July 12-15 Valerie and I attended a conference called “Aldersgate” in North Carolina. Aldersgate Renewal Ministries is one of our United Methodist spiritual renewal groups and we had wanted to attend their conference for several years and this year it all came together for us.
Thursday we attended the pre-conference worship. I wondered, did that make it the pre-worship-worship? The worship leader was an acquaintance of ours through Spirit Song, Valerie’s church, and as soon as worship began, I felt God’s presence. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t leading worship and wasn’t thinking through the sermon or timing or wondering who is missing today or if the music really fits the sermon, or… perhaps it was because I was in a venue where everyone had traveled specifically to be here for this weekend and so were committed to the event. Perhaps it was because people were genuinely and enthusiastically engaged in worship. Perhaps it was because the Holy Spirit was truly present. Or, probably it was all the above. Just two weeks into serving you here at Lakeview, my mind had been busy closing down ministry at Spirit of Hope, helping transition that body to a new pastor, and then stepping into Lakeview and wondering what your needs, concerns, passions, and joys are. So, here I was at Aldersgate with much on my mind, but the worship that Thursday drew me into three days of prayer.
When I get to spend this kind of time, the prayer becomes “formation” prayer for me. Formation: the process of transformation which helps to conform us to the image of Christ. Unless you are prepared to change, you will not keep up a life of prayer. You will struggle to pray, struggle to find words, struggle to make the time and space for prayer. Formation prayer leads us away from “God provider of my needs,” to God – teacher, friend, encourager. Those of you who are teachers know that it’s hard work and sometimes your students are less than receptive (I know…that’s an understatement!). Formation prayer is both pursuing and being pursued, according to Richard Foster in Prayer Finding the Heart’s True Home. On the active side, you are sojourners, seekers, pilgrims, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, you are exercising your spiritual life and moving to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:12, 1 Tim. 4:7; Phil. 3:12-14).
On the passive side, God is pursuing you. You are attentive, responsive, warm, soft clay in the hands of the master potter. (Jeremiah 18) You need both the active and passive sides for God wants completeness for you – wholeness. Our theological word is “sanctification” – the process of becoming holy – fully set apart for God.
Friends, this is vitally important work for each of us. A healthy and whole soul needs our attention just as much as our diet and exercise. This is also vital work of the church. (By the way, when I say church, I’m talking about you. If I’m talking building, I’ll say ‘Lakeview’.) Vital = absolutely necessary, full of energy. If we assume the ‘church’ is necessary then the next question is, “Is the church full of energy?” In other words, when a guest steps onto the property, we know they will be welcomed, you are doing a great job there! Will they sense the energy of God’s presence? Will the infectious love of God show beyond the hospitality and smiles? I think it will, but we also need to nourish and nurture God’s presence and we’ll do that through the work of formative prayer.Aldersgate is another step closer for me, another renewed move for a softer heart and willing mind. If you have never experienced the Holy Spirit and you think that’s just a theological concept, I encourage you to open yourself to something grand, something good, some-one, that will change your life and your heart to be more like Jesus. Watch for more learning opportunities as we follow in John Wesley’s steps in becoming more and more holy (yes, this includes you!). Let me leave you this month with a prayer of formation;
Dear Lord Jesus, in my better moments I want nothing more than to be like you. But there are other moments…Help me to see how good conformity to your way really is. In my seeking for you may I be found by you. I love you, Lord. – Amen.