July 25, 2023
• Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross
Parched Week 4: An Unforced Rhythm of Prayer
Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
Hello everyone, if I have not met you yet, my name is Mindie Moore and I am the Campus Pastor for our St. Luke’s Midtown location. And I am so excited to be with my friends at the North Indy campus and online today, and to spend another week in our Parched series with you. If it’s your first time here, or you’ve been away a few weeks, I want to make sure you know what this series is all about. It’s summer and just like when we’re outside and we get thirsty from the heat and sun, sometimes our spiritual lives get a little bit parched as well. We can feel a little disconnected from God, like we NEED something to quench our thirst. So this whole month, we’ve been looking at spiritual practices that can help us fill our cups and nourish our souls. And we’re trying to give you really practical things that you can take with you. So as we get ready to look at this week’s practice, let’s pray together.
This week, we are looking at the spiritual practice of (SLIDE) PRAYER. We do it every week in church, maybe you do it regularly in your personal life, but prayer is simply talking to and listening to God. And to start us out today, I want you to go ahead and take out your sermon notes page- or if you’re at home, you just grab something to write with, but I want you to write down this question (SLIDE)
What role does prayer play in your life?
What role does prayer play in your life? You know, for me, this is one of those practices that has really changed and evolved throughout my life and as my faith has grown and changed. And probably one of the most memorable experiences I had with prayer came back in 2010. I was living in Chicago and interning at a Puerto Rican Assemblies of God church. And part of my internship was working in the coffee shop that the church owned. And you know, the intern always gets the very best jobs to do, so one day, I was volunteered to drive my boss downtown so we could file an updated piece of paperwork with the city.
Well, it was a Monday, mid-morning, and if you’ve ever driven in downtown Chicago, that is not the MOST ideal time to be going into the heart of the business part of the city. And, if you’ve ever driven in downtown Chicago, you also know that in that part of town, parking is...not plentiful.
So we are driving around the government building, just circling and circling and there are NO spots. Even several blocks out, everything is full. So I am frustrated, it is cold out, I’m trying to figure out if I can just drop her off and come back later and my boss looks at me and says, “no. There’s another way. Let’s pray about this. Let’s ask the Lord to give us a parking spot.”
Now. I was not sure about this strategy. I mean, there’s a lot happening in a city like Chicago that you could pray for and I was truthfully a little skeptical that God was looking at us, in my honda civic, circling the same 4 block area just waiting for us to
ask for help... but again, it was midday on a Monday in downtown Chicago, so I figured this probably couldn't hurt.
And so she starts praying, “Lord, we are doing your work and we need some help. Make a way, clear a space, help us find parking this morning so we can turn in this form and continue to minister to your people, in Jesus name!” And while she’s praying, I am still driving and I kid you not- we turned the corner and THERE WAS A SPOT. And after I had successfully parallel parked, which was what probably needed the most prayer in this story, she turned to me with this big smile on her face and said, “the Lord is good!”
And for my boss at that church, that was just the role that prayer played in her life. It was a resource, it was a constant, I mean we prayed about EVERYTHING together. But that’s a really specific way to experience prayer. And so I’m curious for you- what role does prayer play in your life? I know for some of us, it’s like that- it's a constant dialogue with God. For others, prayer is really confusing and kind of intimidating and maybe we’re not sure if that really was God answering a prayer for a parking spot or if someone’s meter ran out. And for some of us...if we’re honest? Prayer is just not part of the picture. We wouldn’t even know where to start, we wouldn’t even know what to say to God, maybe we’ve been disappointed by prayer in the past...and so we just don’t do it.
But wherever you are with prayer, whatever role it plays in your life, when we’re talking about being spiritually parched, I
would say that (SLIDE) it’s pretty difficult, if not impossible to keep our cups full without having a regular practice of communicating with God.
