May 07, 2009

Prayer and Exercise

Last week, I mentioned the way I don't pray, which may spark one's curiosity regarding the way I do pray. I didn't plan on bringing this up, except that it's been something that I've been working on lately. I also bring it up because I mentioned a book I'm reading on prayer, and somehow the author of that book, Robert Benson, found my blog, read what I wrote, and left a comment. That's both motivating and intimidating, although the intimidating part is lessened somewhat by the fact that I've now found his blog ("the long pew," I put a link to it in the column to the right), and I already know a little about his prayer life, having read his book. His prayer life isn't perfect, either, and whether it's right or not, I find some comfort in that.

I know it sounds strange, but even though I'm a pastor, it sometimes feels a little awkward to take time to pray. "Shouldn't the pastor be at work? Why is he just sitting there with his eyes closed?" That's what I imagine people saying, although the only voice that I've ever actually heard say those words came from within me.

There's always something that needs to be done. I hope to find some time to pray, but something else always seems more important, more pressing. Phone calls need to be made, my report for the board meeting needs to be written, and this week's sermon isn't finished yet. Of course, the sermon is never finished until I give it on Sunday morning, and sometimes I even want to make changes to it Sunday afternoon, after it's been delivered. But I digress.

When I began my ministry here at Bixby Knolls Christian Church, I found that riding my bike to the church every day gave me some time to pray. In fact, prayers came quick and fast when the driver-side door of a parked car would open directly in front of me. However, those weren't the kind of prayers I was searching for.

When the weather got cold and the wind chill that one experiences while riding a bike became too much, I started walking to church. Walking works better for prayer than cycling. Some of my best prayers have taken place while I was journeying by foot, and the 15-minute walk to church was a perfect time frame. However, when a lady walking past me greeted me with a friendly "hello," I nearly stumbled over my own feet in surprise, lost as I was in prayer.

A few weeks ago the weather started warming up and I started riding my bike again, and I decided that there had to be a better way to pray. I'm the first one awake at my house, and I realized that I could use that time to pray ... and exercise. I work out three times a week, and realized that if I did that every other morning, and prayed every other morning, well, it would be a good start.

This is a rather disciplined sort of prayer for a free-thinking Disciple like myself. I've even dared to open up some books of prayer that I've had since my days in seminary; three different books on prayer, one published by the Presbyterians, one by the church in New Zealand, and one by the Disciples. Wouldn't you know, all of them have sections on daily morning prayer.

I just may have to start using them.

I'd like to pray like this every day. But on the days I exercise, there just isn't time. I know that sounds horrible, and it is. However, I'm making progress. I once heard a friend talk about Jesus' command to love our neighbor; he said that he couldn't love his neighbor perfectly, but he could work on loving his neighbor just a little more, a little better, each day. I know I don't pray perfectly, but hopefully I can get better at it, little by little, day by day, year by year.

The fact that I am as disciplined as I am is a hopeful sign. True, some mornings, I don't feel like praying. (Some mornings, I don't feel like exercising, either.) For both prayer and exercise, some days there doesn't seem to be much point to it. I think to myself, one day really isn't going to make much difference.

But still, I do it. It's work, as Robert Benson says in his book. It's a discipline. Besides, I've exercised long enough to notice that some muscles are a little firmer than they used to be. I may not get much out of one morning's prayer, but I know that, over time, as those mornings add up, my prayer life grows stronger as well.


Brian said...

Maybe it is "OK" to let your exercise be your prayer as well. Yoga is considered prayer/meditation. Maybe Christianity sometimes makes too much of a dualism between "for God" and "for me". I know us mainliners are always on the lookout for selfish individualism, but isn't taking care of our bodies an act of devotion?

Danny Bradfield said...

It is true that prayer and exercise often go together. Running, biking, hiking, and walking are all great moments of prayer for me--and necessary to my well-being. (I haven't yet figured out how to be in state of prayer as I struggle through a set of sit-ups, however.)

There is another type of prayer, using ancient words, that takes place regularly and at a fixed time. (My wording here sounds condescending--sorry, I don't mean for it to.) It is, as you say, a type of prayer that is less about me and more about God. And it's this second type of prayer that I'd like to spend some more time exploring.

Brian said...

You didn't sound condescending at all. I understand where you're coming from.

Anonymous said...

I understand why you do not pray everyday....If you do not know God it is hard to talk to him