Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Prayer


It has been a rainy spring so far.  The ground is totally saturated and everything is muddy.  On any given day we might also celebrate with a little thunder but, so far, no storms. But that doesn't mean we might have one any day.  So, in the spirit of taking risks, I’ve challenged myself to sleep outside even when the rain promises interrupted sleep.  If I’m going to touch God’s majesty I need to include the scary stuff.

I woke up Monday morning to the sound of rain on the tent.  I noticed it was different from the rain I had heard off and on all night.  That was just Regular rain.  What I was hearing was Big Fat drops.  You would think I could come up with a name for it but Big Fat was about as close as I could come. And the rest of the rain that morning was Regular rain.  As opposed to the rain we got mid-afternoon.  That was a Gully-Washer, not quite up to the standard of a real live Frog-Strangler, which is just about the strongest rain I can think of.

You know the old saying that the Eskimos have 40 different words for snow?  I’ve come to appreciate there is room for 40 different words for “rain.”

I was listening to a rock song in my car this morning and realized it was really a prayer.  Go figure.  A rock prayer.  So now I wonder if it’s the same with prayer.  Maybe there are 40 different kinds of prayers.

I think people pray a whole lot more than they think they do.  Especially if we count Foxhole prayers. Even people who don’t go to church on Sunday will tell you that they are praying for you. Lenten personal prayers are totally different from the ones that fill the Sanctuary on Easter morning. And, of course, there’s the Lord’s prayer.

 Prayer is so important that Jesus, who so many times spoke in cryptic parables rather than just saying what He meant—told us about prayer in the plainest way He could.  He said to do it. Then he even gave us the words to use.  So we say the Lord’s Prayer every week in church. It’s probably the earliest prayer you learned after “Now I lay me down to sleep” and “God is great, God is good…”

When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6: 5 he also gave us a few instructions: “Don’t be a hypocrite.  Pray secretly. Go into a quiet place where no one can see you. Don’t bloviate.” And here’s the interesting part:  “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Psalm 139 says:  “Oh, Lord, you have searched me and know me…..Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.”

So why do we even do it?  If God already knows what we need why do we need to ask for it?
Maybe the act of prayer is for our benefit more than God’s.

Barbara Brown Taylor calls them "Prayer Soaked pews."


I have a dear friend who has decided that God is calling him to change his ministry.  He quit his job in a deep leap of faith without a solid plan except to listen to God.  And his prayer right now is for God to show him where he is supposed to be, his prayer comes from a song by Styx from 1990:

Every night I say a prayer in the hope that there's a heaven
And every day I'm more confused as the saints turn into sinners
All the heroes and legends I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay
And I feel this empty place inside so afraid that I've lost my faith

Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the river
And wash my illusions away
Show me the way

And as I slowly drift to sleep, for a moment dreams are sacred
I close my eyes and know there's peace in a world so filled with hatred
That I wake up each morning and turn on the news to find we've so far to go
And I keep on hoping for a sign, so afraid that I just won't know

Show me the way, Show me the way
Take me tonight to the mountain
And wash my confusion away

I’ve had a labyrinth painted in my field for most of the year now.  I sometimes go out there with a tough problem.  I whine and complain to God the whole way into the center.  Once inside, my attitude usually changes when I notice that I’m surrounded on three sides by dense trees and on the fourth side my neighbors horses graze happily.  Sometime my favorite, the donkey “El Burro”, comes to the fence to watch me. God has given me so much that my prayer turns from “Please” to “Thank You.” The trip out the lab is more relaxed.  God knows what I need better than I do myself. 

I have some favorite prayers.  Favorite sets of words that people smarter than me have written.  If I were to list all the magnificent prayers that poets have given us we would be here all day.  So let me just tell you two of my favorite places to pray.

I love going over to the Mansion every Thursday to pray with the ladies there.  They have honest prayers with real meaning-- deep, soul-searing prayers.  Sometimes custody of a woman’s child is a risk and you can’t get a more honest prayer than that.

But more and more I’m starting to love the short prayer we offer Sunday morning just before Sunday School.  In fact, last Sunday I was running late and worried I would miss it. We are a small church.  And our Sunday School program is even smaller.  So when we circle up to start our day you could count our number on three hands.  Sometimes two.  And James usually says just about the same words every week.  But it’s not what he says.

It’s the act of holding hands.  Everyone, no matter whether they’re in the nursery, or youth or adult class; we all gather in one big room, form a circle, and hold hands.  And if LilyMae is running around or if Carson is grabbing another donut we wait until all are assembled. We even wait until Carson can figure out how to hold a donut and someone’s hand at the same time.  Each hand is important.

Once each week my church starts their day by holding hands and praying. Somewhere in those connected hands lies the Church.

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