop Bill Lewis of the Dakotas tells of four bulls deciding what they want to do when they graduate from school.

“One bull said, ‘I want to go to Rome and become a papal bull.’

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“The second bull said, ‘I want to go to New York City and be a bull of Wall Street.’

“The third bull said, ‘I want to go to China and become a bull in a China shop.’

“The fourth bull said: ‘I can’t believe you guys. I don’t want to go to Rome, to New York City or to China. I want to stay right here and be a bull for heifer, and heifer and heifer.’”

Apparently, there is great joy in being who you are, where you are, when you are. Well, at least the last bull knew what he wanted. I suspect there is great joy in knowing what you want. It makes a difference in how we approach this life, knowing what we want.

the surprise of joy

Jill and Robert wanted a child, but they couldn’t have one. They tried for some time, but were unsuccessful. Finally, they settled on adoption. A beautiful baby girl came into their lives.

A few days after receiving the baby, Jill takes her to the doctor. The doctor asks Jill, “Did you know this baby is Down’s syndrome?” Jill is shocked, to say the least, because she didn’t know. But, instead of giving the baby back to the agency, she and Robert determine to keep this baby.

As Jill is a schoolteacher, the little girl went to school — public school all her life. Jill used every avenue she could to teach that little lady how to learn and live. She worked on her speaking; she worked on her eating; she worked on minimizing some of the Down’s traits to normalize the little girl as much as possible.

One of the Down’s traits Jill cannot minimize is a heart problem. This little girl has had several heart surgeries, most of them before she was 10 years old. And, she’ll have to have another one sometime down the road as she ages.

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She’s had braces; she had a sweet sixteen birthday party, and most folks got to dance with the birthday girl. She’s got a network of friends — families with Down’s children, and they see each other regularly. Her uncle even bought her a car for high school graduation — which only mom gets to drive.

She can read; she can write; she can do algebra; and she loves Elvis. Jannah Joy is her name, and, she is her name; she is an angel. But, as with most Down’s kids, she’s living on borrowed time. She’s older, now, and if she makes it through the next heart surgery, her chances of living past age 40 are just not so good.

Truth is, Jill and her family will probably say goodbye to Jannah sometime, but while they have her, they will pour their lives into her life — and count it all joy. Jill and Robert weren’t looking for this kind of child, but I know the joy she’s brought to their lives — and it’s real and unshakeable.

What does prayer mean? How does prayer make a difference for us? Can we learn to pray better, pray more, or pray with faith-filled hearts?

For four posts, now, we’ve been talking about prayer. What does prayer mean? How does prayer make a difference for us? Can we learn to pray better, pray more, or pray with faith-filled hearts? We’ve talked about prayer being protection and covenant and provision and forgiveness. Having a look at John 12, where Mary anoints the feet of Jesus, I want to consider how prayer is great joy.

the joy of perfumed living

The story we read in John 12 follows the great drama of raising Lazarus from the dead. We’ve heard Jesus tell his friend Martha, grieving the loss of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” (John 11.25). And, then he raises Lazarus from the dead.

For that glorious act, the folks in Jerusalem – the chief priests, the Pharisees, and the Council – they all want to see him dead. So, they plot to kill him, even as they are preparing to celebrate the Passover.

So, Jesus, not wanting to walk among the Jews openly (John 11.54), comes to Bethany about six days before Passover. And, they do what most folks do when friends gather together — they eat.

What made this dinner different, though, was Mary. In the middle of the talking and laughing and eating, she took a pound of expensive ointment, and she anointed Jesus, wiping his feet with her hair. Even as the house is filled with the strong aroma of the perfume — and you can imagine the moment — we find Judas complaining that the perfume could have been sold to give money to the poor.

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Jesus responds very interestingly, not so much about the poor, though. He says, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.” It’s a lavish moment among friends, a joyful moment at the table. Those words, “keep it for the day of my burial” sound strange in the middle of such a beautiful moment.

