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Archives for December, 2020

Download the PDF of this content here. We are starting our 40 days of prayer this Sunday – January 3rd but you are welcome to start it anytime you like!

Prayer has been a core activity of the people of God since the beginning. Before we understand how to pray we need to know why we pray.

We pray because God is a personal God and He seeks relationship with us. Prayer is our end of a conversation with God. Prayer addresses God as someone we are in a real relationship with. We pray to God because God created us, loves us, and is listening for our prayers.

A Christian is someone who follows Jesus and part of following Jesus is having Jesus as our role model in all areas of life. One of the things we see in Jesus’ life is consistent prayer. This may seem odd because Jesus is God in the flesh and it seems odd for God to speak to himself in prayer, but Jesus modeled for us his deep need for connection with God the Father. If Jesus needs that then we certainly do as well! Jesus prayed constantly. There are many times in scripture Jesus escaped the crowd to find a solitary place where he could pray to his heavenly father (Luke 5:16). If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to pray so do we. To be “Jesus people” we must be people of prayer.

This prayer guide will usher us into a forty-day period of prayer together. In these forty days we will be praying over the same things and meditating on the same scriptures each day. Why are we doing this? Because we feel a profound since of dependence on God to guide us in all we do. We can’t rely on our own abilities or wisdom if we are going to move into a vibrant future together. Instead, we humbly submit ourselves to God, in prayer, on a daily basis to seek God’s guidance and blessing in all that we do.

Forty is an important number in the Bible. Moses spent forty years in the same wilderness God would later have him lead Israel through. Moses later spent forty days on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from God. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness where he fasted and was tested by the devil. Forty isn’t a magical number but it is a meaningful number. Forty days, as in these biblical stories, remind us to rely on God in all things. The forty days are divided into ten of specific things to pray about. This puts us in line with Paul’s instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 that we are to “pray continually.” We hope that these forty days of praying together will be part of a movement that is constantly in prayer together.

Praying alone is fine but if you are able, find someone to pray with. Pray about these things together and then share your thoughts with each other on the things you are praying about. As we pray together we will find that as we draw near to God we will also draw near to each other. So let’s begin with Day 1 .

Section 1 (Jan 1-4): Prayers for direction and guidance

Day 1: Pray for God to guide our vision and direction. (Isaiah 58:6-12)
Day 2: Pray for God to open our eyes to see the harvest. (Matt 9:27)
Day 3: Pray God would guide each step and decision the church makes. (Psalm 25:4-5)
Day 4: Prayer for clarity of purpose and focus. (Isaiah 30:21)

Section 2 (Jan 5-8): Prayers for humility and submission

Day 5: Pray God would humble us and remove our pride. (Prov 16:18)
Day 6: Pray for us to discipline our hearts to be totally dependent on God. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
Day 7: Pray for us to be mutually submissive toward each other. (Eph 5:21)
Day 8: Pray for us to follow God’s lead rather than human “wisdom.” (Prov 3:5-6)

Section 3 (Jan 9-12): Prayers for fellow Christians

Day 9: Pray for our marriages and children. (Eph 5:22-6:4)
Day 10: Pray for Christians around the world. (2 Thess 1:3)
Day 11: Pray for the elderly, the widows and widowers. (John 15:12-17)
Day 12: Pray for church leaders – elders, ministers, and missionaries. (Rom 15:30-33)

Section 4 (Jan 13-16): Prayers for non-believers (John 17:20-23)

Day 13: Pray for co-workers and class mates. (Mark 12:31)
Day 14: Pray for opportunities to connect with them. (Matt 9:35-38)
Day 15: Pray for those with open hearts and seekers. (Acts 16:14)
Day 16: Pray for boldness that we can reach them with the Gospel. (Acts 28:31)

Section 5 (Jan 17-20): Prayers for God to empower and equip us

Day 17: Pray for God to help us identity our gifts and use them for the kingdom. (Eph 4:11-16)
Day 18: Pray for God to empower our ministries. (Acts 4:24-31)
Day 19: Pray for God to raise up leaders for the future. (2 Tim 2:2)
Day 20: Prayer that God would equip and empower us. (1 Thess 1:5)

Section 6 (Jan 21-24): Prayers for God to convict and convince us

Day 21: Pray that we would be convicted about what is right and wrong. (John 16:13)
Day 22: Pray that God would convict us about righteousness, holy living, and our sin. (John 16:8)
Day 23: Pray that God would convict us about our mission and purpose. (Eph 2:10)
Day 24: Pray that God would convince us of His will. (1 Thess 1:4-10)

