Reflection and Renewal

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We have celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior and the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love that comes with Christ!  Now a new year is upon us, but each year runs the risk of being more of the same with no ‘newness’ or changes implemented.  Christ came into this world so that it might be transformed – not stagnant!  During this time in between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I want to encourage you to spend time in prayer on how 2011 might be different than 2010.   In what areas has your life been stagnant and in need of transformation?  How might you live your life more for Christ and less for yourself?

Some United Methodist churches practice a tradition of holding a “Covenant Renewal Service” on New Year’s Eve or Day in which they reaffirm their commitment to God and begin the new year with a reaffirmation of their faith.  In the late 18th Century, after John Wesley conducted one of these services in London, he wrote of it in his diary, “I do not know that ever we had a greater blessing.  Afterwards many desired to return thanks, either for a sense of pardon, for full salvation, or for a fresh manifestation of [God’s] graces, healing all their backslidings” (January 1, 1775).

At the heart of this service is the Wesley Covenant Prayer.  During this week, you might take time memorizing this prayer and writing it on your heart.  Perhaps you could spend each day this week reflecting on a different portion of the prayer while you search within your heart whether or not you are able to reaffirm your commitment to this covenant.  At the end of the week, with this prayer memorized and with your heart in agreement  with this covenant, you might lift this prayer up in its entirety on New Year’s Day as you make 2011 about living your life for Christ.

I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine.

So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

– Pastor Michael Maroon

The marriage of prayer and action

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I’m just now getting into a book entitled Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers that another staff member recommended to me.  According to the co-authors, this book is about “the marriage of prayer and action.”  They continue to say in the Epilogue that “we need to pray like everything depends on God and live like God has no other plan but the church.”  This may be a controversial idea to many – that God has no other plan but the church – but, what if this is true?  Truth be told I tend to lean in this direction.  This becomes a pretty lofty responsibility, however, and God’s plan could certainly backfire if the church fails to ‘show up’ in both prayer and action.  What do you think?  How are prayer and (our) action related to one another, and how do you discern that your actions are God-willed?  I’d love to hear what you have to say about all of this and about how prayer has played a role in your efforts to do no harm and how it has encouraged you to action as you seek to do good.  So my “prayer tip” for you this week is: get involved in a conversation with other believers about prayer.  Leave your comments here and offer your comments and insights.

Little Moments

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My schedule is very busy at times and it can be difficult for me to nurture all of the relationships I have with friends, family and loved ones.  I don’t always have the time to spend an hour on the phone with my parents and sometimes don’t get together with my friends for weeks.  One way I keep in touch with them, however, is through short little updates throughout the day – a text here, an email there or perhaps a quick comment on their facebook page.

In our relationship with God, there are moments when we may not have time to “pick up the phone” and spend an hour in conversation with God. What we can do is keep the connection alive throughout the day with little updates here and there – this certainly goes a long way in nourishing this most important relationship we have with our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

If you have a moment to send a friend a text, check your facebook page or send a quick email, you certainly have time to spend a moment with God.  A lot of little moments can add up to a deeply connected relationship – perhaps these little moments are what Paul was talking about in 1 Thessalonians 5 when he wrote “Pray without ceasing.”

May your days be filled with many little moments.

Pastor Michael Maroon, Pastor of Prayer and Congregational Care

Asking God for God’s Perspective

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Watchman Nee was a famous Chinese Christian who was severely persecuted under Chinese communism.  He had a wonderful perspective on praying in line with God’s will.  He believed that God would not do God’s Will until we prayed and asked God to do it – that God would not want to interfere with the free will of humanity unless we invited God into action.  What we often do, however, is invite God to do our will without getting to know God’s perspective.  This is no different than how we can often be in all relationships – often thinking that we are right before we even hear out others.  Part of our prayer lives should be asking God for God’s perspective on whatever we are praying for, and then spending time listening through meditation and scripture.  As we gain insight from God about God’s perspective, it is then that we can invite God into action in our lives and the lives of those around us.

