Better With Prayer

The spiritual life offers copious instructions on prayer.  We’re told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16), to give thanks as we pray (John 11:42), to ask and we shall receive (Matthew 7:7), and to trust because God already knows what we want (Luke 12).

Yet, sometimes we believe that we’re too busy to pray, or that if God already knows what we need, there’s no reason to bother.  Sometimes we don’t believe in the prayer process, or worse, we don’t believe that we truly deserve our heart’s desires.  And sometimes, when life is swirling around us or a circumstance appears dire, we may doubt that God remembers us.  We think that God needs reminding, not only of what we want, but also that we’re here.

This is exactly when we need the reminder: Prayer does not change God.  Prayer changes us.  Prayer reminds us:

  • We are God’s beloved creations.
  • God’s unconditional love and infinite compassion continually enfold us.
  • God’s ever-abiding grace is always available, the moment we choose to align with life.
  • Wherever two or more are gathered (Matthew 18:20), we share in feeling God’s presence both with us and within us.

I experienced all this earlier in the summer during a doctor visit to determine the cause of a persistent cough (later diagnosed as a bronchial infection).  The nurse who assisted me had the gentle, warm demeanor of one who’s offered loving service for many years.  As she gathered all the necessary information, the conversation turned to my work.  And, as sometimes happens when I say what I do, she expressed awe about my calling, as if I am somehow closer to God than she is.

As the appointment ended, she tensed, staring at the ground.  Then she looked up and asked, “Would you pray for my mother and me?  She’s been ill, and I need to move her to assisted living.”

I said I would.  Then I asked, “Would you like to pray together right now?”

She exhaled a deep, “Yes,” her shoulders slumping toward me as I took her hands in mine.  Then we prayed, as I spoke words of assurance for her mother’s healing and ease in the moving process, as well as for their peace of mind.

When we concluded, she thanked me and squeezed my hands.

I reminded her of God’s love and said, “I hope the prayer helps you feel better.”

She hugged me quickly and brushed away a tear.  “It does,” she smiled. “You feel better, too.”

And, despite the cough, I did feel better.  Even more, I felt grateful for another moment of divine connection, remembering that anytime, anywhere, we can feel and behold God in everyone and in everything.  Then, we can choose our next best steps as the journey continues.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Door to the Soul

Few of us are free of the strictures of time.  We have appointments, deadlines, places to be, people to see, things to do.  Sometimes we believe that our success lies in checking another obligation off our to-do list.  Despite ourselves, especially when we want a desired outcome revealed immediately, we watch clocks, check our phones, peruse our calendars, tap our feet or drum our fingers if we have to wait longer than we like.  Sometimes we experience this angst within our bodies, as headache, stomachache, backache, neck twinge, muscle cramps or shortness of breath.  Other times we push or press for immediate results as our inner spiritual child jumps around asking: “Are we there yet?”

This pushing, prodding, forcing, demanding behavior, which we believe will reveal quicker results, actually blocks our way and slows our life journey.  Instead of continuing to go deep within, through our contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection practice, we keep checking our phones and calendars, looking for the outer results we demand.

Master spiritual teacher Emmet Fox (“The Door That Opens In,” © 1937) explains why our efforts to steer the universe are futile:

The door of the soul opens inward.  That is often the reason we do not make our demonstration.  We assume that it opens outward and we press and push against it as hard as we possibly can, seemingly oblivious of the fact that we are really but closing it all the more firmly against our good.

To work in this way is really to use will power . . . .  It is simply trying to overcome by human effort and leaving God out.

Human nature is very prone to push blindly when frightened or frustrated. . . .  Prayer, however, is essentially the refusal to be rushed by panic or by the existing current of things.  In prayer, you must draw back from the outer picture, cease to press against events, and realize the Presence of God.  The door of the soul opens inward.

Whatever is occurring in your life now, Blessed Reader, step back, release, put down the phone, let go of the struggle.  Choose to open the door of your soul to place your faith and trust in God’s ever-abiding grace, infinite compassion and unconditional love.  Choose to turn inward first, before doing anything else, to connect with yourself and God’s presence within you.  Nothing on any calendar, phone or to-do list matters more.

© 2017 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

A Way to Peace

No matter what is occurring in the world or in our lives, we can choose to be peaceful, to be the peace we seek.  To achieve this, we would do well to invest in personal times of stillness and silence.  These times of contemplation, meditation, prayer and reflection are gifts of peace we give, first to ourselves, then to others.

Emmet Fox (“Your Daily Visit with God,” © 1952), reminds us:

“We all know that . . . God alone . . . is our peace — although nearly all of us tend to forget it from time to time.  We forget it when we begin to neglect our daily visit with God.  Now, when you think that you are too busy for your daily visit . . . what wonderful thing are you doing that is more important?  There is nothing that you could possibly do with that time which would bring you greater benefit than perfect peace.  As a matter of fact, if you have something very important and urgent to do, your visit will make that very important thing go through much more easily and successfully.”

