Sunday, February 12, 2017
The appeal of prayer. . .
It shows up in what we pray, what we say. It seems spiritual maturity to think that the Our Father that our Lord taught us is a nice enough prayer but it cannot possibly cover all the bases of what we think we need, what we want, and how to get God to deliver these things to us. Yet the opposite is true. The Our Father is not some child's prayer which we will grow out of and be able to pray better on our own. No indeed. The Our Father is both starting point and ending point in prayer. We pray it both to learn what it is what we need, what we ought to want, and how we know that God will deliver this to us according to His promise AND to pray what we have learned. In the same way, the simple prayer "Lord, have mercy" is much more profound and has great depth even though our human wisdom seems to think simplistic.
We presume that spiritual maturity leads us past the "simple" words of Jesus and allows us to pray our own, deeper words. We presume that the Our Father is a good starting point but once we attain a certain level of spiritual maturity we grow beyond the Lord's words and grow into our own. What an arrogant presumption!
I recall once being asked by a person involved in the Charismatic Movement if I did not want to know more, to attain a deeper level of maturity, if I did not believe that there was something more than what I knew, if I did not want to communicate directly with God, spirit to Spirit. In my youth I knew instinctively of the dangerous desire to go beyond what God Himself had provided. It was not wisdom but good catechesis that led me to say "no" to the prospect of moving beyond the Word of God and the Sacraments and into some mysterious level of spiritual reality. Now about 36 years later, I see the wisdom of denying and rejecting what appeared to be spiritual immaturity to those who wanted to explore beyond the seemingly rudimentary means of grace. The same is true of prayer.
It may seem the mark of spiritual maturity to pray on a deeper, more mature level than the Our Father but this is the deceptive voice of the sinful self still presuming to know better than God. We dare not follow this voice or we will be led from the rich and lush garden of God's promises in Word and Sacrament into the desert of idolatry and pride. Of course we can and should pray other prayers in addition to the Our Father but the Our Father is font and source of these prayers. In addition, these prayers always lead us back to what Jesus taught us to pray. The line in that priceless treasure that stands out in this regard is "Thy will be done." Just as we pray as Jesus taught, in the faith that leads us to believe, trust, and count on God's good and gracious will, so do our prayers strengthen our conviction that God's good and gracious will is all we need. We are not settling for anything when we pray as Jesus taught but we are expressing as best we are able on earth the fullness of the divine confidence we see expressed in everything Jesus said and did -- right up to His death once for all on the cross.
Do not get caught up in the appearance of spiritual maturity which is, in reality, immaturity. The Our Father is both where we start and where we return. To pray as Jesus taught is not simply to mouth the words He said but to believe those words with all our heart, body, mind, and strength. As we pray the Spirit works to lead us to the place where Jesus is, to full confidence in the good and gracious will of our Father in heave. Do not be intimidated. Prayer is not a riddle. Neither is prayer a ladder to ascend. It is simply faith at work.