Well, here we are. This summer we are focusing on building Christian character as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives to produce the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Each week as we talk about one of the fruits of the Spirit we are also going to talk about a particular spiritual practice that opens us up to the work of the Spirit as we become more like Jesus.
Yesterday the fruit was love (thank you, preschoolers, for your awesome representation of love!) and the practice was prayer. The scripture that we focused on was Matthew 5: 43-48 in which Jesus tells the people to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." There is a direct connection between loving our enemies and becoming perfect (or more like Jesus, or sanctified, or however else you think of it).
Our assignment yesterday was to think of someone that you don't like, or someone that you find very unlovable, and to pray for them. Here's the excerpt from my sermon:
Right now I want you to think about a person or a group of people who you dislike. Someone who you let yourself indulge in disliking. The person that, when you’re at home alone and no one is looking, you practice telling off.
And I want you to pray for that person every day this week. Don’t pray for them to change or to go away or to be more likeable. Instead, pray for their well-being. Pray for their family. Thank God for creating them as beloved children and for Jesus’ willingness to die for them. Thank God that when Christ comes again you will be feasting with them at the heavenly banquet.
Make this prayer for your enemy part of your daily prayer life. And if you don’t already have a prayer life then this is where you’re going to start. Start of slowly if you like…five minutes each day praying for this person. If you’re a prayer journaler like me, use your prayer journal. If you’re a sit still and pray person, do it then. If you pray in the car, spend that time praying for that person. But before you do, ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart and to make you more able to love as Jesus loved. Ask the Holy Spirit to work in your life in this way.
Starting next Sunday there will be a box on the kneeling rail where you can share your stories all summer of how these practices have given the Holy Spirit room to work in your life. I will be the only one to look at them unless you give me permission to share. You can sign your story or keep it anonymous. If you give me permission to share it without your name attached, that's great. Or if you want to keep it only between me and you that's perfect, too.
I am trusting that as we practice these things together that we will hear stories of the Spirit working powerfully throughout the church. And what a glorious gift that will be!