Prayer…Intimacy With God
Can you imagine watching Jesus pray? In theological circles they call it the ‘thin line,’ that distance between Jesus and God. Because Jesus was human there was always going to be some distance between the finite and the infinite but, in the case of Jesus, that separation was so very thin. So I can only imagine that watching Jesus pray would be filled with the calm of sitting in a green pasture while splashing your feet in still waters, watching the progression of dawn soaking the earth with golden light, energy and warmth.
It is obvious this moment made an impression on the disciples or Luke never would have bothered to record in such detail this moment of them watching Jesus pray. “Show us how to pray like that Jesus.” I think this a tender moment for Jesus, like a grandpa being asked by his 3 year old grandson if he can get his Tonka tools and help him fix the BBQ. The desire is there to learn but Jesus knew just how much more there was to this thing called prayer..
The disciples wanted technique. Like many people with computers today. Don’t tell me all about the logarithms or hard drives, or processing speeds, just tell me which buttons to push to make the damn thing do what I want it to.
So Jesus, he gave them the technique. He provided the disciples with these declarations in his prayer:
that God hears
that God provides
that God forgives
that God protects
that God expects us to be generous to one another
I can see the disciples running off to a place by themselves each trying to piece together the words from memory. They wanted to learn this by rote because, in the tradition of the rabbis, Jesus had taught them a prayer that was just theirs, that identified them as followers of Jesus, that became, if you will, their motto. So I can see them increasing the volume of this prayer the more certain they became of it, repeating it over and over again, all day long.
As Jesus watches them fumbling with this new tool in their Tonka toolbox, he decides to tell them a story about a persistent neighbour.
Unfortunately, throughout the centuries, this story has come to be misinterpreted. People come to use this story as a spiritual practice: that when you petition God with a need and you don’t get the answer you want, then keep the faith, keep on praying over and over again until God gives you what you want. As if God needs to be aroused to our need, as if God needs to be harassed until God will do anything. As if we worship a reluctant God.
A better translation for the word persistence would have been the word shameless. Jesus is trying to suggest to the disciples that prayer is more than words, more than technique, more than persuasion. Learning to pray is not like learning to drive a car, or learning to play the cello, or even fixing the BBQ. It more like learning how to kiss. It is like having your desire for intimacy overcome your fear of awkwardness. It is the willingness to become vulnerable to expose who you truly are for the sake of a closer relationship. And be reminded with whom you wish to have this deeper relationship. God. The epicenter of Truth. There is no place for hidden shadows in the presence of such light. You see, for Jesus, it isn’t as much about the technique of prayer as it is ‘to whom you are praying.’
Now, I need to confess here that when it comes to prayer, I might not be God’s best conversational partner. My attempts usually reveal the fact that I have the attention span of a goldfish. There are times I lack faith. I worry at times that, when I am praying in the midst of a family’s grief, it may not accomplish much. So, I need to hear constantly, persistently if you will, that it is God who hears my words, who hears my silences, my incoherent anxieties; and that this God is generous. It means, I need to be shameless in my prayers. I need to hold nothing back due to embarrassment, shame, guilt or the fear of appearing stupid. I need to let down my defenses and know that I shall not be condemned. Instead, God will take the shattered pieces of my hardened heart and soften the clays with her tears, mingled with my own, and mould with his gentle, and yet intentional hands, a new heart, a new vessel, ready to contain the waters of new life. Prayer, as it has been said, is like knocking at a door which is already open.
Prayer is our occasionally real selves trying to communicate with what is Real, communicating with Truth, and with Light. It is a reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth instead of continuing to stumble through the world in the darkness and the cold. Do not walk past this opportunity for intimacy with the Divine. Knock and you will find the door open.