“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” (Matthew 6:8-9) aka, The Lord’s Prayer
“So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42)
The dishes, again. They had become a bone of contention in my household. Finally, I came up with a solution that I felt would resolve our problem. It did – no more dishes in the sink. Cool. But the resolution hit a snag when my daughter rebelled. No matter how I tried to get her to cooperate, she continued to find loopholes and excuses. I found myself frustrated and yelling. After a few days of this, I said to myself: you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. So, I went and talked to her, discussing what was really going on – which was not so much the dishes as it was an adult child trying to assert herself. (I’d witnessed my son going through the same thing the previous year.) I fell back then on what has ever been my saving grace – prayer. The next day when I got home from work, I was greeted with the smell of a clean house, a living room where everything was in its place AND … no dishes in the sink. That kid. Man, she’s a handful sometimes but she’s also such a blessing.
Once again, my prayer had been answered. I am convinced, more than ever, that God is at work in our lives, always. Even when you don’t know it – especially, when you don’t know it. When my life is turned upside down and nothing seems to make sense, that’s my cue and my clue, to pray. When I am at the end of everything – my patience, my time, my energy, my luck – I turn to God and he helps me. Once while driving home after a long day at work, all I could think of was the responsibilities waiting for me when I got there. I had to get dinner on the table for my kids and prepare a separate dinner for my mother-in-law, a diabetic; then, help with homework and attend to all of their needs. After washing the dinner dishes and straightening the house I would finally get off my feet, which would be throbbing by that time. All while my (then) husband slept, preparing for his night shift at work. As I sat in my driveway, overwhelmed and exhausted, just thinking of all I had to do, I prayed for strength. Finally, I gathered myself together and walked into … a clean house, dinner prepared, children and mother-in-law already fed by a husband who was fully awake. God knew my need, even before I prayed in my driveway. He had already set a plan in motion even before I was fully aware that I needed help.
How important is prayer then, or talking to God? The Bible gives us some insight, as it mentions that Jesus, himself, prayed. So it is important – it’s how we stay connected or plugged into the source of our strength and power. It’s how we abide in him. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28) So we know it’s something we should do. For some, prayer can be quite the ritual: formal, kneeling and petitioning God for favor – sometimes involving rising before dawn and spending hours talking to God. Some disciplined folks find comfort in this type of prayer. But for others like me, who are not so disciplined, this type of prayer can be daunting. Must I perform this ritualistic type of prayer for it to be considered true prayer? How should we pray?
Again, we look to Jesus to provide the model. He gave us an excellent place to start and answered this very question – how should we pray? “The Lord’s Prayer” was his response, and has been taught to many of us as children. I used to recite it with my own kids when they were small. But, there came a time when I no longer knelt beside their beds and helped them to say their prayers. As they got older, I knew they would need to know God, develop a relationship and seek him for themselves – to learn how to talk to him. They would need to move beyond the ritual and move into a more relational version of prayer – daughter to Father, Father to son. That leads me to the second example that Jesus provided; an informal, more relaxed version of prayer.
While Jesus was away, Lazarus, whom he loved, died. Jesus knew this but still waited a few more days before going to see his dear friend. He was setting up the miracle. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, his friend had been entombed for four days. Martha and Mary cried: “If you’d only been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” Seeing their grief, Jesus, too, wept. He assured them that if they believed, their brother could be resurrected because Jesus is the resurrection! Then he prayed aloud for their benefit, so that we would have evidence of his prayer and his connection with God. But he had already talked to God. It may have been a simple prayer, just at that moment and quick. No time for flowery phrases. Or he could have prayed during his journey to Bethany, conversationally but we have no record of it. It may have been a private prayer, within himself. He knew God heard him and knew he would soon be answered. So Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come forth!” And the dead man came from his tomb, still wrapped in his burial cloths.
I, myself, am a fan of the latter model. I talk to God continually, just as a normal course of conversation. Like He is real and present – because He is. I used to think of myself as not being much for prayer because I didn’t observe the rituals until a friend pointed out to me: Talking to God is prayer. It’s that simple. Ever since I embraced that simple concept, I’ve found that I spend a lot of my day talking to God, telling him my hopes and dreams and aspirations, giving him my fears and concerns. So now, I encourage others to talk to him and have a conversation, rather than to be intimidated by rituals that may make him seem very far away or unreachable. Why? Well, one of the things Jesus accomplished with his sacrifice was to make God more accessible to us all. Simply put, God wants to talk to you! No barriers, no third party involved – just you and him, one on one. So when people get mad and vent to me about God, I shrug and say “Tell him.” Feel like ranting or shaking your fist at the heavens? He already knows, so you may as well tell him. Go ahead and talk to him. He would love to answer you.