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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We are never more than novices when it comes to prayer. “Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples said to Jesus (Luke 11:1). That, in itself, is a prayer that we can never cease praying. We never progress past the beginnings of prayer; we can never be experts. There are no professionals when it comes to prayer, only amateurs. Sometimes we say something is “amateur,” and we mean “not very good.” Well, that may be true; we are probably not very good when it comes to prayer. But amateur literally means one who acts for the love of something, rather than for money or out of a sense of duty. An amateur painter or writer is, literally, one who paints or writes for the sheer delight of doing it, not because it’s a “job.” Lord, teach us to be amateurs at prayer.
There is only One who prays from His very nature, from the essence of who He is. There is only One who prays out of His heart. Because it comes from His heart, it is very good. There is only One who prays completely spontaneously. Because it comes spontaneously from Him, it is pleasing to His Father. So, along with the disciples, we look to Him and ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Teach us not only to pray—to actually put ourselves, body and soul, to the action of prayer—but how and what to pray. I must have Your words, Your thoughts, Your Spirit in order to pray. Insofar as they are my own words, my own thoughts, my own spirit, they remain evil, because out of the sin-filled heart comes everything evil. Insofar as it is my own sinful self that prays spontaneously, I pray selfishly, heartlessly, blindly. I pray to get what I should not have, to know what I cannot know because I am not God, to have answers to questions I do not even understand. My prayers will then wind in upon themselves, and they will go nowhere.
Lord, teach us to pray as You pray. You love Your enemies, You do good to those who hate You, You bless those who curse You, and You pray for those who abuse You (Luke 6:27-28). You have loved us, done good to us, blessed us, and prayed for us. You, the only Son of the Father, have brought us into Your family, joined us to Yourself, made us members of Your own Body, and taught us to call Your Father our Father. Your Father and our Father, who is always more willing to hear than we are to pray, and who is accustomed to give more than we either desire or deserve (Collect for Proper 22, Book of Common Prayer). “Let then the slothfulness of men be put to shame; He is more willing to give, than we to receive; He is more willing to show mercy, than we to be delivered from misery” (St. Augustine, Sermon 55 on the New Testament).
That is the God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…” (Colossians 2:9, ESV). In Him, God gives and gives and gives, even if we take and take and take without gratitude. In Him, God loves and loves and loves more, though we so often show love only for our own concerns and desires. In Him, God shows mercy to those who prefer their own misery; He shows mercy even to His murderers—in fact, He pours out His mercy by the very means of His murder. To those who deserve the fangs of the ancient serpent, the Father of Jesus gives faith and hope. To those who deserve the sting of the satanic scorpion, the Father of Jesus gives the bread of life. And to those who hear, who then believe, who then ask, He gives the Holy Spirit.
Did you hear that? He gives the Holy Spirit! He gives us God! Because where the Holy Spirit is, there is always Jesus; and where Jesus is, there is always the Father. “God who gives to you, gives you nothing better than Himself” (St. Augustine, ibid.). To us, who spend penny prayers on petty, glittering things, God gives million-dollar answers! He is always more gracious than we imagine. He always gives more than we ask.
We ask for daily bread, and He gives us bread that is his Body. We ask for the sake of our own name and He gives us His own holy Name in Baptism. He marks us forever with the sign of Christ crucified, as His own holy possession; He is accomplishing His will for us and for the world; He is bringing His Kingdom wherever His Word goes. And so that we might believe in the spiritual and eternal things He is doing—things we cannot see—He gives us physical and temporal things that we can see. His Kingdom comes in flesh and blood, death, resurrection, water, bread, wine, and words. Seeking the Kingdom brings with along with it all the rest because wherever God reigns in Jesus, He reigns over everything: soul and body, heaven and earth, eternal and temporal. And for all of that, He teaches us to pray, by the very Holy Spirit for whom we pray. We pray for the Spirit and the Spirit teaches us to pray.
And when the weakness of our flesh weighs down the willingness of our spirit, when we are exhausted by our lack of prayer, by our unwillingness to pray, by our contentedness in our own mediocre misery, then the Spirit whom He has given “helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26, ESV). And the Spirit drives us again to Christ, who by His scars intercedes for us before the Father that we may be healed. He cuts away the body of the flesh, and God makes us alive together with His Son. It is not for the sake of the fifty or the forty or the thirty or the twenty or even the ten that He saves us. It is only for the sake of the One.
So now we have come full circle. Now we are once again at the blessed beginning, novices, amateurs, disciples. Now, again, we see our Lord, Jesus the Son of God, interceding—praying—for us in that particular, heavenly place. Now, again, we know that His prayer for us is already answered because He has finished His best and glorious work. Now, again and again and again, until we live in the light of full and answered prayer, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/26/19