Lord, teach us to pray. . .

Good morning, Friends! Thank you all again for coming today.

People often ask how Jesus was able to do all the things he did. You might say, “Well, he was the Son of God!”

But one of the other things everyone noticed about Jesus, was that he prayed. Jesus himself said that prayer could move mountains. Over and over again, when Jesus prayed, people were healed.

Jesus’ prayers calmed storms, fed thousands, and brought peace into difficult situations.

Jesus said that if we pray, we’d be able to do the same things that he did. That’s a pretty tall order.

Sometimes we pray, and things happen the way we want them. A lot of the time, we pray, and we’re disappointed. We get discouraged, and then we don’t pray at all.

Jesus’ disciples asked him, how he did it. They’d been following him around for years, watching closely every day, and somehow they didn’t get it.
So, one day they asked him. This is the story.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Luke 11:1-4

Of all the questions we could ever ask Jesus, this is one of the most important ones. How should we pray?

Jesus prayed a lot. He prayed in public. He prayed while he was teaching. Many times, Jesus left everyone, and went away by himself to pray.

The prayer in today’s Scripture is a familiar one. The Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, is one which all Christians know.

You can’t improve on the prayer Jesus taught. You can’t do any better than the Lord’s Prayer.

Jesus said we should always pray in faith. That means, to trust God completely when we pray.

Don’t worry how big or strong you are. Don’t worry if you’re using the right words. Jesus said a prayer even the size of a tiny mustard seed, could accomplish a miracle.

Christians put a lot of emphasis on praying in Jesus’ name. That doesn’t mean that Jesus’ name is magic. It means having the faith of Jesus, the mind of Jesus, the heart and eyes of Jesus, when we pray.

Jesus never said that only certain people could pray. He never said only ministers could pray, or people with special credentials. Prayer is something everyone can do.

Prayer needs to be done in the right spirit. I remember reading a story once, about a person who was praying in a great big room. And the room was filled with doves. The doves were flying around, cooing to each other, and perched up on the rafters.

Whenever the person prayed in the wrong spirit, one of the doves would keel over, and hit the floor with a thud. Every time the person prayed in the right spirit, one of the doves would fly out the window, up into the sky.

People often ask me for advice about prayer. I usually say, “I’m no expert! I have the same problems as everybody else!”

I don’t think I pray better, than anyone here in this room. I would rather listen to the voice of somebody else praying, than listen to my own voice.

One of the first pieces of advice which many experienced people give about prayer, is simply to stop. We’re so busy all the time. Just stop.

If you can, get comfortable. Don’t sprawl or slouch. Don’t tense up. Whether you sit, or stand, or kneel, or lie down, find a position where you’re comfortable and not distracted by what you’re doing.

Then, breathe. Prayer won’t get better if you hold your breath. If you’re feeling scared, breathe more slowly. If you’re feeling constricted, try to relax and breathe normally.

This is all just really basic stuff. But it always makes a surprisingly big difference.

If possible, be quiet. Quakers are really big about this! Quietness makes space for God to come in.

There’s outside or exterior quiet. It’s always nice when you turn off the TV, shut down the video games, get away from the noise and the sirens and the never-ending hum of the city.

There’s also interior quiet, or quiet of the mind and heart. We can be an quiet place or a sound-proof room, and still be filled with noise in our heads or noise in our hearts.

With practice, in an emergency or in a difficult situation, you can still feel interior quiet even when things are noisy all around you.

Where you pray doesn’t matter too much. At church, at home, outside. Some people feel God closest to them at the beach, or in the mountains, or watching the dawn, or under the stars at night. Whatever works. Wherever you feel it.

In an emergency, just ask for what you need. But when you have time, take your time.

Try to feel God present, or invite God in. With practice, it feels like you’re slipping back in to a familiar place.

You know how, with some friends, you feel you can just pick up a conversation where you left off? It’s easy, it’s natural, it’s a friendly and familiar relationship?

That’s the goal. Prayer is like familarity with a good friend. You know God, and God knows you. You can say important things to God, and God can say important things to you.

