Grow #2 – Finding Sacred Space

Grow #2 – Finding Sacred Space

Grow #2: Finding Sacred Space / Connecting with God through Prayer
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: Luke 11:1-19

This Sunday sees the return of the second edition our ongoing “Grow” series. In each of the months from May to September we have put aside one Sunday to focus on our church’s vision to grow in our spirituality and in our ministry and mission as a church. In the first of this series we considered how we were growing and reflected on our own personal relationship with Jesus. Over the next three grow sermons we will be exploring some of the ancient spiritual practices and how they might be transformative in our modern context.

This Sunday we will be looking in particular at the importance of finding sacred spaces and how they can help us to connect deeply with God. Prayer is a key spiritual practice to do this, but what could prayer or solitude or meditation look like in a modern context. In finding ways that work well for us, we hope to encourage us to implement these spiritual practices more into our lives and through this experiences spiritual growth.

This Sunday we also will be hearing from our local KCEA worker, Andy Tuskan, as he comes and shares with us about the ministry he is doing through the local high school. Our church is a key supporter of KCEA and we look forward to being encouraged by this update from Andy.

As we have already mentioned, today is the second of our Grow sermon series where we are focusing on our church’s Vision for 2024 and encouraging us as a congregation and as individuals to grow!  About this time last month I preached the first sermon in the series and asked the question – if our vision is to grow this year – both in our spiritual growth and in our mission as a church … how are we growing?

In that sermon, I used this picture to help explore some of the ways that we can experience spiritual growth in our lives.  Using Psalm 42 as a guide, we talked about how we can look back and be encouraged by the times when God’s presence was really strong in our lives and the people who helped sow the seeds of faith in our lives.  We talked about how we need to walk in the light and the warmth of our relationship with Jesus.  The soil represented the places or communities that encourage growth in our lives and the water or rain were the spiritual practices that nurture spiritual growth.  And lastly the fertilizer was like those special moments or events were our growth was turbocharged.

When the 9am worship support team met last month, we thought that it might be helpful for all of us to spend the next few GROW sermons focusing on the water and soil in this picture – in particular to do two things:

  1. Ponder some of the spiritual practices that Christians over the millennium have found helpful for their spiritual growth and how we might both understand them in a modern context and incorporate them more into our lives
  2. Think about how we can find and sink our roots deeply into the community that will help us to grow

We narrowed that down to three topics to look at over the next three months:

  1. The spiritual practices of prayer, solitude, reflection and/or just being in the presence of God – or as I have summarised it for today … finding sacred spaces.
  • Then on the combined service in July 28 – it will be the 3rd Growth sermon where we will be looking at the importance of Christian community or fellowship and how we can encourage those pockets of rich fertile soil which will stimulate our growth.
  • Then on August 25 we will be last of our Grow sermon series where we will see how there are lots of different resources and tools that we can access to grow in our faith and knowledge of Jesus.

And surrounding each of these sermons will be some simple, practical ways in which we can do them more … so that we are not only learning about growth but implementing some of these spiritual practices or tools into our daily lives and experiencing growth in a way that works for us.

Sound exciting? 

So today our broad theme is prayer – so let’s jump into our bible reading from Luke 11.  If you were doing a sermon on prayer, this is THE classic bible reading that one should use.  Jesus had a regular habit of withdrawing to a quiet place and praying to God the Father.   The disciples, seeing that this was obviously something that was good and spiritually helpful to Jesus, ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

Rather than instructions on how to pray, Jesus gives them a set of words to say … or a framework of:

  • Acknowledging who God is – “Father, hallowed be your name”
  • For God’s kingdom to be established – “Your kingdom come”
  • Asking that God will supply our needs – “Gives us ach day our daily bread”
  • To forgive our sins and help us to forgive others
  • and live in a way that honours God.

Great teaching – but the Lord’s prayer is more than a framework, it also includes gems about prayer that shine through.  Like how prayer should be personal … Jesus starts the prayer with the word Father … or Abba (which is like saying daddy) … a title that you would use to address someone who was really close to you.  Jesus is saying that prayer is like drawing near to someone who deeply love and being with them.

There is also this idea that our prayers of intercession is first about praying for what God wants, for what is best for the kingdom and secondly praying for what we need before we even get to praying for what we want.

And the gem that we are part of the answer to the prayers that we pray … we ask God to forgive us but that is intertwined in helping us to be forgiving in the way that we interact with others.  Our prayers are reflected in what we do.

As I said – great teaching and the classic passage on prayer … but as good as it is, this passage might also give us a narrow perspective on prayer.

When we read a passage like this we might get the idea that prayer is about going alone to a quiet place and praying with words.  And I want to make clear this morning that while prayer can be that … prayer can also be much more than that. 

If we look at some of the ancient spiritual practices – the idea of prayer is a spiritual communion with God; an act of worship of being in the presence of God; or a deliberate communication with God.  And there are many different spiritual practices that would aid people in prayer … things like:

  • Solitude – stepping away from the distractions of people (or we could add technology) and embracing being in the presence of God.
  • Meditation – where we empty our minds of all things and deeply reflect on one thing – whether that is God’s presence or a passage of scripture – and then listen for God to speak
  • Stillness or meditative breathing – in which we become still and know that God is God.
  • Prayerful movement – where one walks or moves in such a way that part of our mind is preoccupied by the movement and the rest our mind is left open for God to speak.  An example of this would be the labyrinth.  Some people experience this on a bushwalk.
  • Some people would even put things like fasting in this list if it aid in our focus of prayer.

