Let us pray: Oh God, we pray for a strengthened prayer life. Where we pray often, pray with passion, pray always our daily lives. No matter how or the reason, we know that you hear and listen to our persistent or not so persistent prayers and impart us with your love, peace and grace. Amen
The story goes that a banana plantation owner, somewhat foolishly accustomed to bartering with God, prayed for a good harvest. He pleaded thusly:
“Dear God, if You would please bring me a great banana harvest, as a service I will give You 1,000 bananas from the harvest.”
God granted him a great harvest. Thus the plantation owner loaded up a thousand bananas in his wagon and had his foreman deliver them to the temple.
Along the way, the foreman was pestered by two little boys who pleaded endlessly for a banana to ward off their hunger.
Shoo, shoo, go away, said the foreman, knowing that the plantation owner had loaded exactly 1,000 bananas. The hungry little boys ran alongside the wagon and continued to beg.
Finally, the hired man gave each of them a banana. He thought to himself, “Who would count all these bananas and know that 2 are missing from a thousand?”
But the plantation owner had warned the chief overseer at the temple to count the bananas to make sure that the foreman had not sold them along the way. He found out that 2 were missing and had been given to beggars and he fired the foreman.
That night the plantation owner had a dream. In his dream, God came to him and said, “I have granted your prayer for a great harvest, but you have not kept your agreement.”
The plantation owner pleaded his case, “But God, I took the bananas to you as I said.” God replied, “Well, I am sorry that you are in error my friend because so far, I have received only 2.” (Author unknown)
Of all people, I certainly do not see myself as the person to give a homily on Prayer.
The mystery of prayer evokes oddly enough in me… and I am struggling with the exact word… but trepidation or panic come to mind.
Panic of being asked to offer a spontaneous, on the spot prayer and trepidation as I myself struggle some with prayer - what to say, how to start and how to end.
Through my prayer life I, like the plantation owner, have bargained with God, I have prayed a lifeless string of meaningless overused spiritual expressions, used fluffy words, prayed a personal wishlist centered on myself, done a lot of one-sided prayer - talking but no listening, prayed for answers rather than being the answer, prayed because I should, prayed as a last-minute resort, or just quit praying - gave up.
Sometimes I think I suffer from spiritual attention deficit disorder, where I am spiritually flighty as I pray. My mind is everywhere but in prayer and my body is fidgety.
And often I wonder, am I like Steve Harper in his book titled “Talking in the Dark”?
The disciples of Jesus noted that Jesus prayed often, prayed in many situations and did so as part of his daily living. They asked Jesus to teach them to pray.
Jesus gives them these words: “Father, may your holy name be honoured: may your Kingdom come. Give us this day the food we need. Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone who does us wrong. And do not bring us to hard testing.”
But what the disciples noticed most was not just the words, but how Jesus modelled prayerful living.
He seemed to move through the day in conversation with God, able to move into and out of prayer with such ease that it appeared as if he was in a spirit of prayer all the time.
Speaking with God and speaking with others seemed to be a singular experience.
Remember Tevye, in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye was always talking to God. He would talk to God as he did his everyday chores - delivering milk, feeding his animals or as he walked along the country road. He talked to God as he tried to work out his problems regarding his wife and five daughters.
He prayed his life - he prayed about the things that touched him deeply. He prayed when life didn’t make sense and he prayed his gratitude. He prayed from the heart. He talked to God.
Because we may feel inadequate in our prayer attempts, our prayer practices and our prayer life, we easily lose heart, we lose confidence, we lose trust and hope that our prayers will be heard and listened to.
We need to experience prayer in a new way - or more correctly, experience God in a new way. In a way that builds deep, lasting relationship… in a way that makes coming to God in prayer… nourishing, refreshing and most of all real and intimate - whether we are angry, happy, seeking or always at the door knocking.
A story is told of Mother Theresa going to visit Edward Bennett Williams, a legendary Washington criminal lawyer.
He was a powerful man. At the time he owned two ball teams and he was the lawyer for many well-to-do actors and politicians. Mother Theresa visited Williams because she was raising money for an AIDS Hospice. Williams was in charge of a small but charitable foundation that she hoped would help.
Before she arrived for the appointment, Williams said to his partner, Paul Deitrich, “You know Paul, AIDS is not a cause I usually support. I don’t really want to make a contribution, but I’ve got this Catholic saint coming to see me, and I don’t know what to do.” They agreed that they would be polite, hear her out but then say no.
Well, Mother Theresa arrived. She was this tiny little thing sitting on the other side of the big mahogany lawyer’s desk.
She made her appeal for the hospice, and Williams said, “We’re touched by your appeal, but no.” Mother Theresa said simply “let us pray.”
Williams looked at Deitrich: they bowed their heads and after the prayer, Mother Theresa made the same pitch, word for word, for the hospice.
Again Williams politely said no. Mother Theresa said, “Let us pray.” Williams, exasperated, looked up at the ceiling. “Alright, all right, get me my chequebook!”
(Tony Williams-son, Witnify)
How we find strength and authenticity in our prayers is that we keep seeking and knocking. Rather than working so hard to find the right words, time or situations to pray, why not simply walk with God.
God desires a relationship rooted in love not performance, a relationship rooted in persistence and closeness.
We do not solve our problems by keeping prayer safe and clean and superficial. Rather than finding a God offended by honesty, we find a God who can handle whatever we have to say.
Children are good examples of persistent knockers.
One Saturday I was in Shopper’s Drug Mart in the card section when I heard a young voice in the next aisle. “You know that I am thirsty”. The mother tried to change the topic a number of times but it wasn’t working. As often as she tried to change the subject, he kept up his persistent desire. “You know that I am thirsty”.
After about the 5th or 6th time I was ready to buy him a drink. Instead, I moved on. I am not sure how much longer the mother held out but he was certainly wearing her down with his persistence.
God, however, appreciates the however number of prayers we uncomfortably offer, but when we offer prayers that speak from our hearts, speak from our lives, speak our truth, these become real prayers.
Both we and God jump for joy with these heartful prayers.
Have you felt such joy and refreshness in these life-offered personal prayers?
Arnold Plater, a Methodist minister, tells of his everyday routine of getting up in the morning and going to his place of prayer - beginning his prayers with flowery words like: “O thou omnipotent God, who dwellest in splendor and who reignest in glory from age to age,” and so on. He said he could almost hear God sigh with boredom.
One morning, Arnold reached a turning point; he moved into real prayer. He woke up with a 2-Excederin headache. Holding his head as he stumbled to his place of prayer, all he could muster was, “God….my head hurts!”
It was then that Arnold and God started a personal and endearing conversation.
Prayer life is not easy. I am in awe of people who can pray from their hearts.
Learning to pray authentically to God takes work, it takes practice and it takes patience.
Just as we have those who are masters in their art, whether it be in music, science, communications, plumbing or gardening and perform these skills with ease, there are many of us who need to persevere with our knocking.
The disciples spent the most time with Jesus and while they saw him pray… it was authentic prayer they sought to learn.
And so Jesus says to us: Ask, and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks will receive, and he who seeks will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks.
Be persistent in your prayers. God desires it and encourages it.
God says knock relentlessly….
pray your life to me…
pray your heart…..
choose to pray often… don’t lose heart….
I am with you….. I am your God and you are all my people….. you are not alone…
and even if you feel panic and trepidation in your prayers…
continue to pray and knock often. (knock, knock) Amen.