Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Three P's: Patience, Perseverance, Prayer

Jeremiah proclaims that the day of the Lord is surely coming! Life will be different and everyone will be in relationship with God! His words are full of anticipation!
Yet, that was twenty six hundred years ago. How long are we going to have to wait?

The Bible tells us over and over again that the world is changing and that the world is going to change, that the kingdom of God is coming. Yet we wonder sometimes if it really will ever show up. Christian hope requires more than just faith, it requires Patience, Prayer, and Perseverance.

Patience. Someone once said, “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.”1 Jeremiah shares with us an exciting vision of the kingdom of God, but we have to have patience to believe in the vision while not seeing the evidence of its coming. The second letter to Timothy also speaks to the patience needed in waiting for the coming of the kingdom of God. We live in a culture which longs to have everyone’s needs and wants satisfied instantly. But sometimes instant gratification seems to cheapen our lives. Part of the joy of our lives simply comes from anticipation and the fulfillment of patience. The Christmas season would not be the same without the season of Advent, the time of preparation, when we look forward to Christmas and prepare our hearts, our minds, and our homes. Sometimes instead, we have to wait because things are out of our control and this takes real effort to let go of control and accept the need for patience. This kind of patience requires healthy coping skills, supportive relationships, and lots of prayer. Being patient doesn’t always mean being passive, especially when you can pray.

So, Prayer. In the gospel reading this morning, Jesus instructs his disciples to pray always. Obviously, prayer is an important aspect of Christianity. But, did you know that the BCP has prayers for before and after church services which are themselves full of prayer? The Episcopal tradition takes Jesus’ instruction seriously and layers prayer on prayer.

Why is prayer so important? Prayer is the business of a relationship with God. Prayer is the communication and presence of God necessary for building that relationship. Like any other relationship, our relationships with God need to be both communal and individual. In dating, you don't really know another person until you see them interact with other people as well, in a social setting. Communal prayer and interaction with God happens here at Thankful, every time you show up for a service. God is present and we are present, even if we don’t say any of the words. Communal prayer also happens in the daily office, the daily services of morning, noonday, evening prayer and compline. Even when you read or say the prayers by yourself, you are part of the community of Christians throughout the world who share in the daily office. We are connected to all those who say the same words every morning, the people in California and New York and South Sudan and Japan. Even if you listen to a podcast of daily prayer on your commute to work, it only takes 20 minutes, you tap into the community at prayer. Communal prayer helps us understand our relationship with God and each other by giving us new perspectives for relating to God and each other. Again, like dating, you don't want to spend all your time with God in social events, everyone needs a little alone time, time for personal prayer, and this is when we can really develop our individual relationships with God. The Episcopal tradition is full of ways of learning to be in the presence of God in personal prayer: lectio divina, which is meditation on bible passages, reading the daily psalm, centering prayer where you sit in silence, getting into Celtic, Spanish, or Ignatian spiritual practices, or simply taking up a day by day book which has readings from the bible or hymns. Humans have been trying to live in relationship with God for a really long time and have developed tons of resources to help grow that relationship.

Sometimes though, we wander in the wilderness, we founder, unable to be patient, unable to pray. We feel like we aren't making any progress. But when we continue praying when we do not feel like we should, that is perseverance. Sometimes we simply have nothing to say to God, or perhaps nothing nice to say to God. And you know; if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. At least, that was what I was taught growing up. But being in a loving relationship with God doesn’t mean we always have to say nice things. God can handle our pain, our suffering, our confusion, and our anger. Praying always means sometimes we have to tell God that we are angry. And there is precedent, there are plenty of psalms in the Bible which highlight the anger and confusion of people with God.

And when we do pray always, no matter how we are feeling, we build a strong foundation for us to be able to do so many other things. Jesus doesn't just say pray always, he also tells us not to lose heart. That means perseverance.

Perseverance. The way I see it, patience and prayer ground perseverance. And although persistence is part of perseverance, there is more to perseverance than just persistence. After all, you don’t want to fall into Albert Einstein's definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Persevering means sometimes you try different things to achieve the goal when one approach has failed.

Jesus’ parable this morning is about perseverance. The widow perseveres in wanting to see justice done. Jesus uses the unjust judge to highlight the difference between God and humans. God will come to our aid much faster than the unjust judge will, but we still have to persevere, because justice will not come right away. Perseverance requires hard work, patience, and prayer. Anticipation and dreaming can only do so much, being committed to the three P’s, patience, prayer, and perseverance allows achievement.
As Jeremiah, Timothy, and Jesus all boldly proclaim, The day of the lord is coming! The kingdom of God is drawing near! But there isn't any instant gratification here, we have to have patience, we have be prayerful, and we have to persevere.

1 Hal Borland.