One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Lk 11.1)
We’ve unfolded how prayer is a training in trust in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. In Part 1 we talked about how if we approach prayer as simply “saying what you want” to God in honesty and authenticity we miss the aspect of prayer that forms and shapes us as Christians. In other words – praying whatever we feel like can simply reinforce what we already feel, what we already think, and how we already see God. But the Lord gave us a prayer to pray “when you pray, say this” (Luke 11.2) as a way to order and shape their theology, their way of relating to God, and how they see themselves. Prayer is a training in trust. In Part 2 we discussed how to pray the Lord’s Prayer “when we don’t feel like it” or “when i don’t really mean it.” I have one example of how this prayer could look for me. Actually – when I was writing the post I just prayed the prayer and allowed it to be an honest dialogue with God.
Today we’re going to look at learning to pray in simplicity and trust, not in an accumulation of words and anxiety. Did you notice how simple and uncluttered the prayer Jesus taught us is? Pray it again, now, and notice:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come
Give us each day our daily bread
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.
This simple, unworded way of praying is hard for me. I came to faith in a community where prayers were passionate, heartfelt, and wordy. I’m talking about LOTS of words. Many of my prayers as a young believer sounded like this:
Precious Lord Jesus we just thank you precious Jesus for this day precious Jesus and all that you’ve done and are doing precious Jesus. Sovereign Lord of Heaven and earth, Lord of wind and rain, sea and sky: Holy, Awesome, Powerful, Merciful, True God, I just ask right now Sovereign Lord to be with me Precious Jesus this day and to help me, Strong and Powerful Father, to trust you in all that I do and say and think, o Good Father…
I could go on, but I think you get the gist. I would enter prayer fairly anxious and amped up and I would leave prayer the same. There was no stillness in my praying, no simplicity, and frankly no surrender. For me – this prayer led me to act as though my words controlled what God did and I needed to keep throwing the right words up to him in order to get him to do what I wanted him to do. Additionally, I don’t think I actually trusted that God was listening. So my words also served as sort of a “noisy brainwashing” to convince me – and those listening if it was corporate – that God was truly listening. Plus – I think I felt really smart and holy for praying this way. Little did I know that I was praying like a pagan.
“And when you pray, do not keep babbling like the pagans, for they think they wil be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray…” (Matt 6.7ff)
Notice two things about this:
1. We are not heard in prayer because of our many words. We are heard in prayer because we trust that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. It is the pagans who must get god’s attention through sacrifices and words and ministrations (see, for example, 1 Kings 18). The God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is always present and at work. The last words Jesus says to his friends are, “Look! I’m with you the whole of every day right up until everything is accomplished” (Matt 28.20). We can’t use the Lord’s Prayer as a fail-proof prayer that will please and honor God. Prayer isn’t to be used; prayer is communion (and communication) with God. If we see prayer as the method or tool to get what we want, get God to hear us, or anything other than the simple (and profound) reality of being with Jesus in trust we are missing the presence and power of God available to us. The Lord’s Prayer is a training in trust, not the magical words given by God’s Son to rouse God from his otherwise apathetic or disappointed posture to act on our behalf. “The Father knows what you need before you ask it.” We should then pray as though this is true.
2. We don’t pray a litany of words, requests, and entreaties to God because prayer is not a monologue but a conversation. The trust we are invited into in prayer is that “your Father knows what you need before you ask.” How often my stream of consciousness, wordy prayers were based on my assumption that “I know what I need before I ask.” We are invited to “make our requests known to God” throughout scripture (see Phil 4.6f). But in what spirit – what posture – are we doing this? In Phil 4, Paul says “with thanksgiving” and this brings “peace that passes understanding”. He is describing what happens when we enter prayer as a conversation of training in trust. We trust that our Father knows what we need before we ask – we make our requests and petitions – and then trust him with them. And then we LISTEN. We are still – quiet – holding our requests in our hearts and minds with open hands. And we LISTEN. We stop speaking and expect God to move – to actually communicate with us as we communion with him. And this brings peace that passes all understanding – not from getting what we want, not by getting answers or everything resolved – but because we commune with the Living God. Praying like the pagans, however, doesn’t give God any room to talk, nor are we open to really drink in his presence.
How then shall we pray? The Lord’s Prayer trains us to trust that our Father knows what we need – and – that he is waiting right here with us to give us what we need. The Lord’s Prayer trains us to trust that reality and to enter more fully into it in our actual, everyday lives. Sometimes it may take me 5-10 minutes to pray the Lord’s Prayer – not because I have lots to say and my words are many – but because as I pray it and listen I receive from God what I need (which, often, I didn’t know I needed) and that takes time. I am simply still, in a posture of openness, receiving from my Father who knows what I need.
Have you experienced a prayer life made up of many words? Of leaving prayer more anxious and cranked up than you entered it?
How does this invitation from Jesus to pray simply and in trust change the way you think about what prayer is for?
As a prayer experiment enter into prayer with the trust that your Father knows what you need before you ask. Allow this reality to shape and order what you say and don’t say. Give yourself over to this reality as the foundational truth of your time in prayer. Notice what changes in what you say, what you hear, and how you feel after your time of prayer.