Learning to Pray

The scripture we have for today Genesis 18:20-32, Luke 11:1-13 and Psalm 85 is filled with prayer!

Yet we hardly consider The Genesis passage as a prayer and we look at Psalm 85 as a statement rather than a  prayer of petition and most of us, if asked about learning to pray, would refer to Luke 11 where Jesus answered a request from one of his disciples to teach them to pray as John taught his disciples. And what we remember about Luke 11 is what has become known as the Lord’s Prayer. And I’m sure some of you will wonder what happened to the beautiful poetic ending we Protestants use, and in fact we are stunned by the brevity of this prayer in Luke. It has five (5) petitions which every Sunday school kid has to learn.

  1. Hallowed be thy name (God is the source of holiness)
  2. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
  3. Give us this day our daily bread
  4. Forgive us our debts (sins) as we forgive our debtors. And then there is a footnote to this that comes at the end of the prayer. It Staes that if we don’t release others, we will not experience God’s forgiveness. God still forgives us, but we are closing ourselves off from modeling God’s perfect love. I don’t believe you experience mercy fully until you offer mercy to others.
  5. Deliver us from temptation, or the time of trial.

When did you learn to pray?

Who taught you to pray?

What do you remember about prayer in your life?

Have you ever given up on prayer?

How do you recognize a prayer in your own life?

Whenever I am out to dinner, at a funeral repast, a birthday party, a graduation celebration, a wedding feast and of course a church dinner, I am asked to “say grace”. I am asked to pray when I visit the sick. I open meetings with prayer and I close them with the same. I pray in worship, and I write the prayers of confession and dedication for all of us to pray. Praying is almost second nature to me now, like going out and coming in. But then many of my prayers begin to sound the same as I use familiar phrases and cover the same ground over and over. This is not good! Unless, of course I am leading others in a prayer like the prayer of St. Francis, the Serenity Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray those prayers we feel good, because we think they just about cover what needs to be said to God to appease God and fulfill our obligations to pray.

But it isn’t up to me or any other clergy person to pray and for the congregants to feel that their obligation is fulfilled. It’s like the man who expects his sister or wife to buy all the gifts and write all the cards and send all the condolences. That may be the way ,many of us operate, but it does little to fulfill our full responsibilities as human beings in relation to others, and it does less in enabling us to grow our hearts and express our deepest feelings. In other words, when we pass on our prayer responsibilities to others, our souls begin to shrink.

But how to pray?

I ask, “How do you talk to one another? Try that approach to God.”

“But,” you say, “God is God and deserves a little more respect.”

I answer, “Really?” Read Abraham’s conversation with God in Genesis 18. Although he constantly reminds himself and God of his limitations, still, he seems to be able to share his questions and ideas without shame.

I think that most of us have a difficult time with prayer because of how we see ourselves in relation to God. Most of us do not hold as high a view of ourselves as God does of us.

Perhaps we have to remind ourselves that when Jesus taught us to refer to God as Father, he was encouraging us to approach God as a parent, the person who brought us to life and loves us as a parent does a child, and is as anxious as a parent to be in conversation with us. The Aramaic word ABBA could be translated as DADDY. That is as informal as can be.

We learn by listening and unfortunately many of the people we hear pray (mostly clergy) do what Jesus warned us against. “”When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of tiger many words,. Do not be like them for THE PERSONAL GOD, “your father” knows what you need before you pray.” Matthew 6:7-8

I get upset when people preach a sermon in their prayer.

And want to tell God all the things God already knows. They are trying to lead the people for whom they are praying to consider things from a certain point of view.

The most important thing to remember when we are praying or are teaching someone else to pray is that God is Listening and desires our prayers as much as we desire to be recognized and remembered by the people we love. God IS OUR FATHER. That is not an idle concept. That is the TRUTH!

In our scripture today, we have Jesus telling his disciples that God will listen and answer our prayers, no matter how inconvenient we may think they are.  Listening is most important but also the idea that inconvenienced friends will help us out but God will do more than that.

Many people are hesitant to pray because at one time or another they were disappointed by prayer.  They prayed and were disappointed that what they prayed for did not materialize.

