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… *** Near the end of First Thessalonians we’re counseled:...

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