Learning to Pray

Like many protestants, growing up I placed more value on prayers that were off the cuff. To borrow more contemporary phrases, you want to be “authentic” or “organic.” Just reading someone else’s words was too “ritualistic.”

While I do think there is value in praying without a script, I’ve grown to appreciate learning from and using other’s prayers, too. Like in any relationship, you need to be both spontaneous as well as deliberate and thought out. Written prayers can help with that deliberate side, as you search and meditate on the words.

The psalms are such a rich place to do that sort of prayer. It is full of words that can not only be our prayer, but teach us to pray. That doesn’t mean we need to come away speaking King-James-style (the Bible translation, not Lebron) every time we pray. But we can learn from the content, the patterns, and the heart behind these psalms.

This week we read Psalm 19, and it ends with such a simple and beautiful prayer. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve used it, and I hope it can be a blessing as you use it to pray, as well as a model to help you learn to find our own words.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Pray for God’s Wisdom as We Read His Word

When you read the almost endless supply of articles and essays written on women in 1 Corinthians 11, you’ll find a great variety of opinions as to what the chapter means for us today. It’ll range from women still needing to cover their heads all the way to this being a chapter that supports women leading in worship.

And while the commentaries I read, written by people far smarter than I am, conclude that this section is at least in some way puzzling, that detail doesn’t seem to stop fierce debate to occur that lacks the humility a puzzling passage should demand.

So before I write more on this chapter, take your time in reading the passage. See if you can list out all of what you think Paul is trying to say. How do those things fit with his larger writings in this and other letters? Try to read it without assuming you know what he’s trying to say. That last one is a tough one for all of our Bible reading. Too often we assume we know best, and we go searching for God to confirm our hunch. Let’s open up this week with prayer, for God’s Spirit to guide us as we seek, in good First Corinthian style, the wisdom of God.

Student’s Prayer, St. Thomas Aquinas

Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all being,
graciously let a ray of your light penetrate
the darkness of my understanding.

Take from me the double darkness
in which I have been born,
an obscurity of sin and ignorance.

A Prayer for Lent from 2 Thessalonians

Andrea di Bartolo. Way to Calvary. c. 1400
Andrea di Bartolo. Way to Calvary. c. 1400

We are in the season of Lent when our minds should turn to what God did for us in Jesus Christ. We slowly proceed through these weeks and approach the cross where our Lord went to die for sinners like you and me. We ought to reflect on what it means for the Son of God to even to enter our world and take on flesh. What does it mean that our God would sacrifice so much to endure a life like our own? Even more amazing is that he didn’t come to be served, but to serve, doing things you’d never expect like wash disciples’ feet–including one who was to betray him. Jesus then willingly walks the road of suffering to Golgotha in order to be a sacrifice for us, show himself in glory, and reveal his great love for us.

Lent being such a season, I can’t think of a more timely prayer for God’s people than the words of Paul from 2 Thessalonians 3:5:

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

God’s love is most clearly seen in Jesus Christ, who was steadfast in his obedience. May that be what holds our attention and captivates our heart in this time of preparation.

Fireside Chat with Nebuchadnezzar

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship the golden idol that King Nebuchadnezzar set up. (Try coming up with a sentence with four crazier names.) The consequence of this was that they were to be thrown into a furnace, one that was burning so hot it killed the men who were to carry out this deed. But on the way to their almost-certain death, these three men talk to Nebuchadnezzar as he presses them to worship false gods.

King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. (Daniel 3, NIV)

It is amazing to me that these three have such confidence before a furious king. And their confidence is not in their comfort or safety. Whether they live, because God delivers them, or they die they still have confidence that God is the one God, and nothing else is deserving of worship. They do not worship God because he blesses them, they worship him because he is God. He deserves it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego won’t dishonor God in such a way, and they want the king to be aware of their devotion. They serve God and they do so even if he won’t deliver them.

That is a difficult prayer for us to make as we always want God to see things our way and help us out in a bind. But we need to seek to honor him no matter how situations turn out for us. We need to finish our prayer with our own version of “even if he does not”, and a good one is taken from Jesus who prayed just before his great suffering, “not my will but yours be done.”