As a teenager, I had the rare privilege of meeting an amazing child of God - Corrie Ten Boom. She came into a small group meeting of some friends of ours who were part of the Teen Challenge and Young Life movement of the 60's and 70's. As I sat listening to this women who had survived great tragedies and tremendous persecution for her faith, I remember just being blown away by her simple trust. Despite what she and her family had survived during the time of the Holocaust, she was full of faith, overwhelmed by God's love, and absolutely assured of God's grace. She and her family helped many a Jew escape the killing spree of the Nazi regime during that season of terror by hiding them in a small place built into the attic of their home. She had endured the extreme hardship of being unable to protect all the lives of her friends and family, although her family did great work to protect as many as came to them whenever it was within their power. She was eventually captured and placed into a concentration camp, watching her own brother die there. She used to say, "God does not have problems - only plans." She would quote Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Eternal, plans for peace, not evil, to give you a future and a hope. Never forget that." She is also credited for the words, "What wings are to a bird, sails are to a ship, so is prayer to the soul." As we begin 2016, wouldn't it be fitting to begin with wings and sails?
Your prayers, rather, should be simple, like this: Our Father in heaven, let Your name remain holy. Bring about Your kingdom. Manifest Your will here on earth, as it is manifest in heaven. Give us each day that day’s bread—no more, no less—and forgive us our debts as we forgive those who owe us something. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen. (Matthew 6:9-13 VOICE)
Although I brought the entire prayer into the passage above, it is the first six words I wish to focus upon today. "Your prayers, rather, should be simple..." Jesus is addressing his disciples - those who were committed to following him and learning of his teachings. He contrasts the "showy" manner in which some of the religious leaders and zealots of the day go "on and on" in their prayers, being sure they are noticed for praying and using words which were not only theological, but lengthy. Jesus wants to disciples to realize the privilege of prayer, not the obligation. He wants to emphasize the point of prayer as relationship with God, not religious pursuit or showiness. So, he begins with these simple words:
Your prayers... They are not the prayers written in a book which we recite on specific days of the week. They are not the prayers we hear another pray and strive to emulate. They are OUR prayers. It is us communicating our heart to God's. There is no formal "rule" to prayer, but rather a conversational attitude between you and God. First and foremost, prayer is based upon the restored relationship we have with God. I think this was something I saw so clearly in the life of Corrie - she had a freedom in her communication with God which was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It wasn't "liturgical" or "lengthy" - but it was spot-on! It expressed her heart and you knew God heard it because you'd see this peace settle over her as she talked with him. Maybe she understood the first aspect of what Jesus was instructing that day so long ago - relationship comes first.
Rather... This is the word of contrast. With this word Jesus is setting apart every example the disciples had previously seen and worked to emulate in their lives. He is drawing a line between "this" and "that" for them - so they can clearly see it wasn't "that" which God desired (the religious prayers of the pious), but "this" which he yearned for so deeply (the exchange of the passions of our heart with him in moments of rest in his presence). Prayer can be short and sweet, long and labored, but it is an exchange of what is in our heart with the one who holds our heart in his hands!
Should be simple... What liberty Jesus presents to us through these instructions. In this short statement, he opens the door to what so many of us struggle with - feeling that our prayers won't be heard because they are insignificant or too "simple" to really "catch the ear" of God the Father. If you look up the word simple in a thesaurus, you will find other words to describe this word: "effortless", "elementary", "plain", "straightforward", and "transparent". All of these are probably part of what Jesus is working to convey to each of us as he instructs us in prayer. It is not to be an effort for us to share our hearts with God. We are to enjoy our times of prayer, both short and long. They are to be "elementary" exchanges - in other words, uncomplicated. The idea is one of it being "easy" for us share our hearts with the one who loves us more than our hearts can possibly contain. It is to be "plain" - not complex and made hard by the "performance factor" we want to place on prayer. Most importantly, God looks for us to be "straightforward" with him in this exchange. It isn't necessary for us to be wishy-washy, for we come boldly to the Throne of Grace because of the grace which has been so freely poured into our lives. We don't approach in some round-about way, but with boldness and assurance. The one we seek to speak with is right there, just waiting for this exchange - not because he needs to hear about all we need and want, but because he needs to know our time together matters to each of us!
The most important aspect of prayer is this idea of transparency. Although Jesus goes on to "outline" some of the important "parts of prayer", he doesn't want us getting bogged down in the "method" by which we pray. In other words, it isn't the "structure" of prayer, but the celebration and sharing within that time of prayer which he is emphasizing. We celebrate God's graces in our lives - remembering his greatness, reveling in his goodness, and rejoicing in his gracious protection and provision. We allow our hearts to connect with his - sharing freely what burdens us, thereby allowing those burdens to shift from our sphere of control into his. Maybe this is the greatest outcome of prayer, for in this time of "exchange" we are leaving behind much which we carried into the time we shared with him.
Prayer is wind in our sails and the current which allows us to take flight. We might think of it as some type of religious pursuit, but we would do well to begin to see it as the greatest "relational" pursuit we will ever undertake! Just sayin!