SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  1 COR 6:1-11; LK 6:12-19 ]

Many of us are not happy in ministry or in work.  We are burnt-out because of work and stress. We find difficulties working with our superiors and our colleagues.  Of course, we also make many blunders and wrong decisions in our work and ministry as well.

What is the cause of such unhappy consequences?  Simply because we do not pray before we work or serve.  Most of us serve out of goodwill in Church and in voluntary organizations.  Most of us work simply for monetary remuneration.  Otherwise, we are driven by ambition and our ego.  We want to feel good and be recognized by others as being capable and good.  We are not motivated purely by love but by self-love.  Most of all, we rely on our own strength and abilities and talents.  As a consequence, we often lack direction and the right motives in whatever we do. We lose our center and live a fragmented life, torn apart by so many demands from different quarters in our lives.  No wonder we feel tired, drained out, edgy and irritable.

Jesus, too, had a very hectic ministry.   He was busy the whole day, attending to the sick, mentoring His disciples, teaching the crowd and most of all, managing His enemies.  So what is the secret of Jesus if not the fact that He always prayed before He began His work the next day.  Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.  Indeed, if we want to find wisdom, clarity, strength and power to do what we have to do in our daily life and work, we need to draw from the Lord.  We cannot depend on ourselves, thinking that hard work alone will ensure success and plentiful fruits for our labour.  We must be humble enough to know that only God can work wonders beyond our imagination.

So how did Jesus pray?  What did He do all night when He was with His Father?  What did He talk about with His Father?  In other words, what should we do in prayer?  What should we be asking or saying?  Truly, many of us are at a loss when it comes to discursive or contemplative prayer.  We just sit before the Lord in silence but do not seem to be getting any insights.  There is only a monologue and we feel the absence of God.  This explains why many give up easily in prayer after a few minutes because they are at a loss as to how they should spend their quiet time with the Lord.

Well, Jesus must have first and foremost been basking in His Father’s love.  He would have sat before His Father like a child listening attentively to his father.  Jesus would have been in deep intimacy, wonder and love for His Father, just like a child who is so happy to sit on the lap of his father.  Recalling the love of His Father during the day and the many times the Father came to His help, must have renewed His love for His Father.  Indeed, the first stage of prayer is always being present to the love of our Father.

We just need to bask ourselves in His love and mercy for us by recalling the wonders He has done for us in our daily life; and there are so many.  If we think there is none, it is because we have taken our blessings for granted; things that are so essential, like being able to use our senses, seeing, hearing, touching, eating, smelling etc.  Isn’t good health the greatest gift from God?  Shouldn’t we be thanking God for our house, our job and our loved ones?  We must thank God for all the angels He sent to help us through each day as well.

Secondly, Jesus would have spoken to the Father about the many people who were suffering from all kinds of afflictions, the sick, the blind, the lame, the lepers and those who were possessed.  We know this because the next morning, like the other days, “a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear him and to be cured of their diseases.”  Jesus must have felt burdened by the incessant cries and pains of the people seeking for help, relief and cure from their misery.  He must have interceded with His Father to heal them.  We recall that He did the same thing before He raised Lazarus from the dead.  “And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.’” (Jn 11:41f)  Indeed, it was because of His prayer that the Father hears because we read that “People tormented by unclean spirits were also cured, and everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.”  Power came out of Jesus because He prayed to the Father.

Thirdly, in His conversation with His Father, He would have discussed about the future of His ministry.  He knew that He could not carry on this work all by Himself.  He would need help from His disciples.  More so, when the time came for Him to return to the Father, He would need them to continue His mission. So the Lord was seriously considering who to appoint as His apostles, His inner circle of disciples, so that He could prepare them for the ministry. He would have spent time thinking through whom He should appoint among the many disciples.  As all leaders know, there is no perfect worker or assistant.  Every member in the team has his or her strength and liability.  If we are waiting to find a perfect worker, it will never happen.  As leaders, if we want our vision to be realized, it is important that we find a good team to help us in our mission and to continue what we have started.

Finding the right team of leaders is not just a matter of studying their Curriculum Vitae or interviewing them, but we need to ask the Lord for wisdom in discernment as there are certain things that are not based on mere objective credentials.  We need an intuitive knowledge of whether the person, although capable, will truly be passionate and be convicted in what we are doing.  Only after spending the whole night in prayerful discernment, did he “summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’”.

Finally, in His discernment process, He must have also been worried that the diverse backgrounds of His disciples might not make them suitable for the ministry.  Most of them are uneducated.  Some were revolutionaries.  There was a zealot whom the Roman soldiers would be wary of.  There was a tax-collector who was hated by all Jews.  So there was a motley group of apostles.  They were probably in human eyes, the worst possible team to assemble as the leaders of the future Church.  Worst of all, would they able to work together, considering their different backgrounds, characters, ideologies and talents?  Again, He would have spoken to His Father of the challenges in handing them.   Indeed, we know that often they apostles were bickering among themselves and jostling for power, honour and wealth.

We can be sure that the Father reassured Jesus that the strange team that He chose was the best team.  It would not be them that will ensure the success of His plan but He would demonstrate His power by transforming them.  And indeed, through the death and resurrection of our Lord and the sending of the Holy Spirit, these ambitious, self-centered and uncouth men became great apostles for our Lord, even to the extent of giving up their lives for Jesus in martyrdom.  With the help of His Father, the Spirit gave Him that power.  Yes, we read, “People tormented by unclean spirits were also cured, and everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.”

The great thing about our Christian faith is that we do not rely on our own strength.  We must cooperate with the grace of God, but we can only change lives through prayer, especially intercessory prayer. Indeed, as a regular preacher, minister and retreat master, I know that it is never my preaching alone that touches hearts and changes lives, but rather it is the power of God at work through me, His inadequate instrument.  This is the implication of what St Paul was writing to the Corinthians.  The rationale for why Christians should not go to court is because the secular court does not use Christian values to judge a case.  Most of the legal laws are vindictive and more a “humane” way to take revenge on those who have hurt us.  For Christians, however, we believe in forgiveness, overcoming evil with good, not with evil, and suffering unjustly for the sake of Christ.  We do not believe in revenge and seeing our enemies suffer because of their sins and crimes.

Hence, St Paul reminded them how they were transformed by the mercy and power of God too. “You know perfectly well that people who do wrong will not inherit the kingdom of God: people of immoral lives, idolaters, adulterers, catamites, sodomites, thieves, usurers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers will never inherit the kingdom of God.  These are the sort of people some of you were once, but how you have been washed clean, and sanctified, and justified through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our God.”  We, too, were once without mercy and walking in darkness.  So we are called to transform lives by living a life of love, compassion and forgiveness.

But we cannot adopt such a Christ-like outlook in life without spending time in prayer before service each day.  The higher the position and greater the responsibility you hold in life, the more you need to pray because your decisions and actions will affect a larger number of people for good or for bad. Thus, it behooves all of us in leadership to make more time for prayer in silent contemplation of His love for us so that we can seek His wisdom and tap His power to accomplish the task He has given us to do for the good of the Church and humanity.  It would do us much good if we begin each day, spending an hour before the Eucharist and then celebrating the Eucharist, before we start our work.  This will ensure that we are always walking in the Spirit of the Lord.