Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. Praise God for a beautiful day with plenty sunshine and fresh air. Those are precious free gifts without working hard to gain. We work so hard to earn what is man made, and neglect to enjoy what is God-made. The more stressful we are in earning the worldly things made by men, the less likely we will appreciate the natural and supernatural things of God. Prayer is one of those supernatural things that God has designed for us to enjoy but we always neglect or don’t even care…
St. Pius X said: “The Psalms teach mankind, especially those vowed to a life of worship, how God is to be praised.” Too much is at stake here – the maturity of the word of God, the integrity of pastoral ministry, the health of worship – to permit pastors to pick and choose a curriculum of prayer as they are more or less inclined. We can as well permit a physician to make up his medicines from the herbs and weeds in his backyard as allow a pastor to learn prayer from his or her own subjectivities. Prayer must not be fabricated out of emotional fragments or professional duties. Uninstructed and untrained, our prayers are something learned by tourists out of a foreign language phrase book: we give thanks at meals, repent of the grosser sins, bless the Rotary picnic, and ask for occasional guidance. Did we think prayer was merely a specialized and incidental language to get by on during those moments when we happened to pass through a few miles of religious country? But our entire lives are involved. We need fluency in the language of the country we live in. It is not enough merely to take notes on it for putting together the weekly report, which is a requirement of our job. We are required to be graduate students in this comprehensive grammar that provides all the parts of speech and complexities of syntax for ‘answering speech.”
Praying the Psalms, we find the fragments of soul and body, our own and all those with whom we have to do, spoken into adoration and love and faith. The Psalms, of course, are no special preserve of pastors. All who pray, Christians and Jews alike, find their praying “voice” in them – but for pastors, who are in a special place of responsibility to pray, for others and to teach them to pray, it is a carelessness of duty to be ignorant or negligent in them. St. Ambrose, using a different metaphor, called the Psalms “a sort of gymnasium for the use of all souls, a sort of stadium of virtue, where different sorts of exercise are set out before him, from which he can choose the best suited to train him to win his crown.”
I totally agree with Eugene Peterson that we pastors are always invited to say a “little prayer” for meal or special occasion in church or in someone’s home. After a while, prayer becomes some kind of religious pronouncement preserved for clergy or religious leaders in church. It becomes like some religious practice than an intimate conversation with God; our prayer cannot be intimate if it is public and short. In another word, we expect prayer to be short and shallow. It is just a means to invoke spiritual blessings or protection for the unknown future – it becomes a superstition or spiritual manipulation. I hate to describe prayer in such a manner but unfortunately it is how prayer is being conceived in general.
To me, the practice of writing “prayer journal” can help to alter this kind of phenomenon. By spending time to pray with your pen or keyboard, you need to take time to think and write down what you heard and what you wanted to respond to God. Yes. It is time consuming. For contemporary busy people, prayer journal is the least thing they want to do. They prefer short and precise devotional reading like the Daily Bread (this devotional is definitely too LONG), so that they can finish their devotional ritual in less than 5 minutes, and then close with a "little" prayer. There is nothing wrong with Daily Bread, if it helps to “jump start” your meditation and prayer. But if Daily Bread is a means to give you a “security feeling” of being connected with God or paying your due for spiritual protection for the rest of your day, then it totally defeats the purpose of reading it.
Sweet hour of prayer describes an intimate communion with God. It is a time to draw close to your Almighty God and seek to know Him more each day. The more you know God, the more you are aware of His work in your lives and in your environment. The more you are aware of His work around you, the more you become focus in His purpose for you and your priority in life. God expects you to be faithful not only serving in church, but at home and in your workplace as well. Your life will be overwhelmed with joy and serenity as you spend time to pray…
Love you in responding to His purpose,