Matthew 14:22-23 Immediately he [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. (NRSV)
“Immediately” is an important word here. Matthew 14:13-21, last week’s text and the story immediately preceding this week’s, is the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 (plus women and children) which followed immediately on Jesus leaving for some time alone in the hill country after he heard of John the Baptizer’s death. Things are happening fast at this juncture of the story. Jesus’ retreat to mourn and make sense of the devastating turn of events when his friend/kinsman/colleague was killed in the most senseless and merciless manner got interrupted by the needs of others. He doesn’t get that time alone, because the crowds follow him. But now, after another long day of ministry and feeding people, curing their sick and meeting their needs, Jesus finally makes his time. He has sent the disciples on ahead—the text says ‘he made the disciples get into the boat and go’— while he sent the people on their way, now filled and satisfied.
Jesus needed time to pray. Jesus relished his time alone with God. He had to balance the needs of the people with taking care of himself and maintaining his own spiritual strength.
Prayer is more than a laundry list of things we want from God. Prayer is being consciously and intentionally aware that God is with us, that God’s love surrounds us and is sufficient for us and for our people. Prayer is opening ourselves to God’s highest good in our lives and God’s calling for what we are to be about. The most powerful prayer is that God’s will might be done.
Prayer is like any other activity. We get better at it the more we practice. It is also like physical exercise. To get the most benefit, we must not be in a rut but mix it up with a variety of prayer topics, styles and practices.
There is the traditional ‘getting on your knees and saying your prayers’ method of prayer. There is praying the scriptures (google ‘lectio divina’ for some helpful tips). There are guided meditations (there are several apps for that), contemplative prayer, walking (or running) prayer, and always remember corporate prayer during worship. Since most hymns are prayers, singing is a great form of prayer. (Please don’t snitch the hymnals from the sanctuary… You can get your own from Augsburg Fortress Press or even from Amazon for less than a tank of gas (even if you drive a hybrid!) and it will take you a lot further.)
A full prayer life will include at least these categories on a regular basis:
Prayers of gratitude and praise—thanking God for the many blessings and opportunities (often blessings disguised in hard packages) each day presents to us.
Prayers of confession, repentance and forgiveness—reflecting on our lives with attention to when we have not taken the high road, when we have been selfish, greedy, inattentive to those in need, and any of a whole host of other ways we can fall short of the glory of God, then admitting that to God (and possibly another person); making a plan to turn away from that behavior so it doesn’t become a habit OR to reverse a habit we have gotten into, and to ask for and offer forgiveness for damage that has been done to others.
Prayers of blessing—prayers specifically for the benefit and general wellbeing of another
Prayers of dedication—offering what we have to God, acknowledging that it has come to us from the generosity of God’s hands
Prayers of intercession—praying for specific healing, growth or change for a person or situation
All of these prayer topics are not done, however, when we are ‘done’ praying. They are best completed with action. When we are praying for a friend to be healed, the prayer is part of it, but then it is a good idea to give the person a call and let them know. Maybe take a pot of soup or a plate of sandwiches. If you are praying to dedicate what you have to God’s glory, then following up that prayer with keeping your eyes and ears open for how you can actually use those items for the good of the Kingdom of God. When I pray the blessing over the congregation at the end of the service, I am dedicating myself to work for their benefit the rest of the week… You get the idea. Prayers are not some magical incantation you can say and then forget about. They are meant to ‘sprout legs’ and walk right into the midst of your life.
The Lord’s Prayer is given as an instructional aid for how to pray. Recognize God as the source and giver of life. Praise God. Earnestly pray for earth to become more like heaven. Express gratitude for your sustenance, and pray that not only you get enough but that others do too. Ask to be forgiven and forgive equally. Pray for God’s kingdom to reign forever in your life and in the world.
The good news is that God is always more ready to hear our prayers than we are to pray. The key is though, we have to pray. And sometimes we just have to MAKE time for it. We might have to send others away so we can. We might have to put off our prayers for a time, but at some point, after not too much more time, it becomes time to pray immediately. May you make time to pray today.
blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.