Procrastination and Prayer

given on Sunday, February 1, 2009

The problem with procrastination is that you just never seem to get done with anything.  I feel like the week has just drug on and on.  My structure for preparing the service and the sermon just seemed to be missing.  I had sermon ideas when I was writing last week’s.  The note kept sitting beside the computer all week:  Help Wanted series:  LOL Leaders.  The next sermon was another help wanted:  Service-minded Workers.
Unfortunately, I found myself Saturday being uncomfortable with both of those ideas.  I have been troubled all week long by a thousand other ideas.  I began to wonder if I had failed as a prayer partner because the news just kept getting worse about unemployment.  I began thinking that maybe I had not been structured enough in my prayers.
I just could not get focused.
My thoughts kept circling around and around, and I found I was so wrapped up in what I was witnessing in my students and hearing on the news I was putting off prayer.  I feel somewhat like a tornado of thoughts about children and young people.  My mind was just swirling and the eye of the storm seems to be the uncertain future.
My prayers, I realized, may be working but my letting go is not.  My prayers for the crisis of unemployment are getting caught in the swirling concerns of my mental tornado.  This week unemployment and kids at-risk became the same storm.  Prayers do need structure.  Prayers need specific purpose.  Prayers are needed around the clock.
This week I had two students arrested during the school day, much less the same day.  One was even at school, but the other had not yet reached school.  The issues are probably different, but the effect is pretty much the same.  The outcome in our building was chaotic.  The truth is that the at-risk student is lost.
Friday I almost had a knockdown, drag-out between two students simply over the question of whether or not the Stahl’s plant in Warrensburg was completely shut down.  One student said not a soul was even in the building, the other said there were two employees still on site.  How silly!  But also, how sad.
In our team meeting, we talked about a couple of other issues and I learned that another student’s mother had lost her job and therefore he, too, had lost his source of part-time work.  Not to mention the job loss was their entire income as this was another single-parent household.  The discussion continued as we remarked how many students were really eating at school.  In the past, a cigarette was more important than a plate full of food, but not this year.  The food is important and for a few, it may be the only real meal they are getting that day.
I know you understand how the mental tornado has caused me to procrastinate from getting the sermon and the service completed this week.  The question of whether or not I have fulfilled the job requirement for prayer partner does not seem to be answered.  I suppose that the mental tornado has done its damage this week and now it is time to rebuild:  To clean up the rubble of the week and to start anew, much like we have seen Greenburg, KS, do since the tornado wiped out that community.
Here is my proposal:  Let us use today to review how to use prayer.  Now that may seem like a strange idea, but look at your own week.  How has it been structured?  The weather certainly has played a role in the week.  The news on TV has played a role.  The cost of living has played a role.  The news around the community has had a role, too.  Surely I am not the only one who has struggled with prayer this week.
Over the summer, I heard a strange version of the Lord’s prayer which was called “Template for Talking to God.”  I am fascinated with the wording ( from The Word on the Street ):
God in heaven, you’re our Dad.
We respect everything you stand for.  We want others to.
Please bring heaven on earth:  people living life your way, like the
angels do.
Please bring us what we need to keep us going each day.
Please acquit us, as we cancel our grievances and throw them all
away.
Please pull us back from the edge of evil, if we’re falling or being
thrown.
‘Cos you’re all that matters; you’re able to do it and you’re to take the
credit.
You’re on your own.
It’s your throne.
Absolutely.
The structure of the Lord’s Prayer begins with acknowledging that God is our creator and that we honor him.  Next there is a request for life here on this earth.  The prayer asks that we be given what we need, not what we want.  Then there is a request to make us honest with ourselves, to acknowledge our weaknesses.  It also makes us stop and consider how we treat others, especially in our traditional words.  Finally, the prayer turns it all over to God for his management.
When the mental storm hits us, we always have the Lord’s Prayer to guide us, to talk to God, and to let all the worries be turned over for his management.  So why did I procrastinate this week?  Why did I feel like I failed as a prayer partner?
I think the answer is right there in the Lord’s Prayer.  I failed to turn it over to God.  I failed to realize that the mental storm was not in my control and that I must only do my best, raise up my concerns, and let them go.  When a student brought in an extra weight on their shoulders, I forgot to ask God to guide me in helping them.  When a news story seemed so awful and grotesque, I was hungry for the details and failed to send up a flash prayer for all those involved in the issue.
Procrastination in one’s prayer life only allows one to hold on to the concerns.  Procrastination in prayer means I was trying to be in charge and not allowing God to work.  Procrastination in prayer means I wore down.
I should have caught the warning signs.  I was exhausted at the end of the school day.  Driving back across town, all I could do was yawn.  I wanted to eat all the wrong things—snacking to satisfy an emptiness I could not explain.  I wanted to escape, so I knitted rather than work on school papers or the sermon.  I was so mentally drained that I could not pick up a book or the Bible to read and listen for God.

Here is another little piece of advice taken from Matthew 6:9-13 in the words of the author of The Word on the Street:

More instructions on using the hotline to God:  don’t milk it; do it in secret—God sees.     Don’t   invest in goods with a sell-by date; build up your balance in heaven.  Don’t let cash boss you around.  Don’t panic.  Don’t judge, especially when you’re just as guilty.  Don’t waste sacred things on couch potatoes or airheads…
When I read this version of those instructions, I can see that some of those pieces of advice were part of my problems this week.  I procrastinated, yes, but I also did not follow all of God’s instructions.  I should have sat down with the Bible and done more reading.  I should have prayed and let go.
Saturday I procrastinated a little more.  When I got up and started getting around, I realized I wanted to make some bread.  I love to make homemade bread; not only because it tastes so good, but also it is a process that is healing to me.  It is a smell that fills me up much like the Holy Spirit does when I am completely in tune with God.  I needed to stop and work with the yeast and the dough.  I needed to be filled up—renewed for the coming week.
The yeast was working on the stove, I was getting everything else ready and I remembered that it would be communion this Sunday.  I sat there kneading the bread for that first time, and I thought about the bread we were going to share.  I found myself in prayer.  The work of baking homemade bread turned into a form of prayer that fitted my personal style and my need.  The sermon began rolling out in phrases and songs and ideas to share.  I had to let go of the worries and let God guide me.  I stopped procrastinating and as these words come to a close and we join together for communion, you know that the bread and the juice is one more form of prayer.
Dear God,
We heard your plea for prayer partners last week.  We thought we would be able to manage that task well because we do believe in your power and your grace.
Unfortunately, there are those of us like myself who did not carry out the job as well as we would have liked to do.  But today, we turn once again to you to ask for your guidance.
We lift up all the concerns of the unemployed, we lift up all the at-risk students in our communities, and we lift up each other as prayer partners.
Do not give up on us, be patient as we continue to work on our own skills of talking with you.  We do believe in you and we do want to follow you.  As we take the bread and dip it into the cup, let us know that you are with us.  Let us know that the Holy Spirit is within each one of us as we talk things over with you and listen for you.  Let us know that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  –Amen

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