Saturday, July 27, 2013

To Pray



Teach us to pray, Jesus. 
You seem to do it so well; God really seems to listen to you.
Teach us to pray, Jesus.
There are things we are carrying and don’t know how to put down.
There are things we are longing for that we can’t seem to find. 
There are things that are broken that we wish we could fix.
There’s so much we need, and we feel kind of alone or afraid.
We want so badly to be able to escape the pain, or solve the problem. 
Teach us to pray.

John taught his disciples; they’ve got their strategy down.
They’re going onto the field prepared. 
We want to feel that way.
Effective instead of helpless. 
Prepared and ready with a solution whatever may arise,
instead of confused, lost or wondering what to do.

If only we had some way to repair things, some way to feel secure.
If only we had an in with the Divine.
Lord, teach us to pray.

But Jesus gives them no formula or a method, not a foolproof strategy to get God to listen or make the things happen that you believe should happen.  
Instead, he invites them into his relationship with God. 
When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, he shows them prayer.

When you pray, he says, say 'Daddy, Mommy, one who knows and loves me most and whom I trust, hear me now.'  And then he says simple words about having what we need for each day and keeping us safe and making peace between us and the longing for things to be as God promises they will be. 

And then Jesus gives them a parable.

Say one of you has a friend and you go to him at midnight and demand bread, because a guest has arrived and you have nothing to set before him. You race outside in your slippers and pound on your neighbor’s door, hair askew and pajamas in public; you impose yourself upon your sleeping neighbor and ask for what you need.
I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you anything because you’re his friend, at least because of your persistence he will get up and give you whatever you need.

The Greek word translated here as “persistence” actually means something like, “shamlessness”.  Brazen blurting. Raw request. Freedom to say ANYTHING, no holds barred.  The friend doesn’t respond to your appeal because you ask over and over again, lightly knocking and phrasing it correctly, or politely persistently pestering them with your practiced whining until exasperated, they finally relent. 

You ask, blatantly and honestly, in boldness and full confidence that the one behind the door will respond to you.  Not because you asked so well, or so many times, but because they are trustworthy and you’ve been audacious with them.  You stand there with your need or your desire or your hope, knowing you can ask for anything, and not afraid or hesitant in the least to do so.  And so your friend responds.

Ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.
What about all the times we ask and it isn’t given? What about that?
What about when we seek and seek and seek, for years and decades, and never ever find?  What about when we knock till our knuckles are raw and get no response?  If this is a formula for getting what we want, it’s a pretty lousy one.

Our dog Kirby died yesterday. 
He had been getting sicker, or older, or something, but we did not expect it to come so soon.  And so it was a very sad and shocking and terrible day with tons of tears and lots of emotion and no real equilibrium at all.  He’s been through everything with us, through most of our time as a family.  And now he’s gone. 
And in my house, when anything swerves off the predictable path, theological questions come barreling along, never far behind.
Why, God? Why do people and things have to die? 
Why don’t you do today what you did in the bible? 
Why should we even believe you, God? 
What could we ever pray about and know you will hear us?
What about all those times we prayed for Kirby?

And at the same time as these big scary questions throw their broken bodies against God’s door, we’ve kept holding each other and crying together, and calls and messages of love have kept pouring in.  
We’re praying for your family.  
I know how it feels to lose a beloved pet; I’m holding you in prayer. 
You’re in our thoughts today – we loved Kirby too.

And I have no great answers for any of those questions, my love.
But I can be with you when you ask them. 
And I can’t do anything to make this sadness go away or bring back love that’s been lost. 
But others can be with us when we’re sad.  
And we can tell God how sad we are. 
And perhaps that is prayer.

What is prayer for anyway?
What does it accomplish?
Jesus seems to saying that more than how or what or even why, prayer is all about who we pray to, and who we are.  When we pray, God, like a loving parent, comes near; when we pray, God, who knows what we need and sees us as we are, is right here with us. 

One scholar says, “While at other places in Scripture we are told that God knows our needs without being asked (Mt. 6:8), here we are invited to make them known, to speak them into existence in the confidence that whatever may happen, this relationship can bear hearing these things and may actually even depend upon hearing them.”    (David Lose)

Maybe it’s not about asking for the right things or asking often enough, or in the right way.  Maybe its just about asking, period.  

Because in throwing all our questions and pain and need at God we risk being known, we open ourselves to being loved, we demonstrate that we are really in this with God, who is really in this with us.  And then come what may, we are not alone.

So how do you pray?
Just Ask.  Simply Seek. Merely Knock.  
Do what is right there inside you to do, say what is pressing to come out, and don’t hold anything back.
Come shamelessly, with your need, your hopes and your worries, your desires and your doubts. Just blurt them right out there without holding back.
And then trust. 
The one you come to will hear your voice and respond.
And if it doesn’t seem to happen, don’t back down.  Stand there and wait.

And even when the prayer is over, and the asking has died down, when the seeking dries up for a spell and the knocking goes quiet, God is still present. 
How much more than all our broken human care, and messages of love and support will this faithful and loving parent give the Holy Spirit to we who ask, no matter what it is we are asking for?

 So when the need is past, or when it’s unfulfilled and there’s grief and frustration and loss, still you’re not alone.  You’ve invited God into it with you, whatever it may be, and God is, and will, continue to be there. This relationship that prayer puts words to is ongoing and without end.  Even when the praying ends the relationship continues.
So, Lord, please,
teach us to pray.


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