Would You Like My Advice On Prayer?

Luke 11:1-13  – The 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, July 28, 2013

“Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples…” (Luke 11:1)

Teach us me to pray.prayer5

I never had a class in seminary that taught me how to pray. But from other classes, I can still recite a few of the letters in the ancient Greek alphabet and recall Paul’s New Testament letters were placed in order, from longest (Romans) to shortest (the two Thessalonians).

Teach us me to pray.

Perhaps my earliest lesson in the art of prayer was around my family’s kitchen table. There, for breakfast and dinner, morning after morning, night after night, my parents would take turns saying grace. Since memories are unreliable, I’m not sure they actually took turns, but I hear both voices. I wonder if they stole glances at each other to see who’d pray, or if Mom took breakfast and Dad got dinner? I can’t recall a word or phrase my parents used in those long-ago prayers, but I easily, gratefully picture their bowed heads and heartfelt tone.

Teach us me to pray.

Let’s say, based on guesswork, that between 1979 (my first official church appointment) and 2007 (when I departed my last official full-time congregation), I averaged four hospital visits a week and prayed with each person. That’s 28 years. Let’s say—more guesses—I took four weeks off every year. So, if you do the calendar math, there were 1,344 weeks where I visited someone in a hospital.

4 visits X 1,344 weeks = 5,376 visits.

In other words, in those twenty-eight years, I prayed 5,376 times.

Each time, I was a little nervous.

Each time, I wasn’t sure what I’d say.

Each time, I feared I’d say the wrong or stupid or boring thing.

Teach us me to pray.

The 5,376 hospital encounters could be tripled (or more) if the in-a-church-member’s-home, at-the-church-office-counseling-a-crying-parishioner and spontaneous-supermarket-aisle prayers are tossed into the holy mix.

Of all those thousands and thousands of prayers, 51% of the time I would wait until the very end of the visit to pray.

Okay, fine, I made up the 51% figure. But I’d often wait until the end because—confession alert, confession alert—I used prayer to escape the visit.

On the outside I’d say, “Could we take time for prayer?”

On the inside I’d think, “It’s time to leave.” Continue reading →