This is the first of a series of six blogs covering Methodism’s understanding of the journey we covenant to take together. In our tradition we unite with the local church by vowing to pray, be present, give, serve, and faithfully witness – this is the disciple’s journey. It is a construct of a disciplined life that will share with the world the good news of God’s love shown to us through Jesus Christ. In the power of the Holy Spirit I turn this series over to God in hope and assurance that God will use it to speak into you.
God’s empowering Spirit is unleashed upon the community of God and each of us individually through the activity of prayer. This is how God confirms His will for our lives. This is how God makes known his vision for the community of faith. This is how God opens our eyes to the needs of our neighbors and the world. It is through the activity of prayer.
In June of 1927 four couples gathered together in a hall at 63rd street and Brookside Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri. They were challenged by the Reverend Dr. J. B. Swinney, the Presiding Elder of the Kansas City District of the Methodist Episcopal Church South to prayerfully consider starting a new church to reach the rapidly growing residential community south of 63rd street. In September of that same year Reverend L. M. Starkey was appointed as the full-time pastor of the newly formed Brookside Methodist Episcopal Church South. For the next 23 years this group grew and worshipped together in a building off of Gregory and Main St. But as history would record, in 1939 the Methodist Episcopal Church North and the Methodist Episcopal Church South united to become one denomination and this precipitated the need for Brookside Methodist Church to begin the process of considering its options because of their close proximity to the historic Broadway Methodist Church.
In the fall of 1940 Reverend John Guice was appointed to lead Brookside Methodist Church and he was charged with helping them envision their future. In the mid-1940’s and despite opposition, the 300+ members of the church voted to purchase a parcel of land offered to them by the well-known developer, J. C. Nichols. On Sunday, July 10, 1949 the cornerstone of St. John’s Methodist Church was laid and construction on the hall and sanctuary began. The following spring on Palm Sunday, April 2, 1950 St. John’s Methodist Church held its inaugural worship service. December of 1951 plans began for the education wing and by the mid-1950’s the education building and the Morelock Chapel were added to the physical plant of St. John’s. Over the years other improvements were added like air-conditioning, a clock tower and steeple, the 32 rank McManis pipe organ that we still use today and finally the rotunda that connects the education wing with the narthex and sanctuary.
In short the expansion of the building allowed for the expansion of programs and ministries. Men’s groups, scouting programs, musical recitals, Sunday School, youth programs, Methodist Women’s Society initiatives, missions trips and local missional efforts and in 1970 the start of a Mother’s Day Out program which still operates today.
I share this snippet of our history with you to say that while much has been accomplished in the past here at St. John’s – God is not done with us yet! Our greatest work as the people of St. John’s is not a thing of our past – the fulfillment of God’s preferred future for each of us and for St. John’s is still a thing of the future. A mighty task lies before us.
A colleague of mine is noted for saying that “God does not put his people to a mighty task without first asking them to pray.” I agree wholeheartedly. For us to realize God’s vision for out lives and our worship communities, we must be a people dedicated to the practice and discipline of prayer. Without it we will fall short of God’s preferred future. So how do we pray?
In the section of the Gospel According to Matthew that is titled “The Sermon on the Mount” Jesus takes a moment to teach about prayer. He says to his listening audience, when you pray, pray this way. As I read it and researched the prayer the thought crossed my mind – what makes a prayer effective?
It isn’t the length of the prayer. It isn’t the amount of time that you pray. It isn’t even the body posture that makes your prayer legitimate or effective. The prayer that Jesus recited was a simple, straight to the heart of the matter prayer.
In Jesus’ day the people who practiced Judaism were accustomed to praying – as a matter of fact they prayed multiple times a day. They also prayed a variety of prayers of which some of them were public and some private. They were a pious, ritualistic, and a duty bound community and sometimes they were show-offs. Jesus encouraged his followers then and now to make prayer a matter between them and God; for it to be an intimate moment where we seek God’s will and God’s activity in our lives. One commentator noted that the “Lord’s Prayer” or “Disciples Prayer” (you pick) is actually constructed from bits and pieces of other Jewish prayers. Jesus took them and created a simple prayer that:
1) acknowledges God as sovereign and to be revered
2) acknowledges God’s vision for his kingdom on earth
3) acknowledges God as sustainer, forgiver, and protector
That is what Jesus taught his disciples then. Reading different authors who have taught the discipline of prayer for modern disciples, I would like to offer to you one way for us to be focused in our prayer lives as we seek God’s will and way today.
One pattern of prayer follows the acronym ACTS. The “a” stands for adoration which orients us to first know who God is and what God wants from us. As a starting point in our prayers we express to God our adoration for his creative, sustaining, redeeming and restoring power. Personally I know that it is hard to start my prayer time with this so I often look to the Psalms where David captured the art of adoring God.
The “c” stands for confession which is the way that we face the hard truth about who we are and where we are on the disciple’s journey. Confession is the way we name the stuff that clutters our souls and gets in the way of a vibrant relationship with God. As the people in Alcoholics Anonymous put it, it is time for a “searching and fearless moral inventory.”
The “t” stands for thanksgiving and in a world where we are surrounded by cynicism, fear, anger, and just plain meanness, it can make a huge difference in your life if you are grounded in the joyousness of thanksgiving. Again a great place to find language for this part of the prayer is the Psalms; they will help you count your blessings, name them one by one, and see what God has done for you.
The last letter is “s” and it stands for supplication or what we often call intercession. This is the way that we draw near to the very real concerns of our lives, our community and the world beyond. This is the way that God invites us to do something about the injustice in the world. It is a time of sharing and receiving.
This is just one model of simple prayer that will enable you to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit so that you might seek God’s vision – the one that God wants to unleash upon you and the faith community. The real question is this – do you believe in the power of prayer and the necessity to pray?
A short story – a Methodist church prayed for years that the Lord would do something about a disreputable bar that was literally across the street. One night the bar was hit by lighting and it burnt to the ground. The bar owner promptly sued the Methodist church because he knew that the church people had been praying for the demise of his bar. Of course the church contested the lawsuit. After hearing both sides of the case the judge said these words: “I’m not sure how I’ll rule in this case, but one thing is clear. The bar owner believes in the power of prayer, and the church people don’t.”
I hope that you’ve actually seen the power of prayer in your life and that you know the value of praying daily. If you don’t, I want to invite you to try praying each day for the next week. If you’re not sure what to say follow the “ACTS” model that I described above. It’s important that all of us be praying – God has a mighty task for us to accomplish – a task that still lies ahead of us!
Blessings for the journey.