Pastor Michael Maroon, Pastor of Prayer and Congregational Care

Praying for Wisdom

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In a dream one night, God appeared to Solomon and, in genie-in-a-bottle fashion, God said, “Ask!  What shall I give you?” (1 Kings 3:5).  What Solomon asked and prayed for was profound.  Solomon responded by saying, “Therefore give to your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil.  For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:9).  Scripture tells us that this was pleasing to the Lord.

Often times we petition for many things, but how often do we petition for wisdom and understanding?  How often do we pray for discernment?  If you are struggling with something in your life and you have been petitioning God to bring an answer that you’ve predetermined to be the appropriate answer from God,  I want to invite you to open yourself up to praying a bit differently.  Pray for Wisdom.  Pray for Understanding.  And pray for Discernment.

In verse 13, The Lord says to Solomon, “See I have given you a wise and understanding heart.”  My prayer is that God would answer your prayer much in the same way.

– Pastor Michael Maroon

Pray as you are

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In Richard Foster’s Book, Prayer, he talks about what prayer is, and also what prayer isn’t.  He writes,

Our problem is that we assume prayer is something to master the way we master algebra or auto mechanics.  That puts us in the “on-top” position, where we are competent and in control.  But when praying, we come “underneath,” where we calmly and deliberately surrender control and become incompetent.  “To pray,” write Emilie Griffin, “means to be willing to be naïve.”

Naivety is hard work for proud and accomplished people.  It takes discipline to transition yourself out of the ‘I have to know it all’ mentality that is required to look and seem competent at work or with our children.  Yet, Foster argues that this transition is important for us to have a healthy prayer life.  Can we ever really get there though?  In catch-22 fashion, Foster argues that the only way we can get to this prayer-life of surrender is through prayer and by praying honestly about where we are in life. What makes this catch-22 possible is God’s transforming grace that is present in our prayers.

So, this week, I invite you to pray as you are.  If you find yourself in need of ‘prayerful incompetence’, then I encourage you to pray this prayer that Foster has provided for us.

“Dear Jesus, how desperately I need to learn to pray.  And yet when I am honest, I know that I often do not even want to pray.  I am distracted!  I am stubborn! I am self-centered!  In your mercy, Jesus, bring my “want-er” more in line with my “need-er” so that I can come to want what I need.  In your name and for your sake, I pray.  Amen. “

Pastor Michael Maroon

Forgiveness

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In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18, we read about how receiving God’s forgiveness is inextricably linked to offering forgiveness to others.  God expects us to forgive just as God has forgiven us.  Another way to put this is God expects us to offer people that which we have received from God.  And yet, forgiveness is still something that we all deeply struggle with.  If you are wrestling with forgiving someone, I do hope you are in prayer about it.  God’s will is that of forgiveness.  Perhaps, your prayer life ought to be asking for “thy will to be done, not my will…”

As you find your heart softening to God’s will and are in a place to offer people forgiveness from your heart, then I invite you to pray this prayer:

“Heavenly God, you are holy and righteous.  You are perfect in justice.  I confess that I have not forgiven as you have commanded me to.   Through Jesus Christ, I now forgive these people: _________________ (list names and what they did to you).   I confess my pride and judgment of those people.  Please forgive me Lord and cleanse me from my sin.  Please help me to thoroughly entrust these people and the wrongs they caused me into your hands.  I pray that your will be done in my life and in their lives.  Please help me to no longer think on those wrongs , but instead to focus my thoughts on you.  I invite you, Lord, into any painful memories I have concerning what was done.  Please heal any wounds I received and help me to have your perspective on what happened.  (Take time now to pray silently and receive from the Lord) Thank you, Lord!   In the name of Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.”  -Prayer written by Paul Cook.

