John asks, “How are we weaving prayer into the fabric of our days in natural ways?”

I would hope that today would inspire some prayer marked by gratitude. Thanks for joining me. I’m sure that many of us are curious about the status of our churches in Florida and our retirement center at Shell Point as Hurricane Ian ripped through that region. We’re grateful that there was no loss of life in the Alliance family, but 18 of our church buildings were damaged, two of them quite severely. And at Shell Point, every building had some measure of damage with wind or water, one inch to four feet in some of the buildings. Village Church suffered very modest damage and is fully functioning, and Martin Schappell, our executive director at Shell Point, has given an excellent video message. The link for that is provided below. I encourage you to watch that as well.

Let me share with you that the materials for our Christmas offering are in the mail and already available online. “Love Is Here” is the theme, and church leader, we’re simply asking that you give your congregation the opportunity to invest in spreading the love of Jesus to the peoples of the world through the work of our Alliance family. Now to our theme for the day. Obviously, it’s November, Thanksgiving month, and we’re going to do 40 Days of Prayer in January again to launch the new year. It’s my experience that when the subject of prayer is brought up, the first response many of us have is guilt. “I know, I should pray more.” We scold ourselves, hang our heads, and vow to do better. Please hear me out before you start down that path of shame.

I’m not a prayer warrior—that might disappoint you, but it’s the reality. I pray consistently and at times, with some fervor, but I’m not of those whose calling and gifting is intercessory prayer. I’m grateful for those of you who are these prayer warriors, spending hours fighting battles seen and unseen, protecting the saints, appealing to heaven, paving the way for the Spirit’s outpouring; you advance the Kingdom in ways by which all of us benefit but not all of us regularly participate. May your numbers increase, prayer warriors, and may your shields of faith remain lifted. We need you, we celebrate you, we value you, we are the better because of you, but not all of us are called to be you.

Meanwhile, all of us are called to pray. The biblical mandates for this are common and clear, and so I seek to weave prayer into the fabric of my days in natural ways. Personally, I do better at praying 20 times a day than I do for 20 minutes at a time. Now, I really don’t count to 20, but as I start the day, before I eat a meal, as we gather in meetings, before a decision is made, as I answer an email, while I drive the car, as I walk or exercise, as I conclude the day, I seek to live a life that has an ongoing conversation with God. Please, I don’t want to discourage anyone who has the capacity to pray for many minutes or even hours in one sitting. I’m grateful for you. Don’t let my comments disturb your practice. But there are others of us that are learning to practice a life of prayer in other manners.

Meanwhile, I’ve been noticing something common that I must comment on. I’ve been convicted of late, downright irritated, when I say or hear someone else say the too common phrase, “Let’s pray quick.” Let’s pray quick? It’s not the brevity but the levity that concerns me. I’m not troubled by the length but by the approach. Consider the Lord’s Prayer; it’s brief, perhaps 30 seconds, but rich. We are immediately pulled into the holiness of the Father in heaven whose name we are to set apart as sacred. Some of my prayers storm into heaven as if we are throwing open the door to the refrigerator to grab a soda.

Perhaps I’m overreacting to some of the prayers I heard in my youth that made one wonder if God lived in a mortuary—the tone was so heavy, grave. Pendulums can swing too far, and some prayers today give one the distinct impression that prayer, like eating your vegetables, is the mandatory obligation, which must be complete before the real pleasure, like dessert, can be had. The perfunctory must be performed so that the consequential can be conducted. Prayer serves only as a preliminary for the main event, the protocol for proper religious practice, but without pause, passion, or power. Instead, may we freely enter the courts of heaven with the reverence it is due without an obligatory sense of duty or a careless demeanor of disrespect.

Whether we’re praying for moments or hours, let us pray and pray often because we love Him, because we’re dependent on Him, because we’re worshipers, we long for His presence, we want to listen to what He has to say, and because we’re truly grateful. May we open our Bibles with a prayerful heart and open our emails in the same manner. It’s important to me that every morning, Monday through Friday, the National Office of the C&MA opens with voluntary prayer. A handful of us gather at 7:47 to dedicate ourselves, our office, and The Christian and Missionary Alliance to God.

