Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lord, teach us to pray

When I was a kid I found out my dad was pretty good with a Yo-Yo. I discovered this when I brought one home one day. He could make it “sleep,” “walk the dog,” and even do that triangle move, whatever that’s called (like the dudes in this picture). I never knew he was so talented. Of course, the first thing I wanted him to do was show me how to do all those cool tricks. He could do something that I couldn’t do and I wanted to know how he did it. I could picture myself at recess becoming the coolest kid in the third grade because I could “walk the dog!”

In Luke 11.1 we find the disciples wanting to learn something from Jesus far more significant and life changing than Yo-Yo tricks. Luke 11.1 says:

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, ...’"

We usually don’t ask just anybody to teach us stuff. For us to ask to be taught there usually has to be something special about the way they do things, or who they are. At this point, the disciples have been watching Jesus, spending time with him, and hearing him teach. They know he has a special relationship with the Father, so after he returns from a time of prayer they say, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Even though the disciples requested it, I can’t help but sense God’s invitation in all of this. I love that the disciples were drawn to prayer by Jesus’ example. His life and his close relationship with the Father provided the invitation. Jesus didn’t have to say, “When I get back we’re going to have a seminar called Prayer 101, so have some paper and pens ready.” When he got back from praying the disciples were waiting for the chance, the opportunity, to be taught to pray like Jesus prayed. “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Maybe the disciples were clamoring for power like they usually did, but I also can’t help but wonder who put the desire to pray in the disciple’s hearts in the first place. Out of his love and compassion the Father must have been wooing them, drawing them closer, and preparing them for the future (John 6:44). He knew that someday they would need to connect with the Father just like Jesus did. He knew they would need to pray just as badly as they needed air to breath. We need it just as badly too. Sadly, we aren’t as in touch with this need as the disciples were at this point in their lives. God longs for us to communicate with Him and he longs to communicate his love and mercy to us too. When the disciples saw that it was possible to communicate with the Father, or Abba as Jesus intimately called Him, they responded saying, “Lord, teach us to pray.”

If Jesus got away to pray, the disciples must have been thinking, “there really must be something to this prayer thing.” God had something wonderful waiting for them. He has something wonderful waiting for us too as we learn to pray. Maybe they were hoping to have the same kind of relationship with the Father that Jesus had, and they sensed that prayer was part of the equation. “Lord, teach us to pray.”

What must it have been like for the disciples to be around Jesus? The disciples see something extraordinary in the life of Jesus and they want to know what he knew, they wanted to know how he prayed. They wanted what Jesus had. Maybe they were thinking: Where does his extraordinary relationship with the Father come from? Where does his power and authority come from? Where does his compassion and grace come from? His love? His mental toughness? His entirely different paradigm than the highly religious, judgmental, system we live under? His purity? His incredible knowledge of God's will, and his willingness and courage to carry it all of the time? Could prayer be part of the answer? “Lord, teach us to pray.”

You and I know technique is not the answer, but maybe they were thinking it was the way he prayed. Maybe they were thinking it came from the times he slipped away in the middle of the night, or got up before all of them to go and pray. Maybe it was his 40 days in the desert fasting and praying. Maybe it was the time he spent praying and learning in the temple. Maybe it was the way he commanded demons to flee and they did. In reality, it was just that Jesus wanted, and needed, to be alone with the One he loved, and the One he loved wanted to be with him too. “Lord, teach us to pray.”

Of all the things the disciples could have asked Jesus to teach them they say, "Lord, teach us to pray."

When Jesus responds he doesn’t give them a lot of technique, or explanation, he just prays and shows them how to pray by example.

He said to them, "When you pray, say:
" 'Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.' "

Sunday, November 23, 2008

We had a great discussion this morning at Church led by our Pastor about learning to pray. I hope my fellow church-mates don’t mind me posting their thoughts. Names and genders have been left out to protect the not so innocent and to protect me from any pain they may want to inflict on me after reading this! Here are some of the things I heard:

One person spoke of how their prayer time, mostly in the car, has primarily turned into a time of gratefulness. Amazingly enough, this prayer has come out of a particularly difficult few years.

