Tuesday, August 30, 2005

 

The habit of prayer

Next Sunday my church will have it's quarterly day of prayer. This happens between each Sunday school semester in lieu of adult Sunday school classes and is a time when all the adults are invited to come meet together in a time of directed group prayer for the concerns of the church and the city. One of our associate pastors spoke on this to the congregation during the Living Church portion of the service. One of the things he noted was that only a quarter of the number of people who attend adult Sunday school generally attend the day of prayer and he challenged more to come.

There have been discussions about this lack of attendance going on in the pews and on blogs. So I am adding my own take on things here.

I think that in the Presbyterian church (at least in my limited exposure to it) there is a lack of emphasis on prayer, especially participatory prayer or prayer that helps to train one in the habit, practice and language of prayer. The main prayer I am familiar with at my church and its events and bible studies are these: Prayer offered by a pastor or other elder from the front of the church to which the people quietly listen for an often protracted period of time, prayers that open meals or meetings and are generally brief and generally done by a pastor, elder or other recognized leader, prayers in bible studies or other small groups that generally consist of a long period of taking personal prayer requests and a shorter period of prayer where people can pray out loud for the various needs if they want to (it is my experience that it is the same 2 to 3 people, including the group leader, in any given group that do pray and that many don't pray out loud or only do so rarely).

I think an emphasis on learning and exegesis of scripture and study of theology in the Presbyterian church may couple with a lack of emphasis on prayer to make people feel that coming to pray is less important then coming to learn and study. Not that I necessarily think Presbyterians would say this is true but I think the way the worship experience and the Sunday school classes are set up could lead people to feel this way about a day of prayer compared to a Sunday school class.

I grew up in an Episcopal church (in the 60's and 70's) and later attended some strong bible believing nondenominational churches. I know that there can be problems with or reasons not to use written prayers or repeated set prayers like I grew up with but I think they had a couple of good advantages relevant to what I see lacking in the comfort level many around me seem to have with prayer.
1) they schooled me in the language and practice of prayer simply by doing it and hearing it every week. Having them in my head gives me patterns and words to draw on in my own times of prayer and times of need (the same would be true of the oral use of the psalms and other prayers found in the Bible)
2) In responsive prayers and the Lord's prayer I prayed out loud (granted as part of a larger group of voices) every week, again a habit and an implicit statement that prayer was something for me to do, not just the pastor.
3) My family prayed at home: at meals, at bed time and at other times in between especially at times of need or thanksgiving (ours or others). Granted we had an advantage in that my dad was the pastor so I may have had more consistency in this then others and my dad didn't hesitate to have us pray before meals in restaurants, or to offer prayer in other public settings. But I think the combination of these practices gave me an understanding that prayer should be natural at all times and in all places. ( I tend to assume other believers pray at home just because I do, but I am probably wrong, I can remember being at another pastors house for a sleep over as a child and not knowing how to start eating dinner because they hadn't had one so I did it myself under my breath)
4) Prayer was an intregral part of worship in a more liturgical church and was woven throughout out the entire service, not just a separate part of it, The congregation had prayers to say out loud as a participatory/responsive aspect of the ongoing worship. There were also occasional times for silent personal prayer. I know that some people think such rote prayers are meaningless, this can be true but I think it can be true of any prayer or any tradition, it all has to do with the heart. Most of those prayers on most days were and still are very meaningful to me. On communion Sundays I often still bring my Episcopal prayer book with me and say some of the prayers from it, especially the confession, during the silent time of prayer because they really have meaning and help me to focus and prepare my heart.

Anyway, I think many people are very uncomfortable with prayer days, prayer times in bible studies, leading prayer in their home etc. largely because they aren't comfortable with or familiar with prayer as something done by anyone but a pastor or other leader in a public setting. We need to do a better job of exampling prayer and of giving each other the tools for and understanding of prayer as something we can and should do and something that connects us to God and others through his Holy Spirit and not as something we just listen too.

We also need to be more willing to share our personal lives in prayer (in appropriate settings and with appropriate people) so that we can in prayer "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep". My extended family has been going through a lot this past year and it has been the power and support of a network of praying friends who have shared our burdens and God's blessings that have made the difference in how we have gotten through things. I think we are often afraid or too proud to ask for prayer and expose our needs.

Suggestions:
-More opportunities for people to pray in corporate and none/minimal threatening ways.
-Not being so afraid that written or repeated prayers will be empty but to use them as a way of gaining comfort with the habit and language of prayer with out the fear of worrying about what to say or what others will think of what you say. (I also learned a lot of theology from some of the written prayers that I said and heard regularly)
-Offering instruction, encouragement and guidelines for family and personal prayer to help people make it a habit.
-Read more about prayer what it is, ways of doing it, why it is important, how God uses it.
I am currently using a bible study on prayer called Before the Throne of God by Carol Ruvolo and recently finished Prayer by O. Hallesby
-Incorporate teaching on prayer into our sermons as appropriate. One of the biggest "buzz in the pew" sermons preached at my church was one called "Prayer Lessons For Firekeepers" that was on 1 Kings 17 and 18. I still have the little summary card they later gave out. I keep it in my bible as a reminder of some of the attributes that should characterize my prayer for God's church and kingdom.
-Remember to be an example of prayer your self, don't just tell someone who shares a burden that you will pray "for" them, pray "with" them right then and also pray for them later. You will both be blessed.

That said I will have to really try and make it to the day of prayer, I have to admit that I am not always consistent in my attendance to this event.

