Monday, May 26, 2014

A Word on Prayer

Check out how nicely the prayer quilt is coming along:

Today I've asked Clayton to be a guest blogger on the topic of prayer. I think simply, so I was thinking he would walk us through the acrostic PRAY (Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield), but he's way more educated and complex than that. Since he has all that professional training and almost one whole year of experience now, I knew you guys would like to hear/read what he has to say too; of course I might be just a little biased, I'm a proud momma after all. Take it away C:

Andrea, my mother, has made a it a clear goal of hers throughout this cancer process that God be praised from beginning to end.  She has also asked that we continually pray.  The discipline of prayer is holy and faithful way to praise God and care for the whole Christian Church. (Side note: to satisfy my own conscience, I must tell you what follows is a distillation of a paper I wrote in seminary about this topic.  To read a Google doc of that paper click here)  

Prayer is the constant activity of the baptized.  You talk regularly with your immediate family sharing your fears, wishes and desires so that you might be supported and assisted along the way.  In baptism you have been brought, by the working of the Holy Spirit, into the family of God.  St. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that we are children of God, which in turn makes us co-inheritors with Christ.  Jesus spoke regularly with the Father through prayer most notable in the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday.  If Jesus then, the perfect Son of God, submitted himself in prayer, how much more should we then submit ourselves in prayer?  
Through regular times of prayer we remind ourselves of a few things: 1.We have a Father in heaven that is greater than any earthly father we may or may not have had.  2.  Our Father in heaven listens to our prayers and indeed wants to hear our prayers. 3. There is great comfort in knowing that the divine creator and savior of the world is continually desiring to hear from you.  

The difficulty then comes in determining the way in which one should pray.  A person could spend a lifetime determining the best way to pray.  Admittedly the Roman Catholic tradition has a plethora of materials for spiritual direction, as the practice of prayer is often referred. Just Google, Ignatius of Loyola or Henri Nouwen to get a taste of what is out there.  And to be fair Protestants have a history of writing about prayer as well.  I will recommend Martin Luther’s “A Simple Way to Pray” written to his barber, and Henri Nouwen’s “Spiritual Direction”.

Here is what I have found, through my own reading and Spiritual Direction with an Ursuline Nun, to be the tenets of prayer.  Praying is foreign to your sinful nature – every bit of your sinful nature wants you to do anything else except pray.  The disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane are an example of this (Jesus said to them, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”).  

Praying can be compared to any other skill – you have to start somewhere.  You can’t sew a quilt, shoot a basketball, run a marathon, fly a plane unless you begin at the beginning – sew a stitch, hold the ball, take the first step, take a lesson – you get the idea.  You can’t pray like the pope the first time you try.  Prayer takes guidance.  The disciples even asked for a lesson from Jesus, “Lord teach us to pray.”  

Be consistent in your prayer time. If you have a hard time making things fit in the morning then don’t make your dedicated time be in the morning.  If you are contemplating bed before the six o’clock news is over then don’t make you dedicated time be in the evening.  Whenever it is be consistent.  Start small and increase your time in dedicated prayer – fifteen minutes one week, then twenty the next.  

Now comes what to say.  One of my favorite Luther quotes, I am a Lutheran pastor after all, goes along the lines of “when you pray, grab hold of a promise of God and hold it in his face.”  That is to say, when you pray, the words that you can use are the words already given to us by God himself.  He promised to give you what you need to eat and wear (Matt. 6) remind him of that, thank him for house and home, food and clothes.  He has given his commandments.  Pray for forgiveness for not keeping them and strength to keep them in the time to come.  Christ has promised to come again in glory to judge the living and the dead: Pray that he would come and you would be counted among the living for the sake of the innocent, bitter suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ.  If you are really struggling for words to pray, pray as he taught us, “Our Father who art in heaven…”

There is more to be said for different and creative ways of praying and recording your prayers.  The main task of the baptized believer is to discipline the sinful nature and approach the throne of grace with confidence on account of Jesus Christ who intercedes for us.  For the Christian praying is the heartbeat of faith.   

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