We Do Not Know How to Pray

A pastor was in his office kneeling in prayer and a member of the congregation opened the door and walked in. Taking a look at the pastor kneeling in prayer he said, "Oh, good; I'm glad you're not busy."

Little Suzie had reached the stage of childhood where she could be reasonably quite for an hour, so her mother decided to take her to worship. Suzie was very quiet until she saw worshippers kneeling in prayer, and whispered to her mother rather frantically, "Why are they doing that?" "They're saying their prayers," her mother answered. Suzie was shocked, and in a rather loud voice exclaimed, "What, before they put on their pajamas?"

Do we really understand prayer? In a restaurant I always try to say grace after I know that the waiter or waitress has finished bringing parts of the meal to the table, because one time I had my head bowed in prayer and was holding the hands of another person with me at the table, also bowed in prayer, but the waiter came back, and despite hearing me offering a prayer hadn't a clue what I was doing because he kept asking me questions and giving me instructions---"Could you move your arm so I can set this dish down?" "Which of you ordered the French fries?"

Often times, folks don't recognize when someone is in prayer because they are not familiar with prayer. Many people shy away from prayer because they don't know how to pray and think there is a certain formula necessary in order to pray a prayer.

In the Scripture lesson from Romans that was read this morning, Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit "helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words." Jesus gives us a model for prayer in response to the disciples asking, "Lord, teach us to pray." People have memorized that prayer and often that is the only prayer they feel comfortable praying-even though that is only a model, a guideline. Jesus was teaching his disciples and us a format for prayer, not the end all prayer of prayers.

But most folks just get stuck there. They aren't even open to updating the King James Version wording of the prayer found in the Gospel of Matthew. Nor do they allow for a version of the Lord's Prayer based on the Gospel of Luke. One version is as equally valid as another, but for some folks, it's as though the Lord himself spoke the King's English and gave us that prayer in those exact words!

And most folks don't understand what they are actually praying. They know the words to the Lord's Prayer (a guide, a model which, as I said, we have made into a permanent, end and be all for prayer), but folks don't know the MEANING of what they pray.

Many people still, to this day, don't know how to pray. But what's worse is that they don't care to learn. Many people have heavy burdens they are carrying in their heart, but the only way they know how to pray is by saying (not even praying) the Lord's Prayer. They don't know how to turn over the heaviness in their heart to God. Many don't realize that some of the words they utter to God are actually prayer. Prayer is, in its simplest explanation, communication or conversation with God. Some of the best prayers ever uttered were from men and women in foxholes during armed combat. Those prayers were genuine and from the heart. There was no thought about "am I doing this correctly---am I in the right position---are these the correct words?"

We are seeking God in prayer, but we must also recognize that God is constantly seeking us, searching our heart, trying to guide us, teach us, love us, forgive us. The Judaic and Christian Faith is the only one in which God seeks us. In other religions it is always the pilgrim, the one who is on some spiritual journey, who is seeking out God.

Our God constantly is seeking us and is so happy when we stop to have a conversation or be in communication with some aspect of the Triune God, whether the Father, Son or Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit intercedes for us. That is, when Jesus ascended after his resurrection Jesus let us know we would not be without the presence of God in our lives because we had the Holy Spirit to turn to.

In the Gospel lesson today Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven. Over and over he says, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like…." We know that Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of Heaven is within. So any teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven is about our inner spiritual self and life.

For instance, in the Lord's Prayer, when we pray, "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," we are talking about the kingdom of heaven within-that spiritual place within where we connect with God. "Your kingdom come…" means that we are acknowledging that spiritual part of us and want it to manifest, be seen, be the basis of what we say and do and how we interact with our world.

The prayer then continues, "Your will be done…" which means we want to be following God's will, which we know and are in connection to in heaven, that spiritual place of connection within us. We are asking that we follow God's will and not our own will as we interact with others and our world, as we live out, live from that spiritual part of us, that heaven within.

And we continue by saying "On earth as it is in heaven." This means that we want to live our lives, in relationship with others and interacting with our environment, from what we know to be the truth from that spiritual place within us, in the Kingdom of Heaven within us, we want to express that part of us as we live out our lives on earth-on earth as it is in heaven.

So we are asking for God's guidance that we might live our lives in accordance with God's will which we are in connection to within ourselves. We are not asking to live our lives according to the false picture of life and interaction with others that we get from what the world teaches us. What we know to be true and compassionate and loving, knowing this in our hearts because that's where God teaches us to know how to live, that's what we want to live out on earth in our daily living…on earth as it is in heaven.

In the kingdom of heaven we know what is true, what is honest, what is pure, what is lovely, what is compassionate, what is loving. I have said in other sermons, that the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus teaches us about, is a new way of living, a new way of living spiritually. Jesus teaches us to understand the Kingdom of Heaven as a new way to live our lives. Not from what we perceive to be true by looking at the world around us, but living out of that spiritual place within. Seek FIRST the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says. When we go there FIRST, then what we do and say and how we live on earth is an expression of that truth and love and compassion we know within, in our God connection in the Kingdom of Heaven. That way we are not reacting to others and to situations in a negative way that the world teaches-revenge, anger, violence, one-up-manship, step on others to be on top, look out for number one self first, judge others, don't trust others.

In order to enter that Kingdom of Heaven we need to be like a child Jesus teaches us. That is, we need to be totally trusting like a child. When we get to be adults we have lost that childlike innocence; we have lost the ability to totally trust. We have been taught by the world not to trust. BUT our place within, the Kingdom of Heaven, doesn't teach us that; it teaches us to trust.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, that spiritual place within us, we can sort out what is trustworthy, what is true. In the Kingdom of Heaven is where prayer takes place. Prayer helps us discern what truth is and what is real. That helps us sort out what is old and needs to be replaced as we live out our lives. Here is where we can legitimately sort out what is treasure and what is not-treasure being what is essential to us in order to live our lives in a way that honors what Jesus taught us. Some things we learned are only tools to use for a particular age we are at. They are not treasures to be kept.

We can keep these old treasures that serve us well at whatever stage of life we might be at. But we need to let go of the tools that were part of our life simply to serve us at a particular point. Prayer, itself a treasure, can help us know what to let go of. And as we let go of some things, we add new things to help us, and perhaps some of those will become treasures. So we will have within us treasures both old and new.

In order to know what to let go of and what to embrace as new, we need to be in contact, in connection, in communication with God. We do that through prayer, being in communication with God, and through knowing what is in the Bible that Jesus teaches us.

There are things at every stage of life that we need to let go of because they no longer serve us well in our relationship with God or with others with whom we interact. As we grow we need to let go of certain things and embrace new things so that we may continue to grow, and not stagnate, not get apathetic, not get fearful. An adult cannot live their life out as a third grader.

So, let us daily seek God's will and purpose for our lives through better understanding of his Word in Scripture, and through continual and constant connection with God through prayer. The more we use the treasure of prayer, the more confident we are in our prayer life and our relationship with God. Let us live out on earth the truth of the Kingdom of Heaven within us.


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