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Story Archives: Maybe it's time to examine not only hearts, but prayers
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|Maybe it's time to examine not only hearts, but prayers|
Several years ago I was asked to speak about prayer. My first thought was, "This will be simple." I soon realized I had a massive problem.
I was bombarded with too much information, too many options, too many personal experiences, too many questions and too many opinions.
We wonder if our prayers are worded properly. Then we wonder if our words are in the correct order. The preacher says I am to confess my sins before I make my request. What happens if I can't remember them all? Do they have to be in order of occurrence?
I'm also told my heart has to be in the right place. I'm no doctor, but I think my heart is fine right where it is. Of course there's the "enough faith" issue. Not a problem. I've seen a mustard seed and think I'm okay in the faith area. But do I have to kneel? If so, I'd better pray someone will come along to help me up. Can I pray while I'm driving? If so, do I have to close my eyes? What exactly is a prayer closet? Did someone mention a prayer shawl? Will Grandma's afghan suffice? Who the heck is Jabez, anyway?
I admit, it can sometimes become ridiculous. Finally, my thoughts went back to my first response; "This will be simple." So why do we complicate it so? Is it because we consider prayer to be a combination or a code that we have to decipher? Someone once said; "The only way to pray is to pray, and the way to pray well is to pray much." Maybe it's time we examine, not only our hearts, but our prayers. What are our intentions? Are we trying to impress God or sweet-talk Him into giving us what we want?
I suppose everyone, at one time or another, wonders if God is listening or if he even cares. Is he mad at me? (I knew I shouldn't have joked about Grandma's afghan.) Even though the followers of Jesus each had a prayer shawl, they must have shared a few of our concerns. They finally asked him to teach them how to pray. The prayer he taught them is the prayer many of us pray each Sunday. Over time it has been deemed as "The Lord's Prayer." What we may not realize is that this prayer not only teaches us to pray, it teaches us how to live.
The prayer offers a sense of community and it provides a challenge to notice the good in our lives on a daily basis. It also possesses a sense of accountability concerning forgiveness and temptation. Unfortunately, most of us will roll out "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done" as a child reciting the alphabet's "L,M,N,O,P." Many fail to acknowledge that "Thy will be done" is one of the most crucial requests of the prayer. It proclaims that we not only acknowledge but we also accept that what we have planned is not as significant as what God has planned.
"The Lord's Prayer" also seems to encourage us to set down our religious agendas and reach for a place of honesty. Many think that God only accepts our "good," but he is also willing to take our "bad and ugly." If you've never tried it, it's quite astounding. When we give him our hate; he gives us love. When we give him our jealousy; he gives us freedom. When we give him our sorrow; he gives us strength. When we give him our confusion; he gives us His peace.
The truth is that each of us, no matter how religious we profess to be, has more to learn about communicating with God. Over time, hopefully we will learn that it's not about our wish-list, but it is about our relationship with God and our relationship with one another. Once that happens we can surely proclaim, "For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever. Amen"
Jo Ann Cooper is a United Methodist pastor of the LA Conference.