Yet, for those of us reading the story, we know that this little moment of joy is surrounded by the threat of death — not just for Jesus, but also for Lazarus — folks are plotting to kill him, too (cf. John 12.9-11). But, the fragrance of the perfume remains. The reality of life in Jesus remains, not just the idea that he’s the resurrection and the life, but the reality of Lazarus, one who was dead and now lives, that reality is sitting at the table with them.

Joy is not always what we may think, and sometimes we need this kind of experience with Jesus to help us understand what joy really is.

the door to joy

Irma Zaleski tells a wonderful story about her grandmother in Poland before World War II. “When I was little, in Poland before the War, we used to spend nearly every summer at my grandmother’s house in the mountains. She lived alone, in a house built by local craftsmen on the edge of a torrent. The noise of its rushing waters was the background of every moment of our holidays and the first sound of eternity which I learned to hear.

“My grandmother was the kind of grandmother that everybody should have. She was brilliant and wise, although a little bitter at times. She had lived through wars, revolutions, a bad marriage, and the death of two children.

“What had saved her sanity, I believe, was her love of beauty and a passionate interest in all the things of the mind. She loved literature and art; she was fascinated by science. Above all else, she loved the beauty of the mountains among which she eventually died.

Irma remembers: ”I must have been 5 or 6 at the time. One night, I was awakened by my grandmother leaning over my bed. There was a noise of a great storm outside. Grandmother picked me up and carried me out onto a big veranda which ran all along the front of the house. ‘Look!’ she said, and turned my face toward the mountains, ‘Look, this is too beautiful to sleep through.’

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“I saw black sky, torn apart every few seconds by lightning, mountains emerging out of darkness, immense, powerful and so real. Thunder rolled among the peaks. I was not frightened — how could I be? I was awed. I looked up at my grandmother’s face and, in a flash of light, I saw it flooded with wonder and joy. I did not realize it then, of course, but now I do, that what I saw was ecstasy. My grandmother was the first to point out to me a door to joy.”

Her grandmother had a joy virus that was unshakeable, even in the worst circumstances of life. Even in the dark, fearsome moments she’d faced, she knew there was joy in this life, and she knew where to find it.

Jesus knew that kind of joy, even in the middle of the threats of death. He knew that joy because he knew the Father; he knew that joy because in just a few days, he was going to be like Lazarus — one who was dead and now lives, sitting at the table with them.

Mary shows us the meaning of prayer is great joy as she pours the expense and the expanse of her life at the feet of Jesus.

Experiencing his joy came in the form of a gift of perfume, a gift poured onto his feet. It’s an expensive gift, and that expense points beyond the gift of perfume to the gift of our lives poured onto him. After all, he poured out his life for us. Mary shows us the meaning of prayer is great joy as she pours the expense and the expanse of her life at the feet of Jesus.

There’s a song that helps me understand this. It comes from the chorus of a Phillips, Craig and Dean song, “Pour My Love on You.” Have a look to the words:

“Like oil upon your feet, like wine for you to drink; like water from my heart, I pour my love on you. If praise is like perfume, I’ll lavish mine on you till every drop is gone. I’ll pour my love on you.”

Prayer is great joy is the expense and the expanse of our lives, a great perfume that will fill the house, poured at the feet of Jesus — a Savior who lived, suffered, died, and rose just for us.

It’s not easy; it’s most certainly costly; but, prayer is great joy as we pour ourselves out for the one who poured himself out for us — and the glory and the joy of the pouring will fill this place, will fill our lives, with joy.

A text for the table: John 12.1-11.

Story Credits: “Papal Bull” and “The Door to Joy” by Irma Zaleski from www.HomileticsOnline.com.

Photo Credits: Slava Veder’s “POW Returns Home,” “Bull Clipart,” “Young Girl with Down’s Syndrome Wearing Glasses,” and “Warren van Vuren Port St. John Storm” (Creative Commons).