Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer and what it is and what it does. When I struggle, I’ve always been the kind of person who went toward God, rather than away from God, which is why I’ve been into this lately. There have been struggles. All good, and you can tel that I’m coming out of the other side because I can write about it. Besides my personal issues, I’ve seen a couple of things that have also prompted my thoughts.
There’s a Mall McChurch that I have to drive by on my way to work and I honestly have to steel myself against righteous anger at their genuinely stupid, bumper-sticker-theology posts on their electronic marquee. The one I saw that got me thinking about this read “When is the last time you talked to me? God”. You know, because God is whiny and needy and has to beg. Fortunately for this church, I pass it at the beginning of my commute so by the time I’m in front of a computer where I could write my scathing (and incredibly witty) email to their generic communication address, I’ve forgotten about it and am on to other things. But if my attention span ever extends through my entire commute, LOOK OUT!
I saw a bumper sticker right after that, which basically said the same thing. The first thing I said in my head (and, let’s face it, out loud. To myself), was, “When is the last time you LISTENED to God, JACKASS?” Yes, I said jackass. None of you are surprised.
Prayer is so much more than “talking to God”, which was my childhood Sunday School definition. That’s involved, of course, but if it’s truly supposed to be a conversation, there’s got to be some listening. Otherwise, it’s more of a monologue. The thing about prayer, as C.S. Lewis said, is that it’s not about the answer, it’s about being changed by the experience of encountering God through prayer. God is the answer. God is the reward. God is not changed, I am.
Today, my pastor spoke a bit about prayer in her sermon and she referenced a blog post this week from Rachel Held Evans. In this post Ms. Held Evans (can I call you Rachel?) speaks about the richness of using the words of others to help her focus on prayer not being about her but about the community and the world. Specifically, she has a passage on the Lord’s Prayer which reads in part:
…no matter how depressed or doubt-riddled or frantic I may be—[the prayer I return to] is the one Jesus taught his disciples to pray: the Lord’s Prayer.
Every day I am surprised by its simplicity.
Every day I am surprised by its depth.
Every day I am surprised by its holiness.
Every day I am surprised by its stubborn defiance to the individualism that creeps into my thoughts and prayers each day.
Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed by Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Thy name. Thy kingdom. Thy will.
Our Father. Our daily bread. Our trespasses.
It can feel a bit strange praying this prayer outside of church, alone on my back porch in the morning or rushed and frustrated as I get ready for another busy day. But maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. Maybe it’s supposed to jolt me out of the selfishness with which I would pray were it not for the guidance of these words.
I pray not only for my own bread, but for ours. I ask forgiveness not only for my own sins, but for our sins. I ask not merely for my own protection and guidance, but for the protection and guidance of the whole Church.
You can’t be a Christian alone. And this most basic and universal prayer of the faith, the one Jesus taught us to pray, reminds me every day that I’m never in this alone, even when I want to be.
In discussing the Lord’s Prayer, Dallas Willard used to talk about how in heaven, God wills something and it just happens. In that way, the phrase “Thy will be done”, really means “make down here like up there”, where God’s will is just done. That would be awesome.
In this particular situation that I was in, I was begging God for some answers/resolution to something and was doing all of the talking. Not only was I doing all the talking but my focus was very small – it was on me. I’m still there a little – ask my friends. But I’ve changed my Spotify listening from SadFM to some of my favorite worship tunes, and it’s changed my perspective for the better.
I’m not getting a specific God message but through listening to God and to wise friends, I’m hearing, “Live in this uncertainty, celebrate the good things and wait and see what’s going to happen.” That’s my LEAST FAVORITE THING TO DO. But God knows this. And I can talk about it, because really, I’m the whiny needy one who needs to beg.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.