Committed to Prayer!
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, October 7, 2012.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
Psalm 37:3-5, New Revised Standard Version
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world. Amen.
What do you think of when you hear the word commitment?
Perhaps you picture a loving husband caring for his [ailing] wife. Maybe you envision a business owner who puts her resources and reputation on the line to lead her company through a crisis. Perhaps you see a dedicated teacher who spends hours of his own time tutoring underprivileged children. Or maybe the scene that comes to mind is one of a group of soldiers who willingly enters harm’s way to protect their countrymen.
These are all wonderful examples of commitment. But have you considered the fact that individuals who act in less admirable ways also are committed? People who watch the clock at work are committed to making it through the day so they can go home. People who spend most of their free time in front of the television are committed to taking life easy. People who cheat on their income taxes are committed to beating the system.
Do you understand what I’m saying? When it comes to living a life of significance, the vital question isn’t, “Am I committed?” It’s, “What am I committed to?”
So, what are you really committed to? How does the way you live your life—spend your time, offer your talents, give of your resources, and treat other people –demonstrate what you are or are not committed to?
As Christians our primary commitment should be the continuation Christ’s ministry of outreaching love to a fragile and broken world. How does the way you live your life—spend your time, offer your talents, give of your resources, and treat other people—demonstrate that you are committed to continuing the ministry of Christ? How often do you pray? How regularly to you meet with your community of faith: attend worship, Bible Study, and fellowship opportunities? What percentages of your resources to do you offer Christ so that his ministry can continue offering food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, and help to all who are in need? How much time are you serving your neighbor in Christ’s name? How often do you share your faith with others?
Every person who professes the Christian faith through baptism (or, if baptized as an infant, through confirmation) is called to faithfully uphold the mission of the Christ. As United Methodists, our commitment to Christ’s mission through the local church is lived out by freely and fully offering our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. When we’re intentional and committed to upholding Christ’s mission in these five ways, we (United Methodists) believe that the world can and will be transformed by the grace of God into the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Over the next five weeks, we will be taking some time to explore what it means to be committed to the mission of Christ by fully and freely offering our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. At the end of this series, you will be encouraged to write out your commitments as an outward sign of your commitment to Christ and his mission through this church. Writing out your commitments in these areas will not only formalize your commitment, it will also allow the leadership of the church to make sure that we are offering enough opportunities for each of you to be faithful and fully committed to Christ’s continued mission of outreaching love through Wesley United Methodist Church.
So, how committed are you to upholding the mission of Christ through this local church with your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness? Let’s begin by considering how committed we are to prayer.
Before we get started thinking about what prayer is and how we can be committed to doing it, I’d just like to say that I know praying is difficult. I find it difficult. I often find it difficult to pray because, well, I have “other things that I should be doing.” When I spend an extended amount of time in prayer, my mind wonders, thinking of the other things that seem to be more important. Frankly, it can seem like a giant waste of time. But, friends, hear me out, prayer is the most important thing we should be doing every day. Yes, it is hard in our busy schedules to set aside intentional time to be with God, but without that intentional time we will continually find ourselves empty and tired. We need time to be with God so that our souls are fed and our lives given direction so that the mission of God might be fulfilled.
John Wesley once remarked that just as the body needs air to survive, so the soul needs prayer. The soul is incapable of surviving , wrote Wesley, apart from prayer, just as the body is incapable of thriving without air.
Prayer is the cornerstone practice of a committed Christian’s life. It sustains and regains spiritual well-being, keeping us open to God’s love and leading. If we are not rooted in prayer, then we will be easily “tossed to and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the trick people play to deliberately mislead others” (Ephesians 4:14, Common English Bible). Prayer grounds us in the ways of God such that we can begin to begin to know God and become like Christ as we live out God’s will for our lives.
Prayer is, on the one hand, so simple we teach children to do it. But, on the other hand, it can be difficult for even the most spiritually mature men and women of God to make it a regular faith practice. Perhaps it’s the very easy of it that makes it so difficult.
