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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Talking with God

This is from my sermon Sunday on Luke 11:1-13 (where Jesus teaches the disciples to pray in the Lord's prayer)
I became a priest because I wanted to learn how to pray and to teach others to pray. I continually read books on the spirituality. I usually spent an hour in private prayer and another hour and a half in liturgical prayer. In most of those books was the statement “in prayer we are all beginners.” At age 25 that seemed impossible to me. How could we remain beginners after a lifetime of prayer? I assumed they were just being humble. Through my 30’s and into my 40’s I continued a pretty disciplined practice of prayer. The intensity varied, but it was always there.

In the last decade of my life I have finally come to accept the bitter truth. When it comes to prayer I am still a beginner and always will be. I have read and studied hundreds of books and spent over 15,000 hours in different types of prayer since that first day in seminary—for all that I can admit that I am still a beginner.

Why share this with you? To show that I know something about prayer from the inside and  because I really want you to not be frustrated and discouraged in your prayer.

Let me be clear about the paradox of prayer:
·        Prayer is so simple than even the youngest child can do it well enough. If you can utter "Now I lay me down to sleep..." you have made a perfect prayer!
·        Prayer is so difficult that no one ever becomes truly proficient. It is always a challenge and a struggle! So never lose heart if it feels like a challenge and a struggle and you are making no progress.

We must understand, Jesus' disciples would have had a number of daily prayers which they recited. They also had the temple. They were praying and knew how to pray. However, they saw Jesus had His own robust prayer life. They wanted more. He, like John the Baptist, was a religious teacher and would be expected to guide His disciples in spiritual practices.

With that in mind, let us look at what Jesus says about prayer.

1.    He says that we are evil, but we are still good to our kids. He says, “If people are good to our kids how much more will God be good to His children." This is called arguing from the lesser to the greater, a common Jewish practice. Jesus' first point is to hone in on God's goodness. Probably ancient peoples also wondered if God heard their cries. Jesus makes clear that He does.
2.    Jesus tells us to ask, to seek and to knock. Be tenacious! The Greek word is literally “be shameless.” I believe that shame is a big obstacle to prayer. Many times people are reluctant to pray out loud in a group. The reason is they think their prayers "do not sound good." First of all, where is the focus when we worry about such a thing? (on me) we need to look toward God, focus on God, and be 'shameless.' Let me illustrate: I recently attended a dance where many young people faced serious physical handicaps. As the music pounded I saw these little guys and gals, some on walkers other with labored efforts, move to the music. One girl, a blind teen, walked back and forth in place, a sweet smile on  her face. It brought a tear to my eye as I stood there taking it in. And I ask, who among us would ever say to a dancing child "you are an embarrassment! Sit down and stop it!" The answer is no one.[So why do we do it to ourselves????] In our TV culture they ask "So you think you can dance" and judges critique your every move. Dancing has become a performing art. Fine, but for those who are not professional, just dance and have fun! I once heard "if you can't dance, you can't pray." It didn't mean if you aren't a fluid dancer, it meant if you were unwilling to let go and dance. The dancing blind girl is a model for us at prayer. Selfless and not seeing others, lost in the moment of communion.
3.    Jesus tells us to make God’s Kingdom the center of our prayer. When God and His Messiah sits among us to rule, then all will be well:
a.   In the kingdom there will be no tears, no pain, no sadness, no loss
b.   In the kingdom there will be no violence, no stealing, no betrayal, no abuse.
c.    In the kingdom there will be no hunger, no thirst, no poverty, no suffering.
d.   In the Kingdom God will bless His people with abundance, and His people will see God, know God and love God.
We tend to pray for temporary solutions. We ask God to help us find a job, or cure a friend of cancer, or give us good weather for a family reunion. We also tend to care more about our friends and families than others further away and not part of our lives... That is not bad, but Jesus provides a wider vision.

Jesus offers a prayer life centered on a permanent solution to all our problems and concerns; not just ours, but to the worries and concerns of the entire planet and anyone living on it. Jesus focuses on our Father God and His kingdom in prayer.He asks us to do the same.
So please pray, friends. Knock, knock, knock on heaven's door and beg the Father, come among us and rule!


  1. >I have read and studied hundreds of books and spent over 15,000 hours in different types of prayer.

    That you can have done this and ended up being such a complete dimwit tends to prove the truth of Dan Barker's saying, "Nothing fails like prayer."

  2. My dear Michael, it seems I have offended again.
    I can tell you prayer does not fail! Its purpose is not to save me from being a dimwit. I expect to die a dimwit, in your regard. In fact, it may not change me at all, though it seems somehow to provide me with a profound sense of compassion for you. I pray for you with affection. I wish for you abundance, peace and joy. May God reveal Himself to you in His mercy and love. I do really regret that I have failed so miserably to mediate His light in your life. I truly hoped for more for you.

  3. >I truly hoped for more for you.

    Umm, it's not over, bud. Not for me, anyway, though it may be, for you.

    You see, unlike you, Jeff, it sometimes occurs to me that I may be mistaken. I don't mind admitting that. I am wrong about some things, though it happens so seldom that it's no big deal.

    For others--I won't name names-it seems to be a way of life. And in your case, as far as I can tell, you seem (a) stuck in the fact of being a 57-year-old man with the mind of a heedless, 14-year-old boy and (2) self-complacent about it.

    That's the real advantage I have over you, bud. My son once said to me "Daddy, you're always on a quest for knowledge." Your only quest, as far as I can tell, is to seek continuing validation for your foolishness. That's truly sad.

    Your god is imaginary, but even an imaginary god deserves better representation than what you offer. You regret that you failed to mediate his light in my life. Past a certain point, don't be too hard on yourself. You profess to be a Christian, which, at bottom, is a commitment, as all religious belief is, to never fully grow up--to always reserve a part of oneself that, no matter how adult one may be otherwise, demands the right to believe that Puff the magic dragon really did live by the sea, and to demand respect for such nonsensical beliefs.

    No, don't feel bad for me, because I see through you, Jeff, as I always did. Feel bad, as I do, for your poor little baby boy. What will it be like for him when it one day dawns on him that his father is a fool?

  4. we can both agree on that; my God deserves much better representation than I have ever given Him.