“Lord teach us to pray.” The disciples begged Jesus for some sort of magical insight to this essential task of discipleship. We still ask that question. Everyone knows Christians should pray. It seems simple enough. Yet our bookstores are packed with books on how to pray. A lot of people must think they suck at it.
I’m a pastor and I stink at praying. Oh sure, I pray in the car on the way to work. Or I pray in my head while I’m walking from my chair to the pulpit. My day is scattered with many little prayers. But I want to do some Deep Work praying. You know, like Luther, who said he saw how busy his day would be, decided he needed to pray 3 hours instead of 2. I want to be thatguy!
How’s your prayer life? I hate that phrase.
Or are you like me and those disciples in the garden of Gethsemane? Jesus commanded them to pray so they don’t fall in to temptation. Yet every time He came back to them, they were sleeping. Can you relate?
Often times I lie to people in order to get them to pray more. I tell them, “You’ll feel better.” I want them to think they will ‘get something out of it.’ I figure that if they think they will benefit then they will pray!
So, I was surprised to read Martin Luther give a different motivation for prayer in his response to his good friend Peter Beskendorf. Feel free to check it out under the title, “A simple way to pray.”
Luther gives his friend an initial prayer:
O Heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor unworthy sinner. I do not deserve to raise my eyes or hands toward thee or to pray. But because thou hast commanded us all to pray and hast promised to hear us and through thy dear Son Jesus Christ hast taught us both how and what to pray, I come to thee in obedience to thy word, trusting in thy gracious promise. I pray in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ together with all thy saints and Christians on earth as he has taught us:
Luther doesn’t tell his friend to pray because he will get something out of it. Luther inspires him to pray because God commands it! Whether it’s Jesus at the mount of Olives or the 2nd Commandment, God tells us to pray whether we feel like it or not. If you are waiting to pray when you ‘feel’ it’s the right time, you will stink a praying. Just do it like eating your vegetables. If you have a hard time ‘getting into the mood’ Luther suggests that we read some Scripture, recite a creed and Ten Commandments, or words of Christ and the apostles. God’s Word might inspire meditation and prayers connected to what we are reading. Great advice.
People often have a hard time setting aside time to pray because they think prayer is simply about getting what you want. Prayer is about them. Sound familiar? Yet they often don’t get what they want from God. God seems silent to them. Prayer doesn’t work. Therefore the motivation to pray dwindles. Pastor must be lying. They don’t feel better at all.
First of all, silence is not always silence but often times a response of ‘No.’ It’s no way an indication that God does not hear us.
Second of all, we err to think that our incentive to pray is about ‘getting something.’ While we definitely are promised to get everything as listed in the Lord’s Prayer, beyond that, it’s a crap shoot!
Prayer is not a means of grace. It is, as Luther says in his letter, a work!
So, I am going to work harder at praying this year. Whether I see some me-oriented benefit to it or not. Why? Because my Lord, who died and rose for me, commands it!
And yet, I will also fail at being a prayer warrior this year. I know it, you don’t have to tell me. I’ve seen myself fail at a lot of God’s commands—actually, how about all of God’s commands!
I will fall asleep on the job like those disciples. Jesus must have face palmed every time He returned to find them snoring. Yet it did not deter Christ at all!
All our faulty prayers and lack of praying do not deter God at all! Jesus went on ahead and took our cross, our sins of poor discipleship, our weak faith, our rebellion against God’s command. No one prayed that He would do it. He just did it! He’s the only one who can meet the command—“Just do it!”
God saved those disciples whether they prayed for it or not! And I trust He will do the same with me and you! Or did you think you could manipulate God’s will? Did you think that was the purpose of prayer?
Thank God it’s not! Thank God Jesus is a better prayer warrior than me!