Don’t be in a rush. Prayer is actually a lot like old-fashioned porch sitting. You know, when you sit down, and lean back, and you don’t always need to say things all the time?

Sometimes I feel like God is saying, “Hey, what’s your hurry? Sit down. Take a load off! Want something to drink?”

The Lord’s Prayer is always a great place to begin. As I said before, you can’t improve on the Lord’s Prayer.

Many people say it helps them feel connected, to other Christians who are saying it with you. You feel part of a praying community, and that’s great.

But there are also some more basic moves you can make. These aren’t just polite things to do when we pray. These are basic steps we can always take.

The first step that one of my teachers suggested, was what’s called praise or adoration. It can be reading one of the Psalms. It can be something as simple as saying, “Wow, God! How great you are! How kind you’ve always been to me. How amazing your world is!”

Adoration is like a little child sitting on a parent’s or grandparent’s lap, and not needing to be anywhere else in the whole world for a while. It’s like a lover’s arms. It’s like being wide-eyed with amazement. It’s like doing cartwheels or jumping for joy.

It’s starting off your prayer time with something good. God is good, all the time. Just be glad that God is good, and be really glad you’re here for a while.

The second step my teacher suggested, is saying thank you. We can never thank God too much!

The apostle Paul said that he could find a way to thank God for all things, in every situation. He could thank God when he had plenty, or when he was poor. He could thank God when he was feeling great, or when he was hurting or feeling down or awful.

There is always room for giving thanks. In fact, when the Bible describes Jesus doing his greatest miracles, often it says that Jesus gave thanks, and something amazing happened. Giving thanks may be the real secret of how Jesus did what he did.

You don’t have to think hard in order to find things to thank God for. With just a little bit of practice, the things to thank God for come pouring out.

I know a lot of people who pray something like,

“Thank you God, for waking me up this morning!
Thank you for my comfortable bed.
Thank you that I have clothes to wear, and shoes for my feet.
Thank you that I have food to eat, and a roof over my head. Thank you that I have eyes to see, and ears to hear.
Thank you for all your many blessings to me today. Amen.”

But that’s just the start. Once you start thanking God, your prayers are going to run overtime. When you thank God, you always have fresh material for your prayer, every day.

A third place to go in prayer, my teacher said, was to take a careful look at ourselves, and see where we need to say, “I’m sorry.”

Jesus once told a story about two people who came to the Temple to bring their gifts to God.

One was a stuck up, self righteous person. He stood up front where everyone could see him and said, “Thank you, God, that I’m not like everybody else! I pray all the time, I fast twice a week. I’m not like all these other scum – robbers, evildoers, adulterers, and tax collectors!”

The other person who came to the Temple stood at the back where nobody could see him. He wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven. He beat his chest and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

“Which one of these two,” Jesus asked, “did God listen to? Which prayer got heard?”

Jesus also told another story. He said, “When you show up to pray, and you remember that somebody has something against you, then leave your gift. Go and be reconciled with them. Then come back, and offer your gift to God, and God will hear you.”

So, that third step isn’t just saying “I’m sorry” to God, though a lot of the time we do need to pray that. A lot of the time, our prayer will be much better if we take the time to heal our relationship with someone else.

We’ve talked about praise and adoration. We’ve talked about giving thanks. We’ve talked about repentance and restoration.

The fourth movement in prayer, my teacher said, was to ask for things.

Usually, we rush and do that first. We’re in a hurry to get to the asking part.

Jesus never said it’s wrong to ask. In fact, Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that my Father may be glorified. If you ask me for anything, I will do it!” (John 14:13-14)

We can pray to move mountains. We can pray for our daily bread. We can pray for healing and forgiveness. We can pray for rest and relief, or for help when we’re being tempted. Just like all the other movements in prayer, the list of things we can ask for is unlimited.

None of this is cast in concrete, but it’s better if our prayer goes in this order.

Stop, and be quiet. Get settled and comfortable. Praise God. Thank God. Make things right. And then, ask for what we need.

But keep it simple. Keep it direct. Ask in the right spirit. And trust in God.

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