WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23RD
A TIME OF INSTRUCTION
When we come to Jesus our mentor for our time of instruction today, we find him quiet and reflective. Like the disciples (in Luke 11), we ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus smiles and shares the instruction he gave to his friends years ago.
Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
(Matthew 6:5-13, NRSV)
Sit for a moment with Jesus to reflect on this instruction. What might you do to quiet your heart and pray simply, privately? In this moment, can you find just being in his presence enough of a prayer for you?
While taking a course in Spiritual Foundations, I had the privilege of gathering with a small group of peers for a time of spiritual direction. Each week, we would share our stories, read a Bible passage, then sit in silence after inviting the Spirit to move within and among us. We would then bless one another with the thoughts and inspirations that came to us.
During our year together, one dear man learned that he had pancreatic cancer. In that terrible morning when we heard his news, he confessed that he wasn’t sure how to pray. We listened and we cried together. At the end of the hour, each of us once again sat in the silence, inviting the Spirit to share some words to give him and bless him. Oh, so many beautiful thoughts and prayers arose! But I had only one word to share: Help. I almost felt foolish giving him this one simple word, and yet, he seemed deeply comforted by that prayer most of all.
Too often – especially when I am praying in front of others – I become concerned about praying with formal and eloquent words, about covering every need, about blessing all the participants, and even about the length of the prayer itself. I have to remind myself not to “heap up empty phrases” or to worry about “being seen by others.” Jesus assures us that God knows exactly what we need.
God does not evaluate our prayers by our performance or our eloquence. God promises us the richest grace in our earnest and simple prayers. We can pray in the privacy of our deepest hearts, with open and honest pleas, trusting that God is listening, loving, and providing exactly what we need.