How is your prayer life going? Does it need a little reviving? What do you ask for?
We had a practice at our previous parish of asking if anyone had a prayer concern to add to the Prayers that day. The usual response we got was to ‘ask’ for a friend or relative who was sick. ‘My brother is having heart bi-pass surgery on Tuesday,’ or ‘my mother was just diagnosed with cancer.’ Or, a request for ‘someone who was traveling,’ or ‘for the schools,’ or ‘for elections,’ or ‘for the environment,’ or, ‘in joy and thanksgiving for healing.’
Nothing could prepare us then, for the Sunday in December when Jean came to church wearing her brand new Minnesota Vikings jersey, and what she asked for, in her husky voice, that was heavy on her heart. It was the year the Vikings were division champs, and showed signs of going all the way. She had been a loyal, life-long Vikings fan, and this was her chance to lay it on the line! I think it was the conference championship game that day, and somewhat reluctantly, after all the usual requests, for family and friends, Jean raised her hand. “Well, I really want us to pray for a Viking victory today, pastor!”
Now you have to understand that this was predominantly, Green Bay Packer territory. And even if it were appropriate to pray for one teams’ victory over another in a football game, it was not going to be a particularly heart-felt petition on the part of most the congregation, who I imagined, would have only ‘green and gold’ in their minds. So, after a particularly long pause, following Jean’s request, we responded with something like, we would gladly pray for a competitive and sportsman like game that would be entertaining for all. A bit of a dodge perhaps, certainly not what Jean had in mind. But, it was as close to a prayer for the Vikings as we could honestly muster!
Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” It’s no wonder that we sometimes get carried away in asking for our team to win, and for whatever else is #1 on our priority list. Please God, give me a new I-Pod for Christmas, or, please make my co-worker sick, so I can get the Cubs tickets this week. Its not that we shouldn’t get excited about such things, and naturally want to include God in our hopes and dreams each day, for God knows everything anyway. But when Jesus was teaching his disciples about prayer, he was instructing them not only about what to pray for, but, who God is!
And the tension about how to pray is further complicated by those requests which really are about life and death. The child that asks God not to send his father back to Iraq or Afghanistan again because he is afraid he may not return home, certainly must be a concern on the mind of God, too. But for those soldiers who don’t come back in one piece, what about the prayers that their loved ones have prayed?
And when Jesus tells the parable about the man who doesn’t want to get up in the middle of the night, which would disturb and wake his family, to answer the knock at the door by a neighbor who asks for a, frozen pizza and bottle of wine, to serve some long lost friends that dropped by on the spur of the moment, but, he gets up anyway because of the neighbors persistence, what is Jesus saying? What about those of us who live here in the city who have been taught, or learned the hard way, that it’s just a whole lot safer never to open your door late at night? We’re hard-wired to keep the dead-bolt clanked shut, no matter how persistent the knock? Can we even learn to trust God’s great hospitality, God’s willingness to open up and be there for us, no matter what?
What I do find oddly encouraging in this story, is that after walking with, and following, Jesus for some time, the disciples are just now getting around to asking Jesus to teach them how to pray! They are roughly half way from Jesus baptism to his death and resurrection, and they haven’t yet started a prayer life? Maybe there is hope for me!? But, no matter how late in the game, their desire has been piqued! They have been noticing Jesus at prayer, on a regular basis. And Jesus seems to be saying, there’s no time like the present! Get out the ‘Prayer for Dummies’ manual!
So Jesus teaches them the Lord’s Prayer – a prayer about who God is and what God wants us to ask for. God alone is “holy” and God’s “kingdom is very near.” God wants us to have, and we should ask for: “daily bread, “forgiveness,” and finally, not to find or put ourselves in situations of “temptation”.
Of course, even Jesus struggled to find daily bread as he traveled from city to city. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.” And, he comes famously to ‘temptation’ the night of his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane – asking God to take away this “cup,” this responsibility, to ‘shed his blood for the salvation of the world.’ So Jesus knows us, and is with us, in our struggles. Jesus himself prayed regularly to his heavenly parent, “our father, our daddy,” as he called him. And Luke records that he prayed, at his baptism, at the call of the disciples, at Peter’s confession, his transfiguration on the mountain, at table with his disciples at the Last Supper, and, on the cross, among other times.
Whether you have a well developed prayer life already, or not, there’s no time like the present to start, or rededicate yourself. When people come to me to ask me how to do it, I used to put something in their hands, some kind of devotional book. But not anymore. There are plenty of books out there, plenty of online resources. But nothing can take the place of desire and persistence, and perhaps best of all, a partner, or two or three. The Lord’s Prayer, after all, is a prayer to be prayed together. We have the Sabbath, this day, to come together for prayer. And during the week we offer other opportunities: bible gatherings, a Prayer Breakfast, and small groups.
So, what is your prayer life like? Do you want to revive it? Do you want a partner or small group to pray and discuss with? Let’s take a moment to rededicate ourselves -- right now. Find someone to talk about your prayer life with, and – if you want, if you feel it’s appropriate, if God is calling you – make a pledge to pray together or find a way to start up, every week, every day, whatever works for you, to re-start your prayer life, or to help someone else.