Pray. Act. Pray Again. Lenten Edition
Download the full Study Notes: https://www.peterboroughumc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Pray-Act-Lenten-Study-2021-Study-Notes.pdf
Pray. Act. Pray Again: A 40-Day Walk with God (This year our class will be on Zoom on Thursdays at 10 am—let the church office know if you want to join.)
2021 Proposal: The Annual On-Line Lenten Study based on this book:
This year Lent begins on February 17, 2021. Our Lenten Study is designed intentionally to help readers and journal writers to go deeper in their Lenten participation each year by learning from past inspirations and the shared responses of others.
Introduction: For the next 40 days of Lent, can we explore what it would mean if we truly decided to obey the Great Commandment to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength?
Our Foundational Scriptures are Joel 2: 13, Deuteronomy 6.5 and Matthew 22.37-40.
Joel calls us to “Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” (NRSV)
This traditional Ash Wednesday Scripture reminds us that God’s character is merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and relents from punishing. This is a good place for us to start a Lenten journey.
We also might want to ask, what does God expect from us? If we consider God’s command in Deuteronomy 6.5 to “love the LORD our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might,” we can see specifically how God wants us to respond.
Finally, Matthew describes what loving the LORD our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might look like: when he says, we must “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”
* Based on the actions encouraged (or more correctly commanded) by these Scriptures, it makes sense to embrace using the Daily Examen where we reflect prayerful on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern God’s direction for us. Through times of quiet reflection, meditation, prayer and journaling we are invited to examine our day-to-day actions. The question we might consider to underscore this is, “Can I bring to my community, my family, my relationships, and my affiliations a person who is merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and relents from punishing?
* Our book has designed prayers from the Scriptures as if they are personal conversations with God. We encourage the reader to write his or her own prayers, too. God wants to hear from you!
Levels of Participation
Level 1: This is the easiest level. You can work at your own pace with the 7-WEEK HANDOUT. If you include the book PRAY. ACT. PRAY AGAIN, you may want to read some of the additional daily prayers. This Level is a personal experience—especially if this is the first time you have tried praying intentionally. Responses are not expected but are always welcomed. Prayer should never be a burden. I have enjoyed praying and listening for God’s responses most of my life.
Level 2: In this level, I encourage you to read daily the scriptures from our book, PRAY. ACT. PRAY AGAIN, and/or the daily insights I will send beginning on Ash Wednesday for the next forty days. Sending feedback from what you are learning and experiencing is not necessary, but welcomed. I want to stress that working at your level of comfort is important. Think of this as the time you spend with God, a very dear friend, who knows you and loves you and looks forward to your visits.
Level 3: This advanced level involves focusing on reading the scripture to help discern what kind of actions God might be suggesting for you. (If you want to work at this level, decide how frequently you want to communicate with me, and we can work on how we will communicate.)
Level 4: This Level is new this year. For quite some time, I have been keeping a daily prayer journal. I created my own process based on a model I found in the late 1980s. I have tweaked that form; made it my own; and suggest, if you participate at this level, that you work on establishing your personal style of recording prayers.
The acronym I use is the following.
First I ask, “What is my PART today?”
So before I even get out of bed, I try to remember to ask myself four questions:
What can I PRAISE about God today?
What do I need to ADMIT needs work in me this day?
What do I want to REQUEST God to help me with today?
For what do I want to give THANKS?
Here’s an example of how I might answer these questions:
I PRAISE God for the beauty of creation I see out my window everyday.
I ADMITTED my need to stop procrastinating and write this study.
I REQUESTED inspiration from the Holy Spirit.
I THANKED God for the joy I feel when I think of my six grandchildren.
This Study Has Four Goals.
Goal 1: To provide a vehicle for personal refection during Lent that will help to deepen individual relationships with God within a Beloved Community. I will provide information through emails, social media, and /or my web page.
Goal 2: To invite people to use multiple methods of communication: the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogging, email, (possible conference calls if I can figure out how to do that) and other methods.
Goal 3: To encourage people to record what they are learning systematically so they can see their own personal growth. If you participated last year in this study, you have a head start. Look at what you wrote last year, and see what new insights you may be discovering.
