Attitude makes a significant difference in life no matter who we are and what we are facing. I am not referring to the plastic kind of attitude where we put on a brave face when all we want to do is scream at the injustice of it all. I am talking about the genuine good attitude that comes from a heart that is already settled in a trust relationship with Jesus. There is no depth to a plastic attitude so that when things get beyond what this shallow attitude can handle, it all falls apart. Yesterday we considered our attitude or motivation in our "acts of righteousness" and we learned the difference between these and the good deeds Jesus told us to do so the whole world would see and give the Father glory. This morning we are going to consider what Jesus had to say about prayer.
Prayer, true prayer, is the most vulnerable moments in our life. It is when we open our hearts before God and voluntarily reveal the good, the bad and the ugly. Prayer is not intended to be the plasticized version that we often enter into today. Many people come with their wish list or shopping carts and rhyme off all the things they want God to do and then off they rush with their day. Sometimes we even use prayer as a type of "showing off" coming from a place of spiritual pride. Jesus spoke about such a group:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (Matthew 6:5)
Such an intimate and vulnerable moment should not be abused in a manner of "showing off". Even when we petition on behalf of other people and are not dealing with our own heart, our heart is revealed and our motivation is seen. It is impossible to enter this intimate moment with God and remain at a distance. Like the woman who sought Jesus' help from a distance, he will resist us until we are willing to draw close to him and become intimate with him. Perhaps this is part of the reason Jesus instructed us to pray privately, so there was no temptation to "show off" and to enable us to become vulnerable to our God:
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)
Prayer must also be understood as a continuing conversation. There are moments where we get to speak and there are moments of reflections, also moments of quietness as God speaks directly to our hearts. It is not intended to be a rushed moment or one of constant ranting. Jesus taught:
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)
It's not even about our petitions and needs; it's about relationship. Our Father knows what is on our heart and what we need but he wants us to talk to him in the context of an intimate relationship. I often know what my daughter wants before she comes to ask, but I love it when she climbs up onto my lap, wraps her arms around my neck, leans her head on my shoulders and begins, "Daddy...". No one else gets to do that and it is an intimate moment that brings us closer.
Understanding all this, I have a real problem with the way the tradition of the Lord's prayer is used. He told us not to think that vain babbling is prayer, yet many churches and believers do this very thing with the Lord's prayer. It has become a mantra. Jesus did not tell us to pray this mantra, he told us to pray like this and he gave us an outline of what our conversation with God should contain. Here is a brief comment on the elements of what is contained in our intimate encounter with our Father:
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name" - simply put, worship.
"your kingdom come" - praying for the mission, that Kingdom would be found in the heart of every person
"your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" - acknowledging and submitting to the Father's will
"Give us today our daily bread" - presenting our needs to our Father, which he already knows but wants us to express to him, for the purpose of drawing us in closer to him.
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." - repentance for what we have done and prayer for those who have offended us
"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." - a desire to be sanctified, made holy, kept pure for his purpose and protection from the one who would destroy us all just to cause hurt and pain to the one who loves us.
These elements, when not made plastic, promote an incredibly intimate moment with our Father as we empty ourselves of self and give ourselves fully to him. Such moments change us and shape us so that we are seen to be different. A person cannot walk away from such moments with hatred or malice in their heart. Pray not only changes things, it changes us. It is intimate, it is private, it is vital.