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And when you pray...

We have all probably encountered those who don't like to pray in public - kind of shying away from being asked to do the honors of saying grace or the like. Then there are those who seem to like it very much, almost going to the extreme when doing so - as though the grandeur of their words would somehow unlock heavens gates for the beckoned answer quicker than any other "key".  When you run into someone who actually knows God in a deep, personal way, you realize the simplicity of their prayers is really quite moving.  As a mother, I always loved it when my kids would just reach out to pray for the thumb I had hit with the hammer, or the splinter I had managed to embed in my hand while doing yard work.  They were simple prayers, but I knew heaven took special notice of them - because they were genuine.  Just simple "Jesus heal mommy's splinter" opened my heart to heaven, so I knew it had to open heaven to me!

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites. They love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners and pray loudly. They want people to see them. The truth is, that’s all the reward they will get. But when you pray, you should go into your room and close the door. Then pray to your Father. He is there in that private place. He can see what is done in private, and he will reward you. And when you pray, don’t be like the people who don’t know God. They say the same things again and again. They think that if they say it enough, their god will hear them. Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-8 ERV)

As Jesus met with thousands eager to hear his stories, connect with his power, and simply be onlookers in a crowd of curious looky-loos, he didn't miss an opportunity to point out the futility of "religion".  Yep, you read that right - the futility of religion.  Religion is a set of rules for the sake of rules - going through the motions without any real relationship behind them.  Relationship was always Jesus' number one concern and his main focus in life.  I don't know about you, but I have a private place - it pretty much is inside my head most of the time! I don't spend a whole lot of time going into a closet, closing a door, getting down on my knees and praying.  Sorry to disappoint some, but it just isn't my "prayer style".  I spend time praying in traffic while I drive - not usually concerned if people think I am talking to myself since most cars these days come with bluetooth and people are "talking to themselves" all the time!  I pray in the middle of staff meetings when I am feeling like I need the wisdom to know how to respond when something needs to be said.  I even pray at baseball games to keep my grandson safe, or help their coach to have the wisdom to coach without breaking the spirits of the boys.

Prayer isn't necessarily following a pattern as many of us who grew up in one denomination or another with "prayer books" or the like may have come to appreciate prayer.  It isn't a series of this prayer, followed by that one, etc.  It is expression of the heart - in simple conversation with a listening and responsive God.  There isn't any magical equation to prayer, but when Jesus tells his disciples to pray "like this" when he recites The Lord's Prayer (The Our Father), he is simply telling them his heavenly father has concern for each of their daily needs.  Acknowledge him for who he is in your life, express your gratitude for what he does, ask him for whatever it is you need (and even want), yield to his instruction, and don't forget to be real in your confession of sin.  This is what he taught in the prayer.  It wasn't a pattern so much as it was an indication of being in relationship with God the Father.

When we are in relationship with another human being, what do we do?  We communicate with them - our hopes, fears, dreams, needs, praises, frustrations, etc.  It isn't any different with God - we just don't need to talk with him in a showy way or with such "piety" that we "drip" religious words.  Look again at the Lord's Prayer and you will see he doesn't "prescribe" the prayer, but he reminds the disciples that none of their needs is too small for God to care about. He also wants us not to be shy about sharing how much we love God, count on his grace in our lives, and appreciate the care he gives to each of our steps. The people of the day lived for God's Kingdom to be established - as once it had been under the great King David.  They had been overtaken by one king after another and were now under Roman rule.  They wanted their "old ways" back. Jesus isn't overlooking their desire to have God's Kingdom restored - he is pointing them to the way it is done - through relationship with him!  Just sayin!

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