Deepen Discipleship through Prayer
By The Rev. Herman R. Yoos, III, Bishop
Throughout our Rostered Leaders and Council visits this spring, we will be sharing YouTube videos of Mark Tidsworth from his book, SHIFT: Three Big Moves for the 21st Century Church. The first big shift is to move away from a membership culture in a voluntary organization to a discipleship culture in a committed community of believers who encourage one another in deepening their faith practices.
Although there are many Christ centered faith practices that help us grow in our daily discipleship, the one that I believe undergirds all other disciplines is that of prayer.
There is an old spiritual hymn sung for years in the African-American community that resonates across all Christian expressions. Its refrain goes, “It’s me, it’s me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer . . . not my brother nor my sister but it’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”
Have you ever noticed while reading the gospels just how frequently Jesus leaves the disciples and crowds behind in order to give his undivided attention to his Father? It was like Jesus understood so well that the only way to stay centered in God’s mission of healing, teaching, and making disciples was to first stay centered in his life of prayer.
Martin Luther once said, “The more difficult my day ahead appears to be, the longer I need to spend time in prayer before I meet those challenges.” C.S. Lewis makes this need for prayer even clearer when he writes, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I am helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God; it changes me.”
I remember about 13 years ago when I was going through what seemed like a drought or famine in my prayer life. A friend invited me to hear Trappist Monk, Father Thomas Keating, who taught a seminar on Centering Prayer. Several things he said challenged me. “Silence is God’s first language. If you never allow yourself to be still and silent in God’s presence, then it will be difficult to see and experience what God is up to in your everyday life.” He also said, “In our stressed out and anxious world, practicing 20 minutes of silence with God each day is a minimum amount of time needed for mental, emotional and spiritual health.”
I wasn’t convinced that this monk who lived most of his life in a monastery could possibly know anything about the stresses and pressures I dealt with each week as a parish pastor. Yet for some reason, I decided to try incorporating 20 minutes of silence right after my morning scripture reading. At first it was mostly frustrating because so many thoughts would interfere with my silence (which still happens quite often). It didn’t feel like anything significant was happening. Gradually, however, I began to notice that this silence somehow opened me up to seeing more glimpses of the Holy Spirit at work in my everyday life and through my relationships with others. Now after 13 years, this practice of 20 minutes in silence each day has become a lifeline for me that I seldom miss.
What about you? What is your prayer discipline? Is there a regular time and place that you intentionally build into your routine to pay attention to God? This season of Lent is a good time for reflecting on one’s spiritual discipline and especially one’s prayer life. Lent provides an opportunity to renew and strengthen whatever prayer practices you have been using or to begin a new prayer habit. I believe that the most significant way congregations can begin to shift from a membership culture to a discipleship culture is by a deepening and renewing of one’s prayer life.
Father Thomas Merton makes this same observation when he writes, “The real purpose of prayer is the deepening of personal realization in love the awareness of God. If our prayer is the expression of a deep and grace-inspired desire for newness of life – and not the mere blind attachment to what has always been familiar and safe – God will act in us and through us to renew the Church by preparing in prayer, what we cannot yet imagine or understand.”
Can you imagine for a moment what would happen if together in every congregation we began to shift our emphasis off of being members of a voluntary organization and began to live each day as disciples who draw their strength from an ever deepening source of prayer that opens us up to God’s loving purposes?
This article has been reprinted from March-April 2016 edition of The South Carolina Lutheran magazine. Subscriptions to the magazine are $10.00 for 6 issues annually. To subscribe send your name, address and check made payable to the “South Carolina Synod, ELCA” to 1003 Richland Street, Columbia, SC 29201.