Prayer – spending time with God – was a vital part of Jesus ministry. There are several mentions of him taking time apart to be with his Father.
So not surprisingly his disciples ask him for a master-class.
11 When Jesus had finished praying, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his followers to pray.”
2 So Jesus told them, “Pray in this way:
‘Father, help us
to honor your name.
Come and set up
3 Give us each day
the food we need.
4 Forgive our sins,
as we forgive everyone
who has done wrong to us.
And keep us
from being tempted.’”
5 Then Jesus went on to say:
Suppose one of you goes to a friend in the middle of the night and says, “Let me borrow three loaves of bread. 6 A friend of mine has dropped in, and I don’t have a thing for him to eat.” 7 And suppose your friend answers, “Don’t bother me! The door is bolted, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up to give you something.”
8 He may not get up and give you the bread, just because you are his friend. But he will get up and give you as much as you need, simply because you are not ashamed to keep on asking.
9 So I tell you to ask and you will receive, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. 10 Everyone who asks will receive, everyone who searches will find, and the door will be opened for everyone who knocks. 11 Which one of you fathers would give your hungry child a snake if the child asked for a fish? 12 Which one of you would give your child a scorpion if the child asked for an egg? 13 As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks.
Jesus gives them several pointers on what their prayer should include:
- That we honour God’s name in all that we do
- That he come and set up his kingdom – in our lives, our hearts, our communities
- That he give us the food we need to survive
- That he forgive us our sins – whilst also recognising that we need to forgive the sins of those who have upset us (see this prayer needs time and space)
- That we have the strength to walk away from all that tempts us away from God’s ways
Personally, I do think there’s more to praying than chewing God’s ear. I think listening to what he has to say to us is just as, if not more, important. Prayer generally is just us chatting things over with God. Nothing more scary, nothing more grand.
And if I can be controversial (remember “all opinions are my own”!), I really don’t think Jesus meant us to parrot these same words every time we pray. Yes I hear the point about losing yourself in the familiar, or having a framework – but I don’t think we need to use the exact words every time. So often that becomes a race to get to the end, something said without feeling or out of habit, it more often than not feels like anything but prayer. It is a useful pointer to the kind of things we should pray for, but I wonder if Jesus shudders at what we have turned it into.
What matters is that we pray. We take the time and space for God to talk to us and us hear him, as we also tell him the things that are on our heart.
I bring to you
the concerns of my heart,
Thank you that you are someone to share them with.
May I never forget that
that we can all come to you,
pour our hearts out to you
and know that you listen.
Thank you that you also have things to share with us,
help us to be as willing to listen
as we are to talk,
and having heard
make us willing to do
“What a Friend we have in Jesus” is the Perambulation family hymn – sung at our wedding and significant services since. Easy to sing – not always so easy to remember…