And through the years, as God continues to do His work in me, I’ve had to shift those words. Now, I recognize in writing this, I can too easily make what I am about to say as the “right way.” I share this as a fellow sojourner on the path of following the Eternal Jesus. You are looking live at a snapshot of my current way of understanding and practice.
Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica as he closes his first letter perturbed me for such a long time. As one who grew up in the church, prayer seemed to be a formal way for a) beginning a meeting, b) ending a meeting, c) getting the attention of a noisy class, d) something done where something “sacred” was anticipated, and e) all the above on any given day. So, Paul’s words to a church who needed hope and encouragement (1 Thessalonians 4:18) couldn’t register with my life—“pray continually” (NIV) or “pray without ceasing” (KJV). My understanding grew with the words from Ellen White, “Prayer is the breath of the soul.” (“Prayer,” page 12)
Here is what began to dawn on me. I had fallen into the trap of a rote prayer and a symbolic act and prayer had not been the breath of my soul. When prayer becomes the breath of my soul, it is far more than all of that … though it may include this. I continue to recognize prayer as a way of being and not a way of doing. Prayer is a livestream connecting dynamically with the Eternal God of the Universe.
So, now, when I walk into a meeting, I’d like to believe we’ve all walked in within the stream of prayer. All we are doing is recognizing this pre-existing prayer life and acknowledging this gathering, for whatever reason, as a way of continuing that prayer stream in a different context. Perhaps it is navigating, discussing, deciding and prepping for the implementation of that decision. That all occurs within the context of an already-existing prayer stream. Thus, the meeting is a continuation of the prayer journey—just the context has changed. So, more and more I try to begin with a different set of words: “Let us continue with prayer.” Essentially, each of us gathered in that space have come within our own, personal livestreams with God. Now, we acknowledge that as we come together, that livestream all flows into this moment as a community seeking God within the context of our gathering.
All this may sound fine and helpful. I want to conclude by saying that this is a work in progress and necessitates continued growth, understanding and grace—grace streaming from the One who said, “Our Father.” Amen.
John Grys is president of the Illinois Conference.