Summary: Isaiah offers us one pattern of prayer: adoration, confession, affirmation, and commission.
What is Faithful Prayer?
October 21, 2007
This is the second sermon in the series for our annual stewardship emphasis. Just to remind you of what I said last week, and what I have been saying ever since becoming your pastor, stewardship is so much more than money. If we think only of money, then we are missing the point of being a member of the family of God, an heir of heaven, and a caretaker of God’s gifts.
Last week, we talked about the river of grace that flows from the throne of God; about the living water that pours out from God’s heart and flows through us giving us life. Perhaps we are wondering how we can come to stand under that river of grace to be washed, cleansed, and nourished. And once we jump in the water, then what? What does that mean for our stewardship? What does that mean for our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service? The pump has been primed. Now what? What do we do to begin to draw on that water that promises eternal life?
I believe that it begins with prayer. To be honest with you, I struggled with prayer for a long time – for years. I have read the great spiritual masters and spiritual giants of history, and have tried to learn from them. Two of the modern voices that I appreciate are Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest and one of the greatest twentieth century voices of the spiritual life. Merton was a Trappist monk who had incredible insights into the individual’s life in the presence of God. They have both taught me much about the need to be silent and still in order to open myself up to listen to God.
I have tried to emulate both of these men because I so much appreciate their insights and their own authentic faith and prayer life. The problem is that I can’t sit still long enough to follow their lead. I have trouble with solitude. My mind races and I can’t focus. My attention span is about ninety seconds. Prayer had become almost impossible for me.
Some years ago, I decided that I needed some help to sort all of that out, so I started working with a spiritual director. In the course of that work, he suggested that I spend a couple of sessions with a psychologist to help me understand myself a little better. So I actually saw a psychiatrist for a little while. In the course of that relationship, he put me on some medication for Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.
No too long after that, I took a class on Spirituality and the Local Congregation over at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart. At the beginning of the first class, the professor had us spend twenty minutes of silence. When the time ended, he asked us what went on with us. I told him that the silence screamed at me and I couldn’t pray at all.
He asked me some more questions and I told him about my ADD diagnosis. He said, “Well, of course you have trouble praying. You need to find a better way.” After class, we sat over a cup of coffee and explored different methods of prayer. With his help, I discovered that I need to find more active ways to pray.
He led me to the writings of a sixteenth century French monk named Brother Lawrence, who learned to “practice the presence of God” all during the day. He was intent to see God working in each minute of his day, even in the most mundane tasks and experiences. He never really spent long silent periods in prayer, but his whole day was filled with prayer as he saw God’s presence in all that he did. So I have tried to emulate Brother Lawrence. It has helped.
Prayer has to be the center of whom and what we are. I want to show you a very short film clip. This is from the movie “Shenandoah” starring Jimmy Stewart. He is the father of a rather large clan and has an interesting way of offering table grace.
(Show clip here)
Most importantly, I believe, prayer is not about telling God what to do. Prayer is not about telling God how good we are. Prayer is not about placing ourselves at the center of the universe. Prayer is about listening to God and pushing our wills to line up with God’s will.
Our stewardship theme this year is focused on becoming more Christ-like. We are going to be concerned about how we can give all of ourselves to God and to God’s work in the world. God’s living water is available to us all. How do we receive it? It seems to me that it begins with prayer.