Faith and Expectation

“To expect the good, to expect answer to our prayers — this we think of as faith.  The other half of expecting is waiting, and we do not often associate waiting with faith.  In fact, if we pray with great faith and expectation and our answer does not come immediately, if we have to wait, we may think that we have failed, that our faith has failed.  In our despair we may even think that God has failed. . . .

“Expecting and waiting: both are forms of faith.  It takes faith to expect answers to prayer, to expect healing in the midst of pain, to expect guidance when darkness envelopes us, to expect peace when turmoil prevails, to expect success though we have heretofore failed.

“It takes faith to expect answers to prayer, it takes faith to wait for the results that we have the faith to believe are forthcoming. . . .

“When Jesus compared faith to a grain of mustard, He was showing us that our expectation can far surpass the present smallness of that in which we place our faith.  An acorn is a small seed, but ‘lo! the mighty oak.’”

— Martha Smock

Present in Prayer

The man called Apostle Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:17) tells us to “pray without ceasing.”   As a pastor, I wish always I did this to the letter, but I admit that I do not.  Occasionally, I forget to pray.  Nevertheless, I have what I call “pastoral radar,” and at particular moments, I know, the only thing to do is pray.

Such was the case this past week, in an unlikely setting, while I waited at the opticians to order new contact lenses.  I was talking to the optician about being able to see the whole sanctuary when another woman, also awaiting assistance said, “Did you say you’re a pastor?”

I turned from my chair to see before me a woman with vibrant dark eyes, lush curls, and rich chocolate skin.  She wore a bright, neatly pressed cornflower blue print, and her voice exuded a kind of love and gentleness which reminded me of my grandmother.

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“Oh, please” she said, stepping closer.  “Would you pray for me?”  Then, as if releasing a great weight, she began telling me about her struggle with cancer (which wasn’t at all evident to me by her outer appearance), as well as with her faith.  She wanted me to ask God to bless her.

Forgetting in the moment where I was or who was around us, I said, “Would you like me to pray with you right now?”

Her vibrant eyes widened.  “Would you?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said.

I took both her hands in mine and began to pray, praising God, blessing her and her magnificent body temple, affirming God’s ever-abiding grace, infinite compassion and unconditional love for her.  As I prayed, she whispered along, several times saying, “Yes, Jesus.”  Perhaps the prayer lasted a minute, maybe two.  I don’t remember every word I said; I rarely do in such divine moments.

When I concluded with thanksgiving, I saw tears in her eyes.  She squeezed my hands tightly and as I looked at them fully, continuing to hold them in mine, I felt tremendous warmth flowing between us.  Two strangers, connecting through the intimacy of prayer.  In an unlikely place.  In a powerful way.

I don’t know much else about this woman, except that she and her mother had been visiting that office for many years, and that her mother also had survived cancer.  I don’t know where she lived or which church she attended or anything about her personal feelings and beliefs.  None of which matters.  Because, in that moment, we were one with God, connected, each of us transformed in beholding the Presence of God in one another.

It’s especially in those moments that I know: Prayer doesn’t change God.  Prayer changes us, opening us to see, hear, feel and know God’s Beauty and Presence everywhere, in every one.

Pray, Blessed Reader, wherever you may be.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

After Thoughts and Prayers

On Sunday morning, June 12th, I prepared to give a sermon I titled, ironically, “Put Feet on Your Prayers.”  I was nearly out the door when I heard the news that a group of people dancing the night away in Orlando, Florida, practically my backyard, were held hostage and gunned down.

As the congregation sang the opening song and I stepped into the pulpit to speak the opening prayer, I began as always by saying, “Namaste.  The Spirit in me welcomes, honors, embraces and rejoices in the Spirit in you.”  As always, I looked at the congregation, so many beautiful, vibrant faces before me.  Men and women of all shapes, sizes, persuasions, personalities.  Each one a divine child of God.

As news unfolded and we continued to pray for our Orlando brothers and sisters, one congregant asked whether we were going to “do something.”  Another was furious that this had “happened again.”  Later, a friend requested an encouraging word.  Another expressed sadness and wanted comfort.  Still another expressed shock and dismay.  We prayed, but it wasn’t enough.  We wanted to “feel better,” whatever that means.

Still later, I reflected on my sermon: That after we pray, we need to move our feet, get off the couch and go out into the world.  Because it’s true: Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.  After we pray, we also can act, remembering that God is where we are.

After we pray — and as we pray — we remember: Our prayers don’t change God or current events; our prayers change us.  So we can transform ourselves — and our corner of the world.  So we remember the presence of God, both with and within all of us, no matter where we live, how we look, what we believe, or who we love.  Then, with that recognition, we can choose to act courageously, centered in faith and trust, and do what is ours to do.

After we pray for those in Orlando, and remember those in San Bernardino, Calif.; Newtown, Conn.; and Aurora, Colorado, among many other places, we can put feet on our prayers by:

  • Writing and/or calling all our city, state and federal legislators continually to express our outrage, opinions, hopes and beliefs, as well as working to change current legislation.
  • Registering to vote for the candidate of our choice and working to support that candidate. Then helping someone else register and agree to take them to the polls on Election Day.
  • Boycotting businesses and establishments which condemn and refuse to recognize the humanity and divinity in all people, including those who choose to live differently than we do.
  • Supporting, with our money, talents and time, the key local agencies within our cities and towns which advocate for the unheard, clothe the naked, educate the unlearned, feed the hungry, heal the sick, nurture the abused, remember the forgotten, and shelter the homeless.

