Getting ready to pray
Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord…
Jeremiah 29:12-14 NRSV
We ended last week’s topic (“Journey”) by looking at how important it is to share our prayer lives with each other, how important it is to be prayers for each other. This week I want to backtrack a little bit and swing the focus back onto prayer specifically. These little devotionals are called #CoffeeTimePrayer because they only take a cup of coffee to read. Now, that’s a great way to pinch off time for God, but a good prayer life is obviously much more than that, and today I want to explore what constitutes a “good prayer life” by looking at the Bible’s most famous prayer, the “Our Father”.
The “Our Father” is recorded in Matthew 6:9-13, but to understand it properly we need to back up a little farther. First of all, the “Our Father” is in the middle of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 5-7. This discourse took place at the start of his ministry and serves as a kind of “blueprint” for Jesus’ beliefs and teachings. His main teachings are about the inclusion of everyone in God’s kingdom and their responsibilities once there, in stark contrast to the excessive, crippling, hypocritical and exclusive religiosity of the temple in Jesus’ day. So this tells us that this prayer? It’s calling for us to treat God, ourselves, our daily lives, the people we encounter – all of that – differently. Essentially this prayer declares war on our resignation to the “worldly way” of being and doing.
Secondly, Jesus teaches this prayer directly after admonishing “the hypocrites” who “love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men” (Matthew 6:6 NIV). So not only are we being told to think differently about God and so on, we are to think differently about prayer itself. Prayer is not about the “reward” of being seen as pious; being able to speak to God is the reward, which is why Jesus says, “But when you pray, go into your [most] private room, and, closing the door, pray to your Father, Who is in secret; and your Father, Who sees in secret, will reward you in the open.” Jesus was able to say this because he knew that his death and resurrection would forever rip in two the curtain that separated God from fallen humanity and restore to us the ability, despite our sinfulness, to have a right relationship with God.
Finally, Jesus speaks about how his audience didn’t need to “heap up phrases” (Matthew 6:7 AMP), “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (v8). The implication is that we don’t need to butter God up before we ask him to do something, with hopes that he will respond favourably to the request. But, we think – isn’t that kind of the whole point of prayer? Well, it obviously isn’t because it is only after all of this that Jesus says, “This, then, is how you should pray…”
Prayer, then, is not just about speaking words to an invisible deity – it is the primary means of having a relationship with him. It is not a one-sided plea for mercy, but rather a conversation about mercy already received. Every prayer, no matter its length, its eloquence, even its sincerity, is at some level agreeing with Jesus that things need to change, in yourself, in the world – and that you’re willing to step up to the plate.
God our heavenly Father,
when the thought of you
wakes in our hearts,
let its awakening
not be like a startled bird
that flies about in fear.
Instead, let it be like a child
waking from sleep
with a heavenly smile. -Søren Kierkegaard