Prayerful LivingPosted: September 25, 2016
SLIDE 3: DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF CHANGE
Paul reminds us that even when we disagree with our society’s leaders, and God knows Paul was in opposition to the Roman Empire and its culture of violence and death, we should still take time to pray for those who exercise power and authority in our nation. People in authority can change. They have important responsibilities, and who knows maybe prayer can help? The awesome responsibilities of high office have changed more than one American President, when they found themselves called upon to transcend their own narrow ideas and self-interest by the challenges of their Presidency – George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower. Huntsville is the result of an unusual Presidential vision that has changed the world far beyond what John Kennedy could possibly have imagined, when he promised to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Let us not under estimate the power of prayer or the Presidency.
SLIDE 4: OFFER PRAYERS FOR OUR NATION
Prayer can also change us, and maybe that is important in this election season. Our nation seems to be approaching a level of widening conflict, alienation and violent discord similar to the election of 1860 just before the civil war. The level of polarization and the lack of civility in our social discourse is frightening. This election season in particular has witnessed a dangerous coarsening in our electioneering. Susan Benesch, founder the Dangerous Speech Project at Harvard’s Internet Security, says, “When people think it’s increasingly O.K. to describe a group of people as subhuman or vermin, those same people are likely to think it is O.K. to hurt those people. I would join with Paul encouraging all people to “offer prayers, intercession and thanksgiving for all people— for the President, Senators, Governors, Congressmen and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
SLIDE 5: PRAY 30 MINUTES A DAY
So how as a people of faith do we begin to lead our nation in prayerful living? First, we have to pray. Over and over I have suggested from this pulpit, “We need to spend at least thirty minutes a day in prayer.” Let me ask, “How many of us are spending at least thirty minutes a day in prayer?” I understand, some of us don’t know how to begin. Most of us were never taught how to pray other than listening to formal prayers in public worship. So I have included the Prayer Wheel in your bulletin. The Prayer Wheel is an interfaith spiritual tool developed by Dr. John Rossiter-Thornton, a Toronto psychiatrist , for his patients to help them in managing stress. He found that most of his patients who used the Prayer Wheel regularly got better. If you do not have a regular devotional routine allow me to suggest you try the prayer wheel as a beginning spiritual discipline in developing a prayer life. We can begin leading our nation into more prayerful living by praying regularly ourselves.
SLIDE 6: GRATITUDE
Let’s take a couple of minutes and review the eight steps of the Prayer Wheel. The Prayer Wheel begins with gratitude. Give thanks and praise to God for our lives, the wonder of creation, and the blessing of a new day. Gratitude changes us by triggering optimism and faith.
SLIDE 7: SING OF LOVE
The next step is to sing of love. Music is a powerful form of prayer, and activates the non-rational creative side of our brains. Songs are stored in a different part of our brains from ordinary speech. I have known stroke victims who could not speak, but they could sing. We are encouraged to pray with our whole brain. Sing of love and God can open our hearts.
SLIDE 8: PROTECTION & GUIDANCE
Ask for protection and guidance. There is danger and evil in the world and asking for protection is prudent. Sometimes we might even request protection from ourselves, when we are serving as our own worst enemy. If we can be humble enough to ask for guidance, perhaps we can we wise enough to follow God’s lead, rather than insisting upon our own head strong direction.
SLIDE 9: FORGIVE
Forgive yourself and others — guilts and grudges. Until we can let go we are prisoners of the past. Jesus came announcing God’s unconditional love so we might be set free and healed. All we have to do is open our hands to receive the gift of grace. But we cannot open our hands and still hold on to our anger and hate toward those who have hurt us. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Let go, and we can be free!
SLIDE 10: BEYOND FORGIVING TO BLESSING
Quinn Caldwell in a Still Speaking devotional on the famous passage do not repay evil for evil talks about moving beyond forgiveness to blessing: “What Peter says is that your inheritance isn’t something you wait around till somebody gives to you; it’s something you make yourself. We are to bless one another, bless and not curse, not because it’s the right thing to do—or at least not JUST because it’s the right thing to do. We’re to bless because we want a blessing ourselves. We’re to be kind because we want kindness from others. The heaven we long for is in some real sense the heaven we create for the people around us. Don’t believe me? Try it. Think about somebody who’s wronged you. Don’t start with a biggie; start with something small and annoying. Hold the person’s face in your mind. Consider what they did to you. And then bless them. Do it not because it’s the right thing to do (definitely true) or because they deserve it (probably true), but because you wish for blessing yourself. Just try it, and see how you feel afterwards. Try it and see if the thing you give doesn’t end up being the thing you get.”
SLIDE 11: INTERCESSORY PRAYER
Ask for needs, ourselves and others, intercessory prayer. Our covenant to pray with and for each other. What we have discovered at the Sharing Table is that many people have difficulty claiming their own needs and asking others to pray for them. We are afraid of public admissions of weakness.
I saw a good story about prayer. A businessman needed a million dollars to close an important business transaction. He went to church to pray for the money. He knelt and started praying next to a man who was praying for a hundred dollars he needed to pay an urgent debt. The businessman took out his wallet and pressed the hundred dollars into the other man’s hand. Overjoyed, the man got up and left the church.
The businessman then closed his eyes and prayed, “And now, Lord, that I have your undivided attention….”
SLIDE 12: LOVE AND INSPIRATION
Step six, ask for love and inspiration. After presenting the laundry list of our needs and the needs of others, we do well to pause and simply ask for the one thing we truly need — God’s love. Not only to say thank you for the love God showers upon us, but also the inspiration to pass that love along to others. Like five small loaves and two fish there is never enough until we are inspired to give it away.
SLIDE 13: LISTEN
Step seven is perhaps most important — listen. People complain to me that God does not answer them, and then come to find out they never listen for more than a minute or two. Listening in prayer must be deep and concentrated. We have to clear our thoughts. If our minds are filled up with our own words and images, we will never discern what God has to say to us. The Prayer Wheel even suggests we take the act of listening so seriously we do so with pen and paper in our hands. We demonstrate our willingness to listen by being ready to right down or draw the images God inspires in us in prayer. Some of us may even want to listen with paint and brushes close at hand. Be ready to listen.
SLIDE 14: NOT MY WILL
The last step is to pray with Jesus nevertheless not my will but yours O God. Prayer is not for the purpose of trying to manipulate God into doing what we want. Our purpose in prayer ultimately is to conform our wills to God’s will — “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” And that is the Prayer Wheel thirty minutes a day, might take a little longer depending upon how long we listen. Thirty minutes a day to more prayerful living.
SLIDE 15: WITNESS INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY IS POSSIBLE
Another important step in cultivating more prayerful living for ourselves, as a faith community, and as a nation is establishing regular patterns of worship participation. Prayer changes us and worship changes the communities in which we gather for public prayer. When we pray with and for each other, we are living out a covenant that has the power to transform our corporate lives not only within in community of faith, but also in the wider community of the Tennessee Valley, the State of Alabama, and our nation. For when we meet to worship, we are a witness to the reality that a community of inclusion welcoming everyone is possible — sometimes difficult but possible.
SLIDE 16: MAKE A STATEMENT COME TO CHURCH
Simply showing up to pray with and for each other at United Church is a statement to the rest of the world that prayerful living in an inclusive welcoming community of people is possible. In an increasingly polarized society in an election cycle that has been highlighted by widening conflict, alienation and violent discord, make a statement, come to church.