In the morning, a mother is rushing to get her kids off to school and herself off to work. She's made the lunches. Now, it's time to get her three-year-old daughter dressed. It shouldn't take her more than a minute to push the shirt over her head and pull her pants on. But, her daughter decides that she doesn't want to stop watching T.V.. So the mother has to talk her into getting off the couch and going to her bedroom. Once she accomplishes that, the daughter decides that she doesn't like the shirt her mother has picked out. So, the mother has to patiently convince her daughter why the shirt she picked out is the right choice. Once she gets her shirt on, the daughter decides that she wants to tell her mother a story. Then, the daughter decides that, even though it's the middle of winter, she wants to wear her flip-flops. Finally, after much negotiating, the daughter is finally dressed and ready for the day. What should have taken only two minutes at the most took about ten minutes. Getting a child dressed is no exercise in efficiency.
Our spiritual life and our life as a Church community are much the same as getting a three-year-old dressed. It doesn't always follow a straight line. We make progress one day, and then face a setback the next. One day, God feels close to us and prayer comes naturally. The next day, we're distracted and in a fog. The life of God in us as individuals and among us as a Church is also no exercise in efficiency.
The Scriptures teach us about the necessity and the power of waiting on the Lord. In the first reading (Acts 1:12-14), Jesus has ascended into heaven and instructed the apostles to go to Jerusalem and wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. The Scripture tells us that in that upper room they dedicated themselves to constant prayer waiting for the time when Jesus' words would be fulfilled. Jesus didn't send them back to Jerusalem to do something or to accomplish something. He sent them there merely to wait. Of course, Jesus could have just given them the Spirit right away without their having to wait. He could have brought God's Spirit down upon them as He was ascending to heaven. But, the time wasn't right. And, Jesus always waits until the time is right to ensure that His gifts have the maximum effect in our lives. Jesus is not concerned with efficiency, but with sanctity.
There are many definitions for prayer. For some, prayer is reciting the Our Father or the Hail Mary. For others, prayer means asking God for "our daily bread". Some people in their prayer praise God in a loud voice for the wonders of His power. But prayer, first and foremost, is about waiting on the Lord. Prayer means waiting for the Lord to speak to us. Prayer means waiting for the Lord to direct us. Prayer is not about something we do whether it is a prayer we recite or thoughts we conjure up. Prayer is about what God does. Prayer is about quieting our minds down so that when God speaks, we can hear Him. Prayer is about waiting so that when God is ready to work in our lives, we will be ready to say "yes". Like getting a three-year-old dressed in the morning, prayer is no exercise in efficiency. But, it is an exercise in experiencing the beauty and power of God and His love.
In our preaching, we don't tend to pay too much attention to the Psalms. But, the Psalms are the prayer book of the Bible. The Psalms are the prayer book of the Jewish people and of Christians. The Psalms are Jesus' prayer book. Today's psalm (Psalm 27) gives us a beautiful description of what prayer is and can be. Simply put, prayer is gazing on the loveliness of the Lord. No words need be spoken. The way a lover looks into the eyes of his beloved or the way a mother holds her child, so we savor the wonder of an Almighty Creator who is present among us, who knows us and who loves us. God is beautiful. Prayer, then, means waiting to be seduced by God's love and beauty.
We are gathered here in this church not to accomplish anything or to get something done. There is no agenda to our meeting here today. We are simply here to wait and to listen. We are here to receive and to give. A wonderful thing is about to take place. The Creator of the Universe will come to us in the form of bread and wine. We will gaze on His beauty. We will taste of His goodness. The time is now. The hour has come for us to open our hearts and receive our beautiful savior. How lovely is this place! How lovely is the dwelling place of the Lord!