Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fifty-seven words

One of the results of my recent writing woes is that I'm less creative when it comes to this blog.  I'm just not living wide-eyed toward the invisible within the visible lately.  Not seeing God around every corner.  When these kind of dark days come, it has always helped me to rehearse the things I know to be true, the ways God has spoken to me in the past, both privately and in community.  Today, as I considered this, and thought of difficult it's been to write here, I thought of the devotions I've written in the past, the ways I had to dig into scripture, dig into prayer in order to be His vehicle for a group, for a specific time. For four years running, I wrote devotionals for mission trips our church took to Mexico.  And God revealed new things to me in the writing, in the praying, in the thinking intently about these scriptures--The Beatitudes;seven "I Am's" of John;  Colossians 3; the Lord's Prayer.  So I thought that for the next week, I'd stroll down memory lane by way of the study I wrote in 2007-- what author Darrell Johnson calls, "Fifty-Seven words that changed the world."

You know, Jesus' teaching on prayer, (found in both Luke 11: 2-4 and Matthew 6: 9-13) comes as a result of the disciples asking.  "Teach us to pray," they say.  It's a profound request.  They followers of Jesus saw Him do mighty acts of power--calming storms, walking on water--they've seen Him heal the sick, feed the multitudes,.  And they watched Him go off to the hills to pray, lift His voice boldly in thanks before meals, work or in the middle of teaching.  They even saw Him pray in such ways that His words sounded angry, and firm. Everything He did was marinated in prayer.  So it is only natural that they want to 'get it', get this thing that Jesus did so effectively, with such blazing results.

The truth is, one way or another, we all want to be taught this.  Trying to understand how to communicate with God is perhaps the question of humans (even those folks who only have a vague hunch that a 'Higher Power' even exists).  Almost every time I've participated in a small group or Bible study, when the participants have gone around the room to say what each wishes to study, prayer in on the list--maybe at the top of the list (except for teenage girls, who always want to talk about relationships!).  Somehow, we have the idea in our head--because we're 21st century people--that if we just learn the proper way to do it, the right words to plug in (like our computer into a power strip), life will be powered up and the 'right' answer will result.  We're result-looking people, we humans, we Christians, and we want ten easy steps as much as we want anything.  Just make it work, tell us how to do it, and we'll put it to work.  And it's possible--probable--that the disciples were the same way.

And so Jesus answered them.  But what He answered was completely unexpected.  Only we don't quite understand that. The problem with the Lord's Prayer is that we know it too well,  Most of us (even many, many non-believers) can say it by rote.  I almost said, 'say it by heart,' but it isn't by heart, really.  It's not that deep, not that transforming. I've sat in a whole lot of different churches, heard these 57 words spoken in the same cadence everywhere.  A monotone clip with eight different phrases, and a lift just before each breath. 
But hopefully this week, we'll look at these words in a new way, with a slower cadence and more intentionality to the phrases. The reality is, when Jesus spoke these words, they revolutionized the listeners.  From the first words--Our Father!--to the last Amen, Jesus was speaking a new thing.  Maybe it was an outline of what He spoke when He went out to lonely places to be with that Father.  Perhaps it's an exact replica.  Isn't it amazing to think He might have said these exact words, expectantly, hopefully, firmly.  We so often pray, 'keep me safe,' 'heal my disease,' 'expand my tents and make me prosper.'  In truth, though, this prayer is far more about God and His Kingdom than about me and mine.  How do we into that Kingdom, how we participate in what He's bringing into the world--the Kingdom that came into the world through Jesus, and continues to live in the lives of believers? This is what this prayer helps us to pray--it helps us change our priorities, to see the world through His lens, to make His concerns ours.  This prayer, in changing the world, as Johnson says, is also about (maybe primarily about) changing us.

So take off your shoes, settle onto your mat, join me, as we sit at His feet, and listen to the Teacher answer our deep request: "Lord, teach us to pray!"

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