Lord, Teach Us to Pray

What if the sole indicator of your spiritual health was your prayer gauge?

What if the only fuel for your spiritual engine was the steam from your prayer room?

What if the only offering you had to lay before a loving king was the incense of your prayer?

I was never good at algebra. But one thing I learned is the importance of isolating a problem. Instead of being daunted by a long string of numbers, narrow the equation down to the offending variable. And so often, when all is not well with my spiritually, I dig down only to find that I lack a healthy prayer life. Prayer is so elementary that I forget it is like the alphabet that makes up every meaningful word we will encounter for the rest of our lives. We will never graduate from the need for prayer.

In Sunday School recently, we were taught that prayerlessness is a form of pride. It is me thinking I can handle life on my own. Occasional prayer is using God as my life saver instead of as my boat. It may keep me alive, but it won’t keep me heading in the right direction.

Lord, teach us to pray

When the disciples went to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray, it was not the urgency of a critical need that drove them. It was not because of some puzzling dilemma. When the disciples needed something or had a question, they asked Jesus. Any why not? He was God. And He was right there. He was eating, sleeping, breathing, and walking next to them. He had shown himself infinitely powerful and ridiculously patient. Was walking with Jesus not enough?

The disciples didn’t yet understand that Jesus would die and ascend back to heaven. They didn’t yet grasp the importance of the relationship with a God who was unseen. But they did understand something: Jesus spent time—serious time—talking with the Father. Somehow they knew the importance of that time to Jesus. It was not Jesus’ daytime TV fix. It was a powerful communion between Father and Son.

And so they asked him to show them to pray.

Many books have been written and many sermons preached over the simple prayer Jesus taught to the disciples. He wasted no time and no words providing for the disciples a pattern for approaching the gates of heaven.

But clearly Jesus didn’t intend for them to memorize those simple phrases and repeat them with rote discipline day after day. Paul’s writings are replete with prayers—none of which are repetition or patterns. David, years before Jesus came to earth, had earned a place close to God’s heart by pouring out his soul to his God—sometimes in song; sometimes in grief; sometimes in despair. Moses had forged a close relationship with God through some unconventional prayers which include songs of praise recorded for us to read thousands of years later.

Jesus modeled a prayer life that went far beyond the six or eight verses we call the Lord’s prayer. He spent days and hours. He retreated to the garden. He sent His disciples away. And when it was crunch time, he was incredulous that his disciples could not focus for even one hour. An hour of prayer to Jesus was like a penny to Donald Trump. Jesus had spent 40 days in prayer and fasting. And unlike me, when Jesus spent time in prayer and fasting, he was probably praying and fasting.

Forty uninterrupted days of prayer.

Lord, teach us to pray.

We don’t make time to pray because we undervalue it. If we understood it as unfettered access to the riches of God’s grace, as an appointment with the King of the universe, as a luxurious retreat into the safest of refuges, we would do it.

We would just do it.

We would ask God to teach us.

We would ask the Holy Spirit to help us when we had no words to say.

Prayer may or may not change the world. But it will change us. It will feed our faith. It will anchor our hope. It is the source of our joy.

The more I pray the more I am able to hold loosely the cares of this world until I find myself casting them on the Lord in faith that He cares for me.

Lord, teach me to pray.


When Are You Going to Cut Your Hair?

I stopped in to see a tenant. Johnny is a sixty-something African American gentleman who made a point to give me a lecture about not answering his call—which I had missed while meeting with some people about 15 minutes before.

Then he asked me about replacing the living room carpet.

Then he asked me about replacing the threshold to keep bugs out.

Then he asked me about the insulation and complained about his high utility bills.

Then he asked me about selling the house to him. That led to a long conversation—the repairs and upgrades. The age of the roof. The hot water heater. The HVAC. The duct work.

When we finished, I was exhausted. In fact, I felt like I had just been deposed. I was backing my car away when he chased me down.

