|"When you pray..." by Josh Wilson|
Teaching the disciples to pray
1 Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."2 Jesus told them, "When you pray, say:‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.Bring in your kingdom.3 Give us the bread we need for today.4 Forgive us our sins,for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.And don’t lead us into temptation.’" (Luke 11:1-4, CEB)
Nothing is more basic to the Christian life than prayer; but if I'm being honest, prayer has always been a rather elusive spiritual discipline for me. In fact, it wasn't until I took a spiritual formation class on prayer in seminary before I truly understood that prayer is more of an inclination of the heart than it is a ritual. More on that in a moment.
We are now eleven chapters into the 2014 Luke and Acts reading plan and one consistent and important theme that has presented itself thus far in Luke's gospel is the prayer life of Jesus. Here are a few key moments:
We also know that the disciples, too, fasted often and prayed frequently (5:33).3:21 - Jesus praying at his baptism6:12 - Jesus praying before choosing the Twelve9:18 - Jesus praying before the first prophecy of his death and resurrection9:28 - Jesus praying at his transfiguration
Still, here is what I find somewhat comforting from this passage in chapter 11...that prayer is a learned experience. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them, and as their Rabbi, Jesus did just that.
I am grateful for having been taught specific prayers like the Lord's Prayer. I am also fond of discovering other written prayers and blessings, like many I happened to see this week associated with Saint Patrick. I sometimes prefer to write prayers of my own for use when leading worship, like I have been doing in the chapel throughout Lent. Such things continue to teach me about prayer and strengthen my discipline. Even so, this aspect of my prayer life I associate with the "ritual" of prayer.
What I have appreciated learning about prayer more than anything else in recent years is that prayer can simply be understood as the heart language we share with God. Inclining our hearts to God in prayer permits our praise and thanksgiving, as well as our petitions and pleas for God's will, to flow up while also disposing us to hear the still, small voice of God as it flows down. In every moment of our everyday, ordinary lives. My dear friend and mentor, Dr. Steve Harper (who taught me more about prayer than he probably realizes), wrote in his blog these thoughts about the essence of prayer that speak beautifully to this:
"First, prayer is attitude. This means it includes occasional acts, but it is actually an ongoing disposition of the heart, not limited to fixed times of devotion.
Second, prayer is abandonment. It is taking every moment and saying, 'Not my will but thine be done.' It is the surrender of egotism and the offering of our lives to God–what Saint Francis called being 'an instrument of Your peace.'
And third, prayer is attentiveness, so that God can communicate with us as much in the ordinary moment as in the spectacular ones."
I hope that throughout this holy season you are encountering God in prayer like never before. May grace and peace continue to be with you as you make your Lenten pilgrimage.