Sun, Jul 24, 2022

Thoughts on prayers

Duration:12 mins 25 secs

The large cardboard box lay near the back door–– 

just where I had left it the night before––

with three of its flaps folded down inside…

and one sticking up.

On the upright flap, there was a note scrawled in red Texta:

“Dear God,

please give me a baby kangaroo.

Love Craig”.

But the box was just as I had left it––


There was no kangaroo inside––

and I was bitterly disappointed.

I was probably only about five at the time…

and, at Sunday School, we had been encouraged to pray;

and we had been told that God answers our prayers.

So, I had acted in good faith…

but nothing happened.


What are we doing when we pray?


As a child, praying to God is often a bit like a wish list for Santa.

Even as adults, we don’t always shake that off.

So often, prayer is simply a more sophisticated wish list…

dealing with the complexities and nuances of adult life—

but a wish list nonetheless.

Such approaches inadvertently imply that God is some sort of cosmic dispensing machine;

together with the old theistic understandings of God:

as One who intervenes in human affairs…

and who controls the universe—

like a cosmic puppeteer pulling the string of our world and our lives…

in a fickle and indiscriminate way.


The people who lived in the first century––

those who wrote the New Testament and those to whom it was written––

lived in a world that lacked a sense of impersonal causality.

Theirs was a world where nothing “just happened”…

but where someone was responsible for everything.

And, more often than not, that someone was God.

God sent the rains or God withheld them.

God made the crops grow…

or God sent swarms of locusts and plagues.

God made people conceive or God rendered them barren.

But theirs was also a world of stark social inequalities…

together with an entrenched hierarchy.

It was a world where the average peasant relied upon distant superiors for the necessities of life.

So, that meant regularly pleading and entreating…

using the right forms of address…

and in the right sorts of ways.

For them, prayer was no different.

Thus, in our reading from Luke’s Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray.

In other words, “Show us the right way––

teach us the right words and the right form––

so that we can persuade God to do what we want…

and give us what we need”.

But that sort of image of God––

the oriental despot and divine patron needing to be manipulated and appeased––

is not one that would sit comfortably with most of us today…

any more than would the image of God as a supernatural Santa…

or a cosmic dispensing machine.

If God is other than that––

if God is not an interventionist power…

and if God is to be understood, in the words of Martin Luther King jr, as a “loving purpose” or “cosmic companionship”…

which we experience in, and with, and under our everyday lives––

then what are we doing when we pray?


Perhaps, as Søren Kierkegaard–– 

the Danish philosopher––

once suggested (and please excuse the non-inclusive language):

“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays”.

Maybe, then, prayer is really about us.

Maybe it’s about our attitudes and priorities…

it’s about our cares and concerns.

And maybe it’s about us trying to align our attitudes, priorities, and concerns with those of God.


In a way, I think that’s what we do see in Luke’s version of the “Lord’s Prayer”.

The prayer begins with God and God’s nature:

“hallowed be your name”.

In the original Greek, it’s literally, “let your name”–– 

that is, your “reputation” or your “person”––

“be revered”, “respected”, or “honoured as holy”.

In other words, the author has Jesus pray that God’s true nature would be acknowledged––

that God would be known as gracious, merciful, loving, and compassionate.

But, note… 

it’s not asking or expecting God to do anything.

Grammatically speaking, it’s what’s known as a ‘third-person imperative’.

It’s a command, or an expectation, that’s directed through the addressee to someone else.

In other words, it’s an expectation that’s directed at us.

Similarly, the author has Jesus pray…

Your kingdom come”.

In the Greek, it’s literally “let your kingdom come”.

Again, it’s not telling God to do anything.

It’s an expectation that’s directed at us…

literally, that we would extend God’s kingdom––

God’s good and just reign––

that we would embrace God’s topsy-turvy values…

and that we would work for the restoration of the whole of creation. 

Only then does Jesus, in this prayer, turn overtly to us.

But note…

the prayer turns to our concerns and our needs––

not mine.

All of the petitions that follow are in the plural, not the singular.

Give us each day our daily bread”.

Or, literally, “Do not cease to give us each day what’s necessary for existence”.

It’s asking that we––

all of us;

the whole human race;

all of God’s children––

would have everything necessary for existence.


Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us”.

Again, the focus is on us––

all of us––

that we may know ourselves as forgiven…

and that we may be agents of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace.

Once again, the scope is universal.

It’s encouraging us to make known to others… 

the forgiveness and mercy of God that we have experienced…

so that all might live in harmony, justice, and peace.


Lead us not into temptation”.

Again, the focus is on us…

all of us.

And it’s not a plea that we might have the strength to resist some petty, personal impulse.

Rather, it’s expressing a desire that–– 

as a community––

we would not do what is contrary to God’s ways;

that we would not give into or conspire with evil;

that we would not cooperate with those forces that harm or destroy…

whoever they might be.


In other words… 

if all of the petitions are both corporate and universal…

then the petitions are just giving flesh to the desire that God’s kingdom would come;

that God’s reign would be extended;

that God’s creation would be renewed. 

And, by implication, that throws it all back onto us.

The prayer, effectively, expresses the longing and the hope…

that we would work to make all of that a reality

And that’s why the author ends this whole section with Jesus saying:

If you, who are evil, 

know how to give good gifts to your children,

how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”.

Prayer is about us changing.

Prayer is about us being inspired and motivated by the presence of God within––

the indwelling Spirit––

so that we would choose to be God’s people in the world…

and strive to make the rest of our prayer a reality.


In the end, that’s what we’re doing when we pray.

Kierkegaard is right.

Prayer is about us.

Praying is about changing our attitudes, priorities, and concerns;

it’s about us aligning ourselves to God’s purposes for the world…

and God’s purposes in the world.

That’s what we’re doing when we pray––

if we’re praying as Jesus taught us.

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