1 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.’ 2 He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’ 5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7 And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.Luke 11:1-10 New Revised Standard Version
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
You have a group of people gathered — might be for a meal, some other small gathering, or maybe at a retreat of some kind — there is a request for someone to pray.
What normally happens?
Well in my experience people usually stand awkwardly around anxiously waiting for someone to raise their hand and pray.
Sometimes we don’t raise our hands because we are uncomfortable and sometimes (and I say this because this is often my default) we are waiting to see if anyone else raises their hands.
At many family gatherings I am usually the “designated religious person,” and so normally the pleasure of praying falls upon me. Occasionally, I will push back to see if anyone else feels led to pray, and sometime I will just call on someone to pray.
There is something about praying publicly that can make people squirm whenever they are asked. Whether we are just more comfortable praying alone, or we just aren’t comfortable praying I think today’s mark can speak volumes to how we view prayer as more than some uncomfortable act the pastor might make us do occasionally.
Up until now, we have been defining aspects of our relationship with God as we have looked at our first three marks. We have examined how we are called to love God, rejoice in God, and give thanks. Each of these marks defines an aspect of the relationship we carry with ourselves into the world. This becomes a theme within these marks. Each one defines this relationship, but also a practical application as we live our faith.
Today’s mark is “A Methodist Prays Constantly.”
“For indeed [A Methodist] prays without ceasing. It is given him always to pray and not to faint.”John Wesley. From: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N20188.0001.001/1:3?rgn=div1;view=fulltext
Wesley speaks yet again in a manner of absolutes when he conveys that we should pray “without ceasing,” and it may make us squirm as to what that might mean for our lives. If only Wesley had just said a Methodist makes a good casserole we would be in good shape, but for Wesley, a mark of a Methodist is not around cooking. Rather, he centers it on spiritual disciplines that connect us to God, and that is most readily defined as prayer.
To say we are called to pray without ceasing gives us an idea of prayer that most of us might be unfamiliar with and uncomfortable with. However, to fully surrender to God means that we are constantly in an attitude of prayer, and constantly looking for opportunities to express our relationship with God.
But if we are to say pray constantly, or without ceasing, what does that mean? Or even more basically, what does prayer mean?
“Prayer is the disposition of our own heart toward God. Prayer is that holy ground conviction…made on the foundation of our heart’s desire to be in communion with God.”Steve Harper, Five Marks of A Methodist, pg. 43
Prayer is the disposition, the tendency, the leaning of our own heart toward God.
“…This is true prayer, the lifting up the heart to God…In retirement, on company, in leisure, business or conversation his heart is ever with the Lord. Whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts; he walks with God continually, having the loving eye of his mind still fixed upon him, and every where seeing him that is invisible.”John Wesley. From: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N20188.0001.001/1:3?rgn=div1;view=fulltext
We often treat prayer as talking to God. Some may even consider the more passive act of listening, but prayer is more than this. Prayer is not just talking to God, it is not a blessing before a meal, and it is not just something that we randomly say to check off some box of piety. Prayer is a state of being. It is not something that is just done a certain number of times a day, it is not a time where we are always airing our grievances to God, it is not even a platform to get what we want from God. Rather it is a state of being we share with God, and God shares with us.
Our scripture passage today invites us into this understanding of prayer because at its heart it is teaching us how to pray. In fact, that is the question posed by the disciples in verse 1:
“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.’”Luke 11:1, New Revised Standard Version.
Jesus has dismissed himself from the masses to have a time of prayer. The disciples have been following Jesus around for a bit and they see this grounding of prayer and spiritual being that Jesus has in his life and they want to know what it takes.
What are the basics of prayer? What does it mean to surrender yourself in such a way as to be open to the Lord’s work in this act?
In this moment Jesus responds with what has become the most well-known prayer in the Christian tradition. From it, we glean what prayer is and how true prayer can have an impact on our lives.
Broken down to its basic elements the Lord’s prayer teaches us that prayer, at least the spoken part on our side can involve a variety of different things. It involves addressing God, praising God, petitions to God, repentance and forgiveness, and even acknowledging the comfort God offers. In the Lord’s prayer, and the subsequent verses of explanation Jesus is telling his disciples that prayer is the foundation of our relationship with God.
Prayer is what moves us into a relationship with God, and through prayer and the learning of discipleship, the relationship with God is strengthened. We move from an impersonal relationship to something that is completely personal. We find not only a God but a confidant in whom we bring anything and everything. We bring our greatest joys and our deepest pains.
As Jesus says,
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”Luke 11:9-10 New Revised Standard Version
This is not about God answering prayers exactly as we expect, but it is a promise that in all of our petitions, God is there. When we ask, God will work with us to find the answer. When we knock, God will open a door to ensure we feel their presence. When we are searching for reasons, God shows up and walks alongside us. But we can do none of these things without this relationship with God.
God’s presence in our prayerful relationship reminds us that prayer is not a one-way street. We do not, and cannot, do all the talking in our relationship with God. I always like to tell people that prayer is three-fold, that is there are three aspects of prayer that are lived out in our relationship with God. That is talk, listen, and act.
To live a life of unceasing prayer means that we find ways to live into each of these, and to live into them in a way that brings balance to our life. We cannot expect to always talk to God and expect all our prayers to be answered. In the same way, we cannot just go out doing whatever we want and not sit back and have a conversation with God about God’s plan or vision for us and the community.
No, we must talk, that is address God, send petitions, praise and worship God, and ask God where we are being led. We must listen, this is the tough one because we want to control the conversation. We must be attuned to the voice of God in our lives and make room for God to speak to us. Lastly, we must act. Prayer is nothing if we are not called to action from our prayers. A prayerful life is the way in which we begin to understand God’s calling in our life. It is our primary means of discernment as we seek to live into and fulfill our place in God’s Kin-dom.
The words of your prayers may look different to different people. Some of you may seek prayers that have been penned many centuries ago, or specific written by others in the church. Others of you may let it flow naturally from your being, using your own words to express what is in your heart. Know that at the heart of prayer is a state of being. We should not get bogged down in the words, but let God flow through us as we seek to live into, what I like to define as, the perfect embodiment of our relationship with God.
On his deathbed, Wesley said, “The best of all God is with us.”
These words remind us of this relationship and connection that calls us to pray without ceasing.
This week I want you to consider what the spiritual discipline of prayer and connection with God looks like in your life. I call on you to make that step to turn prayer into a state of being rather than just something done at specific times during the day. I call on you to pray in all manner and ways.
I call on you, the next time someone asks for someone to pray to remember how much of a joy prayer is in our lives and remember that it is just expressing your relationship with God.