July 24, 2022

“Prayer Life”

(From Luke 11: 1-13)

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He 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.” And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given 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. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

     It may surprise you to learn that one of the most frequently mentioned areas of concern and questioning I have received from parishioners over the course of ministry is prayer.  It seems that for many individuals, personal prayer time looms as a daunting undertaking.  What I have most often heard from people is a concern that their prayer will not be “good enough”.  “Good enough for whom?” I have asked in response. “In your prayer time, you are simply spending some quality time with the Lord our God.”  God already knows everything about us, everything that is on our heart and our mind, everything we have done and ever will do.  God knows it all, the good and the not so good; and God still loves every one of us.  God desires to have and to build a personal, ongoing, and growing relationship with us.  Prayer is a way for us to get the conversation started.  Prayer is essential to our faith and spiritual wellbeing.  Thus, prayer is an important part of our everyday living.  We need regular interaction with our Lord to be able to navigate successfully through life’s many up and down seasons.

     Prayer is not only foundational to our spiritual life and wellbeing, but prayer was a regular discipline Jesus himself practiced when he was among us.  Luke 3: 21-22 states “Now when all the people were baptized and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”   Prayer was Jesus’ first responds and activity upon his being baptized by John in the Jordan River.  Later, in Luke 5:16, this gospel writer informs us “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  Prayer was simply Jesus’ habitual practice, as life-sustaining for him as the air he breathed. 

     Jesus also taught his Disciples and followers about several important aspects of prayer.  His words of guidance to them regarding prayer are found in the Gospel of St. Matthew.  In this gospel, Jesus’ teaching on the topic of prayer forms a component of his famed Sermon on the Mount.   In Matthew’s version of Jesus’ lesson about prayer, Jesus taught his Disciples, and his followers that had gathered to hear him, with the following admonitions:                                                                                                                                    And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Jesus taught that prayer is a private and personal matter between us and God.  Prayer does not need to be heaped up with empty phrases or filled with fancy words; for we do not need to try to impress God. God already knows the thoughts of our heart and our needs before we ever set them to words.  So, as a guide for his followers in developing their prayer life, Jesus offered them the following prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

     This prayer of Jesus contains all of the components of prayer that Jesus wanted to teach his Disciples and followers how to incorporate into their own prayers.  He began with praise of the holiness of God.  He then asked that all be done on earth, as in heaven, according to God’s will.  Jesus then prayed for our human needs, daily bread as he called them.  Next, Jesus included in his prayer the confession of human sin, and trust in God’s forgiving grace.  This trust in God’s forgiveness is accompanied by a promise that we, too, will do our best to offer that same grace of forgiveness to others. Finally, Jesus prays a petition for God’s protection from all of the powers of temptation and evil in the world.  Over the generations of utilizing this prayer as a guide to our prayer life, a final praise mixed with thanksgiving and adoration has been added—”for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.  Amen.” With these final words, we acknowledge God as the supreme and sovereign God through whose power we dwell in a glorious kingdom without end.  And we then say-Amen, which means “let it be so.”

    Life in our 21st Century world can be busy, and even hectic in occasion.  Christian author, Rev. Corinne Ware, realizes the difficulty our day-to-day busyness can place upon our spiritual wellbeing, our personal faith, and our relationship with God. Ware asks her readers to consider in her book Saint Benedict on the Freeway, “How can we heal the rift between our daily lives and the sacred? How can we live a life capable of hearing the still small voice of God while experiencing the speed and sensory overload of modern life?” She then proceeds to call us to take time away from all the busyness, so that we may take some needed time to draw our attention to our awareness of God.  Many of our spiritual mothers and fathers retreated into the dessert wilderness, away from the worries and concerns of the world, in order to maintain a continual daily connection to God.  Through his monastic life, St. Benedict developed a tenet, a foundation of belief and faith, that all we do in life is holy.  The cycle of the real world of daily chores is Holy, and our sacred prayer time is holy.  He combined theses aspects of life into what he called a “Rule of Life.”  This rule balances prayer time with daily routines.  The monastics prayed the hours, several times throughout each day carved out for prayer.  Praying several hours each day is practice is not a viable option for most of us living in today’s world.  What we can do, however, is take some precious time each day to be in the presence of God-to pray, connect and maintain our ongoing relationship with God.  These prayers do not have to be long and wordy orations, as Jesus reminded us, they simply need to keep us meaningfully reminded of and connected to God.  They ground and center us, strengthening us for the tasks of our daily living.  If you would like to learn more about practicing a modern rule of life, I have a copy of Ware’s book I am happy to share.  I have practiced this disciplined prayer life now for many years, and I do find it helpful for daily living.  Other authors, such as Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster, have written many interesting books rich with information, guidance and recommendations to help us develop a sustainable and meaningful prayer life even amid life in these crazy times we are living.

     As we just shared, St. Benedict believed that all we do in life is holy.  Likewise, Paul shared these words the Colossian Church: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all to the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Yesterday, 24 of our church and community members descended upon the Spicy Lamb Farm, and we did some holy work in the name of our Lord.  I would like for us to recognize the good and holy work this year’s stay-cation mission trip accomplished for owner, Laura DeYoung and her farm.  Fences were mended, hay was moved, floors were swept, grass mowed, lights strung, weeds were whacked, and so much more was completed to improve the beauty, safety, and functionality of this locally operating farm.  We began with prayer, and our prayer of sacrifice continued in each activity that was undertaken.  So do not be afraid, prayer and life go hand and hand for people of faith, and all that we do each day is our offering to our God who already knows and loves us.  When we do everything that we do each day to God’s glory, it is enough.  Amen—let it be so.