Today’s service, led by the Worship Group was all about the instruction to ‘Be still and know that I am God’.

Sermon based on Isaiah 40: 21-31; Mark 9: 29-39

Time. 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 8760 hours in a year.  For those of you who are wondering, there are 525,949 minutes in a year. Yet where does it go? Arguably there is no greater thief than time but today we are reflecting on the importance of taking time out to pray.

Jesus was a very busy person.  In our reading his ministry has only just started and he has performed his first healing and, just before that, his first exorcism.

But if that is not enough, on that same day we read ‘at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.’

We listened to how much Jesus was taking on but then we also read that ‘In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.’

Jesus manages to put aside some time for both God and himself in the busyness.  Even Jesus, the Son of God, needed to take time out to pray.  Even Jesus, with queues outside his door, found the time.  Jesus is our example, our help and guide on how we should pray.

We need to take time out to pray and to discern God’s plans for us. What does God want us to do rather than what do we want to do? We need to stop spinning around being distracted and worried and remember God’s instruction to ‘Be still and know that I am God’.

Such a simple instruction but often we find it hard to slow down, let alone be still. To be still feels like the ultimate luxury, almost selfish to stop and take time out. Yet it is what God has instructed us to do. We see the example in Jesus and in the Isaiah reading we read, ‘Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength’.

 

How are we all getting on at taking time out to spend it with God our Father, to sit at the feet of Christ the Son and connect with the Holy Spirit?

I for one, struggle at times with prayer. I’m good at rattling off a list of demands to God but to take time out to listen for a response is a completely different matter.  It often ends up being a one-way conversation rather than two-way communication.  I recognise that’s not a sign of a healthy relationship and it can stifle my ability to discern God’s purpose and will for my life.

It was actually by looking at how my non-Christian friends pray that I took stock and assessed the effectiveness of my approach to listening to God during prayer.

Have you noticed the rapid growth of spirituality outside of the church? Everywhere I look there are books on Mindfulness, meditation and prayer.

On programmes such as ‘Through the keyhole’ where the TV presenter takes you on a tour around a celebrity’s house, one thing that all these houses have in common is that they all have a token statue of Buddha on the mantelpiece. People are openly not embarrassed to be seen as ‘spiritual’ and ‘prayerful’.

See for yourselves the movement in spirituality that is taking place. Take a look at the gondola ends in WHSmiths or promotional tables in Waterstones. A shift has been happening for a while now and hearts and minds are opening .

Meditation is a big part of the shift that I have been talking about. Everyone seems to be at it but I don’t hear Christians talking about it. I have many non-Christian friends who are meditating and finding peace through this form of communion with God but where does it fit within Christian prayer?

I looked at my friends who were meditating and couldn’t help but think that their format of being still and listening to God made complete sense.

Rather than a load of rambling prayers to God, deep down, I knew I needed to take a fresh look at how I pray and learn to listen; to discern God’s will rather than mine. Do any of you feel similar?

I looked at my meditating Non-Christian friends and I could see meditation as the solution but didn’t want to do anything that could possibly be outside of Jesus’s teaching so I held back on it.

I didn’t do anything about it until I got to unit 13 of Faith and Worship which is the study materials that trainee local preachers, like myself, use to become qualified local Methodist preachers.

It explained the importance of meditation. Defining meditation as ‘when we reflect quietly on the nature of God and what he has done, and wait for him to speak to us. Part of the skill of spiritual devotion is to find quietness, even in the midst of noise.’

It quotes Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, “Silence enables us to be aware of God, to let mind and imagination dwell upon his truth, to let prayer be listening before it is talking and to discover our own selves in a way that is not always possible when we are making or listening to noise. There comes sometimes an interior silence in which the soul discovers itself in a new dimension of energy and peace, a dimension which the restless life can miss.  If the possibilities of silence were often hard in biblical times, they are infinitely harder in the world in which we live today. A world tightening in its speed and noise is a world where silence alone may enable man’s true freedom to be found”.

Mediation is a form of prayer that makes use of the silence.  But what did Jesus do?  How did he pray?  He taught us the words to pray by using the Lord’s Prayer but he also set the example to us on how to listen.

As we read, Jesus often got up early in the morning, even whilst it was still dark, went to a solitary place and prayed. Jesus understood the need to often pray alone and he started his day off with time for prayer.

But did Jesus meditate?  Well, we have the example of Jesus fasting in the desert for 40 days.  There are examples of him spending the night praying to God. Jesus knew how to dedicate long periods of time to prayer. Praying through the night must have involved long periods of silent listening to God in order to discern his will.

We too need to be able to dedicate long periods of our lives to prayer as well as short prayers, such as The Lord’s Prayer.  Easier said than done I hear! But like all good relationships, they are nurtured by spending time together. We nurture our relationship with God through prayer.

Less words, more listening. 

So why doesn’t Meditation seem to be common practice in the Methodist Church? Has the message go so lost in translation that I even feared that I would be doing something wrong if I meditated.

As part of my training I need to read a fab little book called ‘A Catechism for the use of the people called Methodists’, which sets out to provide a statement of the Christian faith.  If anyone ever asks you the question, ‘What do Methodists believe?  This little book is a summary of our beliefs, our faith. I have loaded most of it onto our Questions and Answers section of our website. A great little book.

The section on prayer states that our prayers should include 6 types of prayer – adoration, confession, intercession, petition, thanksgiving and the sixth one is ‘meditation’.  And it says that in meditation we reflect quietly on the nature of God and what he has done, and wait for him to speak to us.

If we want to use our time effectively, do God’s will rather than our own, then we need instruction from God. So we need to learn to listen and mediation may be the answer.

Jesus managed to put aside some time for both God and himself in the busyness.  Even Jesus, the Son of God, needed to take time out to pray.  How much more so should we?

The clock hands are always ticking but God has given us time, enough and to spare, time to do everything that he has chosen of us.  So let us recognise the time to pray, the time for contemplation rather than action, to seek first the kingdom of God, to slow down and stop worrying.  Let us take a fresh look at how we listen in prayer to discern God’s will and then act.  Then is the time for action rather than contemplation. Then is the time when our actions will be in accordance with God’s will. Amen

 

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