May 2015 – Prayer, Always

…for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit… intercedes for us with groans too deep for words… (Romans 8:26)

When we don’t know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit intercedes with groans (or sighs, in other translations) too deep for words. Since there are plenty of times when I really don’t know how to pray, this is good news.

Of course we know how to pray at times. Of course I pray the Lord’s Prayer early and often – the prayer Jesus gave us and told us to pray. Of course I pray regularly for everyone in our church community – and pray for peace on earth, good will to all; pray for the saving and blessing of all – friends and enemies, people we know and people we don’t – pray for the earth and all God’s creatures – pray for the hungry, the homeless, the sick and afflicted and lost. Scripture commands or strongly suggests these kinds of prayers, so I try to do them every day….

But sometimes I feel like I’m ignoring other kinds of prayer…And sometimes my prayer life can feel stale, as if I’m just doing it by rote, not from the heart…

At times like these I try to remember to ask God to help me with my prayers. When I do so, I’m reminded by the Spirit to pray differently. Sometimes just a little differently, with more focus on a particular person or issue; other times hearing the need to be as silent as I can, and listen harder for instruction….

Sometimes I can hear the Spirit sighing and groaning over me, like a favorite grandparent, affectionately, gently fussing over me, like when I was a child, saying, “O child, what am I going to do with you?” Sometimes I hear the Spirit chastening, saying, “Haven’t you been listening at all?”

If I’ve been sitting too long, I often find the Spirit letting me know it’s time to get up and walk and pray. If I’ve been active, the Spirit sometimes lets me know it’s time to sit down or recline… and pray from a different angle. Sometimes the Spirit reminds me of a song or psalm I can sing prayerfully… And often my best prayer times seem to happen when I’ve been having a hard time praying…

Perhaps this is by God’s design? Since a few verses earlier in Romans (8:22-23) we hear that the whole creation groans, and we groan along with creation, as we wait for consummation of the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. (Now we’ve backed up into Romans 8:18-21).

All creation is subject to prolonged labor pangs as the new creation comes into birth… Groans and sighs come with the territory of new birth. Death and new birth, sorrow and joy, lament and praise, are all there, together, in the same moment. Our prayers reflect this overlapping, layered reality… as we listen for the Spirit, and open ourselves to the Spirit’s holy sighs and groans… God’s signs of the new creation coming into being. For it is through prayers shaped by the Holy Spirit with cries too deep for words… where we find God’s gracious directions…

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Near the end of First Thessalonians we’re counseled: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Unceasing prayer, with thanksgiving, whatever else we’re doing – is also the whole message of The Practice of the Presence of God, the short book on prayer that a group of us read during Lent. Brother Lawrence found deep joy and peace as he developed the habit of always turning his attention to God. Just to keep turning our thoughts to God, he said, is enough to please God and refresh our souls. There need not be any sharp break between our prayers in times of worship and devotion and our prayers in the rest of the day. As people made in the image of God, God’s intention is that all our work, all our rest, all we do…should all be done with unceasing prayer…Especially prayers of thanksgiving…

And with the Spirit’s help, we often see this happening… I’ve been noticing the prayers of our parish at work (for example) in the ways that we continue to gather items for the Cataumet Shelter, and receive regular offerings for our Haitian children and our Pastoral Discretion Fund… In how we’re receiving an offering for Imagine No Malaria on Mother’s Day for the second year now (with our giving to be matched again by the Methodist Foundation).

I see your prayers at work in our two Sunday School rooms in Bourne, newly remodeled, with new plumbing, new paint, made as-if-all-new. In the new roof over Handy Hall in Cataumet… Thanks to all our Trustees for all the prayerful work… Thanks also for all who come to our work days… and those who quietly do similar clean-up and caring through the week in our churches and communities…

I see an ongoing work of prayer in our Thrift Shop, with its dedicated volunteers who work and pray for our churches and community… I see a work of prayer also in the lunch put on every year by Brian and Karen Jackman for our Thrift Shop volunteers…

I see ongoing works of prayer in our choirs and music leaders…In our bible study groups… In our Sunday School… In our UMW… In our morning and afternoon Sunday study and discussion groups… In the care we show for each other as we visit and give rides and check on each other…

May the Spirit of the Lord continue to pray through us without ceasing… Refreshing us, renewing us, re-making us with every breath… As we seek to pray unceasingly in the Spirit… giving thanks to God in all circumstances… Praying with hearts and minds and voices, hands and feet, arms and legs and all that God has given us…

And may our gracious God continue to bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you…And fill you with the peace of Christ our Lord… which surpasses all understanding.

Pastor Tim