Devotional for May 20
Written by Pastor Mark
In An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor begins her chapter on prayer by admitting that she is a failure. She has purchased many books on prayer, she has file folders full of helpful hints from courses she has taught and taken. She has purchased benches to pray on, a stringed instrument to sing with and a collection of icons, incense and candles that have cost her a small fortune. But she still feels like a failure at prayer:
When people ask me about my prayer life, I feel like a bulimic must feel when people ask about her favorite dish. My mind starts scrambling for ways to hide my problem. I start talking about other things I do that I hope will make me sound like a godly person. I try to say admiring things about prayer so there can be no doubt about how important I think it is. I ask the other person to tell me about her prayer life, hoping she will not notice that I have changed the subject.
She reaches two distinct conclusions about prayer: 1. That prayer is more than my idea of prayer and 2. that some of what I actually do in my life may constitute genuine prayer. Prayer is the Olympics of faith, and I’m convinced that most Christians sit in the grandstands totally blown away by how the athletes in front of them are performing. It doesn’t help that there are people who profess to be “prayer warriors”. It’s so easy to feel as though we just don’t know how to do it right, or aren’t holy enough to do it, or disciplined enough. Interesting that all of those ideas focus in the wrong direction—they focus on us instead of on God. According to Brown Taylor prayer is simply waking up to the presence of God no matter where you are, or what you are doing.
When I am fully alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer. Prayer is happening and it is not necessarily something that I am doing. God is happening, and I am lucky enough to know that I am in The Midst.
She goes on to talk about Brother Lawrence who reluctantly shared some of his discoveries about prayer with a sister who promised to never share the material with anyone else. Prayer is not always sitting down and stopping everything to concentrate on God. Brother Lawrence found that the most menial of work can be a prayer to God if we can become aware of God’s presence in it. In the first lesson we read that the disciples were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.” That seems to indicate that prayer is something that can be done while going about our everyday normal lives, not something we have to stop everything to do. In the end, prayer is a continuation of paying attention to what God is doing in the world. But paying attention is no easy task.
Quotes for the Week
“The best preparation for a life of prayer is to become more intensely human.”
There are many things that are essential to arriving at true peace of mind, and one of the most important is faith, which cannot be acquired without prayer.
John Wooden, UCLA Basketball Coach
My way of communicating with God as a boy was through the lyrics of a song . . . So I didn’t have the problem some people do who say, ‘I don’t know how to pray.’ I used the songs to communicate with God. To me, songs were the telephone to heaven, and I tied up the line quite a bit. Johnny Cash
Protect me from knowing what I don’t need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don’t know. Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decided not to know about. Amen.
. . . Lord, lord, lord. Protect me from the consequences of the above prayer.
Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless
1st Lesson Acts 1:12-14 NRSV
When they returned to Jerusalemfrom the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Gospel Lesson John 17:6-19 (The Message)
6-12I spelled out your character in detail to the men and women you gave me. They were yours in the first place; then you gave them to me, and they have now done what you said. They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that everything you gave me is firsthand from you, for the message you gave me, I gave them; and they took it, and were convinced that I came from you. They believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world but for those you gave me, for they are yours by right. Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, and my life is on display in them. For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world; they’ll continue in the world while I return to you. Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life that you conferred as a gift through me, so they can be one heart and mind as we are one heart and mind. As long as I was with them, I guarded them in the pursuit of the life you gave through me; I even posted a night watch. And not one of them got away, except for the rebel bent on destruction (the exception that proved the rule of Scripture). 13-19Now I’m returning to you. I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing so my people can experience my joy completed in them. I gave them your word; the godless world hated them because of it, because they didn’t join the world’s ways, just as I didn’t join the world’s ways. I’m not asking that you take them out of the world but that you guard them from the Evil One. They are no more defined by the world than I am defined by the world. Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth; your word is consecrating truth. In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world. I’m consecrating myself for their sakes so they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.
Questions for the Week
How would you describe your prayer life?
How might you incorporate the idea of prayer into your every day activities?
For what are you thankful? Do you think God would like to know?