Luke 11:1-13 • July 28, 2019
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
A young boy – fourth or fifth grade – was kneeling beside his bed one evening, offering his bedtime prayers. His mother overheard part of the prayer as she stood outside the bedroom. Part of his passionate and persistent prayer included, “Let it be Tokyo! Please dear God, let it be Tokyo!”
Mom walked into the room for a goodnight kiss when he had finished. She asked him, “What did you mean, ‘Let it be Tokyo’?”
The boy said, “We had a geography test today and I was praying to God that God would make Tokyo the capital of France.”
Does that sound like any of your prayers? Or at least familiar to some of them? I know it sounds a bit like some of my prayers.
What’s your earliest memory of prayer?
Who taught you how to pray?
This may surprise some of you, but I don’t remember ever receiving formal training on prayer or how to pray. At least not in the way that this unnamed disciple is asking Jesus to do for him in our gospel reading today.
I think my first memory of prayer is probably this bedtime prayer. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul, to take.”
Or I remember a meal prayer from the Catholic tradition of my childhood – “Bless us, oh Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” I actually remember offering that prayer once as the table prayer for an event here. I invited everyone to join me in saying it. At the end of the prayer, all I saw was the blank stares of a whole lot of Lutherans who had no idea what prayer I had just offered.
I also have fond memories of watching my German-Russian immigrant grandparents pray the rosary at St. Phillip Neri Catholic Church in Napoleon, ND. Sometimes prayed in German. Sometimes in English. Often some hybrid combination of the two languages. Even though my grandfather arrived in the United States as a young man, his first language was German until the day he died. He did learn English in order to survive in the US, but I do not believe it ever became his primary language.
Over my lifetime, I’ve read hundreds of articles and books on prayer, attended conferences and spiritual retreats that have impacted my prayer life deeply, and I even have two hours of every day blocked off on my calendar specifically for prayer.
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that I don’t recall ever asking someone to, “teach me how to pray.” like this disciple asks Jesus to do. And to be honest, I think prayer, has been, and continues to be, a journey for me. A deep and sacred journey that we call faith that will one day culminate in meeting Jesus face to face. Until then, I continue along the way. And some days are better than others when it comes to prayer.
I’ve referenced the book “Help. Thanks. Wow. The Three Essential Prayers.” in many places in recent years. I continue to see it as one of the better books on prayer that I’ve come across in the last decade or so. Anne Lamott is the author. She has a way of expressing faith and the spiritual journey that really connects with me. Her simple, yet profound, 102 page book is a brilliant exploration of prayer.
She opens the book with a chapter called Prayer 101 and says, “I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe,…, there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple.” [pg. 1]
“Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.” [pg. 4]
“Prayer can be motion and stillness and energy – all at the same time.” [pg. 5]
“Prayer is talking to someone or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up.” [pg. 5-6]
Lamott concludes the Prayer 101 chapter by saying, “…prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold.” [pg. 7]
For my own faith journey, what I think I see prayer becoming more and more each day, is less a prescribed format that we must follow in order for God to hear our prayers and more as a way of life in which prayer is constantly unfolding in every part of my life.
Prayer is less about an activity that I carve out of my busy schedule and more of a rhythm that is simply part of my everyday journey.
Every conversation I have is prayer.
Every thought I have is prayer.
Every move I make is prayer.
Everything I touch is prayer.
I believe it is beautiful and holy and sacred, the many times we pray during a worship service – the confession and prayer of the day, the Prayers of God’s People, our songs and hymns, the Lord’s Prayer.
My hope though, as one of your pastors, is that the prayer we share as a community when we gather for worship is not the only time you and I think about praying. My hope is that the prayer we offer when we gather as a community of faith sends us into the world to live all of our lives as living examples of prayer.
The great 20th Century theologian CS Lewis, once said, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
I believe Lewis’ insight is central to what Jesus teaches us about prayer in the gospels. Jesus is trying to show us how prayer is actually lived out along our faith journey. Frankly, if all we believe about prayer is that it’s about getting what we want when we want it, and how we want it, we might be missing the point of what prayer is all together – at least according to what Jesus teaches us about prayer.
Or as another theologian asked this week, “Does prayer make things happen, or change my perceptions of what ‘is’ already?” [www.christiancentury.org/article/2016-06/july-24-17th-Sunday-ordinary-time]
What I believe Jesus says about prayer, is that prayer re-centers us on the fact that the Holy Spirit is already present.
That the Holy Spirit is already with us and is a gift from God.
That our prayer life – and our persistence in our prayer life – encompasses all that we say and do.
And that this prayer life is already bringing us closer and closer into relationship with each other and in relationship with God through our savior Jesus.
In other words, maybe the answer to our prayer is the fact that God is already with us.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, prayer isn’t only something we are supposed to set aside time to do, that is if we are ever actually able to fit it into our already over-scheduled lives.
It’s not something we should do only when we need something from God or want God to do something for us.
Prayer isn’t simply about memorization and then making sure we are using those memorized prayers at the correct time and in the correct way.
Prayer is how we live out our lives of faith as the Holy Spirit breathes through us.
May you and I be blessed as we live out our lives of faith.
Lives of faith that begin and end in prayer. And all God’s children say.., Amen.