Section 7 (Jan 25-28): Prayers for spiritual healing

Day 25: Pray for release from our deepest shame. (Rom 5:5)
Day 26: Pray for strength to endure temptation. (1 Cor 10:13)
Day 27: Pray for spiritual transformation in our lives. (Rom 12:1-2)
Day 28: Pray for healing, peace, and wholeness for each person in the
church. (John 14:27)

Section 8 (Jan 29-Feb 1): Prayers for physical healing

Day 29: Pray for those who are sick by name. (James 5:14-16)
Day 30: Pray for the end of COVID. (Psalm 91:1-8)
Day 31: Pray for God to use us to be people who bring healing to the community. (Matt 5:13-16)
Day 32: Pray for those workers who care for our sick for God to strengthen and use them. (Psalm 18:32)

Section 9 (Feb 2-5): Prayers for our love to grow

Day 33: Pray our love for the lost will grow. (Matt 28:19-20)
Day 34: Pray our love for one another will grow. (Philippians 1:9-11)
Day 35: Pray our love for our enemies will grow. (Matt 5:43-48)
Day 36: Pray our love for who we find most difficult to love will grow. (Luke 6:27-36)

Section 10 (Feb 6-9): Prayers for boldness (Acts 4:23-31)

Day 37: Pray we will speak of Jesus with boldness. (2 Cor 3:12)
Day 38: Pray for us to live boldly for the gospel in the world. (Acts 14:3)
Day 39: Pray for God to release us of our hesitancy and timidity. (2 Tim 1:7)
Day 40: Pray for the bold message we live and speak to be clear to those who hear and see it. (Acts 9:28)

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas. I am thankful for you and appreciate all the conversations we get to have here at Wineskins. You are wonderful people and you create a beautiful community where we encourage and challenge each other to grow deeper in our faith!

Merry Christmas!

In the previous article I outlined how in many ways the Church of Christ never moved out of Acts 2. We stay in Jerusalem amongst those who are most culturally similar to ourselves. We know that conversation. We know that debate.

In Acts 2, Peter and the apostles knew how to have a conversation amongst other Jewish people. They knew how to open the Old Testament and have discussions from people who shared similar assumptions.

In my opinion that is much like the Church of Christ for the last 200 years. But the early church didn’t focus solely there. At some point they had to go out and engage a world that required a different conversation.

This is why Paul was so important. God used Peter to get the cross-cultural Gospel inroads started but God used Paul to carry it through. God said this about Paul in Acts 9:15, “But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”

Paul was from Tarsus, which was a town steeped in Greek culture and education. Paul knew Greek rhetoric. He also studied under a famous Jewish teacher – Gamalial. Paul knew both worlds. He was a Pharisee and was steeped in Greek rhetoric. This is who God used to take a very Jewish gospel and Jewish scriptures out to a world that needed that information contextualized to the lives of people living with a very different set of assumptions.

We see this happen after Acts 10…go into Acts 13-14 and look at who Paul and Barnabas are reaching out to – pagan idolaters. This isn’t Jerusalem anymore. This is no longer an in house conversation…it has gone global and it took people who had the chops to reach into cultures very different from their own. It also took the leading of the Holy Spirit to drive the mission.

I argued in the last article that we needed to move from Acts 2 (Jerusalem and “in house” conversations trying to convert people most similar to ourselves) to Acts 10 (reaching the Gentile God-fearers). I am still not convinced we have made it to Acts 10 in Churches of Christ…but whether we have or haven’t doesn’t really matter.

Here is what I am driving at – until we begin to see how to have a conversation with people very dissimilar to ourselves, the Gospel is not going to thrive.

Read Acts 17. Read how Paul went into their world. Paul engaged their thoughts and values. Paul knew them and loved them. He knew their culture and knew which inroads he could take in Athens to get the Gospel into their lives. He knew this because he spent time studying these things. And he had success…see how Acts 17 ends.

I am afraid we have gotten lazy and complacent. We adjusted to what we thought was an Acts 2 world – people coming to us (the U.S.) from all over the world like they came to Jerusalem…and like Acts 2 those who came were very much like us and started with the assumptions that the scriptures were the words of God.

But we don’t live in an Acts 2 world anymore. We live solidly in Acts 13, 14 and 17. And until we make that shift…until we learn to have new conversations and really love people who are different than us…the path forward doesn’t look good to me.

