The following is a guest post from John Bryant, a participant in Group 2 of Spirited Life. He is the pastor at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Misenheimer, NC. His blog can be found here: http://johntbryant.wordpress.com/
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“Pray without ceasing.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:17
I’ve never considered myself a very accomplished pray-er. I have difficulty finding the words I want to say, especially when I’m praying extemporaneously. It’s one reason I found such peace in services of Morning Prayer while at Duke; I never needed my own words but could lean on the words of others.
Needless to say, Paul’s admonition has always filled me with dread. Without ceasing? Really? It’s hard enough already! That verse creates such a high standard that I can never live up to. I can’t constantly be in a state of prayer can I? What does it mean when I fail? The pressure mounted to the point that I figured it was better not to even try. Pray at meal times, in church, upon request, and call that good enough.
So imagine my surprise when a trinket ended up providing me with an answer. I bought this stone on my recent trip to the Holy Land. We were sailing on the Sea of Galilee (See above: John and his wife Kathy on the Sea of Galilee), which was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip. We visited a number of churches where tradition states some event happened (and maybe it did), but the Sea is the Sea. On this body of water, the disciples fished and Jesus traveled and taught. There’s no changing that. So I bought this stone, over-priced as it certainly was, as a reminder of the trip and how meaningful that moment was to me.
I thought about simply carrying the stone in my pocket, but I was afraid of losing it if it caught on something while I was retrieving my keys or phone. Instead, since it came with a cord, I decided to wear it around my neck. I leave it under my shirt because I don’t like to be flashy about these sorts of things and it had a tendency to knock into things whenever I leaned over.
I’m still not used to wearing it, so I find myself adjusting or at least noticing it several times during the day. It finally occurred to me that this was a great reminder to pray.
In the mornings, when I put it around my neck, I pause to say the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. In the evenings, when I take it off, I pray over my day using a practice called the Daily Examen. And during the day, whenever I adjust or notice it, I pray a simple breath prayer. Breath prayers are simple, one sentence prayers that can be said in the time it takes to breath in and out. I typically pray something like “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This pattern is by no means perfect and I still have a lot of growth before me in my personal prayer life. Yet having something as simple as a small stone has given me cues that remind me of how important prayer is.
What helps you to pray without ceasing?
Click for Rev. Bryant’s post, The Practice of Paying Attention.