Today's Lectionary Text
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.” So he said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, may your name be revered as holy.
What is prayer? The disciples have that question. In Luke, Jesus uses what we today call The Lord’s Prayer to answer the question. However, the answer still seems muddled to me.
The answer might be considered one of the enigmas of a faithful life.
The first definition that Merriam-Webster offers for prayer is “an address (such as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought”; “a set order of words used in praying”; or “an earnest request or wish.”
I have prayed since I was a child. “Now I lay me down to sleep …,” “Thank you for the world so sweet” or the Johnny Appleseed grace were some of my early prayers. As I grew up, my family moved from rote table graces to more ad-lib prayers. Today, we name prayer concerns in our Sunday school classes, list those who need prayer in our newsletters, and name them in worship services. Still, what does it mean when we say, “I’ll pray for you?” Does it mean that the desired answer will happen?
In looking at the first four verses in Luke 11 some things are worth noting. The prayer words Jesus suggests include praise of God. The big request is for God’s kingdom to come about within the human earthly realm. Then the example includes a petition for forgiveness, and an asking for food. It seems like a pretty predictable outline.
Looking more closely at the words suggested, it is obvious that the pronouns used are plural – not “me” and “I,” but “we” and “us.” It is not about just one individual’s need or a request for just one person’s desires. Instead, it is about needs that may come from one person but that are borne by the entire community. Relationship within the community counts; bearing one another’s needs is essential. As we converse with one another about concerns, God is part of the mix. Such conversation is holy and a significant part of prayer.
Another key part of prayer is that it is, at least partially, listening. Over time I have continued to return to this understanding. It is a hard thing to live. My thinking seems to be that if I do not enumerate all the needs of which I am aware, or name desires for which I have promised someone I will pray, God will not get them or know how to solve things. Now, isn’t that ridiculous?
Instead, offering to God our own willingness to act in God’s name, and then being silent in order to listen might just put us in touch, as individuals and as communities, in helpful ways with a world that desperately needs compassion and hope. Our listening might lead to clarity about how to live as disciples in this world today. Listening well and offering ourselves as individuals and communities to serve in the world in response to what we hear, may just be an answer to the question of “What is prayer?” Let’s try it.
-Rev. Dianne Tombaugh
Prayer for Reflection
Loving God, for your Presence and love we give you thanks. Merciful God, for a hurting creation and all the needs held therein, hear our prayer. Amen.
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