This morning I was reading the Interpreter magazine published by United Methodist Communications, an arm for the United Methodist Church. The feature article is entitled “Teach Us To Pray” which is the request of the disciples to Jesus that he teach them to pray as he does (Luke 11:1). The disciples are responding to the importance of prayer in the life of Jesus. They realize that the power of his ministry is fed directly by daily prayers and communion with the Father. So they are seeking the same power for their lives and for their ministry. Something we all can learn from so that we may have the power of God in our daily living.
Among the stray thoughts that I was able to catch hold of as I reflected on the article was how too infrequently I and the church speak about prayer. This is particularly disturbing considering that prayer is the one spiritual discipline that can most impact our daily lives. Prayer not only frames our day and helps us realize God’s presence in our lives, but sustains us as we journey here on earth. So I am making it a priority to write about the spiritual disciplines in our lives, especially prayer more frequently in the weekly Pastor’s Desk.
For myself, I attempt to pray every day because I think that it is the most important thing I can do on any given day, but also because I think that it is one of my primary tasks as a pastor. And though I recognize its importance, prayer remains difficult for me. I find that I am too easily distracted by concern about the briars and thorns and weeds of the day to remain focused for very long. But I try, and rely on the Spirit to pull me through the mire of my thoughts whenever I get stuck.
My prayer consists of two parts. One is listening. The other is talking. Listening for me comes from praying the Bible. I do this in two ways, through daily reading of the Psalms, and through reading specific texts selected from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. As I read, usually out loud to myself, I try to listen to what God is saying. This is a bumpy and crooked road for me, and I find that I can go off the road very easy as I begin to think about this or that goal that I have for the particular day, or ruminate on some conversation or reading from the day before. Nevertheless, I make it through the listening, always for the betterment of my day.
After I have listened for a spell, I will talk awhile to God. One thing I talk about is what God is requiring of me, both as a follower of Jesus, and as a pastor. I will admit that I have protested at time in the manner of Moses before the burning bush. Or sometimes I protest in the manner of Jesus in the garden as he awaits the coming of the temple guards who will lead him to his death on the cross. Or sometimes I sound like a whinny kid being dragged into the bath. But most often I ask for strength to follow the Way of the Cross, though I know that it calls for sacrifice and suffering. Part of this talking is speaking out loud the covenant prayer offered by Wesley in centuries past, placing all I own and all I am in the service of God.
Also part of the talk is about praying for the condition of the world and in the lives of my family, friends, and you the people of Greenwood. I frequently throughout the week pray through the picture directory of Greenwood, stopping at each page to raise the names of members and family alike to God. I pray for God’s grace and mercy in your life, I pray for your health, and I pray that the light of Christ shines both on your path through a dark world, but also that the light of Christ shines broadly in and through you.
And finally, I end each prayer session with the Lord’s prayer. This anchors my day and I am able to get on to what lies ahead with joy and love in my heart. When our new Bishop for the Virginia Conference, Bishop Young Jin Cho took office he issued a prayer covenant to the clergy and the lay members of the Virginia Conference to devote themselves to a practice of an hour of prayer each morning for a 100 days. He recently has extended that offer encouraging clergy and laity to continue practicing spiritual disciplines daily, for at least an hour. He has also announced that the theme for the 2013 Annual Conference is “Teach Us How To Pray.”
So my prayer today is that each of you will devote more time to the spiritual disciplines each day for the glory of God in your life.