Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances. Is that really possible? I think that all of us would probably have to admit that prayer is not always at the forefront of our lives in this way. For many of us, prayer is more like the first aid box in our closet. We want it there. We want it well stocked with what we might need, but it rarely gets used. Or to use another illustration, our prayer number is 911 – used only in the case of emergencies. The scriptures, however, call us to something so much more. “Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances.” Why is it so hard for us to do this – to make prayer our primary work as a Christian?
One reason, I would say, is our impatience. Most of us have been trained to spend our time on things that get more immediate results. We don’t like to wait.
Another reason is because we tend to think of prayer through the lens of our needs and see prayer as about getting answers from God. So, if we really don’t need anything – at least not anything that we can’t handle on our own – then why bother God.
Today we proclaim that prayer is so much more than that. The most common biblical word for prayer is “proseuchomai.” This word has two parts. “Pro” means to advance or move toward. A Pro Athlete, for example, is one who is advanced. Then we have “Euchomai.” This word means desire or wish. So, from this Greek word, we learn that prayer is an “advanced desired.” Prayer is moving away from our little human desires towards God’s desires for us. This is to be our constant hope, our goal in life, our way of life...
In our Gospel lessen, from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives his most famous teaching on prayer. (He warns against turning prayer into a show, or making it just about the words we say at particular times. Prayer is more than that. Prayer is a way of life, where we work to align our hearts to our words and actions. One word for this is integrity. That’s the hope of prayer).
Jesus gives us this model of what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer. We have turned it into a formula of words, but it is more than a formula. Jesus didn’t say, “Just repeat these magic words.” No, he said, “Pray like this” or “Pray in this way.” He gives us themes to mark our constant communion with God. He gives us important dimensions of prayer that can move us into God’s advanced desires for us.
This morning I want to lift up a few of the big concepts in this prayer. (You may want to look at this prayer as printed in your bulletin). The first word is “our.” This is very important. Christian prayer is always about more than “me” or “my” needs. In Christian prayer, we enter into communion with each other. A part of God’s advanced desire for us is that we be connected in love. So, we pray in the plural.
Next we say “Our Father.” The word for father here is not a formal word. It is a word that suggests intimacy and closeness, complete trust and sense of belonging. I think of Emma, my granddaughter, calling me Poppy. The word here is something like that.
Now keep that in mind as we look at the next word. “Our Father in heaven.” Where is heaven? We tend to think of heaven as far away – not close or intimate at all. Jesus, however, preached the opposite. He taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is in our midst. In another place he says, the kingdom is “within us.” God is close. That’s the message. God is with us always and we can always be with God.
And what is God’s close kingdom like? This is where prayer and the study of scripture go together. If we ask for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, then we need some understanding of what that is. This is why Paul says in our first lesson “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not neglect the words of prophets, but test everything.” In other words, one way that we pray regularly is by connecting prayer to scripture and learning about God’s will for us and for the world. So, even our study is prayer.
What are the virtues or characteristics of the kingdom? (Name one … Describe the character of God’s kingdom in a word. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? (Love, Peace, Joy, Communion). We pray, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Prayer is not just saying the words. Prayer is putting ourselves in a spiritual place and posture so that the blessings of the kingdom - love, peace, joy - can come to us on the way to someone else. “May your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Next, we have the one petition where we ask God to give us something directly. “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is a request, but it is a request for just enough. Building on many other scriptures, we can say that the last thing God wants for us is for us to become slaves to our things and consumed by our possessions. We can become so overrun with our stuff that it blocks our way to God’s will. This request is radical for us because it is a call to simplicity and to active trust in God. It is a request for God to give us what we need so that we can make more room for God’s blessings in our lives.
There are some other important dimensions. John Wesley deals with all of these dimensions more thoroughly in his sermon on these teachings of Jesus. I encourage you to read the paraphrase of his sermon as a part of your prayer time this week. You will be blessed by it. Forgiveness, for example, is the next big theme. In our lesson Jesus even talks more about forgiveness after he gives us this model prayer. It is so clear that if we hold anger and resentment and judgment in our hearts, it is hard for us to receive God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. It’s the same principle, we are called to make room for God’s blessings by letting go of our own anger, resentment, and judgment. It is so easy for us to stray or “trespass” into these dangerous spiritual places. In this prayer, we learn to ask God to be there and to lead us back home.
Here is the bottom line for the day. This prayer is so much more than words we say. It is direction for a life lived in faithfulness and fruitfulness. It is guidance for a life of blessing. Today, and this week, I invite you to do more than just say it. Let these words get to you ... get inside you ... and transform your life. Amen.