Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Thought for Tuesday 13 October 2015

“When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words as the Gentiles do.  They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard.  Don’t be like them because your Father knows what you need before you ask.”  Matthew 6:7-8 Common English Bible

Praying is probably the most difficult and challenging of the means of grace we have at our disposal.  We are often taught that it is in prayer when we pour out our hearts before The Lord, so we wait until we have a lot on our minds so we can just unload.  There is that, of course, but there are also a few things we must bear in mind before we enter into a time of prayer.

Often we go to prayer with an agenda of our own.  We have sick relatives or troubled friends whom we want to lift up to The Lord, or we have our own issues we are facing such as unmanageable debt or the loss of a job.  Whatever the case, and it is not altogether a bad thing, we still approach the Throne of Mercy with our own agenda.  The words we already have in mind are hardly considered “empty”; they have meaning for us and for those we love.

But what exactly is Jesus teaching when He advises us against “empty words”?  If The Lord already knows what we need before we even ask, why bother with prayer at all?  What is prayer if not talking to The Lord?  And Jesus is teaching these things just prior to prescribing to us what is now commonly referred to as The Lord’s Prayer, so He’s giving us something to say! 

There are two things to consider.  The first is that the prayer we are given has become so familiar to us as to be rendered routine, mundane, and therefore virtually useless.  We say it (most often in Elizabethan English, which we don’t really understand in the first place), but we don’t think it.  We don’t reflect on the meaning of the words.  We’ve memorized the words, but what we are being called into is often lost on us because we are not listening; we’re talking.  Even then we may consider these to be little more than “empty words”.

Secondly we must consider how much time we actually devote to “being still” in the Presence.  We might go through the motions of prayer and sit with a prayer list so we don’t forget anyone or anything, but how much time do we sit still and listen?  Even if we do not hear anything?  How often do we actively “wait” for The Lord?  Jesus admonished His disciples to “wait” and “keep watch” while He went off to pray alone, but they kept falling asleep.  Of course they were tired, but they failed to understand exactly what Jesus was even then trying to teach them.

The trick to prayer (and it is no real trick) is not in what we say.  It is in how well we listen and how willing we are to listen.  And while we might think about prayer, religion, and The Lord while driving or performing any task that requires our full attention, it is disingenuous and downright lazy to say we do all our praying while we’re driving or are otherwise occupied. 

What does it say about our relationship with The Lord if we are unwilling to deliberately, even greedily, carve out time in the day only to be in the Presence?  It says exactly what we say when worship and Scripture study and fellowship with other disciples become less important than our own agendas: “Follow me, Lord; I am a little too busy.”

So we propose our own agendas and we follow our own agendas and we expect The Lord to bless our own agendas, but we give The Lord no real time except what may be incidental to the time already devoted to something else.  Ultimately we miss out on blessings we cannot begin to imagine, or a task The Lord needs us to take care of for Him because we are too busy and entirely too devoted to our own agendas.

This is what makes prayer so difficult; it is about putting self aside and learning to listen.  It is a discipline.  There is nothing magical about it, it does not come easily or naturally, and we won’t “just know” how to do it even as simple as it sounds.  Put down your cell phone and sit for just five minutes in complete silence.  In less than a minute our minds will have already wandered off and away from The Lord and back toward our agendas.

Love is doing for someone even when we would rather be doing something for ourselves.  So how much love can we say we have for The Lord if we cannot or will not freely give Him some uninterrupted time?  The Lord has something to say to each of us, and it likely has something to do with building up the Church or looking after a neighbor who is down and out; but if all we really care about is ourselves and our own agenda, we will never hear this.  It is likely we don’t really even want to hear this.

I dare say, based on what Jesus teaches, that prayer is not a “conversation” we have with The Lord because a “conversation” implies both parties actually speaking AND both listening.  No, I think Jesus is offering to us a most profound gift we decline much more often than we accept.  And we are the poorer for it.

“Be still” today.  Find the time, make the time, do whatever must be done to carve out some time.  I think we will all be surprised at what we may discover.

Pending a blessing,


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