Praying with Jesus #2: “Do it like this…”

Very often, when folks are learning to pray for the first time (as little kids, or as new believers, or as longtime believers relatively new to the life of prayer, etc), you will here this line, uttered in good faith and with the best of intentions:

Prayer is ‘just’ talking to God…

“Just” talking to God, eh?  About what?  The weather?  My sore back?  Politics?  And what of the “to God” part?  We have no real analogy to “talking to God” in human experience that even gets us started in the right direction.  Is “talking to God” like “talking to the President”?  Like “talking to the IRS”?

“Just talking to” an invisible, all-powerful Deity is not all that straightforward an exercise if you ask me.  Which is why most people’s prayer lives are vapid, shallow, confused, or non-existant.  “Prayer is just talking to God” seems to me to be fabulously bad advice.

We can breathe easy knowing that Jesus is smarter than to give us that kind of non-directive direction:

In this manner, therefore, you should pray… (Mt 6:9a)

He has just gotten done telling us about the hypocrisy of some who pray merely to have folks think they’re spiritual, and also of the babbling of pagans, who think that perhaps in the “muchness of their speech” (6:7) they will get what they’re asking for, if for no other reason than they wore the deity out.  So Jesus says, “Do it THIS WAY!”

Prayer is just talking to God” fails to take seriously the nature of our situation.  On some level, we’re like feral dogs… or better, ORPHANS who have been adopted into the home of a wealthy nobleman or aristocrat.  To be able to fully enjoy the new situation (which is ours by right as adopted sons and daughters) is going to require that old habits and patterns of thought die as new habits and patterns of thought are embraced and formed.  We can stay as we are, and God will love us all the same.  But to take full advantage of the situation, to “live into” our new identity, we’re gonna have to apply ourselves.

In this manner, therefore, you should pray…

Jesus is going to teach us how to live into our identity as sons and daughters of God, and he is going to do so by giving us “language” that will help form and develop habits of thought and mind.  Left to ourselves, our prayer lives would surely devolve into mindless babbling or simply telling the all-powerful, invisible Customer Service Department about the laundry list of narcissistic items for our life.

But with Jesus, we learn a better way.

In this manner, therefore, you should pray…

Our Present Teacher is with us to make joyful, faithful prayer possible.  We have a lot to learn.

Before ending, I’d like to add one thing.  There is a profound hypocrisy at the root of much North American Christian spirituality, and that is this: we rarely, if ever, go to a worship service that is purely, 100% spontaneous.  We sing more or less carefully crafted songs, so that our worship doesn’t become haphazard.  We plan it out.  And it is for our good that it should be so.  Carefully crafted songs and liturgy keep noxious forces at bay.

YET – much of the world of (mostly Protestant, evangelical) Christianity is biased AGAINST the use of prayer books, many of which contain well-crafted, beautifully written prayers and “orders” for conducting a private devotional life.  These are dismissed as “rote religion.”

Weird, huh?  Maybe that’s something we need to get over…

Just a thought.

5 thoughts on “Praying with Jesus #2: “Do it like this…”

  1. You forgot prayer beads. Talk about “rote religion” and/or something too ‘Catholicy’. Starla got me prayer beads for Christmas and at first I was like, “what am I going to do with this?” and then I actually started using them. Ironically, I’ve found that they provide one more way to remove the cold, calculating ways in which we are prone to pray. By letting the beads do the counting I can focus on prayer like I never have. I’ve even experimented with using them while I’m in a discussion with someone else. For the first time I’ve found it possible to pray without ceasing, even while my brain is busy doing something else.

      • Oh, I left out the little part about the “Jesus prayer.” Have you heard of it? It’s really simple: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The Church started using it somewhere around the 4th century and is used almost continuously throughout the day for Orthodox monks (you know, guys without wifes and kids and lots of time in their vegetable gardens for endless prayer). Regular folk like me are encouraged to pray it throughout the day. Its intent is to drive passions and vice from the mind and allow it to be occupied with the name of Christ while also interceding for one’s own soul. The beads I have come with 33 beads; hence, three rounds = 100 beads, each bead is moved along by the fingers and counts for one prayer (usually the Jesus Prayer). Its easy to keep track of the prayer and to move from one to the next without becoming distracted by the count. The count isn’t the important part, the moving from one to the next is the important part. While praying one interjects spontaneous prayer and worship between each repeat of the Jesus Prayer (at least, that’s my method).

        I know this has to sound like a goofy way to pray but it has liberated me from doing everything I could to not pray and instead looking forward to it more than to study, which is huge for me. The best part is you can have them in your pocket and be praying throughout the whole day without distraction.

  2. Pingback: Praying with Jesus #10: A community of forgiveness… « The Blog of Andrew Arndt

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