Tumbling in the Sand
“Lord, teach us to pray …”
What is prayer, exactly?
I confess that I have mixed feelings about this whole prayer thing — and I know that I am not alone.
I remember when I was doing hospital chaplain training and one of our responsibilities as students in the program was to lead weekly worship at the hospital. But our supervisor never came to worship. I asked him why that was and he replied, “I don’t really believe in prayer.”
Prayer so often seems like something we do when we want something from God
And so often, when we pray like that it seems that our prayers are not answered.
Why is it that Abraham can argue and bargain with God,
but we, it seems cannot?
Why is it that Jesus says
“Ask and it will be given to you”
and yet prayer after prayer
for miraculous healing
for restored relationships
for world peace
seem to fall on deaf ears?
There are, of course, all the answers I’ve heard along the way —
about waiting for God’s time
about just having more faith when I pray
about God answering all prayers “Yes” “No” or “Wait”
which, most certainly doesn’t go with this gospel text
— it doesn’t say that God will tell you no anywhere.
So, what is with this prayer thing then?
Because — really — I’d like for my prayer to matter right now.
I stand with the disciples hoping to learn to pray in the right way
so that my prayers are more than the empty words of “thoughts and prayers”
that get thrown around by way too many people
with no intention of having anything change at all.
I look at this world overwhelmed by brokenness and violence and fear and hate
And I beg for transformation.
“God, are there even ten righteous that you might spare us all?”
Stop the bleeding.
Sop the violence.
Stop. Just stop.
Your kingdom come, indeed.
And yet another bombing
another over-the-top bout of hatred and fear splayed across the headlines
So what exactly is this prayer thing?
The only answer I’ve ever found that worked for me
was my immediate visceral reaction
to my supervisor when he said, “I don’t believe in prayer.”
Out of nowhere, I responded, “Neither do I. But I believe in the One that I pray to.”
I think that in this Gospel today Jesus is inviting us
not so much into prayer for the sake of getting what we want
but prayer for the sake of
Trusting enough to come again and again
to a God who gives us truly good things
Trusting enough that what we desire really matters to God
Trusting enough to believe we don’t have it all figured out
so that we can ask and seek and knock
And in asking and seeking and knocking,
We grow in relationship to God
We experience more and more God at work in the world
And we are invited into the very work of God in this world —
the work of God’s kingdom breaking into our brokenness
bringing justice and peace
the trusting that there really is enough for today
and that today is enough
the impossible task of learning to forgive and be forgiven
And the difficult work of opening our hands in trust and humility
to receive and give away
believing that though the trials in the life are many,
God is in the business of making things new:
– healing us
— making us whole
even from the pieces of our broken world.
Featured image: “People hold candles during a vigil for shooting victims in San Bernardino, California.” taken by Mark J. Terrill/AP. Found on NPR.org “After Mass Shootings, People Turn To Prayer — And Prayer Shaming” a reflection from Weekend Edition Saturday by Scott Simon