Luke 6:12-16

In early December 1944, General George Patton’s Third Army was poised for the breakthrough across the Rhine River, a formidable natural obstacle to the invasion of Germany by the Western allies. The date for the attack was set for Dec. 19 but foul weather threatened to postpone the attack.

At 11 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 8, Patton phoned the head chaplain of the Third Army, James H. O’Neill, a Catholic priest. (Ibid)Unknown

“This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.” (Ibid)

The chaplain told Patton that he would research the topic and report back to him within an hour. (Ibid)

After hanging up the receiver, O’Neill looked out at the immoderate rains, which had plagued the Third Army’s operations for the past three months. As he searched through his prayer books, he could find no formal prayers pertaining to weather so he composed this original prayer, which he typed on a note card: (Ibid)

Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations. (Ibid)

O’Neill threw on his trench coat and crossed the quadrangle of the old French military barracks then serving as the Third Army’s headquarters and reported to Patton’s office. Patton read the prayer, returned it to O’Neill and directed him to have 250,000 copies printed and make sure that every man in the Third Army got one. (Ibid)

The often profane and tempestuous general and the humble, mild-mannered priest then engaged in a lengthy discussion of the importance of prayer. (Ibid)

“Chaplain, how much praying is being done in the Third Army?” inquired the general. (Ibid)

“Does the general mean by chaplains, or by the men?” asked O’Neill. (Ibid)

“By everybody,” Patton replied. (Ibid)

“I am afraid to admit it, but I do not believe that much praying is going on,” responded O’Neill. “When there is fighting, everyone prays, but now with this constant rain – when things are quiet, dangerously quiet, men just sit and wait for things to happen. Prayer out here is difficult. Both chaplains and men are removed from a special building with a steeple. Prayer to most of them is a formal, ritualized affair, involving special posture and a liturgical setting. I do not believe that much praying is being done.” (Ibid)

“Chaplain, I am a strong believer in Prayer,” said Patton. “There are three ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and by praying. Any great military operation takes careful planning, or thinking. Then you must have well-trained troops to carry it out: that’s working. But between the plan and the operation there is always an unknown. That unknown spells defeat or victory, success or failure. It is the reaction of the actors to the ordeal when it actually comes. Some people call that getting the breaks; I call it God. God has His part, or margin in everything. That’s where prayer comes in.” (Ibid)

Patton said that men should pray no matter where they were, in church or out of it, that if they did not pray, sooner or later they would “crack up.” (Ibid)

“We must ask God to stop these rains. These rains are the margin that hold defeat or victory. If we all pray…it will be like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven. I believe that prayer completes that circuit. It is power,” said Patton. (Ibid)

The Prayer Card, with a Christmas Greeting printed on the reverse side, reached the troops between Dec. 12 and 14. (Ibid)

Two days later the Americans armies in Europe would find themselves engaged in the Battle of the Bulge, which remains the greatest battle ever fought by American forces. The outcome of that battle, and possibly of the entire Allied war effort in Europe, would hinge on the weather. As Patton’s adjutant, Paul Harkins, would later write:

“Whether it was the help of the Divine guidance asked for in the prayer or just the normal course of human events, we never knew; at any rate, on the twenty-third, the day after the prayer was issued, the weather cleared and remained perfect for about six days. Enough to allow the Allies to break the backbone of the Von Runstedt offensive and turn a temporary setback into a crushing defeat for the enemy.”(Ibid)

On Christmas Eve when Chaplain O’Neill walked into Patton’s office the general rose, came from behind his desk with hand outstretched, and said, “Chaplain, you’re the most popular man in this Headquarters. You sure stand in good with the Lord and the soldiers.” (Ibid)

The general then pinned a Bronze Star MUnknown-1edal on Chaplain O’Neill.

Perhaps from the battle lines of the Second World War we can learn something about prayer this morning.

The chaplain said there wasn’t much praying going on because the men believed that praying was a formal, ritualized affair, involving special posture and a liturgical setting, except when there was fighting, then everybody prayed.

When you think about it, we are not much different from Patton’s men. Throw any of us into a life or death situation, and there is not a one of us that will not pray.

Until then, many of us will let time move on without any effort on our part to consult God about the issues that are present in our lives, believing those are better left to the more religious among us. We will let the preacher, a Sunday school teacher, a deacon, or a WMU leader voice a prayer for us. If we go to church occasionally and hear a prayer, that should suffice.

What is the real problem? It’s not that we don’t believe in God. It’s that the matter at hand isn’t urgent enough for us to make the matter a priority in our lives, enough of a priority to place it at the feet of Jesus.

If the matter isn’t important enough for us to pick it up in prayer and carry it to Jesus, why should it be important enough to Jesus that He become involved and work on our behalf?

