Prayer and Story

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This week in the GPS guide, we will be exploring the parables – the stories Jesus told to illustrate truth to his followers. Jesus knew that stories are powerful. They engage our minds and speak to our hearts.

When my youngest son Sam was little, one of his favorite activities was to climb into my lap and look around the room, choose some random object and say, “Tell me the story of this.” He wouldn’t settle for something like, “That is a bowl of flowers.” He wanted to know where the bowl came from, how old it was, why it was decorated the way it was, what kind of flowers, where they were picked, why they were picked and why they were in the bowl on this table right now. He wanted the story. So, I would tell him, “That is a bowl that used to be in my great-grandmother’s house in Ada, Oklahoma and she used to fill it every day with flowers from her garden. Ladies used to like to paint china bowls, and the decorations on it were probably painted by her or one of her friends. Or maybe her mother brought it with her in a covered wagon when their family came to Oklahoma when it was still called Indian Territory. This morning I picked those flowers, called peonies, from our garden and put them in the bowl because it makes me happy and reminds me of her.” That would lead to more questions, and pretty soon Sam knew not only the story of the bowl of flowers, but some of his own family history and something about flowers.

Story can be a powerful prayer tool, too. Have you ever felt unsettled, or unsure about some aspect of your life? Do you ever struggle with seeing or feeling God’s very real presence in day-to-day living? Try engaging the power of story to focus your prayers and recognize God’s presence in your life. I find it helpful to write things down, but, as in all prayer, come to God in the way that works best for you.

Take a minute in the quiet to center yourself and focus on your prayer. Be honest. Describe what is going on in your life, and then start asking questions to help bring out the story. When you were feeling the most unsettled, what was happening at that moment? What came before? What came after? What did you see, hear, touch? What other feelings were present? Were you alone or with other people? Tell God the story – the whole story. Fill in all the details that make it uniquely your story. Then, look back at the story you’ve told. Where do you see God moving or acting in that story? When you see God moving, what were you doing? Who else is involved? Where do your stories intersect? What feelings do you have as you look at the details of your story? What does the story tell you about your relationship with God and the impact of God’s presence on your life? Make sure you do as much listening as talking, and don’t be afraid of silence as you move through the story. Just as Jesus did with the parables, God often shows us truths through the examination of our own stories and where they intersect with God’s presence and will.

This week, let God speak to you through the study of stories Jesus told, but also spend some time exploring your own story and God’s presence in it.

Oh God who knows us best,
help us to find your presence in our own stories
so that we may walk more closely with you each day.

Father’s Day 2015

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You may or may not know this about me, but I am the oldest of three girls. I love my little sisters deeply—they have grown into some of the coolest young women I know; they are my best friends. This being said, in one area of my life, they are my archenemies. You see, growing up in the Ebling household (let’s be honest, even now) there was an ongoing competition to be dad’s favorite. We even have a label for this oh-so-important standing: the “FC” (Favorite Child). Now most of the parents out there know that my dad isn’t doling out this award, he always says “I love you all the same.” This doesn’t stop us from coming up with reasons as for why we are certain, secretly we are his favorite. For example, when you mow the lawn, you get five points. When you get married, you lose 50 points. You get the idea…

It seems silly that we joke about this now that we are young adults but my sisters and I have always just though my dad is the coolest. He has demonstrated so well how to live with integrity, how to walk humbly, how to be a loyal human being and how to love your neighbor as you love yourself. When we were little, my sisters and I craved spending time with him. We observed the quiet but strong example of faith he set each week when he took us to get donuts that we gobbled up when counted trains at the railroad tracks, when we went fishing at the creek with him in the summertime, when we had daddy/daughter movie days and when he whipped up cream cheese and peanut butter crackers, with a side of Mac N’ Cheese and hotdogs for us.

There are special people in our life we feel we just can’t learn enough from. I mean my sisters and I begged for my dad to teach how to mow the lawn!?!?! Being assigned this chore for the first time was the crowning glory! As you all read this, my respect for my dad might remind you of your relationship with your own father, a father figure, a dear friend, a special family member or perhaps your mom.

