Power in Prayer

Preached by Rev. Jill Sander-Chali on February 23, 2014, at University United Methodist Church

O God, in the stillness, come meet us.  Amen.

This life is fast-paced and we are demanded to multi-task all of the time.  There was a recent story that I heard on NPR about a study on happiness.  The study showed that people are most happy when they are focused on one thing.  Yet, life in modern America pushes and pulls us in a million directions at once. 

The kids are hungry.  There is a geometry quiz tomorrow.  The bathroom needs to be cleaned.  There is a power point presentation to finish.  There is a pressing work phone call.  It is your anniversary.  It is your mom’s birthday!  You have to get the kids to soccer practice.  You have to finish the charts before you leave.  There are 100 tests to grade.

We think doing many things will make us happy, but it doesn’t.  And it’s not just that it’s all of this.  It’s that it’s all of this at once.  And it makes us stressed out.

And bit by bit, all of the energy and grace that we thought we had slips away.  And we start to feel tired and grumpy—less than grace-filled.

It happens to all of us and in this modern day and age it may happen to us even more often.

The pressure for performance and perfection is so high in this culture.  It can barely leave us time to rest and relax, let alone rejuvenate our souls.

Where do you go when you need to get away?

Is it your kitchen table at midnight?  Is it a special camping spot?  Is it a quiet corner on campus?  Is it the armchair in your living room?

Jesus knew something about the need to get away, to stop the rush of life and take a step back to find happiness.  The gospel writers record over and over how Jesus retreats to a mountain or a boat or a garden in order to pray.  He does this when the crowds become overwhelming.  He does this when he has an important decision to make.  He does this when he just wants to commune with God.

Here’s the story from today.  In the gospel of Luke, Jesus has begun his public ministry.  He has already been tempted by Satan in the wilderness and he emerged stronger out of the experience.  He has begun to heal others and the word is spreading.  People are beginning to find him and follow him.  Religious leaders are beginning to challenge him.  In fact, in the story right before the one we read today, Jesus breaks the law by healing a man’s hand on the Sabbath.  His enemies are mad and begin discussing what they might do to him.

It is at this point, that Jesus gets away.  He needs to stop, take a break from the business that his life has quickly become.  He needs to clear his head and find refreshment.  So, he climbs a mountain and connects with God.  He prays all night.

In the morning, he has clarity and he calls all of his disciples together.  From among them, he selects 12 who will work closely with him.  And they go down the mountain, and the business starts again.  People flock to him.  Everyone wants to hear him, touch him, and receive something from him.  Scripture says that healing power goes out from him every time someone touches him.

I want us to listen to that carefully.  Healing power.  We often think of power in an overbearing kind of way.  Sometimes it even has a negative connotation.  But, in this scripture, we hear about power that is healing.  It’s as if the power that Jesus possesses is a power of grace, healing, love, mercy.  And he fills up on that power by retreating to pray.

For some reason, this reminds me of my daughter.  She’s 20 months old and can walk and do lots of things by herself.  But sometimes, it’s as if she just needs to touch me—my face, my nose, my elbow.  I try to walk away and she runs in front of me to block my path and puts her arms out and says “Up, up, up!”  She needs something from me in those moments. 

But, if this is all I ever do, pretty soon, I don’t have any power or energy or healing left.

Imagine what would happen if Jesus didn’t go up on the mountain to pray.  He may not have had the energy or clarity to choose 12 disciples.  He may have told the crowd in need of healing to go away.  He may have neglected to share his words of encouragement and teaching.  He may not have had any power left to give.

It’s the same with us.  We need to find the places and things that fill us up so that we have something to give to the people in our lives that need something from us.

For you, that may be your boss or your friends or your parents or your teacher.  It may be your kids or your co-worker or your spouse.

Jesus gives us a model for how we can get that filling up, that grace.  He shows us a model of engaging life and then stepping away to engage God and to find power in prayer.

He’s in active ministry engaging people and then he withdraws and engages with God so that his cup is full again and he has healing power to give away.

This idea makes me think of a lake or a river. 

The level of water in a lake or river can ebb and flow.  But, people get nervous when it starts drying up and the level of water gets too low, especially if it is a source of drinking water.

At the same time, people get nervous when the level of water just keeps rising and rising and rising, especially if the area has a history of floods.

It’s important that as the water evaporates or flows out through a side stream that there is also water flowing in through rains or a river merging into it.  There is a natural balance that is important to keep.

All the time, there are things and people that take energy and grace out of us.  How do we fill ourselves up so that we have something to give?  It is through spiritual disciplines and practices that offer God’s grace back into our lives.  It is through getting away and doing the things that bring us life.

Prayer is one discipline that Jesus models for us where we can find that power and grace in our lives.  Conversation with God is one way to deepen the energy we have to give.

This morning, I want us to take some time to think about whether we are seeking those spaces to find healing power and grace through prayer or other practices that fill us up.  Or, in our efforts of multi-tasking, are we simply giving healing power and grace away?

I want you to take a half sheet of paper and divide it in half.

power in prayer example.jpg

On the left side, write “Practices and Experiences that Fill Me Up With Healing Power.”  On the right side, write “Practices and Experiences that Empty Me of Healing Power.”

Now, I want you to take a few minutes to review your last week.  Think about what you did, who you talked to, the power that you gave away and the power that you gained.  Write down each experience, practice or task in one of the two columns.

Then, I want you to consider which is longer.  Ask yourself if there are ways to do less of what empties you of healing power and more of what fills you up with healing power. 

How can you create a space to find power in prayer?

Brainstorm your ideas at the bottom of your paper.

If you already have a good balance or if you are doing more of what fills you up with healing power, then ask yourself this question: How can you continue to cultivate this good balance in your life?

Again, brainstorm your ideas at the bottom of your paper.

God, thank you for your healing power.  Amen.

Copyright 2014, Rev. Jill Sander-Chali