Pastor Michael Maroon

Praying for your partner

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Prayer is one of the most powerful and transformational of the spiritual disciplines.  When we pray, we commune with the one who created us and formed all that is around us.  Often we gain wisdom, guidance, comfort and humility through prayer.  Scripture also tells us that when we pray God always hears us (1 John 5:14).  So, keeping all of this in mind, is the power of prayer a force in your most intimate relationships?  Are you and your spouse or significant other praying together and, almost more importantly, are your praying for each other and your relationship?  As we focus on forgiveness within intimate relationships this week in worship, I want to invite you to be in prayer for your relationship.  Below is a prayer that I want to encourage you to pray every day this week.  You might pray it together aloud with your partner each morning or evening.  Even if you pray this prayer on your own, I am sure that you will begin to see a transformation in how you look towards your significant other and how they look towards you.

God,

Grant that I and my partner may have a true

and understanding love for each other.

Grant that we may both

be filled with faith and trust.

Give us the grace to live

with each other in peace and harmony.

May we always bear with one another’s weaknesses

and grow from each other’s strengths.

help us to forgive one another’s failings

and grant us patience, kindness, cheerfulness

and the spirit of placing the well-being

of one another ahead of self.

May the love that brought us together

grow and mature with each passing year.

Bring us both ever closer to You

through our love for each other.

Let our love grow to perfection.

Amen.

Pastor Michael Maroon, Pastor of Prayer and Congregational Care

Hearing God’s voice

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I strive to be a conscionable fellow and often rely on the moral compass from within to speak to me.  There are times when I hear can almost hear the voice of my wife, friends, family members or even colleagues speaking to a particular situation.  As I go for that 3rd cookie, In my head I can hear my wife reminding me of our goals we set together to get back into shape.  I can often hear my dad’s many lessons and notes of wisdom speaking to my conscience as I strive to live a life worth living.  Those so called voices of conscience speak to us as if those persons are right there having a conversation with us.  The connection we have with people does not end when they are no longer within earshot.  Why would we expect it to be any different in our relationship with God?

I often hear from people that they wonder if God is even listening because God may not have responded to them in a way that they were expecting.  I was visiting with a congregant the other week and he was sharing with me what he had been praying for and was wondering why God had not responded.  I asked him, “based on what you know about God from scripture, from our United Methodist tradition, from past experiences and through your ability to reason, what do you think God would say to your prayer request if God were right here having a face-to-face conversation with you?”

As he looked at the scenario from God’s perspective, he began to respond to his own prayer as if the Holy Spirit was speaking through him, to him.  Who’s to say it wasn’t the Holy Spirit speaking?  Although it is always good to edify our understanding of God with others, the voice of God does not always begin with an external voice.  God has placed God’s likeness within each of us and has given us the ability to know God’s heart, to be of God’s heart and to speak God’s heart to those around us as well as our selves.  I invite you to try this exercise in your own prayer lives as we all seek to follow the will of God more closely.

Pastor Michael Maroon

Pray Without Ceasing

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I was rereading one of John Wesley’s sermons this week on Christian Perfection and came across this excerpt in which John Wesley talks about praying without ceasing. As I read this, I was reminded that we do not need to pray to God “out there.” Rather, prayer is communion with God who is within us and written upon our hearts. Wesley points to an awareness of God’s constant presence in our lives and he alludes to this awareness as prayer. I hope that you can be fully aware of God’s presence in your life this week – may that be your prayer. I hope you enjoy the excerpt below:

“God’s command to ‘pray without ceasing’ is founded on the necessity we have of his grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air. Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him. All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice. Prayer continues in the desire of the heart, though the understanding be employed on outward things. In souls filled with love, the desire to please God is a continual prayer. As the furious hate which the devil bears us is termed the roaring of a lion, so our vehement love may be termed crying after God. God only requires of his adult children, that their hearts be truly purified, and that they offer him continually the wishes and vows that naturally spring from perfect love. For these desires, being the genuine fruits of love, are the most perfect prayers that can spring from it.” –John Wesley

Michael Maroon
Pastor of Prayer and Congregational Care


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