“When Jesus prayed, he was conscious that, in his prayer, he met the Presence, and this consciousness was far more important and significant than the answering of his prayer. It is for this reason primarily that God was for Jesus the answer to all the issues and the problems of life. When I, with all my mind and heart, truly seek God and give myself in prayer, I, too, meet His Presence, and then I know for myself that Jesus was right.” – Howard Thurman
Not many of us are familiar with the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman. He was an African American theologian and mystic who served as spiritual advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the American civil rights movement of the 1960s. Dr. Thurman played a vital role in developing peaceful resistance as an alternative to violence in the struggle to overturn racial injustice in America. (To learn more about this fascinating man, join us at the August 18th adult education classes taught by Paul Evenson.)
Reflect on his statement. Let it wash over you. What does it say to you? Does it change the way you think about prayer?
So many of us resort to vending machine prayer. Drop in some change; press the button; pull out a candy bar. Our prayer life is our personal list of needs and wants and grievances, and it diminishes God to the role of Divine Butler.
Dr. Thurman tries to shake us out of that kind of moribund prayer life, introducing us to a vibrant, life-giving way of engaging with God. And, as it did for him and other civil rights leaders in the Sixties, it empowers us to go out and do the tough stuff our faith calls us to.
As always, Jesus provides the model.
But notice that Jesus chooses different settings for prayer – alone (see Matthew 26:39, 42) and among others
(Matthew 26:26). He shows us that this prayerful
engagement with God and entering into God’s presence is both solitary and communal. It may be about me, but, more importantly, it’s about us.
Weekend worship at church offers communal prayer on steroids as Christ’s disciples come together to give themselves in prayer to God and to one another. How life changing is that! We begin to understand that worship is more than a sermon, songs, receiving the Eucharist and then visiting with friends over a cup of coffee
afterwards. It’s a way in which we join our hearts with one another and with the Almighty.
The result is life- and culture-changing, as it was for those civil rights leaders.
Talking with a friend a few weeks ago he observed, “When the sermon isn’t good, you’ve wasted a good Sunday morning.” I pointed out there’s a reason why that hour is called “worship,” not “sermon.” And praying together is a vital part of that worship.
In the communion of prayer we become emboldened to become Christ’s ambassadors to a world that badly needs more Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20). Prayer feeds the spark that the Holy Spirit plants within us. And not even police batons, fire hoses and attack dogs can stop those who have
become ignited by that spark.
But it takes a church – a community that joins hearts in prayer, song, reflection and, yes, a good sermon or two – to embolden us to be Kingdom bringers.
Some say the church is dying. But some things are worth saving.
© Ed Klodt, 2019
(Views from the Pews is written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension)