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Prayer: Oxygen for the Soul

A candle goes out when it is snuffed because it lacks oxygen. In like manner, prayer is the oxygen for the soul, said the Rev. Dr. Tom Albin, dean of the Upper Room Chapel in Nashville, TN.

Dr. Albin was kickoff speaker at a well-attended weekend prayer conference Oct. 16-17 at Lexington UMC.  “In all the gospels,” he noted,  “the disciples only asked Jesus to teach them one thing, and that was how to pray. ¨ ¨“We need to free ourselves of the bad theology of prayer,” Dr. Albin urged the audience, “Suppose I stop talking now, and announce that for the next 30 minutes we are going to pray?  Some of you will think, ‘great,’ but others will think, ‘What will I do for the other 29 minutes?’”

That’s all right, he said, because we are at different places in our prayer life.

Get Rid of the Guilt – If you’re dissatisfied with your prayer life, he said, don’t condemn yourself.  “Out of six billion people on the planet, you have a unique fingerprint. You are created in God’s image, so could it be that you have a spirit print?” he asked.

“Prayer practices change as we mature. You should outgrow your prayer practices. Ask God to help you to learn to pray in a new way,” Albin said.

And don’t fall for the lie that you’re not worthy to pray, he added.  “The enemy of your soul will do everything possible to put the light (of prayer) out.” Albin reminded the audience of John Wesley’s words:   “In Christ we gain more than in Adam we lost.”

Know Who You Are – When you know you’re loved by God, being with God in prayer is a completely different experience, Dr. Albin said.  “We want to be in conversation with someone who loves us.”

People who pray effectively know what Jesus knew, and Jesus knew He was God’s beloved Son.  “You’ll never enjoy your prayer life until you hear God say to you, ‘You are my beloved son/daughter.’

Prayer Is Action
– Also, we’ve got to get over thinking that if we’re praying, we’re not doing anything, Albin said.  He quoted author Daniel Wolpert: “A life with God is a life in which the rhythms of silence and listening alternate with the rhythms of sharing and service.”
The old way of contrasting prayer versus action is bad theology, he said.  Jesus’ ministry was rooted and grounded in love and prayer.

Prayer or Magic? – The difference between prayer and magic, he said, is that all true prayer begins in the heart of God. A magic prayer is a human attempt to manipulate the Deity.
Before praying, he said, try being silent for a few minutes, listening to God. Then, whatever comes to mind, lift it back to God in prayer. A sincere desire is also an authentic prayer, he added. You don’t have to know the exact words to say, just lift the desire to God.

A Church Transformed By Prayer

Unless you pray about it, it ain’t gonna happen.

That’s the Rev. Jeff Kersey’s take and, indeed, it’s happening at his church, Mount Horeb UMC in Lexington. Folks at Mt. Horeb have heavily invested in prayer, and the church has grown from 250 to 2,600 members.

“Prayer is the catalyst,” he told prayer conference attendees.  “I’ve seen it happen so much now that I’m convinced it’s not how well we pray, it’s that we pray.  The Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf.”

In a prayer-driven church, people sense the presence of Christ, even if they don’t know Him, Kersey said. “When I call our visitors, their most frequent comment is, ‘I felt something when I walked in the door.’  We can’t manufacture that. That’s what happened in the early church.”

Kersey said Mount Horeb wanted to get its people praying more intentionally in the services, so they started an altar ministry. Then, once the people began to see the results of prayer, they got more and more excited.
Kersey smiled as he told about the time his then four-year-old son came to the altar to pray with him. When he asked the boy why he came, he replied, “Dad, nobody came, so I came.”

But momentum built. Today, he said, “people get up from all over the sanctuary to come during the pastoral prayer time. They come because they believe something is going to happen at that time. They come to be prayed for, and prayed with. They can lift their hands and a prayer usher will come alongside to pray briefly but sincerely with them.

“It doesn’t take extra time; by the end of the pastoral prayer, people are going back to their seats,” Kersey said, adding that seeing people come for prayer is a strong witness to visitors, especially when children come to the altar.

At Mt. Horeb, the pastor and trained prayer ushers are available at prayer times during the service and at the end of the service. Prayer ushers also assist at healing services, where the lines can be long Altar prayer times are not counseling sessions or a time for major spiritual surgery, according to Beth Bryant, a prayer usher leader at Mt. Horeb who has written guidelines for the church’s altar prayer ministry. “It’s not a chance to display our prayer-giftedness. It’s not a dog and pony show.”   She recommends a “great resource” for beginning a new altar ministry, Praying Grace: Training for Personal Ministry, by Terry Tekyl.

“Don’t do anything without prayer,” Kersey urged. Every meeting should start and end with prayer.  “Before any decision, pray about it. When we are in constant communion with God, there are no missed opportunities. This has given enormous confidence to our leadership,” he said.

“Our lay people have learned not to put off prayer,” Kersey said.  “When someone shares a concern with them, they don’t say, ‘I will pray for you.’   They say, ‘Can I pray for you right now?’ – even if they are talking to the person on the phone.  It’s powerful.”

“People don’t target their prayers specifically enough. Focus. That’s the difference between being prayerful and prayer-driven,” he said. Have prayer targets such as the church budget, children’s ministry or leadership.”  He showed a video of various members speaking enthusiastically about the positive influence of prayer in their church.
A prayer-driven church is on a journey, not a sprint, he cautioned.  Patience is required. “There is a season we have to wait; then we move when God says move. However, to wait without praying is just spinning your wheels.”

