Lord Teach Us to Pray
As you know, 6 of us from Providence returned a week ago from the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Every two years the denomination “assembles” for worship, education, business and fellowship. It is always great to reconnect with old Disciple friends. There are always a great selection of speakers and workshops and the worship is incredible. This year’s theme was from our text today, “Lord, teach us to pray.” I do not know exactly how they decided on the theme but I am sure it has to do with what is happening to the church in the U.S. While the majority of people in the U.S. consider themselves to be Christian, the number who attends church is a minority. Most people do not go to church. Churches all over are closing their doors for good. As a denomination, our leaders are trying to figure out what God is calling us to be in this new time. Lord, teach us to pray, is the petition to God by denominational leaders on behalf of the church. It is only through prayer that we respond appropriately in these changing times. Prayer is the only way to the answers we seek, prayer is the answer. —
In college after I started dating John-Mark, his mother came to town to meet my parents. After the concert we attended, John-Mark went to escort his mother back to her hotel room and told me that he would call me when he got back to his dorm room. Now his mother was staying at a hotel within walking distance, but a very long time passed before I heard from John-Mark. When he finally called, I asked him if everything was okay and he said yes. I said, “what took you so long?” And he said, “we prayed.” “You what?” “We prayed.” “How did you pray?” “We closed our eyes and we prayed.” I stopped asking questions but I continued to wonder how that happened and what it looked like. The idea of two people praying in a hotel room when no one was dying or a meal had not just been served was completely foreign to me. Lord, teach us to pray.
I grew up in a family that prayed before dinner – not breakfast or lunch and not in restaurants. I grew up in a church where the ministers lifted excellent prayers on the church’s behalf but young people, shy people, people who stumbled in their words never prayed publicly. I grew up in a culture that, while being part of the Bible belt, did not lead a child to God. Lord, teach us to pray.
Growing up, I prayed silently sometimes before bed, especially when I was scared. And after I read the book, Are you there God, it’s me Margaret, about a young girl who wrote letters to God, I began to write letters to God as well. Lord, teach us to pray.
When I became a mother, I began praying more frequently out of necessity. With three children devotion and prayer time each day became essential to my sanity. This model of study and prayer was handed to me by many people in my life, including my mother and mother-in-law and a church mentor. Lord, teach us to pray.
When my children started school, I was told about a group called Mom’s In Touch, a group of mother’s who get together once a week for an hour of prayer for the schools. I did not join as praying out loud in a group freaked me out. Then a friend of mine in another town joined a Mom’s in Touch group, loved it and told me about it. I was intrigued but I still did not join the group in my town. But when a friend personally asked me to come with her to Mom’s in Touch, I said agreed with some hesitancy. I wondered how would we possibly pray for an entire hour. We prayed for -the teachers, administrators, bus drivers and cafeteria workers, all the children and our children by name. We lifted up anything on our hearts – for children who might be struggling, for teachers dealing with problems at home, for bus drivers who had back problems. The Holy Spirit put things on our hearts and we lifted them up. For several years, we gathered on Friday mornings and prayed for the schools in our county. Lord, teach us to pray.
I began seminary in January and by the end of the semester, my friend gave birth to a little girl with Hyper-Insulinism – her body made too much insulin. The baby was hospitalized for the first months of her life enduring many seizures and a couple of close calls. She was helicoptered to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for surgery. When I decided to go to Philadelphia, one of the ministers of our church asked if I would represent the church in support of the family and to lead the family in prayer. I did not feel up to the task to lead such an important prayer.
“Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples asked Jesus. The disciples had grown up in the Jewish faith but they were not confident in their prayers. They wanted what they saw that Jesus had. They wanted an intimate relationship with God.
Jesus gave them a simple, honest prayer. He invited his disciples into a deeply personal relationship with God, encouraging them to call upon God using the same name he used — Abba, Father. He invited them to honor God, ask that their daily necessities be met, for forgiveness and for protection from temptation. Jesus gave them a simple outline for prayer that grows out of a close relationship with God. The foundation of the prayer, the roots of the prayer is relationship. — We are born in relationship with God. But over time, if it is not nurtured, we forget. So we do not have to learn how to pray, we simply have to remember how to pray. Lord, teach us to pray.
