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The Rev. Jessica E. Sexton
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells his disciples how they should pray, why they should pray and the importance of prayer. Jesus himself led a life of unceasing prayer in his work and ministry, where he prayed both in community and in solitude. According to author and friend, Jenifer Gamber, "a life of unceasing prayer is more than just getting away from it all every now and then. It's acknowledging God's presence in all that we do. It's living our lives in a close relationship with God.” Therefore, prayer is acknowledging God's presence in our life and our trust in that presence. Jesus’ relationship with God through prayer is what supported him as he prepared for his impending death on the cross. His unceasing prayer life demonstrated that he acknowledged God’s presence and his trusted in God.
why do we pray? We pray to have this deeper and more personal
relationship with God as well to develop the same faith and trust in God as
Jesus. That when we pray in the silence of our car going down 95 or in a
crowded store—we too are acknowledging that we know that God is with us,
listening to our thanksgiving or petition and that we trust that God will
continue to be present with us. Because
God already knows every hair on our head, our innermost thoughts and fears
because God created us in God's image. This personal relationship that we seek
through prayer is not so much about God knowing us because God already knows
who we are as children of God—God created us. It is about us learning to know
who God is.
How do we come to know God? How is this relationship built and developed?
Jesus tells the disciples when they pray to “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you."
These directions given by Jesus facilitate the development of trust between God and us when we pray. Jesus is encouraging us and his disciples to trust that what is asked will be given and what we seek will be found and doors or opportunities will open up for us. It is through this process of letting go of control, and asking and seeking God that we become less dependent on ourselves and more dependent on the mercy and love of God. And through this trust and dependence on God we come to know and experience God in bolder ways throughout our lives.
However, what we are seeking, and asking and looking for may not be what is given or found or behind door number one. This is why trust is so important for our prayer life. Because when we pray we are not praying for God to fix the situation as much as we are praying for God to be present in it—for us to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. There are many things that we pray for that may not turn out the way we expect or had hoped. Maybe it was for healing and recovery or for opportunities maybe professionally or romantically. And despite life not turning out the way we wanted or expected or hoped for, Jesus is still calling us to trust in God. This is not an easy task.
How do we trust when we're suffering from loss or continuous failure or grief or pain? We trust because even in our own pain and suffering through prayer God does not allow us to be alone. Through prayer we come to know a God that has experienced the same pains and suffering of losing a child and seeing all of us suffer in our own ways.
The relationship we form with God through prayer is the one relationship in our life that is always steadfast and always present. There is power in prayer not only because our prayers are answered in ways we can't imagine or understand because we are transformed. The trust we put in God opens us up to knowing God and the love that God has for us. Mother Teresa said, “Love to pray. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself.”
Prayer has changed my life and opened my heart to experience a God of mercy and of love. As a new clergy person here at the Church of the good Shepherd we are still getting to know one another and I would like to share with you how prayer has influence and powerful in my own life.
When I was 13 years old I was an active, healthy and vibrant middle schooler who had just landed a role of Miss Hannigan in the Perry Hall Middle School production of Annie. However for a young girl I was experiencing too many migraine headaches and my cautious pediatrician decided to send me for an MRI. I had the MRI on a Tuesday afternoon and my mother brought me back school so that I could go to play rehearsal. Halfway through the practice she had come to pick me up early because the doctor had called and he wanted to see her and my father.
After I was dropped off at home to have dinner with my grandmother and my little brother I was too caught up in a art project to realize that hours had passed before my parents finally arrived home with bloodshot eyes and pale faces--I knew something was wrong. A short time later I was sitting in Johns Hopkins pediatric emergency room staring up at a scan of my brain from earlier that afternoon and I noticed something different that the doctor pointed out was a tumor in my brain. From the location of the tumor it was initially deemed inoperable. Whether being 13 or 30, hearing news that your life is about to change or come to an end is overwhelming.
feeling of being out of control and powerless and alone despite those around me
is painful. I began to understand why my parents were so upset. It was because
no doctor could heal or change my prognosis.
I grew up in a family that valued prayer especially around the dinner table and my brother and I recited the Lord's prayer before bed each night. And it was my exposure of prayer from my parents growing up and how much it mean to them, that I realized in the hospital room that prayer and God were the only things that would be help me get through this difficult time.
The next day I with sent for an MRI that lasted for over an hour and as I laid there in that suffocating tube, I had plenty of time to talk to God—and I told God I scared, frustrated and disappointed, and how much I wanted to be Miss Hannigan in the school play. God heard it all for a good solid hour.
Afterward I went back to my hospital room and a little while later I was greeted by the top neurosurgeon at Hopkins and his entourage of doctors. After such a grim night the day before I wasn't sure what to expect. The doctor came into my room and walked over to me grabbing my hands, and then looking at my mom he asking “have you been praying, Mrs. Sexton?” My mom said every minute. He smiled at her and said, “well, it worked.”
Less then 24 hours later I went from having an inoperable brain tumor to an arachnoid cyst at the base of my brain stem that was treated a month later.
How could things shift and change so quickly? The scans were clear for both of them. Once the doctor and his team left, my mom quickly rushed out of the room to ask a nurse what had happened. We couldn’t understand the sudden change in prognosis. She said “a miracle just happened, Ms. Sexton.”
What I learned and came to know about God through that experience was that by seeking God out through prayer and asking for help—made me realize how much I opened myself up to allow the Holy Spirit to work and move in my life. After all these years it's not about the miracle of having the scans change. The hope I found through prayer in God was the miracle. The miracle was how those prayers in the hospital made me realize the importance of having a relationship with God--to trust that God always is present in my life and that no matter what happens I'm not alone. The other miracle is that we can have the ultimate hope of new life in Christ Jesus because of his death and resurrection. And the prayers that we pray are held up by his hope that whatever happens we are surrounded and loved by God.
The trust that we develop in our relationship with God through prayer is what transforms our hearts and our minds because the more we trust God in our lives the more trust ourselves and love ourselves. I am blessed everyday to take a minute and talk to my creator for always being by my side and for giving me a second chance.
Have you been praying?
Gamber, Jenifer. My Faith, My Life: A Teen's Guide to the Episcopal Church. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2006.