Teach Us to Pray

I am thinking about the sermon I am going to preach at New Hope Fellowship on Sunday. The passage is that time when Jesus’ disciples asked him if he would teach them to pray, and Jesus responds with what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.

Looking over those familiar words, I was struck by how much they are focused on me as a recipient and not as an achiever. God is the primary actor or agent.

“THY kingdom come, THY will be done.”
“Give us…our daily bread.”
“Forgive us.”
“Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
“For THINE is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.”

I’ve never really thought about it this way before, but MY prayers tend to fall more along the lines of “Help me to be this or help me to do that.” In my usual way of approaching things, I am the primary agent; God is my helper.

Henri Nouwen says famously that these are the three big lies that the world tells us—or, in my case, that I tell myself:
1. I am what I have.
2. I am what I do.
3. I am what other people say about me.

I heard Jonathon Merritt talk about this in an interview I listened to tonight when I went for a walk, and he said that if you think about those three lies as like a Venn diagram, that’s where he had tried to live his life.

Bullseye. For me, that’s a bullseye.

What these are, of course, are lies about our identity. We all have our unique gifts, unique ways of being, unique struggles. We all have our own issues with our identity.

I have struggled mightily with the idea that God loves me for no other reason than that I am God’s child. I have preached it with great frequency and sincerity to others and have seen helping others to internalize that message of blessing as central to my calling. In fact, when I think back over two decades of preaching every Sunday, I realize that I tended to return again and again to the theme that we are blessed, that our identity is that of God’s beloved sons and daughters, with whom God is well-pleased. I understand better now the extent to which I was preaching to myself.

Eugene Peterson’s son Leif said at his dad’s funeral that his dad had only one sermon—that he had everyone fooled for 29 years of pastoral ministry, that for all his books he had only one message.

It was a secret Leif said his dad had let him in on early in life. It was a message that Leif said his dad had whispered in his heart for 50 years, words he had snuck into his room to say over him as he slept as a child:

“God love you.
God is on your side.
He is coming after you.
He is relentless.”

Maybe Eugene Peterson was preaching this to himself, too.

I don’t know where exactly I’m going to go with Sunday’s sermon, but I think I know that I want to try to practice this prayer with a new understanding, one that may not come naturally to me:
God, YOUR kingdom come.
YOUR will be done.
Give us our daily bread.
Forgive us.
Lead us away from temptation and evil.
Because the kingdom and the power and the glory are all yours.
For ever and ever.
Amen.

One thought on “Teach Us to Pray

  1. Brent, I like what Brother Lawrence writes about prayer in the book, “The Practice of the Presence of God.” The following comments lay the foundation for his prayer life: “We ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs, just as they happen. . . . The shortest way to go straight to Him by a continual exercise of love, and doing all things for His sake.” I applaud you for doing this sermon. Praying is such a simple/complex matter. (“I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe….that there’s something to be said for keeping Prayer simple: HELP, THANKS, WOW.” – Anne LaMott; “Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to….I do not know you Gd Because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside…”) – Flannery O’Connor.

    Liked by 2 people

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