Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, October 9, 2016
Scripture Reference: Matthew 6:5-15
Sermon: Committed to Christ: Prayer
This past week I had to go to a conference in Chicago by O’Hare, and even though I am pretty familiar with the area from having lived there, from family reunions by the hotel, and even just driving through I decided to use GPS just to be sure I wouldn’t get lost. I am really glad I did as there were a few times I started to go the wrong way, or that I did get off course a bit. But, because I had the GPS on I could easily get reoriented and going in the right direction again.
We need the same sort of help in our Christian walk. Many of us grew up going to church, or made a commitment to Christ many years ago. We made a conscious decision that we wanted to experience the abundant life through Christ. Only the thing I have discovered in my life is that it is easy to get distracted or start to lose my way. Sometimes it is because I am so busy and preoccupied that I slowly forget to take the time to read my Bible or pray. Other times it is more that things are going okay, and I become complacent, stagnant in my faith journey that my relationship with Christ isn’t deepening or growing. I have needed different moments to recommit my life to Christ, to once again intentionally choose to make time, to invest energy in my relationship with Christ, to once again realign my life with Christ and in so doing, rediscover my love for Jesus and the joy he brings.
It really is no different from other commitments we make in our lives, whether it is a subscription to a newspaper or magazine, a club membership, or being on a team sport. There are always moments when we have to decide if we want to renew our subscription and membership, if this is still something we want in our lives, something that we will take the time to read or do. It is true even in marriage. I share with couples in pre-marital counseling that there will likely be times in their marriage when they don’t like each other, days when they might question if this is worth it, but every day is an opportunity to renew their vows, to renew their commitment to love the other person, to be forgiving, patient, to make time for the other person, to do things for the person, to show this relationship is a priority.
Truthfully we may have those same moments in our relationship with Christ. There may be days when we question if it is worth all that is being asked of us, when we question what is real, but just as it is true in marriage, every day is an opportunity to renew our commitment to Christ. Each day there are opportunities, moments, when we decide if we will make Christ a priority in our lives.
Today we begin a series of remembering our commitment to Christ, and taking time to reflect the ways we want to renew that commitment in our daily living. We begin with prayer. One can’t have a relationship with someone if you aren’t communicating. That is the essence of prayer: talking with God. Only the problem is we aren’t always the best at being friends with God, that is at keeping the lines of communication open. Rather as Bob Crossman so powerfully puts it in his book, Committed to Christ, “Have you ever had friends who talked to you only when they wanted something, who acted as if you didn’t exist the rest of the time, who warmed up to you when they needed to borrow your class notes or your lawn mower or your money? Many of us seem to treat God like that. We believe, but we ignore God most of the time. All that changes when we need something and suddenly we pray as if we were close friends of the Lord,” (pg. 30-31).
I think the reasons for this is that we think praying can be too hard, can take too much time. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves that it should sound a certain way, include certain things. The truth is, even pastors get self-conscious about praying such that it can be hard to get a volunteer to pray in a room full of clergy.
To be honest, when I went to seminary I was feeling a lot like the disciples in today’s reading; I wanted someone to teach me how to pray. What I learned echoed what we hear Jesus saying, “Don’t use meaningless words.” Rather, as we hear in The Message, “Here’s what I want you to do: find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage.” I learned not all these fancy formulas or words to use when I pray, but ways to help me simply be present with God in all different moments of my day. I learned to listen to the sounds around me, and how to let them give voice to what I was feeling: whether it be the sound of a clock helping me name my worries of not having enough time or the sound of the breeze helping me to name my wish to rest. I learned to claim the songs and hymns I was singing as my prayers. I learned to pray for my day as I showered and remembered God’s cleansing and refreshing love, or to use my phone to pray with people as we are talking or now to send a text. I discovered all the ways I was already praying and new ways to create that space. It wasn’t as hard or complicated as I thought.
Prayer is simple. Even the Lord’s Prayer, as Crossman points out, is simple with one-syllable words. Prayer is supposed to feel like one is talking to a friend, as easy and ordinary as picking up the phone to call or text. Anyone can do it.
It has been powerful to see how true that is through my experience with one prayer. It is a prayer we learned at the conference’s family camp and that we have used at God’s School. It goes like this, “Thank you God for the sun, and the rain, and the food we eat. Amen.” The first time I heard it I was struck by home simple it was, but also that it was a prayer Jacob could learn, even thought he was not yet using words. The simplicity of this prayer speaks such that even after two years of first sharing it at a Board of Ordained Ministry meeting, someone requested it again. Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated to be powerful, and as this prayer reminded me, anyone can pray. It can be as simple as saying, “thank you” or “sorry.”
God wants a relationship with us, wants that connection where we share what is on our hearts. So much so that I believe God would far rather we have simple prayers, moments tucked into our days where we stay in touch, rather than passing time by with God, putting God off until we have more time. There will be those moments too. We need those moments in retreat, moments where we sit in the sanctuary or in the woods, special moments when we can relish our time with God. But don’t just wait for those moments. Grab all the little moments too – when you are driving to work and you ask God to work through you, or as you are washing dishes; when you pray for those you care about; when you hear an ambulance and you pray for all those involved. Grab these moments to be with God; simply pray, even if it as simple as saying, “Hi, God. It’s me.”