Prayer is a problematic process for Jesus’ production-oriented progeny (that’s us). Drilling down to the specifics of that alliterating statement, there are three principal prayer practices: 1. Humbling oneself. 2. Listening wholeheartedly. 3. Obeying submissively. This trio sits uncomfortably on our Western shoulders. They sound like stumbling blocks, millstones around our necks, pointy pebbles in our shoes. Consciously chosen or not, we are steeped in corporate business culture: ‘take the bull by the horns’ ideology, ‘time is money’ maxims, even a sad, modern twist of the Golden Rule – ‘do unto others before they do unto you.’ This being in the air we breathe creates a significant culture clash as we embark on our journey of discipleship with Jesus! (you may have noticed it yourself).
First, the thought of humbling ourselves. Our nature, inherited from Adam, is madly averse to kneeling, much less prostrating, thereby admitting we are not the king/queen of the castle. ‘Alphas’ rule the Western world, according to bumper sticker theology. Enneagram ‘8’s, especially, but certainly not exclusively, chafe at the very thought of taking a ‘one down’ position. Yet Jesus instructs us that the last shall be first, and to desire to be in charge is to choose to become the servant of all. Yikes!
Second, listening wholeheartedly. In the world where we live, when someone says, ‘We need to talk,’ the truth is they are often thinking, ‘a good talk for me is a good listen for you.’ Poor listening is formulating one’s next point while the other person is talking. Bad listening is talking over another person. Good listening includes plenty of silence, spaces of time where no words are spilling out. Someone has suggested that prayer should be 60-75% listening for what God is saying! (ouch!) If our prayer times are only spaces for us to talk, how will we ever hear the Father’s love spoken into our needy hearts?
Third, obeying submissively. It is now largely considered a throwback to the Dark Ages to include the word ‘obey’ in wedding vows as if it were on a par with abuse. And it’s sad that we’ve turned the word ‘submit’ around so that we now hear it spoken with polite tone but imperious intent, as in: ‘I submit that …’ where what is meant is, ‘I declare that…’ This third point is not simply acquiescing to another’s point of view, but rather gratefully acknowledging the beautiful safety and sweet security provided by the authority of the Other. No quibbling. No weaseling. No grumbling. No looking for loopholes.
Here’s the teaching prayer model Jesus gave to his inquisitive disciples:
Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
May your kingdom come soon.
May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today the food we need,
And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:9-13, NLT
May God grace us to be similarly inquisitive! PD