Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Worship services, spiritual friends, and prayer

Lynne Baab • Tuesday June 20 2023

Worship services, spiritual friends, and prayer

The children have come forward. One of our talented leaders, Lisa, has brought her brother to help with this children’s time. “Did you ever want to be a superhero?” Lisa asks her brother. They banter back and forth about the superheroes they wanted to be and the superpowers they wanted to have.

Lisa asks the kids, “Which superpower would you like to have?” One kid says she would like to fly, and another mentions seeing through walls. Lisa says that Jesus had superpowers, and he used them for the purpose of love. We, too, she says, can use the power we have for the purpose of loving others.

Two hours later, Dave and I talk about the worship service over lunch. I say that I really liked the children’s time. I am always grateful for Lisa’s creativity and her ability to engage the children, and having her brother there was fun. “I thought her main point was profound, too,” I tell Dave. As I talk, a new idea comes to me. I said, “Remember what I used to say about power and love?”

Dave patiently lets me recount that I had a bit of an AHA moment in my 30s. As a child, I had learned about God’s power in church, and I became a committed Christian at 19 because God opened my eyes to the truth of the Gospel. I was in my 30s before I realized that God loved me, and that love was central to the Gospel. Ever since that moment, I contrasted God’s power and love. I viewed them as two distinct components of God’s character that we affirm simultaneously but that aren’t connected to each other.

Lisa’s children’s message helped me see that they are not separate. God’s power enables God’s love to shine into our lives, extending to all humans and the whole created world. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in us, empowering us to love like God loves. That moment at lunch last Sunday complemented my AHA moment from my 30s and deepened it. God’s power is for the purpose of love.

In discussing the spiritual practice of worship, Adele Alberg Calhoun writes,

“In worship we fall into the arms of God and say, ‘Have your way with me.’ . . . The classic disciplines of worship focus our attention on the beauty of the Trinity—the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful.” [1]

I know that for many Christians, walking into a worship space on Sunday morning can be filled with a myriad of emotions ranging from expectancy of a good experience to frustration about the prelude music that’s already playing, and including joy at seeing friends as well as irritation about a dreaded responsibility. In the light of all those emotions, we can pray that in worship services we will be able to focus our attention on the beauty of the Trinity, “the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful.” We can pray that God would open our ears to hear something helpful and open our eyes to see beauty that will transform our days.

In addition to Lisa’s words during the children’s time, I needed someone to talk with. I needed to process out loud what I was thinking. Without that conversation over Sunday lunch, I’m not sure I would have realized that the children’s time precipitated significant thoughts about God. My husband Dave, of course, plays many roles in my life. One of those roles is “spiritual friend.”

Calhoun writes that spiritual friendship “involves cultivating a covenant friendship where I can naturally share about my life with God.” In spiritual friendship, our desire is to “develop a friendship that encourages and challenges me to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.” [2] Some married Christians find spiritual friendship with their spouse, and some don’t. Christians might find spiritual friendship in a small group, at work, with a neighbor, or in a service team at church.

A major characteristic of spiritual friendship for me is patient and insightful listening. At lunch on Sunday, Dave let me talk about what I was thinking, without interrupting or giving advice. He affirmed that this was a significant revelation for me. Spiritual friends often ask questions of clarification, inviting us to go deeper. Spiritual friends pray for us, and they often also pray with us.

If you don’t have any spiritual friends, you can ask God for one. Or two or three. We can ask God for conversations that truly do encourage and challenge us to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We can also ask to be the kind of spiritual friends who make space for others to explore what they are learning about God.

Beautiful God, even when our emotions about church are conflicted, help us draw near to you when we enter into communal worship. Help us hear your voice. Give us moments with spiritual friends where we can truly process how you have spoken to us in worship. Thank you that you use your amazing power for the purpose of love. Please help us to grow in doing the same.

(This is the sixth post in a series on spiritual practices and prayer. If you’d like to learn more about spiritual practices and see a list of all the posts in the series, the first post of the series is here. Next week: the Sabbath and prayer. Illustration by Dave Baab: Myrtle Edwards Park and Elliot Bay in Puget Sound, Seattle. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

In 2011, I interviewed 62 congregational leaders about the role of listening in their church’s ministry. That research grew into a book, the Power of Listening: Building Skills for Mission and Ministry, and several articles:

[1] Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us, Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015, page 27.
[2] Ibid, page 173.

Next post »« Previous post