2nd Week of Advent
Discipline of Prayer
As Pastor Jon and I were dividing up the topics for these Advent reflections, both of us expressed a similar thought: “I probably ought to accept the assignment of the Discipline of Prayer, because that is the one I most need to work on.”
I trust that you can hear that confession, without losing confidence in your pastors.
Prayer is a life-long, evolving, and developing spiritual discipline. I would hope that all of us, each of us, would feel the continual need to “work on” our prayer life and our use of this means of grace.
Prayer is essential and central to a life of faith. Nothing is as important in establishing and maintaining a perpetual communion with God.
We know this to be true. We know this from our experience with every relationship. How can we understand another or be understood by them except by hours of conversation and interaction? Of our deepest relationships we might say “she knows what I am thinking before I say it.” But such only happens after long years of listening attentively to the other individual.
To pray is to listen. To pray well is to listen well. To pray one must be prepared for the exchange which changes and alters all things.
Prayer has become a difficult thing in our empirical and research driven world. We want to know the how’s and why’s; we are ill prepared to simply accept. I remember in my first call, praying with a sister who suffered mightily from arthritis. A few weeks later, she was speaking of the healing which came from those prayers. I took a quick glance at her hands. When she had entered the room there was that all too familiar stumble in her step. My empirical self was working powerfully to discredit the shared experience of God’s miracle.
There are many moods in which one might pray. There are prayers of celebration; prayers of affirmation; prayers of praise and worship. Intercessory prayer is what we practice most often when we are together. These are the petitions in which we lift to God our concern for neighbor, the Church, or the world.
In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster points out how common it is for us to hear prayer petitions followed by “If it be thy will.” His search of scripture revealed no such addendum to the prayers of Jesus, the prayers of the Apostles, the prayers of the early Church. These prayers were prayed with the confidence that they were in perfect alignment with the will of God.
The work needing to be done with regard to our prayer-life surely begins with listening for what God wants and what God intends. When we have heard, we then pray with confidence that God’s desires are known by us and known to us. We pray the petition that is on God’s heart and thus in complete alignment with God’s will.
Ignore – forget – set assign any temptation to measure or evaluate how your prayers impacted the matter over which you pray. Attempting to determine if our prayers had any effect on the cancer of a loved one is an admission that our empirical/research side seeks to dominate our spiritual/faithful selves.
Prayer brings about change. Some of that change is easily seen; other is more difficult to precieve.
A favored book of mine is “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.” In the opening chapter, the author discusses the various derivatives in the Latin language for our one English word for faith. One of these is visio. This expression of faith is to see as God sees. Prayer strengths this faith expression in us. Prayer makes this faith expression prevalent.
Pastor Jon and I were open to using these homilies as a way to introduce to you the spiritual discipline of which we were speaking. I want to do that, this evening, with prayer.
Get yourself comfortable and relaxed. Perhaps you will remember some of the notes from last week’s thoughts on meditation. Find yourself sitting comfortably. Close your eyes. Set aside concerns and thoughts.
Begin to imagine a conversation – with God. Strive to hear. To hear God’s voice. Imagine, if you will, the one thing God is most trying to say to you. What is the sentence that God would speak to your heart; in the midst of your life? Listen for that exchange.
Conversation is two way. Think of the one thing you most want to say to God. What is on your mind or in your heart or weighing on your soul? Speak this, to God. Say it out loud, or in a whisper, if this might help.
Allow me to close with a few lines from Foster’s book:
Let me insert a word of caution at this point. We are not trying to conjure up something in our imagination that is not so. Nor are we trying to manipulate God and tell him what to do. Quite the opposite. We are asking God to tell us what to do. God is the ground of our beseeching….. and we are utterly dependent upon him. Our prayer is to be like a reflex action to God’s prior initiative upon the heart.