We all know it is important to pray. Asked, we would certainly acknowledge that our prayer life is important. And we would likely assent to any addendum that reading Scripture should be key to any healthy personal prayer life.
But far too often, when we sit on our own with our Bibles in our laps in the early morning light, or attempt to grab 15 minutes of quiet during nap time, it can seem we are praying in isolation.
And when that prayer seems minimally fruitful at best, prayed through distractions and interrupted by a myriad of other things, we may start to feel like there’s no way it can be doing any good.
Even more so, when we are able to pray earnestly and reflect quietly and we find the Scriptures confounding and mysterious rather than enlightening and life-giving, we can quickly become disheartened.
Obviously, you do not need me to tell you to persevere in prayer—that it is important not to give up even when it feels hard or not particularly beneficial. You know that.
But maybe what I can offer you today is a reason bigger than yourself to keep trying at prayer and Scripture study.
Perhaps you’ve never considered it before, but the truth is your personal prayer life and Scripture study matter to the Church. The Church is richer for your efforts. The communal life of the Body of Christ benefits from your perseverance.
Have you never thought of it that way before?
Well, here are five reasons why your personal prayer and bible study matter to the Church:
Your personal intimacy with Christ contributes to a healthier relationship between the Bridegroom and the Bride. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his bride. The Scripture consistently offers us this metaphor and time and tradition have reinforced it.
If we, who are the living, breathing cellular life of the Church are nurturing our personal intimacy with the bridegroom, striving for connection with him, paying attention and training our hearts to listen to him, then that is one cell in the Body of the Bride that is healthier than if it wasn’t nurturing that relationship.
And one healthier cell makes for an overall healthier body. You influence the health of the Church at the cellular level, and a more prayerful you is a you more in love with Jesus, which means a Bride just that much more in love with her Bridegroom.
Imagine what a world full of women with access to and a heart for the Word could do for the Body of the Bride!
A Feminine Scriptural Imagination
Forming your feminine Scriptural imagination gives deeper life to the Living Word. There is no doubt that the insiored Word of God in the Scriptures is integral to the life of the Church. The Gospel of John calls Jesus himself the Word made flesh. The nature of God is revealed to us through the Scriptures, and that Scriptural understanding is an indispensable element of the sacramental life of the Church.
Each of us brings our own unique imaginative impression to our reading of and reflection on those Scriptures. And since each of us reflects some facet of the image of God, our unique imaginings and reflections are a glimpse into a unique aspect of the mind of God.
Particularly speaking, our Scriptural reflections as women bring a uniquely feminine imagining to the Word of God. And that brings a fuller picture of the image of God to the Church.
The Word is a living entity, both in the person of Jesus and in the way we read and respond to the written Word with the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The life of that Word is deeper and more fully lived when each Christian who is imbued with the image of the Trinity in his/her personhood is bringing it to life in his/her own unique way, applying his/her singular imagination to it.
And since so much of the written text of that Word and the expoundings upon it have been dominated by men over the centuries, the voice of the feminine Scriptural imagination is a rich addition to the life of that Word.
Your Prayer Is as Unique as You
The Church needs your reflection on the Word to influence and inspire your faith, it needs you reading and talking about the Word and what it reveals to you about God. Because the Church is made a richer, more living organism when your imagination is lively and active and displaying an aspect of the image of God only you can perceive and imagine.
You are the only one who can pray the way that you pray!
And your prayer and reading of the Word, in all its singular uniqueness, enriches the life-giving quality of the Word. It has nothing to do with your knowledge of theology or understanding of Biblical tradition, and everything to do with the way God’s image is imprinted onto your soul and your mind in a way He is not imprinted onto anyone else’s.
So the more you dig deep into the Word, the richer your relationship to that Word becomes, and the more life-giving does it become to the whole believing Body.
Women who commune with Christ know how to live in community. Perhaps prayer and knowing Christ do not make us perfectly fit for every community or perfect members of the Body of Christ. Surely, it is the aim of all of us who pray to seek perfection as Christ is perfect, but most of us find ourselves still a long way from that goal.
