Saturday, July 30, 2016

How should we pray?


The Lord’s Prayer
11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father,hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Give us each day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Perseverance in Prayer
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

What do you pray for?
When we read the Lord's Prayer in Luke....what do you see?  Well we do notice it’s not the form we usually use liturgically. The Matthew version is closer to what we say whenever we say the Lord’s prayer. First of all, it’s direct. Begins with an ascription of holiness to God. Naming God as singular and holy.  And it assumes an intimacy, a relationship. God is like your father, or mother. No grandiose, cosmic, regal, honorific titles...And it deals intrinsically with the most basic needs, our daily bread in all of its forms.
He prayer presents us as worthy of  forgiveness based on an action of ours, that we have already forgiven others. And the word associated with sins is debts, the way we Protestants pray it.  There is this very real sense of obligation, what is owed to others, what others owe to us.  But we can’t miss the fact that thee is also the very concrete sense of economic debts as well in that it was an essential paft of the Jewish understanding of the law that there was to be a debt amnesty every seven years. (The basis of our bankruptcy laws). The principle was that no family was to be perpetually indebted to others, that poverty and dependence was not to extend over generations.  And Jesus’ self-understanding pf his own mission can be seen as wanting to make that finally real. The sermon on the mount, the beatitudes, can e  seen as an expression of the principle of jubilee.
The Lucan version ends with the desire that we not be tested. it’s a conscious awareness of how hard it is on a daily basis to do the right thing, with values often in conflict and situations often complex.
The request are all very direct. There’s not much "buttering up" of God going on.
It’s interesting that Jesus follows up this teaching with a parable. Of a late night visit to a friend ready for bed. Who has to be pestered until he finally gives in. What does the parable tell us? Is Jesus telling us that God is like that neighbor?  Is he perhaps reflecting his own experience? Encouraging us to keep praying, keep focused, keep asking even when God seems unresponsive? It’s an interesting image of God.
But In the end, there is reassurance. He calls on our shared experience as parents. That most parents will do their best to give their children  good things. (The reference to you who are evil is closer to imperfect than morally evil. Jesus view of us in this teaching about prayer is quite compassionate. Throughout this whole discussion Jesus is quite understanding of  the frailty of w e humans who despite our limitations, struggle to do our best. (Again, does this understanding come from his own experience?)
In the end, what is it we are absolutely assured to receive? Well, not exactly what we ask for. We will receive what we need, not necessarily what we want. And In this case, what we are guaranteed is the Holy Spirit...that which can sustain us through all the difficulties and frustrations.

So, when you pray….be direct. Be explicit. With no fear. Say exactly what you feel. And keep coming back. Again and again. And be open to receiving the Holy Spirit and willing to trust and rely on its sustaining power.

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