Goal 4: To form a Beloved Community. This is the groundbreaking part. How could we join together to encourage establishing a community that commits to being, “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” You see I feel strongly God does not want us to hate or to be taught to hate. If God wants us to love even those we find unlovable, how can we pray and act in a way that is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing? John 14.15-16 explains that God will send an Advocate to help us. John says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” At this Level, I want us to seek the will of God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within a “Beloved Community.” God’s love never fails. Jesus’ life shows us how to live. When we pray, act and keep praying to discern what God’s love is calling us to do, The Holy Spirit inspires us as individuals and as communities. If we honor God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength together, there is no limit to what we might be empowered to do.
If you want to participate at Levels 2-4, I ask you to write an introductory statement (it can be one sentence) about yourself that I can share. I will set up a private page for those on Facebook. Our website is prayactprayagain.org. I am 70 years old—so using the social media tools is a learning experience for me. As we break new ground together, I hope we can discover new ways to shine God’s eternal image into the world using 21st Century tools.
Remember: our guidelines are suggestions. Take what feeds your soul. Let me know if there is a way you see that might improve how people can participate. Thank you so much. Thank you for even considering joining this journey. Be blessed, and know you are perfectly made in God’s image.
Pray. Act. Pray Again. A 40-Day Walk with God (These words have been chosen from the suggested Scriptures to help us focus on how God is personally involved in every life.)
Week 1: The Agony in the Garden
Day 1. Known (Ash Wednesday)
Day 2. Released
Day 3. Provision
Day 4. Rescued
Garden accounts in the 4 Gospels: “…the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak…”
Mark 14: 32-50
Luke 22: 39-53
John 18: 1-12
Focus Verse: Day 1 – Known by God (Adapted from Psalm 139 (A Psalm of David). Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You understand my thoughts from afar. You scrutinize my path and are intimately acquainted with all of my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, Oh Lord, you know it all! Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? You formed my inward parts and created me in my mother’s womb. I give thanks to you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. In your book were written ahead of time all the days ordained for me, even before one of them passed. Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in your everlasting way. Amen
Because the divine became fully human, we know that He fully comprehends all aspects of our human frailties, especially our propensity to sin. There is nothing that we can hide from Him, and yet He loves us anyway.
1. Reflect on what it means to be truly known by God to the core of your being. Does this knowledge influence your attitude as you approach Him in prayer?
2. What do the prayers for this week tell you about the nature of man? What do they tell you about the nature of God?
3. What is your personal response to being known, released, chosen and rescued by God?
Day 1 Focus: Known. God knows you and loves you. Who in your life is a person who knows and loves you and is always glad to see you or hear your voice?
Level 1: Choose a time during the week when you will stop and allow God’s love to touch you. What will work for your schedule? Do you have time in the morning? Is there a break in the day that would work? My experience is that I need to be intentional in scheduling things that are important. You can read, pray, and/or reflect. If you want to share anything you are learning about yourself or your relationship with God, send me an email. You can use our book as a prompt, or any other devotional or Bible. Breathe deeply and know you are loved.
Level 2: Begin reading the daily messages in the handout or in the book, Pray. Act. Pray Again. Choose a time during the day that you will try to use as your appointment with God. My experience is that when I clear away the noise of the world and settle into a time of prayer and meditation, God can get my attention. All last night I kept waking up and thinking about how we might bring God’s love into the world. Then I felt a gentle nudge—knowing our word for today is “Known” and how God knows us and loves us and what that means.
Level 3: After you have observed Level 1 & 2 it is now time to think about what it is that you are being called to do. The message I heard last night in preparing for this journey was that I am to love others as God loves me. Before I can do that I have to know God loves me. God’s love is not pendant upon what I do or if I do something well. God just loves me. And God wants me to love the other in that same way.
Level 4: So today I Praise God for caring deeply for all of God’s creation. I admit I need support to love the way God loves. I ask for the Holy Spirit to inspire and instruct me. Then I thank God for the privilege of being a part of a community that will reflect God’s love into the world.
Day 2 Focus: Release Your Inner Power (Consider setting a timer, to make it easier.)
