Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lent: An Invitation to Prayer?

So the first week of Lent comes to a close. How is it going for you?

We’re on vacation this week, visiting Washington, DC and some friends around this part of the country—more on that in a later post. The season of Lent, with its reflection and repentance and refocus on the life of discipleship—everything that makes up this time of the church year is meant to turn our eyes toward God. How is that going?

Part of how we connect to God is through prayer. Now I know it’s part of my calling to help people in their life of prayer, but it’s one area in my ministry where I feel particularly unskilled and, well, out of my depth. I’ve prayed—I’ve prayed a lot in my time as a Christian. Some of the prayers were regular daily sort of check-ins, and others were those prayers of desperation that we’ve all shouted at one time or another. Most of my prayers loitered somewhere in between those two extremes, and so here we are.

Rodney Clapp draws a distinction in a recent article in Christian Century, between two kinds of prayer, faithful and superstitious. When we link certain kinds or quantities of prayer somehow with God’s ability to act, we’re in the realm of superstition and magic. Faithful prayer differs from that, Clapp writes, saying that it “differs from superstition in that it does not presume control. It petitions God, the power at the center of all that is, while it does not presume on God’s answer or response. Faithful prayer is habitual prayer, prayer that does not only occur in crisis and does not end when a crisis is resolved. Faithful prayer is part and parcel of an ongoing relationship, a lifelong conversation, a prolonged attempt not to control God but to discern God’s presence and activity in all that befalls us.”

In Henri Nouwen’s Show Me the Way, he writes this as a part of today’s meditation: “The crisis of our prayer life is that our mind may be filled with ideas of God while our heart remains far from him.”

Is that helpful to you or just another way of saying we don’t do this very well?

I’m going to choose to be encouraged by this. In the spirit of the Lent season I want to be a part of that ongoing relationship Clapp talks about—that conversation that God is inviting me into. I want my heart to warm with the experience of God, even as I study and learn and reflect on what I try to know.

As we move into a second week of this beautiful, challenging season, let me invite you to start your own conversation with God. Not as a shopping list of needs and wants, and not as an act of superstition—this invitation is to a lifelong relationship, a process of learning to discern God’s presence and activity in everything we do.

One way to get started is to take what we call the Lent Challenge. Say the Lord's Prayer five times each day between now and Easter. If your prayer life is stuck or cold, this is a great way to remember why and how we connect to God. Try it...you won't be sorry.


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