Johnny: One more question.
Me: Sure, what do you need?
Johnny: When are you going to cut your hair?
Me: My hair???
Johnny: Yes, when are you going to cut your hair?
Me: You are asking about…my hair?”
Johnny: Yeah. Most people cut their hair in the summer.
Me: [Speechless]

I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as foolish questions, only foolish answers. I would challenge that statement. Here are a few more true to life exhibits for my case…

By the hotel clerk:

Q: How many rooms do you need?
A: Two
Q: How many adults total?
A: Three
A: Okay, how many adults in each room?

Well, President Bush, there is one child who, evidently, got left behind.

This happened on a Thursday:

Q: When would you like your dry cleaning back?
A: Tomorrow?
Q: No, I’m sorry, it won’t be done by tomorrow.
A: Okay, how about Saturday?
Q: No, sorry, we don’t clean on Saturdays, we’re only open for pick up.
A: Okay, so I assume Sunday is out?
Q: Yes. A: Monday–
Q: No, Monday is a holiday so we’re closed.

So why did you ask me when I wanted my dry cleaning? Do you get some kind of kick out of telling me “no” four times?

And my favorite:

Q: Date of Birth?
A: 8-2-81
Q: Is that 1981?

Honey, if you can’t guess it to the closest 100 years, I can think of one job at the fair that isn’t for you.

So…I will rest my case and let you draw your own conclusions. I’m sure I’ve asked my share of dumb questions, but none are coming to mind right now.

Despite these—and others that I’m sure you could add—I would still agree that it is generally good to ask questions. It’s often how we learn. It is often the best indicator that we are learning.

Kids are usually good at this. But I think as we grow older, we tend to ask questions less.   I know we still have questions. Google sure gets a lot of use.   But people who come to my office frequently asking questions tend to be apologetic. “I hate to bother you, but…”

Jesus often used questions in his teaching. Of course, Jesus didn’t ask questions for His own benefit; He knew the answers. But sometimes He seemed to want to expose his challengers or to cause his listeners to think.

One of the most pointed questions of Jesus’ ministry on earth was answered with one of the most insightful questions ever asked.

In John 6:67, Jesus has just heard murmuring against Him, so he turns to his disciples and asks, “Will you also go away?”

Peter answers perceptively, “to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life…”

To whom shall we go?

Peter recognized that to leave the Master meant to go from a greater thing to a lesser thing.  It is also interested that Peter recognized that his life with Jesus couldn’t be replaced by a return to fishing.  It wasn’t “to what would we go?” it was, “to whom shall we go?”

One disciple would choose that lesser life. And after betraying his friend for 30 pieces of silver, Judas would regret his choice, but it was too late. Soon, he threw away the very thing had seemed so appealing to him. Judas died friendless, penniless, and hopeless. His life after his choice to “go away” was brief and the money his traded the Master for was unsatisfying.

Judas doesn’t make the choice to “go away” attractive. Who would want Judas’ life after his betrayal? If you can call it that.

But what about the other eleven? They died too. But in the meantime, they were traveling evangelists—not rich and famous ones. They were beaten, imprisoned, and in some cases–tortured. In fact, tradition tells us that all but John were martyred for their faith and some in the cruelest of ways.  Beheaded, crucified upside down, flayed alive.

So what was really different? Judas died a traitor. The other eleven died faithful. But they all died.

To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.

Perhaps that is what makes Peter’s question such an insightful answer. Peter was still a work in progress, but he had begun to latch on to what is important—not comfort, or money, or fame, or even happiness.

The twelve were given an opportunity to leave an ordinary life for an eternal life. They would get to know the Messiah like no other people in history ever would. They walked and talked with the very Son of God. They would get to hear his words and some would even be chosen to record them for the rest of mankind to read and ponder.

The eleven would give their earthly lives away. They would live in discomfort; they would die in pain. But they would know beyond question that after this life comes another. Eternal life. And in that eternal life would be eternal rewards.

I suspect that if Peter was here today and I asked him if it was worth it, he would not hesitate. If I asked Him if I should remain faithful, he might even answer with that profound question:

To whom would you go? Only Jesus has the words of eternal life.