I recently attended a spiritual retreat in Binghamton that was hosted by our Bishop, Bishop Mark Webb. In our opening worship service, Bishop Webb preached on the theme of our weekend (and also for our whole year) “Together in Prayer: Trusting that God is Enough.” I had heard the Bishop speak many times before, but for some reason this time, the wisdom and stories he shared were especially moving for me.
Addressing a room filled with United Methodist clergy he wondered aloud if we might be familiar with moving. This was of course a joke seeing as it is the bishop and his cabinet who decide when and where each of us clergy will serve throughout our careers. Needless to say, it got a reaction from the crowd. After the joking subsided, he asked us, “What’s one of the first things you do when you move into a new house?” People began to yell out answers, “Hang pictures!” “Do laundry!” – many pastors having their moving routine down pat by this point. “How many of you put new paint on the walls, or cover up that hideous wall paper your predecessor put up?” More reaction. More laughing. More table talk. “Whatever you do, you start to change the house to make it yours – to make it suitable for you to eventually call it your home.”
I, having recently moved, had probably just that morning gave some preoccupied thought to my new residence, but what really impacted me was what he said next. He talked about how prayer is like asking Jesus to come into your heart. But in order for Jesus to feel at home he’s going to have to change some things around in our hearts from how he found them – he needs to make it suitable for him to call it home. “Jesus has removed some pretty hideous wall paper that I put up before he got there,” Bishop Webb testified. And for many of us, myself included, Jesus has done similar remodeling of our hearts.
Before Jesus can enter our hearts, we must extend the invitation. Before Jesus can take up residence in our hearts we must extend the invitation continually, over and over. That’s where prayer comes in.
You may have heard me say here or there that it is a personal belief of mine that “there is no such thing as a bad prayer” or “it’s impossible to pray wrong.” I believe that very strongly. But that doesn’t mean that all prayer practice is created equal. To put it another way, there is no wrong way to make art – but some ways are more effective than others. In the same way, we can become more intentional about our prayer lives, and seeking God in our lives.
Our Bishop has challenged us to grow deeper into our faiths and our church lives by growing deeper into our prayer practices. There are many ways to pray and different people will find certain forms of prayer more effective than others. And it is exactly this reason why we must learn to pray together to pray as a community.
In the weeks of advent this year – those weeks of searching, hoping, yearning for Christ – I will be leading a prayer group at the church once a week. Like all parts of life, there are elements that we must do together as well as separately. We need not only to invite Jesus into our hearts, but collectively invite Jesus in to the very heart of Park Church – over and over again. I will leave this message with one of my favorite Martin Luther quotes, in honor of the 500th anniversary of his 95 Theses: “Being a Christian without prayer is like living without breath.” As a community of Christ, let us breathe deeply.
Pastor Bryant Clark