(Reading List Theme 1.3)

“Lord, teach me to pray // Not what to say // Not how to get what I want // Lord, you understand // What I am asking, I know that you do // I want to know you // Not just about you // Teach me secrets such as these // Lord send them my way starting today // I want to know you // I want to know you.”

– Charlie Peacock, lyrics for “I Want to Know You”

“Teach us to pray” the disciples ask, in Luke 11 – the parallel account of today’s reading in Matthew. The Matthew account is part of a long teaching section, often called The Sermon on the Mount; Luke gives a more condensed version. The disciples had often seen Jesus go off alone to pray, and they had seen the power in his prayers, unlike the empty showiness of others who liked recognition for their eloquence. “We want to know how you pray – just like John the Baptist taught his disciples” (some of whom had become Jesus’ disciples). Were they thinking, “If we know how you pray, we’ll have the same kind of results you have” in the miracles Jesus performed and the peace and Presence Jesus carried with him? Or were they thinking, as this song suggests, “We want to know how you pray, because we want to know your heart.”

The song quoted above is from an album called Coram Deo that came out in 1992, when I was 12. Coram Deo is Latin for “in the presence of God.” I had a cassette tape of the album. I don’t remember if I still have it somewhere or finally got rid of it, but I do know it was one of the last cassette tapes I owned. The songs are ethereal and set to strings, with gentle harmonies. It’s a prayerful album. I often think of the song I quoted, when reading this passage in Luke and Matthew. Teach us to pray. Not what to say, not how to get what I want… I want to know you.

Why do we pray anyway, if God already knows what we need? Some believe every detail of our lives is already laid out, so our prayers do not change results, but they change how we will interpret and process those results: the conversation changes our hearts, and helps us align with God’s will. Others believe the future is extremely fluid, and that God himself doesn’t know how things will turn out – except that he will win the war in the end. So we pray because we can majorly influence what will happen.

I think both are a bit true. (If you haven’t picked up on this yet, you will see that I am not an extremist in my life or theology!) I believe we do influence outcomes when we pray, and I also believe that we are changed when we pray. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Is this true because as we delight in God, he responds to our prayers because he loves to give us what we ask? Or is this true because the more we delight in God, the more we will begin to desire what he already plans to give us?

GOOD GIFTS

Matthew 7:11 says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” I am a parent. I love to give good gifts to my children. Probably more than I should give them! We are not lavish. We wear hand-me-down clothes and buy toys at thrift stores, and get candy from the bulk section of the grocery store because it is cheaper.  But at Christmas, I pulled out the stops and bought my son the huge LEGO set he wanted and my daughter the dolls she cuddled every time we went into the store, and bought a really cool toy for my youngest son who is too young to ask (all on sale and with free shipping, of course). I love to give good gifts to my children… And make their favorite breakfasts, and let them have chocolate milk every once in awhile, and other treats (in moderation), and piggyback rides (in abundance)… because they ASK. I take joy in their smiles and excitement.

However, I also have to say no quite a lot, because if I gave them everything they asked, they’d be overweight, sick, bouncing off the walls, and I would be broke …or have a broken back from all the piggyback rides! I know a bigger picture than they can see. I know what is good for them, and I know they need to learn the joy of anticipation, and of working and saving to get it themselves sometimes, and the patience that only is gained by having to wait. They would appreciate nothing if they had everything before they ever knew they wanted or needed it.

And so we pray. To share with God our joy of anticipation and excitement at reward. To learn patience and appreciation. To have character formed. To learn to rely on God instead of being self-reliant, and to learn hard work and endurance in God’s strength. We pray to share life with God, to be intimate, to trust, to love, to let go. To submit.

LITURGY

Father, I honor you. I pray your will be done in my life, as it is done in heaven. I submit to that will. Give me my daily needs and help me remember that everyday is a gift from you – whether the gift comes mysteriously and supernaturally, or if provision comes by the paycheck for the work I do as unto you in the job you have provided for me. Forgive me, and help me forgive. Temptation is all around – help me not to fall into the traps. Help me live with open hands, so no barriers will hinder me from loving you with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving my neighbor as myself.

I have just written my own liturgy, based on Matthew 6:9-15. I grew up in an informal church with no written prayers led aloud in service; we made ours up on the spot! I knew nothing of liturgy until seminary. In reading liturgies, the forms and words that have guided Christians in worship for centuries, I discovered something beautiful that went beyond my own experience and connected me to the church throughout history. When I don’t know what to pray, and don’t feel inspired to pray, I can grab my Bible or a prayer book and recite one of the prayers therein, asking God to bring it alive to me today. Prayer is not about beautiful words or memorized recitations, but it can help to have a starting point, something to frame my thoughts for the day. God is in control. Help me submit. Take care of my needs. Forgive me, and help me forgive and sin no more. This is the framework we are given by Jesus. And I truly need this reminder every day. ASK. Ask for needs, ask forgiveness, ask the desires of your heart. ASK. Then leave it at his feet. But always ASK. And know that he is listening, he is loving, he is wise. And he only gives GOOD things. Even if they don’t look good at the outset.

LISTEN

The more time we spend with God, the more we’ll understand his will, and then begin to pray his will for the world, for others, for ourselves. If we listen to him and come to understand his priorities, then we will receive what we ask, because we won’t ask for selfish things, or sinful things. I love to give good gifts to my children, but the greatest gift I can give is myself. My time. Read a story. Throw a ball. Run in the grass. Cuddle. Listen to their questions and stories with my full attention. These are the gifts God gives each day. If you will take a moment to ask for an awareness of his presence, he will give you that gift. He will give so much more – daily needs, desperate needs, and just the silly things that delight us, if we will only ask, and keep asking, and listen to what he would say. His greatest gift is his presence.

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