There is not one right way to pray. We speak the Lord’s Prayer together, and we are one with millions of Christians throughout history who have opened to the mystery of God’s grace through those words. But we are also one with ages of Christians when in distress we cry a silent Help! to God, when we wait in stillness for God’s guidance, when we shout our anger at injustice, and when we take action to right wrongs and reach out in compassion to a hurting world. All of this is prayer.
Our vow of prayer calls us to employ the power of prayer as the foundation of our lifelong journey to become like Christ—as individuals and as the body of Christ. Our faithful response to God’s love through Christ is to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide our words, our work, and our ministry.
Prayer is important because it changes us and changes the world around us. Perhaps, when we’re truly honest with ourselves, that’s why prayer is so difficult. It is not that we don’t know how to pray: there isn’t a right or wrong way to pray. No, prayer is difficult because when God speaks everything changes. And, quite frankly, we don’t like change. Nevertheless, we are called to pray regularly for prayer gives life to our souls and direction for our daily lives.
What does it mean to be committed to prayer?
Paul instructs us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Jesus says to “go into your room and shut the door” (Matthew 6:6). I’m not called to live in my room and I doubt you are, so how should we understand our commitment to prayer.
If the purpose of prayer is to open ourselves to and live out God’s love in the world, then all that a Christian does can and should be considered an act of prayer. We really can “pray without ceasing” when we focus all our attention on being open to the love God offers to us and through us. So, in a sense our entire lives are called to be as a prayer that opens us and those around us to the great love of God. But, there should, in every Christian’s life, be times when we go into our rooms alone, shut the door, and pray to God. This is personal time with God. It is a time when we praise God for who God is and share with God our dreams, our frustrations, our failures, and our triumphs in trying to live a life of love (Christ’s mission) in the world. These intentional, personal times with God will offer us the focus and direction we need to “pray without ceasing.”
There is no right or wrong way to pray alone with God. You may pray alone, with the radio off, on your way to work. You may pray while reading Scripture in the dark of the morning before others in your house get up for the day. You may pray in the calm and comfort of your bed before you go to sleep. You may pray in the shower.
For me, I find that I am most open to listening to God when I sit at a piano and play the music of the church. I also find myself praying while rocking Stella to sleep at night. There is no right or wrong way to pray, the point is that we set aside intentional time to listen to God so that our souls are nourished and we can find strength, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to live our lives after the example of Christ. And, if you can’t find the words, offer the one’s that Jesus taught his disciples (Matthew 6:9-13) and then sit in the silence (or relative silence) and wait on the Lord.
What does it mean to be committed to prayer? It means we live a life that is continually open to God’s love in order that we might offer God’s love to others. It means that we set aside intentional time to be alone with God so that we can discern God’s will for our lives.
So, I ask you again. How committed are you, really, to prayer? Are you willing to pray regularly, daily, without ceasing? so that the mission of Christ might be known and realized in the way you live your life? Are you willing to set aside intentional time to be alone with God so that you might experience God’s love and be able to share it fully with those around you? What will your commitment to prayer be?
I would suggest that you begin by spending 30 minutes a day alone with God. You can break it up: 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the evening. 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, 10 minutes in the evening. You could do it all at once. Start by spending 30 minutes intentionally in the presence of God so that your soul might be fed and your life given God’s direction. That’s where I would suggest you start. That’ll be where I start. And, as we grow in our faith, we’ll begin to see ourselves and the world around us transform in the very kingdom of God. And, who doesn’t want that?
Are you willing to commit to prayer? I pray so. The mission of Christ in and through you and this community of faith depends upon it.
 “What Are You Committed To?” by Dr. John C. Maxwell <http://www.pipability.com/customers/104110312352999/filemanager/WHAT_ARE_YOU_COMMITTED_TO_by_John_Maxwell.pdf> Accessed October 4, 2012.
 All too often, I believe, the church promotes laxity by not providing enough opportunities for everyone to fully commit to the mission of Christ based upon their God-given gifts, talents, and resources. The church must insure that every member and constituent is provided an opportunity to use their God-given gifts, talents, and resources for the glory of God. Making sure that enough opportunity exists begins by trying to figure out what God-given gifts, talents and resources God has provided to the local church to achieve its mission.
 “Membership and United Methodists,” Cokesbury Brochure (Nashville: Cokesbury, 2010).