This past week was Vacation Bible School . It is my favorite week of the year. The church is full of the noises of children, the laughter, the singing, the dancing, the praising – the prayers of children. Michelle does an excellent job at putting VBS together at Providence and making it great success. My favorite moments are when the children sing and dance praising God and right before snack when Michelle had everyone join hands in a great big circle in the gym and allowed one of the little children to pray. OH and they prayed so beautifully and so simply and without hesitation. They did not have to be taught, but they do need opportunities to practice. Lord, teach us to pray.
Praying does not always bring the answers we desire. The babies do not always get better. Our children do not always make good choices. The rain does not always come, the job does not always work out—people continue to suffer, there isn’t always enough money, people struggle with addiction and some people take their own lives. Sometimes we ask and nothing is given to us, we search and find nothing, we knock and no one answers, so why pray? Why pray? –
Because sometimes it is all we can do. Because prayer attunes our lives to God. Because when we pray, we are changed. Because prayer puts things into perspective. Because prayer brings the power of the Holy Spirit to move and work in ways we can’t imagine and sometimes can’t even see. Because the act of praying demonstrates that we know we are not in control and when we finally give it all to God, when we finally truly give it all to God, our burdens are lifted.
We pray because the people who have the most peace and joy in their lives are praying people. We pray because research tells us that in the hospital people who pray feel pain less than people who do not, that people who pray face death with serenity. We pray because we long to be connected to God – we long to be joined with the Holy Spirit, we long to be allied with Christ Jesus. Lord, teach us to pray.
When we knock and it seems that God is not there, Jesus said to keep asking, like a friend at midnight who asks his friend to give him some bread for his guests. Even if the friend does not want to be bothered at that hour, he will eventually give the bread because of his relationship, it grows out of relationship. Jesus says, keep asking and trust that God does hear you, that God brings good out of evil, peace out of suffering, hope where there is none.
Not everything that happens is God’s will. Please hear me – bad things are not always what God wants for us or for the world. God does not play with our lives like a checker or chess game. God does not call for little children to have pain, to not have food, to live in violence. But God does give us free will – individually and as a society and free will brings suffering when we make decisions that are not centered in God– free will brings suffering to individuals and it brings suffering to the world. The greed of one person, one community or one nation leaves others without enough. The actions of some can impact others for generations. And sometimes bad things happen for no apparent reason or cause.
And so we pray. We dare to be shameless in our prayers, to keep bringing our needs and hopes to our heavenly Father, because Jesus tells us to do so, trusting in God’s loving purpose for us. We dare to whisper prayers to God as we lay our heads down to sleep at night. We dare to write letters to God when our hearts are heavy and our minds confused. We dare to sit in silent mediation with God when no words come to us and we need to open ourselves to God’s perspective. We dare to sing to God our prayers as we rise up in the morning to a new day. We dare to voice our prayers in a group knowing praying for the needs of our community. We dare to speak a prayer in public on our friend’s behalf when that is all we can do – when that is what we can do. We dare to pray.
Following Christ takes courage – his is not the easy road. The path behind Christ is full of pebbles and boulders, fallen trees and vines, broken glass and pieces of metal. The path that Christ leads us down takes courage, it takes guts. Praying takes nerve. And look out, because the more we pray, the more God asks us to pray – the more situations God puts into our lives for us to pray. Once we start knocking, doors open up all over the place and we are called to pray, pray without ceasing – so that everything we do becomes a prayer. So that everything we do is a reflection of who we are – children of God. Walking from place to place becomes a prayer. Taking a drink, eating a meal becomes a prayer. Noticing a bird or a flower becomes a prayer, singing becomes a prayer, laughing becomes a prayer, breathing becomes a prayer all day and all night.
When I was a young adult, I was not a praying person, I was an occasional prayer. Now I am a praying person but my life is not yet a prayer, not everything I do, think and say is centered in God – but I am working on it. And that is what God asks of you – to work on it – to start where you are and move closer to Christ. Pray when you get up in the morning, when you brush your teeth, before you eat and while you eat. Pray for yourself and those in your family, pray for your community wherever you are. Pray as you walk and as you study. Pray while you exercise and while you bathe. Pray silently and out loud, write your prayers, voice your prayers – alone and in groups. Pray throughout the day and throughout the week and eventually you will find that your life is becoming a prayer. That your life is a reflection of who you are – a child of God. Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” AMEN