On Earth As It Is In Heaven: Teach Us to Pray

Scripture: Luke 11:1-4

Over the years, I have tried a lot of different ways to pray.

I have closed my eyes and listed off every person and concern I could think to list off.

I’ve used prayer beads.

I have walked in nature and had a stream-of-consciousness conversation with God.

I’ve done yoga.

I’ve tried drawing and coloring; reciting a one-line prayer over and over as I breathe; I’ve tried praying the Psalms.

My go-to prayer practice right now is journaling: I write to God my thanksgivings and prayers for people in need and anything that is weighing on my soul.

I’ve liked some of these more than others, and all of them have been useful to me in some way at some time in my life, but I’ve also never really been sure that I’ve really “gotten” it, that what I’m doing counts as prayer, or that I’ve found the kind that “works.”

And, what does that even mean?  Does prayer “work” only if it brings about a certain result?  Probably not; God’s not Customer Service.  What about if I just feel better afterwards, if I’m more at peace?  Is the efficacy of prayer really just dependent on my own feelings?  There’s some good 21st-century individualism for you.  But on the other hand prayer should be something more than a thing I do just because I’m supposed to, right, so I can check it off my list?

Some people say prayer is about listening, not just talking, but how do I know if I’m hearing God or myself?

And how can I call myself a Christian – if I don’t even know how to pray?

I find that the disciples are often good for making me feel better about myself when I start to doubt my own faith, and in the Luke passage we heard this morning, they are no exception, because apparently they have some questions about prayer too.  It’s such a simple request they make – “Lord, teach us to pray.”  But I wonder what’s behind that, if they wondered whether all the ways they learned to pray from their time and culture were really cutting it either.

“John taught HIS disciples to pray,” they tell Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t respond with anything very earth-shattering.  He doesn’t tell them to do anything special or creative.  They don’t need to memorize the whole book of Psalms.  Neither does he tell them that prayer can be whatever they want it to be, or to find what works for them.  Instead, he answers simply and directly, with five lines.  When you pray, he says, say this.

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us our daily bread. 

Forgive our sins.

Do not bring us to the time of trial.

There is Jesus’ answer to their question, and to mine.

Somehow I’ve said these words, or a version of them, in church every week since I can remember, and I’m still not sure I know how to pray.

Now, here’s the thing.  I don’t think Jesus meant that all of prayer is just reciting these five lines over and over.  Jesus prayed in other ways, too.  He asked God for power and for healing and to bless food.  He knew the Psalms by heart.  He withdrew to the desert and to secluded places by himself.  He went to synagogue.  Later, the disciples did these things too.

But when they asked, he gave them five lines.

And so while these five lines may not be our only prayer, I do think they can focus our prayer.  What are the things we should be praying about and for?  God’s holiness. God’s kingdom.  Sustenance.  Forgiveness.  Protection.

Over the next five weeks we’re going to reflect on each one of these, using different translations of Jesus’ words, and I hope we might find that this prayer that may seem rote to us, this prayer that we may pray each week without thinking, can actually be a pretty deep and radical prayer.

I still think it’s great to try different forms of prayer and see it as a journey that I’m trying out for myself.  I’m enough of a 21st century individualist that way!  But there are things that we need to be taught.  Sometimes, obviously, by Jesus.  And sometimes by each other.  I don’t think that any of those prayer methods I talked about before were things I just made up on my own.  I tried them because other people tried them, and found them meaningful, and told me how and why.

That’s what it means to be a community of faith.  We’re all being taught by Jesus, but as we try to put his words into practice, we’re also being taught by each other.  About prayer.  About the things we believe.  About how to live out our faith in the world.  About the ways God can show up in our lives when we least expect it.

Today when baby S is baptized, you all are going to make a promise to her:  to surround her with a community of love and forgiveness, that she may grow in her trust of God, and be found faithful in her service to others.  To pray for her, that she may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.  It’s a promise that others made to us in our own baptisms.  And it’s a promise we make implicitly to each other as we form the Body of Christ together here.

In my experience, when it comes to faith, there are seldom easy answers.  And so we cry, “Lord, teach us!” And he says, OK – now teach each other.

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