Level 1: (5 minutes) Breathe deeply and inhale God’s love. Sit quietly dwelling on the breath, length, height and depth of God’s love. Throughout the day, pause and thank God for your lungs.
Level 2: (10 minutes) Do Level 1, then after Reading the daily scripture take 5 minutes to discern what word or phrase catches your interest: “Adapted from Ephesians 3:14-21. For this reason I bow on my knees before You Father, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth derives its name, that You will grant to me according to the riches of Your glory, to be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in my inner self; so that Your Son Christ may dwell in my heart through faith, and being rooted and grounded in love, I may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of Your love, which surpasses mere knowledge, that I may be filled up with all Your fullness. Now by You who are able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than I ask or imagine, according to the power that works within me, to You be the glory in the church and in Your Son Jesus Christ to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
Level 3: (15 minutes) After pausing to breathe and reading the Scripture prayer, take 5 minutes to Write down what you discern that God is calling you to do. Personally, I cannot stop thinking about the horror of the shooting in a school in Florida yesterday. I think, what does it mean to “Pray. Act. Pray Again.”? My focus is landing on the word “Act.” While I know the power of prayer helps us more than we can imagine—it is also how we “act” after we pray that shines God’s Light into the world. I know we need to “act” to protect the innocent. These are the words that touched my heart after reading this Scripture: “You (God) who are able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than I ask or imagine, according to the power that works within me.” I know God is working within me, and I want to discern how God will empower me to help others.
Level 4: (30-60 minutes) At level 4 we seek to become a Beloved Community. We take seriously our responsibility to discern how God wants us to act. The summary in N. Graham Standish’s Book Becoming a Blessed Church on pages 232-233 describes Four Principles of Discernment for groups seeking God’s will:
1. We need to be grounded in Scripture. This requires us to engage in the reading of Scripture, participating in Bible Studies, regular devotional reading and listening to sermons. Many churches now have online services—which I find really helpful in rural NH. Whatever your faith tradition, it is a good idea to find a weekly service of worship or devotional practice (where you go physically or you observe online.) Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, Support Group meetings—be creative.
2. We need to listen for God’s voice. God will give us messages in many ways—through special events, poetry, bumper stickers—the list is long. However, not all messages are from God. Standish advises being “discriminating and somewhat skeptical. The true voice of God will resonate with you.” This is where a Beloved Community can be helpful. Trusted holy friends are priceless.
3. We need to clarify what we hear. This is crucial, and we need to be careful. False preachers, teachers, and prophets are “deceived by their own pride.” If God is talking to you, God is also talking to others, too. God will not pit us against each other. Standish asserts that if something is coming from God, “it will be affirmed by others who are seeking to determine God’s will.” This is what has inspired me to create Level 4 so that we can come together as a Beloved Community seeking God’s will.
4. We need to follow God in faith. This is the most difficult and yet most important step in forming a Beloved Community. All the human peccadilloes—doubts, reluctance, and/or trepidations will haunt us. But if it is God calling us to do something, “the impossible will become possible.” God will find a way if God wants something to happen. So I thank you for joining this online Beloved Community as we seek to follow God’s call to action.
Day 3 Focus: The Disciple’s Prayer (Provision)
Level 1: (5 Minutes) Sit quietly in a different spot today. Be conscious of your breath. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for “our daily bread.” Pause occasionally today to thank God for all the ways God supports us. Consider what it means to know we are enough and we have enough.
Level 2: (10 minutes) Do Level 1, then after Reading this daily scripture adaptation take 5 minutes to discern what word or phrase catches your interest: Adapted from Matthew 6:9-13. My Father in heaven, holy is Your Name. I am so grateful that Your kingdom has come through Your Son Jesus and that Your will is being done here on earth as in heaven. Provide for me the exact measure I need today to be able to carry out Your will – my measure of food, shelter, finances, patience, faith, kindness, wisdom, peace of mind, discernment, strength, healing, truth, and love. I thank You that You have forgiven all of my sins and ask that You will give me the empathy and love to forgive anyone who sins against me today. I claim Your protection from the temptations and schemes of the evil one. I acknowledge with deep reverence Your kingdom and power and glory forever. I boldly pray this prayer in the Name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen
A wise mentor once asked me if I knew I was enough. It really bothered me for days. What was she trying to tell me? I was working so hard to do my best. Then I realized she was telling me I did not have to improve—she wanted me to see my own worth. I want to share with you what she shared with me—namely that you are precious to God just as you are. We do not earn God’s love.
