A couple of my friends have a wall in their offices where they have sketches or photographs of their heroes and she-roes -- people they admire. They have these pictures of people they look to for inspiration and encouragement. Some are the usual characters you might expect: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, and John F. Kennedy. There are some others that are not quite so well known, Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, or Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel to the NAACP and later a Supreme Court justice. If you had such a gallery hanging in your home or workplace, whose picture would you hang there? Who inspires you to be a better person?
One of the people I really admire is Judy Craig, a retired bishop in the United Methodist Church, one of the first women bishops in the United Methodist Church. There are many reasons to admire Judy. But today, I want to focus on one. Judy prays. More than that, Judy knows when it is time to STOP her work, and pray. She knows when it is time to stop doing and just take a moment to BE with God.
When she came to the West Ohio Conference as our bishop, we had a session where she met with pastors and someone asked her what she does when she gets really stressed out at work, or discouraged, or does not know what to do in a tough situation. She said that she pushes her chair back from her desk, closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and just listens to God. She clears her head, she STOPS, and puts her trust in God. The life of a Jesus follower is just that simple -- even for a bishop – we simply pray. We always have enough time to pray.
Wayne Muller, author of the book, Sabbath, says that prayer is like a portable Sabbath. “When we close our eyes for just a moment and let the mind rest in the heart. Like the Muslims, who stop to pray five times a day, like the Roman Catholic practice of prayer at noon, we can be stopped by a bell, a sunset, a meal, and we can pray. We can begin slowly with a simple prayer, like a pebble dropped into the middle of our day, rippling out over the surface of our life.” (Source: http://faithandleadership.com/programs/spe/articles/200509/sabbathpractices.html)
Do you pray? Often people confess to me they don’t really know how to pray. They tell me they think they need a class, or some instruction on how to pray. Or they tell me they do pray but they aren’t getting any answers. Well, here is the thing. We get answers to our prayers, and sometimes the answer is “yes,” but sometimes it’s “no.” Sometimes the answer is my least favorite: “WAIT!” And sometimes the answer this: “I’m not going to give you an answer; you are going to have to work this one out for yourself.”
My oldest sister once told me that she is not really a very spiritual person. Not like me. I think she was trying to say that she thinks prayer and spiritual things might be easier for someone like me, and not so easy for someone like her. But I would have to respectfully disagree. You see, I believe we are all spiritual creatures. We are all created by God. We all have a spirit, because you see, we are all made in the image of God and God is spirit. It’s just that the spiritual life comes more easily for some of us. We are all wired differently. But we all experience mystery. We all have those moments of something that is beyond our comprehension. We all experience wonder and awe at SOMETHING!
Today’s scripture tries, with the inadequacy of language, to describe this sense of mystery, when it comes to our longing to connect with God in prayer. Listen to the scripture again:
If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. God does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. God knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. (Romans 8:26-28)
God makes prayer out of our wordless sighs. I had a friend who used to say, she did not really understand why we needed to pray, because God knows all our thoughts. She had a point. But here is why we pray, even if our prayer is just “wordless sighs” -- because WE need to connect to God. We need to remember that we belong to God, and that God wants to listen to us.
Think about it, how many times have you been struggling with a decision, or some hurt feelings, and you went and took a walk, to clear your head, or you went to bed, and just gave it over to God with a prayer before you went to sleep, and at the end of the walk, or after a night’s sleep, you had a new insight, or clarity, or sense of calm? Why would we not think that is the Spirit of God working in us, in our wordless sighs? I, for one, believe that is God.
If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. God does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. God knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.
Friends, the call to each of us is a simple one today. Will we pray?
Will we pray more? Will you consider this idea of prayer as your portable Sabbath? If Sabbath is the tool we have, to help us recover balance in our lives, to have a rhythm, so that we do not let the chaos of the world win, then will we make use of this tool?
Will you pray? Will you make a decision to pray more this week than you prayed last week? One way to pray more often is to have a reminder to do it, or to make a commitment to pray a certain time:
- when you wake up, even before you get out of bed
- when you get into bed at night
- When you hear your clock chime, or an alarm on your phone goes off
- When you stop at a stop light
- When you hear a certain word every day, like good bye
- When the commercials come on the TV or the radio
- At meal times
- Every time you get stressed.
- When you get angry (Kurt prays a little blessing on those who cut him off in traffic for their safety. He figures it’s a more Christian response than what he used to do).
I think am going to pray this week, every time I notice how hot it is. I am going to stop and ask God, do you have something to say to me in this heat? Maybe the bright sun is some sort of gift. If I don’t hear anything, I’m just going to say ‘thank you God.’
We can never pray too much. Pray with me this week. It’s a simple invitation. We have enough time to pray. So let’s just do it.