Another person spoke of how it helps them to pray when they find themselves in difficult situations if they have been spending time reading scripture, or intentionally getting away to be with God. They described this time as creating a “reservoir” that they can tap into when they need it.

One person said they wanted to learn to “communicate with God as opposed to just talking to God.” I thought that was a wonderful desire and a beautiful way of describing what prayer is all about.

One other person said how good it can be to have people pray for you, especially experienced intercessors, and how they noticed the difference it made. This made me think of my 91 year old Grandpa who prays for our whole family on a regular basis.

Someone else spoke about reading Psalms until they connected with God. They thought it was interesting how David was called “a man after God’s own heart” and yet he was such a whiner. BUT, as this person pointed out, David and the other Psalmist’s would whine and complain until they could say, “God I know you are with me, and You are awesome.”

Another person spoke from recent personal experience about the difficulty of praying according to God’s will when their own desire began to seem like something different than what they thought God’s will was. The kicker was the thing this person desired was a VERY good thing and something we were all praying would happen. It wasn’t something like winning the lottery, but something very personal and potentially wonderful. This person described how they, with God's help, had come to a place of peace and acceptance with God’s will and how things eventually transpired. Wow.


A real desire to wait on God and discover His heart and will was expressed a number of times. The question was raised, “how do we do that?” It made me think of Dallas Willard in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines" and to summarize with one word it simply takes “practice.” One time Ryan Walter, a former professional hockey player, told me he worked it out one time and figured he had spent tens of thousands of hours on the ice, so that what looked so natural in a game had actually come from hours and hours of practice. Seems kind of unspiritual, but learning to pray simply takes practice. Practice in waiting, listening, being open, aware, and responding to God’s love and presence.

All of these observations came from deep, sometimes heartbreaking situations. It made me appreciate their observations all the more. It’s one of the things I love about my little church. Everyone is so real. If life sucks, or they connect with God by climbing trees, or praying doesn’t seem to be working for them, they say so.

One thing that was ringing in my ears this morning was the disciple’s request of Jesus to “teach us to pray.” We can read books, and even learn from others, and it’s all good, but how many of us just sit down with God for a few minutes a day and simply ask Him to teach us to pray like the disciples did? I believe it is something He will do. It is something He wants to do. It’s a wonderful, sometimes painful, journey to go on with God.

I’ve been asking God to teach me to pray most of my adult life. Most of that time has been marked by absolute, abject failure in so many ways. I sometimes feel like Paul and want to tell people that I am the worst sinner in Christendom. However, this time has also had a little bit of wonderful eternal bliss and God's grace mixed in too. All I can say is, He is teaching me to pray and I hope he never stops because after all this time I still desperately need Him, and still feel like a beginner.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

“Contemplation is not the pleasant reaction to a celestial sunset, nor is it the perpetual twitter of heavenly birdsong. It is not even an emotion. It is the awareness of God, known and loved at the core of one’s being.”

Clifton Wolters, Introduction to The Cloud of Unknowing, Penguin, p. 36

Friday, November 7, 2008

Process of Conversion

Say “Yes” to Jesus
Mother Theresa of Calcutta

The process of conversion begins with genuine openness to change…Grace is the presence and action of Christ in our lives inviting us to let go of where we are now and to be open to the new values that are born every time we penetrate to a new understanding of the Gospel.

Moreover , Jesus calls us to repent not just once; it is an invitation that keeps recurring. In the liturgy it recurs several times a year, especially during Advent and Lent . It may also occur at other times through circumstances: disappointments, personal tragedy, or the bursting into consciousness of some compulsion or secret motive that we were not aware of.

A crisis in our lives is not a reason to run away; it is the voice of Christ inviting us to accept more of the divine light. More of the divine light means more of what the divine light reveals, which is divine life. And the more divine life we receive, the more we perceive that divine life is pure love.

Thomas Keating, “Awakenings” pg 4-5, The Crossroads Publishing Company