I recently ran across a homily on the nature of prayer from St. Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century. I know that some have concern about some aspects of his theology, but I believe that we can benefit from his comments in a section called, “What is Prayer?”

I read: “Prayer restrains vanity, cleanses from rancor, removes envy, destroys injustice, and corrects impiety. Prayer is the strength of the Body, the prosperity of the household, the good order of the city, the might of the Kingdom, the victory in war, the security in peace, the unity of those divided, the consistency of those united. Prayer is the seal of virginity, the fidelity of marriage, the weapon of travelers, the guardian of those sleeping, the courage of those awake, the abundance of farmers, the safety of sailors. Prayer is comfort to prisoners, rest to the weary, solace to the sorrowful, delight to the joyful, consolation to mourners, wedding crown to spouses, festival to birthdays, a shroud to those who die. Prayer is to speak with God, to behold invisible realities, to satisfy spiritual yearning. Prayer is equality with angels, progress in good things, overthrowing of evil, correction of sinners, enjoyment of present gifts, assurance of future blessings. For Jonah, prayer turned the whale into a home. Prayer brought Hezekiah back to life from the very gates of death. And for three young men, prayer changed the fire into refreshing wind.”

Words, 1600 years old but ringing with relevance today. While I’m calling us to reflect on our own prayer lives, let me add a word regarding gratitude. It is Thanksgiving season after all, but more importantly, it’s the steady theme of Scripture and a significant spiritual discipline to develop. To express gratitude is to admit that “I’m not the source of every good gift, but I know and appreciate the One who is.” To express gratitude is to admire moments others seem to scorn; to agree that God is good all the time; to accept that a beauty is before us, which we would otherwise miss or even grumble about; to appreciate the contribution of others rather than to demand it; to associate with all that is true, right, noble, lovely, admirable, and of good report. Gratitude is to acknowledge that “I’m a steady recipient of graces I don’t deserve and could never create.” To engage our hearts in gratitude is to enter a spiritual discipline that shapes us as profoundly as any other. The weaker we are at expressing gratitude, the stronger we are at such ignoble qualities as: expecting to be served, existing for ourselves, entering the tunnel of self-importance only to come out on the other side dripping with entitlement. In contrast, the grateful are aware that “I’m the recipient and rarely the source.”

The grateful are likely to delight in what they have rather than highlight what they don’t. Gratitude is the fast track to generosity, and generosity is an entrance to joy. A secret door of blessing awaits the generous. Ungrateful people are rarely the first to give or the happiest in the room or the people you want to invite over for dinner. Gratitude opens the mouth to give acknowledgement, opens the heart to receive more joy, opens the mind to experience new ideas, opens a purse to pass a blessing along to others, and opens the door to deeper relationships. Gratitude guards us from the crowded corridors of self-indulgence in pursuit of platforms or power, mirrors or selfies.

I’m not against the forced Thanksgiving table group exercise. You know the one I’m talking about where everyone is pressured to answer the “What are you grateful for this year” question? It works for some families; for other families, the united response seems to be, “I’m grateful that we only have to do this painful moment once a year.” It’s not a holiday ritual that I’m calling us to but a lifestyle of prayerful thanksgiving and thankful prayer. Prayerful thanksgiving and thankful prayer. The one facilitates the other, and they circle around and become the kind of communication that truly honors God and the kind of character that reflects Him well.

Psalm 100—you know it: “Know that the Lord, He is God. It is He who made us, and we are His. We’re His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him. Bless His name, for the Lord is good. His steadfast love endures forever; His faithfulness to all generations.” We’re invited into His presence, Alliance family. Let’s enter with thanksgiving and allow Him to take us deeper into His courts.

Watch the Shell Point update here.