• advent journal: teach me to pray

    by  • December 14, 2007 • Uncategorized • 8 Comments

    In front of our church is a brick courtyard and over to one side stands a row of hand painted rocks, each one holding a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, thanks to our children. The tradition here, during worship, is for the children to lead the congregation in the Prayer at the end of the Children’s Sermon. Noticing that connection makes we wonder if I think too much and trust too little. Still, I find deep resonance in the disciples’ request of Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

    When Jesus answered, I’m not sure he imagined we would be quoting the exact prayer every week in worship. Like any of our rituals, it can become overly fraught with familiarity or it can be an experience of revelatory repetition. For most of us on any given Sunday, it probably falls somewhere in between because prayer is hard to comprehend.

    Here’s where I get caught. We still own a house in Massachusetts (yes, I believe I’ve mentioned that) and we’re trying to figure out how to get settled here. We need to sell our house up north in order to begin to plant roots here in the south. We haven’t had one offer on the house since it went on the market last August. I have prayed for the house to sell and I don’t really think God is a real estate agent. I think my life is shot through with God’s presence (as is all of creation) and I don’t always understand what that means. There are people who pray better than I who have lost their homes in this mortgage mess. If someone calls tomorrow and offers to buy our house and I attribute it as an answer to prayer, does that not imply, intentionally or not, that God somehow picked me over them?

    I wish I knew what happened when I pray.

    Luke records Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ request as brief and straightforward:

    So Jesus told them, “Pray in this way:

    ‘Father, help us to honor your name.
    Come and set up your kingdom.

    Give us each day the food we need.

    Forgive our sins as we forgive everyone who has done wrong to us.

    And keep us from being tempted.’ “

    (Contemporary English Version)

    I’m struck by the verbs in the prayer: help, come, set up, give, forgive, keep. They are all pointed at asking God to be, well, God. That helps me. I remember hearing Clyde Fant preach many years ago about the two most important statements the disciples made. The first was in response to Jesus asking who they thought he was:

    “You are the Christ,” they answered.

    The second statement was one the disciples made about themselves in a moment of conscious vulnerability:

    “We are but human.”

    If my prayer is for God to be God, then the first thing I’m letting go is my claim to that title. There’s also a second thing. I’m praying, implicitly or explicitly, for me to be, well, me. Regardless of the circumstances that swirl around me, I’m praying to be and to become the person I was created to be, which I think is another way of saying I’m praying to be faithful. It’s less about God fixing my stuff than it is about me retaining some sense of my place in this world. If God were in the wish granting business, I would like to go back and live the last seven years without having to live with depression. What I can see looking back is God never quit being God and I learned how to be someone who found God’s love runs deeper than my sense of worthlessness, which has helped me be a better me, a healthier me, and I hope a more faithful me.

    When our house sells, someone will say, “God answers prayers,” which is a true statement. But I’m not praying for the house to sell. I am asking for wisdom to make sound choices in complicated times. I’m asking for patience and perspective enough to understand our world is not coming to an end because of the pressure we feel right now. I’m praying to remember the Lord is blessing me right now. I’m praying for eyes to see and ears to hear. I’m praying to be faithful. Jesus said God sees the sparrow fall; Jesus never said anything about God catching the sparrow.

    Earth’s crammed with heaven,
    And every common bush afire with God;

    But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –

    The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

    (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

    Peace,
    Milton

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    8 Responses to advent journal: teach me to pray

    1. December 14, 2007 at 3:41 pm

      This is a very interesting look at prayer and our role as children of God in prayer. I think your prayer for wisdom to make sound decisions is a very faithful way to communicate your concerns to God. Seems to me this one has already been answered.

      God’s blessings and peace be with you both as you continue to make the transition in your new home.

    2. theotherjesus.com
      December 14, 2007 at 3:47 pm

      I’m still thinking about prayer–coming from a tradition where prayer is magic, and conversely spending lots of years thinking prayer is bogus. Now I’m thinking that prayer is about aligning my will with the will of God, and focusing my energy on what it is that God wants–whatever that might be.

      That said, I’m praying for the sale of your house and your new life in the south, praying for God’s movement and direction in your life.

      Blessings,

      Greg

    3. gander
      December 14, 2007 at 4:02 pm

      Wow. You wowed me again.

      Happy birthday, young ‘un. You’ve landed on your feet.

    4. December 14, 2007 at 5:48 pm

      I’m praying that your Massachusetts home is exactly what some family needs, and that God guides them to it. That it will be a blessing to someone else, to be found, not just a burden from which you seek release.

    5. December 15, 2007 at 3:06 am

      🙂 Gordon had that Browing poem at the Covenant website like 10 years ago; that was the first place I’d heard it.

      I thought of it one way a long time ago, but it makes me think of how blackberries are a good gift, too.

    6. December 15, 2007 at 8:10 pm

      The concept of intercessory prayer is something I struggle with. There’s no logic to it. If God is fully aware of everything, then she does not need us to pray for things or people.
      And yet it is automatic for some of us to say a prayer for someone who is ill, for someone to find their place in the world. Does it do any good to anyone concerned?
      Is it our need that is being answered?

    7. drbrojo
      December 15, 2007 at 9:33 pm

      MB-C,

      Don’t you think that just praying is the proverbial 99%.
      Why would anyone pray if they didn’t believe? To me, it is the hope aspect when asking a friend to pray for you, you wouldn’t ask if you didn’t think they would…however, it doesn’t guarantee they will…YOU ARE A GREAT WRITER!

    8. December 17, 2007 at 2:07 am

      Prayer stuff is hard. I keep finding nice ways to keep doing it even though I don’t think God reaches down and makes a lot of obvious changes – like house sales.

      then again (and I ALWAYS have a then again) what do I know about it? For all I know God planned 3/4 of my day today.

      Prayer is a thing I do in obedience. I don’t worry that much if I say anything at all, or what I say if I do.

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