31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
June 16, 2019
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
St. Augustine said that, “To sing is to pray twice.”
Makes me feel good about how much I pray – until I hold it up against the standard of Paul who encourages the Christians in Thessalonica to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and tells the Christians in Rome that “without ceasing [he] remembers [them] always in [his] prayers” (Romans 1:9).
Unceasing is a pretty high standard to live up to. It’s challenging to do anything without stopping. You would have to be pretty invested in the importance of prayer, pretty aware of why we pray, to do it continuously.
Years ago, someone I had met in my life outside church, someone who did not attend any faith community and I honestly thought did not have any interest in faith, she asked me ‘Why pray? What does prayer do?’
She was going through a difficult time, worried for someone close to her, and in the midst of that very hard situation, she asked me, “What does prayer do? How does prayer work?”
For anyone who has attended worship more than one Sunday, I hope you know how important I believe prayer is. I hope you know that I know prayer works. I don’t always know how, but I know it does.
So I shared with my friend how I have seen prayer make a difference, and then I shared with her how I think it makes a difference.
I believe that prayer connects us with God, prayer connects us with the person we are praying for, and prayer connects that person with God. For me, prayer is a web of caring. And even if the person being prayer for does not know it, it does not change or diminish the web of caring that prayer creates.
Praying for others, praying for challenging situations that feel beyond my control, connects me to them. And sometimes in prayer, I discover that there is something else I can do to help – and sometimes, I discover miraculously that there is something someone else is already doing to help.
Each week, we pray for other people. We pray, entrusting God with situations in our lives and in our world that feel challenging, even hopeless. What about ourselves? Do you ever pray for yourself? Do you ever ask God for what you want, for what you feel you need?
Many of us do not. It feels selfish. It feels petty. With so much going on in the world, with all the problems that other people have, how could we bother God with our insignificant concerns?
Last week, someone reminded me why we should pray unceasingly for ourselves (which was truly the Spirit’s intervention because they had no idea I was writing about prayer). We should pray for ourselves, pray for our insignificant concerns, as a reminder that we are not insignificant to God. Each of us is important. What brings us joy is important to God, what worries us is important to God. We are important to God, and God wants to hear from us. God wants to hear from us unceasingly. God wants to know what is on our minds and in our hearts – whether it is a prayer for the world, for someone else, or a prayer for us – for our silly and significant, mundane and much needed concerns.
Sometimes, though, despite knowing how important and powerful prayer is, we get tripped up on the mechanics. We over think how to pray, as if there are only certain words that are acceptable to God; only certain places or body postures that are acceptable to God. And we don’t know them.
In her book, Faith Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home, Rev. Traci Smith writes:
Christianity is rich with traditions that involve the body: from pilgrimages to chants to the sign of the cross, the body is used in different ways. Yet, for most children, “Fold your hands and bow your head,” is the only instruction given with regard to a prayer posture.” (pg 168)
I never remember being told with words that there was only one right posture for prayer. I certainly saw it though – from figurines on bended knee, their heads bowed and hands pressed together to watching the adults around me fold their hands nicely and lower their faces when it came time to pray.
It was seminary before I discovered that I prefer to raise my face and open my hands to God. It was well beyond seminary before I learned that I could move my whole body in prayer or lay on the ground silently in prayer or journal in prayer or cry and let the Holy Spirit intercede for me with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8:26).
As followers of Jesus Christ, we aspire to a life of ceaseless prayer. And yet, despite knowing what a difference prayer makes in my life, despite knowing what a difference prayer makes in our world, I’m still more of a sprinter than a marathon runner. I don’t do “ceaseless” well.
And I could beat myself up about that, feel bad that I’m not Paul; however criticizing myself for not being someone else doesn’t nurture my prayer life and connection with God – so instead, I’ve learned to work with who I am and how I pray. I’ve learned to surround myself with lots of resources and lots of inspiration.
Resources like the Christian Education committee made available beginning last week in the “Take Out Church” boxes and bags. In them are different suggestions for prayer. You can eat candy and pray. You can use your smart phone and pray. You can lay in the grass and pray. You can sing and pray twice.
Throughout this building, there are also lots of places and tools to help you nurture your prayer life. The beauty of this Sanctuary. The beauty of music. The prayer candles on the way to the Auditorium. The Meditation space and kneeler at the back of the chapel on the second floor. The prayer board and devotional corner on the way to the chapel.
Prayer is important. Prayer is powerful. A community that prays trusts God. A community that prays expects miracles. A community that prays has their eyes open to the amazing ways God is working in and transforming our world.
I feel passionately about prayer because my life is and has been transformed by prayer. I am much more grounded, much more aware of God’s Holy Spirit, much more at peace when I am in conversation and connection with God. So I keep working at it. I keep committing and recommitting to it, moving from sprint to sprint, baby stepping and growing my way deeper and deeper into a life of ceaseless prayer.
And each step of the way, I give thanks for you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, who nurture my prayer life, who share with me your stories of answered and unanswered prayer, who gift me with prayer devotionals, who have inspired me with your own examples to create a prayer spot for myself at home.
I give thanks for the ‘bow your head’ prayers, the ‘lift your face to the sky’ prayers, the eloquent and mumbling prayers, the marathon runners and the sprinters. I give thanks for all of the ways we nurture each others’ prayer lives and for all of the ways our prayers, our trust in God, truly make a difference in this world.