Sometimes I get so caught up in the business of being church I forget the Spirit actually moves in this place. I read articles about how God is acting outside the church and we need to escape our walls but sometimes I see God moving right here, in this building, in this congregation. I get so outward-focused (rightfully so, in many instances) I fail to see God’s presence in worship and in committee meetings that take place in our library or around the big table with some questionable chairs surrounding it in the Conference Room. I forget the prayers in this place actually do something.
One evening I sat with a group of people who told me how special it is to be alone in a church building. One man talked of prayer vigils in a former congregation when he’d sit alone in the sanctuary at two in the morning full of prayers as he tried to stay awake. Another woman talked of practicing the organ in the quiet of her childhood church on Saturday evenings when she was in high school. I realized I take it for granted when I practice my sermons in the empty sanctuary as the afternoon sun slants over the pews. I don’t always notice when I come in early on Sundays and walk through the stream of colors lighting up the floor from the sun shining through the stained glass windows. God is outside this building—but God is in it too.
I experienced a lot of prayer last week and I didn’t do much of the praying. Someone reminded me our fancy Lutheran scripted prayers can take the wind out of Spirit-filled prayer. The beautifully written words are wonderful and have their place—but not at the expense of spontaneous prayer (as writer Anne Lamott says, there are three essential prayers: Help, Thanks and Wow). I don’t want to snuff out in-the-moment prayer. At a church small group gathering, I heard heart-felt tear-filled prayers prayed around a friend newly diagnosed with cancer. I sat with a group of people hell-bent on moving this congregation to a new place—sometimes birth is easier—praying that God would be present in this discernment. I was lifted by the honest prayer around me as we all spoke to God filled with hope that God really hears us. Faith tells us this is so.
I found myself held up by the prayers around me. These prayers did something to me. As a pastor, I’m almost always the one to pray out loud. I don’t mind it. But when someone offers to pray for me or pray instead of me, I’m able to step back a moment and experience the power of prayer. It’s so good to remember prayer has nothing to do with education or experience or age or faith. The powerful prayers of children are a testament to its all-inclusive nature. The prayers of last week lifted me, gave me hope and inspired me to keep moving ahead knowing this church—this little building—does something to bring about the Kingdom of God. And maybe I need to start letting others pray for me (and instead of me) much more often.