Sunday, July 3, 2011

Living On a Prayer

Each morning you listen to my prayer, as I bring my requests to you and wait for your reply.
-- Psalm 5:3

We read in Luke’s Gospel that one day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples made a simple--yet profound--request that Christ-followers remember to this day.

“Lord,” the follower began. “Teach us to pray, just as John (the Baptist) taught his disciples.”

Jesus’ famous response is what we know today as the Lord’s Prayer:

“When you pray, say: Father, help us to honor your name. Come and set up your kingdom. Give us each day the food we need. Forgive our sins, as we forgive everyone who has done wrong to us. And keep us from being tempted.'"

Jesus wasn’t teaching His followers some magic formula to compel God to grant their most heartfelt wishes. Instead, He was modeling His intimate, ongoing conversation with His Father. And the religious leaders of the time were highly offended by the notion. “After all,” they said, “Who dares go before God but our High Priest?”

The answer, of course, was much closer than they bargained for.

Jesus also taught His 1st Century disciples that He could do only what he saw His Father doing. That’s a reminder to 21st Century Christ-followers that to do God’s will in our communities--and the entire world, for that matter--we need to be in constant conversation with Him. Through ongoing prayer, our hearts, wills and vision will become closer to the Father's. And His ways will become our ways.

The notion of prayer evokes different images to different people. If you grew up attending a traditional church, you might think of kneeling on pews (with eyes closed and heads bowed) between the sermon and the choir’s stirring rendition of How Great Thou Art. To others, prayer is something done aloud with hands outstretched and eyes looking skyward. But Jesus’ lesson to us is that prayer boils down to the simple act of talking with God. And it’s a remarkable concept. The literal Creator of the Universe--the One Who knew us before we were born and counts the hairs on our heads--wants a personal relationship with us. And that means thanking Him for all He does for us and asking Him to meet our everyday needs.

That’s one part of the conversation. Of course, the other half involves listening to His response through our daily experiences, interactions with others and His Word through the Bible.

Shortly before Jesus began preaching the Good News of His Father’s kingdom, He was baptized by His cousin, John the Baptist. As Christ arose from the waters and began to pray, the sky opened up. The Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a dove, and a voice from Heaven said, "You are my own dear Son, and I am pleased with you."

In these uncertain days marked by distant wars, high unemployment and financial upheaval, it’s reassuring to know that every Christ-follower has a direct line to the Father. And just as it was with His own beloved Son, He’s also pleased to hear from us.

“I was in terrible trouble when I called out to you,” wrote the Psalmist centuries ago. “But from your temple you heard me and answered my prayer.”

And so it can be for us all today.

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