Good leaders pray.
For years I could not understand what the Apostle Paul meant when he told the believers in Thessalonica to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). How do you do that? As a pastor’s kid, I thought Dad’s pastoral prayers dragged on for an eternity. As teenagers, my brothers and I began to time each of Dad’s prayers. One Sunday dinner, my older brother told Dad he had set an all-time record by praying for more than six minutes. “How do you even know God is listening that long? And besides, if God knows everything, why do you have to tell God what God already knows?!” he asked. I thought it was a good question. Then Dad said, “Boys, I don’t pray for God to know about us. I pray for us to know about God.” Years later, I thought of Dad’s response when I read American Trappist monk Thomas Merton say that he does not pray to change God. He prays so that he might be changed. This resonates with the Jewish theology that to pray is related to “judging oneself.” For Jewish friends, to pray is to be changed or transformed for the better.
Understanding prayer not as a way to change God but as a way for me to become more and more in the likeness of Jesus helped me to view prayer in a different way. But I was still stuck with Paul’s call to pray without ceasing. Then I was introduced to breath prayers—the idea that because God brought humankind to life by breathing into us (Genesis 2:7), when we breathe in, we take in God’s very breath. And when we breathe out, we breathe God’s breath to the creation. Breathing is a form of prayer because the goal is that we might be more attuned to God, and breathing takes God’s very breath into our bodies.
Good leaders pray. It helps to develop a pattern for praying. Many of my friends and family know I start every prayer time by “breathing in God’s mercies” and “breathing out God’s mercies to the whole world.” Then, when I am settled, I light a candle to remind me of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and I pray through lists I keep in my journal. I find it helpful to write down the name of someone or a situation the Spirit brings to me throughout my day. It helps me to pray out loud by speaking the name or the situation. Sometimes I ask for something specific; other times, I just say the name. There is no magic here. It is not that by my speaking I think suddenly God is more attentive. Rather, it is as Merton says, that when I say a name or situation, I am more attuned to the person or situation. In my praying, God helps me to abide, to rest, to remain with them. I always end my prayers with gratitude. What I have come to realize is the more attuned I am to God, the more faithful I am as a follower of Jesus.
Good leaders pray.
Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka serves as the senior associate pastor and director of adult faith formation at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas. Prior to joining the staff at Village Church, he served as a professor of Christian education at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.
This article is the second in a 12-part series focusing on PC(USA) leader formation as a part of the “Year of Leader Formation: Investing in Ruling Elders and Deacons.” Additional resources are available at www.pcusa.org/leader-formation/.