One cold, dark night Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were hot on the trail of a suspect, camping on the moors in the north of England – Yorkshire to be precise. Staring at the stars above, Holmes asked, “What do you deduce, my dear doctor?”
Dr. Watson replied, “As to astronomy, that the cold has cleared the air to reveal billions of stars beyond count. As to astrology, that Leo has moved into the house of Libra. As to theology, that we are a very small and insignificant piece of this wondrous creation wrought by our dear God.”
Answered Holmes, “Dear God indeed man, if you do not see it!” “What?” said Watson. “Someone has stolen our tent!”
Dear God indeed. Sometimes Jesus’ disciples have a hard time grasping what is right in front of them and we do too. Raised as Jews, they are of course familiar with the concept of prayer. But they’ve seen Jesus pray many times and they are seeing a difference. Jesus has a hotline to his Father. They want that too. And that is precisely what Jesus intends to help them have, and what he intends us to have, too.
Jesus sketches the outline of what will become The Lord’s Prayer. (Luke 11:1-13) It is clear, it is brief; easy to memorize. It encompasses the essential elements of building a pure, holy and complete relationship with the Father.
Those elements are acknowledging God’s holiness, that his will is always the right path and ultimately everything will consummate in it, for provision of our needs, for forgiveness consistent with the way we forgive others, and asking God to keep us out of dire circumstances that profoundly test our faith.
So, what is God up to? Is he somehow insecure and building a fan base? Does he really need reminders about what we need? No. Why then does he want to hear from us?
Be very clear, God loves you. He loves you where you are. He loves you how you are. He loves you despite your sin and your tendency to sin despite knowing better. He loves you despite the bitter guilt and resentments that have built up as you have sinned against God and against others, and others have sinned against you, and as you have endured life’s hardships. And God’s love is absolute.
Which is why he will not leave us as we are. God is love. Love changes – love improves – its object. The illusion is that anything, anything, is static. Everything changes all the time. Nothing stays the same. This is a fact of life. But what are we growing toward?
Jesus is teaching them how to receive the Holy Spirit, the essence of God which is the essence of true life. Prayer is a primary way that God is working with us to help us grow into the people he ever intended us to be through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We tend to talk about prayer in relation to our daily lives and what we observe in those moments. “Dear God man! Do you not see it?” The tent is gone and God is inviting you into eternity, which includes today.
Our scripture and tradition speak quite a lot about being rooted or grounded in our faith, the sure foundation, for example the tree planted by the water in the first Psalm. All of that is true. It’s like ballast in a ship. If you don’t have weight in the keel and the lowest part of the ship, the top is too tipsy. Back in the days of wooden ships, they would load the holds with rocks, using more or less depending on the weight of the load.
But the other thing a ship needs is momentum. Waves can easily become dangerous to a ship standing still. That’s why they park them in harbors. And when it gets rough, especially in a storm, a ship needs to make progress to carve its path through the tumultuous seas. Otherwise, it will be destroyed.
The purpose of prayer isn’t for us to remind God about what He ought to do, it is to open the doors of our hearts and minds to God working in us. Whatever posture we assume - whether seated, kneeling or standing or even lying in our bed - prayer leads us prostrate before our Father. And in that, we gain not only rootedness but momentum.
Consider the tree analogy in Psalm 1: yes, the roots are near the water so the tree thrives. And in thriving, it is growing, always growing. Changing. Moving. Striving. That is life! God intends his love to help you grow and persevere through your own challenges.
Perseverance in prayer is like exercising and thus strengthening your relationship with God.
Martin Luther, the German theologian priest, put it this way:
This life, therefore, is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not
health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise. We are
not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not
yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.
--- Martin Luther, *Defense of All the Articles*, Lazareth transl., as found
in Grace Brame, *Receptive Prayer* (Chalice Press, 1985) p.119
If you want to experience a deep relationship with God, the best way to start is to follow Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Persistence and exercise of prayer will bring you closer to him. And what he seeks to give you far exceeds whatever may be on your heart as you pray. Give him your requests and he will respond with his Holy Spirit. And then you will know the power of God to redeem, transform and raise new life.