Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Commemoration of Mary Magdalene
July 22, 2012
I’m really struggling to determine which is the greater prayer: the prayer our Lord has taught us or the prayer of the disciples to Jesus. The Lord’s Prayer is considered the preeminent prayer, and rightly so. How can you improve upon the prayer God Himself has taught us to pray? You may not know what to pray for but you always have the prayer your Lord has given you. In the Lord’s Prayer is contained everything that we need to pray for. The Lord’s Prayer cannot be exhausted. We can mine the depths of it and still find more treasurers. It is a no-brainer that there is not a greater prayer. It is the prayer our Lord has taught us to pray and it is the prayer that encompasses all that we know we need as well as all we’re not even aware of that we need.
So why do I have such a strange notion that the prayer of the disciples may be the greater prayer? I’m fascinated by how the Holy Spirit inspired the words of Scripture to be written as they were. It’s not that Jesus said to the disciples one day, “Okay men, today I’m going to teach you how to pray.” That certainly would have been a wonderful thing. I would love to have been in on that session. For all we know Jesus may well have done just that. But in giving us the Lord’s Prayer in the Holy Scriptures the Holy Spirit did not give us any such account of Jesus taking the initiative of teaching His beloved disciples to pray. No, it was those beloved disciples who said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
There’s a big part of me that hears that and says, “I can’t think of a greater prayer.” We have it right there in black and white in the pages of the Scriptures. The disciples coming to Jesus and asking Him to teach them to pray. I wonder how different our prayer life would be if we approached Jesus in that same way. I wonder how different our Christian life would be if we approached Jesus in the humility of knowing that we need to be taught to pray and that we need to be taught by our Lord to pray. It’s one thing to jump right to the Lord’s Prayer and pray it. It’s another thing to learn to pray by learning from the Lord’s Prayer and by praying it and making it a part of us.
But we also need to realize that we need to learn to pray. We learn from our Lord. And perhaps, “Lord, teach us to pray,” should be a part of our daily prayer life. Even if we don’t speak those words as we do when we say the actual words of the Lord’s Prayer, then with the understanding each day that, Lord, I need to learn to pray. I need You to teach me to pray. Lord, teach us to pray.
In a sense, these words are indeed the greatest prayer. They are so in that they are at the heart of what is being prayed in the Lord’s Prayer. If we begin to understand our need to learn to pray we will see more and more that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Lord, teach us to pray,” is exactly what we are praying. It’s so easy to recite the words of the Lord’s Prayer and forget that not only are we praying to our Heavenly Father when we pray those words, we are also praying this prayer: Lord, teach us to pray. It’s easy to forget that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are learning to pray. When we pray the prayer our Lord has taught we are not only praying as He has taught us we are being taught to pray.
The apostle Paul said something that has fascinated me my whole life: pray constantly. How do you do that? How do you pray all the time? How does one pray, as some translations have it, without ceasing? The answer, I think, is in this amazing prayer, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Praying is not just engaging in the actual act of saying words to God. Praying is assuming a posture, or perhaps better, a disposition, of humility and asking your Lord to teach you to pray. This is the posture Jesus assumed. It wasn’t in constantly walking around with folded hands and speaking words to His dear Father in heaven. It was in being one with His Heavenly Father’s will. It was in joyfully submitting to His Heavenly Father’s will.
Jesus didn’t need to learn to pray. He was in perfect communion with His Heavenly Father. His life was the perfect picture of what it means to pray constantly. But us? We need to learn to pray. We’re like the disciples coming to Jesus, with the request, the fervent prayer, “Lord, teach us to pray.” There is something immensely freeing about this prayer. It’s something of a confession of sin. Lord, I don’t know how to pray. Lord, I need to be taught by You to pray. When we don’t submit to our Lord and how He teaches us to pray in His prayer He has given us we end up with prayers that go far astray from what He has given us in His prayer He has taught us to pray.
Not that we shouldn’t pray for what we want or need or think are good things to pray for. We are the children of our Heavenly Father, after all. If children can’t come to their father in their needs and even their wants, what good is there for them to have a father? A loving and good father, though, will listen to his children and respond with what they truly need and what is truly beneficial to them. Children need to learn how to ask their father for what they need and want, learning to trust him that his answers may not always be what they want to hear but often are what is truly best for them. God our Heavenly Father bats .1000 every time. We don’t need to wonder about what He gives us. In the Lord’s Prayer we see what we truly need. In the prayer our Lord has taught we learn what ultimately benefits us. And so as we pray we do so with the mindset, that Lord, we need You to teach us to pray. Bend our will to Yours. Re-orient our desires with Yours.
Did you notice the prayer of the disciples in today’s Gospel reading? Lord, send these people away. They’re tired. They need food. They ain’t gonna get it here. Their prayer to Jesus wasn’t one of, we have a situation here Lord, teach us to pray. It was, this is the situation Lord, act according to what seems to us the best course of action. No, that won’t do at all, Jesus told them. I will teach you how to pray. His way was by taking the little that was there and providing for them in abundance. He didn’t need even the little that was there of course, Him being the Lord who brought into creation things from nothing. But it’s powerful to see abundance of bread and fish from five and two, so much so that there was a lot left over. Lord, teach us to pray.
The little we have, an Introduction, seven petitions, a conclusion, it’s not much, but out of it our Lord produces an abundance. In the few words our Lord has given us in what we call the Lord’s Prayer there is more than what appears to be. The beauty of it also is that it’s not even ours to begin with. He gives us the words. These few simple words He gives us and produces out of it an abundance. And in them He teaches us to pray. The words He has given us, the words of the Lord’s Prayer, He gave us in view of the cross. Just as He gave us the words to pray in His Prayer, “Thy will be done,” He prayed the very same words as He was about to approach the cross. We need to learn to pray, to pray to our Heavenly Father in light of the cross.
Our asking our Lord to teach us to pray may certainly be done by speaking to Him what the disciples did: “Lord, teach us to pray.” We also ask our Lord to teach us to pray by praying the Lord’s Prayer. Remember what is behind this. It’s not you. It’s not up to you. Learning to pray is not something you go to school for or in which you need to keep trying harder. God Himself is behind this. He is the one who has given you His word, where you are given an amazing prayer such as “Lord, teach us to pray.” And so you do. You pray your Lord to teach you to pray. To which He responds, Amen. It shall be so.