Grandfather wrote his own Preface, so let’s begin there.
“The spectacle of sermons in print has been compared to a visit to a mortuary for the purpose of viewing a departed friend. What we cherished — the smile, the personality, even the mannerisms are all gone, leaving only the cold and lifeless remains.”
Ah, preaching is a spoken art. It’s all about delivery and eye contact and intonation. There’s more to it than the words. How can that possibly convey when all we have left is printed type? I wonder if the Biblical writers ever had this foreboding. Just words, what will they have to say, what possible pleasure could they give, to someone who never knew me, never saw me, never heard me?
Yet, Grandfather did have them typed out thanks to “Mrs. Orlando Berg for the suggestion that his manuscripts be turned ‘into printer’s copy.'” That despite her overcrowded secretarial schedule she found time to prepare the typescript and enlisted three others (mentioned by name) in the “arduous task.” To them Dr. Rilling offers his “warmest gratitude” for “our book.”
And it’s in the “our” that I suspect he took comfort and drew confidence. What Dr. Rilling knew, and what wisdom and knowledge he drew from, were due to others – many others. He writes, “Every author draws upon the stored up wisdom of the past in others’ books and finds his better thoughts coming from the living encounter of mind with mind.”
We are what we read, as in many ways we are what we eat, provided we don’t spit it out, but manage to chew it a bit and subject it to our powers of digestion. Dr. Rilling sought to lend the product of his preaching to the nutritional climate of his day, that the good of it might nourish others and provide sustenance for their days.
But he didn’t come to this conclusion on his own. It grew out of the “thrilling encounter of weekly worship in a congregation whose hunger for the Word of God is a constant challenge and encouragement.”
Wow. Would I say that my weekly worship is thrilling?
(Personal aside: I love his word choice here, as I used to introduce myself saying, “Hi, I’m Wendy Rilling, that’s thrilling without the ‘th.'” Not to influence your opinion of me, but hey, at least you may remember me.)
But back to thrilling worship… would I say that my hunger for the Word of God challenges and encourages my pastor? Have I even considered that we are partners in this endeavor, he/she and I? That I have a responsibility to come with my questions, respond with my doubts, and take my enthusiasm to the study the Word of God on my own?
Well, this congregation apparently did, and so Grandfather, in his gratitude, said this is not “my” book, this is “our” book. Rather, it is the story of the group of us finding meaning and purpose in The Book. It is not a spoon feeding to helpless infants, but a meal set before discriminating patrons. Dr. Rilling is around the table with these, and even perhaps sees himself at the head of this table with the responsibility to pay the bill — which he most certainly knew he didn’t have in cash.
This book is his payment in full. In story, in prayer, in wisdom, in lesson, and in the telling of it all, laid out in cold type, it is anything but dead. It is as alive for me today, as I can only imagine it was to its original hearers.
To him and to them I express my warmest gratitude.
First Thessalonians (5:17) says it clearly: “Pray continually.” I assume that means 24-7, 365. So, if I understand that correctly, that means my life should be one continuous prayer. Praising. Confessing. Thanking. Asking. But I think there’s more. I think God wants me to be going about His business here on earth, too. So, if God expects me to pray without ceasing, He must have designed me to be doing and praying at the same time. Multi-tasking.
We’re good at multi-tasking these days. Texting while driving. Shopping while chatting. Pretending to listen while we’re thinking of the 100 things we really should be doing. Actually I don’t think any of those things are truly mulit-tasking. I think we ping between things to accomplish those. In and out of our circumstance. Text, then look to see if the traffic is moving, then back to text. Yes?
So I guess it’s natural to see prayer the same way. Pray, then do. Pray, then go. Pray, then speak. But if God actually wants us to pray continuously – without stopping – that means we must have been made for this. In fact, it may be the one thing we can truly multi-task.
Except we don’t. We treat it as we do all the things we multiply. Add it to the list and then check it off. Perhaps we’re a bit better and weave it in throughout. But that’s not continuous.
If, just for the sake of argument, I could pray AND do at the same time, what would that look like? The prayer form would have to keep changing along with whatever I was doing. If I was talking, prayer would be in the words. If I was listening, prayer would be in the listening. If I was moving, prayer would be in the motion. If I was writing, prayer would be in the recording.
Not, first this then that, but both together…at the same time. That would be life lived completely God’s way.
I pulled out my resistance band yesterday (it’s a stretchy band that I use for my own exercise and in fitness activities I do when I lead groups) and choreographed motions/exercises to the hymn ‘Spirit of the Living God.’ I pull it. It resists. I pull harder. It moves. The give and take of exert and respond in the rhythm and movement of words and song. The song ends…”Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me” and I bring the band, taut between my hands, down to rest. In that moment I can feel the residual effects of the resistance and the stretch I’ve just performed. I can literally feel the prayer I have just prayed, and I am stronger.
I have been strengthened in prayer. That is multi-tasking, and I think God is okay with it.
**Thank you to the folks at the Upper Room and the Global Board of Ministries who invited me to participate among them at SOULfeast 2013 this year. This inspiration is the fruit of that invitation.