Thursday, July 21, 2016

Praying in the way of Jesus

Scripture calls us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). The news of the world, and even events in our individual lives, re-orient us towards prayer on a regular basis. The news of the past few weeks in particular has many if not most of us seeking for deeper and more effective ways to pray that bends the arc of the moral universe toward justice (Martin Luther King Jr).

The disciples wanted to know how to pray. So they asked Jesus. "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 2 He said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial." (Luke 11)

Jesus then goes on to teach parables on the value of persistent prayer. Persistence that verges on annoyance.

I remember watching a documentary years ago about Mt. Athos, a Greek island occupied solely by monastics and devoted to eastern orthodox monasticism. The documentarian at one point asks a monk, "Do you really pray without ceasing?" The monk laughs, giggles even. So the documentarian asks, "What's so funny?" The monk replies, "It is funny, you know, that you think I am not praying right now."

The monks of Mt. Athos, like most Orthodox, are trained to pray the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It's a prayer just long enough to shape your breath. Breathe in praying one half, breathe out praying the other.

All prayer is like this. It shapes not only our hearts and minds, but our very bodies. The prayer Jesus taught has shaped the prayer meditations of billions of people over the past two millennia. It is prayed at rising, at sleeping, at meals, on walks, twice at funerals, once at weddings, each week in Sunday worship, and many other times besides.

It is a heart prayer. It's the kind of prayer that emerges from the lips of those affected by tragedy. It collects the work of church councils, relieves barbers of their boredom, offers something for sleepless octogenarians to do if awake in the midnight hours, strengthens protestors in their marches.

There are of course many other ways to pray, from the freeform prayers that arise in conversation with God, to the highly liturgical prayers written especially for corporate worship. There are prayers that drive to action, and prayers that lift to greater contemplation.

This Sunday, at 9 or 11 a.m., join us as we meditate on just one prayer, the prayer Jesus taught, the Our Father. In it, we discover that Christ's mission, his very life, proceeds first of all from who he is as the Son of the Father. From there, he begins to pray in ways that can inspire all of us gathered up into him in ways so clear we are changed, and so mysterious they emerge deeper than words (Romans 8:26).

Gathered up by the Spirit in Christ's prayers to the Father,

Pastor Clint Schnekloth

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