If it took them 20 years to get from Acts 2 to Acts 17 it has taken us 200 years of barely budging off Acts 2. I hope and pray we can make progress but I am not convinced it is going to happen until two things happen:

1 – We rely 100% on the Holy Spirit just as they did.

2 – We learn to love people not like ourselves.

These two things will drive us to the necessary cross-cultural work we must do to get to know people who live on our block and go to our schools and work alongside us in our own Areopaguses (marketplaces).

When we send missionaries to foreign fields they typically spend quite a bit of time learning the culture and language of the people they are going to reach. I had one friend who had to learn one language to learn the actual language of the place he was going! Where they are going is not entirely like the place they are leaving. To be effective they must learn how to communicate the truth of the Gospel to people who may not value the same things, think like Westerners, or even speak our language.

As the culture in the United States changes and becomes more and more culturally and religiously diverse…less homogeneous…it is crucial that we take on the perspective and approach of missionaries in our own backyards.

We may be called to learn new languages (I am increasingly seeing the need to learn Korean, for instance due to those who live within a mile of our home).

We will have to become students of culture. As we find out who lives nearby and as we go out to make disciples of the nations in our neighborhood we are going to need to change our approach. Our conversations, for example, no longer start with the assumption that people think the Bible is important or that God exists.

This will take prayer. This will take study. But most importantly this is going to take LOVE and an openness to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Consider the person who falls in love with a person who isn’t of their same cultural and religious background. That person will bend over backwards to learn whatever it takes to get to know that person on a deeper level. They will come to understand and appreciate their culture…learn their language, etc. in order to connect.

This is our Achilles heal in Christianity – we have thrived in a culture the world wanted to get to know. The world was coming to us…and we liked that…we got used to that…It was easy to sit back and expect them to learn our culture and then for us to try to assimilate people to our faith.

It won’t be that easy moving forward. We can’t be lazy. We must be loving. When we love and when we work in concert with the work of the Holy Spirit who is very good at blazing the trail to connect cultures (See Acts 10-15) we will see renewal and revival. But our approach is going to look very different than the one we have known our whole lives.

There are other key things I could list that will be crucial for revival – fasting prayer, and making disciples…all of these things will run more smoothly if we actually know those we are trying to reach!

The depth of the Spirit inspired Jewish character of the Gospels is often missed in our contemporary world. Today we will look at how Matthew thinks we are experts in Exodus “pattern” and have lots of Jewish tradition floating in our heads as he begins the story of the Messiah.

The existence of Luke shows us there was more than one way to tell the amazing story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Both Luke and Matthew, however, are stunningly Jewish in their writing though they tell the story quite differently.

Matthew’s Baby Moses “Pattern”

For Matthew, the history of Israel is recapitulated in Jesus. Jesus is Israel. Israel is the template for Jesus.

For example, it is difficult to know the story of baby Moses in any detail and miss how Matthew uses it as the pattern for the story of baby Jesus in chapter 2. Note these rather remarkable parallels Matthew fully expects us to see.

1) Matt 2.13-14: Herod desires to slay Jesus so Joseph takes Mary and baby Jesus away

Ex 2.15: Pharaoh desires to slay Moses, so Moses goes away

2) Matt 2.16: Herod commands all male boys of Bethlehem, 2 and under, murdered

Ex 1.22: Pharaoh commands all male Israelite boys to be murdered

3) Matt 2.19: Herod dies

Ex 2.23: Pharaoh dies

4) Matt 2.19-20: The Angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, ‘go back for those seeking Jesus’s life are dead’

Ex 4.19: The Lord speaks to Moses, ‘go back for those seeking your life are dead’

5) Matt 2.21: Joseph took Jesus and Mary back to Israel

Ex 4.20: Moses took his wife and children and returned to Egypt

The Nativity of Moses

As significant as these are, Matthew is not done. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of Moses and the Exodus in the biblical and Jewish tradition. Lots of traditions grew up about Moses, just like they do every notable person.

The writing known as The Antiquities of the Jews, written by the first century Jewish historian Josephus, retells the “nativity” of Moses. Josephus does not tell this as a tale, or legend, but seems to think it is actual history. The story, not something Josephus invented, reveals what Jews of the first century believed about the birth of Moses. If this does not sound familiar we may need to read Matthew more often.

1) Pharaoh learns that the Hebrews constitute an existential threat to his Egyptian Empire

2) This knowledge comes via a vision by a “sacred scribe.” The scribe had a vision that foretold the birth of an Israelite boy whose name would be remembered through all future generations.

