Friday, November 26, 2010

How Then Shall We Pray? - Luke 11:1-13

When we began this spiritual practice challenge as the Spiritual Care Network planning team I immediately thought of a sermon I had preached in July on my struggle with prayer. I am going to offer more of the struggle part of my sermon because I know I am not alone.

I envy people who pray well. Or who have the kind of faith that always believes in prayer. Now that might be shocking for you to hear come out of your ministers mouth but it is one of my deep dark secrets...

I have tried to become a certain kind of prayer more than once. I have attempted to be holy like Luther and others and get up early in the morning just to pray. But in all honesty I’m not a morning person so unless I don’t have to be to work or something else early I really don’t want to get busy before I have to - so the prayer times quickly slip into something I’m not sure many would count as holy.

I have attempted to come into my office every morning and begin in silent prayer but quickly I can get interrupted or distracted or realize I forgot to start there (and then I start praying just because I feel guilty and well - then I think that’s what it is supposed to be about and...)

I have read the books, I have tried the formats. I have heard what proper prayer looks like and how to get results. I have journaled, I have done prayer walks, I have done silent retreats....and the list goes on.

There is a lot of shame in this for me because my mother and my brother are prayers. They both get up every morning and take time in prayer and reading like every good Christian should. In fact my mom used to say every time I had a struggle “Just pray about it” until one day I snapped (Like only a daughter does to her mother). “Mom if it were that easy I wouldn’t have called you to talk about it.”

And yes this happened after I received the title of Reverend...

Now that I have gotten that off my chest all you ‘prayers’ out there can say a prayer for me. Because the greatest struggle I find with prayer being an achiever like I am is that if I don’t get the result I want I am convinced I have done it all wrong. The struggle with prayer formulas is that if the prayer doesn’t work then there appears to be only two options: there is something wrong with me and/or my praying, or there is something wrong with God... If you are someone who has written off faith and religion you most likely have decided there is something wrong with God. If you are a faithful church goer or person of faith then when your prayer doesn’t work you are more likely to blame yourself.

I know that people say God gives us three answers to our prayers which are “yes” “no” or “maybe” but even that confuses me because scripture clearly says “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” So why is it then when I ask even for good things - healing for a friend, comfort for a person who is depressed, or something for myself - why would God ever say no to those things?

I have come to discover of myself that when I start thinking that way I have forgotten the purpose of prayer. And to be honest I think this struggle I have with prayer just might be God given - because I find myself praying all the more as I seek to understand prayer more and to be connected with God more. I find myself eager to try new spiritual practices all the time. Maybe that is what this parable is about - constant seeking to be in tune with The Holy...

I fully believe in prayer and it may sound confusing but praying without ceasing has freed me up to know that I actually can pray. It has freed me up to wake up in the mornings as pray in between the snooze alarm, or in the shower, or on my walk, or as I journal - but not just with a certain formula or just for me - for everything and moment I encounter. It means for me that when I feel led to pray when I get into the office in the morning I just do even though I have not done it every day routinely...

Douglas John hall wrote “The object of prayer Christianly understood, is not so much to lose oneself in the contemplation of the Divine as to find oneself. to become - so far as possible, who one is. Dependent, guilty, lost and vulnerable... Because the one to whom we pray is not ordinary...but glorious in loving, we are able sometimes through our most honest acts of prayer to find that our very weakness is the occasion for encounter with the Source of new strength.”

So weather you feel like you know how to pray or not. You are invited to pray or join us in a spiritual practice over the next weeks. Weather you think you pray or not I believe you do - in moments of beauty, awe and despair, in moments of loneliness, and joy acknowledge the spirit with you and you will know that you too are praying.




  1. Thanks Karen
    I find that I echo your experiences of a prayerful life, or lack of it. I can't count the number of times I have vowed to myself that I would start each day out with prayer before I started the daily work. I find that the guilt sometimes comes from the assumptions of others that I must be "so very spiritual" since I can speak "godspeak" when they need to hear it. I have to confess "no actually you may be much better than me in maintaining your prayer life." Their assumptions comes partly found my(our) skill at leading prayer within the community. So in receiving challenge to actually be intentional about my spiritual practice during Advent ( Just like I encourage my congregation) I was pleased to give it a shot knowing full well I was likely to fail. Maybe my lesson is to know that the failure is OK. God will be waiting on the other side. After all prayer is really all about the encounter with the Divine.
    Dare I ask that my clergy peers to pray for me. Bill

  2. Thank you Bill. I know what you mean about guilt and assumptions. How many times have I found myself inwardly cowering when a member of the congregation shares their prayer practice.
    I will pray for you as we begin this opportunity together as colleagues.