February 18, 2015

Praying Our Way Through Lent

Ash Wednesday
February 18, 2015
Christ Church, New Bern

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God's holy Word. -- Book of Common Prayer p. 265

I had the pleasure of having dinner with two old friends recently. I grew up going to summer camp with both of them, and I never would have pictured them together. But when I found out they were dating and then were getting married, it was one of those couples you think, “Yeah! That makes perfect sense.” We hadn’t actually seen each other in about 12 years. We kept up on Facebook and over email and through other friends, but we had not been in each other’s company in a long, long time. Their son is just a month or two younger than my son, and their daughter is just a week or so older than my daughter. We had a great dinner and a fun time catching up. But I doubt we touched on 2% of our lives since we’d last seen each other.

By contrast, I have known my wife for almost 16 years, and in the 14 years we’ve been together, it is rare that a day passes that we don’t have some kind of conversation. Sometimes brief, sometimes long. Sometimes formal, most of the time not. Sometimes we hear each other’s voice, and sometimes it’s over g-chat or text. But because we are in constant conversation, there are few surprises and even fewer times that we have to have a catch-up session like I did with my camp friends.

I tell you those two stories because I want to talk about prayer, and these two situations paint two pictures of what our prayer life can be like.  We can be in either kind of relationship with God: The kind that doesn’t need a lot of “catch-up” time and the kind where we spend a good amount of time saying, “So… How ya been, God???”

Prayer is responding to God by thought and deed, with or without words.
Prayer is spending time with God even if neither of you say a word.
Prayer is pouring out your soul to a God who hears you and knows you and loves you. And prayer is waiting patiently for God to respond. Prayer is the ability to say to God, “Thank you. Help me. I’m sorry. You’re right.” Prayer is the ability to hear God say those same things to you.

We pray not because God needs a reminder that we are here or even what the deepest desires of our heart are. God knows those things even before we do. We pray because God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. We pray because prayer changes things, even if just in our own heart.

All too often, our prayers are a wish list for God: I need this. Do that. Cure that person. Or me. Make this problem or that one go away.

How many times do we genuinely pause or wait to hear what God has to say to us? At its height, prayer is a two-way conversation, and the most important part is listening to God’s replies.

So how do we listen for that reply? How do we know when God is answering us or even directing or calling us?

We begin by being still and listening to God, to those around us, to what we read and see and all the ways God is speaking through them.  We begin by making room for God to speak to us. I don’t know about you, but I find it incredibly difficult to listen to what someone else is saying when I’m doing all the talking.  So we begin by being still. Listening. STARTING our prayers with the words of Isaiah and so many others in Scripture: “Here I am, Lord.”

We begin by making the time to listen. The great reformation leader Martin Luther, when asked about his plans for the following day, responded, “Work, Work, Work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do, that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

I am not suggesting that we should so radically shift our lives to pray three hours a day starting tomorrow. Such radical shifts rarely stick. But what if, during this Lenten season, we added five minutes. Just to get into a habit of listening. Five minutes of silence. We may find that those five minutes grow to seven minutes then to 10 then 20 then… who knows. Who knows how our relationship with God will grow and strengthen.

I hope you will spend this holy season of Lent examining how it is you pray, how it is that you respond to God in thought and deed, with or without words.

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