Pray in This Way

by admin on February 18, 2013

The Well at Springfield 32206This Sunday, we began our Lenten journey through the Lord’s Prayer.  Here is the message that was shared:

Sunday, February 17th
Based on Matthew 6:9, Luke 4:1-13

Pray often.
Pray in the Spirit.
Pray without ceasing.
Pray in secret.

Scripture contains plenty of advice on how, when and what to pray about.

Talk of prayer is not just limited to scripture or even the church; it’s also in public forums:
Should prayer be permitted in schools? If so, what kind of prayer should that be?

The topic of prayer has even made its way into medical research. Neuro-theology, it’s been named, is the study of how spiritual practices impact the brain. Research is confirming that prayer and meditation really do make a difference. One such study highlighted on NPR a couple of years ago showed what happened when a group of older adults spent 12 minutes a day for 8 weeks in meditative prayer. Not only did they report being able to think more clearly and remember things better, but tests revealed positive physical improvements in the corresponding parts of their brains.

Prayer is a valuable resource, but does that mean it’s a commodity that we can use like dollars and cents in hopes of getting what we need?
Prayer is a valuable resource, but does that mean it is a personal transaction we initiate ?  A few sincere, heartfelt words in exchange for healing, peace, or patience?

How do we define prayer?
Is it communication with God?
Is it more speaking or more listening?
Is it kneeling with eyes closed and head bowed or is it a conversation we have with eyes wide open?

We are not the first to struggle to understand prayer.
In fact, Jesus devotes almost a third of the sermon on the mount (his longest sermon series) to help his followers understand the way to give and pray. He begins with how-not-to-pray. He warns about using prayer as a way to appear religious in front of others. He says if this is how you pray, enjoy the attention now because it will serve as your reward.

There’s another way to pray, though, and Jesus instructs his followers to
pray then in this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

Our Father?
From the first word, you can tell Jesus is not going to be generating a laundry list of wants and needs. He will not be reinforcing our highly personal God is MY best friend method of speaking to God. Instead, he invites us to pray as a member of God’s humongous household. With the words, OUR Father, we are instantly connected with all those whom God is concerned for, whom God loves and whom God longs to provide for. In a culture that tells us to look out for number one, Jesus challenges us to approach our Divine Parent as one part of the entire family.

We pray as part of a community, and we also pray to the One who created everything.
Our Father in heaven.
Heaven is not so much a physical place as it is a reference to God’s reign or God’s rule. God will not be confined to our sanctuaries or our homeland. In fact, God is beyond our control, beyond our comprehension, and beyond our limited ideas. God is God.
In a world where we like to possess, control and consume, we are asked to look toward the mysterious and marvelous ways of our Creator.

And, finally what I see as the boldest part of this beginning:
Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name.
That word hallowed has shown up many times before in God’s story.
It first appeared in the creation narrative, as God initiated the Sabbath day. Hallowed meant to set aside for rest and relief, but it also meant something else. To hallow something meant to allow it to disrupt the normal flurry of activity and productivity.
Work stopped.
Land and people rested.
Redistribution happened.

If “Hallowed” is the name given to God, then when we pray in this way, we pray to one who values stopping, resting and re-distributing.
In a world that commands us to move faster and further at any cost, Jesus instructs us to call on God to disrupt our lives.

A couple of times in my morning running routine, I have been stopped by a train that passes through downtown.  It’s a real inconvenience, especially on longer runs when you are just wanting to be done.  Yesterday, I could hear the train in the distance.  I was seriously afraid that if I stopped to wait for the train to pass, I would not be able to get started again.  So, I turned off my usual route and attempted a detour.  Instead of seeing other runners, upscale shops and plush landscapes, I ended up jogging through a deteriorating part of town.  I was immediately struck by the difference just a couple of blocks can make.  The homes were scattered and smaller, sitting between industrial warehouses.  There was a busy highway cutting across them.  Those who walked by me were not out for exercise.  They were walking to get where they needed to go.

The disruption in my routine caused me to see more clearly both my own limited perspective and the struggles of those around me.

Is that what we are to pray for? In naming God “hallowed”, are we anticipating the way that our routines will be disrupted by One who wants everyone to have enough?

A paraphrase for this prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray could sound something like this:
Our Parent, Creator and Head of this earthly household, we know you as a disruption.
And, this is just the beginning…in the coming weeks we will uncover just exactly what kind of disruption to expect.

All of a sudden it’s clear, Jesus is not teaching us how to pray.
He’s teaching us how to live.
Prayer is not a separate category of the Christian life.
Prayer is the practice of bending ourselves toward the ways of God.

Prayerful living characterized Jesus’ life from the beginning of his ministry. After being baptized, he was sent into the wilderness to endure 40 days of temptation. What a way to kick things off.

He was hungry, and he was tempted to turn a stone into a loaf of bread.
He was facing an uncertain future, and he was tempted to inherit power and authority over all worldly kingdoms.
And, he was establishing his identity and was tempted to prove his divinity.

In each instance, the voice of evil was trying to persuade Jesus to give power to something other than God; to choose immediate comfort and satisfaction; to accomplish his mission here and now.
On each occasion, Jesus was able to choose the way of God.
Praying the scriptures, he looked to God and he chose the inconvenient way and the way of faithfulness to God, to his mission, and the rest of the world. He lived the prayer he would later teach his disciples – Our Father, in heaven. Hallowed be thy name.

The words that Jesus teaches us to pray are more than a prayer.
They teach us about a new way of existing in the world.
Praying in this way…
causes us to see ourselves as part of God’s household
changes the way we relate to others.
leads us to expect God to step in and disrupt the normal flutter and flow of our daily routines .

It’s not that surprising that there is medical evidence that prayer makes a positive difference in our brains, but I’m more interested in something else.

How would we and our neighbors be transformed if we practiced this way of praying?

How would the world change if we said, meant and lived the words of Jesus’ prayer?

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