3) When Pharaoh heard this news “fear and dread” come over the Egyptians. So Pharaoh decreed all male Israelite boys to be thrown into the Nile in response to the vision by the scribe.

4) Moses’s father, Amram (cf. Ex 6.20), prayed to the Lord when he learned of the decree. God appears to Amram in a dream and promises safety for the child who will grow to be a savior of the people. Part of God’s speech is worth quoting as it appears on Josephus:

Know, therefore, that I shall provide for you all in common what is for your good, and particularly for thyself what shall make thee famous; for that child, out of dread of whose nativity the Egyptians have doomed the Israelite children to destruction, shall be thine child and shall be concealed from those who desire to destroy him. When he is brought up in a surprising way, he shall deliver the Hebrew nation …” (Antiquities of the Jews 2. IX, 3, Whiston’s translation)

5) Thus Pharaoh’s plan to destroy the child are thwarted, ironically, by the Pharaoh who saves baby Moses from certain death from the “sacred scribe” who recognized the child.

6) At this point Josephus presents Moses’s genealogy just as Matthew does.

(For a detailed study of Moses and Jesus parallels in the birth narrative of Matthew see Raymond Brown’s, The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 112-119)

What are we to make of all of this?

First, is the Christian faith and the Gospel message regarding Jesus simply cannot be divorced from its Jewish soil. To do so does incredible violence to the message that the Holy Spirit gave.

Second, Matthew is making a claim. Every Jew knew the amazing story contained in Exodus. Jews knew the stories about Moses that Josephus bears witness. The Moses story is a story of divine power being exercised in pure grace on behalf of powerless slaves. The Exodus was “unique.” It was unparalleled before and since. But Matthew’s claim is that now the God who acted then, is acting in Exodus like fashion again. The Exodus did not end with the crossing of the Red Sea. Exodus ends with Immanuel … God living with the redeemed slaves through the Tabernacle (See Exodus 40.34-38). Matthew’s story of Jesus does not end either with the birth nor the death of Jesus. Matthew’s story is that now, in Jesus, God is living with us. Matthew states this at the beginning (1.23), the middle (18.20), and the end of his Gospel (28.20).

God does not merely save. God dwells with God’s people. From the beginning Matthew tells us that the Exodus acting God is doing it again and he is not merely saving but Immanuel has come. God is dwelling with his people, not in a tent, but in a person – Messiah.

Baby Moses and Baby Jesus are powerful messages of the redeeming and dwelling God. Jesus’s life and mission follow the pattern of salvation given in the Exodus. Matthew’s story of the nativity tells us Christmas not only has a long history with infants but goes way beyond their births … all the way to “God is with us.”

Maybe we should remember that even in the New Heavens and New Earth when all God’s People will sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb.

As we talk about Christ, culture and church it is important to take note that the world has changed. Many of us learned how to win theological arguments against churched people. The assumption that the people you meet have a baseline knowledge of Jesus and some past church experience just isn’t the case anymore. That means the conversations we were good at for the last 150 years just don’t work like they used to because the people out there who need Jesus aren’t like the people we are used to.

The distance between the churched and unchurched culture is growing. That makes love challenging. It is tempting to love people who are most like ourselves…but the real challenge and test of our agape love is whether or not we are able to continue to relentlessly love a world that is moving away from us.

When I say love a world, I don’t mean the ways of the world, but the people of the world. The unchurched are the fastest growing religious group in the United States. If we don’t get to know them we won’t reach them. If we don’t love them we won’t reach them. If we only love people who are most like us then we won’t reach them.

Love shifts the direction of the conversation and who takes initiative. As Christianity loses influence and as the cultural gap widens it becomes more and more important for us to take the lead in going to rather than waiting for. We go to them rather than waiting on them to come to us. We take initiative because we love them too much to wait on them to make the first move.

This change has some implications for church life and outreach that cannot be missed. Missing these things will prove to be a fatal mistake.

People aren’t going to come to your church to try it out just because your facility is nearby and it is convenient. Most people aren’t looking for a church. There is no more if you build it they will come except in a few pockets. You have to go to them.

People aren’t going to come to your church because they are part of your denomination. Brand loyalty continues to drop.

People aren’t going to come in droves because you are progressive in your denomination. There are not droves of people hanging on every word of your bulletin just waiting on you to say you are going to make a shift on some doctrinal position so they can flood your auditorium.

People aren’t going to come just because you offer the latest program or because your social media is knocking it out of the park.

