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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Prayer Disorder Disorder

    Luke 11:1-4
    Prayer Disorder Disorder
    The disciples come to Jesus and say, "Lord, teach us to pray."
    Does it seem strange, that anyone would have to be taught to pray? Especially a disciple. I mean, it's pretty simple, right? 
    Even little kids can do it. "Now I lay me down to sleep."
    "God is great, God is good."
    If only "food" really rhymed with "good." Maybe that worked in Jolly Old England. You can fix it by turning it around:
    "God is good, God is great, thank you, Lord
    For what's on the plate."
    (Much more American.)
    But I'm guessing most of us pray occasionally, mainly when we're in trouble. There are no atheists in foxholes, either physical foxholes or spiritual or emotional ones, and that's OK. 
    For a lot of us prayer is like The Instructions. 
    We only pull it out when nothing else works. 
    Some of you though, are mighty awesome pray-ers. 
    Thanks for pulling the rest of us through. But even the best will say, "I really don't think I do it that well." 
    The truth be told, I'd bet most of you feel like you suffer from Prayer Deficit Disorder – PDD. Or because the prayers are just random and go everywhere – Prayer Disorder Disorder. 
    Good news: Apparently, the disciples had it, too. And today we're going to listen to what Jesus said about it. --
    We call it, The Lord's Prayer, but Jesus never did. He never claimed copyright, like, The Lord's Prayer ™. He just said, "Y'all do it like this."
    He said to go in the clothes closet and do it where nobody else can see you. 
    Or the bathroom, or the pantry, or the basement. Not because it's supposed to be secret, but because no one wants to be Uncle Earnest at Thanksgiving who gives thanks for everything from the dinosaur ancestors of turkeys to the people who pack Remington birdshot. 
    Luke's version of The Lord's Prayer is so short and sweet that it leaves out the "Our Father, who art in heaven."
    Howard be thy name. 
    Howard be not thy name, but it sounds more plausible than "hallowed," and less like speaking like Yoda you are. Hallowed. God's name is to be hallowed - holy, different, almost unpronounceable. God's native language isn't English. 
    Or Hebrew. 
    Or Jamaican. Although that would be kinda fun. 
    "What are human beings that you are mindful of them? What are mortals that you care for them?" (Ps 8). We might not be able to speak God's native tongue, but God speaks ours. Which means prayer is hallowed not because we talk God so good, but because God hears and understands. And because our words float away from ourselves and lift us toward a larger scale of life, a higher form of being.  ---
    "Your kingdom come."
    Ah, it's good to be king. If we're honest about it, a lot of our prayers are asking for what we'd like to have if our kingdom came. You remember the Janis Joplin song, "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?"
    Now most of us aren't going to ask God for a Mercedes. Maybe a Prius. 
    A used Dodge Coronet 440 with a manual choke. 
    I have to wonder how different our prayers sound than the prayers of someone who's never even seen a Mercedes.  
    We are the men (and women) who would be king, and if you don't believe me, look up something about the living conditions in about 80% of the rest of the world. We are so lucky, here in America. We really do live like kings. Praying that God's kingdom come, when you turn it around, is praying that God will de-throne us, by whatever means necessary. Praying God's kingdom come is praying that God will effect personal regime change on each of us. And if God dethrones us, then all the stuff we need to look kingly becomes the property of the occupying force, right? OK, God, take the car, but I'm keeping the cell phone.  
    How different would the world look if each of us, every day, were occupied (or preoccupied) 24/7 with serving the kingdom of God? What if we stopped worrying about our hair, or lack thereof, or our shoes, or our computer toys, or what we're going to eat for lunch, and started worrying about God? How different would our prayers sound? How different would our spending habits be if we thought of God as confiscating for His kingdom the stuff that we think makes us kingly? Do you ever look at your stuff and wonder, "What in the world would God do with this?"
    W.W.J.B, "What would Jesus buy?"
 Jesus starts his prayer, not by asking God for more stuff, but praying that God will send God's stuff to the world.  ---
    "Give us each day our daily bread."
    "I am the bread of life," Jesus says in John 6:34. "Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
    Spiritually speaking, Jesus is the daily bread for which we need to pray. As Matthew McCaunaughey would say, "Amen, amen, amen."
    But following that last line, the one about God's coup d'etat of our little kingdoms, the prayer for daily bread sounds pretty down-to-earth. Like the daily bread and water prisoners receive. The Apostle Paul wrote that we should become "prisoners" for Christ. Our daily existence, the existence of everything, is utterly dependent on the grace and mercy of God our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. Were it not for God's loving kindness, nothing would exist anywhere. Think about it. We are so lucky. We can choose whether our daily bread will come from the day-old bread outlet, or from Panera. 
