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Prayer heals, repairs lives
Our desire to be self-reliant and self-sufficient affects our approach to prayer. We are tempted to think of praying as a personal, private endeavour, almost like a physical fitness plan. Sometimes when asked to pray in public, we even want to demonstrate how effective we are as prayer warriors or prayer champions. Luke introduces what we call The Lord’s Prayer, with a request from one of Jesus’ disciples, “Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) Matthew introduces the prayer with several admonitions of Jesus against being vain, verbose and lengthy in prayer. It was necessary for Jesus to instruct his disciples in the way of prayer. The disciples, for all their association with temple and synagogue and their closeness to the Master, sensed this need to learn more about prayer.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray, the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express.” (Romans 8:26) This is a reminder that we still need guidance in prayer. Jesus promised his disciples that the Spirit will continue to teach, inspire and comfort. Praying therefore should keep us humble and submissive before the God of creation. Any inclination to display our competence and eloquence is a sign of the absence of the Holy Spirit. A second essential point to remember is that our prayers are addressed to “Our Father” whose name is to be hallowed or honoured. We do not pray to a congregation or an individual, so a prayer should not degenerate into a brief homily or relevant reminders.
As Jesus said, “Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt 6:8) Remember at all times to whom we are praying, whose mercy and forgiveness we seek, and on whose providence we rely. The God of heaven and earth the God of every nation and the God of history, is also Our Father whose desire is to give good gifts to His children. Recently, many helpful books have been written or re-published on the themes of meditation, contemplation and silence as these relate to prayer. Prayer is not informing God, it is relating to God as children seeking a right relationship with their earthly father. A third vital characteristic of sound Christian praying is the awareness that prayer unites us with others. Even when we shut the door and pray in secret as Jesus advises, we are not solitary beings who should be self-focused and self-obsessed.
We collaborate and co-operate with God and others in the transformation of society, in the process of healing and repairing the lives of others. This is why it is incumbent on us to pray for the forgiveness of our sins, as well as for the inner strength to forgive our enemies. In prayer we share concerns and hopes for the peace, wholeness and justice that God always seeks to establish in a world that so often promotes violence, divisiveness and harmful prejudices. Remember Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians, “Be joyful always. Pray at all times. Be thankful in all circumstances.” (1Thess 5:16-18)
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