Midweek of Lent 2
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
“The Disciplines of Lent: Prayer”
I like breathing. It’s good stuff. Inhale, exhale. Breathing comes in handy. I’d could say that I don’t know what I’d do without breathing, but I think that anybody that’s ever tried to hold their breath underwater knows how that’d turn out. We need to breathe. We’re made that way. If you go long enough without breathing, you suffocate and die.
Prayer isn’t all that different from breathing. We are designed to be in relationship with our Creator; we’re made that way. If you go without prayer, it’s as if you’re holding your breath. You’re cutting yourself off from a good gift that God gives to benefit both you and the people around you. Why would you ever want to do that?
Most of us take breathing for granted – until those times when we find it hard to breathe. Maybe you take prayer for granted. That’s all too easy for us Christians to do.
Through Jesus, you get to have unrestricted access to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. You can do it at any time, even in those times where you may find it hard to breathe. You get to talk to Him as someone would to their loving Father. You don’t have to offer sacrifices of livestock – or people! – to try to get His attention. He wants to hear from you because He loves you. Prayer isn’t meant to be scary or complicated. You don’t have to make fancy speeches with “thee’s” and “thy’s” and “thou’s,” or try to impress anyone. God can understand you just fine; He knows you and your heart better than you know yourself.
Prayer is conversation with God, the One who gives us life. It’s meant to be an open dialogue. You don’t have to censor yourself or try and pretend that you’ve got it all together. Again – the Lord knows who you are! But understand that God can and does speak back when you engage in the conversation that is prayer; it’s not meant to be your monologue. Not as a disembodied voice or in a mysterious sign, but through His Word in the Scriptures. Gather with your fellow Christians in reading the Bible and hear God instruction and guidance for your life. God speaks in the worship service, too, which is itself a form of prayer.
Prayer is a blessing – for you, and for the world around you. Bring your concerns to God in prayer. As James reminds us, we are to be praying for ourselves and for one another. Tonight in this service, we’re going to begin a practical exercise in the discipline of prayer. Each seat has a blank card; take it and write down one or two prayer requests that you want to bring before the Lord this evening. Once you’re filled it out, had it to the person seated to your left. When we join in the prayers of the congregation in a few minutes, we’ll have a time where each of you can pray at your tables (aloud, even!) Hearing someone else pray on your behalf is a reminder of how God’s grace had broken into our world through Christ, who has welcomed us to talk to God as our loving Father.
Prayer is a discipline. It’s meant to be something that you do with intention, not simply firing off prayers thoughtlessly as one stumbles through the day. Focus on prayer, even as you might focus your breathing when exercising or calming down. Be intentional in your supplication, bringing your concerns before your Creator with the confidence that He loves you and is listening. Be intentional in your thanksgiving, recognizing the gifts that God gives you in each new day, remembering the difference that His blessings make in your life and in the world at large. Be intentional in your intercession, praying for – and with! – others who are in times of need or distress, knowing that you are an agent of His grace as you ask for these things in your Savior’s name.
Prayer changes the pray-er, even as it changes the world. As you come before the Lord in prayer, the Holy Spirit is working to shape you as a disciple, making you to be more and more like Jesus, the one who stands before our Father in heaven as the mediator between God and man. As you pray, praising God, confessing your sin, giving thanks, and asking for God’s action in your life or the life of your neighbor, you’ll better understand the scope of the mercy and grace of your Creator, who knows you needs and daily provides from the bounty of His grace.
So as you move through Lent, think about how you breathe. Think about how you pray. And may you enjoy them both as gifts from your loving Father.