However, I would argue that women who pray regularly, particularly women who are encountering God in His Word regularly, are learning more and developing deeper intimacy with a relational God–to be exact, a God who is so relational he wants to commune with us.
And as we enter more deeply into that prayerful communion, we are drawn more deeply also into sacramental communion. We learn to accept our vulnerability, to trust in the goodness of God, and to unfold ourselves before him in order to find our true identities in him. Those lessons, repeated daily and over time, make us more malleable, humble followers of Christ.
And that transformation makes us women more ready to live with ups and downs, in hard and holy of life lived as a Body. We become more like our God, who is a communion seeker and community builder. And oh how the Church needs women who are ready to live vulnerably and humbly, being the connective tissue that draws the Body together and helps it live and move in unity.
Each day, as you draw near to Christ, consider how he is drawing you further into communion and community. Let your personal prayer propel you toward deeper communion with Christ and more authentic community among the Body of believers.
Look to the Liturgy
The liturgy is lived in the daily. The Church, through Lectio Divina and the sacraments, enacts the drama of the liturgy in a continuous cycle of days and hours, seasons and years. But the liturgy is not partaken of and left behind, part of something “other” than the daily life of the average Christian. The liturgy is the public, ceremonious representation of our daily reality.
The life we have in Christ and our constant pursuit of personal holiness is in relationship with him. In the liturgy, we move our bodies and pronounce with our mouths, and celebrate with our spirits the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, and our opportunity to pursue eternal life in Him.
But what are our daily lives if not just that? It is the same reality lived in a more private, personal context. Celebrating the public reality of liturgy enriches our personal daily practice of Christian discipleship.
Disciples whose daily lives become patterned on the rhythms of public worship and who live in a familiar flow of Scripture and prayer are a great asset to the Church when she is gathered to pray. Their prayer is richer, and in return, they leave the public liturgy more deeply fed and empowered to pursue personal holiness in their daily lives.
Each of us can be a greater asset to the Church and have a richer relationship to liturgy if we are joining our daily prayer to hers. Let’s not underestimate the transformative power of that!
Prayer is the heart of personal conversion, and personal conversion is the heart of reform in the Church. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whichever your denomination or type of church, I could pretty much guarantee that there are things you’d like to see improved in your own faith community. And with even more assurance, I’d bet there are reforms you’d like to see in the Church on a larger scale.
This is true of the Church as a living, breathing community of human persons. We see the failings of the humanity of the Church and we long for it to be a better representation of Christ. But the whole reform thing can be so tricky.
Reform not Division
We want reform but we don’t want to be divisive. We want change but we don’t want to push our own selfish agendas. I mean, as long as we are of good intent in our desire for reform.
The only sure way we can approach it is to seek our own personal conversion of heart and unity with Christ first and above all other things. Our prayer lives are integral to that conversion.
We cannot become more like Christ if we are not constantly seeking to know him more. And we know him through prayer. We soften to his will through prayer. We learn to discern his voice from our own or that of the world throguh prayer.
Without that process of conversion, any efforts we make at reform may be born of wrong intentions from the beginning or easily derailed by pride in the process. If we desire reform of the Church, we must start with the conversion of our own hearts.
And the transformation of our hearts is unequivocally linked with the discipline of prayer in our lives. Prayer is the place where we begin to pull the own log from our eye so we can go to work on the splinters in the Church’s.
That is a weighty list of reasons to pray, friends! I hope it encourages to know the value of your daily practice of prayer and Scripture study to not only your personal spiritual journey, but the whole Body of Christ. You don’t pursue Christ in isolation.
And the stronger you become in your commitment and communion with him, the stronger the Body of which you are a member. So let’s take heart and keep digging in to the discipline of prayer, friends.
For our own sake’s, but for the sake of the Bride too, whom we can make all the more radiant for her Bridegroom with our efforts.