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Lord teach us to Pray Part 2: Don’t ask how

We left off in the first installment with the prayer frame called the A.C.T.S. of prayer. Today I want to examine the passion of prayer.

It is fascinating that Jesus’ disciples had observed him doing various miracles, but they did not ask him to teach them to perform miracles.

They observed him teaching great truths of spiritual sagacity but they did not ask him to teach them how to speak profoundly about deep spiritual matters.

It, however, is recorded in the gospel of Luke that one day the disciples observed Jesus praying and after he completed his prayer moment one of the disciples raised this request to Jesus saying, “Lord, teach us to pray…”

I want to caution you from adding a word in their request that was not there. The word to not add is “how.” They did not say to Jesus, “Lord, teach us how to pray…”

The request was much deeper than that. The request was to “teach them TO pray.” They seemed to want the passion to pray that they observed in Jesus.

When people ask me to share with them some insight on how they can develop their prayer life, I sometimes ask them, WHY? Why do you want to develop a prayer life? What is the dominant reason you want to cultivate a better prayer life or develop a prayer life period?

The question may seem elementary to some church folks, but it is the heart of the matter.

A young but earnest Zen student approached his teacher, and asked the Zen Master: “If I work very hard and diligent how long will it take for me to find Zen?”

The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.”

The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast. How long then?”

“Well, twenty years,” replied the master.

“But, if I really, really work at it. How long then?” asked the student.

“Thirty years,” replied the master.

“But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?”

The master replied, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

The story of the earnest Zen student is illustrative to developing a deeper prayer life. When we are focused on some societal goal, in particular in things of the spirit, then we hinder the progress we seek to make because we are more fixated on the outcome, the goal, the results rather than the process that will lead to transformation and a life path of learning.

In his book “Disciplines of The Spirit,” Howard Thurman writes extensively on this passion for prayer, which he calls “the hunger.” And the hunger Howard Thurman says is for God. The hunger starts with what he calls the “givenness of God.”

For prayer to be authentic there has to be a hunger that is bubbling at the center of one’s very being and that hunger or passion is because you have already submitted all the powers of your being to the givenness of God.

As Howard Thurman puts it, “It is fundamental to my thought that God is the Creator of Life, the creator of the living substance, the creator of existence and as such expresses himself through life.”

Therefore as Thurman says the hunger itself is “God, calling to God.” God who is both within us and outside of us is desiring to have a conversation in us; that conversation is called prayer.

I would suggest that in every person, at the center of their being, or as Thurman calls it, “the nerve center of one’s inner consent,” there is a hunger, a thirst for that which is not food, not glory, not popularity, not things, and not physical. However, many, many people spend their lives trying to fill that hunger with things, more money, more popularity, more titles, and more stuff rather than being still with the Holy.

There is a scripture that says, “Be still and know that I am God.” And that is one of the most difficult things for many people. Too many people have been conditioned to believe that stillness equates to idleness, and idleness is equated with laziness. These beliefs were cultivated by corporate barons who wanted to train a workforce to increase their wealth. This belief is so contrary to things of God and being in tune with things spiritual.

We are not taught or immersed in this nation with the direction in things spiritual. We are cultivated from birth to value the material over the spiritual, despite the glaring fact that it is the spiritual that makes us alive. It is no wonder that so many people struggle with a spiritual discipline like prayer or the “givenness of God.”

Jesus’ disciples did not ask for a timeline or a goal, which would represent the physical, but they wanted to join Jesus on the path of prayer because they were answering a hunger, a passion that stirred within them, “Lord, teach us to pray…”

My word concerning developing a deeper prayer life, as Thurman points out in his book, is to first begin to “clear away whatever may block out awareness of that which is God in us. To get rid of whatever may so distract the mind and encumber the life that we function without this awareness, or as if it were not possible.”

Prayer finally as Thurman contends is “the experience of the individual to seek to make the hunger [passion] dominant and controlling in one’s life. To move [this hunger/passion] to the central place until it becomes a conscious and deliberate activity of the spirit.”

Prayer, which is a conversation and a communion between God within you and God outside you, is to become in the words of Thurman, “the very climate of the soul.”

The disciples asked, “Lord, teach us TO pray…”

Be well, Beloved.


Knowing The Truth - Part I
Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson Sr.

Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; we are unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.” Contact the church by email at [email protected] or by phone at 219-944-0500.

Knowing The Truth - Part I
Rev. John E. Jackson
Senior Pastor at | + posts

Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; we are unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.”

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