A message about you, your Creator, and finding relationship with God in the midst of a busy, busy world. Read on, or listen, below.
Good morning! Today we’re closing out a June sermon series on prayer, Pastor Frank gave the first two messages earlier this month. Now my childhood memories aren’t nearly as good as his, so I can’t recite favorite prayers from growing up. Can’t do that in English and definitely can’t recite prayers like he can in German. But Kathi and I have two small children, Hannah is six and Graham is two. You might have seen them running around on some Sundays out on the patio. There’s something about raising kids that brings prayer back into the center of life, at least for us, in new and wonderful ways.
These days, our family prayers are most frequent, and most animated over dinner; Hannah just loves to pray, she asks to all the time. We recorded her giving a prayer the other day, and it sounded a little like this:
Dear God, thank you for a wonderful day, God,
and I hope you have a nice day, God,
and I really am excited for summer camp tomorrow,
and I hope everyone else has a good day too. Amen!
And at that point, after Hannah has prayed, our entire family raises our hands to the heavens and shout, together, AMEN! You should hear Graham, man that two-year-old can really belt it out, such fun. AMEN!
Did you hear how Hannah approaches prayer? First she gives thanks to God. Then she expresses hope, that God would have a nice day. Next she shares excitement for the future – summer camp was right on the horizon. She wanted God to know how happy she was about that. And she closes with a prayer for everyone, that they, too, would have a good day. A good day just like she just had, and that she hoped to have again.
Hearing my daughter, who just finished kindergarten, throw down a prayer like that, it melts a daddy’s heart.
When it’s Graham’s turn, and again he’s just a toddler, prayer takes on a different form. His go-to prayer these days is the Superman prayer. Have any of you heard that one? This one is a song, sung to the Superman theme, of course, and goes something like this…
Thank you Goddddddd,
For giving us foooooodddddd,
Thank you Goddddddd,
For giving us foooooodddddd,
And our daaiiillllyyyy bread,
That we maaaaaayyyy be fed
Thank you God!
For giving us foooooooooood.
Isn’t that great? In it we give thanks to God for giving us sustenance, for food, for daily bread. It’s a simple thing, this prayer, and for a two-year-old it’s an early reminder that there is more to our existence than what is in front of us. It’s an intro into the very nature of God; that God cares for us, and meets our most basic needs.
Later at night, when the crazy fun of dinnertime has waned, our prayers take a different, quieter form. At her birth our oldest child, Hannah, was gifted this little Precious Moments angel. Most every night for the past six years, after bedtime stories are complete, Kathi or I will press the belly button of the angel with Hannah, which gets the angle talking and recite this prayer together –
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
May angels watch me through the night,
And keep me in their blessed sight.
It’s an important ritual for Hannah at this point. And if we forget to say the prayer she’ll remind us, making sure we’ve located the angel and pressed that button so we can pray together. There is no getting to sleep for her without that prayer. This, too, is a simple prayer, a request for the Lord to keep us safe as we sleep, under the watch of angels until the new day dawns. The budding faith of children, in all its simplicity, is a beautiful thing; Kathi and I continue to be blessed to see, appreciate and enjoy our kids as they express faith like a child.
When prayer gets tough
But what happens to our prayer life as we age? When life gets busier? More complicated? When responsibilities increase? When we worry about more than how much fun we’ll have the next day of summer camp? As we grow and develop into adults, our prayer life too needs to grow, and evolve, from the faith of a child into a mature, adult faith. But that’s easier said than done.
And then there’s our scripture reading from today, from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. In chapter 5, beginning with verse 16 Paul gives all sorts of excellent advice to the early Christian community, encouraging us to always be joyful. And to be thankful in all circumstances. And to hold on to what is good. But there’s a really tough one, in this text, at least for me. Never stop praying.
Never stop praying? You might be thinking to yourself, but Pastor Ryan, how does one even do that? I have a spouse, and kids, a job, and friends, you know, I’m busy. I have a life. And that certainly is the reality for most of us. Think about all the various moments in life. The notion of constant prayer, in the middle of everything seems, well, impossible. For example, when it’s Sunday afternoon, and the Chicago Bears are playing the Green Bay Packers, and da Bears score the winning touchdown as time expires, well, my mind, by default, is all about football. And not so much about prayer.
