Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Teach us to Pray, Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts based on a sermon I preached.

Several years ago, I was a volunteer on a Walk to Emmaus.  I was explaining to three or four women that we would have an opportunity in the schedule to gather together and pray with each other.  One woman was very concerned about this – not about praying, but about being asked to pray out loud in front of people – even just the few of us.  She had gone to the hospital to visit a member of her family who was ill.  The family was gathered in the waiting room.  Someone in the group asked her to pray, so she did.  At the end of the prayer, someone told her, “Well, that wasn’t a very good prayer.”  She was judging the words that had been used, and the way they had been said.

In this scripture, we are given the gift of a particular prayer – words that have become precious to all of us, that transport us to a place of holiness.  Even so, I don’t think Jesus was answering his disciples’ question with words they should pray, I think he was teaching them TO pray.

Before I worked at The Foundation, I worked in medical research – which is a whole different story in and of itself.  But anyway, an experience I had at that job always comes to mind when I think about prayer.  It had been a difficult year.  Two people who worked in our department were at a constant state of conflict, and there were times I would be pulled into the battle.  This went on for months.  I remember sitting in my lab, thinking about it, and I remember praying, “God, I don’t know how to solve this, but I trust that you do.  Please help.” What I remember is that this was the first time I had prayed about the situation.  Months and months of conflict, and I hadn’t thought to bring it to God.  It may not be true for you, but it is true for me – there are times when I forget to pray. 

Lord, teach us to pray, because sometimes we forget.

Maybe, when the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples,” they were asking for words, but I imagine Jesus knew that they, too, would forget to pray, and so he answered their question with more than the words to use.  In this scripture, I believe he was answering their question by teaching them about themselves and by revealing to them the nature of God.  And I think that once we understand those two things, then the words we pray aren’t important at all.  Once we understand those two things, we are at a sacred point of prayer.

Who are we? Why do we need to pray?  Jesus answers these questions in the prayer he teaches his disciples.  We are a people in need.  We are a people desperate for God, even if we don’t recognize it or remember it.  Look at the prayer again – it is a series of bold demands: give us, forgive us, lead us.  Douglas John Hall says that we are dependent – “give us,” guilty – “forgive us,” and lost and vulnerable “lead us, deliver us.”  We are a people who are in need of God, and Jesus is telling us that in our weakness – in our vulnerability – we come the closest to God.

Also, in this prayer, Jesus calls God “Father.”  Who can call God “Father?” Jesus invites all of us to.  And if that is the case, if we are invited to be so bold as to call God “Father,” what does that say about us? It tells us that we are God’s children – beloved.  What does that mean for the words we use when we pray? What do you want your children to tell you? Everything.  I think the use of the word Father means that we are invited – perhaps expected – to bring everything to God.  Don’t filter your prayers.  Don’t think there are some prayers that are too small or too selfish.  Don’t convince yourself that you are too sinful or too guilty to pray.  Don’t filter your prayers because you are ashamed or lost or because you don’t know what to pray.  Just pray.  Bring it all to your Father.  As I was preparing today, one of the commentaries I read said, “The word ‘Father’ establishes the relationship that makes the rest of the prayer possible.

Lord, teach us to pray, because we desperately need to.

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