Talking to God
Luke 11:1; Matthew 6:9a
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Most of you are familiar with the website YouTube. If you are not, YouTube is one of the most popular places on the internet to search for free videos. Some of the videos are clips or portions of television shows, movies or other professionally made pieces while other videos are made by amateurs and as basic as something filmed using your cell phone in the backyard. What also makes YouTube popular is that it is both free and easily allows you to search its vast archives for videos that match a particular topic or theme.
Back in 2015, a startling statistic came out connected to Youtube. From January to May of that year, over 100 million hours of video of an instructional nature were watched on YouTube by people all over North America. In other words, people had searched YoutTube looking for teaching videos on a variety of subjects with which they felt incompetent or unskilled.
In terms of all of these “how-to” videos, the top three categories were home improvement projects, guidance for cooking or baking particular items and finally and, most humorously in my opinion, the need for instruction related to hair care issues. Evidently, in the first part of 2015 a lot of folks in North America were having a bad hair day or two!?! (YouTube “How To” Video Searches Up 70% With Over 100 Million Hours Watched in 2015, Amy Gesenhues, May 13, 2015)
There are a couple of things that strike me about these statistics. First, it is affirmation that all us have things that we struggle with and that make us feel incompetent. Second, to me, this information also confirms that admitting that we can’t do something or that we don’t know how to do something is at least somewhat embarrassing and humbling. After all, while YouTube is certainly simple and always at our fingertips, it also affords us the opportunity to find out how to do something in secret without having to admit to another living person that we have an inadequacy or are deficient at a certain skill.
In Luke, the Disciples admitted their own struggle – it was with prayer. Even though prayer was a part of their lives as good Jewish people and even though they were instructed to pray three times a day personally – at noon, at 3 in the afternoon and at 6pm in the evening, they still struggle with it. And, despite the fact that praying regularly in the temple as they worshipped there was a part of their weekly religious lives, they felt inadequate.
Luckily, one of them had the courage to admit this to Jesus. And, my hunch is that while he alone spoke, he likely also served as a spokesperson on behalf of others among the twelve who felt the same way.
According to Luke, what happened as a result was that Jesus provided them with the most famous prayer in the history of the world; a prayer that we know today as the Lord’s Prayer of the Disciple’s Prayer.
What I find interesting here is that Jesus didn’t ridicule this disciple nor did Jesus appear surprised. Instead, he offered help. The help came in the form of an example, a model, a guide. Sure, for centuries, and even still today, we at times recite the Lord’s Prayer together and use it in corporate or public settings, the truth is that recitation of this prayer really wasn’t the point. Instead, it was simply a tool, or a foundation if you will, upon which the disciples could then build their own prayers and conversations with God. It in essence provided the framework on which they could then fill out the rest of the structure that would be their private prayers.
You have heard me mention before that I spent the summer after my freshman year of college working in Wyoming for a Baptist missionary in the area around Jackson and the Grand Tetons. One week while I was there, I was asked to drive and chaperone the missionaries’ son at a camp that was to be held on the other side of the state. But, there was a problem right out of the gate. The car they provided me to use was a little truck and it wasn’t an automatic, it was a stick shift. At that time, I had never owned a stick shift and never really driven a car that was not an automatic. Truth be told, driving a stick shift still isn’t my spiritual gift if you know what I mean. But, as a college student who wanted to prove my worth and maturity, that was a major humbling moment. Ultimately, and comically, the son that I was to drive to camp, who was around 16 at the time, first had to teach me how to drive the car that I was to use so that in turn I could take him to camp. At the time, it was a humiliating thing to admit and I just wanted to hide the reality.
This morning, I am going to go ahead and admit it so that you won’t have to – most all of us struggle with prayer. So, let’s just be honest about it. Lay people struggle and ministers struggle and even though some of us have been Christian for most of our lives – most of us feel inadequate in this area just like the disciples in our passage from Luke. We just need some help and its good and right to be honest about it. Just as it is good and right to be honest about our inadequacies and deficiencies in any area in our lives. In turn, throughout this month and next, using Jesus’ reply found in this model prayer called the Lord’s Prayer, we are going to learn together and we are going to grow together so that all of us can be more than we are.
But first, and for today, I want to answer once more question – why? Why is prayer so critical to the life of faith? The reason, I think, is found in the very first phrase that Jesus utters in his model prayer as he says that we are to pray like this – “Our father, or our abba, who is in heaven”.
Prayer is so important because it is one of the most basic and most fundamental ways that we develop an intimate and deep relationship with God. Let me say that again, prayer is so important because it is one of the most important and fundamental ways that we develop an intimate and deep relationship with God. When you get down to it the life of faith begins in two basic steps – first, we recognize our need for God and we invite Jesus, God’s son into our lives as our savior and as our Lord. Second, we join a group of believers called a church where we covenant to be a part of each others lives and to encourage each other as we learn and grown in our relationship with God and with each other. As we do these two basic things, we begin to develop a deeper relationship with God through worship, through reading God’s word and through prayer which is simply talking to God. Everything else develops out of these simple, basic yet profound behaviors. Through them, we develop deep relationships with each other and through them we develop and even deeper relationship with God.
Jesus gets at that by calling God “abba” in this prayer. “Abba” was a casual, loving way of referring to one’s father. It is akin to our terms “daddy” or “pop”. It was also a loving way that a younger man at the time could refer to an older man in an endearing way. It was a way of breaking down barriers or saying this a relationship where I feel comfortable and able to be myself.
This is our goal, through prayer to be able to develop an “abba” relationship with God. To feel comfortable and at home in God’s presence through simply developing the habit of talking to God about anything and everything.
This notion is affirmed further by remembering the fact that the question the disciple asked here about developing a prayer life was about personal not private prayers. When the disciple asked Jesus this question, he wasn’t saying to Jesus that he had been invited to offer the prayer at the next Chamber of Commerce meeting or Office Christmas Party and thus needed some help with a well worded public prayer. Instead, he wanted to develop a private, personal conversation with God.
In December, I am going to have the honor of doing the wedding for the daughter of a friend from our days in Atlanta. My friend has a big job. He is one of the corporate officers of a very large furniture chain. If I said the name of the company, most of you would recognize it. He has a big title, fancy office and I have no doubt that when he walks into the room, it is intimidating for many of their employees. But he is just Scott to me.
Honestly, I never think about what Scott does or the success he has achieved except to joke with him. And he gives it back in equal measure. I tell him I want a refund on that sorry cheap couch he sold me and he calls me Father Rickey. Why? Its simple. I know him. We have spent a lot of time together, been on lots of mission trips with each other and shared a lot of life in each other’s presence. We have a relationship that cuts through all of the barriers that are so often put up in life.
Now, I am not saying that our goal should be to achieve a point were we enter prayer by putting our feet up and talking to God as if we are addressing our roommate from college. I have experienced this approach in some people’s praying and it makes me cringe as it loses I think a sense of reverence. But, I am saying that a key byproduct of prayer is not seeing God as distant and disconnected but rather as our friend, our encourager, our Abba Father.
So, where do we start? We start by praying. We start by making space to talk to God daily. We start by sharing with God where we are, what our hurts are, what we are working on and by listening in the silence for God to speak to us. And, over time, I think , as we set aside the time every day for this conversation God becomes a friend, a companion, our conversation partner.
This is not the ending but it is the beginning of one of the most important disciplines we can have. God wants to know us and to be known by us in a real, intimate way. Are we ready to go deeper into the mystery and the wonder of this relationship? I am and I hope you are too. Amen.