Prayer is a Song of the Heart
The Rev. Laurel Hart
Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation
This gospel reading tells us the story of an unnamed disciple who comes to Jesus with a simple yet profound request – “Lord, teach us to pray.” This request implies deep trust in this teacher and recognition that Jesus’ instructions are imbued with holiness. Jesus responds by offering to his disciples (and to us) that perfect prayer – universally prayer by Christians for centuries – it is so familiar to all of us having been recorded in scripture and included in our historic liturgies. Do we actually understand the words of the Lord’s Prayer, words that we know by heart? What is “our daily bread?” Is it actually food? Or can we be asking that our basis needs might be provided for in some manner? Are we talking about physical needs like having a job or source of income so we might be released from the daily worries about having enough to cover the rent expense, pay for basic health care, or even being able to have decent and clean clothes on our back? Do we really want to “forgive those who sin against us or who (in another translation) trespass against us?” Are we willing to let go of the human emotion of anger? Or do we just want to forgive those people with whom we wish to continue a relationship? What about the version which talks about forgiving our debts as we forgive our debtors? Is that only about money? And what is “the time of trial?” Is a time of trial just a troubling period - a personal experience of grief or stress which is short term or is it one of the long term challenges of life like a disability? Could it be a wide angled view of the current chaos in world around us? These petitions name what is crucial for us personally and for our communal body, the society, the church, the world – and in the life of our ongoing relationship with God. The closing verses (power, glory, etc.) are called the doxology which scholars believe to be a later addition based on Eastern liturgical traditions.
Verses 9 and 10 are often cited as reassurance that God will give us whatever we desire, as long as we pray hard enough. And how does a person measure “praying hard enough.” Luke cites the example of the middle of the night visit from the persistent friend. In a society where hospitality was highly prized, this man continues to beg his neighbor, who is in bed for the night, for the bread needed to feed his unexpected guests. I think of it as perseverance in prayer – not giving up on the belief God will meet our needs whatever they might be and underscores our faith that God desire relationship with us. Jesus also presents a link between prayer and persistence, a link which may challenge us to think differently about the practice and purpose of prayer. After all, praying can be a hard as we want to make it. Sometimes, we avoid just talking to God – having a straightforward open and heartfelt conversation with God about what is on our hearts and minds. Maybe we think prayer can only be done using a certain posture, on our knees or speaking formal words – like the old English thy and thou. I bet most everyone here has spent a few sleepless nights talking to God, hoping for sleep to come, as the brain is churning away on concerns and worries which are hard to turn off – I call this pillow prayer. I think our prayer ascend up no matter what the position of our physical bodies. Jesus teaches us that God will not give us snakes or scorpions, but neither do we always receive things for which we have asked. This is proven by the fact that I haven’t won the lottery yet.
The rest of the parent/child gift-giving metaphor in this text - the fish/snake or egg/scorpion example inform our understanding of this prayerful asking and receiving. Jesus uses a parent/child metaphor to help the disciples understand his message about asking, searching, and knocking. The Message Bible reads with these words of this text “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat and mouse, hide and seek game we’re in.”
The greatest gift we can hope to receive, the gift God provides to those who pray with persistence and faithfulness, is the constant presence of the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort-leading us to the kingdom of God on earth now.
The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of necessity for us human beings – it may seem we are turning to these words as an easy, fast route when it truly is a source of great comfort as we pray those familiar words. Words we’ve recited all our lives with the vision of certain images these words bring to mind. However, the familiar words can begin to seem clichéd and many times we recite them in a rote manner not really think or reflecting on the words. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are actually putting all our trust in Jesus to guide even our praying - remember Jesus taught us this prayer. Lord’s Prayer is direct – give us; forgive us; lead us; deliver us. This week, try praying the Lord’s Prayer, line by line in your own words, and trust Jesus to guide you. Write down your words, the feelings which rise up as this prayer unfolds within your heart and mind. Send me a copy of your words by email if you’d like to share with someone.
Remember - Prayer is a song of the heart that is tuned to the will of God. Amen