First Week of Advent
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13: How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and ourLord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
After my first annual conference with the Great Plains, I decided to send a prayer note to each of the clergy that serves one of our 1007 congregations and to our clergy who serve in appointments beyond the local church as a way to be prayerfully and virtually present in love, when not able to be physically present.
I do this as my daily spiritual discipline setting aside some time each morning to open the Great Plains daily devotional email sent out each day by our conference communications team. TheDaily Devotional emails contain the picture, email addresses, and appointments of three to four of our clergy. It also features the lectionary scripture readings for the week, a daily devotional and prayer, and a list of prayer requests.
I spend some time reading and praying the lectionary text followed by praying for persons on and situations mentioned in the prayer request list then turn my attention to the clergy featured for the day. I spend some time looking at the faces of the clergy and reading the names of the churches where they are appointed. I try to remember if there have been times during my two years serving the conference when I have met and spoken to them. Often, I’ll open a map on my computer and locate the site of the congregations mentioned in the daily devotional and imagine what it is like ministering in their rural, urban, suburban, contexts. I see that some clergy pastor two, three, and even a four-point charge and I thank God for their lives and the sacrifices made by their families. Others pastor mid-sized churches, others pastors large churches and others pastor mega-churches. I try to imagine the faithful people who worship at the church, the life of their congregations, and all the good they do in the world for Christ by serving others and advocating for the vulnerable in their communities. Sometimes, I’ll search for the church’s website and click on the links to know more about the church, their people through pictures, and their ministries. If I have extra time, I’ll read an online newsletter or listen/view to a portion of an online sermon.
It is physically impossible to be with the 700 clergy, the 220 thousand United Methodists, or the 1007 congregations of the GreatPlains Conference simultaneously. But, like the apostle Paul who prayed for the church at Thessalonica, I can be present in my mind and heart with my grand community of faith as I remember the clergy and congregations in prayer each day. I can offer up to God prayers for blessings upon our clergy and congregations, praying that the Lord would empower them to increase and abound in love for another and all, just as I abound in love for them(1 Thessalonians 3:12-13). I can pray for their holiness of heart and life in all they do as they serve the Lord with joy. I do not claim to know how prayer works but I trust and experience that it does. I experience a spiritual connection in Christ through the Holy Spirit with all people throughout our Great Plains Conference. In prayer, I share in God’s character of outgoing love, and I can think beyond myself and grow in compassion for others even though I may be hundreds, even thousands of miles away.
This Advent we remember God’s ever-present love for us in Christ. Even though we cannot experience God’s physical presence, we can experience God’s ever-present and abiding love through the promised Holy Spirit and through the kindness, goodness, and love of others.
Eternal and ever-present God, in your loving mercy, hear our prayers for those we lift before you. Complete their faith. Empower them to increase and abound in love for one another and all. And, strengthen their hearts in holiness and blamelessness before you. Amen.