Last fall, when we had our stewardship emphasis, we had a very strict program that we were supposed to follow. There were letters that were supposed to go out, and specific sermons to be preached, and temples talks every Sunday. There was a dinner for leaders and a celebration dinner for the congregation afterwards. We did all these things. There was also supposed to be a prayer vigil, which I thought was an awesome idea.
I forgot all about it.
I myself was praying fervently. I am sure that everyone on the stewardship team was praying fervently. I am pretty sure many people in the congregation were praying fervently. And everything did come out all right. But if I had to do it all again, I would not forget the prayer vigil.
Prayer was part of the stewardship strategy, which sounds like a weird thing to say. After all, prayer is not magic. It is not a magic formula for having all of our dreams come true, whether personal, congregational or global. It's not something we do to get our way. It's also not for "sounding religious" in front of God or other people. I think about the prophets, who sometimes told the people that God "hated" their solemn assemblies.
Yet prayer is necessary, but for different reasons.
I have confessed before and I will confess again that I don't feel like I am in the top ten of pastors who pray. I pray, and I frequently stumble, and I am not known for long prayers either. I pray in my own words, and sometimes I pray using the words of prayers written long before I was born. Sometimes the honest prayers of my own heart are just the thing I need to come before God. Sometimes, when I use those prayers written a long time ago by someone else, I discover that there were things I needed to pray about, but I didn't even know it.
That's the Holy Spirit for you.
Prayer is necessary, and sometimes we do change God's mind. But more often, prayer is necessary, because, for one thing, it can change our mind. When we pray, when we ask God for help, when we confess, when we give thanks, we are first of all acknowledging a power and a source and an imagination much greater than our own.
Prayer is a strategy for confessing the reality of our dead ends and black holes. It is a strategy for when we see that there are no options left, and it is a strategy for when we are sure we have all the answers, because God is sure to let us know (somehow) that we don't. Prayer is a strategy for opening us up to God's dreams and plans, to God's imagination. It is a strategy for listening to God, and acknowledging that God is in the world, in our lives, in the room, even and especially when we don't see God.