And so today, I want us to look at a section of Scripture out of the book of Matthew, where we see Jesus show what prayer can look like in our everyday lives. And in this part of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is really facing what’s kind of a parched moment for himself. He’s having to deal the fact that he is out there and he is working hard- he is healing people, he’s preaching, he’s trying to do the things that God has called him to do and even with all that work, even with all that faithfulness, he keeps encountering people who don’t care. And so he’s in this moment of disappointment and anger, we even see Jesus go on a rant about all these people and places who have rejected him. And it would be easy, it would probably be pretty relatable, for him to just kind of sulk away and give up. But that’s not what he does. In fact, in verse 25, something happens, something changes in his attitude. And the text very simply tells us that (SLIDE) “Jesus broke into prayer.”
And if you read this prayer that Jesus says in this moment, you’ll see that it’s not a long prayer, it's not overly complicated or anything like that, it’s just a moment for Jesus to stop and reconnect with God.
And you know, we need these kinds of examples of what it means to pray because the truth is, especially if we’re someone who feels intimidated by prayer or like we don’t know what to
do, sometimes we make prayer way more complicated than it needs to be.
We kind of make prayer like one of those single use kitchen gadgets. You know, the ones that are supposed to make your life so much easier...but they actually feel like they take a lot more effort than just doing the thing the simplest way. Most of them replace easy, quick utensils like knives and they’re marketed to make you think- you NEED this special thing in order to do an everyday task. Like this grape slicer (SLIDE)- which tells us that apparently we’ve been doing a simple task like taking out a knife and slicing grapes...we’ve been doing it wrong. Instead, in order to properly slice grapes, we must load them into a tube, press a button, and hope they don’t end up all mushy at the bottom.
And its silly, but we absolutely do this with prayer. We think- I can’t just talk to God! It’s got to be more involved than that! And then we start to believe that we have to add a bunch of theological jargon, we have to know exactly what to say or we have to go to a certain special location, and for some of us that makes having a real, powerful prayer life pretty impossible. And if you do those things, that’s great. But you don’t have to. And if that’s what’s getting in the way of having a regular habit of communicating with God for you, I want to encourage you to just let those things go. Because at its core, it’s not about any of that. It’s not about bells and whistles and big theological words,
at the end of the day- (SLIDE) prayer is simply about relationship.
It’s about being able to bring every single part of ourselves to God- the good, the bad, the angry, the disappointed, the joyful, the curious, the confused- ALL OF IT! It’s all fair game here. We get to talk to God, whenever we want, and just tell the truth about ourselves and our lives and what’s going on in our world.
And when we do that, when we pray like that- that does something to us. It changes things. Now, it doesn't always change the circumstances- this is kind of the mystery of how prayer works. And even in this text, we see that tension. All those people who have rejected Jesus...we don’t see them change. But what DOES change, is Jesus’ spirit in that moment. He prays and reconnects and has a new feeling of peace. The way he is experiencing his world has changed because he took that time to bring it to God and just tell the truth.
This moment of prayer that Jesus has really reminds me of what it’s like to read through the Psalms. And If you want to make prayer a bigger part of your spiritual life, if you want to find words when you don’t have any, all you have to do is open up your Bible to the book of Psalms, right to the middle, and GO. Because there are prayers for all of it in there. You’re going to find celebration and grief and anger- life is happening in these pages and the thing that is so amazing here is that as life happens, the writers just keep talking to God.
They just keep leaning into that relationship.
And that’s what we can do with God through this practice of prayer. In the moments we feel the least like ourselves or the most disconnected from what we hope the world will look like, we get to lean into a relationship with the one who loves us the most.
And I know the question that can come up for a lot of us when we talk about this is- well, what if it’s been a really long time? Like...I haven’t talked to God in weeks or even years and it feels AWKWARD to try to pick up and start again- or maybe even to try to pray for the first time. How do we do that?
If that’s you, I want you to think about it like one of those relationships that kind of works even if you haven’t seen the person or talked to them in a long time. Do you have one of those? For me it’s one of my cousins- we grew up together and she was more like a sibling. And so we have YEARS of history- she's known me since we were like this (SLIDE).
And so I love her SO much...but right now, she is FAR AWAY. She lives in California and I haven’t seen her in person in almost 2 years. And when we talk, it’s always these short texts or stories about our kids- we don’t get to sit down and have coffee every other week or anything regular like that.
