This article is from the Spring/Summer 2012 edition of Reflections magazine. To read the entire issue, click here.
by the Rt. Rev. David Reed
I worry about my prayer life. It’s rarely where I think it ought to be: not as rich, deep, or steady as I’d like it to be. But I don’t worry about it nearly as much as I did before I realized that the disciples’ request to Jesus (on behalf of the group), “Lord, teach us to pray,” is, in itself, a prayer (Luke 11:1). It comes halfway through Luke’s Gospel, so the disciples have been following Jesus for quite a while — observing, learning, questioning, practicing.
They would certainly have been praying with him all along the way. And they more than likely grew up praying the prayers of family and synagogue. They would have prayed the Shema from Deuteronomy daily, like their ancestors had for many generations: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (6:4-5).
So the request — “Teach us to pray”— is a prayer arising out of a prayerful life. It expresses a restlessness and a desire for what so many of us desire: a richer, deeper, and steadier habit of prayer.
“Lord, teach us to pray” is a beautiful and honest prayer which Jesus answers by giving them (and us) the Lord’s Prayer.
Like the desperate father’s cry to Jesus for the healing of his tormented boy, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” it isn’t a movement from nothing to something, but from something to something even more (Mark 9:24).
The desire to “pray better” — unless it is mere wishful thinking or pious posturing — is itself a heartfelt prayer of faith. It expresses not simply honest longing, but trust that God actually wants us to have deeper conversation with him and that he will answer the prayer, in time and in a way that draws us nearer to him (though it may not be at the time or in the way we would like).
As with anyone we love with whom we desire to be in real and meaningful communication, we need to be paying attention — to the other person, and to the time and place.
My wife rarely has a good conversation with me about important things when I am rushing to get ready in the morning, preoccupied with the day ahead; I rarely have a good conversation with her at the end of a long day when she just wants to go to sleep.
Finding time to converse with God is not so much about having “enough” time, but about prioritizing and claiming the “right” time when I can be attentive and less distracted. (Of course, God can and does speak through distractions, too, but that’s another story.)
My personal prayer life is grounded in and shaped by the prayers of our Church. I am able to pray just about anywhere, but if I had not learned (and continue to learn) prayer within a worshipping community, I’m not sure that my prayers would be much more than talking to myself.
But as one of our Anglican forefathers observed, “Until we find God in one place, we will find him in no place. But when we have found him in one place, then we will find him in all places.”
So the places and times of real prayer, of conversation with God, are as limitless as God. I am still learning this, still practicing, still praying, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
The Rt. Rev. David Reed is bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.