What do you make of these words of the Apostle Paul?
Give thanks in all circumstances.
How do you hear these words? As…
Pray without ceasing. Can you believe it?
Most of us have enough other things to do.
I first became aware of this passage when I was a senior in college.
I was reading a book called The Way of the Pilgrim as I was trying to make sense of this thing we call faith. Up until that time in my life, faith equaled going to church on Sunday morning. In my mind, that 60 minutes or so was what Christians did and what Christianity was about.
The Lord’s Prayer.
The Apostles Creed.
A responsive reading.
(I always counted the words each Sunday to see who had more words to say, me or the minister.)
Add the sermon, a couple of hymns and the benediction and, by Noon on Sunday I was good for another week. I am sure there was more to it than that for many in the congregation in which I grew up, just as there is more to it for those of us here today. But growing up, that is what faith/religion/Christianity seemed to be about for me. As I have shared with you before, reading a book by Thomas Merton changed all that. Or, at least started to change all that.
I realized this thing we call faith was about far more than an hour on Sunday morning.
That it was about all the other hours in my week as well.
It was about the values I would chose to hold close.
It was about the choices and the decisions I would make and how I would make them.
It was about how I viewed and treated other people.
It was about an ongoing, everyday engagement with that which we know and name as God.
An ongoing engagement which I continue to work on today.
And sometimes even struggle with today.
Faith was about how I was going to live my life.
I was reading this book The Way of the Pilgrim which referenced the passage from the Bible I read a moment ago. In the book the Student asks the Teacher, “What does it mean to pray without ceasing?” Instead of providing an answer, the Teacher responds by assigning the Student the task of saying a particular prayer 50 times a day for a week and then reporting back. The Student leaves, says the prayer 50 times a day for a week and then returns expecting an answer to his question. But, instead of an answer, the Teacher tells the Student to say the prayer 100 times a day for a week and then tp come back again. All of which the Student does. I am sure you can see where all this is going. 100 times becomes 500 times which becomes 1000 times and so on until the student is repeating the prayer all day long. Praying without ceasing.
In my youthful exuberance, I decided to try it.
50 times a day.
Then 100 times a day.
Then 500 times a day.
On one hand it was a meaningless practice.
More about counting than about praying.
But, over time, two things began to happen.
First, after a while, the prayer became like the program that runs in the background on your computer. You are not aware of it, but it is there when you need it. Many times I was not/am not aware that prayer I began saying years ago is there until suddenly it is like when I pause for a moment and take a deep breath outside someone’s door in the hospital or when I walk into a roomful of people on a Sunday morning to lead worship. The particular words of the prayer don’t matter. What matters is when I realize the prayer is there. When I realize I am praying. I am reminded, again, that that which I know and name as God is a part that particular moment.
The second thing saying this prayer over and over again did for me was it helped me begin to think differently about prayer. I began to realize that rather than changing God’s mind, the purpose of prayer was to change my heart. Creating space within myself for God to be present in the moment I have right here and right now. And with that I began to consider the possibility that my life itself might be my prayer. That my everyday attitude and actions are, at least, as important as any words I might say. And, if I really am to pray constantly and my life is my prayer then each interaction, each decision, every choice can be my prayer and turn me in the direction of God’s Kingdom come.
Which makes me wonder…
Can something of the same be true for you, as well?
The author, Anne Lamott, says there are only four types of prayer.
So, what about this…
What if each day for the next week you said each of those prayers – Please, Thank You, Help and Wow – at least three times.
Please be with me as I walk into this meeting.
Please be with my children as they go off to school.
Please be with those who work today ot make our communities and world a better place.
Thank you for food enough and a safe place to live.
Thank you for the love of family and friends.
Thank you for work to do and the opportunities I have.
Help those who find themselves in need today.
Help me pay real attention to those whose paths intersect mine today.
Wow, the snow outlining the bare branch is beautiful.
Wow, that reminder was just what I needed today.
Wow, that took my breath away.
12 intentional prayers each day.
If you did that for a week would it matter?
Would it make a difference?
Would it change your heart and create space in your life for God to be present?
I think it would.
“Pray constantly.” The Apostle said.
Not as wishful thinking or as pie in the sky teaching or preaching.
But, knowing that when our lives become our prayer and our prayers become our lives…
We see the world differently.
We see each other differently.
We see ourselves differently.
We see the daily grace which brushes up against our lives.
And that may make all the difference.