From the Rev. Dr. John Throop, President, US Council, AFP
In the Lenten season, a key spiritual discipline is prayer. Indeed, in the Episcopal Church lectionary (the table of Scripture readings), the appointed Gospel is Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. In verses 5 and 6, we read that Jesus said, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Notice two points in these verses. First, Jesus teaches about when we pray, not if we pray. Prayer is an essential practice for a disciple. Secondly, Jesus urges personal or private prayer rather than public prayer. As disciples, we are to focus on an intimate conversation with God as we live through each day. The meaningfulness and sincerity of public prayer is rooted in a personal prayer life. A meaningful and dynamic prayer life opens a way for the Holy Spirit to refresh us for the work God has given each of us to do. We then discover the blessing of a disciplined prayer life: resilience.
We need resilience for spiritual strength and growth. Any prayer warrior can testify to the importance of resilience in the past year. We’ve had to face into the destructive power of the COVID-19 virus. Most of us—likely all of us—have known family, friends, co-workers, and fellow church members who have been infected by this virus. Others have lost their jobs or their businesses due to great restrictions around personal contact. Children have been out of school. Firefighters, paramedics, and police officers have put their lives at risk rushing infected people to the hospital. Doctors, nurses, and health care workers have been strained to the limits in many places. Even if you and I have not been personally affected by this virus, we might feel worn thin from the intensity of prayerfulness in this crisis.
At the same time, here in the United States, we have prayed through an election season that has revealed deep divisions, sometimes even to painful conflict within families. Praying through the election (and events afterwards) has demanded much of those who pray. The evens at the Capitol on January 6th required prayerful vigilance that may have caused spiritual exhaustion. Then, we may have called on for prayer for the specific needs of family members and friends, or issues and questions within our own lives.
For the prayerful disciple, all of these circumstances, large and small, have demanded much of us. The apostle Paul put into perspective the need for perseverance in prayer. He also presented the promise of prayer and the secret of resilience in prayer. “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:1-5)
The prayers of the disciple are grounded in hope—and hope is a key part of resilient prayer. Some people, whether churchgoers or who are disconnected Christians have asked me to pray for a need that they face. They ask me to pray for them, but they don’t ask me to pray with them. Perhaps they don’t know how to pray, or what to seek in prayer. Or they begin with a sense of doubt, unsure whether prayer will “work” in their circumstance. As a disciple of Jesus, I tell these folks that I will pray for ad with them, trusting God for guidance and direction. I pray that, whatever the circumstance, they will persevere in trusting God for the best outcome. As they learn how to pray in such a way, their perseverance produces character—the character of Christ. Then they find hope, which never disappoints. In hope, they find resilience—not just to find a way through, but to find a new way deeper into the presence of Christ. Fir Christ is the source of all resilience and grace.
A key learning in Lent is that no matter how challenging and sometimes exhausting it is to persist in prayer and to persevere in hope, n o matter how weary we may become, the Holy Spirit will power, grace into our hearts, minds, and souls. We will find resilience. And we will want to move into prayer again with deeper hope and greater strength. In prayerfulness, we find resilience. Amen.