Have you ever wondered about prayer, why we pray and what we think prayer is doing? Very often what needs to happen in a situation we’re praying about is so clear to us—our team should win, naturally, or this person we love should be healed. But what about the faithful prayers on opposing sides of, say, a World Series or an election? What about all those times when someone we prayed for doesn’t get better, or even dies? And doesn’t God already know all about whatever it is that we are praying about? Do we really think that God is going to help someone (or not) just because we prayed for them (or not)? Sometimes it seems like the unconscious image behind our understanding of prayer is that we are seeking to secure the attention of a remote God who, all too often, seems to be sleeping on the job, or worse. It’s enough to make one wonder why we even bother—as Larry pointed out in his sermon a few weeks ago.
We bother because we are called to follow Jesus, and prayer was absolutely central in his life. Over and over he withdrew to a quiet place and prayed. He did so frequently enough that eventually he was asked to teach us how to pray. His answer, found in Luke’s gospel, is:
When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
First and foremost, our prayer is to be grounded in the dynamic and life-giving relationship of love that Jesus experienced and trusted. We may not be 100% convinced that God is love and bringing healing, reconciliation and life out of even the deepest, darkest places—but Jesus is and invites us to risk trusting as he does. We are prone to fear, prone to wander, prone to be distracted by shiny objects promising everything and delivering nothing. But in prayer we put ourselves into that incredible relationship Jesus shared with the Father, allowing that balm to heal us and shape us in his image.
Secondly, we pray for God’s kingdom to shine forth in our world, to reflect here and now God’s desires. Imagine for a moment what it might look like if all of humanity loved God and one another with the generosity and extravagance Jesus did. It’s almost too magnificent to picture, given the state of our world today. When we are at our best in prayer, we are asking God to bring us into alignment with God’s dream—which will most definitely require some changes to take root within our hearts and our practices! Unfortunately, it is much easier for us to project our will onto God, desiring everyone else—God included—to conform to our kingdom. Jesus later prays, ‘not my will but yours be done.’ How might our prayer be transforming us from the inside out into a mutual outpouring of love wherein we delight in the others’ delight?
As former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, writes:
Prayer is God’s work in us. It is not us trying to persuade God to be nice to us or to get God interested in us. It is opening our minds and hearts and saying to the Father, “Here is your son, praying in me through the Holy Spirit. Please listen to him, because I want him to be working, acting and loving in me.”
Our prayers are indeed both needed and doing their work, thanks be to God, however slowly it may appear to us. On Election Day, November 8, we are opening the doors of our sanctuary for a prayer vigil. Not to try to plead with God for us to get our way, but to ask God to be working, acting and loving in us all. Sign up here to share in the prayer vigil.
Hope to see you Sunday,