Teach Children to Live in God’s Presence

Betty Kay Hudson, First UMC, Lancaster offers ideas to help families stay in the presence of God throughout the day, from early morning until bedtime.

“With our busy families, so many times our lives are just hectic and chaotic, going this place and that,” she said. “We forget to intentionally make space for prayer.” But souls, like vines, tend to grow wild and weak when untended, and family prayer times can be our structure, our trellis.

Families can set simple prayer routines upon rising, at meals, traveling, playtime and bedtime. Prayer can be in different forms, suited to the active or contemplative personality or to children. Prayers can be in a car, a garden, work desks or school desks or the playground.

People who are artistic, creative
and energetic may enjoy prayers that allow movement – talking, singing or dancing.  Examples of this are, upon rising in the morning, touching a bit of anointing oil to your hand or forehead as you offer the day to God or raising your hands to sing in praise and thanksgiving for a new day.  Families or individuals can make prayer boxes or prayer baskets representing prayer concerns.

At other times, prayers are solitary activities when we are contemplative or want to bring specific issues to God. Also important are ritual activities, which are often passed down from generation to generation. These are foundational, and form the basic structure of our prayer life, she said. They includes memorizing verses, devotions, prayer walking, journaling.

At the mealtime table, age-appropriate prayer books for saying grace, or a jar containing Biblical and praise names of God, or a container of pictures, articles and photos can remind us to pray for people in need, the beauty of nature or people we love.

Another table activity: families choose a memory verse for the week. Each day at the dinner table, one person starts the verse and stops after a couple of words so that the next person can pick it up or pass, continuing until the verse is finished.

Create rituals, she said, like praying for safety and thanksgiving every time you start the car, or praying for someone when you see a yellow light, when you hear emergency sirens or see people stopped in cars on the highway. While traveling, children can draw “picture” prayers or carry a box of godly play activities.
Create spaces for families to pray together or individually. Family altars can be simple, such as a table with a Bible, candle, cross, or other sacred object. An altar can be simply near a picture of Christ on the wall. A box or drawer, or even space on a fireplace mantle holding objects of spiritual meaning create an altar.  She suggests a tray to hold these objects so the altar can be moved from place to place for family gatherings or individual prayer.

Children’s altars should be safe – no candles, glass or sharp objects, but fun and easy to touch.  Children should pick meaningful objects that they can change.

Parents can pack a personal note or Scripture in a child’s lunchbox. Car time activities can include listening to CD or taped songs, or playing the “God made…” game after the pattern of the “I Spy” game.  For play time, she suggests creating an art center based on Sybil MacBeth’s book, Praying in Color, Kid’s Edition.
Hudson, a layperson, is in a three-year program at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., and her emphasis is spiritual formation Presenters at the conference included the Rev. Nellie Cloninger and Charlie Roberts from Lawrence Chapel, Clemson, who talked about feeling comfortable praying out loud. “Prayer is conversation with God,” said Cloninger.  “We need to be real when we pray out loud. Tune in to where you experience God on a regular basis and let that feed your praying, or look at Jesus’ prayers for guidance.”  Roberts said a good place to practice praying out loud is during one’s personal devotional time.

The Rev. Tiffany Knowlin of College Place UMC, Columbia talked about creating “prayer spaces.”  Many believe that the only place to pray is over the dinner table, around the church altar, or at the side of the bed.  All of these places are excellent places to enter into conversation with God; however, a prayer space does not have to be limited to such places, she said.

Clayton Easter, of Simpsonville UMC, led a workshop on how to establish prayer ministry teams in the local church. Another popular workshop, presented by the Rev. Miyoung Paik of Lexington UMC, taught about using the labyrinth as a powerful tool for prayer. All conference attendees were welcomed to walk the labyrinth and visit the church’s prayer room.

Some Favorite Books and Scriptures on Prayer from Conference Presenters

Miyoung Paik

Favorite book on prayer: The Way of Prayer , a “Companions in Christ” small group study by Jane Vennard.  Favorite Scripture on prayer: Colossians 1:9-12 (from the Message Bible).

Tom Albin

Favorite books on prayer: Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices, Daniel Wolpert, and A Guide to Prayer, three books in a series by Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck.
Favorite Scripture on prayer: Luke 11:1-13

Betty Kay Hudson

Favorite books on prayer:  “Companions in Christ” small group Bible studies in spiritual formation;
Teach Me to Pray, W.E. Sangster; and Contemplative by Design: Creating Quiet Spaces for Retreats, Workshops, Churches, and Personal Settings,  Gerrie L. Grimsley and Jane J. Young
Favorite Scripture on prayer: I Thess. 5:16-18

Nellie Cloninger

Favorite book on prayer:  What Every Leader Needs to Know About Leading in Prayer, Betsy Heveaner
Favorite Scriptures on prayer: Psalms 51 (“for the painful times”) and Jesus’ prayer in John 15Albin reminded the audience of John Wesley’s words: “God does nothing apart from prayer.”

The prayer conference, hosted by Rev. Dickie Knight and members of Lexington UMC, was sponsored by the Task Force on Spiritual Formation, Conference Board of Laity, Kathryn Scarborough chair.  She said the group has been planning and praying for the conference for a year. One hundred eighteen United Methodists from 10 S.C. districts attended.

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