One of my father’s mottos seems to have been, “There must be a harder way.” It sounds crazy, but I am absolutely convinced that, more often than not, my dad thought if something was efficient or time/labor saving, it must have some deep evil attached to it. Dad thought that a certain amount of struggle and suffering was good for everyone.
It feels like, more often than not, we’ve approached prayer [in good churchy lingo, I’d say “our prayer life”] with a bit of this motto in mind. When I’ve spoken with people about prayer, and when I’ve heard others speak about prayer, it feels like we’re trying really hard to make prayer as hard as it can be. It could be because many of our encounters with prayer include some pastor person offering a set-piece prayer – you know, that prayer at church. Of course the pastor has thought it through [mostly] and written it out. That’s sort of what we do in church. But let me let you in on a secret; most pastors [or, at least this pastor] don’t pray that way in private. Prayer is a conversation based on a relationship. People ask, “How should I pray?” Not to be glib, I’d suggest you simply start talking. What’s on your mind? What are your hopes? Your dreams? Your worries? What are you excited about? Start there. And while you’re talking, try hard to remember that God is not singularly faceted being. God doesn’t just want to hear about what you want or need. How fun is it to be in a relationship with someone who only asks for things from you? God is interested in your hopes and dreams. What’s good? What’s bad? Are you bored? Let it all out. Remember this: prayer is one of the foundational pieces Christians have used for as long as there have been Christians to enter into a fuller relationship with God. That sounds heavy, but I assure you, it isn’t. It’s a bit like saying that talking with someone is one of the foundational ways people have formed relationships with others. But here’s the thing, you’ve got to start talking.
Famously, Jesus taught us a prayer. Jesus’ disciples asked the same thing we ask. They wanted a bit of help. In St. Matthew 6:9-13 we can read the basic form of the Lord’s Prayer. Here, Jesus tells us to orient ourselves toward God and toward God’s hopes and dreams in the world. We learn to trust God for our daily needs and find peace and reconciliation for the messes we make [and those that others make as well] and for help to live in an admittedly broken world that has quite a bit of evil lurking around. It’s a great outline for prayer because we recognize the whole outline of our lives here. If you follow this, it helps keep you from getting too stuck in one place.
If you’re looking for a bit more help, there are a few handy things available to you. There are three great apps that are free and can give you a great jumping off point for your prayers. [Honestly, there aren’t things you pay for that are better than these three apps] They are [in order of my personal preference]:
Pray as you Go: I’ve used this for years and it has led me to think about things I would have never seen on my own.
Sacred Space: This is the companion app to the devotional books we’ve used during Advent and this Lenten season. Everything in the book is available in the app and corresponding website.
3 Minute Retreats: Yep. That’s right. 3 minutes. That’s it.
Try it out. If you can, let me know how it goes. Remember, start by talking. It’s no harder than that.
“Behold, I make all things new.” - Revelation 21:5
This is one of the last things God, in the Bible, says. God’s ultimate promise is that all things will be made new. The Revelation sums up what this is all about in the idea of a “new heaven and a new earth.” St. John understands what God is saying in a dramatic, comprehensive way. The last chapter and a half of Revelation plays this out as a new Jerusalem, new robes, new life is played out for John. It’s sort of delightful when he gets a golden measuring stick to measure the gates and walls of the new city [Rev 21:15-21]. Maybe we’ve read the story too many times, so we think we know it. I can hear you, “yeah, yeah, yeah, it all sounds lovely.” But that’s not the point. The point is that it is NEW!! No one’s ever seen anything like this “new Jerusalem” before!
When you stop assuming that you know what’s in the Bible and actually start reading it, it’s rather startling what’s in there. This is as true for pastors and religious professionals as it is for you, my good friends. When you read this little story at the very end of the Bible and go back to the beginning, you start to see that God has been making things new the whole way from Genesis to the Revelation. From Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and the prophets [to name a few] to Mary, John the Baptist, Jesus and St. Paul the consistent story is that God has been making a new world. And the equally consistent story is that humans have been resisting. How’s all that “new” been working out? It's not a stretch to see that God is making new things and humans keep saying, “well, maybe not so new…”.
Admittedly, I like the idea [maybe] of you being new. Me? I just need a little buffing up. I’ve come to see that most of us, if not all of us, only want to be improved and improved is a way sight different from new. I understand. Improved means improved – we don’t change the essence of something, just make it somehow better. New? Well, new is… new. Unless, of course, you’re a slave or abused or downtrodden [to use a sort of Biblical word] or forgotten or starving or broken [I suspect you get the idea]. But that sort of new can be pretty scary to those of us who only want the world improved. What frightens you about God’s new? Go ahead and say it out loud, at least to yourself. What part of yourself don’t you want changed? In “church-speak,” we like to say that we “hold part of ourselves back from God.” We work to keep God from touching the parts of ourselves we don’t want changed, we don’t want to lose control over. New sounds good in the Bible, until we slowly start to understand that all this time God has been talking to us.
“Behold, I make all things new.”