Sunday, June 26, 2016
“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” ― Abraham Lincoln
Two words about prayer: do it! I will confess that there were times in my life when the only prayers I said were in church--and in unison. Reciting the prayers printed in the bulletin don’t really count, I think, as neither my head nor my heart were engaged at the time. It’s a good thing to do though because it keeps those words in front of us. The Lord’s Prayer, or the “Our Father,” or the Pater Noster (our Father in Latin), or however it is known is a good prayer to pray, especially if your head and heart are engaged in it. We sometimes slide quickly over the “as we forgive those who trespass against us” part. We shouldn’t. It might have been better to have been written, “Forgive us our trespasses IF we forgive those who trespass against us.” Just a few verses later, Jesus says that IF we CANNOT forgive then God WILL NOT forgive. You’d think that would give us pause, but it doesn’t because few ever read that far. That verse is seldom the subject of a sermon (it ought to be, frequently), and, if we admit it, it is a hard one for many or most of us to live up to. It is hard to forgive which is why we need to pray for help doing it. God is there, waiting, willing, and wanting to help us, but we have to ask—through prayer. The scriptures in the Gospels tell us that whatever we ask, whenever we knock, wherever we seek, we will get the good things God wants us to have, but we have to initiate—through prayer. I’ve never been comfortable with praying aloud, especially since Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Since I’m one of those who take the words of Jesus seriously, this has always given me pause when asked to pray aloud. I had trouble all through my ministry when I had to do a “pastoral prayer” and was uncomfortable doing it—but I did, of course. Towards the end of my ministry, at a big church, I would simply pray what I would pray for myself and substitute the word “we” for “me.” This worked so well that several people asked me for written copies of my pastoral prayers, but I had to explain that they were not meant to be written but heard by God, so I couldn’t help them. On a mission trip to Peru, I was in some churches where when it was time to pray, everyone prayed their own prayers but aloud and at the same time. It truly was a joyful noise and I loved it. No one could really hear anyone but themselves, but the total volume was loud and intense. I was moved every time. When I am asked to pray aloud here, I just pray in English knowing that few will understand the words but all will understand the feeling of connection with God. That’s the ultimate end of prayer anyway—for you to be connected with God. I love the quote from Abraham Lincoln above, because I learn more on my knees than on my feet. Try it!