Follow Me: Biblical Principles for Faithful Living
“Pray – Pray Honestly”
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
April 16, 2023
Today, we begin a four week series on Prayer; this week’s theme is Pray Honestly. The author of this curriculum series on prayer, Marcus Hong, works with student interns at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary and he assists them in planning chapel services. Hong stresses a “double openness” in prayer – openness about ourselves in our prayers and openness towards God’s will.
Our text for today from Matthew includes the familiar Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. Jesus’ teaching on prayer is set in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. Right in the middle of teachings about murder, adultery, divorce, false witness, revenge, love for enemies, giving alms, and our attitudes towards earthly treasures, comes this familiar prayer that so many throughout the world know by heart, the prayer that we pray together most every Sunday. Stan Hauerwas and Will Willimon, an ethicist and a Methodist bishop, claim in the book they wrote together about the Lord’s Prayer that we don’t become Christian by learning creeds or ascribing to a set of beliefs.
We become Christian, we become followers of Jesus Christ, by praying the prayer which Jesus taught us to pray.
Hear the Word of God from Matthew 6:5-13.
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
But whenever 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.* ‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that 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. ‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Double openness in prayer – openness about ourselves and openness towards God’s will. To God, whether we realize it or not, we are an open book. Our lives are laid bare before the One who is all-knowing. There’s nothing we can confess to God that God does not know already.
As they say, confession is good for the soul, not because it is informing God but because it is placing on the table before God what God already knows and what we just as soon would have hidden.
I loved the image in Vernon’s blog this week about how one’s prayer life can be like a first date. “First dates are frequently filled with conversation designed to impress,” Vernon writes. “We want to be liked. We want to be received. We put our best foot forward, we don’t want to make mistakes.
In real life, this is where many people get stuck in their prayer life. We worry about what is acceptable speech, what is too insignificant or selfish, or if we can find the right words. We certainly do not want to sound foolish.
But, while these are ordinary concerns, relationships cannot gain depth unless we share more straightforwardly and honestly. We cannot feel safe in a relationship unless we have been authentically seen, known and accepted. Prayer is a conversation with God in which we seek to share our most authentic self with God– trusting that we will be received. In real life, such trust takes years.”
God seeks our authentic selves. God wants us to be real with God and with ourselves.. Vernon continues: This “is the only way to begin to trust God’s promise to love us as we are. Authentic relationships require humility and accountability. That is what praying honestly creates.
Trying to impress or focusing upon doing it right sabotages rather than helps.”
Many of you have heard me tell my Mother Theresa story. I once saw Mother Theresa interviewed for television by Tom Brokaw. Tom Brokaw, respected journalist, known for his insightful interviews, was asking Mother Theresa about prayer.
He began by acknowledging the desperate circumstances of the poor in Calcutta, the poor and the destitute whom Mother Theresa served everyday. Then he asked her quite plainly: “Mother Theresa, when you pray, what do you say to God?” “I don’t say anything…”, she responded. “I listen.”
Somewhat surprised and taken aback, Brokaw replied: “Well…then…what does God say when you listen?” “He doesn’t say anything,” Mother Theresa replied. “He listens.”
Praying with openness about ourselves includes listening and times of silence, time to be quiet and still before God with no need for words. When in your day is a good time to be quiet and still before God, to listen to your own heart and listen for God’s still, small voice?
Perhaps it is while driving your car. One of my prayer practices in the years when I was commuting some distance was to pray while driving my car, to turn off the radio and spend time in prayer, listening for God’s voice, and noticing around me the people and circumstances that God may be concerned about.
Perhaps you have made time in the morning, before any others are awake. Many people enjoy a time of prayer and reflection in the quiet of the morning. Others spend time in quiet prayer before bedtime – whether just before they go to sleep or more intentionally, in a certain place in your home or even outdoors under the stars.
Still others seek to walk with God throughout the day, acknowledging God’s presence and listening for God’s voice at some point in every hour. Many years ago, one of my best friends and I entered a new season in our friendship when we were riding home from school together one day. I think it was my sophomore year. Andy and I had grown up together. We lived only about six houses apart. We had carpooled together and played sports together and hung out together. I had vacationed with him and his family on more than one occasion. That particular day, riding home from school in his Volkswagon bug,
Andy said that he appreciated our friendship. He appreciated that we could ride around together and spend time together without the need to say anything. Andy was acknowledging that he appreciated that we knew each other well enough to be fully comfortable in each other’s presence. Both of us were Ok just being together, without the need for conversation fillers.
In a sense, our prayer life with God, our communion with Jesus is meant to be like that – when we are fully at rest and at home and at peace in the presence of another.
Of course, spending time in communion with God is unlike spending time with a friend. Spending time in communion with God may lead us out into deeper water. Spending time listening to God may lead us to places like Calcutta, India.
If we not only listen but also sincerely pray, as Jesus did, not my will, by thy will be done, we may open ourselves to a whole new way of being. Praying “thy will, O God, be done” is a prayer of surrender, a prayer of letting go, a prayer of trusting and waiting.
William Barclay, the famous Scottish scholar, one wrote: “A Christian is a person who accepts the fact that he or she can never again do what they like; and that they must forever after do what God likes… A Christian is one who stops looking at himself and starts looking at God.”
(Barclay, The Lord’s Prayer, p.56)
To surrender our own plans and desires, our own wills and wants, and submit ourselves to what God wants is no simple task. It is a daily discipline, lived out in every small decision, every purchase, every friendship, and every journey we make.
Karl Barth, one of the preeminent biblical scholars of the twentieth century, insisted that God’s will will never be fully realized by us. Only God can usher in the kingdom. Our task is to pray for God’s will to be done, to wait and watch for it, to participate in it, in whatever small ways we can.
Even our best efforts toward fulfilling God’s will, towards bringing in the peace and justice and community that God desires, are compromised by our sin. Nevertheless, we pray, we seek God’s will, and do the best we can.
(Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, p. 67)
As individuals, we face many situations in life, many decisions, small and large. A helpful place to begin when dealing with our life circumstances or when facing some decision is to spend time in honest prayer. Honest prayer involves opening ourselves up to God, laying before God what is on our heart and mind, and then opening ourselves towards God’s will, seeking to surrender our will so that we can live more fully into God’s will.
Many of you are aware that my Mom is in the hospital this morning. She has been at Kennestone Hospital since Thursday night, and we are still waiting… We are waiting to see if she may need surgery or not. She is stable and mostly comfortable, but we are not sure of what may be needed next. I do not think that I have spoken a prayer out loud over the last few days, but prayer has been a constant companion this weekend, prayers for relief from any pain for her, prayers for my Dad in his concerns about her, prayers for my eldest sister who is ever-present and helpful, and prayers for my other two sisters who live out of town and know the challenge of being concerned from a distance.
Silent prayers…prayers of acknowledging before God our fears and concerns, prayers of seeking God’s presence and God’s comfort.
I take comfort in the various scriptures about prayer. In Romans 8, Paul writes that “we do not know how to pray as we ought, yet the Holy Spirit intercedes for us…with sighs too deep for words.”
Sighs too deep for words.
Psalm 139 lifts up God’s knowledge of us: “Even before a word is on my lips, O Lord, you know it completely.” And part of our text today from Matthew 6, verse 6:
“Your father knows what you need before you ask him.”
I will close with a portion of prayer from Mother Theresa:
“May today there be peace within…
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God…
and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
(this freedom) is there for each and every one of us,” whatever our circumstances may be.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church