Lord, Teach Us to Pray...
For many there is a desire to understand the Holy, to understand God in a way that will bring them closer to what it is God is doing in our midst. The disciples were absolutely no exception. In both accounts where we find the formula for the Lord’s Prayer, the disciples approach Jesus and ask him to teach them to pray:
Lord, teach us to pray.
Prayer has been on my mind. Not because it is a discipline and habit, or as some say “that’s what you do.” Prayer has been on my mind because I am witnessing such a sharp decline in the purpose of prayer. Jesus has told us not to ask from God things that we can do on our own or for anything more than “our daily bread,” but I am seeing prayer used in a way in which I do not believe it was intended.
I am a member of the Interfaith Neighborhood Clergy and Lay Leaders group here in Wilmington. We have taken on the leadership of faith leaders to help encourage and hold accountable Wilmington City Council in moving forward. Forward with an agenda that keeps much of our congregations’ and faith communities’ hopes and dreams in their line of sight. They have a great deal of work ahead of them.
One of our roles is to attend City Council, both to speak when given the opportunity and to be a ministry of presence.
When I last attended, there was a discussion about how people were upset that the word “prayer” was removed from the agenda and replaced with “silent reflection” to be more welcoming to those of non-Christian and no faith. I was appalled at how community members would degrade those that did not pray. How non-believers were disregarded as unimportant. Some felt that the Council should only stand for and with those that prayed. To add more insult to this, people who claimed Christianity as their faith were in tears about how God was ripped from their city, how God was silenced and stolen - in just a few key strokes of the backspace button Council member’s positions were threatened and community meetings were had.
As if the God of Abraham could actually be stolen from anyone. As if the God of Christ could be silenced by the backspace bar on a computer.
Prayer was being used as a badge of honor! It was being used as a means to create an “us” and “them.” The Council failed to stand up to this poor theology - in part because there is not enough emphasis on what prayer is.
Martin Luther is credited with saying “the fewer the words, the better the prayer.”
We have the tendency to get wordy and stop listening as we craft words - perhaps silence is golden.
If we silence ourselves and just listen, what might we hear?
On Sunday our children at St. Stephen’s did an absolutely beautiful job teaching us about the Lord’s Prayer and how to pray. They told me that they prayed - and I believe that they understand a lot more than many.
We ask God for just what we need - and then we also commit ourselves to being people of God. You know, the petition where we say “forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” We are active parts of this ministry of forgiveness and not passive.
Pope Francis has said this about prayer:
“You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works.”
You pray and then you do.
Prayer is not easy, and it can be intimidating or frustrating when we do not always get what we want. But the will of God is all around us, and part of God’s will is that somehow we can be conduits for God’s work in our world.
Prayer is all around us, in words and actions, in silence and in our hearts. My prayer is that you feel the love and compassion of God in your heart and that you never forget that you are a beloved child of a God that is more transcendent than just a word on a piece of paper.
Yours in Christ,