Summary: In Jesus’ teaching on prayer, we learn that "prayer is not asking for what we think we need but asking to be changed in ways we can’t imagine."
Where did you learn how to pray? Our parents may have taught us bedtime prayers, or said grace before meals. We’ve heard about prayer in Sunday school and sermons. Prayer has been demonstrated in worship services. We may have even taken a class on prayer (no such class is offered in seminaries). For the most part, our knowledge of prayer has been obtained in bits and pieces.
Our spotty education on the subject of prayer often leaves us with questions such as, “Am I praying correctly?” “Is this too small to pray about?” and “My prayers never seem to be answered, does prayer really work?” We also end up with a chronic sense of guilt—prayer is one more Christian activity that we are not doing correctly and thus we are failing.
I will not be brash enough to say that I will answer all of your questions and teach you everything you need to know about prayer in one sermon. I do believe, however, that the gospel text has a great deal to teach us about prayer, and by the “Amen,” I hope that you will have been able to appropriate three perspectives on prayer that will enable you to grow and deepen your prayer life.
We start not with a passage of Scripture but with a comment on prayer by the author, Kathleen Norris. She writes, “Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.” With this thought in mind, we turn to the text.
The very first lesson that Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer is to enter into God’s presence as a child going to his or her father. Martin Luther expands upon this image in his explanation of The Lord’s Prayer by saying that we should enter God’s presence with boldness assured that God longs to have us converse with him and desires to answer our prayers. All of this is to say that the essence of prayer is relationship.
Approaching God as Father means that no appointments are necessary. I remember a famous picture of Present Kennedy conducting business in the Oval Office while his son, John John played around the desk. No one had access to the President of the United States like John John did. His access was based on relationship and not on position or job performance.
Approaching God as Father means that we come as we are. We don’t wait to “get right” with God, or to attain the correct position in life, or to cultivate the right attitude in our mind or in our spirit. We understand that God always welcomes us into God’s presence with open arms and a listening ear, and a heart that wants only the very best for us.
Knowing that God is our Father, means that nothing is to small for us to bring before God. God is interested in every area of our lives and is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives.
Prayer is more than a religious ritual. Prayer is more than a life ring to keep us afloat, or a stuffed animal to comfort us. Prayer is a relationship, and as a relationship, we do not ask for what we think we want, but we ask to be changed in ways we can’t imagine.