Teach us to pray

Luke 11: 1-13, Proper 11

Imagine Warren Buffet teaching you how to pick stocks. Imagine Joe DiMaggio teaching you how to hit a curve ball. Imagine Winston Churchill teaching you how to make a speech. Imagine Jesus Christ teaching you how to pray… wait a minute; you don’t have to imagine it. Jesus teaches us to pray in this one unforgettable lesson.

While the words of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s gospel and in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount are immortal, they are not the most important lesson that Jesus teaches. More important than his words is his attitude. Jesus does not besiege the Father with petitions. He does not ask for miracles. He does not try to persuade the Father to see things his way. He does not attempt to impose his will. Rather he teaches us to look for God’s will in all things and to make ourselves open to that will. We don’t pray to change God’s mind. We pray to know it and to change our own hearts and minds to live in harmony with his love.

The very first words of Christ’s prayer, Our Father, set the tone for our relationship with God. He does not try to overawe us with the grandeur of God. There are no theatrics in this gospel. God is our loving Father, not some vainglorious Wizard of Oz. Our Father is an infinitely wise, caring, kindly, yet powerful parent. He loves us and wants us to love him. We are his beloved and he delights in understanding and satisfying our real needs.

We praise God’s name. But God does not need our praise. We do. We need to put voice to our total dependence on our loving Father. We need to remind ourselves of the order in the universe and what must be the order in our lives, if we are to ever find peace. In praying for our daily bread, we ask for the physical and spiritual strength to do God’s work in the world. And having given ourselves to God’s will, we pray confidently that he will give us the grace to become instruments of that will, empowered to proclaim him, to forgive, to seek justice, to witness his love.

In its form and in its content, Christ’s prayer is a masterpiece. The fact that it is delivered off-the-cuff in response to a random question is further proof of the divine inspiration of the author. But while the words are inspired, Christ has cautioned us that our prayer not be spasmodic or formulaic. Our prayer should not be restricted to rare and desperate “Hail Mary” passes to save the day. Our prayer should not be mindless, mumbled incantations to wring a list of goodies from an unwilling God. Our prayer is ultimately a constant, conscious awareness of God’s presence in our lives. Jesus does not teach us to say the Lord’s Prayer. He teaches us to live the Lord’s Prayer.

Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, the Rev. David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest that seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, and congregational growth.

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