We all know the Lord’s Prayer very well. I had a bad concussion recently. The doctor’s orders were to avoid light, sound and thought. So, for days, that’s what I tried to do. No TV, no music, and no reading. The only thing I could do was pray. Since my mind was so messed up, the only prayer I could remember was the Lord’s Prayer. I kept wondering if prayer was a violation of the ‘don’t think’ rule. All I know is repeating this prayer over and over and over got me through some very long days.
When his disciple asks for instruction on how to pray, Jesus gives him this simple prayer:
“Father, let your name be kept holy.
Let your kingdom come.
Give us our bread day by day.
Forgive us as we forgive everyone else.
Don’t allow us to be tempted.”
Now, think of how personal this prayer is when it starts with the word ‘father’. We could say, ‘oh Lord, most high, ruler of the universe’, but we start instead by talking to ‘our father.’ Most of us had parents who would do whatever they could to help us so there is an implicit trust that by starting our petition this way, we are assuming we’ll get what we ask for. We immediately acknowledge that this particular dad to whom we pray is special, a bit more than our earthly dad. This father has a holy name and must be kept so.
This father also has a vision of life that is better than anything we can imagine, the kingdom of heaven. In our prayer we ask that we can also live in that heavenly kingdom here on earth.
We ask for daily help with our most basic needs, bread, food, sustenance in whatever form. We ask for forgiveness as we promise to forgive others. God will forgive our sins just as much as we are willing to forgive the sins of others. I guess if we just can’t forgive others then God doesn’t have to forgive us. Ouch!
We ask that we not be led into bad situations. Pope Francis says we should change this line from ‘lead us not into temptation’ to ‘let us not be led into temptation’, because, of course, our loving father would not lead us into bad places! I like this change.
We finish our prayer by praising God as powerful and full of glory.
When we had church school upstairs, we always finished with a prayer circle. Kids were invited to say whatever they wanted during this time. So, we all prayed for sick puppies or kittens, for ill or dying relatives, sometimes for that toy or bike or game they really wanted. What I found touching though, especially as the kids became older, was their willingness to share their deep personal needs in front of their peers. They would pray about being bullied or being sad. There was a vulnerability to those prayers that wasn’t allowed anywhere else in those preteen relationships.
There is always an element of vulnerability to prayer. Admitting to oneself, much less to God, our deepest fears, sorrows, and needs involves a willingness to admit that we need help. We are not in control.
I pray with too much caution. I don’t pray for healing, just strength to bear the pain. I don’t pray for an end to suffering for a sick relative but for her to find peace. Today Jesus tells me that I’m wrong. Today Jesus tells me that God is my loving father who will give me what I need. “Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
But here is the tough reality: we can’t always get what we want (to quote the Rolling Stones). Can you think of a prayer you have that has not been answered? I can come up with quite a few. Maybe that’s why part of the Lord’s prayer includes this: “thy will be done.” Thy will, not my will. God isn’t going to run the world exactly as we want it, even though surely, we know better than God! It’s easy to feel that prayer doesn’t work because so many prayers are not answered the way we want. Sorry to sound like an old lady here, but I do find that when I look back on my life, oftentimes my specific prayer wasn’t answered but things did work out for the best in the long run.
Can you think of your prayers God has answered? I prayed incessantly that God would keep Jeff safe through college. Thanks, God. Kevin and I prayed that Jeff would find a good job. Thanks, God! So maybe we need to remember to focus on all the prayers that are answered instead of those that don’t meet our expectations.
We’re going to sing hymn 220 soon, Praise to the Lord. I have a line from it stuck to my refrigerator door where I see it every day: “Have you not seen how all you needed has been met by God’s gracious ordaining.” This reminds me to be grateful that God meets so many of my needs.
You know, prayer is not just about sitting quietly, hands folded, eyes closed, petitioning God. Prayer is also active. When we pray for someone who is grieving or lonely, we can pick up the phone and call that person and maybe make them some soup. When we pray for people without homes in Aberdeen, we cook. We make delicious, homemade food full of love. These days of cooking are a kind of prayer, active prayer. Through this active prayer, we become better people, leading fuller lives.
This gospel tells us to pray with persistence with this odd story about knocking on doors late at night requesting three loaves of bread. Keep knocking on the door and you will get what you need. St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing. If we remember that our prayer is also in how we live our lives, in each moment of kindness, in each time we help others, ceaseless prayer begins to seem possible.
Please join me in prayer:
Live your lives in Christ, rooted and built up in him,
full of thanksgiving and praying as he taught us.
May God give good gifts in answer to your prayers;
May Christ Jesus establish you in the faith;
And may the Holy Spirit pour out heaven’s riches upon you.