Take it to the Lord in prayer
Yesterday’s gospel (below) has me thinking about the disciples’ request to Jesus: Teach us to pray. I found myself wondering what those lessons were like, and in what ways prayer can be taught.
At the same time, I realize that the more I wade into this praying business, the more I find myself on the edge of deep mysteries that can quickly make me feel like I’m in over my head, facing waves of questions about how prayer works. Clearly, I could use a teacher.
So I picked up a short book by a monk and bishop and deeply spiritual guy named Anthony Bloom. A holy man. The book is entitled: Beginning to Pray. He makes the point in the very first paragraph that he is just a beginner at prayer. If this guy, near the end of a life dedicated to the spiritual journey, is just beginning, is there any hope for me?
Then I turned to another respected spiritual guide, Aretha Franklin. I was driving around town, thinking about preaching about prayer. I put in a CD (remember those?), Aretha Franklin singing hymns. I found myself replaying one hymn in particular: What a friend we have in Jesus. I’ve heard that hymn played a lot. I’ve heard it played badly. Let’s just say its melody ain’t Mozart. But as she often does, Aretha brought it to life. The way she sang, her ministry of music made me focus on this bit of the hymn text:
Oh, what peace we often forfeit.
Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
I thought of how often I forfeit a sense of peace. I thought of the needless pain I bear worrying about stuff. As I watched the political convention, it did not evoke a sense of peace. As I read the newspaper, I am not filled with a sense of peace. As I think about the state of the church, I am not always filled with peace. So I was grateful for the gospel according to St. Luke, the gospel according to St. Anthony, and the gospel according to St. Aretha, which told me, each in their way, to stop forfeiting peace, and build trust, and take it to the Lord in prayer, acknowledging that I am just a beginner.
It doesn’t mean I don’t have lots of questions about prayer. Maybe you do too. Here are a few of mine:
- If prayer works, why do bad things happen to good people?
Does the God of all creation really care if I pray?
- Should I pray if it sometimes feels like I’m talking to the ceiling?
- What happens if I don’t pray about something? Will it still happen?
- Should I pray for a parking space?
- What happens if people at the Republican Convention and people at the Democratic Convention both pray for success?
- What happens if Chapel Hill fans and Duke fans pray for victory? Yankees and Red Sox? Cubs and Cardinals?
- How can I do less talking and more listening in prayer?
No easy answers. Deep mysteries. But maybe we don’t need all the answers to just take one step in the journey of prayer. What would that look like today for you? Maybe just sitting for five minutes of silence. For those who are tired of forfeiting peace, it may be worth a try.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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