Why Do You Pray?
By Pastor Daniel W. Brettell
Why do you pray? When do you pray?
When each of us was baptized, our parents and god-parents promised to teach us the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostle’s Creed. During our Confirmation Class years, we learned the meanings of each petition of the Lord’s Prayer, of each of the Ten Commandments, and of each article of the Creed. And I’m fairly certain that for most of us, the Lord’s Prayer is something we can say pretty much without thinking.
Ahhhh, but there’s the problem isn’t it! Each Sunday, I say, “Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray.” Then we gather together; we hold hands; and we recite the Lord’s Prayer. But do we think about what we are praying? I pray that we do—because the Lord’s Prayer is such a beautiful and perfect prayer. However, I don’t think Jesus intended for it to be used the way it is used today—at least not with the mindset in which it is used.
In today’s Gospel, one of Jesus’ disciples—and we’re not told which one—one of his disciples says, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” This request implies a need, a need that the disciples felt, and a need that we all feel at times—the need to become closer to, and to speak with our creator.
I see this need all the time—particularly when I’m at the hospital and I’m visiting with someone who is critically ill or critically injured. The one thing that they or their family wants most is prayer. I’ve met people on the street, in parking lots, in the lobbies of buildings—just about anywhere at all; people who see my collar and ask me to pray with them and for them. I’ve had people say to me, “I haven’t prayed in years; I’m not sure I remember how; will you pray with me?”
There is tremendous power in prayer, my brothers and sisters. And that power is not just in the comforting nature that seems to come from having someone pray for you when you are in need. There is a real power in prayer; a power that goes far beyond a simple recitation of words. Jesus’ disciples understood not only the need for prayer, but also the power of prayer when they asked, “. . . teach us to pray . . .”
What Jesus gave his disciples was an incredible gift. He gave them a model for prayer, and it’s a wonderful model. But I have to believe that Jesus did not intend for that model to become the only prayer that some ever pray.
Let me repeat the question I started with today. “Why do you pray?”
There are many reasons for praying. I can remember, as a child—okay, it was well into high school and college—I can remember praying that I might do well on a test. I’m sure most of you prayed in a similar fashion. Never did that in Seminary—but I do recall praying more than a few times that my mind be opened so that I might better understand Hebrew and Greek. Similarly, I’m sure most of us have prayed for help with a specific problem or for relief from an injury or because of illness. You may have prayed for a relative who was in trouble, or for a friend in trouble. You may have prayed because of financial trouble. I had a person tell me once—actually she told me this several times—“I pray for God to give me the money I need, but God just doesn’t answer me.” I’m sure we’ve all prayed something similar to that at one time or another—she was just being honest about it.
So . . . why do you pray?
For some reason—and I’m not exactly sure how or why this has happened—but for some reason, Lutherans are not real good at praying; at least not at composing prayers. I was aware of this fact before I went to Seminary, but I became really aware of it the first time I took a class in which there were a couple of Southern Baptists and one or two AMEs (African Methodist Episcopals). Let me tell you something—those brothers and sisters KNOW HOW TO PRAY!! For them, praying comes as naturally as breathing. And when one prays, they all pray—it is a communal prayer in which all participate. It sweeps over you and carries you along in a joyful flood of communication with our Creator.
But Lutherans—and most of our similar liturgically-minded brothers and sisters—well, we just can’t seem to find the rhythm and beauty of prayer.
You see prayer is not just offering up to God all our needs and then sitting back and waiting for God to give us what we’ve asked for. Prayer has a rhythm to it; it has a spirit; it should involve our complete attention—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We need to learn how to pray; we need to learn how to pray as children—not necessarily just when we are physically children—but AS children—because that’s what we are. We are the children of God. We need to grow our prayer life—not just here at St. Paul’s, but everywhere; everywhere throughout Christ’s Church. Certainly, some of us are more comfortable with praying than others, but we can all become more comfortable with prayer.
Prayer is how we become connected with God. It’s how we communicate with God. It’s a conversation. When you pray, God is right there next to you—listening . . . and responding. Unfortunately, when we pray, we very often forget that it is a conversation. We don’t stick around long enough for God to answer. When you have a conversation with a friend, you don’t do all the talking and then get up and leave the room, do you? You give your friend time to contribute to the conversation, don’t you? When we pray, we need to give God time to contribute to the conversation.
Why do you pray?
Prayer can be for so many different reasons, but we most often pray when we are in trouble or need something. But think about this—we are God’s children; when we pray we should approach God as a child approaches a parent. When he taught his disciples to pray, Jesus started with “Father.” In Luke’s Gospel, he uses the Greek word pateras, but Jesus would have used the Aramaic word Abba—a word more accurately translated as “Daddy.”
Watch a small child when he or she addresses “Daddy.” Watch his or her eyes—there’s a real sense of love . . . of adoration . . . when that word is spoken. There’s a converse to that as well. I well remember being called “Daddy.” I remember how hearing it made me feel. I believe that God must feel that way when we—his children—are as familiar and loving when we begin a prayer with such adoration. Sometimes a child’s conversation with a parent is simply comprised of the child saying, “I love you.” That’s a good place to start when we pray to our heavenly parent, “Abba, I love you.” It’s called Adoration.
Don’t children also talk to their parents to say “I’m sorry?” Confession—that’s a form of prayer we need to consider as well—“Abba, I love you and I’m sorry for what I’ve done. Please forgive me.”
And don’t we teach our children to say “Thank you,” as well? Thanksgiving is also a legitimate prayer form. “Father, for all you have done for me this day, I give you thanks. I praise for your goodness and mercy.”
Our children also come to us when they are in need. They come to us when they are fearful. They come to us BECAUSE they know that we are a source of loving help. They come to us to ask for our assistance. No matter how old you are, you know you can always go to a parent for help. Isn’t that one of the reasons we grieve so when our parents are gone. There’s a sense of loss in our lives—we don’t who to turn to when we are alone. But the fact is, we aren’t alone. We always have a parent in God our Father, who we can turn to in time of need. Just as child turns to his or her parents in supplication, so too can we turn to God in supplication.
“God my Father, I come to you as your child with all the love in my heart. I confess to you that I have done things that are wrong and I ask for your forgiveness. And God for all you do for me, for the forgiveness you have granted me, for the grace with which you have filled me, I give you thanks and praise. But Father you know all things. You know what is in my heart and mind; you know my fears and my needs. Walk with me Lord and show me your way, so that I might gain strength from your presence.”
The Lord’s Prayer is a perfect prayer. But God isn’t necessarily looking for perfect. God is looking for love and sincerity. Pray from your heart and don’t be afraid to let your emotions show. And when others pray, join in; be joyful and supportive with their prayers. Don’t be silent—make a joyful noise when you are speaking with God our Father. Then be silent and know that God is with you.
Let us pray
May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior and God our Father who listens when we pray and walks with us in all ways. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible
Copyright 2010 Daniel W. Brettell. Used by permission.