Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Being Proactive

The next four weeks we are going to be talking about stewardship.
We are going to be talking about giving a portion of our lives over to God.
But I want to start this morning with a word of clarification.
Stewardship is not just about how we give 10% of our time, talent, and treasure over to God it is about how we give 100% of our whole life to God.
Stewardship is about how we use all of ourselves in all of our life to serve God.
Having said that we also acknowledge that there are certain times and places that we give of ourselves over to God in a very focused and intentional way.
We do it not because it is ordered of us, not because we think we should, but because it is better for us spiritually to give a specific portion of our time, talent, and treasure to God.

Today we are going to be talking about giving a portion of our day to God in prayer.
And I want to start that discussion by confessing to you that this is part of my spiritual life that suffers the most.
I of course pray.
I pray all the time.
I pray when I hear that someone in our congregation is struggling with illness or some other hardship.
I pray before I have to have a difficult conversation with someone.
I pray before an important meeting, or during an important meeting.
But what I don’t do enough is have a disciplined time in my day that is devoted to spending time with God in prayer.
I don’t take five or ten minutes every morning to pray for the day.
I know lots of people that do this.
And I am always in awe of them.
But why does it even matter?
Who cares if I have some kind of prayer routine?
Isn’t prayer best when it is spontaneous and heartfelt?
Isn’t prayer most authentic when it is done in the heat of battle?
Doesn’t scripture tell us to, “Pray without ceasing”?
Why would we need to take time out of our busy schedules to stop for prayer?

This is usually my excuse for not having a more disciplined prayer life.
I am too busy.
I pray all the time anyway.
I pray before Bible study every Tuesday morning with my colleagues, I pray every Wednesday night with some of you before Bible study, I pray before every meeting, I pray whenever I visit someone, I pray the Lord’s prayer at the end of any meeting of the congregation, I pray before many meetings in the community, I pray every Sunday here with all of you.
Why would I add another time of prayer?

I have noticed something about my prayer life.
It is mostly reactionary.
I pray as a reaction to things.
Someone gets cancer and I turn to God in prayer.
Someone dies and I ask God for strength.
I lost my patience with my kids and I pray for forgiveness.
I am walking down the street on a beautiful day I give thanks to God for God’s creation.
I am always praying in reaction to things around me.

This morning Jesus suggests that our prayers are more than reactions to the world falling apart.
They are also preparation for when the world will fall apart.
“Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place.”
Prayer is not only our supposed to be reactionary they are also meant to be proactive.
Prayer is meant to build us up and give us strength for the things that we will face in life.

What would it mean to your life to pray when you first woke up in the morning?
Instead of merely reacting to the events of the day you could have a few moments with God to ask for strength before having to deal with something difficult at work?
You could take a few minutes to ask for God to give you patience with your kids.
Perhaps you might not get so mad.
Perhaps, instead of just reacting to what is going on around you, you are actively seeking to live in a different way.
You can be proactive as you anticipate the hard things you will face that day and ask God for the strength to handle those things with power, love, and grace.

Jesus knows that his followers are going to face some difficult times.
He knows that you and I are going to have to deal with all sorts of crazy events in our life and in the world.
And Jesus also knows that there is no way we will get through those things without God.
We need to have that relationship with God that gives us strength that keeps our faith alive.
And one way to do that is to have some time each day that we designate for having a conversation with God.
Just like any relationship in our life needs to be nurtured through spending time on it, so does our relationship with God.
Prayer is the way that we talk to God.
It is the way we let God know about our fears, our struggles, our failures, and it is how we gain strength.

Advent is about waiting for the time when Jesus will come in the manager, it is also waiting in anticipation for when Jesus will come again, and finally it is a call for us today to wait and be on watch for the signs of the fruit, and to watch for the coming of summer, of new life.
Even in the midst of winter’s first snow fall, we wait even now for new life.
Even now as the days are darker we wait for the sun to return.
As we sing this morning, “In darkest night his coming shall be, when all the world is despairing.”
Jesus uses as his example a fig tree.
Perhaps it is a good example of our prayer life.
In the midst of our own dying, of the dying of the world around us we urgently seek new life.
In prayer that promise of new life is gently whispered again and again into our ears.
Look at the fig tree which today is dying and dry, but tomorrow bears leaves and fruit to eat.
This we know is the very circle of God.
Dying never leads to death, only the miraculous birth of new things.

This is what daily prayer gives to us a proactive way to look for the signs of the fig tree.
Setting aside time to pray gives us a proactive way to wait for God’s promises to be realized in our lives and in the world around us.
Over the Thanksgiving I saw the movie Lincoln.
In it Lincoln tells a story about a man whose parrot every morning announces, “Today the world will end”.
The man finally shoots the bird, and, Lincoln says, the prophecy came true that day for the parrot.
The end of the world can be any day for any of us.
It can come in the devastation we feel in any one of number of life events.
But are we ready.
What I suspect is that my life would benefit from regular disciplined everyday set aside time to pray, because it would prepare me for those times better.
It would make me more proactive towards being ready for the end.
In this way Jesus is doing us a favor by giving us spiritual advice that is meant to strength our faith and our relationship with God.

What I am going to add this advent is that structured time with God.
I hope you will hold me accountable.
Ask me next time you see me if I had taken my five minutes to pray.
I hope that all of you will also prepare yourself this advent for the coming of Jesus by giving a portion of your day to pray.
(If you already do this I am in awe of you already.)

In so doing may we all become proactive in seeing the ways that God is birthing new things into our lives.
Through prayer we see that God is actively at work in our daily dying and rising to new life.
And through prayer we see the promise of God’s love, power, and grace.

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