Level 3: (15 minutes) After pausing to breathe and reading the Scripture prayer, take 5 minutes to Write down what you discern that God is calling you to do.
Level 4: (30-60 minutes) At level 4 we are seeking to become a Beloved Community. We take seriously our responsibility to discern how God wants us to act. When I was growing up, during Lent we were expected and/or encouraged to “give up something.” The practice of fasting is useful and can help us to establish discipline. If you have decided to fast during Lent, I would love to hear what you are doing and what you are learning from that discipline. If you want to learn more about fasting, I recommend the chapter in Richard Foster’s book on fasting, Celebration of Discipline. He describes how spiritual fasting is not about gaining political power or attracting attention to a good cause (p. 48-49). He stresses that fasting can help us to see “[h]ow easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need once we are enslaved by them.” (p. 56) What stood out to me this morning from this prayer is how it addresses everything that is essential. It focuses on needs, not wants.
We are just beginning this journey together. My plan is to begin introducing each person in this group next week. I want to share your insights and seek to find what God is placing on our hearts that might move us to action. Please take time in the next week to send me an introductory description of yourself that I can share as we form a Beloved Community that seeks to reflect God’s love on earth as in heaven.
Day 4 Focus: Rescued
Level 1: (5 Minutes) On this forth day when you take your seat notice if your breathing slows down. Your body may be remembering that this is a time to relax and reflect. Think about how God—knows, releases, provides for, and rescues us. Take time to remember when you have been helped unexpectedly. Be thankful.
Level 2: (10 minutes) Do Level 1, then after Reading this daily scripture adaptation, take 5 minutes to discern what word or phrase catches your interest:
Adapted from Psalms 5, 6, 13. Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my groaning. Be gracious to me, Oh Lord, for I am pining away; heal me, O Lord, for my soul is greatly dismayed. I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears, my eye has wasted away with grief. How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will the enemy exalt over me? Please consider and answer me, O Lord, my God. Return, O Lord, rescue my soul and save me because of Your loving kindness. I trust in Your loving kindness. In the morning I will pray to You and eagerly watch. In the morning You will hear my voice. My heart rejoices in Your salvation. I sing to You Lord, because You always deal with me bountifully. Amen.
The phrase that speaks to to me today is, “my soul is greatly dismayed.” Every time I see the survivors of the violence in Florida, I weep. I want to join hands with every adult I know and create a circle of protection around every child and teacher on this earth. My prayers are anointed with tears and my hands and feet want to rush into action. I hear the pain, the layers of distrust, the consequences of neglect, the long-term lingering damage to survivors, and the misplaced anger that will be awakened all over the world. I believe that God weeps with all of us, and I trust that “The Lord, will rescue our souls and save us.” I have seen God’s loving kindness heal. I trust that God will reveal to us what we need to do. My prayer is that the voice of God in our hearts is strong enough to break through the noise of the crowd that would rather blame and shame than walk the walk of creating a Beloved Community that is a safe place for world-weary warriors “to beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” A Beloved Community where we have decided we shall not lift up sword or utter a violent word—where we will not teach people how to go to war any more. Where peace beyond understanding is strengthened by a love so strong it rescues, rather than eliminates, and it heals rather than hurts.
Level 3: (15 minutes) After pausing to breathe and reading the Scripture prayer, take 5 minutes to Write down what you discern that God is calling you to do.
Level 4: (30-60 minutes) As we form a Beloved Community, we will affirm that God knows, releases, provides for, and rescues us. This is not a God that leaves us on our own. How do you think we can decide we shall not lift up sword or utter a violent word? How can we show that embracing God’s commandment to love will make us stronger than waging war?
If you have the time and the inclination I invite you to email a little description about yourself, and/or reflections on what you are learning to share with the group. I will explore the possibility of a conference call for those who would like to participate. Ideas and suggestions and critiques are welcomed. God bless you on this Holy Lenten Journey.
Learn more about the book: Pray Act Pray Again Lenten Edition