Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Praying the Parts
I love sitting with other leaders, elders, deacons, members and hearing you pray. As a pastor, I am always happy and willing to pray. However, when someone else is willing to pray, I am proud. When members and leaders are willing to pray, that is a sign this church is not too dependent on her pastors. When members and leaders pray in church, they take the risk of showing the world what is on your heart. That vulnerability is a sign of trust, this community can be trusted with the innermost thoughts and feelings of the person praying. Preachers have to take that risk and embody that vulnerability every time we teach, preach, or pray. I LOVE it when you the members and friends of the church embody that same vulnerability.
At the same time, I make a mental note when I find myself in a gathering at church and individuals are not willing to pray. I take note when individuals are willing to participate in a prayer but struggle to craft language to God, and instead seem to be talking to the rest of us instead of to God. I take note when a person does participate but regurgitates habitual almost-memorized prayer language of someone else, instead of crafting more personal and authentic language.
Today, in our pre-prayer devotional, I'd like to invite you into a routine of prayer, a practice of praying that will hopefully build your trust and courage to pray with the rest of us out loud the next time we are gathered.
In the beginning, God... Say out loud who you think and feel God is. Try NOT to use the big memorized church words. You know, avoid the "omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient." Instead, say honest words about God you are feeling and thinking right now. Say them out loud so you can hear yourself say them... "God, you feel so far away... God, I catch a whisper of you sometimes, and it turns my heads, then you're gone... God, I felt your giggle when my granddaughter was giggling..." Start your prayer trying to say something about God you think or feel right now.
In the beginning was the WORD... Okay, you've got God's attention. Now, what else do you want to say. Everything is welcome here. God can handle it if you are sad, scared, angry, or tired. God will receive it if you are excited, anxious, nervous, elated. God will listen if you are reflective, confident, doubting, rattled. Use words to try and express the reality of your life and the lives around you. Yeah, sure, God already knows. Still, make words of what you are seeing and feeling. When God got started with everything, God spoke words, and things came into being. Clarity and structure arose from chaos. When we dare speak words about our own lives, light shines, darks waters recede and dry land rises. We discover God's new creation.
And the Word became flesh... Now, ask God for action. What actions do you want God to embody into the situations your words just described? What actions are you willing to embody for God, with God's help? If the words of your prayer could come alive and change things for the better, what would they do? Sometimes, people ask for little things. I get it. We don't like coming across as needy or as beggars. But here's the thing... Is God great and generous? Is God loving and powerful and amazing and compassionate? Did God conquer death? Pray for actions (and the courage to act) as if the God you are speaking to is the God of an empty tomb. Pray boldly. Ask for the big change, the big miracles. Imagine them, and say them out loud to God and yourself. Like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., dare to say out loud to God and yourself, "I have a dream..."
Okay, you did it. You said out loud your own personal thoughts and feelings of God. You dared put into words what you are seeing, feeling, and experiencing. Then you imagined and said out loud ways God could act, or put you into action. That wasn't so bad, was it? No lightning bolts even! And I bet, you feel a bit lighter, more heard and understood, more connected to your creator and the lover of the universe.
Try making a habit of talking frankly to God about how you are experiencing God lately, then honestly about what you see and feel in the word, and then boldly expressing the actions you want to see from God or be for God.
Next time we are gathered and looking for someone to pray, do that with us. Let us hear your unique way of seeing God, seeing the world, and wanting things to get better.
When every member of this congregation is willing and able to pray this authentically, Caitlan and I will let you hit us in the face with pies! (This is obviously a test to see who reads all the way to the end.)
Rev. Joel Tolbert