Praying SimplyPosted: July 28, 2013
SIMPLE STRAIGHT FORWARD ADVICE ABOUT PRAYER
If we were to line up all of the teachings of Jesus, we would discover that Jesus talked about money more often than any other subject. “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” “‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Jesus talked more about money than prayer. He understood our obsessions. And when he did teach about prayer, he gave us simple straight forward advice grounded in his own Jewish tradition.
AMIDAH 18 BENEDICTIONS
The form of Jesus’ prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, appears to be an abbreviated version of the Amidah, the Standing Prayer, sometimes known at the 18 benedictions. Good Jews were supposed to recite this prayer daily, however, in times of emergency, one was permitted to pray a shortened form of the Eighteen Benedictions, such as the Lord’s Prayer. Rabbi Eliezer, a younger contemporary of Jesus, taught this abbreviation of the standard prayer: “O God may your will be done in heaven above, grant peace of mind to those who fear you on earth below, and do what seems best to you. Blessed are you, O LORD, who answers prayer.”
TRUST GOD TO GIVE YOU WHAT YOU NEED
When Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, he wasn’t teaching them the one and only prayer for all time, he was trying to teach them how to pray simply. When you pray, don’t use a lot of words. Keep it simple. Then trust God. “Just as a parent gives his child a fish instead of a snake, or an egg instead of scorpion, trust God to give you the things you need.”
That reminds me of a story about a woman who was at work when she received a phone call that her daughter was very sick with a fever. So she left work and stopped by the pharmacy to get some medication for her daughter.
She returned to her car to find that she had locked the keys inside the car when she went into the pharmacy and was now unable to get into her car to drive home. She didn’t know what to do and started to panic, so she called home and told the baby sitter what had happened and that she did not know what to do. The baby sitter told her to find a coat hanger and see if that would open the car door.
The woman looked around and found an old rusty coat hanger that had been thrown down on the ground, possibly by someone else who also had locked their keys in their car. Then she looked at the hanger and said, “I don’t know how to use this.” So she bowed her head and asked God to send her some help.
YOU SENT ME A PROFESSIONAL
Within two minutes a motorcycle roared up and pulled into the parking space next to her car. A rough, dirty-looking biker got off and saw her situation. He asked if he could help her. The woman thought, “This is what you sent to help me, Lord?”
She finally told him yes, as she needed to hurry and get home to her sick daughter. He walked over to the car, and in less than one minute the car was opened. She hugged the man and through her tears she said, “Thank you so much! You are such a nice man.”
The man replied; “No, I’m not, Lady. I just got out of prison for car theft.” The woman hugged the man again and with sobbing tears cried out to God, “You even sent me a professional.”
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD
Pray and trust God for what we need. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Not tomorrow’s bread or next week’s bread or next year’s bread, but daily bread. If we can be content to pray for what we need, more often than not God will provide.
Too many words can actually get in the way of connecting with God in prayer, because our words tend to bring our focus back on us rather emptying ourselves and then opening us up to the divine. Robert loves Taco Bell. So we went to lunch at guess where — Taco Bell. After we got our food I suggested we pray silently before eating. I finished praying, but Robert with his hands folded remained silent. When he finally looked up and dove into his Nacho Bell Grande I asked him, “What were you praying about all that time?”
He looked up and said, “How should I know, it was a silent prayer!”
PRAYER CHANGES US
If God knows what we need before we pray, why do we need to pray? Because, prayer changes us. Seeking God in prayer changes us. In order to offer up our needs, we first have to identify our needs. We have to sort out our needs from our myriad of wants, and then we have to consciously acknowledge those needs and confess our need of God – our need to make room for God in our lives. As people of faith we are not self-sufficient. We need God. And the most common challenge many of us experience in trying to cultivate a spiritual life is making time for God — taking time to pray.
When missionaries were sent to a tribe in Africa they encouraged their new converts to establish special places apart from the village where they could go to be alone to pray. And that is good advice for many of us, because if we establish a particular place for prayer, we can be reminded to visit that place on a daily basis. Also if we choose wisely, and we turn off our cell phones when we enter that place of prayer, we are less likely to be distracted. Anyway as the members of this tribe became diligent in prayer, they began to wear paths to their prayer places in the bush. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to the others, and they would kindly remind the negligent one, “Sister, the grass grows on your path.” How many of us have allowed the grass to grow on our prayer paths? Maybe we need prayer partners who will gently and lovingly remind us of our need for prayer. Others can pray with us and for us but only we can offer up our own prayers. As Bishop Fulton Sheen used to say, “Some things a person has to do for him or herself. You have to blow your own nose, make your own love, and pray your own prayers.” But prayer partners can pray with and for us, and remind us to take the time daily to stop to and seek God in prayer.
PRAYER IS VERY PERSONAL
Now I know it is hard to invite someone else to become a part of our prayer lives. Prayer is very personal. When I engage with a couple in pre-marital counseling I will often ask a couple, if they pray together. A shared spiritual life can be important in a marriage. One time in Monee I was counseling with a couple who without my asking had quite openly shared with me they were living together and sleeping together. So, I asked them a little later if they prayed together. And in response the prospective groom got a horrified look on his face and said, “That’s kind of personal don’t you think?”
So I understand many of us have difficulty sharing about our prayer lives. I would like to suggest, however, we all need some spiritual direction in our lives. We can do that by going to a counselor or spiritual director, like Jim Norris, we can also find a prayer partner who can help us by listening and occasionally reminding us of our need for prayer, someone who will pray with us and for us, who can help us to see, when we have allowed the grass to grow on our prayer path.
Learning to listen silently in prayer is another important step in our spiritual development. So often, words get in the way. Especially in our culture words have been debased and have lost meaning. Words are often used to obscure and evade, rather than revealing the truth. Let me offer some examples: bio-solids in place of sewage in our water; or collateral damage rather than innocent casualties; irregularities applied to accounting instead of calling it fraud; negative patient outcome, rather than the patient died. Sometimes we need to resort to silence in seeking to connect with the divine. Of course silencing our voice does not silence our minds. Learning to be quiet and to listen is the art of meditation. And we need to expect silence will be difficult.
PERSIST IN PRAYER
But if we persist, as Jesus said in our text, we can quiet the drunken monkeys of our minds and become open to hearing the still small voice of God. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Be persistent and over time silence will come and God will draw near.
The last element of prayer I want to discuss today is trust. Trusting God is difficult especially for those of us who only like to trust what we can see. Those of us who believe only tangible objects are real. Trust, spiritual trust, however, is basic to life. We cannot prove our own existence much less the existence of God. “I think, therefore I am,” is not really a proof. We cannot prove that life is good, or whether or not we will be alive tomorrow morning. In order to live we have to make some assumptions about life. Is life good as it is given or not? Does life have meaning or is our existence a meaningless farce? Does my own life have meaning and purpose, or does life suck and then you die?
LIVING AS IF
We cannot prove any of these assumptions, and so we have to choose to live as if — to live as if we will be alive tomorrow morning, to live as if our lives have meaning, to live as if life is good. Choosing to live as if some assumptions about life are true is faith. And in our text this morning Jesus encourages us to trust that God is love and life is good as it is given. Trust that life is a gift and our Father in heaven intends good things for us. That doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen to good people, but trust that we are all children of our creator and according to Paul “God works for good among all those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.”
Pray with me: Our Father who art in heaven. . .