When I was a teen, I had the trip of a lifetime in going to what was then the Soviet Union. It was in the time of Conservatism in the West (Canada had Brian Mulroney as PM and the Americans had Ronald “Ray Guns” Reagan as their President). And there was the evil empire of Communist Russia lead by Mikhail Gorbachev. The cold war between Russian and the West was in full bloom. Along with about 35 others from my high school, I went on a trip to Russia in the Spring of 1986.
One of the things that I learned through my Russia experience was that school children were actively discouraged from being people of faith, people of prayer. Children were asked to sit at their desks and pray to God, asking for God to provide candy. They would wait for a few moments. When no candy appeared, the teacher would point out that God has failed to provide for them. Then the teacher would give them candy and tell the children that the State and party could provide for them and that there was no God. Their trust and faith needed to be in the Party and in their government. The Communist government of the day was atheistic and the Party believed that so should all the people be.
The trip took me by and into a number of beautiful former church buildings that had been turned into museums by the state since officially there was no God, and thus no need for prayer. Each city we visited had beautiful churches and cathedrals, monasteries and convents from Vyborg on the Finish border all the way into Moscow. Time and again, we would see women, with their heads covered, enter into the churches, they would “disappear” for a bit and return again, seemingly out of thin air. I learned later that they were in these places to pray and to receive the sacrament from the clergy – though it was totally unofficial and unsanctioned by the State.
My trip to the USSR and my encounters with Russian Orthodox Christians came back to my mind this week as I am getting ready to travel for holidays and trying to keep my prayer and spiritual life in order. The disciples come to Jesus early one morning and respectfully wait for Jesus to finish his Morning Prayer time with the Father. They knew the place and they went and waited and listened to Jesus as he prayer to the Father. Then, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray, so that they could be like John’s disciples, only better because the Lamb had taught them to pray. Jesus’ disciples wanted to be one up and one better than John’s disciples.
So Jesus obliged them. He said them, “When you pray, pray this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” So if we want to examine how we ought to pray, let’s ready to have what has been taught:
· Know who God is... He is God and he is Father. He has revealed this through Jesus, his Son. It is how he wants to be known. In fact, there is a place in the New Testament where we call out to him as “Abba” or “Daddy” Father. Knowing God as Father in such away runs against everything we see in our culture today where fathers are concerned. We seems to have lowered the status of father from know who our father is through God to thinking he is Peter Griffin of Family Guy or Homer Simpson. This is not who God our Father is. He is caring and compassionate, loving and merciful as well as all powerful and holy. God is present to each and to all, ready to respond to each and to all according to his purpose and perfect will for each and for all.
· Know that God’s kingdom is coming to this earth. Are we ready to do his will on earth as it is done in heaven? Are we ready to have God’s will done in earth, in us as it is done heaven? Living the way God calls the world to live does not begin with someone else. Living out the kingdom starts with you and with me. We cannot run away from it. If we are God’s then it begins by allowing God to do the things in us, to bring us to the coming perfection at the end of time when we will seek to do his will and serve God in the way that God intended it to be all along. When we pray your kingdom come, your will be done we have to be willing to let go of our agendas, our lists and demands and allow God to bring things to pass in his way and in his time.
· God knows what’s in our hearts, the question is do we? Prayer is not so much about the laundry lists we like to make as it is about preparing the person to be ready to be an answer to prayer... and not necessarily one’s own prayers. Often when we pray we are being moved to see the world for how it out of what God sees. If you cannot steer a parked car what makes you think God can steer you if you are unwilling to be moved by what you see?
· Don’t let the good become the enemy of the best God has for you. There is a temptation to see almost anything as an answer to prayer because we want answers and we wanted them yesterday. We need to be people of patience who carry an attitude of fortitude; people who will persist to seek God’s best not just what we can scrape together in this moment and make it work for now. God’s life, lived in God’s grace will never lack his blessing. Persist in this life that you have been given that not only will you be blessed but so will the people you love most. Prayer is not just about you and God: it is about the community to which you are connected, that through you God will bless them too. So pray and live alongside your prayers. Don’t give up - persist in prayer.
· Recognize that God will give what is right to give, when it is right to give it. Know that some times, God for the good of the object of your affections might say not now or no, not this way. God’s timing is perfect because he can see it all. And we know that God is working all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We are being conformed to the likeness of Jesus by the Father so that we can be like our brother. And through our brother, we will become more than conquers though him who has loved us. In God’s way, in God’s time we will be blessed.
· Contrition and confession: remember who you are in the face of a holy, powerful glorious God. We are human, formed of the dust and to the dust we shall return. Remember that God delighted in thinking about you when he created first in his mind, then in forming us in the dust of this creation and then seeing us formed in our mother’s womb. Remember to say you’re sorry for falling short and for missing the mark. Always keep your accounts with the Father short because the Father is merciful and swift to bless. Ask to be healed and to be strengthened that you might live for God.
· Pray in a way that draws others into the experience – Prayer and worship are not just about the words spoken: it is also about the unspoken desires of the heart and the silences we keep that we might here the still small voice of the Spirit who is within us. Seek and ask of God the way a child does of a parent. Persist with honesty and recognizing that if we know how to give to our children when they ask, how much more is God willing to respond with his best when we seek and ask of him? If you worship and pray in this way others will follow. So bring what is on your heart and the things that you believe only God can deal with and put that on the altar as part of your liturgy. Then you will see what difference that makes in your life beyond the walls of the church building.
Take time this week to go to your prayer closet. Take time once you are there to celebrate your Father and to bless his name and the things he is doing in you and around you. Remember who you are in the face of a holy and merciful God and give thanks for the abundance of grace and goodness. Pray that your Father’s will shall be done in you and through you, that his kingdom will reign on earth as it is in heaven. It is going to be a risk, but one that is going to be necessary to take, if the kingdom is going to be extended.