I prayed this past week. I needed to pray.
I prayed to God. I prayed with others.
On Thanksgiving Monday I prayed as usual for people who are sick or in some other trouble – that there be healing and help for them.
Next, I prepared for a funeral, and at the funeral some members of a local Lions Club led a number of prayers, so I just skipped one that I had planned to do.
On Wednesday I attended a meeting of our Deacons, and though we prayed at the start and end of the meeting, in the middle we also prayed – asking for guidance as we wonder who among you should be Deacons next year. We made a long list of you to prayer over, that night.
On Thursday I visited a woman, a mother of three, to offer a house blessing. We started outside, went all through the rooms of the home, and ended up out the back door, praying, again and again,
We call upon the Sacred Three
To save, shield, and surround
This house, this home,
This day, this night,
And every night.
On Friday I opened a committee meeting in Bible Hill with silence and some prayerful poetry from a rather New-Agey, former-Christian. (Jan Phillips, There Are
Burning Bushes Everywhere, 2016)
When I die …
If they wonder
did I believe in God
tell them every other week,
and the rest of the time
I bowed down to Mystery.
And yesterday I led four of you on a spiritual walk in the woods, including a bit of Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
William James, famed for his 1902 book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, said: “The reason why we pray is simply that we cannot help praying.”
There likely are many people who do not ever pray, but even many atheists ‘pray,’ in their own way. There even are atheist churches now, as well as a United Church whose minister is in trouble for being an ‘a-theist’, and still has moments in Sunday service that are like prayers.
We have just been reminded of that day when Jesus told his listeners a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. (Lk 8:1) If we read a page before this, we see that Christ has been talking and teaching about The End, the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth, the ‘days of the Son of Man.’
Amid the fears about The End, the questions about where and when and what will happen, the assumptions each disciple made, Jesus encourages. Though the finish of God’s great promises seems so slow to get here, keep praying. Don’t lose heart and give up on prayer.
Jesus the Storyteller gives another parable. Of a widow and an unjust judge. Jesus’ audience would understand immediately; they had surely seen what happened to the poor in the land, treated unfairly by the judges, who always needed to be bribed to take your side.
By the woman’s continual pestering, the terrible judge gives in and settles her case in her favour, just to be rid of her at last. And, so, Christ concludes, how much better than an unjust judge is God the Father, the Hearer of Prayer? He will not delay in making the right things happen. “And yet,” Jesus said, “when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
As with many parables, we still do not get easy answers. Answers, in this case, to our prayers. And yet, we need to pray and not lose heart about praying.
Prayers, Christian prayers, include a gigantic variety of things. Like our conversations with others. Lots of topics, feelings, even body language are in our prayers. Prayer is a lot more than asking for things. And I suppose that we should express this when we are together – Sunday mornings, or in our small groups for study and other work. So I should not only preach at you how to pray; I need to lead you into doing prayers in many different ways. (That’s why we went for a walk in the woods yesterday.)
I read a quotation online a week ago, from the great Christian writer G. K. Chesterton. He made this personal statement: You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
That’s a good personal example which could inspire more prayers in any of us. Hand in hand with our many short moments of prayer need to be the extended periods of silence and listening and meditation and abiding with the Spirit. Peter Marshall, former chaplain of the U. S. Senate, once remarked that God has equipped us to go deep-sea diving and instead we wade in bathtubs. (Yancey, Prayer, p. 276)
Sometimes I realize my praying has not been very deep or extended… just short skims across the surface. A quick splash in the tub instead of a deep dive to meet the Master. It takes patience and persistence – like the widow in Jesus’ story – to dive deeply into prayer. It can also take practice.
I could not just try a deep-sea dive this week. I need training, and practice, and trying some shorter, shallower dives, before I am really capable of going far down a long time. So too in our walk with Christ.
Of course, our Sovereign God can break in and take a person, or a group, to an extended spiritual experience at the drop of a hat. God makes that possible. And many of us have those special times we can tell of in our testimonies. But normally, from month to month, we need to practice the short minutes of grace, to train for the deeply devoted seasons of prayer with Christ.
Three of us sang
Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it, Jesus, is our plea;
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
This is perhaps the best thing about prayer. It is talk with God, quality time with the Spirit, sharing our heart with Jesus. That day, with His followers, He wanted to encourage them to stay prayerful, trusting in God with their prayers. Don’t lose heart.
So, in a beautiful way, Christ has us together, and we become a team, a family of God, and are not alone in praying. My praying helps your praying, and your prayers help me converse with Christ.
A Jewish teacher of prayer said, “When I prepare myself to say my prayers, I unite with all who are closer to God than I am, so that, through them, I may reach God. And I also unite myself with all who may be farther away from God than I am, so that through me, they may reach God.” (Yancey, Prayer, p. 206)
It is within God’s grace that we learn to pray. “Teach us to pray,” the disciples once said to Jesus, and He kept on teaching them. As He sends the Spirit to keep teaching us. Maybe you can look back and see how your own praying has changed and grown and had different seasons in your life.
In his book on prayer, Philip Yancey quotes this story from a woman named Sara.
As a new Christian I attended a private Ivy League – type school, where the only real option for fellowship was a charismatic prayer group. Many times in that group I had a strong sense of God’s presence – a sense that has come and gone in the years since.
I didn’t grow up with the idea that God answers specific prayers, and I must say that whenever I heard of Christians praying for parking places and the like, it bugged me. But when my teenagers went away to college and got exposed to risky behaviours, I prayed very specific prayers of desperation in the early hours of the morning. As a parent, you read news reports of binge drinking and sex parties on campus, and you feel so helpless, wondering what your kids are doing. I sometimes think of mothers whose children have committed suicide. They prayed too…
I’m trying to pray less “parentally,” in other words, telling God what to do. Rather, I try to look behind the symptom of rebellion or risky behaviour and ask God to help my children find better ways of finding meaning and of handling the stress in their lives. (Philip Yancey, Prayer, p. 60)
The need to pray and not lose heart is a constant in our lives. So we keep learning prayer. We keep prayer simple. We pray alone. We pray together. We speak each other’s prayers. We pray when we are inspired and feeling in touch with God. We pray when we feel low and prayer seems just to hit the ceiling and bounce back. Christ gives us ways to pray.
Here’s a new parable to end today’s sermon. The Parable of the Waves on the Seashore.
Praying that God’s Kingdom Come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, is like waves breaking on the shore of a little barrier island. A person watches a wave come in to hit the sandbank. It does not reach that far up the beach. The next wave comes up the sand, and just touches the bank. Another wave comes, and does not reach it. Yet another wave rushes in, and hits the island, taking a bit of ground away with it – just a bit.
So it goes, the waves keep coming, while the person stays and watches, or leaves. The waves come and go with the ebbing and flowing tide. In time, the little barrier island will be worn away.
So may God’s Kingdom destroy the barriers of the good life God wants for people and all creation. The Kingdom is a sure thing.