Many things have changed in terms of what it is going to take to get people to Jesus and the approaches we use. But here is the good news – the most effective aspects of outreach have never and will never change.

People will be reached through relationships where they feel loved and a sense of belonging. This has always been the case and will never change.

People will be reached through Christians being different than the world not like the world. So much of what can be found in churches can be found in self-help seminars or secular groups. We have to be different because our kingdom and King are different. It is tempting to be afraid to look different but that is actually the draw for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Those who are fed up with the world come to church to find something different and sometimes find exactly the same thing they found in the world. That’s a shame!

So let’s not water down our saltiness or dim our light. Let’s stand out and up and be counted. Let us love as Jesus loved. Let us go to rather wait on. Let’s learn to have new conversations by getting to know the shifting culture and that means getting to know the people around you. This is not about making people projects but about showing the same kind of interest in people that Jesus did!

If we are willing to stop and assess our culture by getting to know people then we can finally turn the tide to grow again…lives will be changed, the Gospel proclaimed and God glorified…but none of that happens until we get in tune and in touch with real people in a culture that is unlike anything we have seen before that is immune to the approaches we are best at. Some of this can be learned from reading books and blogs and YouTube videos…but the best learning comes from time with people where you really listen and learn and love.

I will be 79 in January. My brother John would be 81 in February. I write “would be” because it is expected that his life will end soon. He was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer several months ago.

 Hold on! My brother is not in despair. He talks openly about his death, and what will happen to him at that moment. John is so looking forward to being with Jesus! How, with death so eminent, can he be happy and optimistic?

For the first 16 years of my life I lived in his shadow. We were numbers four and five out of seven children in our nuclear family. We entertained each other, or maybe better stated, he was my entertainment. My sister says I picked on him. Events that were funny then to me (and still are today- to me, anyway) were so not funny to John at the time they occurred. Both John and I, along with our oldest sister, were sprinkled at the Campground Methodist Church when he was 12 and I was 10. Eventually, we two took different directions in life. He became a Union carpenter and I joined the U.S. Navy. I think my spiritual interest resurfaced before John’s; however, discussions in deer camp moved him to evaluate his relationship with God. Not long after, he asked a minister, Don Sautter, to baptize him in a swimming pool in Valley Forge, PA, where he lived at the time.

As to why John can look forward with anticipation to his departure from this earth: He believes that the man, Jesus Christ, is the Son of God; not only that, but God himself lived in the body of Jesus Christ. He believes Jesus lived as a human being for a time, that he died on the cross, was buried, but walked out of the tomb three days later (John 19 & 20), proving that death has no power over him! Consider this statement of Jesus to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). My brother shares the rock-solid faith of Paul who declared, “To die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Life on earth can be very good at times, but eternal life in heaven will eclipse anything we have ever known! That is, it will be IF you and I accept the gift of everlasting life in Jesus. And it is a gift! (Romans 5:15-17; Romans 6:23). Heaven is undeserved; it cannot be earned. Jesus Christ paid the debt for our sins – John’s, mine and yours. I know John is not perfect, and neither am I, or anyone else. God very clearly confirms that we all sin (Romans 3:10, 23). Because all sin, Christ died for all.

And so, John has no need to fret about his shortcomings; every sin has been cleansed by the precious blood of Christ! He can spend his last days being grateful that God has blessed him with a good life. He is not resisting his fate. In fact, he chose to pass on chemo which might have prolonged his life; instead, he is taking meds to keep him comfortable. John is surrounded by family and friends. Pam, his wife, is constantly by his side and a wonderful source of comfort. God has provided a born-again hospice-care nurse they have come to love dearly.

I love my brother and I expect to see him later. 

One of the most amazing things about the writing of the Bible is that God did not turn the writers into robots to get the writing done. Each writer has their own vocabulary, grammar, etc that is slightly different than the other writers. God didn’t dictate every word.

God uses the writers given their particular time, language and culture to communicate the good news about Jesus or the message of God to the world in which they lived in the language of the day.

All three of those – time, language, and culture change over time while the core truth of the Gospel remains the same. The Gospel message is timeless truth AND, not BUT, it is always communicated couched in a culture. There is no way way around this. It may not seem like this is the case because we are so immersed in our particular culture that we may not be aware of how others hear and understand the same information – an honor/shame culture in the East vs a guilt/innocence culture in the West both emphasize different aspects of the Good news.