These spiritual practices are less about the words we pray but more about making space to be at prayer.  Today I want to encourage all of us to pray more … but maybe that is just as much about finding these sacred spaces to be in prayer as it is about finding the words to pray.

Is this making sense?  Let me share two short stories from Genesis that highlight this idea – both involve one of the forefathers of the faith … Jacob.

Jacob is the second son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham and brother to Esau.  If you remember the story, for some reason, Jacob’s mother convinced him to trick his dying father to give Jacob the family blessing instead of his older brother Esau.  It turns messy and Jacob finds himself in a distant land; separated from his family … and possibly God. 

In Genesis 28 we read that at a place called Bethel Jacob lies down to sleep and has an experience of prayer.  Not a prayer as in Jacob saying words to God but rather Jacob had a dream in which he experiences this connection with God; where Jacob felt he was brought into the very presence of God. 

Do you know this dream?  There is this a stairway to heaven and God is standing on it.  And in this prayer, it is God who speaks.  God says, “You might think that you are distant from me, but I am always with you.  I will watch over you and bless you and bring you back to your family and land.”  Jacob wakes up and said “How awesome is this place!  God is in this place, but I never knew”.

What do you think – I am being a bit too broad in my understanding of prayer?  Whatever we call it – it was a spiritual experience which helped Jacob to grow.

Let me give you a second example – four chapters later in Genesis 32.  In the 3 chapters in between Jacob gets married (twice) and now has a family and is coming back to the promised land to reconcile with Esau.

This time we read in verses 9-12 that Jacob did actually pray with words.  Something on the lines of “God, I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown but save me from the hand of my brother Esau”.  Then he sends his wife, family and all his worldly possessions across the river to where his brother Esau was camped with the message that he was coming soon!  In verse 24 we read that Jacob was left alone … and a man wrestled with him until daybreak; when Jacob’s hip was dislocated.

What?  There was nobody else there – who did Jacob wrestle with?  Genesis 32:1 gives a hint when it says that the angels of God met Jacob … but most commentators argue that the person Jacob was wrestling with was actually … God. 

Whether this idea of wrestling with God is literal or metaphorical … I think that this is a good analogy for what sometimes prayer can be like.  When we enter into a time of praying; of being in God’s presence; of trying to discern God’s will or guidance or word to us … sometimes it can be like Jacob’s ladder where it just comes to us simply and clearly … and sometimes it can be like a wrestle.  Sometimes prayer can be difficult and a struggle and can seem like we are going for ages without any clarity.  Sometimes it even feels like we come off second best, with a limp … but if we preserve we find that when the sun comes up – we know what we need to do.  Jacob knew it was time to cross the river and go to his brother.

It sort of reminds me of Jesus words in our bible reading … For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened … it might take some time and might be a struggle … but the door will be opened.

If we are called as a church and as individuals to spiritually grow – then I believe that the practice of prayer needs to be a part of that.  Prayer is part of that rainfall that if it is regular it can help us to grow.

But I hope that I have today I have shown that the ancient spiritual practice of prayer encompassed not just the sitting quietly and praying words but also things like going for a walk and letting the presence of God fall on you and soak into you.  Or it could be trying some mediation or journalling or stillness where we make space for God to speak to us.  Ot it could also be wrestling with a difficult issue or decision or problem until we get a sense of how God is directing us to go.  Or it could be sitting quietly and simply having a conversation with God in the same way we would talk to a parent.

I guess the key is for you to work out what works well for you – what helps you to grow. 

Over the next month – the month of July – we are going to encourage you to be praying more and in doing so, hopefully stimulating some growth.  We are going to do this in two different ways:

  1. If you would like to, twice a week over the next month we are going to offer you a some of tools to help you to pray.  These might be prayers for you to use, or a prayer list that you might like to pray for.  They might be things to reflect on as you walk or podcasts or articles that encourage you to listen for the voice of God.  Or they might be tools such as the app that Nigel uses to remember his prayer list.  If you are interested – these will go up on our website or scan this QR-code now and we will email it to you.
  • We would also like to give you encourage you to pray more or to engage with some of the ancient spiritual practices that we have mentioned earlier.  Hopefully some of the tools that we are offering you will encourage this – but we would also like to encourage us to pray together.  And I have plenty of ideas of what we could do – but not the time to do them all.  So, maybe I can list off some ideas and if you think that this is something that is worth giving a go as a community, then raise your hand and if there is enough energy, we will find a time to give it a go…
    • Offering prayer after worship – come up and a minister or pastoral leader will pray with you
    • A small intentional prayer gathering like we did for Andy the other night or that we used to do on a Friday morning where we pray for the church
    • A prayer experience here one evening here at the church were for about an hour have a whole bunch of different prayer experiences – such as a labyrinth – where you can try different things and see what works for you
    • A structure prayer walk together down through the bush at Bobbin Head

Sounds good … let me just remind you that the whole point of these grow sermons is to help us to grow.  I think that we can all agree that focusing on prayer or our connection with God or being more in the presence of God is something that will help us to grow.  So I encourage us during July to make prayer a regular habit.  Let’s seek God more through the practice of prayer and I know that God will hear us, that what we are seeking we will find and that God will open the door for us.