Sunday, August 25, 2019
Lord, teach me to pray. . .
Some have described my prayers as wooden, even worse, like praying for a book. At first I took this as a compliment but it did not take much time to discover that it was not a positive statement. In the eyes of the people who complained, prayer is best (and maybe only real) when it is spontaneous, when the words flow from the heart and not the mind, and when they are distinctly personal and situation specific. In other words, rehearsed prayer is not prayer and prayer that flows from the mind or from the life of the Church and her voice in prayer over history is not real prayer. It makes you wonder if they do not view the Our Father in much the same way! Not real prayer because it is learned, spoken from memory, and comes from a book.
Prayer is not something natural. Oh, to be sure, it is completely natural to ask God (or gods or the great whatever in the sky) to give us what we want. It is completely natural to believe that life is lived out among hidden powers and forces that just might be coerced into giving you what you desire or bargained with as if it were a business transaction. It is completely natural to think of prayer as a tool to get what you want when you want it. But prayer as God would define it or Scripture knows it is not at all natural but learned. Jesus taught His disciples to pray. John taught His disciples to pray.
Parents teach their children to pray. We learn to pray by praying and we learn to pray by praying the prayers of those who teach us.
In that collect from a month or so ago we prayed, O Lord, let Your merciful ears be attentive to the prayers of Your servants, and by Your Word and Spirit teach us how to pray that our petitions may be pleasing before You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. In that collect we asked God not simply to teach us to pray but to pray so that our petitions may be pleasing before Him. We do not need much prompting to sound off on what is on our mind -- not to God or the whole world (as we do in social media). But we do need prompting and instruction on how to pray for what pleases the Lord. Part of praying is not only learning how to pray but what to pray for.
I continue to maintain that the ancient collects do exactly that -- they teach us how to pray AND what to pray for (that is pleasing to God). I would urge the person hesitant in devotion to turn to the rich treasury of prayer in the great collects of old -- both those appointed for the liturgical year and those on topics or subjects common to the Christian in his or her daily life.
You cannot go wrong by praying: O God, the Protector of all who trust in You, without whom nothing is strong and nothing is holy, increase and multiply Your mercy on us that with You as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.