As Christians, we too are on a journey. We are called to be followers or students of Jesus. Church people call it discipleship, and discipleship is about the journey of following Jesus.
- With the first letter S we talk about sharing our faith. Our faith actually grows as we share this message with others.
- The letter T is about tithing and giving. God is generous. God is a giver and we can use our money to become more like our giving God.
- The letter E is engage which is about groups. Faith is personal, not private. And we need support and encouragement through groups.
- The letter P is the practice of prayer and the sacraments.
- With the last letter S we talk about service in a ministry. Jesus called himself a servant and that's what he wants his followers to be.
To help us understand prayer, let’s look at the book of James which is our second reading today. The book of James was written as advice to all Christians to help them grow in faith and spiritual maturity. We're looking at the 4th chapter where James asks this very poignant question. He asks:
Where do the wars and conflicts among you come from? James 4.1
This is a pretty good question. Why are there wars between nations? Why are there wars in our families and at work? The news is full of conflicts that rage out in the wider world, but it isn't just out there. Maybe it was in your house this weekend, or your car this morning. Why does there have to be all this fighting? Here is what James says about that.
Is it not, from your passions, that you make war? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain. James 4.2-3
By “passions” James means, collectively, all the ways in which we want more. There is this disordered part in all of us that wants what we want, when we want it. We can be envious and selfish. There is conflict on the outside because there is a war in the inside. And this is where prayer enters the picture.
James writes, You do not possess because you do not ask. James 4.2
Sometimes, we don't have, because we don't pray about it. How often does that happen? For example, sometimes, we waste no time in getting annoyed and angry with each other, but did we stop to pray about being frustrated with the other and ask God to help us with that emotion? Do we ask God to help us to change on the inside? Maybe not.
Or... James writes: You do ask, but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4.3
Hmm. . . Do you know why God answers some of our prayers with a resounding “no” ? James says we are praying for the wrong things, maybe even foolish or selfish things.
In prayer, of course, we bring our needs to God. And if we ask, as he teaches us to ask, we'll receive a positive response. How do we do that? James writes:
Submit yourselves to God. James 4.7 Submit yourselves to God. . .
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4.8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
The point of prayer is not about getting what we want, or trying to manipulate God to give us what we want. The point of prayer is drawing closer to God. so we can hear his voice and follow him.
Then James says, Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. James 4.10
That is to say, go to God with a humble heart. Pray in a manner in which you confess that God is God, and you are not... and he will exalt you. When you approach God in prayer, with a humble heart, you submit to him. That's why kneeling is a great posture for prayer. Use your needs, and wants, to draw closer to God.
It's a life-long lesson to learn. It is a lifestyle choice to keep meeting God in prayer. And when you commit to that lifestyle choice you will experience a significant reduction in unhealthy conflict in your life. So how do we get better at prayer? How do we pray so that we grow our in a relationship with Jesus? Let’s look at three ways.
First, you have to practice it. Prayer is just like working out. Do it rarely and it’s difficult. So, as a result, you don't like it. So, as a result, you do it even less. When it comes to prayer, it is helpful to understand that most of us are beginners, the majority of Christians remain beginners, and that's OK. Acknowledging that, will help keep us from becoming discouraged or impatient with our efforts.
Second, you need a-plan to practice. You need content. You need something to pray, something to say. We suggest you use a daily devotional. A devotional is a specific spiritual or scriptural reading. There are many free ones. We have a few free ones listed in our bulletin today right on the front cover of our bulletin. (See end of blog post.)
Third, identify a regular time and place to practice. For your daily quiet time, find a time that works best for you. Maybe start with just 10 or 15 minutes daily. If you are a morning person do it first thing in the morning. If you are not a morning person, if you are no fun to be around in the morning, if even Jesus doesn't want to be around you in the morning, then find a different time that works for you, a time when you can bring the most energy and thought to your prayer.
And then determine a place – a place where you can go and be alone with God. As you keep going to that place, whether it is your favorite chair at home, or somewhere quiet in your office, it will actually become a more sacred and holy place.
So those are the three things you do with prayer to grow in your relationship with Jesus: 1) Practice your prayer frequently, 2) Have some content like a daily devotional, and 3) identify a time and place to practice.
Lastly, if you want to change the daily prayer routine, once per week, and have a very special place to pray one day per week, consider coming to Eucharistic Adoration sometime from Friday morning to Saturday morning here in the chapel.
This practice of prayer, throughout the week, also connects directly to Sunday Mass where we receive the Word of God as he gives himself to us in Scripture and in Holy Communion. Your Sunday worship is going to be far richer and more rewarding, it's going to be the nourishment and encouragement it's meant to be if it is matched with your daily prayer. In turn, the Eucharist can be the source and summit of a life lived with prayer.
Prayer is the game changer when it comes to the better “you” you're aiming at... the you who is increasingly free from anger and pride, and war and conflict, because we're bringing that stuff to God instead of to our other relationships. Prayer is essential if we are to win the war inside of us, submit to God and grow as disciples.
Discipleship is simply following the Lord, step by step. This is not about starting off perfectly. It’s a journey. It’s about getting started and getting some direction. It's following the Lord step by step... In the direction of discipleship. A little bit more today than yesterday, A little bit more tomorrow than today. And in the process our life is simply more successful. The steps are steps to life change, the steps are steps to help you transform your life and your relationship with Jesus, step by step. What is your next step? How about prayer?
Devotional book opportunities:
† Living Faith: www.livingfaith.com
† Magnificat: us.magnificat.net
† Bishop Barron's, “Word on Fire” dailycatholicgospel.com/sign-up-daily-gospel
† Matthew Kelly: dynamiccatholic.com/daily- reflections
Listen to this homily here: