Letter writing is becoming something of a lost art in this age of texts, tweets, and emojis. Putting our thoughts together in a way that makes complete sentences that flow into whole paragraphs is not as common as it once was. Does this effect the way in that we pray? Are we substituting ‘texts’ thrown to the heavens for thoughtful encounters with God?
I do appreciate the instant nature of our mode of communication. I use messaging and texting dozens of times each day to connect with others, to confirm meetings, to just say “Hi!” But, I also know when I need to sit down and write a real letter or pick up the phone for an actual conversation. Do you pray earnestly, heart and mind engaged with God?
Peter, James, John and the other disciples saw the rich intimate prayer conversations of Jesus and they made this request, “Teach us to pray.” He responded with a framework for prayer that Christians have universally used since the birth of the Church. “This, then, is how you should pray: “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV) So much meaning in so few words!
Jesus taught that we need to begin by thinking of Who we are talking to, just like a good letter writer thinks of her recipient. “Our Father.” We come to a Person, who loves us, with purpose for our existence, with complete provision for us. Our prayer begins by setting us in the context of His family, for He is ours, not just mine. We pray in a way that invites us to know Him relationally. Then, He reminds us that our prayers, while addressed to our Father are formed around profound reverence. “Hallowed be your name.” We recognize that He is revered, respected, and majestic and that our high calling is to make Him known to the world in a way that invites their worship. And, that is just the first few words!
As we pray we step fully into His rule, inviting His kingdom to come and His will to be done. What part of me resists His will? Where do I desire my way more than His way? How do I surrender to Him and fall in step with the Spirit? So many of my prayers are shaped less by desiring His Kingdom than by wanting Him to make my agenda happen, to make my life work the way in which I desire.
Even as we yearn for His rule, we are invited to pray about the ‘dailys’ of our lives; the ordinary stuff of each day. He is our Bread! That deep longing for strength, He satisfies. That confounding problem, He is the answer. That challenging child, He can show the way to love. That broken heart, He can heal it. So, we carry our need to Him and ask, in faith, for what He provides.
Jesus taught us to recognize our sin and the sins of others in this prayer, but not with shame, nor with hate. Instead, He establishes a connection between our grace and His. We choose grace, He gives it. We let go of our offense, our rage, our Self – and He reaches out to hold our heart secure in His unfailing love. Forgive me as I forgive! He asks us to pray with honesty about the state of our heart. We must not brush quickly past this line. He reveals that when we build self-protective walls around our hurting Self, we block the very Love that could heal us. It is such a hard part of the prayer, isn’t it?
And, we recognize our humanity as we pray for a road that keeps us from the lure of temptation and the seduction of Evil! Oh, yes, God does not ‘tempt’ us as we think of the word, but He does allow us to be tested so that our faith is refined, so that our desperate need for Him is made clear to us. Jesus knew that few things make us more ugly before God than self-righteousness so He taught us to pray confessionally, to acknowledge our frailty and to entreat His powerful advocacy on our behalf.
In the middle of life today, there will be a place for those quick prayers, those texts to Heaven. Hopefully there will also be time for more thoughtful engagement with the Father, holy and majestic in prayer that profoundly changes us.
“With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:
Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are.
Set the world right; Do what’s best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge! You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. “
(Matthew 6:9-13, The Message)