Quietly praying

Originally published on http://www.oconeestreetumc.com on March 4, 2016 as part of a Lenten Devotional series.

by Joe Dennis

Matthew 6:5-6
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

In this politically-charged season, as some of our candidates flaunt their Christianity by using public prayer in their political outings, I am often reminded of something a political science professor once told me: “If you have to keep saying you’re running a ‘grassroots campaign,’ then it is likely not a ‘grassroots campaign.’ Likewise, I often wonder about our politicians who flaunt their Christianity.

Being educated in Catholic schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, prayer was a daily, mandatory part of the school day. Students would recite the same rote prayers every day, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. I’m sure they were trying to instill good, Christian (and patriotic) habits in us. It didn’t work for me. Immediately after graduation and through my early adulthood, I abandoned prayer.

When Carla and I discovered Oconee Street UMC in 2001, getting back to the weekly habit of going to church was easy for me. Prayer proved much more difficult. It was during the aftermath of 9/11, and public prayer was becoming commonplace. But just like all those Catholic school days, the prayers felt empty to me.

Then I stumbled upon this verse, and it made complete sense. In order for prayer to work, I need to have a one-on-one connection with God. I need the silence to organize my thoughts to communicate with God. I need to be alone in the presence of God, so God can reach me.

If I flaunt my Christianity, my reward is Earthly: as people around me hear my prayers, they will praise me for being such a good Christian. But if I pray by myself in private, God is hearing my prayers, and my reward is Heavenly.

I’d much prefer the latter.

Prayer: God, thank you for the one-on-one time you give me every time I pray. Amen.

I Saw Jesus Today, but I Ignored Him

I Saw Jesus Today
by Joe Dennis

Originally published on http://www.oconeestreetumc.com on March 16, 2016 as part of a Lenten Devotional series.

Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

I saw Jesus today, but I ignored him. If I made eye contact, I would be compelled to help. But I just didn’t have time today. I was running errands. Besides, Jesus is always there — on the corner of Hawthorne and Broad — looking for some help. I didn’t have cash, anyway. I’m sure someone else helped him. I will help Jesus next time.

Jesus visited me today, but I ignored his concern. I could tell something was wrong, and if I asked how he was doing, I would be compelled to listen. But I just didn’t have time today. I had so much work to do — I was running behind. Besides, Jesus can talk to other people about his problems. That’s not my job, anyway. I’m sure someone else listened to him. I will listen to Jesus next time.

Jesus called me today, but I ignored the call. I knew the conversation would last a long time. If I answered, I would be compelled to engage in a conversation. But I just didn’t have time today. I just finished working a 12-hour day and I needed the time to decompress. Besides, Jesus calls me every day looking to talk. My phone battery was low, anyway. I’m sure she was able to talk to someone else. I will talk to Jesus next time.

I received a message from Jesus today, but I ignored it. The notification popped up on my phone, but I never opened the message. I knew the message would be long and filled with emotional despair. If I opened the message, I would be compelled to write back. But I just didn’t have time today. I’ve been looking forward to watching this movie for months. Besides, Jesus frequently writes me. I wasn’t at my computer, anyway. I’m sure someone else responded. I will write Jesus next time.

Prayer: Jesus, even though you are always reaching out to me, I am constantly ignoring you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.