Rev. Dr, Martha Jacobs
Our Own Prayer Time with God
Psalm 138, Luke 11:1-10
July 24, 2022
Why does Jesus go into a parable when the disciples ask him to teach them to pray? Perhaps the writer of Luke’s Gospel was trying to help the people understand what it means to pray the way Jesus prayed. The people were used to praying set prayers so hearing about Jesus basically talking with God, calling God Abba, or Father, which was an intimate term, was an anomaly for them. Praying something other than the usual daily prayers was so unusual during Jesus’ time and for the people for whom Luke was writing some 60+ years later.
Luke’s Gospel is the only one that includes this parable when the disciples ask Jesus to teach them about how he prays. Some scholars think that Luke uses this parable to help the people understand that one needs to ask in order to receive. I don’t necessarily agree with that, and perhaps that will be a sermon for another time. Because today, I want to focus on prayer, since it is such an important part of our relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – as well as an important connection between all of us. It is such a special way of communicating with God.
A week ago Thursday, some of the Christian and Jewish clergy with whom I traveled to Israel in May, met to talk about prayer. One of my Christian colleagues had asked the rabbis to teach us about how they pray. For my Christian colleagues, the session was very instructive because Jewish prayers are set prayers, for the most part. There is an opportunity during worship to voice your own prayers, but a prayer book is used and specific prayers are offered depending on the time of day and year, and whether or not it is a holiday. Prayers, for the most part, are in Hebrew, and most Jewish children learn those prayers starting at an early age, similar to our teaching our children the Lord’s Prayer. The session was led by one of the rabbis who had offered to host and lead us in this discussion. He had printed out a chapter about prayer, written by one of his teachers. He led us in an overview of chapter, and he covered the specifics of how the Jewish worship services and prayers are laid out.
After about 10 minutes of this cerebral conversation, I found myself squirming in my seat, because as you may know, prayer for me is much more from the heart. As mentioned in a prior sermon about my time with my colleagues in Israel, the rabbis pointed out that they envied the Christian clergy because we seemed to come to God from our hearts first, while they come from their heads first. There is not a right or wrong way to approach God, just a different way that we approach our beliefs and our worship experience.
Growing up Jewish, I knew all of these prayers – they were in Hebrew, so I didn’t necessarily understand what I was saying or praying, but I knew them. I never prayed to God directly for my own needs or the needs of those I loved. In my mind, prayers were the prayers of the Jewish people as included in the prayer books.
When I began attending Immanuel Baptist Church, at the age of 16, I experienced a different kind of praying. People were praying spontaneously, in their own words, not prescribed by a prayer book. That felt freeing to me – and it appealed to me because I could talk directly to God, in English, and felt a closeness to God that I had not felt in the Temple.
As a disclaimer, as an adult, I know that my Jewish clergy colleagues and friends have a different kind of relationship to God and prayer than I had as a child. They too find ways to connect more directly with God. But in my growing up, that was not shared nor taught to me.
When training to become a chaplain, the first time I was asked to pray out loud spontaneously for someone else, I found myself in a praying crisis. I was so worried. Would I do it right? Would I stumble or get tongue-tied? When I prayed to God back then, it was usually between just God or Jesus and me. Now, in my chaplain training, I had another person – or persons – listening to my spontaneous prayers. It was scary and the first dozen or so times I prayed for someone else aloud, I would finish the prayer and open my eyes, praying that I would not find the person looking oddly at me or shocked by something I said or didn’t say or said incorrectly. Eventually, I realized that most people are so deeply into their own prayer state of heart, that they don’t hear my stumbles or when I get tongue-tied.
I came to appreciate that when we pray, it is not only telling God about our needs, but it is teaching us about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God the three-in-one. And, it is opening us up to what we think of this triune God. For example, do you experience God as a merciful listener? Do you think that God forgets about you? Do you think that God is too busy to stop and listen to you when you pray?
Anne Lamott in her book entitled, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, writes that prayer means that in some unique way, we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak – even in silence. She writes that prayer is our sometimes-real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, and with the Light. Our praying is reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world.
Praying is an opportunity to be intimate with God – the three-in-One. Luke, more than any other Gospel writer, stresses the importance of prayer in Jesus’ life. Prayer is really more about an opportunity to be in relationship with God than getting things from God. When you are intimately spending time with God, it is a chance for you to be honest, to be closer, to trust God more fully with those things deep inside of you that are troubling you but also those things deep inside for which you are most grateful and which make you, the special you that you are.
I believe that God desires to be known chiefly as one who loves you for all that you are and walks with you through all of the ups and downs of your life, and even carries you when you are unable to carry yourself. To avail ourselves of such an unimaginable gift of love, we have to be open to it, as Anne Lamott writes, in Help, Thanks, Wow. And, we need to be open to the responses to those prayers. The response may surprise you and offer you a glimpse into the Triune God that is truly awesome.
In these long hot days of summer, when hopefully things are a little quieter for you, I invite you to reflect on your own prayer life. Do you trust God? Do you know that God is listening? Do you feel God near you? Do you want a closer relationship with God? Like the disciples, you too can ask Jesus to teach you how to pray in a new and different way. It is your own prayer time with God, so open yourself up anew to the love that God has for you. Perhaps your love for God will broaden and deepen. Then perhaps you will find yourself, like Anne Lamott, ending your prayers with “wow” instead of “amen.”
Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers (New York: Riverhead, 2012), 4, 7.