I love that Luke 11 tells the story of Jesus praying. The disciples must have been watching him because when Jesus finishes, they ask that he teach them how to pray. Prayer was not new to them. They could recognize that Jesus was praying. Certainly, they were raised to pray. Nevertheless, I love that the disciples were willing to be vulnerable about what is a fundamental spiritual practice. They were willing to explore a new way to engage in a familiar praxis. “We want to learn how to pray. Teach us, Jesus.”
Early in my ministry I realized that being the pastor of the church doesn’t necessarily mean that I have all knowledge and all answers to the great spiritual mysteries. I had recently been ordained and I knew Greek and Hebrew—enough to pass the ordination exam. Nevertheless, there were holes in my spiritual formation. Like the disciples, I was willing to acknowledge where I was vulnerable and had room for growth. More importantly, there were elders in the congregations that I served that “thought it not robbery” to teach me what they had learned about spiritual life—specifically about prayer.
An elder at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Louisburg, North Carolina, taught me to incorporate hymns into my prayer practices. He was fond of reflecting on the third verse of hymns, picking out words or phrases from the verse to reflect upon and use in prayer. He was also known to hum a hymn tune as a complete prayer. He quoted St. Augustine that “singing is like praying twice.” Thanks to his influence, I would arrive early on Sunday mornings to sing a prayer song in an empty sanctuary in preparation for leading worship.
It was also a ruling elder at Community of Grace Presbyterian Church in Sandy, Utah, that encouraged me to learn new prayer practices. This elder introduced me to St. Ignatius’ prayer practice called the Examen. I use the Examen daily to reflect on the activities of the day, giving thanks to God for the thin places that only become obvious in hindsight during reflection.
These ruling elders poured into me and expanded my spiritual formation in ways that can’t be quantified. I believe they did so by taking seriously our ordination vows to “be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit” (Book of Order, W-4.0404e). Because they were willing to bless me, I take every opportunity to share what they’ve imparted in me about spiritual practices.
Resources to Consider
Some of these books will push you beyond your comfort zone and may leave you vulnerable. It is in that strange new place that I pray you realize vulnerability has drawn you closer to the one that “leads you, guides you, along the way!”
- Glory to God hymnal: while any hymnal will do, I love the background Glory to God provides on the hymns as context
- Ann Weems: any of her poems provide great fodder for prayer
- Margaret Silf, Inner Compass: this book was my introduction to the Examen
- William Barry, What Do I Want in Prayer
- Mark Thibodeaux, Armchair Mystic: How Contemplative Prayer Can Lead You Closer to God
- Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance
- Julian of Norwich, All Will Be Well
- My absolute favorite is, Meditations of the Heart, by Howard Thurman. His small devotionals are heavy and powerful reads.
Questions for Discussion
In the Scriptures, the disciples model that communication with God and that drawing nearer to God in prayer requires vulnerability.
- How have you let yourself be vulnerable to learn from others?
- What are some prayer practices that have brought you closer to God?
- How have you been a friend among colleagues, walking alongside them in their spiritual journeys? Are there practices that you have shared with other leaders?
The Reverend Jerrod Lowry serves as the general presbyter/stated clerk for the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina. Prior to accepting this call, he served as pastor in Sandy, Utah, and as tentmaker in Louisburg, North Carolina, and for the Presbytery of New Hope. Above all, Jerrod is passionate about “equipping saints for the work of ministry” and has enjoyed studying St. Ignatius’ Examen as a prayer practice and tool for discernment.