July 29, 2001

Luke 11:1-13

One day [Jesus] was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, "Master, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples."

So he said, "When you pray say,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.'"

Then he said, "Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don't have a thing on hand.'

"The friend answers from his bed, 'Don't bother me. The door's locked; my children are all down for the night; I can't get up to give you anything.'

"But let me tell you, even if he won't get up because he's a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he'll finally get up and get you whatever you need.

"Here's what I'm saying:
Ask and you'll get;
Seek and you'll find;
Knock and the door will open.

"Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing -- you're at least decent to your own children. And don't you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?"

<The Message >


1. The Spiritual Formation Bible reminds us of an insight by Martin Luther --

"Frequently when I come to a certain part of 'Our Father' or to a petition, I land in such rich thoughts that I leave behind all set prayers. When such rich, good thoughts arrive, then one should leave the other commandments aside and offer room to those thoughts and listen in stillness and for all the world not put up obstruction. For then the Holy Spirit . . . is preaching and one word from [that] sermon is better than a thousand of our prayers. I have often learned more from one such prayer than I could have received from much reading and writing."

2. Yes, we want to be taught. That is appropriate. However, we also have this tendency to solidify anything we are taught into rules. One of the greatest gifts we can receive is encouragement to learn how to learn. Such a process knows when to say that new learning, a re-learning needs to take place.

So it is with prayer. Too much set formal prayer, no matter if Jesus is the teacher, leaves us diminished, unable to respond to the promptings of the Spirit. Too much extemporaneous prayer leaves us exhausted, unable to keep learning from the depths of the tradition and the larger community.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, formal prayers can keep on giving as we plumb one dimension after another and what seems like informal prayers can begin to take on a regularity and pattern and structure that just, just, just uses the same pat phrases and formulas.

Our work is working back-and-forth between these poles and learning to appreciate the strengths and weakness of both.

3. Here is a suggestion from Gerald May about prayer in his book Simply Sane: The Spirituality of Mental Health

"If you do pray:
1. Pray
2. Do the best you can
3. Accept the whole situation
4. Watch with awe

"If you don't pray:
1. Do the best you can
2. Accept the whole situation
3. Watch with awe

"If you can't pray:
1. Do the best you can
2. Accept the whole situation
3. Watch with awe
4. Be still and listen

"If prayer happens, watch who's praying. Sometimes it seems like you praying, and sometimes it doesn't. Listen to noisy prayer. And listen to quiet prayer. And if there's no prayer at all, listen to that.

. . . .

"We will just understand, with a little smile, that prayer is happening in spite of us, no matter what."

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