Don’t look for hidden meanings in this week’s gospel. Jesus gives us the punch line right up front: Pray always. This wasn’t a message Jesus gave only to the scribes and priests who were in the professional praying business. Pray always: was a message Jesus gave to his followers: fishermen, laborers and homemakers who were all scrambling for a subsistence living. Pray always: is a message he gives to us, knowing we have mortgages and student loans, car payments and grocery bills. Pray always: may seem easy enough for a priest to thunder about from the pulpit. You may even be tempted to shrug it off as rhetorical flourish… dismissed and forgotten before you’ve cleared the church parking lot.
But Jesus doesn’t deal in throw-away lines. When he tells us to pray always, he expects us to pray always. And that means praying 24/7/365. So how do we respond? How can we obey? Who can possibly pray always? We can. And we must. Here’s how. To begin with, to pray always does not mean endless memorizing and reciting. Prayer means lifting our hearts and minds to God. It doesn’t even require verbalizing. In fact that is how prayer begins… as an unspoken awareness of God. Like flowers turning irresistibly to the sun, we have an innate longing for purpose that must lead inevitably to God. This applies to those who are ignorant of God, as well as those of us who have the benefit of a lifetime of religious education. Too often that instruction has taught us to know about God rather than to know God. Too often we learn prayers rather than learning to live a prayer life. And living a prayer life is the only way we can answer Christ’s call to: Pray always.
A prayer life begins with a growing awareness of God. For a fortunate few, there is a road to Damascus moment. For the rest of us, it takes days and days, even decades and decades of actively searching for God… not in the clouds, not in a burning bush… but in the routine progression of joys and sorrows, anxiety and achievement, disappointments and delights that taken together compose our lives. Fortunately, finding God and creating an awareness of him is not a one-way street. God is always aware of us. He is always searching for us. We don’t have to get our act together to find God. He wants us as we are. Together we can knock off the rough edges of sin. God wants us now.
You’d be surprised how quickly, through the grace of God, a growing awareness can become an ongoing conversation with Christ, the bedrock of a rich and fruitful prayer life. What remains is the serious job of structuring your prayer life and the ongoing resolution to live it. And here you’ll find help at every turn. Start with a schedule and stick to it. Morning and evening reflections, grace before every meal: these are the time honored anchors of a prayer life. But it is what happens in between the formal prayer points of the day that constitutes the bulk of our prayer life. And it is here our greatest opportunities lie. Every task, every routine, every exchange can be given to God. A day of active kindness, respect, forgiveness, humility, generosity and joy is a day of prayer. String enough of them together and you have a truly blessed life of prayer. You are praying always… all ways.
Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, the Rev. David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest that seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, and congregational growth.