Concerning PrayerMatthew 6:5-15 (NRSV)
“And 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.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
More than three hundred years ago, when the Oldtown church was first founded, it was mandatory for everyone in the town to attend in-person worship on Sundays. Can you imagine if it was still like that today? Our pews would be full, and the church would be so crowded we would need an addition to the building and probably a few more services! But all joking aside, if you didn’t come to church back in the 1700s, someone was sent out after you.
Now that was done for two reasons: first, of course, to save souls, but second, to make sure everyone was safe and to keep the community connected. If you think about it, back in the 1700s, unless neighbors gathered together for events like worship or town meetings, they would have no contact with each other. After all, there were no telephones or televisions, no email, YouTube, or Facebook. The only way to talk to a neighbor was in-person, face to face.
Well, as we all know, things have changed A LOT since then, and with technology the way it is today, we are able to stay connected 24/7. Now we can stay in touch with friends and loved ones around the world in an instant via email or Facebook, Instagram or Zoom, or Twitter, which is wonderful news because we all long for and depend on that connection to one another.
Well even in the Bible, a book that was compiled thousands of years ago. Jesus talks about the importance of connection. And the good news is, for the connection that Jesus is talking about, we don’t need an expensive iPhone or tablet or high-speed browser. Because the connection that Jesus is talking about is prayer.
Now many times when we talk about prayer, people start to get nervous, because we all second guess ourselves, sometimes wondering if we use the right words or pray for the right things. Should we have a prayer schedule and pray at certain times, like when we wake up in the morning or before a meal, or before we go to bed? And what if we don’t know what to say?
I know that a lot of people worry that they won’t say the right words. Friends, if your mind starts spinning like that when you think about prayer, and you worry about what to say and how to say it, I want you to stop. Take a deep breath, and remember that it’s not about having the perfect words. It’s not about impressing others with your fine-crafted prose. And there is no right or wrong way to do it.
Because prayer isn’t about words and phrases and rights and wrongs; it is simply about connection. It is about inviting God into your everyday life and sharing your ups and your downs, your joys and your concerns, and your mistakes and your shortcomings. Because prayer is just a way to stay connected to God.
My friends, be assured that God is not looking for fancy words. God simply wants you to open your heart and share your hopes and dreams, your joys and your fears, the things you are excited about and the things that you are nervous about.
Because if you have that kind of relationship with God, and you are used to feeling God’s presence and listening for God’s assurance in your life, then in any situation you find yourself in, because of that connection, you will also find yourself surrounded by the love and grace of God.
So, friends in the week ahead, take some time to talk with God. Don’t worry about your words. Just be honest. Be yourself. Share the things that are on your mind–your struggles, your thanks, and your questions–and don’t forget to take time to listen, as well. Because prayer is all about connection, and there is no better way to live than being connected to the one who created you and loves you unconditionally!