Post Script: I was thinking about the post over lunch and just want to clarify that I don't think that there are certain words we need to have for a prayer to be effective or heard or a magic formula to prayer or anything like that. It can take many forms and any heartfelt communication to God is a good prayer (we are even told in scripture that the Spirit groans with us and speaks for us when we don't have the words). However, I think especially with praying out loud in a corporate setting people feel uncomfortable with what to say and how to approach God so as not to sound foolish, a familiarity with the general language of prayer or experience having prayed out loud before aids the believer in naturally expressing the desires and feelings of his heart with out feeling so selfconcious.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

 

Sorry to interrupt your blog reading....

My friend Nancy has a blog and writes an occasional column for a local weekly paper. Last week her article and a follow up blog post this week dealt with the subject of the apology and how we don't really offer real ones any more. (It a nice little comment on the various avoidance tactics used by celeb's, politicians and probably a lot of us) Then my mother-in-law sent me a link to a Ladies' Home Journal article she had read in the doctor's office. It was about saying sorry and how often women seem to do it often as a social convention and/or a reflex action. (As my M-I-L said, "Not deep, but interesting in that it acknowledges the problem.", I would add that it has a very feminist slant that I don't totally agree with) I know I probably have done the former because who likes to apologize, and I know I am a grade A1 practicioner of the latter (for example, I seem to recall continually saying "I'm sorry" for the seven tries and 30+ minutes it took for the Dr. to successfully insert the epidural during my son's delivery).

I need to stop both types of less then perfect apology styles. Instead I need to get better at the honest and humble apology. The kind that is really meant and is grounded in the only true basis for apology and forgiveness, namely, all that God daily forgives me for on the basis of Christ's death and sacrifice on the cross. My husband really helped bring this into focus for me when one night he witnessed me have a disagreement with a coworker and then, under my breath, curse the coworker as he walked away. Paul called me to task and made me see my need to not only apologize to the coworker when possible, but to seek forgiveness from God immediately. (to Paul's additional credit he was able to forgive my behavior and still proposed to me later that same night) The incident made me see clearly that my sin and lack of/wrong apologies harmed not only my relationships with others but also with God.

I am no paragon of the good apology but I can testify that when I remember to humbly and honestly seek forgiveness from others and from God it has a powerful ability to renew my spirit, my attitude and my relationships. I pray that I would become better at doing this and at modeling it before my children.

Now back to your other reading.....

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

 

Today's Field Trip

Today the kids and I visited a watering hole in Botswana!!! We saw birds(I don't know what kind) a gazelle of some sort, and a warthog. It was all courtesy of a great live web cam set up through National Geographic which my friend Ruth told me about. There are also links to see past action at the watering hole since the 6 hour time difference makes viewing during prime animal visiting hours less then optimal for small kids and sleep deprived moms. It has been lots of fun checking in from time to time to see what, if anything is happening and we have been able to check off science and geography on today's homeschool list since we have discussed animals and their need for water, where Botswana is and why just after lunch here it is already dark at the watering hole. So take a free trip on the wild side and all of you late night owls tell me what you see at 2 or 3 in the morning EST when viewing should be prime.

Monday, August 22, 2005

 

More about Harry

You've got to love it when the author of one of your favorite series of books comments on the latest installment of another favorite series of books. Well, Orson Scott Card, author of "the Ender series" of eight science fiction books that I absolutely love, has a fun website/blog called Hatrack River. Part of the site is a weekly column that I really enjoy reading, largely for the frequent movie reviews that are included, called "OSC Reviews Everything". The name tells you all about the column this week its everything from cherry cola and cookies to vacation spots and Harry Potter. Which brings me to the point of the post. Some of his observations and speculations about the latest book are great and are not things I have seen others say (though I have to admit I have yet to make it through all the comments on Barlow Farms) or at least not say and back up well. It will be interesting to see if he is right in any of it. It is also said with lots of good humor. Enjoy and be warned it contains spoilers.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

 

They're Back....

It was great to see the Shuttle land safely this morning. The kids and I then spent a great adhoc homeschool day exploring various online and printable activities from this part of NASA's website. Then we went to a program at the Public Library where the Academy of Natural Sciences brought in a Skunk, a Python, and a Parrot for the kids to see and talked about their various habits. It was a homeschooling at its best kind of day, they were excited about what we were doing and gained a better understanding of our world.

 

Not that we needed proof...

The Pool of Siloam was apparently recently "discovered" in Jerusalem. The archaeologist in me loves it when places like this are "rediscovered", they confound the skeptic and give new touches of insight to the rest of us. It may even be one of the bits used by the Spirit to convince someone of biblical truth. The Christian in me however, knows that I don't need these places to be identifiable to know that scripture was true in time and place and part of me worries that such places could become "idols" or stumbling blocks to others hindering their ability to believe what they have not seen.

Monday, August 01, 2005

 

Rawling along

I just finished reading Harry Potter number 6. All I can say is WOW. Lots to think about and those who think Rawlings is not a good writer are wrong. Is she Shakespeare, no but she is a good story teller (there is little enough of that to be found sometimes it seems times). She is also more complex then she often gets credit for. I know there are probably some reading this who think that these books and their magical aspects are inappropriate or dangerous for a Christian. I respectfully disagree and refer you to articles such as these if you want a more articulate explanation then I can probably give of why I feel that way. (I especially like one by Amy Sturgis)

Anyway, I really liked it. Don't want to do any spoilers here and I need to think about it some more but I want to thank Sacradoctrina and Lone Xylophone for lending it to me, I can't wait to talk about it more with you.

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