It is vitally important for the future of God’s people to be students of culture. Many of us are students of Christ and students of church…but few are students of culture.

If we don’t understand the people around us we won’t understand how to reach them.

If we don’t understand Christ we won’t have anything with which to reach them.

If we don’t understand church we won’t have a body of believers to assimilate people into.

We also need to understand, not just the culture of the world, but the culture of our churches. Ideally the culture of our churches would be summed up in one word and that is the “Word”. Jesus. The culture of our churches should be a Jesus culture and when it is a Jesus culture our church culture will understand the world’s culture in order to reach them with the good news about the kingdom.

This month we will dissect and intersect Christ, Church and Culture. I am looking forward to the conversation and I hope you will dive in and let us know what you think!

By Charles Kiser

Elaine Heath, in her book The Mystic Way of Evangelism, recounts a time she took a group of her SMU students to visit the Missionaries of Charity in Dallas — a branch of the ministry started by Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India in 1950. The ministry was located in a little red brick building in an impoverished Latino neighborhood.

The students met a small Indian woman named Sister Salvinette, who served as their guide. She described the ministry of the Missionaries of Charity: every day the sisters would knock on doors in groups of two and ask their neighbors how they might pray for them. At first they were met with suspicion and hesitation. But over time, as they got to know their neighbors, the sisters discovered needs they could meet. Out of these visits grew a food distribution program. Every week the sisters and volunteers prepared about two hundred bags of groceries for families in need in their neighborhood.

The sisters’ philosophy of ministry was expressed through their own “five-finger exercise”: “You did it unto me,” echoing Jesus’s words in Matthew 25. Whoever they met, the sisters believed that the encounter provided the opportunity to meet and serve Jesus.

For all the sisters’ ministry activity in the neighborhood, Sister Salvinette insisted that their basic ministry was prayer. The sisters gathered four times a day for an hour to pray, usually in silence. Such rhythms for prayer were how they received the love they needed both for themselves and to share with their neighbors.

Sister Salvinette explained the power of prayer in their work: “We could never do what we do if we did not pray this way. It would be too hard.”

The Missionaries of Charity demonstrate the power of contemplative prayer — the kind of prayer usually practiced in silence. In silence we are disentangled from the attachments of ego. In silence we hear the voice of God say to us, just as God said to Jesus in his baptism: “You are my child. I love you. I’m pleased with you. You are enough.” In silence we commune with the Ground of our being; we experience the abundant, eternal kind of life, that of knowing God and Jesus in the Holy Spirit.

It’s no wonder, then, why Pete Scazerro, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, suggests that contemplative practice is integral to emotional health. Silence and stillness helps to unwind the knots of anxiety within us as we encounter the Good Shepherd, under whose care we lack nothing. And of all the years for us to need anxiety knots to unwind, 2020 would be the year, wouldn’t it?

Our own emotional health and well being, however, is not the telos (end goal) of contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer ultimately equips us to be present to others — both to be present to the Other (God), and to be present to God’s activity in and among our neighbors, so that we might participate in what God is doing.

To speak of the power of contemplative prayer is not to denigrate other forms of prayer, namely intercessory or petitionary prayer. Jesus said, after all, that God is like a good father who enjoys giving good gifts to his children, and that if we ask we will receive. But this is to suggest, however, that there is power in forms of prayer beyond what many might normally imagine when speaking of “the power of prayer.”

In fact, I believe contemplative prayer is the fundamental form of prayer because it anticipates and facilitates our union with God — the direction toward which the whole cosmos is headed. Contemplative prayer, to the extent it unwinds our anxieties and helps us to see how our ego is at work, subverts and even reshapes what we might otherwise think to request from God.

If you’re wondering how to begin in the practice of contemplative prayer, I’d suggest starting with five minutes a day. Set a timer, focus on your breathing, release your thoughts and emotions as they surface, and pay attention for God. If it feels like it’s not working, or like something should be happening that isn’t, then you’re probably actually doing it right!

The contemplative life is also meant for community rather than isolation. In other words, we’re better when we engage contemplative practices together — particularly because they are so difficult by ourselves. Find a friend or a small group who can share this commitment to contemplative prayer, even if you’re sitting in silence on your own and talking about it later. The church I’m part of has recently begun a time of shared silence in our worship gatherings as a way of supporting and equipping each other in contemplative prayer.

There are a number of good guides and resources for contemplative prayer. Here are a few in different mediums:

Sister Salvinette poses a question to all of us: What is God inviting us to do that we could not do if we did not pray in this way?