In thinking about the way we crave the time of such people in our lives, I was convicted. Listen to Psalms 25:4-5:

4 Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. 5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

Do we take enough time to sit at the feet of Jesus to listen and learn his ways? May God transforms us into people who are zealous for God and by extension, prayer. Amen.

-Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

Praying As a Team – June 14, 2015

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I really love baseball, and have discovered that my favorite baseball of all is Little League in all its forms, from kindergarten t-ball to player-pitch, when skills begin to develop and grow. There just is nothing better! As my grandkids have progressed through the levels, one of the most interesting parts has been watching the development of team play.

When they first start off in t-ball at about age 5, and the ball is hit off the tee, every single player, usually from both teams, runs to wherever the ball lands and has a discussion about what to do with it. It is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen – all these earnest little baseball players, with gloves as big as they are, running to the ball. Of course, that means there is no one on base to catch the ball and get anyone out. There are lots of home runs in t-ball! Players also have a limited grasp of the rules and structure of the game, and tend to have very short attention spans. So, in t-ball you may see bases run in no particular order, or an outfielder who wanders off to chase a butterfly.

Now my oldest grandson is playing more “real” baseball. This is his first year of player-pitched ball, and everyone is VERY serious. They march up to bat with serious “game faces” on, and the pitchers stare down the hitters. They are also really learning to play together as a team. In a recent game, I saw them execute a perfect double play, one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Done right, it is truly a thing of beauty. You can see the Royals do this here. In order for this to work, everyone involved has to work together in perfectly orchestrated teamwork. Each player has to be where he needs to be at that moment, and also be aware of the exact location of his teammates and the runners. It requires concentration and shutting out distractions like the noise of the crowd or those butterflies!

We talk about prayer as a very personal and individual experience, and it is. But there is also great power and experience of the presence of God in praying together with other believers. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus promises that, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If you do not routinely pray with someone else, this week why not explore this kind of prayer? Gather friends or family members and spend time in God’s presence. Try to also be aware and attentive to each person in the room, focusing on this time of prayer and shutting out everything else.

If you need a “game plan” for your time of praying together, choose ahead of time who will begin and who will finish the time of prayer and how each person in the circle will let the next person know when they are through praying. (A common way is to squeeze the hand of the next person). One good framework for praying together is to use the A.C.T.S. method:

Adoration – each person present shares a prayer of adoration, telling God what he means to you, and end by praying this scripture together out loud: Let my whole being bless the Lord/Lord my God, how fantastic you are!/You are clothed in glory and grandeur!” – Psalm 104:1

Confession – this can be done out loud, or silently, with the leader allowing time and then leading the group to pray out loud, “Lord hear our prayer.” Before moving on to prayers of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving – each person present offers up a prayer of thanksgiving to God. After the last person, the group can pray together, “Lord hear our prayer.”

Supplication – each person present can offer up a different prayer request, or if the group is focused on one prayer need, can pray for just the one topic. Again, at the end, the group may pray together, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

If you like, you can end your time of prayer by reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

In your time together, I pray your “team” will experience the power and beauty of God’s presence, and feel more closely connected.

–Jennifer Creagar, Resurrection Prayer Ministry

Spiritual Disciplines – June 7, 2015

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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to preach at Resurrection West. After my sermon, I went outside to get some fresh air and I found 5 really kind kiddos having a blast playing together. When I asked them what they were playing they went on to explain all sorts of things about chocolate and lava and monsters. I asked them how to play and they looked at me, an “old” pastor and said something along the lines of: “You just kinda do.”

Do you remember the glory days? There is something so fun about playing games without the rules – at least at first, but at some point the game gets messy. The rules of a game have a purpose. In the game of baseball, for instance, once you know the rules, you see the beautiful dance, the masterful athleticism, and the respectable integrity out on the field.

This week as we talk about discipline and practice in baseball and in faith, I want to challenge you to pray about the “unspoken” rules that guide your life. St. Benedict, a monk, started the tradition long ago of having those living in the monastery live by a common rule of life. This week I want you to pray and work on forming your own rule of life—something that will help you remember to practice spiritual disciplines. As you do so, I want you to remember this isn’t about making pointless rules, but instead “A rule for life offers unique and regular rhythms that free and open each person to the will and presence of God.” (Calhoun, 35) I borrowed the tips on “Writing a Rule” from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook.

  1. When and where do you feel closest to God? How do you enter most deeply into an awareness of his love for you? Pay attention to the experience practice and relationships that draw you toward God. Are there any particular practices that open you up to God? Are there any practices that seem to stymie you?
  2. What is most important to you? What gives you a sense of security and self-worth? What would people who know you best say it’s like to live and work with you> Where do your relationships need attention? Who do you want to become? What receives the most attention in your life? Your partner? Job? Family? Friends? Hobbies?
  3. What do you currently do to realize your goals and longing? Work? Study? Pray? Network? Socialize? Diet? Work out? Which of these things hinder or help your spiritual journey?
  4. What practices suit your daily, monthly and yearly rhythms and cycles? What limitations are built into your life at the moment? What longing remain steady throughout? What responsibilities and rhythms change with various seasons?
  5. Where do you want to change? Where do you feel powerless to change? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you do through grace what you cannot do through effort alone.
  6. Choose several disciplines that arise from your desire for God’s transforming work and that suit the limits and realities of your life. Begin your practice.”

So, the question is, what spiritual disciplines is God calling you to now? How can you get your head in God’s game?

-Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

I Can Do All Things….May 31, 2015

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Growing up I was a tomboy. I still am.

In kindergarten, I decided (and loudly declared) I was the best athlete that ever lived. I would tell all my classmates on the bus ride home, “I will even prove it to you! You aren’t even good enough competition for me…send your older brother over.” Luckily, no one ever took me up on my offer, but I figured it was because they were scared.

My family likely nurtured my sense that I was an all-star. We would often play family backyard baseball. I developed an unwavering belief I would be the winner. I would envision hitting a homerun—then nail it. I was the best! (Apart from a homer by dad, I was.) I mean, my competition was my little sisters (one of them a toddler at the time) and my mom, who has an uncanny ability, even to this day, to hit the ball backwards.

As an adult, I have assumed that my athletic illusions of grandeur have worn off. A few weeks ago, I realized they are ever-present. I got it in my head that I was excellent at bowling. I told my husband tales of how wonderful I used to be and I confidently challenged him to a game. I lost miserably (my score was in the 30s), yet part of me still believes I was just having an off day.

In all reality, I am a decent athlete. I played basketball for a time in high school, and in college and seminary I took up hiking and biking. But I have never been the best—or even close to it. In all honesty, those of you who know me know I am particularly clumsy and prone to injury. So how in the world do I continue to have this belief I am invincible?

 I can’t argue that my “invincibility complex” is healthy. Now that you know my little secret, you are welcome to give me a hard time about it. What sticks out to me is how it has allowed me to really believe in myself, to believe in the unbelievable, to believe in spite of the current realities. Somehow, baseball, allows us to do this—to root for our team regardless of their record, to cheer for the underdogs, to have hope for the next game/season/year. Baseball helps us get in touch with this magical ability we have to believe.

This week, I challenge you to think about what it would look like to have this much belief, this much faith, this much hope in the game of life. In prayer, offer God an area in which you feel defeated, discouraged, in which the odds are against you, and ask God to renew your sense of belief in the love and power of God. Pray too, that God would give you a confidence, not one that comes from pride, but one that comes from a belief that God is at work in and through you. Perhaps you can read and reflect on the words of Philippians 4:13 as you spend time in prayer:  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. My prayer is that in this, we will start seeing the magical things God is up to in our lives.

– Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

Prayer is Not Just Asking – May 24, 2015

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I like to know what’s going on in the world, and I read the news every day from several different news sources. Some days, though, I am kind of sorry that I looked. News of human beings acting in hate and violence against other human beings seemed overwhelming this morning. I feel moved to pray, but how? What do we pray when we want to pray for the world, for strangers, for pain and suffering near and far? Is there a list of things we should pray for? (I’m always happy when I have a list!)

Mother Teresa said, “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”

In Ephesians 3:19, Paul asks for this blessing for all believers: “…to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

So, in the face of the world and all its need, praying a list is maybe not all we need to do. There is nothing wrong with the list—laying out our cares and concerns before God. But if we stop at the bottom of the list and say Amen, we haven’t really completed our prayer.

At the end of the list, we put ourselves at God’s disposal to be part of the answer to our own prayer and the prayers of others. We listen for God’s voice. We ask to be filled with the fullness of God.

This week in the GPS guide, we will be looking at searchers and searching–looking for God in the world, seeking God’s will, love, forgiveness, blessing. There are a lot of lists involved in the searching, and when we are moved to pray about those lists, let’s remember that we are not just asking for a “fix,” but for God to show us, in the depths of our hearts, where and how we can be God’s hands and feet and voice and loving arms as we are filled with “all the fullness” God has for us.

–Jennifer Creagar, Resurrection Prayer Ministry

Mother’s Day 2015

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This week in worship we’ll be exploring both the deadly and life-giving ways of mothering. As a child I remember my mother taking my sister and me to church. At times she would have to literally drag us or negotiate with us to go. Once we got there we would go to Sunday school and then during worship inevitably one of us would fall asleep in her lap or I would read the story of David and Goliath. After leaving home I strayed from the way my mother had taught and brought me up, which is not uncommon for those in college. Proverbs 22:6 speaks to these all too familiar circumstances: “Train children in the way they should go; when they grow old, they won’t depart from it.” Mothers are constantly in prayer for their children’s salvation, future and protection.

As I reflect on how I was raised in the way, strayed and then returned, I ask myself, “How can I be in constant prayer with God?” One of the easiest ways that I’ve found to be in constant prayer with God is through breath prayers. Breath prayers are a good way to invite God to interact with you throughout your day. An example of a breath prayer is, (breathe in) Jesus, (breathe out) Be my guide.

I’d like to challenge you this week to be in constant prayer with God, whether you are driving your car, shopping for groceries or wrangling toddlers. Invite God to be the co-author of your life’s book.

–Alex Rossow, Pastoral Care Intern

Thy Will Be Done – May 3, 2015

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“Thy Will Be Done.”

We say it every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples who asked how to pray. When we talk about our lives and the lives of people we care about, we being to realize that those four words are a pretty bold prayer. It says that we are ready to live out God’s plan for our lives, and we won’t be paralyzed by fear during the difficult parts. It says that we will look to God to hold onto us, comfort us and care for us, even if the actions of others in the world seem to be blocking God’s plan for a while. It says we will welcome change. It’s a prayer that ultimately asks a question:

“God, what would you have me do? What is your will for me?”

The answers may surprise us. They also may scare us to death. We may feel totally unprepared. We may want to say, “Oh please, not that – anything but that,” or “You must have me confused with someone else – there is no way I could do that!” If following God’s will means change and leaving our comfort zone, we may not be as open as those four words declare us to be.

There is a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer that speaks to being open to the changes God may have for us, and giving our lives and our longings over to God’s will:

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life,
to organize myself in the direction of simplicity.
Lord, teach me to listen to my heart;
teach me to welcome change, instead of fearing it.
Lord, I give you these stirrings inside me,
I give you my discontent,
I give you my restlessness,
I give you my doubt,
I give you my despair,
I give you all the longing I hold inside.
Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth;
to listen seriously and follow where they lead
through the breathtaking empty space of an open door.

This week in the GPS guide we are going to explore God’s will and the tools and promises we have to enable us to live out God’s plans for us and for the world. As we do, let’s pray together and remember to lean on God as we walk into that breathtaking space.

Jennifer Creagar
Resurrection Prayer Ministry

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