Lord, Teach Us to Pray

I discovered a convenient website this week, InformationAgePrayer.com. You can actually go to this website and pay money so that at certain times of the day a computer’s text-to-speech engine will pray certain prayers on your behalf. Isn’t that convenient? Now we don’t have to think about our devotion to the Lord; we don’t have to remember inconvenient things that require us to take time out of our busy schedules – as if we didn’t already have enough to do! It’s like being in two places at once! My prayers can be prayed while I’m watching television, driving, reading, surfing the ’net, or just about any other thing that I need to get done in the day. And the computers aren’t committed to any faith tradition in particular.

I think one option was for the whole rosary to be prayed on your behalf for $50? If that sounds at all appealing – and when I advised some friends that this existed, earlier this past week, I was shocked at some of the enthusiastic responses it stirred up – if it sounds appealing, it shouldn’t. Can you imagine if Jesus’ disciples went to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray…” and Jesus answered the most economical way to pray, since money comes and goes and time only goes – the most economical way to pray is to pay someone else to do it for you. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” “Okay, well, here’s the best way for you to get it done – go to John’s disciples, and pay them to do it for you.”

Instead, Jesus taught them to pray certain words – certain petitions. Some months ago, we looked at the Lord’s Prayer together and today we’re not going to do that. Instead, we’re going to take to heart Jesus’ teaching about praying. What does Jesus say about prayer? He says to do it! He says to engage in it! He says to pray; to persevere in prayer; to be people of prayer! If there’s a defining characteristic of God’s people, something that goes along with the study of God’s Word, it is that we are a people whose life is defined by prayer.

The point of praying is not so that prayers get prayed. The point of prayer is not upholding the tradition of the Church, or saying certain words in a certain order. We do not pray to God because if we ceased to pray to God then He would no longer be fed by our devotion and waste away and die. It is not for God’s benefit that we pray to Him. It is for ours. The disciples asked how they should pray, and Jesus taught them to do it. Certain words, certain petitions. There are some people who say that the Lord’s Prayer isn’t for believers, but their rejection of that prayer is not worth the breath it takes to do the rejecting. Let us continue to pray the words that Jesus taught us – Christ’s own words – rather than praying as our own whims teach.

The witness of Scripture is that when people trust to their own devices and their own whims and their own preferences, they steer themselves wrong. Far be it for me to dissuade you from praying your own words and the prayers of your own hearts – but do not neglect, at the same time, to pray the words of which the Lord Jesus has said, “When you pray, pray like this…” The difference is that our prayers affirm where we’re at, but His prayer (and praying through all of Scripture) transforms us into the people He would have us be: it reshapes our worldview to the wide-angle, big picture of God’s eternity; it moulds our lives according to God’s purposes.

And so we pray. We pray, and we keep on praying. And when times come that heaven seems closed to us, and like God isn’t listening, and like all our words are trailing off into the wind, and like our efforts are futile – we pray. We pray, not because it changes things, not because it changes God, not because it changes anything else but us. We pray because through prayer our lives are changed. We pray because our Lord Jesus has commanded it. We must be willing, as Charles Spurgeon put it, to do what God tells us, as God tells us, when God tells us, because God tells us – and to accomplish such complete obedience to Him, we must be people of strong faith – faith that He will revolutionize our lives because He has promised that He will. Prayer irrigates the fields of life with the waters which are stored up in the reservoirs of God’s promises to us. Prayer is the wild and wet storms of the life-giving waters of God’s promises to us.

In sure and certain hope of the realization of God’s promises in our lives, we are obedient to the Lord’s direction. And so we pray. We cannot all argue the points of theological minutiae, but we can all pray; we cannot all lead God’s people, but we can all plead on their behalf; we cannot all be mighty in words, but we can all be constant and consistent in prayer.

Let us pray, in the words of John Calvin:

Grant, Almighty God, that as you not only invite us continually by the voice of your gospel to seek you, but also offer to us your Son as our mediator, through whom an access to you is open, that we may find you a favourable Father—O grant that, relying on your kind invitation, we may, through life, exercise ourselves in prayer. And as so many evils disturb us on all sides, and so many wants distress and oppress us, may we be led more earnestly to call on you, and, in the meantime, be never wearied in this exercise of prayer; that, being through life heard by you, we may at length be gathered to your eternal kingdom, where we shall enjoy that salvation which you have promised to us, and of which also you daily testify to us by your gospel, and be forever united to your only begotten Son, of whom we are now members; that we may be partakers of all the blessings which he has obtained for us by his death. Amen.

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