Luke 11:1–13

Why did the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray?

Perhaps because they saw him pray and realized the intensity and whole heartedness of his praying and wanted to be a part of the same experience. Perhaps like you and like me they realized that there may be more to prayer than that which they experienced in their own individual lives.

Then again, they may have asked him to teach them to pray because—as they said—they knew that John the Baptist taught his disciples a prayer—as Rabbis often did—to be said by their disciples. And of coarse, this is what Jesus did—he gave them a prayer, which we continue to use to this day. The Lord’s Prayer—The Our Father—has come down through the centuries as the prayer that the followers of Jesus have learned to say and use in personal and public moments ever since he taught it to his disciples. Following in that tradition, we will say it again at this service.

But learning to pray is much more than saying a prayer—though that is a good way to start. Learning by heart the Lord’s Prayer—The Our Father—as many of us have done in our childhood, gives us each a deep personal sense of intimacy with God as we grow. This intimacy is the result of having engrafted in our memories and indeed in our souls a vocabulary with which we can engage in a kind of conversation with God.

But there is much more that we need to know about prayer than simply saying the words of a given prayer. And there is an increasing number of people in our society who have never learned the Lord’s Prayer but who feed a sense of relationship to Jesus or who are seeking to have a relationship and may not know how to pray. What do we say to them?

The first thing we have to say to them and to us is that everybody prays. People pray whether or not they actually call it prayer. We pray every time we need to ask for help, for understanding, for strength to face a situation. Our dreams and day dreams, our stillness and quiet reflection, our tone of voice, our actions and moments all have a characteristic to them that is ours and demonstrate who we are and desire to be. Prayer is a way of reflecting on these things in our lives—a way of revising and considering—that puts them in perspective.

It was St. Augustine who wrote “Prayer is the affectionate reaching out of the mind for God.”

We do this in our stillness and in our time of reflection. In an experience of a love that overwhelms us, of a thankfulness that elates us, of a wonder that exhilarates us—we have in all these experiences a sense of one reaching out of our mind—indeed of our whole being—for God. This is a form of prayer—a reaching out for God.

But also in times of danger and turmoil, in fear and grief, in tragedy and despair, we cry out for help, we ponder why it happened, we seek re-assurance and comfort. Our hearts and minds reach out for God—for that power beyond us and these events from whence comes our help. This a form of prayer—a reaching out for God.

You may know or not know the Lord’s Prayer—you may or may not find it useful—but the fact is that you pray—everybody prays. It is a characteristic of human life that we pray.

All prayer begins with desire and we all have desire.

Desire comes in many forms. We long for contact, for connection at the center, for completion and fulfillment. We long for that grounding that brings full-hearted peace of mind and soul. Desire motivates prayer because in fact—we pray for what we want!

Like children who pray the weather will be fair enough so they can go swimming that afternoon, so as adults we pray to get this job, to be given this opportunity, to be offered that relationship. Desire in prayer goes on your whole life as you pray your baby may be healthy, your sick child—friend—will recover health, your parent may know an easy death, that peace and justice may prevail, that you and your loved ones may be safe and secure.

The only individuals who cannot pray are those who have no desire at all. As such they are in the grip of a clinical depression and cannot even desire to escape its power over them. And then there are those individuals whose desires have only to do with self-satisfaction. Such blind desire finds itself content in the isolated experience of self-directed gratification. But depression and blind desire is not enough for most people. The heart and mind seek more.

Prayer becomes that language of reflection in which we engage in a moment in our own lives from blind desire, from depression and indifference to insight into ourselves and our situation which brings self-understanding and freedom from the banality of blind desire.

In this act of taking notice of ourselves, of putting ourselves in perspective, we receive one of the main by-products of prayer—an enlargement of our life and of the self God has given us. Prayer entered into seriously can mark an unmistakable break with one way we have been living. It is never simply another little part of our lives. Prayer is struggle—struggle to grow and to understand in a deep and engaging way.

This desire for prayer is nothing less than the desire for truth—the truth about ourselves and our motives and a search for true understanding and satisfaction. Prayer is driven by the desire to find sense beyond the easy answers of formulas and catechisms. In the desire for prayer a profound need for wholeness expresses itself. We want to experience our beliefs and live our faith.

How might we do this—you and I? But how can we experience our beliefs and live our faith? The answer is to enter into prayer with this desire. That is to pray with an affectionate reaching out of my mind, my heart, and my soul for the mind and will of God! When Jesus taught us to pray, he gave us a framework for doing this.

We start the prayer with “Our Father.” If God is our Father, then we are sisters and brothers. The fatherhood of God leads to the brotherhood of all people. By praying this deeply and continually “Our Father” our desire is deepened to be part of our human brotherhood—to work and struggle for it in every way we can.

This leads to the prayer “thy kingdom come.” To truly desire this kingdom we must begin with ourselves. “Thy kingdom come within me” is a desire that connects us to the prayer. This means to seek the truth about ourselves and to confront all resistance to that truth in order that resistance not blind us to God’s will in our own lives.

“Give us each day our daily bread.” This prayer puts us in touch with our desire for consumption and possession. For some, daily bread may be all they can hope for and prayer becomes a desire to find it and a desire to be guided to obtain it. For others, prayer needs to give them a sense of proportions and limits. The truth for them is that they have too much—they are the victims of greed. No matter what your situation in life, you have to deal in one way or another with greed or jealousy and this prayer opens up for you the desire to do something about it. To face your greed and/or jealousy.

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” This gives us a framework in which to recognize that our Father treats us equally. We cannot expect forgiveness from God if we are not willing and able to forgive each other. We struggle in prayer to be able truly to forgive another’s activities that threaten and endanger us, but unless we desire to do this we are not living this prayer.

Prayer is a part of daily life and experience and means through which we put our own lives in perspective and open up ourselves willingly to that wider world of God’s truth and will for us. Prayer arises from our desire for wholeness and truth for ourselves. Prayer is a means by which we discipline our motives, express our love, seek comfort in our distress, plead for help, and reflect on our grief and anger.

Through prayer we mature. With prayer we grow. In prayer we reach out affectionately for God.