    A lot of us have been told by our doctors to cut back on our daily bread. Think what that means in a global sense. In a world where millions of people have no bread at all, we have to count carbs. Or take Lipitor. 
    Daily bread is daily life. Jesus tells us to pray that we have no less than we need for one day. And, he teaches us to pray that we'll consume only enough of that bread for one day of life, and no more. Think about that the next time you belly up to the chocolate fountain at Golden Corral. So, we pray, "Lord, give us this day, our daily bread."
    Isn't that redundant? Daily bread for "this day."
 Not tomorrow's bread today, because, it's so good. Not an extra helping to get us through the lean days ahead. This day – our daily bread. Period. --
    "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive everyone indebted to us."
    That's a little different read than "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
    Some Bibles say, "Forgive us our trespasses."
    Did you grow up in a church that prayed it that way? You ever think about the difference? I find it interesting that depending on the age of the Bible translation you read, the greatest sin was either encroaching on someone else's turf or running up too much debt. Of course, we're speaking of trespasses and debts in a spiritual sense. I think. Both ways of saying it work just fine. From God's perspective, we must look as though we're continually pretending to be big shots at the same time we're up to our eyeballs in debt, trying to get stuff like other people have. A pretty sorry state, unless God forgives us. Lord, forgive us our debts, forgive us our trespasses, forgive us our sins.  --
    "As we forgive our debtors," 
    "As we forgive those who trespass against us."
    Oh, gee. Thanks a lot, Lord. Just had to add that little, "Gotcha," to the mix. We ask God for forgiveness, but then we turn around and pray that we'll be as forgiving when someone steps on our toes or fails to return us the dignity we deserve. The prayer makes us realize how far we fall short of our heavenly example,
    and you have to wonder if Jesus cut his eyes around the room as he was teaching that particular line,
    and if the unforgiving disciples lowered their eyes when he looked at them.  
    Then, Jesus teaches us to say, "Lead us not into temptation."
    Actually, it's closer to say, "Do not bring us to the time of trial."
    For early Christians who prayed the prayer, a "time of trial" was a very real and deadly fear. They remembered the trial of Jesus. The "time of trial" was not deciding whether your conscience would allow you to download content from the Internet without paying for it. They saw quote "trials" all the time. And executions. The time of trial for modern American Christians is very different. Now, we're the ones calling the shots. In these very changing, very global times, it's our tolerance that's being tested. Christ's words on our lips pray that we won't be brought to the point where we have to try and judge those who are different. "Judge not," Jesus said, "lest ye be judged." (Luke 6:37) 
    And in that same verse he continues, "Condemn not and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven."
    So, this Lord's Prayer. Easy, right? This Lord's Prayer is not an easy prayer. And in Luke's version especially, it doesn't promise us a rose garden without some very prickly thorns.  
    And, in Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer, that's it. 
    The prayer ends there. Not even an "Amen" to divide our heavenly thought from our next stream of wicked ones. Maybe the prayer isn't supposed to end. Maybe Jesus just wasn't hung up on style. Or maybe Jesus was teaching something else.  --
    Something that always surprises me is that the disciples don't ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. They don't say, "Lord, teach us how to pray."
    They say, "Lord, teach us to pray."
    It's a small distinction, but a big difference. Anyone can teach you how to pray. Anyone can say, "OK, you want to pray right? 
    Here's Step A, Step B, Step C."
    What's harder is teaching someone (teaching yourself, maybe) to want to pray in the first place. What's hard is teaching someone to trust that prayer is a worthwhile activity, 
    Believing that prayers are heard and are answered and are divinely helpful. Which is, according to Luke, where Jesus devotes a lot more words.  
    How you say your prayers – whether at a banquet in front of a hundred people, or in your walk-in closet, or walking in the woods – how you say your prayers is important, but it's not everything. According to Jesus, you don't have to get it right. 
    You just have to get it. It's not how you say it; it's that you say it. So if you're worried that you're not smart enough for God to listen to you,
    Or not sincere enough,
    Or not articulate enough,
    Stop it. I've prayed at a lot of hospital bedsides, and I've never yet had a person say, "You know, that was just pitiful. Get the Baptist preacher in here."
    God's not grading you. In fact, you don't even have to be original. 
    That prayer Jesus taught is just fine. That'll do. It's not that you do it well, it's that you do it at all. And that you keep saying those prayers from your heart and for your heart, and for the hearts of this world who need God, whether they know it or not.  
    "Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen."