Dr. RB McFee
A lot has been written about prayer – from books and blogs on how to get started, and ways to stay focused, to prompts on themes and other guidance.
All good to be sure, but at the end of the day our best counsel on prayer as far as I’m concerned come from several somewhat diverse places:
The Bible – you would be hard pressed to go more than a few chapters in most books contained in the Old and New Testaments without running into an exhortation to pray, or some example of prayer.
No surprise Jesus role modeled the need for and practice of prayer many times throughout the Gospels. Often He would go off by Himself, or take a few Disciples, other times our Lord would publicly give thanks and pray.
Of course His emissaries, especially the Apostle Paul gave us numerous examples of Christ inspired prayers. Just visit Colossians.
One of my favorite exemplars of prayer is fabled Brother Lawrence who was known for his constancy in praying. Even in the kitchen or doing chores. He was wont to pray anywhere and everywhere. Here’s an example:
“Lord of all pots and pans and things… Make me a saint by getting meals, and washing up the plates!”
He had a simple and elegant form of worship. In the book written about him called “The Practice of the Presence of God” It was said Brother Lawrence was found worshipping more in the kitchen than in the cathedral. In prayers with another, he would say “the time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer….”
This dovetails nicely with what the Apostle Paul counseled the Christian community in Thessalonica nearly two thousand years ago, and is as timely now as then….
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18
But when all is said and done, I think Nike captures the ‘how to’ of prayer eloquently with their tag line “just do it! ™”
Yoda, the iconic Jedi might put a twist on Nike, and say something like “try not, do you must.”
Sometimes we let our minds get too cluttered, and we complicate that which God intended to be simple. Instead of flowery, with attempts at some deep communication with our Savior, maybe we should just talk to Him. After all, isn’t that what we do with friends?
Recently I was almost caught in the trap of being overwhelmed by the thought of prayer. Maybe you, too?
Then, as so often is the case, when we make an effort to talk with our Lord, He guides us, if we take the time to listen.
Here’s a good example of what I mean….
The other day I was visiting the beautiful grounds of the La Salette Shrine. For those not familiar with this religious center in Attleboro, Massachusetts, it is a year round place for prayer, retreats, and contemplation, hosted by the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette.
Although their retreats, prayer center and programming are well respected, most people in our region, especially non Catholic Christians, are likely familiar with La Salette because of their annual Christmas light display. Integrating religious, ecumenical and secular themes, it is truly an amazing place to visit.
That said, being in the area, I took the opportunity to get a peak at their displays before the official opening. My workday over, I found myself taking in the Christmas displays, as well as religious aspect of the Shrine. While there I felt a powerful feeling that invited prayer and contemplation.
Before I knew it, I was standing at the bottom of a very long flight of stairs leading up to the Cross.
Catholic or Protestant – as Christians our lives are intertwined with the Cross, and that powerful symbol – whether as crucifix or not – is the foundation of our faith. It is the ultimate symbol of love, sacrifice and forgiveness.
At the base of the stairs is a small placard that invites those about to ascend the stairway to offer a prayer on each step.
Doing a brief count, there were A LOT of stairs. Just how many prayers did they expect me to come up with? Overwhelmed I started to walk away towards the stations of the cross. Then I stopped in my tracks, and after briefly chastising myself for walking away, a small Voice whispered a simple thought – “don’t you have something to be thankful for?”
So I returned to the stairs (62 steps at last count) committed to thanking God for something different that He has, or is blessing me with on each step.
Now you might think that is a lot of thank you notes to send up to the Lord! Or wonder if you could come up with 62 things to be grateful for.
Actually when you commit to thank God for what you have, you soon run out of steps long before you run out of things that He has done to make life better. Starting with God Himself! And then His Love. And then His Son, and then the Holy Spirit. And then Christmas, followed by the Last Supper and a chance to commune and dine with our Savior. Painful though it is to think about, Good Friday, and then Easter.
Before I knew it, I had climbed a bunch of stairs, and I was just getting started.
Seemingly random thoughts of how God has been good to me entered; the car that almost hit me but somehow I became alert to it by His sudden Voice. An act of kindness that was unexpected. A sense of calm when the storm threatened to overtake me. A call from a friend just because. The gratitude list was a long one. Even in the midst of challenges, frustrations, and prayers that only faith holds me to believing they’ll be answered.
Soon I was at the foot of the Cross with Jesus looking down. Surrounded by angels, I had lots more things to tell Jesus, but ran out of steps! That was a powerful moment!
My prayer became one long ‘thank you;’ no requests, no lamentations, no long conversation. A prayer focused on what was right and not on what wasn’t going as hoped for. Thoughts about His promises kept, and ones I needed to keep to Him.
Somehow as I walked down the stairs, heading to the chapel, I already felt His Presence. He heard. It was an interesting classroom that afternoon.
Among all the prayers in the Bible that seem to have great power to connect us with the Lord, and help us grow a closer relationship with God comes down to appreciation. The “attitude of gratitude.” Perhaps that is why the Apostle Paul made it a point to convey faithful appreciation, even when being flogged, imprisoned, hungry, shipwrecked, isolated.
Perhaps gratitude is in fact one of the pillars of trust in God, and goes hand in hand with faith; faith that God’s Provision, His decision on what we need, are best manifest when we focus on what He has done for us, more than what we have lost, what is missing, what has yet to happen.
By focusing on what God has made come to pass for us when He could only have been the One to do it, we’re reminded what He can do again. Of course that’s not the point. We don’t thank to get more. We thank because God deserves it.
Let me share with you something my mother often quoted….
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is “thank you,” it will be enough. “
So maybe the next time you go to pray and get stuck, find a set of stairs, and try saying “thank you God for….” on each step.
While you might not have a Cross at the top of the landing, the Bible assures us gratitude leads to the Lord nevertheless.
And you’ll likely discover that you didn’t have enough steps, too!
Sixty two steps, sixty two prayers. Saying “thank you” is a powerful prayer and meaningful way to greet the Lord….
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is “thank you,” it will be enough.