Let us Pray
by Ken Dale
Isn?t it fascinating that disciple of Jesus would request of him ?teach us to pray.????? I think it would be a safe assumption most if not all of us would be most attentive if Jesus? answer was a ?how to? response. But Luke reports that Jesus? response is ?when you pray, say this:? And we have one of the versions of the Lord?s Prayer ? shorter than that in Matthew 6. ?On the insert this morning you?ll find a few other versions?? just to get you thinking about it ? perhaps beyond debts versus trespasses. Maybe a topic of conversation between you during coffee.?Jesus follows it with some words about persistence and receiving what is ?needed? ? not ?wanted? ? an important note for the end of verse 8. And then those thought provoking words about ask and it will be given, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened, ending with God will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask.
Prayer is a topic we could have some interesting conversations on?? there are so many questions. A favorite scripture verse for me is in?Matthew 6 just before the Lord?s Prayer where Jesus tells us that God knows what we need before we ask. So one question would be then why?do we pray? Jesus speaks about persistence ? we might wonder why we?need to pray about the same things day after day. But Jesus doesn?t address prayer questions. He just says, ?when you pray, say this:? The request is ?Lord, teach us to pray??
Joan Chittister, whose loaded little book Aspects of the Heart, speaks of the ?prayerful heart.? She writes: ?I doubt that anybody can really ?teach? anybody how to pray. That, I figure, is what life does. We can learn prayer forms, of course, but we do not learn either the function or the purpose of prayer until life drags us to it, naked and in pain. She confesses to actually being amused with the late 19th and early 20th century theologians who dissected prayer. There was spoken prayer, silent prayer, prayer of the mind, prayer of the heart, union with God. She said she was trying to learn to pray exactly the way she learned to run a printing press ? by the book. But discovered the best way to learn to pray was to do it for a long time! She learned all she needed to know from the Rule of Benedict that instructs the monastic community to?keep prayer brief and leave chapel quietly so anyone who remains for?private prayer can do so without interruption. In two simple?statements Chittister learned enough about prayer for a lifetime: First, that in order to learn to pray we need to do it regularly. And second,?that real contemplative prayer starts where formal prayer ends. I had?the idea that we all start praying the Lord?s Prayer every day ? as individuals or together as a couple or as a family every day if you don?t already. See what it does and where it leads to. Chittister concludes with a Point: Prayer is not a ?technique.? It is an attitude of mind, a quality of soul, and a dimension of the daily.?That point is the sentence sermon so you can take it home with you today. But I?d also share one more thing ? a story to keep your spiritual life working ? maybe think about it in terms of prayer:
?A man was sleeping one night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light, and God appeared. The Lord told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. So, this the man did, day after day. For many years he toiled?from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all of his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore and worn out, feeling that?his whole day had been spent in vain.
But slowly doubts came. He thinks to himself: “You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t moved.” He begins to believe that the task is impossible and that he is a failure. These thoughts discourage and dishearten him.
Then he thinks, “Hey, why kill yourself over this? I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort; and that will be good enough.” So that’s what the weary man planned to do, but first he decided to make it?a Matter of Prayer and to take his troubled thoughts to the Lord.?“Lord,” he prayed, “I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time,?I have not even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”
The Lord responded: “Wait a minute! When I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock?with all of your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push. And now?you come to me with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed.
Really? Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back sinewy and brown; your hands are callused from constant pressure, your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much, and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yes, you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to have faith, to trust in my wisdom. That you have done. Now I, my friend, will move the rock.”
Does that not speak to our spiritual life? There?s an acronym for it?? P.U.S.H. ? ?pray until something happens.? Like the man in the story?? if we ?p.u.s.h? ? and pray until something happens ? our lives will be changed in some way as well. Through the practice of prayer our spiritual lives are strengthened.??? The disciple asked Jesus ?teach us to?pray? and Jesus said ?when you pray, say this? ? and the words to say were given. Pretty simple ? and when that formal prayer comes to an end ? we do have the opportunity to continue to pray. It?s not something we do only in church on Sunday ? it is a way of life. So may it be for us all.