On Wednesday evenings (from 5:30-7:00) we open the sanctuary for a time of prayer and Sctipture meditiaton. This is a time to sit before the Lord, in a place that is dedicated to the worship of God, alongside brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Longer Rationale
As you may know, I took a prayer retreat a few weeks ago at a monastery in Oklahoma. I had several “take-aways,” but the most applicable was changing the way we approach prayer at our church.
We’ve never been much for prayer meetings at CTK; that may come from my own baggage of prayer meetings where it was really a Bible Study with some intercession tacked on at the end. Because of our “prayers for the church” we don’t necessarily need an extra time to discuss prayer requests (though I’m sure that’d be great). Even though I prioritize prayer in my pastoral ministry and our Session does likewise in its work, spreading that to the congregation in a way that is authentic to our DNA has been a challenge. On my retreat I think I figured out why.
Generally, Protestants think of prayer much the same way we think of nudity. Consider this… Suppose you walked into the sanctuary on a Thursday afternoon and I was the only person in there, and I was praying. Two things would probably happen: 1) you would probably feel like you walked in and saw something you shouldn’t, and 2) I would probably agree. I’d stop, you’d apologize, then we might have to talk about the weather just to keep from thinking of what had happened.
The reason for this is that the Protestant Church jettisoned the Catholic doctrine of Sacred Space. We believe that the hearts of God's people, rather than a place, is consecrated as holy to the Lord. The Catholics argue differently. The sign outside the monastery’s sanctuary told visitors to keep silent because “our Lord Jesus Christ is truly present here.” Catholics believe that Christ is present, in that building, in a way that he isn’t present in the world. Those monks believed their sanctuary housed the Host, the flesh of Christ, the consecrated bread of the eucharist. I’ll save you a rehashing of the Protestant Reformation, but, suffice it to say, the monks believe that Christ es physically present in that building and that changes what they expect people to do there. We may not agree with Catholics, that Christ inhabits the bread that remains after church, but the spiritual expection to meet God is something that I'd like to rub off on us. And it is this expectation that we want to offer you on Wednesday evenings.
We are opening the church for you to come and meet with God. You can pray to work through your problems. You can pray to intercede for those in need. You can pray to simply “give God the glory due his name.” But for that time, no matter the reason, you are welcome to enter the sanctuary, see other people praying, and instead of feeling weird, you can join them. You can get there late or leave early. Just come and go with a respectful silence. A highlight of my time at that monastery was the chance to pray in the sanctuary even as the cleaning lady wiped down pews around me. It was liberating!
Some Spiritual Direction
As you probably well know, my prayer life has been transformed over the last several years. It wasn’t because I came to know God in new ways or because I repented of some besetting sin, though the latter may be true. The most revolutionary thing I did was introduce a regimen of how to pray. I implemented personal handrails where there used to be just wandering, self-absorbed flopping, like some sort of dying spiritual fish. Please know, not everyone needs such handrails but I did… desperately.
My time at the monastery was an opportunity to put my prayers into hyperdrive. The thinking was that if it really was a good method, I could scale it up dramatically and it would still work. And it did! I was able to spend 3-5 hours a day in prayer when just a few years ago I labored to pray for 20 minutes! So, along with this invitation to pray, I will provide some simple handrails that have helped me. The method will not ensure God will hear you, only your union with Christ secures that, this just helps a mind as scatted as mine focus. So this method (any method) is decidedly human instead of divine.
First, pray aloud. The body matters. When you come on Wednesday nights, even though others are around you, I would encourage you to pray under your breath, mouth the words, or whisper. This ensures that you are actually articulating thoughts that have purpose. Praying in my head often means that my prayers become subject to the whims of my wandering mind. There is a place for that, but I have decided it is more akin to listening to God than speaking to him. This also includes the freedom to lift/open your hands and/or kneel.
Second, pray to God. You know those conversations where you realize the other person isn’t really talking to you, they are just talking to themselves and it’s aimed at you? God probably finds that as annoying as we do. Take a moment periodically in your prayer time to remind yourself of the real, though spiritual, presence of God. Speak TO him. Hold him in your mind just as you would a friend as you talk on the phone. He is there, but strengthening your awareness of his presence takes some effort and time. As you read Scripture to him, that means you slow down, speaking instead of thoughtlessly reading.
Third, pray the Psalms. My prayers are organized around the Psalms because they are the “script” God provided for his people to pray, literally for millennia. In praying them, I read the Psalms to God. Some are straightforward prayers and some are less so, but I read them to him anyway. Astonishingly, because the Psalms are Scripture, as you read the them to God, he is also reading them back to you! In praying the Psalms you and God are using the same script to speak to each other.
Fourth, have a plan. I have found structure to be a major key to a vibrant life of prayer. I’ll propose a plan below, but the content is almost arbitrary. The benefit of a plan is to have a goal when you pray and you know when you’re done (and when you’re not). If you come in on a Wednesday night, feel free to do your own thing, or work through this regimen. I will print it out and have it available.
- Make some time to collect yourself and clear your mind
- If you need Scripture to guide your stillness, see Habakkuk 2:20
Approach God: Psalm 123 and/or 131
- Prayer is seeking a God bigger than you
Meditation: Revelation 4:8
- Meditate on the “thrice Holy” by repeating it for a little while
- If you feel weird repeating this, remember the text actually says that’s how it’s used
Psalm 29 // 84 // 138
- Worship God through one or more of these
Meditation: Revelation 4:11
- You can say just names of those on your heart (your Father knows their needs)
- You can pour out your heart in detail
- I use Psalm 70:1 to intercede for people
Psalm 27 // 63
- Use the psalms to express your love for God
Listen to God
- Take time to journal if that’s your thing
- I tend to read Scripture to listen or sit in silence
Pray the Lord’s Prayer
When I first started this, I found it awkward to fumble through the Bible during prayer, because I thought prayer was supposed to be quiet and detached from activity. But now I find the breaks refreshing. God is there with you when you pray, you can experience his presence even if you are fumbling with pages.
The reason this fits our church is because this is a prayer time emphasizing God, his Word, and our experience of him. Those might be our three most beloved concepts at Christ the King. So come and join us as we sit with God in his presence. Come experience the joy of looking to the Lord “as the eyes of a servant looks to the hand of his master.”