Pray then in this way
My Atlanta Braves are going to the World Series! Saturday night at 11:40, it all wrapped up. There were thousands of people, men and women, wearing pearl necklaces for reasons that still elude me. Whether it makes any theological sense at all, I bet you a lot of people got caught up on their prayers last night, as our team held a tenuous lead and the porous bullpen had to try to protect it.
What is prayer? How much is enough? How often is enough? What should we pray for? These are frequent questions that Christians sometimes ask aloud, and more often probably just ponder quietly.
Prayer comes easier to some. It is so difficult or intimidating that it hardly ever happens for others. Still others quietly muse on whether there is any real point to prayer at all.
A beloved instruction from Jesus about prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13. If Christians are going to talk about prayer, sooner or later something the apostle Paul said will also make its way into the conversation. “Pray without ceasing,” he says in Thessalonians 5.
Have you ever pondered how you might go about praying without ceasing? It sounds like there would be a lot of times we would be struggling to concentrate on other things. In contrast, I suspect the rank-and-file believer, if we had a moment of blatant honesty, tries to cut the following deal with God somewhere along the way: “How about you save me from the burning embers of you-know-where, and pretty much leave me alone to live my life. I’ll come see you when things get rough or when I really want something badly enough.”
If there truly are no atheists in foxholes, many will eventually come around to some attempt to talk with the Divine. Because there are moments where in a relationship with God, we need to communicate with our Maker.
There will be moments of joy and challenge, times of victory and defeat, where if we are connected at all with our spirits, we’ll want to talk with God. Jesus told us some important things to keep in mind, whether we are a frequent pray-er or whether we find our talks with God to be more sporadic.
In Matthew 6, we have Jesus wrapping up his colossal teachings that we mostly know as The Sermon on the Mount. He is reeling off instructions on a number of topics. People would pray a little too out in the open, and make too big a scene. Jesus said, “Don’t do that.” If they fasted, they drew too much attention. They liked to make sure everyone knew they had given up something for God. When they gave, sometimes they did so with great fanfare. Actually, in this stretch I would say that he’s warning against what I like to call “Christianity for Show.” Or, we might call it “Peacock Christianity.”
Luke 11 records a similar prayer model. There, one of the disciples asked Him how to pray. That version differs slightly from the Matthew 6 one. At any rate, tradition has sort of taken these two instances and mashed the best of them together. Then, it threw in a few other elements from Jesus’ teachings and now we have the version of the Lord’s Prayer some of us have memorized.
What if we paid attention to Jesus on the matter? What if we took away far more than a formulaic prayer. Instead, what if we took away a spirit and an invitation to have an open and free relationship with God the Father?
I don’t know all there is to know about prayer. I don’t know all I ought to. But this prayer really has life for us. You want to live well? When you do pray, take this not as a formula, not as an incantation that must be uttered just right to unlock God’s favor.
But take it as it was, a model offered by Jesus. That we might go before God, when we do, in a healthy frame of mind. This is our Creator. This is your God. Have a conversation now and then. Jesus told us we could.