After thoughts and prayers, we act, transforming ourselves, then transforming our world.

Namaste, Blessed Readers.

God Doesn’t Fix It; We Do

Peace has been the theme for the second week of Advent. And what a week for it, as yet another mass shooting claimed the lives of people in San Bernardino, California, and violence continues to erupt in various places around the globe.

The shouting “to do something” has gotten louder, though not more peaceful. Both sides of the aisle (pick your venue) argue vehemently about their beliefs. On one side they declare: “Let’s Pray.” On the other side they declare, as did one New York Daily News headline: “God Isn’t Fixing This.”

Both sides are correct. And during this Advent season of preparation, which anticipates the birth of one who will be called Prince of Peace, all of us have an opportunity to understand some truths about God and prayer. No, God isn’t fixing this. And yes, prayer works.

It’s true. God isn’t going to fix this – or anything else. Despite what some may believe, God won’t appear from the sky like Superman or Wonder Woman. God isn’t a Superhero rushing in to save us from ourselves. Neither is God a Master Puppeteer, capriciously pulling our strings. And no amount of praying, beseeching, crying, cajoling, bombing, or shooting is going to change God.

However – and it’s a big however – we can change, if we choose to – even when we don’t particularly like or agree with circumstances around us. Change is our choice, now, and as much as it was, long before Jesus was born. The common denominator is us. We’re the ones who can change – or not. So, when we pray, we don’t pray to change God. We pray to change ourselves, to align ourselves with God, Divine Creator and Source of All, Infinite Compassion, Unconditional Love.

Our prayers for peace, understanding, guidance, prosperity, or anything else aren’t ever about getting God to “do” something. God doesn’t choose for us. We choose. And in prayer, we understand which choices are best for us, based on our own spiritual understanding.

Every prayer we pray can guide us, because prayer activates the divine power within us – the same divine power which Jesus and all spiritual masters and mystics have. So, in prayer, we don’t ask God to fix, do or choose anything. Rather, if we remain in a place of surrender, our prayers often provide clarity. This allows us to see the road ahead and to act at our highest level of spiritual development and understanding.

During Advent, as we await the birth of the child to be called a beacon of Peace to the world, we also prepare ourselves. Because this child isn’t one child; this child is all of us.

The Presence of God within us is preparing to be born, as beacons of peace – in our world, now. This peace begins in prayer, aligned with God, one step out in the world at a time – as us.

In this Advent season, may peace be with you, Blessed Reader and may you also be peace.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.

Faith Drives Hope

Advent, the Season of Preparation, is already underway. It’s a time to look forward, joyfully anticipating and patiently preparing for new life. Depending on which tradition one follows, this first week of Advent focuses on hope or faith. While these concepts can be mutually exclusive, they operate mostly powerfully when they’re aligned, especially as part of our prayer practice. In our most powerful prayers, usually the prayers of release and surrender – when we lay it all down before God – hope and faith unite to guide us in following God’s divine ways.

This kind of prayer, prayed by Jesus the Christ and all other spiritual masters, wipes our slates clean, activates grace and allows us to travel journeys we barely imagined possible. When we faithfully surrender in prayer, we align ourselves with God. And we remember: We aren’t praying to change God. We’re praying to change ourselves and our outlook by expanding our vision and re-activating all the faith already within us.

As we trust in God’s way, hope and faith work together. Even when we’re not sure where our path is leading, hope and faith help us take our seat on the bus of life and let God do the “driving.” Hope gets us dressed, out the door and onto the bus. Faith guides our steps and carries us into the meeting, appointment, interview, new town, new job, and/or fresh encounter. Faith gets us moving again and again, even when we don’t initially see results we like or expect. Hope says: “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can get there now that I’m on the bus.” Faith says: “Of course, you can. Keep your vision elevated and focus on God’s path, the best path to travel.”

This is the easiest way to travel life’s journeys. For, as many of us have learned, when we give God directions and try to force the process, we usually end up feeling hopeless, discouraged and/or upset that we didn’t get what we wanted. We believe that our prayers weren’t answered. Except they were. We just didn’t like the answer.

Martha Smock, a former editor of Daily Word magazine said, “Faith is the spiritual side of hope.” Her wisdom reminds us: Being hopeful isn’t enough because hope alone sees only the outer appearance and believes it’s the reality. Yet, when aligned with faith, hope develops substance, which helps us trust in realities we don’t yet see.

As we faithfully travel God’s path on the journey of life, we begin to feel the transformation. As we pray, we feel more comfortable taking our hands off the universal steering wheel. As we become still and silent, we feel the Presence of God, here, working through us and others we encounter, now. So, faithfully, we embrace the Season of Advent, trusting that peace, love and ultimately joy, are here for us, on every journey we travel.

© 2015 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks. All rights reserved.