Calling out for help to a higher power is a natural part of our growth and development. We seek the assistance of a parent for those things we cannot get for ourselves — first food, then calm, then protection, then for answers. Mom, I’m hungry! Mom, I’m scared! Dad, why?
Yes, it seems that part of our human nature is to recognize that we do not have “it all” and we cannot provide for all that we want and need — we cry out, we beg, we seek — beyond ourselves.
Then, we are taught to pray …. to pray to God — a power even higher than our parents. We say night prayers, we learn prayer before we eat. We are reminded of something that we somehow innately know — that there is someone bigger and mightier than us.
We learn to pray for Uncle Charlie in the hospital or Cousin Kathy before she goes off to a war zone. We pray for the birth of a healthy baby. We simply look up and beyond. No one needs to teach us — but when we are getting ready for a test in school — we cry out for inspiration and help.
There may be … maybe … some instruction on asking for forgiveness or expressing thanks. But most of all — it comes natural to us — we are taught —– if you need something and you can’t get it yourself —- say a prayer —- pray.
Then at some point, we pray, we ask for things — we seek — and things do not happen the way we want —we prayed for our children to go back to Church and they do not. We pray for a healthy baby, and a baby is born with health issues. We pray that a spouse deals with his/her addiction, and they continue unhealthy behavior. So we start to ask: 1] am I praying wrong? 2] maybe there is a Saint I need to pray to? 3] is my sin, my failure the reason my prayer is not being answered?
We pray and it seems our prayer is not answered. Then we hear “human” explanations that seem so trite and empty …… God always answers prayer …. but sometime the answer is “no”; God’s time is not our time — we think our prayer is not answered ….. but we just have to wait until the end. This just does not seem right — to a child praying that a parent does not die —– who prays that their parents do not get a divorce, but they do —– even to us older people, who pray we get a job —- and it goes to someone else.
Pray? Why? What good does it do? How can God really listen to our prayer when there are billions of other people praying? What if I am praying that my football team wins and the other side is praying that their team wins? Who will God listen to? Does God really care? Is prayer really doing any good?
If God hears the cry of the poor and answers the prayer of the righteous …. and my prayer is “unanswered”, does this mean I am not righteous and I am not “poor” enough?
Then, at some point we are like Peter when Jesus asks…. will you too go away? and, we answer, “lord to whom else shall we go?” ….. In other words, if we do not pray — then what?
So — we do pray — maybe with set prayers … with scripture … at worship …. sitting in our chair …. laying in our bed …. on our knees …. with our arms outstretched …. we pray. Please God …. God, please.
I offer these A, B, C’s for prayer …..
A — for an attitude of acceptance. Prayer is not like putting a $1 into a soft drink machine and expecting our drink of choice to roll out. Sincere prayer — real “prayer” is opening our hearts to a God who really loves us as a good parent …. we trust that God is listening …. and God helps as best as God can. We pray — with words — in silence — with a spirit of what will be … will be. God IS HELPING. God is WORKING.
B — for a sense of belief — We believe we will be ok … we believe that me and God — are stronger than me alone. We pray with confidence that all will be well. We see that we live in a fractured imperfect world. We live with people as weak and as sinful as we are. Still, we believe that tomorrow is going to be better. We believe that we will survive the challenge “de jour” …. and we will enjoy life anew. We believe that God is by our side no matter what. We believe that God, deep within us — will give us the wisdom and the insight to make a good choice. We believe that something does happen in prayer.
C — for a true commitment — to do our part. Remember the old expression: pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on us! This sentiment is similar to the old African expression — often quoted by Congressman John Lewis — when you pray, move your feet. Praying that God will bring a new friend into your life ….. while you go nowhere to meet new people …. just may not be the answer to loneliness. Asking God to give you a better job, but never improving professional skills and never applying for a new job — never networking with other people —– just might not improve your daily life. Asking God to lift the dark cloud that keeps following us —— while choosing to be sad and gloomy isn’t going to do much good. Prayer is not about a few pious words lifted to the sky …. and waiting for the fortune to come our way.
The problem with the folks in Sodom and Gomorrah is that they lived as if there was no God. They lived as if they were the beginning and the end — there was no acceptance that life was bigger than the moment or bigger than their own desires. Finding the good folks is about finding people who care about others — who care about the needs of others — who realize there is a creator who has given to us ….. and who teaches us to give to others — in order to find, to get. The folks of Sodom and Gomorrah were about themselves and their needs. The world was no bigger than them. In prayer, we need to assure that we are pointed in the right direction — that our heart is bent toward God — not that we are perfect or without sin —- but the ultimate desire of our heart is to do good.
Then, in the Gospel [Luke 11:1-13] we learn what God promises to those who seek, ask, and knock — the promise of God to those who are persistent in prayer …. and the answer is not that we will get the desired cure for cancer —- or that the sun will shine on our picnic — or that our lives be free of worry …. THE PROMISED RESULT OF PRAYER is that we will get THE HOLY SPIRIT ….God’s presence in the stuff of our lives … God right by our side in weakness or fear ….. to those who ask, we will never be alone — God, the good Father will be right there on our side.