Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

No Pain, No Gain… No Way!

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Do you have a prayer hero, a role model or “guide” for spiritual direction? Whether or not we choose one consciously most of us probably have some impression in our minds about what proper prayer looks like and that impression probably came from someone we considered an expert in the field.

 

Sometimes our selection of “experts” leaves something to be desired. Jennifer Schuchmann and I relay a story our book Six Prayers God Always Answers about a particularly powerful, but warped picture of spirituality.   

It is said that St. Catherine’s Monastery near Mt. Sinai Egypt, still honors the final will and testament of three monks who lived there twelve centuries ago. One monk was a doorkeeper. He wanted to keep his job forever and so to honor his request, his mummy still sits beside the door he guarded in life. 

 

Behind the door lived the other two monks. Each had taken a vow to devote his life to perpetual prayer. One would pray while the other slept. They never saw each other or spoke to one another. Their only connection was a chain that ran through the wall and was attached to their wrists. When one had completed his prayers, he would yank the chain as a signal for the other to begin. 

 

When the two men died, their skeletons were laid side by side in caskets. And there they rest today, still united by the same links of chain.

 

Some historians believe that rigorous monastic disciplines like the one practiced by these monks helped preserve civilization during the cultural deterioration of the early Middle Ages.

 

Perhaps.

 

But anecdotes like these, told as sermon illustrations by well-intentioned pastors, have unintentionally decreased not only the occurrence of prayer but also the number of active pray-ers. When an average twenty-first century Westerner hears of such eccentric dedication, the typical response is, “If this is what it takes to pray to God, count me out.” 

 

Prayer isn’t accomplished by some divine formula. Its power isn’t amplified if we assume some sort of ascetic or monastic posture.

Question: Do you have any ascetic tendencies in your spiritual life? Do you imagine that prayer has to be “hard” to be “worthy?” Where does this assumption come from? Is it correct, now that you think about it? What does this say about your image of God? What would you like to believe about God?

Tennis with God

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Communication takes a miracle. The 500 most commonly used English words have an average of 28 meanings each! So the odds that you actually know what I’m saying here are not very good. The odds that I know what I’m saying are even worse. If connection happens at all is pure wonder! In fact, I believe that human communication is one of the clearest proofs for God’s existence and evidence that we’re truly made in God’s image.

 

When communication does truly happen, when things “click” – and we’ve all been in situations where the conversation takes wings – it’s because certain extraordinary elements come together. The most important is something we can call “synchronization.” Researchers studying a film of people talking around a dinner table noticed that as the conversation “clicked” the participants began mimicking each others’ movements, intonation and posture. Communication “worked” when they synchronized, gave up “plotting” and “lecturing” and instead “engaged” with their friends by listening and responding. That’s the secret – listening and responding. 

 

I found my voice with my Jill this way. [For the first part of the story, see "No More Mr. Plastic Man, July 10, 2009]. It happened one night after a college class we shared. At the end of the session we were assigned to “affirm” someone. Jill and I stood on opposite sides of the room looked around and found we were the only two without a match. I broke into a cold sweat. She rolled her eyes.

 

We sat down together. Miraculously, we started talking, really talking. Instead of worrying about how Jill perceived me I found I had crawled outside myself to listen to her voice. That’s when I found mine. Instead of plotting out my words I responded to her. No more “Mr. Plastic Man.” We communicated. The room emptied; it began to rain; and an hour later we were still lost in conversation, forgetting our past prejudices, forgetting the time, we engaged… A few months later, literally!

 

God is an actual person and the principles of communication work for him as well. After all, God made them those rules! Real prayer begins when I stop trying to script and say the right things, in the right voice, at the right time of day. Prayer begins when I stop making it “I” and synchronize with God’s heart. I needed to stop trying to impress Jill before we could engage; I need to stop trying to impress God as well. As I submit my heart into his, listening and responding, prayer becomes easy and natural.

 

Prayer is listening and responding to God, then listening to God’s response and responding again. Think tennis. Prayer is tennis with God.

 

How do you “sychronize” with God. How do you listen to God’s communication, then respond, then listen again to God’s response and respond back?  

 

“Praying in Route”

posted by Mark Herringshaw

“For many years I was bothered by the thought that I was a failure at prayer. Then one day I realized I would always be a failure at prayer; and I’ve gotten along much better ever since!” Brother Lawrence

 

Nicholas Herman wanted to find God. Like almost all his contemporaries, he believed that God existed and that he is good and just. But Herman wanted to know God’s love as more than conviction. He wanted to know and experience God.

 

So in 1640, after an injury forced him to retire from the army of France, Herman entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Paris. There he took the name, Brother Lawrence. Lacking the education for academic service, Lawrence was assigned to the monastery kitchen. It was here, amid the tedious repetition of peeling potatoes and mopping floors, and hearkening to the constant bidding of his superiors that he made an astounding discovery.

 

While other monks had the privilege of meditation and study, Lawrence was sentenced to a life of preoccupied busyness. His holy mountain was a mountain of dirty dishes. So Lawrence, taking what was given him, found God while washing those dishes.

 

In his classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God, Lawrence writes,

“Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?… Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

Brother Lawrence is my patron saint. I too am too busy for a life constant and undistracted spiritual focus. I’m too busy to stay truly focused on what is spiritual and holy. Like Lawrence I have to find ways within my own hectic life to remain aware of God’s constant presence.

 

Question: Can you find ways to pray driving in traffic? Can you find God’s presence in balancing the check book or sitting in your work cubical or making cold calls or folding the laundry or finishing a math assignment for school? Let’s pool our wisdom and experiences: Who out there is following Brother Lawrence’s path to prayer?

 

Praying for the Family of Byrd and Melanie Billings

posted by nsymmonds

One of the reasons why I started this blog was to serve as a place for prayer on breaking news. A little while ago, it was brought to my attention that Byrd and Melanie Billings, a couple in Beulah, Florida who had opened their hearts and their home to 12 adopted children, were slain in a home invasion. According to the Pensacola News Journal, the Billings have 16 children, 12 of them are adopted, some of whom have special needs. Eight of the children were found in the house when police arrived on the scene. My heart breaks for these children and the family of Byrd and Melanie Billings.

Heavenly Father,

While it’s hard to fathom why bad things happen to good people, Lord I want to thank you for the lives of Byrd and Melanie Billings. Thank you for giving them hearts that were open to opening their home to children who would have otherwise been cast down. We thank you for their generosity and pray that their story, the story of two generous people who made a life out of making a life for children, will be one that inspires many people. I pray for those 16 children, that though they will go forward in this life without their parents, they will not go forward in life without you and the love of a countless number of people who will respond to the loss of Byrd and Melanie. May your hand of provision never be slack. May your goodness and mercy follow those children. And may your love surround them all of the days of their lives. Comfort the Billings’ family at this time. Give them words of solace during this time of loss and even place within the killer(s), the repentful and the remorseful spirit to turn themselves in.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

Please pray for and share your prayers for the children and family or Byrd and Melanie Billings. 

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