If your intern pastor is honest, really honest, he’ll tell you prayer isn’t exactly one of his super strong spiritual gifts. As part of the process to get ordained there are a lot of steps, you’re asked to do a lot of things. One of the areas our Synod – that’s the local governing body for Lutheran churches – asked me to work on a couple years ago was my piety. That’s a loaded word, piety, I had to look it up, it means “reverence for God or devout fulfillment of religious obligations.”
I do like talking about beer a lot – and that’s a quick plug for the next Bar Church on Friday, July 15 at the Kelsey Theater, doors open at 6pm – so maybe with all this beer talk the synod figured, well, this kid needs to work on his piety, heh.
To do that I went and spoke to a spiritual director last year for some insight. “So my synod said I need to work on piety,” I told her. “What do you recommend?” She responded with a question of her own, “well, how do you pray?” “I don’t view prayer the way a lot of people do,” I replied. “Prayer, for me, is more of a constant conversation with God, trying to open myself up to what God is calling me to see, to do, throughout the day.” My spiritual director didn’t know quite what to make of that at the time, and we agreed to meet again and revisit our talk of piety and prayer.
When we got together next, she greeted me excitedly, saying, “I really thought about what you said, and have something that I’d like you to try.”
What she shared with me is the Daily Examen, which is an evening reflection on your day. St. Ignatius, who founded the Jesuit order of Catholics about 500 years ago noticed that the Christians of his day, just like people today, just like you and I, were busy. And not able to pray often throughout the day. So he developed and encouraged those in his community to add structured prayer to their daily routine.
What I’d like to do is lead you through this Daily Examen, as an example of a spiritual exercise, right here, this morning. The Examen takes 10-15 minutes, not too much time – we’ll be a bit quicker this morning. The examen serves as a prayerful reflection on the day that has just closed. And helps prepare you for a peaceful night’s sleep, and gets you ready for the new day that is to come.
The first step in the examen is to find a quiet place. In your home that may be your favorite chair, or with legs folded, sitting on a yoga mat. Personally I have a sofa that is wonderful to use for this. You want to be comfortable, but not too comfortable. If you find yourself snoring, or end up with drool on your face, well, it might be best to find a new spot.
But here, in the sanctuary our options are a bit less flexible than at home, so we’ll go through the exercise right here in your seat. The examine is typically done at night, tho since we’re still early in the day reflect on yesterday and anything that has happened this morning. After describing each part of the prayer we’ll have some silence, about 15 seconds for you to reflect. I know, this may seem odd, and that’s ok. We’re practicing something new. So take a deep breath and relax.
If you could, bow your head, and close your eyes as we begin. This is just you and God, together, nothing else.
First, identify a moment of gratitude. Name one moment you are grateful for today. Remember how you felt in that moment. Notice those feelings and simply be grateful for them, knowing that all gifts come from God.
Next, ask for freedom. We long for freedom from the things that often trip us up, distract us, or bias our judgements. Pray that the Holy Spirit give you vision to be free, truly free, of those things. Pray this so we can see events in our life as they are, not how we’d like them to be. Or even how we experience them to be.
Then, review your day. Try to recall the events of this day, almost as if you were watching a movie. What happened when you woke up, visited with friends, or traveled to church? Who did you encounter? Notice your feelings – positive and negative, throughout the day. Reflect on these significant moments. These are the events God is trying to tell you more about. Examine these significant moments more deeply.
Finally, talk with God. Tell God anything that is on your mind. You might express gratitude. Or ask for forgiveness. Or look for God’s help for a particular trouble. This is your time to be with God, who already knows your needs. Our prayer exist to change us, not to change God. This is our moment to be proactive in seeing who God most wants us to be. The examen then closes with a familiar prayer; some people like to say the Lord ’s Prayer to close out the exercise. You may now open your eyes.
You’ll find, if you incorporate this prayer into your daily evening routine, that, over time, you’ll begin to see the presence of God more often. And see God in the big moments of your day, the small moments, and everything in between. My experience has been this awareness, of God’s presence, will begin to change how you see yourself, how you see others, how you see our communities, and how you see God active in the world around us.
Perhaps that is why this daily examen is also called the prayer for Finding God in All Things. This takes us back to Paul’s lofty, seemingly impossible, challenge that we never stop praying. But if we see God, truly see God, present with us, at all times in our day, perhaps this ideal, to never stop praying, is not so impossible. For when God is in all things, when we notice God all around us, and stay in constant conversation with our divine Creator, our very life becomes the prayer. Amen.