Sorry I didn’t get this posted on Sunday! We painted and painted and painted and made jam and painted some more on Sunday after church. I was exhausted!
Enjoy the sermon …
Let’s Talk About Prayer
A friend of mine from Connecticut loves to tell the story of the first time she took me to a Baptist church.
We were in Maine at her family reunion. On Sunday morning of the reunion we all decided attend worship at the church where her brother and his family belonged. From the outside, the church looked very similar to our church in Connecticut, The First Congregational Church of Kent, United Church of Christ.
Little did I know, however, that this was not a UCC church with Congregational roots; this was a Baptist church.
Boy, was I in for a surprise when the pastor started preaching.
This trip was probably 15 years ago, but to this day Carol still laughs when she tells the story of my reaction to worship. She says that through most of the service all she saw was blonde hair whipping back and forth as my head turned in different directions every time I heard someone yell, “Amen!” “Hallelujah!” or “Preach it, brother!”
I was fascinated; I simply was not used to going to a church where people responded to the sermon like that.
As I worked my way through college and graduate school, I continued to be mesmerized by the different forms of worship and prayer that I encountered. I realized that – contrary to my narrow views and understanding of prayer and worship that came from a New England Congregational upbringing – people experienced church, religion and their faith in very different ways.
I probably could be reading a page out of each of your diaries right now, right? I am sure that throughout your lives, you all have experienced a wide variety of worship, prayer, meditation and religious practices. Some of these practices you probably were more comfortable with than others.
People often ask me how to pray; how to pray in their personal lives, how to pray with their families, how to pray at a gathering and how to pray in public. And truthfully – and as evidenced by this vast array of worship styles that we have all been exposed to throughout our lives – there is no one right answer to that question. There are so many ways to pray; to connect with God, to experience the divine in your life, to cry out, give thanks and ask hard questions and to listen to a still speaking voice talking to you.
We are not the first generation to ask this question, “How do you pray?” In the Gospel reading that we just heard, the disciples came to Jesus after he finished praying and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Prayer is not necessarily something that always comes naturally to us. We often feel awkward or uncomfortable or as though the words that we speak are not “right” in some way.
It is so important, when you think about prayer in your own life, to allow yourself to widen your scope of vision and see the periphery of your understanding of prayer.
So let’s talk about prayer, shall we? How do we pray? How should we pray? Perhaps the better question is, how can we pray?
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
First of all, when you pray, it is imperative that you be true to who you are. You do not have to apologize if you are not comfortable with a certain prayer or worship style. Pray in way that allows you to be at ease with what you are doing.
In today’s Epistle reading, Paul said to members of the church in Colossae, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” In other words, let your faith be your guide, not the people and the customs around you. “Do not let anyone condemn you,” Paul said.
That being said – be respectful of the way that others pray. You may not be comfortable praying a certain way – you may be more comfortable with very traditional prayers, you may be comfortable with more contemporary and extemporaneous prayers, you may be comfortable with extended periods of silent meditation or you may be comfortable with something completely different – but everyone should be allowed to be true to who they are, to feel safe and secure in the way that they pray. Share with others what works for you, but do not force it on them and honor the ways that they pray. The Body of Christ is strengthened by the diversity that creates it.
Start simple. If you are unable to find your own words, speak words that have been given to us. Say the Lord’s Prayer, as Jesus taught his disciples in this today’s Gospel. Read scripture out loud. Use a daily devotional book or email. Find prayers that are easy to memorize and say them – alone or with your family – in the morning, at mealtimes, before bed or at other points throughout the day.
This is the day that the Lord has made
Let us rejoice and be glad in it
God is great
God is good
Let us thank Him for our food
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
Angels watch me through the night
And wake me with the morning’s light
Pray in a place that is comfortable to you. Some people like the safety of a church sanctuary in order to pray, some people have places in their homes where they pray, some people are comfortable praying in public and some people like to be outside and surrounded by nature when they pray. There is no right or wrong place to pray (but again – be true to who you are and allow others to do the same).
Pray at a time that works for you. You may like to carve out a specific time in the day to pray or your may prefer to let your prayers come naturally to you throughout the day.
If you do not feel as though “traditional” forms of prayer work for you, find an alternative way to pray. Listen to music, journal, take a walk, create art or spend time engaging your hobbies. Do something that allows you to truly relax and express yourself, your thoughts and your prayers. Prayers do not have to be confined to words. In fact, prayers should not be confined to words.
Finally, remember that prayer is a form of spiritual fitness. It is something that you have to build up, it is something that you have to be consistent with and it is something that will get easier the more that you do it. Start small and slowly build that fitness.
Be true to who you are.
Be respectful of the way that others pray.
Pray in a place that is comfortable to you.
Pray at a time that works for you.
Find an alternative way to pray.
Build up your spiritual fitness.
Friends, remember that prayer is a gift. It is something that breaks down barriers put up by age, gender, race, sexuality, politics, education, class and disabilities. It is something that we can do alone and it is something that we can do together. It is something that nurtures us, it is something that draws us closer to God and it is something that – through our differences – brings us closer to one another.
Everyone can pray – I truly believe that.
May you all be lifted up, strengthened and made whole by your prayers.
Thanks be to God!