But here’s what I know about this relationship- she’s coming here in a few weeks to visit, and when she’s here...we’re going to pick right back up. It WON’T be awkward. Because there is love and trust and a relationship that can stand the test of space and time.
And if you have one of those relationships, you know what that’s like. You know how safe those feel and how important they are and I want you to know that that’s how it is with God. God is ALWAYS ready to pick back up with us. Even if it’s been a long time. Even if you’ve been far away or silent or angry, God never gets tired of us coming back. God never says it’s been too long or we didn’t do enough to stay connected. God is READY to be with us.
Jesus calls this kind of connection to God, this ability to connect with God in prayer at any time, in any situation, Jesus calls that an unforced rhythm of grace. It's the chance to come to God whenever we can and to believe the truth that (SLIDE) even if we feel distant from God, God is never distant from us.
God is there. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it or even if we feel like sometimes we’re praying into a silent void and we don’t know what its doing, even then! GOD IS WITH US. Even if we have a lot of doubt about how prayer works, GOD IS WITH US. Even if we aren’t sure what to say or how to say it, GOD IS WITH US.
God is with us. And prayer reminds us of that.
Sarah Bessey says in the introduction to the book A Rhythm of Prayer: “when it comes to prayer, we might mistakenly believe that if we can’t pray the way we used to or the way we were taught, somehow that means that we can’t or don’t pray anymore, period.
You still get to pray. Prayer is still for you. You still get to cry out to God, you still get to yell, weep, praise, and sit in the silence until you sink down into the Love of God that has always been holding you whether you knew it or not.”
God’s love is there for us to be experienced. Every single day, no matter what. And when Jesus says “walk with me and work with me...keep company with me,” this is the point. Jesus doesn’t say get your life and your belief together and then we can talk. He just says spend some time with me, and watch how it changes you and it changes the world you live in.
And I’ll say this one more time, because this is the number one reason that people tell me they don’t feel like they can pray- it doesn’t have to be intimidating or complicated. You do not have to be anyone but exactly who you are, where you are, living the in the exact moment you find yourself in, in order to talk to God. Prayer is for you, it is for me, it is for all of us.
One of my professors in seminary shared with us her favorite prayer practice, that really helped her keep coming to God in prayer and experiencing this unforced rhythm of grace, even though the world around her wasn’t set up for it.
She lived in the Los Angeles neighborhood of (SLIDE) McArthur Park. And at the time, this was the most densely populated neighborhood west of the Mississippi river. And it was a chaotic place. It was known for high crime, gang activity, traffic, but it was also a place of a lot of amazing art and life and cultures all coming together to create this really vibrant neighborhood.
And she and her husband had lived in this community for a couple decades and she shared with us that in such a busy, populated urban place, it was really hard to find moments of peace and quiet and connecting with God through prayer just wasn’t easy.
So what she started doing was really simple, but it completely changed her prayer life. She started taking walks around her neighborhood, letting it be busy and loud, but while she walked, she would say this prayer: “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.” This very simple prayer, Over and over again she would breathe in, and pray those words. She would breathe out, and pray those words. And not only did this practice change her ability to find some peace and quiet in her neighborhood but it changed the way that she experienced her actual neighbors. She started to see more beauty and less chaos. And maybe most importantly, she really started to see the presence of Jesus in every single person she encountered.
Because prayer is a relationship...and it’s a relationship that has the power to change other relationships. It has the power to change the way we connect to God, to each other, and to the things happening in the world.
And so I want to invite you to pray this prayer that my professor would pray with, I want to invite you to pray this with me as we close. Maybe this could be a tool for you to create a
regular, unforced rhythm of prayer, and there are some other ways to try this on the back of your sermon notes insert.
Now, I really do think this prayer is best while on the move, but since most of you right now AREN’T on the move, we’ll kind of do it our own way right now, having a moment of centering prayer right where we are. You can close your eyes if that’s helpful, and let these words intersect with whatever situations, people, places you’re holding in your heart today.
“Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.”
PRAY TO CLOSE