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.
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)