Lord, teach us to pray
"Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." — Philippians 4:6-8 (The Message)
By BISHOP ROBERT HAYES JR.
When the Council of Bishops met at Lake Junaluska, N.C., in November, the group suggested every annual and central conference of The United Methodist Church engage in specific prayer for the upcoming General Conference, which will be in Portland, Ore., on May 10-20.
And so, beginning Jan. 1, the conferences around the world have each been adopting one day to pray in the 131-day countdown.
The prayer vigil date for the Oklahoma Conference is scheduled for Wednesday, March 2, and the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC) will pray on Thursday, March 3.
In essence, for 48 hours our two conferences will be the center of prayer for more than 11 million Methodists, in such diverse places as Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Georgia, Alaska, Sierra Leone, , Russia, Hungary, Liberia, and more.
The sense of being connected to such a movement of the Spirit is truly humbling.
For those of you unfamiliar with the General Conference: It is the only entity that sets the policies that govern our denomination, and those rules then are published in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. The General Conference meets once every four years.
As you might imagine, when nearly 1,000 elected delegates from around the world gather to determine the systems and procedures that shape how we live together as the people called United Methodists, there are disagreements and, at times, heated debate.
Already people are extremely anxious about those 10 days in Portland, wondering what the outcome will be.
There is great need for prayer.
And so today I choose to give my attention to how we pray, rather than focus on issues that seem to be prominent.
Prayer has been described in many ways. It opens the channels by which God’s restoring grace flows to us. It is humankind waiting to receive as God stands waiting to give, and it also is humankind waiting to give as God stands ready to receive.
For me, prayer brings contact and cooperation with God, who wills our wholeness.
One writer said, "Prayer is the practice of the presence of God."
We are sometimes like the early disciples. We misunderstand three vital ingredients of prayer:
1) what it is to pray;
2) what to pray for; and
3) what we should say.
When the disciples heard Jesus praying, no doubt it sounded as though two friends were talking. Wouldn’t you want to know how to do that?
Often we heap up demands and requests to God, looking for immediate answers. We spend less time praying and more time worrying about things over which we have little or no control.
Eugene Peterson’s translation of Philippians 4:6 provides good advice for all of us. Let our petitions and praises shape our many worries into prayers.
To help make the General Conference prayer vigil a meaningful and significant event in our annual conference, I’ve enlisted the services of Ginger Howl, a retired deacon in Oklahoma, who has God-given talent for putting into words what our hearts feel. This liturgy can be used that Wednesday in small study groups and choir rehearsals. Use it individually, as a devotion to greet the morning or as evening prayer and praise before going to bed.
Will you truly let go of what causes you anxiety or fear by giving it over to God through prayer? Or will you continue to carry it yourself, waiting to hear what you want God to say?
J. Arthur Rank, a wealthy English industrialist of the 1930s, had an unusual way of dealing with worry. He invented what he called his "Wednesday Worry Box."
Throughout a week, Rank put all of his doubts and troubles into that box. On Wednesdays, when he opened his box and reviewed its contents, he found the majority of them had been solved by God.
As the Oklahoma Conference’s designated day approaches for the prayer vigil, I’ve made up my mind that I won’t allow General Conference issues to take away the sense of wholeness, the peace that comes over me because of my praying. I will not give in to apprehension or fear about the meeting or potential outcomes.
Instead, this prayer vigil renews my reasons to talk with God far beyond March 2, incorporating into my prayer life any of my worries and praising God for restoring me every day.
Let’s all be in prayer together, giving praise for the wonderful things that happen when Christ displaces worry at the center of our lives.