Just pray as Jesus teaches you, instead of talking about it, and you will know the life and love of God’s Holy Spirit in you.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 17 C
Text: Luke 11:1-13
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Maybe we need a different word for what Jesus calls prayer.
Comparing what we mean by prayer and what Jesus means, we could be talking about completely different things.
When we hear the word “prayer” we nearly always think of specific moments where we speak or think specific things. Kneeling by a bed at night-time, saying thanks at a meal, praying pre-chosen words together. All situations where we think the point is to ask things of God.
At least that’s how we talk about prayer. Countless conversations about whether prayer “works,” that is, you get what you ask for. As if God were a great vending machine. Great platitudes about prayer. “God sometimes says no,”, or, “God knows better than you what you need,” we quickly repeat. And that’s our best effort. How often have people in pain been given the impression that if they’d had more faith, or if they’d prayed better, they would have gotten what they wanted?
We probably can’t find a better word to use than “prayer.” But at least the disciples had the right idea. They didn’t ask Jesus for a theory of prayer, or explanations why it does or doesn’t “work.” They didn’t want to talk about prayer, like it was some object of study.
They said, “please teach us to pray.”
That’s what we want, too.
Jesus has been praying by himself when the disciples asked. He did this a lot, went off to quiet places to be in prayer. And rabbis generally would teach their disciples to pray.
But here’s why Jesus is the one we want to teach us: he prayed, but he was the Son of God. One with the Father and the Spirit in the Trinity. If prayer is only asking God for things, why would the Son need to pray? How can God ask God for things? Unless prayer is something deeper.
When Jesus the Son prayed, he re-entered the inner dance of the Trinity. We can’t know what it’s like to be both human and part of the Triune God, but clearly Jesus regularly needed to reconnect, to commune with the Father and the Spirit within God’s life as he had done since before creation.
So there’s Jesus’ first lesson: open yourself to being in the presence of God. That’s prayer. No rules, no platitudes about outcomes. Just get away and be open to God. And the second lesson is that Jesus says the answer to every prayer, the outcome of every connection we have with God, is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, the Holy Spirit is always within us.
But prayer is opening our hearts and our minds to that truth. Being aware of it. Living in it.
This is why Paul tells the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing, and the Ephesians to pray in the Spirit at all times. If prayer is limited to you or I saying particular words in a particular posture at a particular time, and only asking for things, there is no way to pray all the time.
But if prayer is being open to the gracious, loving Spirit of God that is within you, literally every second you could be in prayer.
Teach us to pray, we ask Jesus. And he shows you: open your heart and mind to the Holy Spirit of God in you. Know that no matter what, God is with you and loves you. Live with God, talk, be silent, dream, complain, laugh, cry, or delight to live in awareness that God is in you and will never leave you.
Now you’re praying, Jesus says.
And Jesus shows three paths to enter this openness to God’s Spirit within: ask, search, and knock.
“Ask” easily traps us, of course, in our limited view of prayer. It’s what we mostly think prayer is. And Jesus says asking is good, he encourages it. But Jesus instantly refocuses us by saying the answer to every ask is the Holy Spirit. Whether you pray for the health of others, the pain of the world, your own struggles, God’s answer every time is “I am with you.” Does God intervene, bring healing, ease people’s burdens? Certainly. But that’s God’s call, and on God’s time. So ask, Jesus says. But when you do, your answer is to know God loves you and is always with you.
“Search” is a wonderful grace note in this list. When was the last time you spoke of prayer as “searching”? But Jesus is clear: search for God and you will find God. Since the Spirit is always God’s answer, you will find God literally in your heart. And if your search is for meaning, purpose, guidance, hope, direction, all the better. You’re on that journey, that search, with the loving Spirit of God at your side, encouraging, strengthening, giving wisdom, comforting, laughing, crying. You will find when you search, Jesus says. But the journey with the Spirit will also be wondrous grace.
And please “knock” on God’s door, Jesus says. It will always be opened to you, and you’ll rediscover that God is living inside you in love and grace. God’s door you’re knocking on is the door into your own heart, where you connect to the life of the Triune God through the grace of the Spirit.
Whenever we talk about prayer, we miss the point. Just pray, Jesus says. You’ll get it.
Whether it’s formal time you set aside with carefully chosen words, or communal prayer such as we do here, or the profound prayer of our silence in worship, or the times you simply walk in your days in awareness of God with you, prayer is lived, not talked about.
And when you stop talking about prayer and step into the reality of the Holy Spirit in your life and heart, all the questions and anxieties we all want to put on prayer go away. You learn to trust in God’s goodness and love, and find God’s grace in all outcomes.
Because what more do you need than to live your life in the dance of God’s life, with the Holy Spirit in you, loving you and guiding you all the way?
Teach us this, O God, until we learn it in our bones and live it in our heart.
In the name of Jesus. Amen