This, then, is how you should pray . . . (Matthew 6:9).
Maybe we’ve made it harder than it ought to be. Prayer, that is. It is sometimes said that for followers of Jesus praying is like breathing. Our spiritual lives depend on it. Sounds nice, but if that’s true one has to wonder why so many Christians are blue and gasping. Praying may certainly be as important as breathing, but it isn’t as easy.
Jesus gave us permission to be simple in our prayers. He relieved us of the need to wax eloquent. Prayer need not be poetry (Matthew 6:7). Our Lord’s invitation to simplicity notwithstanding, too many of us feel inadequate with prayer “language” – and this is especially true when we pray out loud.
Paul reminded us that when we don’t know what to say, the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26). The writer to the Hebrews states that even now Jesus is making intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus is praying for you. Powerful thought.
So we have plenty of help. We have Jesus’ assurance that simple prayers are perfectly good and worthy prayers. But we still find it uncomfortable and difficult. While we might not say it aloud, we sometimes find prayer burdensome.
In his fine book Praying with the Church, Scot McKnight distinguishes between two kinds of praying. Most of us learn to pray by saying our prayers in church. These are our personal and spontaneous prayers. It’s what we say when someone in a class at church or a small groups says “would you open us in prayer?” This is the kind of prayer that confronts us with a sense of inadequacy.
But there is a different kind of prayer that is just as important and even necessary. Our prayers in church need to be coupled with our experience of praying with the Church.
Praying with the church is a way of praying in company with other believers. It is prayer that connects us with God’s people all over the world. Both Jesus and the early church prayed according to set times and liturgical use of scripture and Psalms. This kind of praying is typically characterized by
1. A given content – the prayers are read in unison.
2. A set time – the prayers are offered according to a daily rhythm or schedule
3. A gathered people – the community prays together.
The daily devotional series for Lent 2009 is intended to be an experience of praying with the church. Of course, we will not be gathering as a group every day, but the email that comes to you each morning will pull you into an experience of prayer being shared by hundreds of others. Beginning Monday, March 2, each daily experience of prayer will include
1. A selection from Psalms
2. A short scripture reading
3. A thought / question for reflection.
4. A brief closing prayer to prompt prayer words of your own
All of the content needed for each day will be provided in the email. You can use this is at the office or in an airport just as easily as you can at home.
Maybe one of the ways we’ve made prayer harder than it ought to be is by thinking that we pray alone. As you follow Jesus toward the cross, preparing for Easter, you are in good company. The Holy Spirit aids you in prayer – and many others are joining you. May you sense the Spirit’s presence and the strength of many other fellow travelers as we make our way to the cross and to the empty tomb.