By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
July 29, 2007
Read: Luke 11:1-13, Genesis 18:20-32
“Lord, teach us to pray”, one of the disciples asked. Have you ever noticed someone who seems to be at peace with themselves and the world? They seem somehow “different”. Jesus must have looked like that when he had finished praying. And when we see someone who has something that we want, we try our best to find out how he or she got it, don’t we? Teach me how. And so, today, we hear in John’s gospel a disciple wanting to find out how Jesus prays.
Jesus gives an example of some words to say. And then tells us a few stories to help us understand what prayer is about and what makes prayer effective. The first story is easy for some of us to imagine. A friend comes to your door in the middle of the night. He says that he just had some unexpected guests drop in and there is nothing in the house to feed them. Could you spare a few pieces of bread? Maybe a little coffee? Most of us can relate.
Then Jesus says, “ask and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” Jesus ends with a story of a parent wanting what is best for their child. They wouldn’t give a snake instead a fish or a scorpion instead of an egg. That, God, as our heavenly Father will give so much more…He will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
That’s important. The Holy Spirit. God will give us the Holy Spirit when we ask, that God’s Spirit will be there when we knock, that when we seek God, we will find the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps the answer to the original question of how to pray is simply this: That to pray is to seek God, not God’s help, not God’s gifts. To pray is to seek God. To pray is to knock on the door of the neighbor and seek your neighbor as a person, not to ask for food for your guests. To pray is to enter into relationship with God, to offer ourselves to God and to allow God to become a part of our lives.
If you go to your neighbor and they do not know you, they are less likely to lend you a loaf of bread or a hammer or an egg. To go to a neighbor that you have come to know over the course of time, well that is a different story. That neighbor you can call at 3:00 in the morning just because you heard a funny noise out in the street.
It’s not what happens to God if I keep knocking, but what happens to me. We are changed by being in relationship with Jesus, with God.
Prayer is often described as talking to God. But ongoing conversation is not always just dialogue –words in both directions. Sometimes it included silence. There is the famous story of two good friends, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau. It is said that one evening Thoreau came over to Emerson’s house and for a couple of hours, they both sat in front of the fire saying nothing. At the end of the time, Thoreau got up to leave, thanked Emerson for the evening, Emerson thanked him for coming, and that was their time together. Being silent together is one beautiful expression of the relationship between good friends or lovers. St. Teresa said, “The life of prayer is simply being with God and enjoying being with God.”
Harold Kushner says, “Prayer is first and foremost the experience of being in the presence of God. Whether or not we have our requests granted, whether or not we get anything to take home as a result of the encounter, we are changed by having come into the presence of God. A person who has spent an hour or two in the presence of God will be a different person for some time afterward.
In congregational worship, what we do here on Sundays, Kushner believes that the congregating is more important than the words we speak. Something miraculous happens when people come together seeking the presence of God. The miracle is that we so often find it. Somehow the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. A spirit is created in our midst which none of us brought there.
Individual prayer is also vitally important. When C.S. Lewis married his wife Joy, their happiness was short-lived when they discovered that she had cancer. Lewis prayed. A friend, a fellow university professor, asked why he prayed. And Lewis answered that he simply had to pray, that he could not do anything but pray. In his helplessness, praying brought him some peace. His prayers, he said, did not change God. But they did change him.
Prayers change the pray-er. I can understand that. I remember the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed. He was in trouble. He asked that the cup of suffering that he was about to taste be taken from him. But he ended his prayer with, “Not what I will, but what you will.” And when the soldiers arrived with Judas to arrest him, he seemed to be reconciled to what must happen for God’s purpose to be accomplished. His fear and sadness were changed by his prayers into strength and determination to see things through to the bitter end.
You know, prayer IS like breathing, though. It is something that we are not taught to do. We simply do it. It is instinctive. But that does not mean we cannot do it better.
Ask anyone who has an exercise program in their lives. They know the importance of breathing and have learned how to breathe to enhance their exercises. When taking took voice lessons one learns how to breathe to project their voice and utilize the vocal cords to their fullest advantage.
Maybe it’s time to take breathing lessons, spiritual breathing lessons. Maybe we all need to take time to seek God in prayer, and to pray less in terms of petition where we name our needs and go our way. The first step in prayer is to seek God, to ask for the Holy Spirit in our lives, and to offer ourselves in a sense of mutual affection and devotion.
It’s high time we came knocking on the door of heaven – not to ask for a loaf of bread but to invite ourselves in for a friendly visit, to get to know one another better, for the sake of the relationship itself.
Prayer gifts us with God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit living in us strengthens us through the trials of our lives, and makes us more deeply aware of the blessings we have been given. God’s spirit living in us prompts us to live out God’s kingdom in the world. And God’s Spirit living in us helps us to pray, with truer hearts, Thy will be done. Amen.
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