July 2019

Prayer Is Not about You

7th Sunday after Pentecost, July 28, 2019
Luke 11:1-13
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas

How would you feel if someone unexpectedly and on the spur of the moment asked you to lead a group or congregation in prayer? I remember when that happened to me for the first time, I closed my eyes, bowed my head and asked everyone in the room to begin with a moment of silence, partly so that I could speak to God in silence before offering a public prayer. And the silent prayer was: “God, I’ve never done this before. What am I going to say? How am I going to say it? And will it make sense? Help me to at least look like I know what I’m doing.”

Numerous surveys reveal that public speaking is one of the most frightening things a person does, but I imagine public praying may not be far behind; and the fact that public prayer often elicits feelings of fear and self-consciousness on the part of the prayer giver may be one of the reasons why Jesus prefers prayer to be done in private, away from the presence others and the fear of embarrassing yourself; because prayer should never be solely about you, but about God and your relationship with God. Jesus said, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

In our solitude and private moments with God we are free to unleash the heights and depths, the joys and sorrows, the wholeness and emptiness, the gratitude and shame of our lives without self-conscious fear or inhibition, trusting that this compassionate God will know and understand us unlike any other. But why do we venture such prayerful expressions to an unseen force that many of us may not be sure truly exist?

Prayer is not about you or me, but about our relationship with God and how we might serve as instruments of God’s will. So, when and why do you pray? Do you pray as a last resort when all else fails?

One of my favorite television series is “Madam Secretary,” about a female Secretary of State played, by Tea Leoni, who tries to balance the demanding nature of her job with her role as wife and mother. In one episode her husband contracted a deadly virus, and his chances of survival were uncertain. As she and her family waited for results from surgery, she noticed her son, an avowed atheist, praying in the hospital chapel. She sat next to him and whispered, “I thought you regarded religion as an opiate of the people.” “Yeah,” he said, “but sometimes I need a hit.”

Is prayer that drug that you turn to as a last resort when all else fails, or is it something more?

Not long ago a Rhode Island youth filed a lawsuit against her high school that displayed the plaque of a previous class on which was inscribed a prayer for God to enable students to do and be their best. The youth argued that the plaque was a violation of the law separating church and state, and as an atheist she was personally offended by it. But she also revealed that she became an atheist after praying for God to cure her mother, and when her mother died, her faith in God died as well.

This is where prayer becomes problematic if reserved simply to private petitions, and requires a public dimension by which our private prayers, joined with others through the church, can attempt to embody the corporate heart of Christ. This means that God, through us, will experience gains and losses. Often good people: prophets, apostles, disciples, even the Christ will die for righteous causes; and often good people will die for unexplainable reasons; from acts of nature that destroy entire communities; from terminal illness that prematurely takes the lives of loved ones.

A modern-day parable is told of three women who came to church and prayed aloud. And the prayer of each was overheard by the other. One was a widow who needed food and clothing. Another needed shelter. And a third needed a job and a home.

The one in need of food and clothing had built a house with her husband before he died suddenly and invited the others to stay with her. The one who needed shelter was a skilled seamstress who, having found a home, could now make clothing for her friends and sell them at market. And the third who needed a job and home was a farmer who, having found a new home, could teach her friends how to plant and have food throughout the year. The combined skills and resources of the three were able to sustain them all, and together they served as answered prayer for each other.

We have within the resources of this planet, along with our physical, spiritual and mental resources, the ability to feed and house and sustain one another and all of creation if we can first overcome our tendency to go it alone.

Prayer is not about you or me alone. It is an acknowledgment of God’s intent that we live in community with one another and in communion with God.

Listen, learn and see that the presence of God surrounds and consumes you in the wonder and blessings we receive from creation, as well as the love and compassion we give to one another, our world, and our God.

When the love and will of God becomes the focus of your prayer and our lives, then ask, and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be open to you. Amen.