Livin’ On A Prayer (Ash Wednesday Sermon)

Livin’ on a prayer. Bon Jovi, circa 1986, nailed it in the musically excellent department, chronicling an economically-challenged couple who work hard, stick with each other, and hold onto hope livin’ on a prayer. The album Slippery When Wet was one of my favorites as a teenager, because I loved the rock’n’roll vibe. The older I get, the more I think the song should be an anthem for our lives of faith, and in Lent, it takes on a whole new meaning.

In Lent, the Christian calendar urges us to repent. Tonight (or today, depending on when you’re reading this), we launch into forty days of reflection on the life of Jesus and the call to discipleship. Sure, at the end, we’ll arrive at Easter and we’ll celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from death and the victory of heaven over death. That’s done, finished, an actual reality.

But for forty days, we’re called by the pattern of the church year to consider how badly we need Jesus, how short we fall, and how sufficient the grace of God is. We’re called to consider how we’re supposed to live to be more like Jesus – and the end result is that we’ll recognize we can’t do it on our own.

We need help – we need God – we are in fact, at our most faithful, living on a prayer.

In Luke 11, Jesus’ disciples observe him praying, and one of them asks him to teach them how to pray. That’s where we get the Lord’s Prayer from: a disciple of Jesus saw that Jesus was praying, wanted to be able to pray like Jesus, willingly asked for instruction, and received the pattern of prayer from Jesus that we now use regularly on Sundays.

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’

Jesus gives says we should give God the recognition deserved, that we should pray for the kingdom of God to be a reality. That we should seek what we needed day by day; that our focus should be on being forgiven as we also forgive. That God would protect us from falling into evil.

It seems pretty simple but while the prayer ends there, Jesus’ teaching on the subject continues with a set of allegories on praying to God that would have worked for his hearers. He lays it out that they’re praying to God like a man asking a friend for bread to host sudden company, or a father who’s son asks for food. Jesus wants his disciples – remember, that’s us, too- to know that God wants to grant us what we ask for when we boldly approach in prayer.

When we pray like we’re taught to.

When we pray with boldness.

When we pray with our hearts turned toward God.

Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

That sounds a lot like Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

When we live on a prayer, God’s will for our lives become known most fully; when we live on a prayer, God gives us what we need; when we live on a prayer, we find God.

This Lent, for the next forty days, I want to challenge you to pray the Lord’s Prayer every day. I don’t mean to recite it, or mumble it, or read through it; I want to invite you to pray it with your whole heart, and ask God to use you for the kingdom of God.

This Lent, I want you to encourage you to pray the prayer, and I want you to see how God will use you, every day. Ask God to show you how you can be the hands and feet of Jesus to someone in your life. Maybe it will be one person who will be brought to mind as you pray about your needs and the needs of others. Maybe it will be a series of strangers who become people God shows you in a new way.

Jesus taught the disciples to pray, and then he taught them how to serve. It’s the vibe we get from Pope Francis, who says we should pray for the poor to be fed and then go feed them; it’s why I think we should pray “thy kingdom come” and then go out this Lent to be the kingdom.

Or to quote St. Augustine: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

May this Lent be a time where you are called to prayer, and may your prayers call you from your comfort zone to people who need to feel God’s love through you.



About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at,, and the brand new
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