TEACH US TO PRAY

PrayerSince I didn’t watch the opening events of the Republican National Convention this past week, I didn’t hear the invocation offered by a minister of a large congregation in South Carolina. Nevertheless, I have seen a few items on the Internet discussing the prayer and its partisan nature. I suppose, a prayer of a partisan nature at a political convention is not surprising. However, I would not expect a Christian to offer a prayer of a political nature.

Let’s think about that for a minute.

In my life as a priest, I have often been asked to pray at community events, and at civic meetings. I have even prayed at the kick-off of a candidate’s declaration to run for office. He won, by the way, but it wasn’t my prayer that made his victory possible.

The only time I have asked to be released from the request to pray was once when I was recovering from a serious illness and my brain was not working as well as I wanted.

Praying in private, in public, or in common (as we do in our Anglican tradition), is something we should be happy to do. To converse with God is a privilege, one I find truly beautiful.

When we pray, we don’t need to search for words. Prayers should never be demonstrations of our faith. Prayer needs only to demonstrate that we are people in need of God’s grace. When I pray in public, I eschew the frequent use of the words Father and God—except when I begin my prayer thoughts. God knows to whom I am praying. Prayers should be simple, concise, and meaningful and should reflect thanksgiving for God’s graciousness even to pay attention to us—creatures who are a little lower than the angels.

The complaint about the opening prayer at the Republic Convention is the pastor who offered the prayer called on God to do things prayerful people often do not demand of God. Further, the pastor offering the prayer apparently united the political institution with the Church.

As I understand the formation of our country and its constitution, I believe the United States, founded as a secular state, with a clear division between Church and state is our heritage as a nation. The separation of church from state has been good both the promulgation of the Gospel and the development of a democratic republic.

Had the pastor quietly rose to invoke God’s blessing on the people gathered, thanksgiving for the gifts of life for the people of the nation, and seeking only God’s will in all undertakings, political and personal, he completed his task. For our well-being, as people of faith, and for the nation as a whole, it is vital that we keep the Church, and the state separated. By separating the two, we protect the Church from political abuse, and we honor the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

But, I am not here to today to talk about politics, party conventions, or candidates for office. My focus, our focus, is on prayer.

One of Jesus’ disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus said, “When you pray, say…” He didn’t say, “You can say this” or “This is a good idea for prayer.” He said, “When you pray, say:[1] Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”[2]

Thus we have a formula for prayer.

  • First, we are to acknowledge God as Father, or Creator.
  • Second, we seek God’s presence in our lives; that is, the kingdom of God is a reality found in us not by words but by behavior.
  • Third, we pray for our needs, not our wants.
  • Fourth, we seek forgiveness for the things we ought not to have done and the things we ought to have done but did not.
  • Fifth, we pray we have the wisdom and strength to forgive others who is some way we believe are indebted to us—some hurt, some word misspoken, some oversight, some selfish act. All require our forgiveness our release. Forgiveness releases us possibly more than it releases the forgiven.
  • Sixth and finally, we pray that we will not fall into error, into trails that remove us from God. When we face the problems of life, the terrors of the world, the demands on us by illness (our own and others), we sometimes blame God, turn from God.; this is the trial we pray we avoid.

Those are the basics of prayer.

Prayer is a conversation with God. If we cannot say the words we want to say, turn to Jesus The Book of Common Prayer. jpgand say, “Father, your kingdom come…”

One of the things I have noticed the most in my work as a pastor is that I have found that people with whom I am ministering can recite the “Lord’s Prayer” the “Our Father” from memory with me.

Therefore, if you cannot think of words to pray, say nothing, then quietly recite, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Prayer is not difficult, it is the same as talking with another person, it is the opening of mind and heart, and it is the humble offering self to something greater than our egos.

Finally, persistence in prayer is essential. If nothing else, offer the prayers of the Daily Offices. As you read the office prayers—preferably out loud—the words of the office prayers will become your prayers. Throughout the day you will recall the words and phrases, and as you do your mind, your very being is in touch with God.

Prayer is not a time to boast. Prayer is not a time to bring down the wrath of God on those you do not believe deserve God’s grace. Prayer is not a time to remind God how exceptional you are or how special your family, city, state or nation is. God loves all creation, and we can presume all are exceptional in God’s eyes.

Prayer is a time to be with God. Prayer is a time to ask, seek, and knock. In your supplication, remember faith builds and is a relationship with divine. In that relationship, we learn that the heart of God as seen in Jesus is open to you in the simplest of words.


[1] Luke 11:2b-4.

[2] Some ancient authorities, according to the compilers of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Holy Bible add after Father, “your Holy Spirit Come upon us…”, and in place of “Your Kingdom Come…” the translation is, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

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