We often go to God as if we are ordering a gift on Amazon and want it delivered within two working days.

A little boy was heard praying, “God, make it Tokyo, please make it Tokyo!” When asked why he was praying that, he confessed that in a test that day he put down Tokyo as the capital of France and wanted God to make that happen.

I know that Jesus said that whatever we ask for in His name, the Father will honor….it will be given unto you. And I believe it will. But also remember that God’s ways are not our ways. God is answering our prayers in ways that we need eyes of faith to understand. We don’t always understand what we are asking for. We think we want a new car, when in fact we need  to be affirmed that we are worth having a new car, or are equal to the friend who just purchased a new Corvette.

We need to believe that we are sharing our desires with our CREATOR, who knows everything about us and knows what we need before we ask.

When we are angry, God knows the feeling that is driving that anger and what we need to address our anger.

We may pray for the suffering of the person who hurt us, and God meets our hurt with a call from a friend rather than a lightning bolt to our enemy. But chances are, most of us will not see the call as the answer to our prayer when it just may be!

I want to teach you to pray. I want to teach you to just let down your fear of offending God, get over your guilt of not having prayed in a long time, and drop this false idea that you must be a perfect Christian before you can pray with conviction and have your prayers heard.

Just talk to God as you would to yourself or your closest friend or your therapist. And don’t worry about the language. Be yourself because God knows your real self and loves that real person!

We are so precious to God. We need to somehow believe it and we need to open an ongoing conversation with God. That means being honest and also listening.

I have a good friend I call about once a month. When we talk, it is as if we had just talked the hour before. We take up where we left off and we both listen as much as we talk.

Having said all this. I have to admit that I am not a person who prays like a poet. My prayer are simple and mostly short. But they are often. I try to remind myself that God is always listening, so that when I am thinking about something, reacting to something, considering something, that God knows it. To be aware of that is to recognize the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. But there are times when there are no words to describe my feelings, my doubt, my rage, my gratitude, my fear or my shame. It is then that  I trust the Holy Spirit to pray for me with GROANS TOO DEEP FOR WORDS.

TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF! Pray! If it just “Help Me,Lord!” One man was losing his mother to cancer and she was suffering. He was about to go into an AA meeting and stopped to tell me how angry he was with God. He shared how just the day he had cursed God. My response was, “At least your still talking to him.”

Don’t be afraid to share your deepest feelings with God. God can take anything we can throw at Him. The problem is we think it is like cursing out a neighbor or enemy and it is a way to distant them from us. When we blame God and curse him and argue with him, God only comes closer to comfort us.

Dealing with God can be the most frustrating thing you will ever experience, because God is God and loves bus more than we can ever love ourselves or anyone else for that matter. God will not leave us. God will be silent and respect our privacy, but god will always be near. No matter what, God will never desert us, or as Jesus said, leave us as orphans.

What God desires is for us to love ourselves as God loves us so that in the security of that love, we are able to love others. That is all. That is the only meaning in life worth an investment of our hearts and souls. For to do so is to enter the eternal kingdom of God.

My Mother taught me to pray. “Now I lay me down to sleep…God bless whoever.

My church taught me to pray. “Our Father” and a thousand hymns and psalms.

I listened to clergy and adults at my church to learn and I wasn’t an easy teach. Some adult would talk about praying one night and having it answered the next day. That never happened to me, so I thought there was something wrong with me or the way I prayed.

Some of them heard the voice of God. I never heard a voice, so thought I wasn’t trusted by God and wasn’t good enough to receive God’s messages.

Many of the clergy seemed steeped in the English language in a way that I would never attain, and so thought I would never be able to pray aloud.

But life taught me to pray. My faith refused to let me neglect the relationship god desired to hav with me. So I just plugged along with my simple prayers and I began to notice how often they were answered in unsuspecting ways and how blessed my life had become despite my insecurity about my praying abilities.

When you pray, how do you expect to receive an answer. Most of us when we pray for someone who is ill, expect the answer to come through a doctor.

But the answer may come through a perfect stranger or more likely a friend who affirms our prayers or from the ill person, healed or not, sharing their gratitude for our thoughts.

Don’ forget that the purpose of prayer is not to change God’s mind but to shape ours!