Patten was right. If the matter is important enough to plan, if it is important enough to work for, it ought to be important enough to pick up and take to the Lord in prayer.

The common denominator here is that planning, working, and praying all take time. They all take energy. They all take effort. The reason we don’t pray is that we are lazy.

Sometimes we say things like, “I don’t know how to pray.” Like the chaplain said of the soldiers, “They think that to pray it has to be a formal, ritualized affair, involving special posture and a liturgical setting.” However, they didn’t have any problem praying during battle.

The same people that say they don’t know how to pray seem to find the words in times of distress.

In today’s passage from Luke, Jesus teaches us that prayer doesn’t have to be a formal ritualized affair in a liturgical setting.

Jesus went to the mountains to pray. He didn’t always go to the temple, although Jesus once called the temple “a house of prayer.” However, it wasn’t practical for Jesus to go to temple to pray any more than it’s practical for you to come to the church every day to pray.

In the Old Testament the mountains are places of safety, strength, and permanence. DSC_5284

The mountains represented a place where God resided. They were usually away from where people congregated. Jesus went to the mountains to find isolation. He went there to be alone.

So, while the place where you pray does not have to be formal, the place can be important. The fewer the distractions the better. The closer you feel to God in the place you are praying the better. However, the most important place to pray is always where you are.

Luke shows us that Jesus was as intentional about planning the place where he prayed as most of us are about where we eat, or sleep, or spend an evening with a good friend.
Jesus came to this night of prayer with a very specific purpose.

His purpose was to make up his mind about who he should call to be his disciples. This was one of the most important decisions of Jesus’ life.

Any time we make an important decision in our life, we should set aside time to pray. Our purpose should be clear, to find peace from God on our decision, to feel we have some direction and clarification on the direction we are going, to ask God to intervene on our behalf and assist us so that we might be successful in our endeavors.

Patton was very clear in his purpose in calling the chaplain, in asking him to construct a prayer, and to distribute it to the men in the army. His purpose was to ask God to give them favor with the weather, and to help them win the war. His purpose was to involve his men in the praying. He wanted them to pray, regardless of where they were. The most important place of prayer was where they were. He wanted them to pray with purpose.

The chaplain helped them frame their prayer, which is exactly what Jesus did when he provided a model prayer for the disciples in chapter 11.

Here in chapter 6, not only did Jesus find a special place and pray with purpose, but he persevered in prayer. The scripture says he prayed all night.

Jesus did not approach prayer with this kind of longevity. Sometimes his prayers were very short. However, Jesus had a lot to pray about. There was a lot to consider in choosing twelve men to be his disciples, so we can safely assume that he considered many more men that he marked off his list.

On this night, Jesus approached prayer the way an endurance runner approaches a Boston Marathon, the way a hiker approaches the Appalachian Trail, the way a college student pulls an all nighter preparing for an important exam.

images-1 This decision was important enough for Jesus that he persevered all night.

How many all nighters have we pulled in prayer? How many issues have been important enough to us that we have persevered and prayed about over a day, two days, a week, a month, a year or more?

“If we all pray,” Patton said, “it will be like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven. I believe that prayer completes that circuit. It is power,” said Patton.

Is he right? Patton never claimed to be a theologian. In fact, he was a very foul-mouthed, unorthodox believer.

I don’t believe that God is counting prayers. I don’t believe God acts because ten are praying instead of eight or 200,000 are praying instead of 30,000.

However, I do believe that Patton is on to something when he says that prayer is like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven.

What we learn from Jesus is that when we set aside a place to pray and we pray with purpose and we persevere, God will help us make important decisions that need to be made in our lives.

That’s one approach. Another approach is to have the arrogance to believe that God plays no role in our lives and that we are our own gods and the captains of our own destinies. Therefore, we either live or die by our own wisdom.

As arrogant as General Patton was, even he believed in a God who might answer the prayers of a rain-soaked army who needed the sun to shine in order to give them the best chance at defeating an evil foe.

Most often, the evil isn’t some outside force. It is the poor choices we make because we do not consult God, but rather we run headstrong into the future with the attitude, “I’ve got this.” It is the attitude that God plays no role in our lives, therefore, we will not ask God for help.

Instead, why not plan, work, and pray? In this way, we are doing our part and we are asking God to do the part we cannot do.

If you are not praying for God’s guidance or intervention in your life or for this church, then perhaps you and Patton have something in common, but it wouldn’t be your belief in prayer.

Are you planning; are you working; are you praying? Jesus did all three. Each is intentional. Each requires effort. To leave out any step is to not know which direction God wants us to go and that means we miss out on many of God’s blessings.