Prayer… the Language of God

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Prayer is the language of God.  It’s how we speak to him and how he speaks to us.  It is impossible to know or understand how it works; but God has made it incredibly simple for us.  “Just talk to me,” he says.  “Never stop talking to me.  Trust me, always.  I’ll take care of the rest.”


10th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 11:1-13
July 28, 2013
Peder Stenslie

Today’s Gospel lesson is all about prayer.  To be specific, there are four different sayings about prayer in the Gospel.  Each one probably comes from a separate episode during Jesus’ ministry; but Luke decided to put them all together to make a short thematic passage on prayer.

First there’s the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer.  The church has taken the words of Jesus here and made them into a very rigid and formal prayer; but that completely misses Jesus’ point.  With this prayer, his message to the disciples was “keep it simple.”

Talk to God as you would a loving parent… and ask him to help you in your daily struggle to live well.

Pray that God be honored and obeyed in your world… because that will make the world a good and happy place to live.  Pray that his will for you and the world be fulfilled… because that will bring you wholeness and joy.  Pray that your daily needs for food, shelter and nurturing care be met… because that will make you healthy and strong.  Ask God to forgive the wrong you do and to help you forgive others in the same way… because that’s how new life begins.  Pray that you be kept safe from suffering and harm… because that’s what God wants for you.

The subject of prayer is a big one in the Christian faith.  It has always been a part of my life.  Not only have I prayed ever since I can remember, but I’ve also studied and read about prayer, talked with people about prayer, and thought about prayer a great deal.  Yet prayer continues to be a great mystery to me.  What is it?  How does it work?  I don’t really have answers to these questions.

I have learned a bit about what prayer is not.  I know it’s not magic.  I can’t expect that if I utter certain words, or speak with complete sincerity or confidence… poof… things will happen.  Prayer is not a way for me to exercise the power of God.  I know that.

But I’m okay with the fact that I don’t really understand how prayer works.  Scripture reveals that it was also a great mystery to the disciples and the early church.  In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray because they don’t understand prayer… and they don’t know how to pray.

In the other sayings of Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson we see similar themes.  The followers of Jesus don’t understand prayer.  When you look closely at the sayings, you can see that they all reflect human confusion or uncertainty about prayer.  In each saying, Jesus is responding to the painful experience of prayer not working like we expect it to.

The parable of the locked out friend-in-need urges us to be persistent in prayer.  It’s about what to do if our prayers seem to go unanswered.  Keep praying!  If we do not get relief, pray some more.

The 3-fold command to ask, search and knock is followed by an assurance.  Trust me, Jesus says… these things bear fruit.  Jesus gives this assurance because his listeners need to hear it.  Their experience with prayer causes them to doubt.

The comparison between a human parent and God’s care is meant to illustrate… using logic… why his listeners should trust that God answers our prayer in a compassionate way in spite of their experience which suggests otherwise.

When we read sayings of Jesus like these in today’s Gospel we sometimes think that it should be so simple and easy.  We pray; God delivers.  But even in Jesus’ time, prayer wasn’t that simple.  It wasn’t that easy.  That’s why Jesus says the things he does… urging his listeners not to give up on prayer… but to continue to pray and trust in prayer… trust in God.

Prayer is a deeply mysterious thing; but Jesus urges us to accept that it is a basic part of life.  It is deeply needed, intimate interaction between creature and creator through which gifts of life are given to us.

This summer, I had six Tree Swallow pairs nesting in my birdhouses.  It gets very noisy as the baby birds (called nestlings) grow.  They raise a great racket as they call from the birdhouse for food and attention

This year two of the houses next to each other had eggs laid about the same time.  However, there was a great difference in noise level coming from the 2 houses.  One house was incredibly noisy.  I could even hear them when I was inside my house.  The other nest, I had to walk right up to in order to hear the faint calls coming from within.

In the end, all the nestlings in the loud house left their nest in good time, vigorous and strong.  The quiet nest was slower and had a terrible time of it.  When I checked on them, I could tell they weren’t doing well.  Three out of five died in the nest, one after the other.  I removed the dead nestling each time so that the others had a better chance of surviving.  Only 2 nestlings managed to leave the nest.  The last one was so small and weak that it had difficulty flying.  It got stuck, first on the ground; then sat on the branch of a bush for most of the morning.  I don’t think it had a very good chance for survival.

That experience made me think about the noise of nestlings.  Crying out to the one who tends to our needs is a good thing.  It’s a sign of health and strength, and points to a vibrant future.

That’s a good parable for prayer.  Prayer is a fundamental part of life.  It’s a sign of health and strength.  Jesus says it’s important; and people who pray know it’s important… even if they don’t understand it or can’t explain it.

God invites… asks us… to pray… to speak to him.  He wants us to talk to him… not with fancy words… but with simple words from the heart… like a well-loved child would speak to a loving parent.  Raise your voice and make some noise, God says.

Jesus tells us that, with prayer, the power of God goes on the move to strengthen and serve us.  Prayer is part of an important exchange of life between creature and creator.  We speak our need, our pain, our sorrow… our joy.  God answers with life, with comfort, with strength, with hope… with faith… not necessarily in ways we want or expect, but in ways that deeply matter.

As a result, we grow and change.  We cope with loss.  We heal.  We seek new life.  We stand for what’s right.  We fight for what’s good.  That’s the power that comes through prayer.

Through prayer, God engages us… speaks to us… feeds us.  That’s why it’s so important.  Think about the words to the song the kids sang before the sermon.  They express beautifully the intimate exchange between creature and creator that emerges out of prayerful life.

It sounds like prayer.  “I heard the voice of Jesus say,” the singer explains in verse 1: “’Come unto me and rest…’”  In verse two, the words of Jesus call:  “Behold, I freely give the living water thirsty one.  Stoop down and drink and live.”  In verse three, Jesus says:  “I am this dark world’s light.  Look unto me; your morn shall rise, and all your days be bright.”

Each of these “words” of Jesus is an invitation to new life, which the singer embraces.  In the 2nd half of each verse, the singer describes the difference made in his life by the voice of Jesus.  First, he says: “I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn and sad.  I found in him a resting place, and he has made me glad.”

In verse two:  “My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in him.”  And, finally:  “I found in him my star, my sun; and in that light of life I’ll walk till traveling days are done.”

Prayer is the language of God.  It’s how we speak to him and how he speaks to us.  It is impossible to know or understand how it works; but God has made it incredibly simple for us.  “Just talk to me,” he says.  “Never stop talking to me.  Trust me, always.  I’ll take care of the rest.”

Through prayer we and God are drawn together; and the power of God goes on the move for our sake.  Prayer gives us hope as we face hard times.  It gives us strength to overcome obstacles.  It gives us comfort when we face loss and sorrow.  It feeds us daily with grace and helps us manage our lives.

And so we pray:  Thank you, God, for the mysterious gift of prayer.