Monday, December 12, 2016

Editing and Pastoral Prayers

Last Monday I spent half a day cleaning my study. I thinned out my book collection, recycled old training materials, and cleared clutter from my bulletin board. When I started taking pictures out of frames and dumping personal belongings in to donation boxes, I feared my administrative assistant might next expect a resignation letter.

"Just tidying up," I assured her. I couldn't tell if she was happy or not.

My itch to bring order to my study coincides with my theme word for 2017: editing. While this term seems the opposite of 2016's campaign - expand - the notion of editing brings me cheer.

Editing includes reducing, reworking, and fine-tuning. Editing is not the same as finishing, but it is a step in the right direction. All of life needs editing -- from manuscripts to shopping lists to DVD collections and magazine subscriptions. Our excess of duties and things competes for our limited time and energy.

Today I resumed the editing process. I thumbed through outdated magazines, scanning for an article or two worth archiving. I found a gem by Gordon MacDonald in Leadership Journal (Spring 2012, pp 91-94).

In "Praying that Makes a Difference," MacDonald described his gradual adoption of pastoral prayer. From his childhood forward, an air of mystery surrounded prayer. In college, his public prayers took a hit from a classmate who said, "You don't pray like the other guys." She implied he prayed worse. When first asked to give a "pastoral prayer" in a worship service, her bard echoed through his head. He managed to stitch a few sound words together. In years that followed, the pastoral prayer became more natural.

More importantly, pastoral prayers met a spiritual need for his congregation. "People  may not always realize or express it, but they want to be prayed for," he wrote. When he interceded for them, his people felt like he read their minds, knew their pain, and understood their world.  MacDonald clarified,
"[The pastoral prayer] is not a time to pray for church programs, for the offering, or for some new building project. It is a time to remember that the congregation spends its life in a much larger world where there is noise, intimidation, distraction, hardship, challenge, and sometimes pure evil. This needs to be prayed for. The people must hear someone describe their mutual experiences to God."
Even our ability to edit has limits. We can all reduce our debts, rework our calendars, and fine-tune our  pet projects. But none of us holds the key to eliminating all "noise, intimidation, distraction, hardship, challenge, and sometimes pure evil" in this large world. These obstacles cannot be edited out. We can, however, edit prayer in.

Pastors, rework Sunday mornings. Edit prayer in.

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