Shaped into something new

Pastoral Messages | June 27, 2024

“I wait for you, O Lord; my soul waits;

in your word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord

more than those who keep watch for the morning.”

I envy monks and nuns for what seems like their mastery of prayer. I’ve been to a few monasteries for retreats, and each time the monks slip so easily into prayer while I struggle to quiet my mind, center my soul, or even find the right page in the prayer book. Prayer has easily been the biggest struggle in my spiritual life. It’s not that I don’t pray; I do, constantly. It’s that I think I’m not particularly good at it. I’m sure if I asked the monks and nuns I’ve met they’d say the same thing about themselves.

In middle school, our Sunday school teacher taught us that there was a particular formula we had to follow when we prayed to God. Each prayer needed to consist of four parts: invocation (calling upon the name of the Lord), thanksgivings for all that God has given us and/or me, intercessions for the needs of others, and then, and only then, supplications or requests for my own needs or wants. That was key: God wouldn’t hear my prayer unless I prayed for other people before I prayed for myself.

These days, I rely on the Psalms to guide me on how to pray. These ancient prayers cover the whole gamut of human emotion, and, importantly, do the exact opposite of what my Sunday school teacher drilled into me. They don’t follow a rigid formula. In fact, the psalmist often seems totally focused on themselves and whatever feeling they have toward God in that moment. There’s ranting and raving. There’s singing with joy. There are tears of heartbreak. But, it’s all about the psalmist and their relationship with God.

What I am discovering in my prayers these days is that by being a little bit selfish, by focusing my prayers and attention towards my own relationship with the Lord, they end up shaping me to be selfless. I have time set aside dedicated for prayer, and there are moments in my day where I stop to say a brief prayer. Some of that time is focused on my hopes, frustrations, or anxieties. But because I tend to those things with God, I find so much more of my attention ends up praying for others. For new babies, for engagements, for recent unemployment, for frustrated parents and frustrated children, for cancer diagnoses, for breakups, for deaths, and even just that some people will have a better day than yesterday.

Jesus tells us that we ought to find a quiet, secluded room so that we might pray in secret to God. I wonder if part of the secret of prayer life is that God is building up a strong relationship with us so that we worry less about ourselves and turn our cares toward others. I’m not so sure a formula is as important as just taking the time to pray and be changed. I don’t think we need to live in a monastery either to be good at prayer. Perhaps being good at it isn’t the point. Maybe it’s so that we are shaped into something new through the experience.

“O Israel, wait for the Lord,

for with the Lord there is steadfast love.

with the Lord there is plenteous redemption.”

Scripture quotations from Psalms 130:5-7 ELW

Mac Mullins, pastor in residency

2 Comments on “Shaped into something new”

  • Julia Bryant

    June 28, 2024 at 3:00 pm

    I like your last sentence, shaped into something new from the experience of just talking to the Lord Jesus Christ. It does work for me.

  • Marcia Willi

    June 27, 2024 at 2:27 pm

    Thanks for the reminder that prayer doesn’t have to be “ perfection, Pastor Mac

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