Monday, September 17, 2018

A Church Strong – Prayer

               Every year in August it begins to happen in so many households—back to the routines! School starts, and the summer fun is all over. Back to bed-times, back to wake-up times, back to those rhythms, routines and rituals. Meals have to have be planned, laundry coordinated, chores decided, wake-up times programmed into the phones, who takes who where...and all of these things come back into focus.

               Sure, there are those homes and households that decide to skip something as seemingly petty and pesky as rituals and habits...and those households experience a greater degree of disorder, stress, frustration, and chaos!

               Those homes that embrace rhythms and rituals are often stronger, happier and less stressful.

               Admiral Wm. McRaven wrote a wonderful little book entitled, Make Your Bed—Little Things That Can Change Your Life...and Maybe the World (2017). A few years early, he delivered the commencement address at the University of Texas, and in that address, he stressed the importance of simply making your bed. That bit about making the bed got on YouTube and went viral—well worth the watch (beginning at 4:44). In a nutshell, the idea goes like this: you get up and you make your bed, you’ve started your day completing a task; you’ve done one thing, done it well...and that changes everything—you move on to the next task.

               If we make a habit of making our beds, then we begin a habit of completing tasks. Making our beds impacts our days. A week of good days impacts a month. A month of completion affects a year. You see, those simple, little, seemingly insignificant habits can in fact have a huge impact on our lives.

               Our congregation is a household, a family, a home. We have habits and rituals that make our household stronger, happier, and less stressful as well. We find them in the United Methodist Hymnal right there in the back of pew in front of you...just flip over to page 48. Let’s read this together:

            Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service?

Some 26 years ago, my wife and I stood before the congregation of Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church just off the road heading north out of Cleveland, Georgia, and we responded to this question: We will.

               What we may not have fully understood then and what many, perhaps, don’t fully understand now is that these are to be habits, holy habits of our lives. We don’t pray one time, show-up one time, give one-time and use our talents one time. These are not to be occasional things. These are to be the common practice of Methodist Christians.

               The first one there is prayer. We pray for our church—every day.

               Sue Nilson Kibbey has studied what leads to the revitalization of churches. In the Ohio conference where she serves, she has looked at all kinds of churches to see what matters most for vitality and renewal and life. Is it the size of the congregation? No. Is it the financial strength of the church? No. Is it based on whether it’s a city church or country church? No. The single overwhelming factor that predicted health, vitality and renewal was whether or not the church was a praying church—more specifically, if the people of the congregation were praying for the church.

               She has written books about her discoveries—Ultimate Reliance introduces the idea of “breakthrough prayer.” Do we pray believing that God wants to do good work through us? Do we ask God to break into our lives and into our congregation with new dreams and visions, hopes and plans?

               II Chronicles 7:11-16 reminds us that if we pray, God will heal the land. Matthew 9:33-38 shows Jesus calling his disciples to ask God to send our workers to reach the hurting and the lost. And, Hebrews 4:14-16 challenges us to pray with boldness and confidence.

               How are we praying for our congregation? How are praying for this gathering of people that loves and accepts us, that encourages us in our walk of faith, that plants songs in our hearts and minds that carry us through the day, with whom we hear God’s Word proclaimed, where many of us first encountered God—this church, an instrument through which God changes lives, homes, communities...and the world?

               Do you believe that prayer makes a difference? Do you believe that prayer works? Do you want a ‘Church Strong’? When we make prayer a holy habit in our lives, when we begin or end each day in prayer, we are opening our lives and congregation to the change that God wants to bring. To help you begin this holy habit, we have a small card with a simple prayer—you may set this on your bed-side table, your kitchen table, keep in your Bible...I have mine in my planner—a booklet I open every day. Put it somewhere to remind you to pray for our church so we can be a ‘Church Strong.’  And, you know what? As we pray, we become stronger in the faith. We win, the church wins, God wins, the world wins...when we pray for one another.

Break-Through Prayer
Pray for our families, for ourselves, for those in need,
for the sick and for the searching.
Pray for our Church, our Congregation...that God might breakthrough with new visions, new dreams, new directions, new ministries, new opportunities, and that we would joyfully step forward in faith.
Pray in faith—put shoes on the prayers.
Prayer Changes Everything!

“...Approach the Throne of Grace with Confidence....”
Heb. 4:16


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