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Friday, April 1, 2016

When God Beckons

Tonight I was tired. I'd been sick all week with a head cold, the second I've managed to catch since I came here, and not taking time to rest properly meant it was dragging out. Supper in the cafeteria was sub-par and there was a fly sitting on the lettuce which made me wonder where else it had landed. My room needed to be cleaned and organized which I hadn't done (again, because I was sick). For a moment, I thought of skipping vespers and staying in my room to scroll through Facebook, write to my family, and then go to bed, but in the next moment I knew I couldn't. If I skipped tonight, then I would skip next week and soon it would become a regular habit. To make it even more difficult, the theme was prayer.

Those who know me understand my phobia of public prayer. I spent 17 years at a self-supporting institution where unfortunately select people in administration or students misapplied public prayer. It became a lengthy time of personal confession, time to gossip about people who need our prayers, or something expected as an all-night vigil. I have no patience for the prayers of the Pharisees and sadly, there were many of those. I do not want to negate the sincere prayers; I am simply presenting a fact that has influenced my hesitation to participate in public prayer. However, I knew I needed to go to vespers so off I went.

It is never a poor decision to spend time with God; a lesson I learned again this evening. As I allowed the Holy Spirit's presence, the fellowship of friends and students, and the reflective mood to permeate my consciousness, I sensed a peace and contentment in my heart. We prayed for a neighbour, we prayed for family who didn't know God, we prayed for the students, and we prayed for the Holy Spirit. Each time we changed subject, we also found new prayer partners which made it nice because we could pray with several people. Prayers were kept short and we sang praise songs inbetween that were relevant to the theme of who we'd just prayed for.

I prayed for the young lady who served me at the fruit cocktail shop down the hill. I prayed for the lights I see at night, each one of the myriad representing an individual or a family precious to God. I prayed for the seven students in my class and I prayed for the Holy Spirit's comfort to be close when we are lonely or sad. And as I prayed with different people, I began to realize that public prayer has a purpose and a place.

Public prayer is not intended to humiliate or shame someone. It is not necessary to pray loud and long, as if to impress others with the eloquence of words. The moderator this evening said, it is not necessary to create a shopping list of prayer requests. Public prayer, rather, is intended to unite those who are praying. I love to listen when I'm in a room full of people praying and marvel at how many prayers are earnestly ascending to heaven right at that moment. When we pray together for something or someone, it is as if we are mentally pulling the burden together. We exert more effort and support each other in affirming the prayer before God.

Public prayer is also designed to remind us that we are not alone in our prayers. I pray to God and I pray often. Whether before I eat, when I'm frustrated or lonely, or if I'm thankful, I'm sharing my heart with God through silent prayer. To pray with someone, though, is a gift because it shows me that others are praying too. You may not know I'm praying if it's silent, but when we speak our requests, they become reality in a more tangible form. This encourages me as I hear someone else praying for my request as I pray for theirs.

Finally, public prayer helps direct us to a solemnity before God. When one person prays up front, it is easy to get distracted by your cell phone, the wiggly kid in front of you, or the fact that 7 minutes into the prayer your knees are starting to ache. Praying together out loud requires concentration and being present in the act of prayer. It is participatory rather than something you observe.

As I listen to the other person's prayers, I also develop a deeper understanding of how to pray and the seriousness of prayer. Simple short prayers, such as God, please bless this food, have meaning but their impact may be less than a heartfelt prayer that invites or pleads with God for wisdom and guidance. As a teenager, I had my standard phrases down pat so that when I was called upon to pray, which was often because I was the pastor's kid, I could rattle off a beautifully-sounding prayer without much thought. Now, as an adult, participating in public prayer helps me develop a richer prayer life as I observe someone else praying in sincerity.

When God calls, whether it is to vespers, public prayer, or another occasion to spend time with Him, it is never a mistake to say yes. I am thankful I went to vespers tonight and I am thankful that the theme was public prayer. I want to become more intentional about praying in a way that encourages spiritual growth and tonight was a wonderful opportunity to do so.

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