Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.
I mentioned Jacques Ellul in an earlier post. Whenever I consider the importance of prayer, his words come to mind once again. He talks of prayer as a “radical break” from, and as a “fundamental protest” against, the “rigorous mechanism of the technological society.” He writes, “Precisely because our technological society is given over entirely to action, the person who retires to one’s room to pray is the true radical.”
That’s an understanding of prayer and of our society worth pondering.
Jesus was a strong advocate of solitary prayer. There are several occasions when we read of him going off alone to pray. Perhaps most interesting in the verse for today is that it was the disciples who had to take the initiative in getting Jesus to teach them “how to pray.” I find that intriguing. One would have thought he was instructing them early and often about prayer. It is a reasonable assumption that he would have been “leading them in prayer.” Obviously he did, but not (for example) by interrupting their lively conversation whenever they sat down for a meal with a solemn, “Let us pray.” However, they knew him as one who prayed. I can imagine them one day negotiating among themselves who was going to put the request to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” They probably drew straws.
One of the things I struggle with when it comes to praying is that the practice of prayer I grew up with was far too cavalier. I know that sounds strange. But it was done anywhere, at any time, with any one without any need for thought or reflection. It was too easy, too quick, too presumptive. It has left me with a resistance to praying easily with people. I know that sounds really strange for a minister to say. I am supposed to be the expert on prayer and praying. Even though I am called upon often to pray, I am a reluctant prayer with and before others. As a result, I wonder if people experience this reluctance (in that I do not propose it as often as I could) as a sign of my lack of faith. Perhaps it is. I hope not. I’m still learning to pray.
Jesus’ response to the disciples’ request was to teach them what we have come to call, “The Lord’s Prayer.” It remains for me and for Christians down through the ages, the center of my practice of prayer. In Matthew’s account (Matthew 6) of this exchange, it is coupled with his instruction to find a private space, out of view of others, to pray. I know of no better way or place to begin with prayer. And I emphasize, “begin.”
Prayer: Gracious God, teach me to pray. Amen.