When someone joins the United Methodist Church, they pledge to support it with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Anyone can procure a copy of The United Methodist Book of Discipline and read for themselves the official stance of the Church on the elements of the pledge, but I thought it might be helpful to see what a clergy perspective is as shaped by years of ministerial experience, formal training, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer is the conduit for communication between God and humankind. It flows both ways, as we can speak with the Lord and God can respond in the sacred space opened by intentionally focusing our heart, mind, and being. We can offer up our joys, our concerns, and our pleas for forgiveness, and, in return, God can pour out blessing, love, and grace upon us. Prayer is vital to the disciple, for all those who want to go deeper than simply professing belief in Jesus Christ. Prayer sustains us in our darkest hour. It provides the strength and encouragement needed to survive trial and tribulation. Through it, we can give thanks for what we have, what we know we do not deserve, and that which we can selflessly see as being the means to carrying out the work of Kingdom building.
Prayer is so much more than a wish list. It is the culmination of theological reflection, personal relationship with God, and experience. So when we pledge to give our prayers we are offering up the power to invoke the name of God by all who believe, petition God for the means necessary to accomplish God’s will, and ultimately join together with other members of the Body of Christ to affect real change. I am aware that often prayer in worship can feel rote, even remote. Yet in the Lord’s Prayer alone we are speaking words that have been held sacred by the Church Universal since its inception, as Jesus himself gifted that prayer to the first disciples. Its words are poignant and perfect. It is crafted by God, and when we embody the words with our beings rather than mindlessly repeating them, then we can sense the transformation in the power of prayer.
In the new fully Emergent Worship service at my church, we are doing prayer in a new way. I have prayer cards in which the gathered congregation are invited to write, draw, or convey in any other written form their prayers anonymously. Then the clergy of the church pray over the cards during the week. The very first time I opened the cards I was overwhelmed by the beauty they contained. They were some of the most earnest words I have ever encountered, authentic and filled with emotion. Lay people can pray. You have the power, granted by the Holy Spirit. We get bogged down in some notion of expectation for what prayer should be, a standard we feel unequipped to meet. Yet God takes our imperfection and makes it perfect, so just pray what you feel, what you know, and what you need. Entrust your words, spoken or unspoken, and your sentiments to be enrobed in grace when they reach the Lord. Just pray. Pray for yourselves, for your loved ones, your enemies, those you encounter in the course of your day, those whose suffering is reported by the news, the church, the nation, and the world. Pray what you know. Pray for wisdom and growth. Pray everyday until its becomes as natural and reflexive as “thank you.” Pray so that your first and instant response to all things is to connect with the God who desires such relationship, encourages it, and blesses you with it.