Not until I had been in full-time church ministry for over two-decades did I feel confident enough to preach through Romans. And, then, at that, I may have jumped the gun. It was like when I fell the large Spruce in my backyard; would things at the end lie where I wished them to lie, or would there be more weight and foliage in the mass of the tree than my skills permitted me to safely manage, so that I would eventually wish I had never started, leaving such a huge project to those better qualified?
I think I feel about the same as we (our church) prepares to focus for a couple of months on prayer. Even as I type the word “prayer” I am somewhat compelled to modify it or substitute for the simple wording, saying something like “to focus for several months on the spiritual discipline of prayer” or “to focus for several months on sharing our thoughts with God.” To describe prayer as a spiritual discipline or as “sharing our thoughts with God” camouflages or ameliorates or dulls just a bit the edge of a concept that, if I just simply say, “prayer,” could so directly place me into the presence of holiness that I may wish I had rather chosen to sort out for the church the intricacies of heaven or the specifics of final judgment or to explain exactly how God’s Word brought forth light. Who, after all, is adequately enough experienced at communicating directly with God that they are in a position to help others, too, to speak with God? Moses? David? Elijah? Perhaps only the One who said, “This, then, is how you should pray:” but, of course, I am not even Moses, David, or Elijah, to say nothing of the one who first said, “Our Father.”
So, I am not taking lightly the challenge of the coming Sundays. The responsibility of teaching and preaching is often found in the assumption of all involved that the one sharing her or his thoughts has something helpful, experienced, insightful, instructive, and/or nurturing to say. But I am only hoping that I–and anyone else who addresses the topic this fall–don’t stand too much in the way of our church seeing what prayer is genuinely to be. I am hoping that our reflections together will move us from dabbling, or plodding, or haltingly experimenting with prayer, into the communion with God of which David sang or which both Jesus and Paul described as something we are to “always” or “continually” be practicing. If this happens, it may be like when John Wesley could bring himself only to say, “Fire!” It may be like when Isaiah said, “Woe is me!” It may be like when Moses in Exodus 33-34 experienced the glory of the Lord in a cloud, where in front of God’s man Yahweh proclaimed His name, revealed His goodness, and stood for a moment with Moses, so that God’s man could only bow and worship and obey.