Tuesday, March 11, 2014

No Babbling Allowed

It seems a little funny to hear the Lord in today's Gospel (Matthew 6:7-15) tell His followers not to babble. It makes me have an image of a group of people who are all talking at once, with none of them able to make sense. He was very directive about the way they should pray. The formula He gave (what we refer to as "The Lord's Prayer" is pretty succinct and to the point. It gives me not so much words as a model for all prayer. Beginning with an acknowledgement of God as the one to whom I am speaking (Father in heaven) I offer praise (hallowed be thy name) and acknowledge the primacy of what God wants over what I want (Thy kingdom come, thy will be done). After that, I am able to place my own needs before God, but He specifies only the "short-term" needs (our daily bread). This shows a keen understanding of us as humans, since the Lord knows that what we think we may need tomorrow may not be what we really need when tomorrow comes. The second half is focused on forgiveness and sin. I can only ask for what I am willing to give (forgiveness as we forgive). The importance of this is reinforced by His follow-up, when He assures me that “If you forgive transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” Finally I ask for God's strength in the face of temptation, acknowledging that without His help I am powerless. This wonderful way of praying was certainly different from what the disciples expected. But then, God had now experienced first-hand what being human is like and Christ was able to speak from that personal experience. He knew that, without this sort of direction, we might be praying for things that were either unimportant, unnecessary or might actually be bad for us. The purpose of teaching the disciples and us how to pray was to help us do it better than we could on our own. Sadly, we often think of the Lord's Prayer as just words to be said rather than a model for all prayer. Some of the most powerful prayers are those we make when speaking from our heart. But it is always good to try and keep the model in mind, using the same steps. To whom am I speaking, and for what should I praise Him? What do I think God wants? What exactly do I need right now, not in the future? And what should I ask for strength to do myself, since I cannot expect God to do all the work? Following this model, my personal prayer life can flourish. And I just might be better able to appreciate the answer that always comes to us when I pray, even if it is not what I expected. I just have to remember not to babble!

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