I don’t remember how I learned to pray. I really don’t. I don’t remember anyone ever teaching me how to pray, when to pray, or even the “right” words to say. Confirmation was a blur that I don’t remember very well. I only went to class because of a boy (my confirmation students now know that). I always had what I thought was a good prayer life. But I always felt like I wasn’t doing it “right.” By the way, I am going to keep using the word “right” when it comes to prayer knowing full well (now) that there is no “right” way to pray. In seminary we used to pray before almost every class. Sometimes the professor would pray and sometimes we would be called on to pray. Now, as a pastor, I get called on to pray at a lot of situations. But it always makes me laugh that people assume I am some kind of “prayer expert.” And, it is especially hilarious to see a bunch of pastors sit around a table before a meal and just stare at one another. It’s like “who ever blinks first has to pray!!”
Now, right off with today’s reading you may notice that this is not the “traditional” Lord’s prayer. It starts off familiar enough but then veers off a little. That’s okay. The Lord’s prayer appears in several different places in the bible; these verses from Luke are some of them. The other thing that caused me to pause in this reading today was where it is located. The disciples, by this point, had already been out in the world doing the work that Jesus had asked of them. I am guessing that the disciples had already done some kind of praying before this point. But now they’ve asked Jesus to teach them. It makes me wonder if the disciples were feeling inadequate in their prayer skills or maybe they realized that this is one of those skills they should have probably learned early on and are now finally getting around to it.
The disciples may not have realized it (and maybe we didn’t recognize it upon first reading) but Jesus is teaching them the prayer as three components: relationship, feeding, and forgiveness. Notice what Jesus didn’t say. Jesus didn’t say that there is a “proper time” to pray. Jesus didn’t say there is a “proper way” to pray. Jesus didn’t say that there are “proper words” to say when you pray. Jesus didn’t lay it out like a 5 step process. And he certainly didn’t say “this is the only way to pray otherwise God won’t hear you.” But what Jesus starts with is relationship: “Father, hallowed be your name.” Our prayer life is first and foremost about relationship. Think about your prayer time as a chance to check in with God and for God to check in with you. And that relationship of “Father” is an important one. The idea is that we look at God as a parent figure. And if you didn’t have the world’s best parents (if they were abusive, absent, or otherwise didn’t meet your expectations) God wants to be that parent to you. So, our prayer life is first and foremost about relationship. And prayer is just one way to foster that relationship.
The next component of prayer that Jesus speaks of is feeding. He says “give us each day our daily bread.” Now when Jesus speaks of feeding, it’s usually more than just the physical act of taking food and putting it in our mouth. Jesus speaks of feeding in metaphorical terms as well. During this time, people really did have such a thing as “daily bread.” The bread was baked fresh and usually there was only enough supplies to go around that each member of a family would get just one or 2 chunks for the day. But many of us don’t have that any more. This petition is more about providing us with what we will need (notice I didn’t say what we want). Notice that the petition is for our “daily bread” not weekly, monthly, or even yearly bread. Please God, just provide us with what we need for today.
The third component is forgiveness. The most difficult of this prayer for me falls right about here. I don’t have an issue with asking God to forgive me (I do it daily). But what I struggle with is the idea that I ask God to forgive me like I forgive others. And by that logic, God is going to be super good at holding a grudge. Nonetheless, I still pray to God everyday for forgiveness. And I don’t pray for forgiveness daily because I think I’m some kind of super sinner. I pray for this daily because I need the practice of daily forgiveness.
Then Jesus goes on to tell a parable about having a friend and needing a loaf of bread from that friend at midnight. The reason Jesus told this parable was to highlight (once again) the idea that God is your friend. God is that person you can turn to at midnight, or 8am, or 3 in the afternoon, or whenever, and ask for what you need. With all of this: the idea that we should see God as a parent, that we should ask for God what we need on a daily basis, that we should beseech God for forgiveness, and that we should think of God as a friend, what keeps us from praying? Are you scared to pray because you may not do it right? Maybe you don’t want to pray because you don’t want to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Maybe, like me, you don’t want to pray this prayer specifically because you don’t want to forgive those who have sinned against you. Maybe you think you’re just too busy to pray.
If you think you’re too busy to pray, I’m going to call you on that excuse right now. All of us have 3 minutes in our day to give to God. I’ve said it before, but there is no right way or right place to pray. Pray in the shower, pray while you exercise, pray on your daily drive, pray while you’re doing the dishes, pray when you fold the laundry, pray when you wake up, pray when you lay down, pray when you eat, pray when you drink…I think you get the point. If you’re using the excuse of being too busy to pray then that’s not it. That’s not why you’re not praying. It’s something else entirely, most likely fear.
Brothers and sisters, we all have everything we may ever need to pray to God. We have the words, we have the actions, we have the time, and we have the heart. I want to challenge all of you today. Here is your challenge: I want you to find time every single day this week to pray for someone or something. You don’t have to tell me if you did it or who you prayed for. But, just try it. I want you to take time to turn off all the noise around you to talk with your pappa God. I am challenging you to tune out the voices that say “you can’t pray…you’re not a pastor” or “you can’t pray, you don’t have the right words” or even “why are you praying, you need the prayers, you sinner!!” and just pray. And if you don’t know where to start with your prayers, start with the Lord’s prayer and go from there. We’re going to start this challenge right now. I want you to center yourselves, however that looks, and lift whatever is on your mind and heart to God. Pray for yourself, pray for those around you, pray for me, pray for this congregation, pray for this country, pray for this world. There’s no wrong way, just pray.