A Message About Prayer
As I've said in a reply to Paul L's recent comment on my last post, I've been rather preoccupied with problems much closer to home than the blogosphere. I have, however, kept going to Meeting for Worship. On December 3rd I sat down on my usual bench in a pretty heavy (as opposed to weighty) frame of mind and began to inwardly and silently pray. In the course of this prayer, something opened in me about prayer itself and the following message emerged. I gave the message aloud in Meeting, and I believe it was helpful ministry for some, notwithstanding that the "content" was nothing new. I reproduce it here from memory, so the word-choices are probably different than in the original message.
Friends, I have been blessed in recent weeks with many reminders of how weak and needy I can sometimes be, and of how much I stand in need of love, support, guidance, nurture and strength from God, from the community of Friends and from my loved ones. Blessed but also distressed. I do not really like to see myself as weak and needy.
With all this on my mind this morning, I felt a need to pray and did not know how to begin, so I meditated awhile on a sample prayer taught by Jesus, the one often called the "Our Father" or "The Lord's Prayer". I believe the words of this prayer are not given to us so that they can be repeated by rote as part of a ritual. I believe they are given so that they can teach us something about prayer itself and about the God to whom we pray. Here is what they have taught me this morning as I meditated on them:
First, our God is a parent to us, and we are invited to speak to God as to a parent. Gender is not the issue. We can call God "Father" (or "Papa") as Jesus did, or "Mother" if that is easier for some of us. The point is that God gave us being, God loves us, God cares for us, and God watches over us with the loving attention of a parent. We can talk to God in a familiar way.
Second even though God is our parent, God is also in Heaven, in the Sky, High Above us. God is not our God only, not in our control, and not on our "side" against someone else. We are to hallow God's name. To refrain from using it in profanity certainly, but more importantly not to dishonor it by invoking it as a cover or a sanction for our human agendas and parochial concerns.
We are urged to pray that God's will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. The way things are now is not God's will for how they should be, but the things that we ourselves want and wish for aren't necessarily God's will either. We are to ask for God's own will to be acccomplished, rather than ours, and in asking we need to commmit ourselves to seek for that will and then to cooperate with it, as far as we are enabled to understand it.
We are encouraged to ask for our "daily" bread today. Not for cake or steak, and not for a lifetime supply of even bread, and not for a plan or a roadmap or a promise to always be secure. Just for enough to feed us now.
We are also to ask for forgiveness for the wrongs we have done, and to offer the same forgiveness for wrongs we have suffered, if any. We have a need to be freed from the chains of bitterness, guilt, and blame, in order to face the future in faith and love.
Finally, we are to ask that we not be "put to the test" beyond our strength. We don't have to be spiritual heroes. We don't tell the tempter to "bring it on". Instead we ask our Parent to deliver us from evil. And we trust that He will.
In sum: We are invited to ask God to deliver us from evil, to forgive us and help us forgive, to give us what we need today. We are invited to ask that God's will be done. We are reminded that God is our Parent but is also a Heavenly God with a name that should be hallowed.