Teach Us to Pray
You have reached a quiet place. You’re still. No visible distractions. No superficial worrisome thoughts. You bow your head. Do you close your eyes? No bombarding mental images. You’re free to pray. But you’re stuck. You even have a prayer list. But you don’t want to rush to a list of needs. You hunger for connection--relational familiarity. “How are you God?” No, that doesn’t sound right. Or is it? What’s an appropriate amount of time to say “Hello” and be thankful? Ten minutes have passed, and you haven’t said “Hello.” Is that even a problem?
There is no wonder that the earliest disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. It’s no easier at times to speak with our Creator than it is our spouse—even when we acknowledge that our Creator knows what we need and what we will ask before it is formed grammatically in prayer. That knowledge can also excuse the practice all together; I mean, if God already knows what we need—why pray?
Personally, I try and think of prayer as more than information (again, we don’t inform the Sovereign God), more than even conversation (though it is that as well), but see prayer as that intentional moment of recognition where our constant communion with the triune God is deeply considered. I need this consideration of my communion with God as the basis of my communication with God. This realization, I believe, prompted Jesus to begin His model prayer with this address: “Father.”
The model prayer is such an old prayer, and so familiar to many, that beginning our prayers with this address is devoid of the confidence it laid on the disciples. To reflect on Jesus’ model prayer is to move from that deeply intimate place of communion with God. Remember that this conversation, described by Jesus, was not a “just between us” example but an invitation for us to share in the same close relationship. So we can look to this ancient example of prayer to assist us in our approach to God.
Moving forward, I’m always looking for old prayers that help me in my communion with God. I am adamantly committed against superficial notions of sentiment or nostalgia, but I am catching myself becoming more and more influenced by the prayers of past saints, particularly those who share a similar situation with me. Finding old prayers help me filter what is the common soul search of men throughout history—the timeless stuff. In pulling the past into my present, these prayers help me filter the nectar for a soul’s refreshment.
When I was a younger man I was grateful for the day-by-day leading of God in my life. I could never get comfortable with looking forward. Never knowing what to risk for the future, and frightened to ask for it as well. It felt right to trust God in the day to day. I took my daily bread and lived in the moment. That’s where I believe God has kept and keeps me. The problem with that is we are surrounded by job responsibilities and circumstances (family?) that call (scream?) for vision—“Where are you taking us? When can we expect this?” To give my honest answer seems hideously unacceptable: “I don’t have a clue.”
What do I do? I need a prayer, and so do you, for the future as well as the present. I want to share one with you one of those old prayers that I discovered on vacation a few weeks ago. I hope it helps you during those times when you feel stuck:
My Lord and Father, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.