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Reflection July 28, 2019
"More On Prayer" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) This is a famous and vital teaching from our brother Paul. It’s a passage with which I began our “Summer of Prayer” sermons. I wish to add further “prayer” reflections in this week’s Advance.
Prayer, as we know, is an attempt to come closer to God and to allow God greater access to ourselves. Our prayer is meant to magnify our deepest longings and desires. This is what Paul is getting at when he speaks about the Spirit interceding for us “with sighs too deep for words.”
This means that the Spirit searches our hearts, searches our souls, and knows not only what we pray for but knows well the place from which our prayer arises. As the Boston theologian Harvey Egan notes: “…the human person is an immense longing, a living prayer, quenched only when he or she has surrendered fully to … mystery’s all embracing spirit of love.”
In other words, if we wish to grow in our prayer life and our spiritual life, we must become more attuned to the deepest longings of our hearts and souls. This is vitally important because when we listen to the deepest longings of our hearts and souls we’re actually listening to the whispers of God within us. We arrive at the place where God whispers to us when we pay attention to our longings.
As Egan writes: “All persons experience the profound difference between what they want from life and what life actually gives them. Even those who have intelligence, prestige, power, wealth, reputation, health, and a loving family – those who seem to have it all - experience a profound emptiness at times.”
He continues: “The hunger of the heart is revealed in the mistaken belief that the thing or person that will fulfill us totally is just around the corner. We are always on the lookout for the thing or person we believe will quench our immense longing … (But) The heart is a lonely hunter because it is restless until it rests in God.”
For us to listen well to our deepest longings, we must befriend silence. We must be willing to sit in silence, the silence of God that I talked about already, as well as the silence of self-surrender.
Yet most of us, myself certainly included, find it hard to befriend silence. The pace of our lives as well as our addiction to noise in general and our televisions in particular lead us away from silence. Silence demands self-surrender – a giving up of control – this is very hard for many of us. Yet, as I recently preached, I believe and have come to know how silence is always pregnant with possibilities.
For us to pray, we must seek God in both love and awe. In a metaphorical way, as well as a real way, when we pray we open our hearts completely to God. As the psalmist entreats in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
In prayer, we uncover our hearts to God. In prayer, we speak to God our most heartfelt, most intimate words. In prayer, we lay our hearts bare, open for God’s loving inspection. This is what we seek in prayer: to have our hearts examined by the One who made our hearts; to have our souls examined by the One who made our souls.
And an amazing thing happens when we allow this heart-inspection: God’s Spirit comes and takes up residence in our hearts. Our hearts become home to God’s Holy Spirit. I preached recently that the Holy Spirit of the Living God becomes a “squatter” in our hearts.
As the German theologian Karl Rahner phrases it in The Need and Blessing of Prayer: “The Spirit of God has been given into our hearts. (The Spirit) searches and fills the depths of our hearts. (The Spirit) has been poured torrentially into us … the first fruit and pledge of eternal life…the life in us through which we have escaped death …the eternal youth…of our hearts…the laughter that starts to sound quietly behind our weeping…(our) freedom…the buoyant bliss of our soul.”
The Holy Spirit of the Holy God lives in us because of what Jesus did and does through his life, death, resurrection and abiding presence with us. In other words, the Holy Spirit is God living within each and every one of us. And we should remember that the Holy Spirit is fully, wholly, God.
All we need do is say our “yes” of faith to our God living deep within us, deeply intermingled with our own humanity. What a gift and grace this intermingling is! Whenever we turn our thoughts to God, whenever we turn our hearts to God, the Holy Spirit of the Living God intercedes for us, helps us find the words we wish to speak to God.
And when our words fail, as they inevitably must, the Holy Spirit prays for us. We cannot hear this prayer uttered by the Holy Spirit deep in our hearts, but it happens nonetheless.
We can surely speak our words in prayer. We can certainly tell God how much we love God. I try never to let a day go by without telling God of my love. Yet more is needed. That’s where the Spirit enters!
We can be assured by Rahner’s assertion: “One thing is certain, whoever wants to love God already loves (God)…(A person) wouldn’t be able to (love God) if God’s grace had not already touched (that person’s) heart...We can at least let love grow, can help remove the hindrances so that it is able to penetrate (us) more and more.”
There’s a word we used to use when two people began a romantic journey. The word is “courting” – a word describing the process of two people opening themselves to the promise and possibility of love. Let me write here a truth that needs to be written on every heart: God is constantly courting us all our days.
God has been courting us since before we were born. God’s courtship will never cease either here or in eternity. What amazing good news for all of us! What we’re called to do in prayer is respond to God’s courtship. That seems simple enough! Either we encourage God’s subtle attempts to woo us or we resist the divine courtship. It’s really simple! But sometimes our hearts can become dull to the divine courting. We can take it for granted. Our task in our lives as well as in our prayer is to keep our hearts and our souls open to God’s courtship.
People who are courting often write love letters to their beloved. God’s love letter to us is the Bible. And the most important part of that great love letter for those of us who are Christians consists of the Gospels.
The Gospels tell us everything we need to know about the abundant, awesome, love God has for us. The Gospels reveal the culmination of God’s courtship of humanity in the life, death, resurrection and abiding presence of Jesus Christ.
Whenever we read the Gospels, whenever we read the Bible, we’re fervently engaged in prayer. I’m continually delighted that so many come to our twice-monthly Bible Study, currently exploring the Gospel of Luke. (These Bible Studies are also live-streamed through my Facebook account and are then placed on our church Facebook page.)
When we pray, we seek to immerse ourselves, to bathe ourselves, in the love God has for each of us and for all creation. So how are we to respond to this divine love? We respond to this divine love by loving!
The secret of prayer isn’t surprising. The secret of prayer is to allow ourselves to be loved by the One who made us. The secret of prayer is to love everyone and everything we encounter. The secret of prayer is to allow the Holy Spirit of the Living God to do what the Spirit does within us and among us which is to love and be loved.
As the passage from Romans concludes: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Good news, for us all! As Rahner asserts: “A greater grace than the love of God has never been granted to any human…It comprises our true life; it is our happiness, the peace of our restless heart, the content of our eternity.” It is what prayer is all about! Pray always!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister