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11.03.17 | Faith | Hope | by Suzie Sterrett

    In today's world, we all scramble to download the most recent software updates to ensure that our computers run efficiently, bugs are fixed, and hopefully, we are protected from viruses. However, how often do we update our prayer life to fix problems, protect us from evil, and serve God more efficiently? After listening to Pastor Chris Riedel's fall sermon series, Lord, Teach Us To Pray, I soon realized that my prayer life was definitely in need of an update.

    In May, my husband, Jeff, and I moved to a Williamsburg, Virginia where we are still searching for a Church home. One Sunday morning when we woke up too late to attend a service, I came up with Plan B—the Arcola podcasts! We had been in Northern Virginia for the introduction to the Fall Series, so I decided we would listen to all the subsequent missed sermons....sort of like the Christian version of binge watching or listening in our case. As a result of this sermon series, my faith has grown and my prayer life has been invigorated.

    In our quest to find a church in Williamsburg, I have listened to several podcasts of various local churches. One of the ministers spoke of a recent leadership conference he attended where the speaker said that in order for a church to become a uniquely better church, he encouraged people to move from "HOW TO WOW." When someone comes up to you with a new idea, most people start wondering—how am I going to accomplish that? BUT, if you want to become uniquely better, don't say how and stifle the conversation, rather just say WOW and let it sit for a little while before you jump in with your how's.

    This was one of those God moments for me—one of those times when God is gently tapping you on the shoulder and saying be still and listen, and listen is what I did. Pastor Chris' sermons provided a lot of WOW'S for me. Each week I listened to what he said and just let it sit awhile. I thought about the Scriptures and how Pastor Chris related The Lord's Prayer to my life and boy, the WOWS JUST KEPT coming. More importantly, however, Pastor Chris posed thoughtful questions as well as suggestions on how to make The Lord's Prayer a way of living and growing as a Christian everyday. You see I am guilty as charged. I committed The Lord's Prayer to memory long ago and the words easily slide off my tongue, but I think that in many ways, I had forgotten what those words really mean. The sermon series is helping me to clarify my thoughts and how I choose to live The Lord's Prayer. Let me share a few of my thoughts on each sermon in this wonderful series.

    Working as a teacher and being a daughter myself, I've seen that no human is perfect—not me, not my parents, no one. Only the grace and love of God, Our Father, gives us perfect love—immeasurable, unconditional, devoted love. WOW! We all need to remember that each of us is special and loved. So when I feel lonely or disappointed, I need prayer to guide me. I need a relationship with God, who is calling me.

    I love the way Pastor Chris said that Heaven is bringing us peace. My elderly parents are in their 80's and 90's and lately my heart has been I worry about them. Pastor Chris' words were so powerful and spoke to my life when he said God is with us so:

    * Don't be afraid.
    * Be at peace no matter what is going on in your life.

    I loved the way he said that God is healing, renewing, and providing us grace. Prayer can bring us peace so we need to talk, to be with, and to listen to God. My prayer life took Step 1 as I am finding specific times everyday to sit and talk to God...sometimes it is on our deck on a beautiful fall day or in the quiet of our home.

    Until Facebook Live streaming, I had to rely on the podcasts to hear Pastor Chris' sermons. Pastor Chris' sermons are an entirely different experience when you have to just rely on one sense—hearing. I find myself more focused on his words and those words become alive with more power and meaning.

    Well, I had another aha moment when Pastor Chris posed these questions....What language do I use? What name do I use in my prayer life? I loved the way in which he said that "Hallowed be thy name" is much more than a word or a name, rather it refers to a relationship with God and not a causal one. Everyday I use names to refer to people and relationships in my Jeff is my husband and my best friend. However, my prayers didn't reflect a relationship with God; I was just calling him by name. My prayers usually began with "Dear Lord" which seemed appropriate, but it doesn't really speak to my relationship with God. My prayers are changing and now I am purposefully thinking about the language I use in my prayer life.

    After listening to the podcasts, not only are Pastor Chris' sermons more compelling, but the music comes to life! When you can't see the choir, for me, the notes are clearer. I can focus on the words, the beauty of the tune and the voices lift up my spirit. Patrick's piano skills bring tears to my eyes. Each note receives his utmost attention, holding it just the right amount of time to give you pause and touch your heart. He plays with passion and an obvious love of music. All the choirs add so much to the service. Their voices effortlessly harmonize and touch your soul.

