Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Power of Persistence

by Rev. Laura Barclay

Most people think ministers have a solid prayer life. When I envisioned my call to divinity school, I couldn’t help but picture cloistered little monkish students squirreled away in their rooms or libraries juggling thick books on the history of the church, stopping their study every so often because they are overwhelmed with the urge to pray. Divinity school, as many of you know, is nothing like that. The image of monkish little cloisters was destroyed by the reality of theological arguments and all night study sessions fueled by copious amounts of coffee and cookies with the fear of failure hanging thick overhead. Many of my former classmates are now ministers, and I know we are just like most people--busy, running about, answering emails, talking on our smart phones, trying to figure out how to squeeze in a pastoral visit when we are also supposed to attend a committee meeting. Trying, like all of us, not to let anything slip through the cracks.

It’s hard to get all the chatter out of our heads when we pray. We are busy people, with spouses and children, work and deadlines, school and soccer practice, and all sorts of crazy and new-fangled types of social media like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn, and so on, with countless requests to join one more thing that will take up our time.

This past Lent, I tried to take 15 minutes a day and listen to a guided prayer meditation produced by Benedictine monks in England, but I kept missing days. Once I missed because of a CHANGE meeting where we discussed the creation of disaster response teams from churches, negotiating with banks to put foreclosed properties on the market, and pushing forward on education reform. Another day I missed because I was helping organize racial reconciliation and social justice workshops at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina General Assembly. One night I missed because I fell asleep early. I had dinner with friends visiting from out of town another time. Once, I went on a long walk and just forgot. I’m not very good at being still when I’m supposed to.

Jesus tells us in Luke 11:5-8, part of the lectionary text for this week, that we must be persistent in our prayer. He gives an example of someone who has unexpected company and goes next door to ask for food, but his neighbor won’t answer the door. Jesus encourages him in verse 8 to keep knocking, for, “even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” This persistence passage tells me that prayer isn’t always a passive activity, but an active response to make something happen. Like the anecdote about the praying man who was drowning and passed up two ships and a helicopter because he thought God would save him and still died, we know we should use what God gives us to make change. The real blessing occurs when we do this not only for ourselves, but for the good of others. We know from many of Jesus’ parables that “other,” “neighbor” and “friend” stretch our mindset for our day-to-day frame of reference for church relationships (think of The Good Samaritan story in Luke 10, where Jesus gives a parable about a total stranger in need as an example of “neighbor”).

Everyone has talents and gifts through which he or she can persevere in a life lived as prayer. What gift, talent, or resource do you have to offer your community? I encourage you to pray about it, and then act on it persistently.

Let us challenge ourselves to always answer that knocking door, knowing that in doing so we are living into our calling as children of God, disciples of Christ, and agents of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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