“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa
A recent installment of the comic strip “The Duplex,” written and drawn by St. Louis area cartoonist Glenn McCoy, featured the central character, Eno Camino, kneeling by the side of his bed. Eno was praying, “Yeah. I know. It’s me again.” It’s easy to relate to Eno and his attitude toward prayer. Praying can feel like an imposition on God, especially if we approach prayer in terms of “wish lists.”
But sometimes, if we’re honest in prayer, we say what’s really on our minds, with results that can surprise us. A few months ago, I was praying at the end of another day and at one point I said “God, you love us too much for our own good.” I’m even not going to pretend I understand what kind of Freudian slip that might have been. What I meant was “God, you love us more than we deserve.” God’s love is far greater than any of us could possibly merit. But that’s not how I said it.
For many years, I began almost all my prayers with thanks. But last year our congregation participated in a study called “A Disciple’s Path.” One segment of the study was on prayer. There were a couple of suggested formats for prayer but the style I was accustomed to using wasn’t one of them. I decided to begin using the “A.C.T.S.” format, for “Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.” After all, I had obviously been praying incorrectly for years and the sooner I corrected my mistake the better.
I began starting my prayers with “Adoration,” telling God how wonderful and how great God is, and how vast God’s mercy and grace are. This was the context for my comment about loving us “too much for our own good.” Actually, this attitude has a Biblical foundation of sorts, as found in the story of the Pharisee and the Publican or tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). You remember the story. The Pharisee prayed “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.’” (vs. 11b ESV). But the tax collector
Of course, most of us are familiar with the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13). It begins with Adoration but follows that with Supplication, followed by Confession, then more Supplication. Of course, Jesus didn’t sin so he had no need to confess but you’d think he would express thanks and teach his disciples to do the same. But there is no thanksgiving in the Lord’s Prayer. Even Jesus didn’t always follow the “rules.”
Whatever format we use, prayer is communication with God. 19th century South African minister Andrew Murray wrote, “Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. God’s voice in response to mine is its most essential part.” We sin; God forgives. We need; God provides. We ask; God gives. We pray; God answers. And God’s answer is always love, whether we think we deserve it or not.
Even when we can’t express the things we need to pray for, God meets us more than halfway. Paul wrote these profoundly reassuring words about prayer to the church in Rome: “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26b ESV). Paul’s words apply to us today. Even when we don’t know how to pray or what to pray for, the Holy Spirit knows and conveys our “groanings” to God. We may not know what else to do for a friend, coworker, or neighbor but one thing we can always do is offer to pray. We might not know the specific need but God does and God will hear and answer our prayer. Sometimes, prayer can be the most powerful witness we have.
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:5b-6 ESV.)