    Now I purposefully look for those experiences with God so i can call Him by name in my prayer life. So how did my prayer begin today? Dear God, creator of music that touches my soul....

    Of all the sermons, this one hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks (more on those bricks later). When Pastor Chris said, "If all you had this morning is what you said thanks for yesterday. What would be there? Who would be there?"

    WOW! WOW! WOW! Yes, I had to let this one sit and just ponder it. I had really been missing the mark and that statement changed my prayer life and has given me such clarity about the abundance in my life. It certainly gave me pause when Pastor Chris said that God blesses us with all kinds of gifts and we should share those gifts that abound in our lives. Since we have moved, I have signed up for several volunteer positions so that I can make a positive impact in our community. I helped students at The College of William & Mary with Student Impact Week, a special week encouraging student philanthropy to fund special projects in the community, while simultaneously helping The College. I am also volunteering at Colonial Williamsburg whereby I call donors and thank them for their donations. For awhile, we were only calling donors in Texas and Florida to let them know we were thinking of them given the recent hurricanes. No solicitation of money, just a call to let them know we care. The responses I received have been so heartwarming. Everyone has been so positive, even when they have lost so much. Additionally, I have found that I leave "the job" feeling uplifted, knowing I have made a positive impact. Hopefully, my gratitude will continue to "splash out" as Pastor Chris described.

    So earlier I spoke of the proverbial ton of bricks and what comes to my mind when I think of Arcola and bricks is yes, BRICKS OF HOPE. I am blessed with abundance beyond imagination and I want to share these gifts so I plan to buy some bricks and simultaneously, tonight, I will be thanking God for all that I have in my life.

    How do I live God's kingdom in my life? What am I doing to get out of my own agenda? All good and fair questions that have caused me to stop and think, to stop and pray, and to stop and reevaluate how I am living. How do I bring hope? How can I be a helper? How can I open up my heart and mind? Well, for starters, reaching out to someone who is hurting is a good beginning. This week I had the opportunity. One of the women in my fitness class came to class and was quieter than normal. Our instructor innocently asked her why she hadn't come to class last week and quietly she said, "My sister unexpectedly passed away." As she spoke, tears slowly rolled down her cheeks. Everyone expressed their sympathies, but nobody moved. Even though I don't know this lady well and didn't know how she would receive me, I walked over and just hugged her, held her and told her we were there for her. It was my way of showing God's will of looking out for the broken hearted.

    My prayers include asking for forgiveness but honestly, I don't name my sins. In reality, if I don't confess the specifics, I'm not really addressing what I don't want to talk about...but that is what I need to be doing! Again, Pastor Chris posed another thoughtful question...what would others say about me? What do I need to ask forgiveness for? Questions that I now know can be answered in the way I choose to pray.

    Well, my weakness is a Reese Peanut Butter Cup! This portion of The Lord's Prayer has multiple meanings for me. It could mean something as innocent as being tempted by chocolate or more serious temptations like drugs and yes, it could be being tempted by evil in my life. When Pastor Chris said that temptation is not being who God wants us to be, I started to think about the ways that temptation has affected me. What had I done that was in opposition to God? Well, if I am honest with myself, I have gossiped. I like the way Pastor Chris encouraged us to memorize scriptures and repeat them often. Right now I am starting off my day with Colossians 3:12 "Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another, but above all put on love." I like the way in which this verse mirrors Paul's directive to put on the armor of truth. It is a good way to begin my day in trying to be who God wants me to be.

    I love the way Pastor Chris said that we are done asking for things and now we just need to say thank you to God. I think I need to be more purposeful in growing in humble service. Throughout this sermon series, Pastor Chris provided me with a lot of HOW'S in living The Lord's Prayer. Now it is up to me. Lord, teach us to pray. Yes, I am a work in progress but I am learning to pray with purpose, with thanksgiving and with a grateful heart...and I will close with saying AMEN.

    Written by Suzie Sterrett, member of Arcola Church, retired school teacher and wife of Jeff. Suzie and Jeff recently moved to Williamsburg, VA.