Communication with God
By Rev. Jonathan Gaylord, Yadkinville UMC, Yadkinville
There once was a monk who was told to pray for all who suffer. One day, a hungry beggar came to the monastery and told the brother he was looking for food. The monk stretched out his hand, placed it on the beggar’s shoulder, and prayed that God would be with him, that his belly would be full of good things.
That night at supper, the Abbott asked the monk how his day went. The monk excitedly told the Abbott about his encounter with the beggar, and how he had the chance to pray for him to be filled. After he listened to the brother’s story, the Abbott gently asked him: “and did you feed the man?”
The monk, looking perplexed, shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I did not.”
The Abbott smiled warmly.
“Then dear brother,” he said. “Your prayer was only halfway finished.”
Any job description one would assemble for the earliest Jewish and Christian leaders would inevitability include communication with God. Moses, arguably the first professional religious leader in scripture, had a four-point job description:
- Communicate with God
- Interpret Scripture
- Lead the People
- Speak truth to power (Pharaoh)
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus regularly made time for private prayer, often disappointing his disciples and followers in the process. If Christian leaders are to take Christ as our example, then prayer is fundamental to leadership in the church.
How we talk about prayer as a society has fallen short. When we find ourselves facing national tragedy, we are flooded with offerings of “thoughts and prayers,” that are heard by many as an unwillingness to make difficult yet needed change. It is important to remember that the prayer practiced by Christ is a source of power to confront sin, evil, and injustice. If we are to imitate Christ, then the prayers of the Church cannot be an abdication of power or responsibility, the church’s prayer should be a well of power that allows us to work for Christ’s present and coming reign. Much like the monk from the parable, we leave our prayers half-way finished.
The first action most guitarists carry out when they pick up their instrument is to tune the strings. The practice, or performance that comes next is built upon the foundation of being in tune. Prayer is the primary way of “tuning our hearts” to God. Prayer brings us into alignment with God by providing a place of transformation, where God can show us who we are supposed to be and where we are called to action.
In his book Living Prayer, Metropolitan Anthony writes “As Saint Paul says, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31). Therefore, to set out deliberately to confront the living God is a dread adventure: every meeting with God is, in a certain sense, a last judgment. Whenever we come into the presence of God… we are doing something which is full of danger because, according to the words of scripture, God is a fire.” True prayer brings us into direct contact with this God, a relationship that can burn away our pride, arrogance, and sin and open our eyes to what God is doing in our lives and in the world.
Prayer that seeks to bring us into a deeper connection and relationship with God and a relationship with God cannot leave us unchanged. To come into contact with the liberating and risen Christ is to have our hearts tuned to God’s will.
I had a spiritual director who, after I would describe some problem (spiritual/professional/family didn’t matter), would ask “Well how are you praying about it?” To which I would often respond “I’m not.” I came to realize that in not offering something to God, I was never seeking for it to change. How could I take action if I didn’t expect God to even have an opinion on the challenges I faced? God has, to put it mildly, opinions on who the church should be and how we should be at work in the world. Prayer is the first step in effective leadership at any time.
The Latin phrase Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, illuminates the importance of prayer well. It means "the Law of what is prayed is what is believed is what is lived.” Through prayer we are reminded who we are supposed to be, given the opportunity to listen to God, and convicted to action.
There are a lot of things that seem more urgent than regular prayer, from our urgent day to day tasks, time with our families, the work of the church… and prayer is so important for our spiritual health and helping to clarify the call of Christ, that we cannot neglect it.