“Lord, teach us to pray…”

The title of this post comes from Luke 11:1.  This is the point in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus gives his disciple the words, which will become known as The Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father.  It is always interesting, because Matthew and Luke give slightly different versions of this prayer.  The version that many of us know comes from Matthew’s Gospel, although in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “‘Pray then in this way:'”, and in Luke Jesus says, “‘When you pray, say:'”.  Thus, Matthew gives us a model and Luke gives us a prayer, but the prayer that we all know comes from Matthew’s Gospel.

These are all heavy and important subjects and topics, things which are essential to survival and essential to a healthy physical and spiritual life. These petitions almost sound as though our life depends on praying.

Some how, prayer has become something which is good for us to do, but it really doesn’t change anything.  Others think that prayer is good because it changes us, still others think that the idea that we can communicate with a deity is crazy.  I think that these are all hopelessly deficient understandings of prayer.

The idea that prayer is good because it changes us rather than influencing God is something that makes sense when we are in a good situation, when we can rely on ourselves, and when our needs are more or less taken care of.  When we feel as though we don’t need to depend on God for much of our existence, we can easily think about prayer as something that really doesn’t matter, something that changes us, something that doesn’t influence God.  However, this is tragic, because this is a hopelessly fatalistic understanding of God and our relationship to God.  The idea that prayer doesn’t really affect God makes for a hopeless existence.

One of the many things that I have been learning from my congregation is the importance of praying like my life depends on it.  For many people, their life does depend on it, or they have had times in which their life has depended on it.  When we feel as though our lives are not in our control, God becomes all the more important, and communicating with God becomes crucial to our very existence.

There is one person in particular that prays with so much passion.  I refuse to use the term “prayer warrior”, it’s a terrible term.  But even without listening to the words, you can hear the passion and desperation in this person’s voice.  You can see that this person prays as if their life depends on it, as if the whole world depends on it.  It is not so much a burden that everything depends on their prayer, but this person prays in such a way that it matters.  This is often something that we have lost.  My prayers have typically been asking requests, but in my heart of hearts, I often don’t expect that it matters.  I haven’t felt as though I have really had to depend on God for my daily bread, I’ve been able to purchase that, I don’t feel like I really depended on God to keep me from the time of trial, I’ve always been quite safe.

This is an area in which I need to grow, I need to learn to pray as though my life depends on it, and I need to pray in such a way that I actually expect that it matters.  More and more, I find myself asking, “Lord, teach me to pray.”  As a pastor, this is a humbling experience, but on the other hand, I’m a human being just like everyone else.  So I continue to ask that God would teach me to pray, and I continue learning from people that God has placed in my life.

Lord…teach us to pray.

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