Dear Yates Family –
If you do not make it all the way to the end of this letter, I begin with an invitation. Join us for an online prayer service on Maundy Thursday evening, April 9, at 7:00 PM. To participate, follow this link https://zoom.us/j/250745439.
As I write today, I pray. I am praying for you. I am praying for our church. I am praying for our neighborhood, our nation and our world. As time at home has passed, I’ve found a personal connection to the wise counsel we often share with one another in times of trouble: “Prayer is not the action of last resort.”
When hard times come, I will often ask those in crisis, “What can I do to help? What can we do to help?” As often as not, the response is, “Just pray.” Almost immediately comes the follow-up, “I don’t mean just pray. The best thing you can do is pray.” Sometimes it’s only in crisis that the truth of this statement comes clear.
The whole world groans as we try to mitigate the spread of an unseen danger named SARS-CoV-2. I am hearing about your friends and family members who are fighting COVID-19. I think we’re quickly approaching that time when everyone personally knows and cares for someone coping with the infection. In my quietest moments, I know statistics say that it will visit my household and our household of faith, too. I have too many feelings about that awareness to include in this letter today.
We ask, “What can we do?” We know the answer now. Stay at home. Wear a mask when you must go out (a great instruction page on making a good mask for protecting others when you go out is found here https://www.deaconess.com/How-to-make-a-Face-Mask). That is what we do. I have slowly, grudgingly accepted my calling to stay at home, just like so many of you. But there is more important work for us to do as a church at home. We pray.
Time in isolation has felt paradoxical for me. I thought, rather naively, that that being given extra time at home would make ready space for higher things like prayer, but not so! Some of you may also be seeing how the extra time is eaten up with many necessary things. For me, it’s an extra measure of housework, tending to the boys in their home-schooling, shepherding church life at a distance while an entirely different ministry is being called out of Jeanell at Glenaire. I know our household is not special or unique. Everyone is having to make choices, tend to parents or loved ones, continue on in their jobs and accommodate the special needs of their households. I see you! Hang in there.
I also want to call the church to a conscientious stewardship of this time that prioritizes a renewed focus on prayer. Yes, just like before, we are faced with the choice of what to do with our time. Simply being at home does not guarantee that we will move into the ministry that matters most for times like this. We still feel so busy, so preoccupied, just like we felt before the pandemic.
The Bible has a story that presents that same dilemma at the home of two sisters named Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. You probably know how it goes. Jesus has come to visit, and Martha busies herself with the necessary work of providing hospitality to their guest. She resents her sister’s willingness to set down the work to be at Jesus’ feet. She asks him to intercede. Jesus’ response resonates across time to us: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (vv. 41-42) What is that one necessary thing? If you had any doubts, Luke makes it plain. Turn the page to chapter 11. The next thing Luke tells is that Jesus begins teaching about prayer, including the introduction of the Lord’s Prayer.
Prayer is the foundational practice of Christian disciples. As Richard Foster tells us in his book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, “The primary purpose of prayer is to bring us into such a life of communion with the Father that, by the power of the Spirit, we are increasingly conformed to the image of the Son.” It is about sustaining the transformational relationship that energizes us to be people with good news, even in times like this. But like all relationships, it takes time. And, as with all relationships that endure, it will be tested by experience and unforeseen hardship. We are in just such a time.
I think we will discover the significance of prayer as we pray. Be encouraged, your job is not to devise the perfect technique or formula, but to abide in God’s presence so that your life comes to rest and trust more and more in God’s love for you and the world. Even a spiritual giant like the apostle Paul knew his prayer limits. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought,” he told the Roman church. But then he affirms, “that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” You are not alone in prayer, even when you pray in solitude.
I don’t write this letter to teach you how to pray. However, I do call you to tend to prayer in every way you can. This is Holy Week, when we remember how God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, sparing nothing that eternal life might be secured to all who trust in him. This prayer by Cheryl Lawrie that framed and focused my own prayer life this week. I leave it with you:
And now we lay down the palm branches.
And with them we lay down our belief
that there is another way for you to be God.
As the last echo of the final alleluia fades,
so does our hope that this journey can end
in any other way.
The week stretches ahead
Whether we walk with all faith or none
we look towards the cross,
knowing it is both the most human
and most divine of all journeys
travel the road with courage,
and with the uneasy peace that is the gift of faith
into this holiest of weeks. Amen.
Grace & Peace,