In my last post entitled Closeness to God, I discussed God’s desire that we “draw near”, sin as the main factor that often blocks intimacy with God, and our hope in Christ. In this post I will discuss building a foundation of prayer that includes daily private prayer, weekly congregational worship, and touch on the role of sacraments as means of grace. As we pray we build a foundation of prayer that supports our faith and makes possible closeness with God.
The Urge to Pray
We were created to worship so worship is a natural outpouring of our gratitude. The urge to say “Thank You” is close by whenever we experience joy. As we gaze into face of a newborn child, witness a magnificent sunset, or experience a moment of sublime contentment an urge to thank God wells up from within to give voice to our inner need. Our hearts cry out in gratitude. This is our basic attitude. Unfortunately we don’t stay that way unless we cultivate this attitude.
Our hearts can also cry out in sorrow, pain, joy, or wonder. We are meant to worship God in all the moments of our life. Sometimes our worship in moments of pain or sorrow is an agonized cry or a sorrow filled sigh. Even in these moments our worship focuses our trust and hope on the Lord. These are the moments when our faith in God is most tested and where too often it fails. When faith fails in these moments of grief and sadness it is for the same reason our hearts no longer cry out in gratitude when good things happen.
In an anonymous 19th century book “The Way of a Pilgrim” the author explains that at the core of every person there is an altar on which we are always building something. Our attitude is fundamentally shaped by what we are building. If our career is at the center of the altar we view the world through the lens of our career. We are drawn to activities and events that further our career and see little point to activities that don’t support it.
There are an endless number of things that we can place at the center of our altar. We can place ohana there. health, food, drink, possessions, sex, and addictions all find their way there from time to time in many people’s lives. Only God belongs there though, and when God is on our altar everything else finds it’s proper place and focus. We do not lose anything when God is at the center of our lives. Indeed, we gain everything.
Placing God at the center of our lives and keeping God there is part of “drawing near” to God. Like most things in life if we don’t have a plan for this it won’t happen and because we are always building something we will likely build something to take God’s place.
Learning to live a life of prayer is our goal. We begin with a foundation that includes daily prayer with confession and scripture reading. There are many ways to develop a habit of daily prayer. In the Anglican tradition we have Morning and Evening Prayer, often called the Daily Office. Each of these short services begins with confession and includes readings and prayers in an organized pattern that covers all of scripture over 1 or 2 years, depending on the lectionary (reading plan) used. I use www.legereme.com, a website that includes all the daily readings as proscribed and lets me focus on prayer rather than looking everything up myself.
I am a much better person when I pray the daily office faithfully. When I fall out of the habit, which I have done from time to time, I notice the changes quite quickly. I become impatient, less kind, more self focused, and less compassionate. When I pray regularly I become more Christ like.
A foundation of prayer rests on both personal prayer and on corporate prayer. The main way we participate in corporate prayer is the weekly meeting of the congregation for worship. Worshiping together, listening to a sermon, and enjoying fellowship with other Christians has as profound an impact as private prayer. When people fall out of the practice of weekly congregational worship and then return it often feels like diving into a cool pool on a hot day. We are refreshed and delighted.
Prayer to our soul is like exercise for our body. If we stick with a pattern of exercise we experience our bodies slowly getting stronger and more agile. When we skip workouts our bodies tell us the next time we keep our habit. It takes a long time to get strong and very little time to lose it. Habits of prayer are like this. We may not see the changes immediately but over time we find ourselves drawing closer to God, at peace with our circumstances, kinder to others, and more appreciative of the blessings in our lives.
God’s Gifts of Grace
God blesses our efforts with gifts of grace that strengthen us in our relationship with Him. Grace helps us move past things that would draw us from the love of God. Grace is hard to describe but unmistakable when experienced. It is strength in the face of temptation and even freedom from a temptation. It is the warming of our hearts in prayer, and a strengthening of our resolve in our daily disciplines.
God meets us with gifts of grace in our daily lives and particularly when we gather in christian community for Baptisms and Holy Communion. Baptism is a a sacrament for the beginning of our journey and Holy Communion is food for the journey. When we celebrate Holy Communion (aka Lord’s Supper, Holy Eucharist, The Mass) we experience, in a mysterious way, the presence of Jesus Christ and receive grace into our lives. Sacraments are God given ways for us to receive grace.
In my next post I will explain Sacraments as a God given way to receive grace and how Anglican Congregational Worship is organized around Scripture and Holy Communion.