BE BRIEF AND DIRECT IN PRAYER AND WITH EACH OTHER
I was fourteen when the Germans sent me to an army camp to be trained as a youth leader. At that time, I was leading two troops of boys ages ten to fourteen. The first thing I had to learn was that my orders and requests had to be direct. I was not allowed to enhance my request or sweet-talk the commander. My experience reminds me of our Lord’s instruction regarding prayer. “But when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray… to be seen by men. I tell you the truth they have received their reward in full. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then you’re Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on bubbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt. 6:5-8).
Luke, the author of the third gospel, reported that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray and Jesus readily did so. His version is even briefer than Matthew’s (Lk. 11:1-4). In both versions, the Father is to be asked directly to have the disciples keep his name holy, pray for his kingdom to come, receive their daily bread and forgive their debtors as they themselves forgive. Matthew adds, “…to do the Father’s will and to be kept out of temptations.” In real life, there is no record that they were brief and direct in their requests. On Pentecost and after, prayers became many and many. When the Gentiles became Christians, particularly at Corinth, they all preached and prayed at the same time (I Cor. 14). Of course, the early Christians did not have the written words to guide them. Not much has changed, for us, with the availability of the written word. Our feelings of gratitude to the Lord for our redemption get carried away. Tears of thanks should be allowed to flow. Jesus did accept the woman that wetted his feet with her tears (Lk. 7:38, 44).
The third Evangelist tells us that the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus regarding things they did not grasp (Lk. 9:45). This is not how they behaved regarding their best interest. When Jesus talked about sacrificing, the disciples demanded to know what they would get for their loyalty to Jesus (Mk. 10:28). There is no question that they wanted a piece of the kingdom. While Jesus was teaching self-denial, the disciples were arguing, who among them would be the greatest (Mk. 9:34)? When they saw a man driving out demons in Jesus name, they stopped him because he was dipping into their work (Lk. 9:49). And when one town did not welcome the disciples, they were ready to have fire fall from heaven and destroy it (Lk. 9:54). Jesus had already asked, “How long do I have to put up with you?” (Mk. 9:19), and “What kind of a spirit is in you” (Lk. 9:55)? Fortunately or unfortunately, the disciples never got to manage the twelve tribes or run the kingdom of heaven.
The disciples did not demonstrate the kind of spirit set forth in the sample of prayer, Jesus gave them. They wanted to manage rather than being managed. It was about what they wanted to do and not what they should have been doing. They wanted to be in charge of those that provide the bread and keep them safe. They wanted others to do for them what they did not want to do for themselves. How do I know all these things? Look at their prayer. Jesus laid it out for them at their request. First, they were to acknowledge the Father in heaven, who is holy. Second, they were to help usher in the kingdom where God’s will to be done. Third, ask for their daily bread. Fourth, lead forgiving lives. And fifth, ask God to keep them out of trouble. This simple prayer is the “ABC” of life. It is like learning to walk before one can run. It is like removing the oxygen from the air, or justice from the law or food from sustaining life. It is like trying to live without ever forgiving or getting into trouble. Life is filled with the need to forgive and each day has sufficient difficulties to cope with. A brief and direct prayer can keep us on guard.
We are obsessed with greatness very much like the disciples were. I am not satisfied with brief and basic needs. I am dreaming of being debt free and have ample supplies for a year. There is a bit of the rich fool in me (Lk. 12:13-21). When I was younger, we had more expensive cars. They gave me a sense of false pride. I have tried to over come it by changing from driving Mercedes to Hyundai. Unfortunately, I had to pay more for Hyundai than I did for a Mercedes, thirty years ago. I no longer have that feeling for competing with the Jones’. My ego is not that greedy any more and I am more content with a less expensive diet. Please, let me tell you that I am not a bird. I do worry, not as much as I did when I was younger and my future did not look promising. We used to live in housing supplied by our employers and no pensions. We made changes, planted some seeds and in due time, we had a roof over our heads and our daily bread. God has multiplied our efforts and lessened our worries. Believing in a heavenly Father, doing what is right, having our daily bread, forgiving more than being forgiven and staying out of temptations has given us peace of mind and soul. Our brief and direct prayers have become brief with direct thanks.
I no longer pray, “Lord, bless only me, that’s as far as I can see.” A psychiatrist got nowhere with one patient. “What is wrong with the man?” asked another patient. “He thinks he has a split personality,” answered the counselor. “And what did you tell him to do,” queried the inquirer? The weary doctor replied, “I finally told him to go chase himself” (Ar. 48). That precisely is the course most of us pursue. It is that endless search as to how to satisfy the self in us. Joseph Fort Newton wrote this alarming description of a modern man, “When a man loses faith in God, he worships humanity; when faith in humanity fails, he worships science, as so many are trying to do today. When faith in science fails, man worships himself at the altar of his own idolatry where he receives a benediction of vanity. Hence, the tedious egotism of our day, when men are self-centered and self-obsessed, is unable to get themselves off their hands” (Wa. 252). The director of a hospital, in Ibsen’s drama “Peer Gynt” offered this analysis of a selfish man, “It’s here that men are most themselves – themselves and nothing but themselves – sailing without spread sails of self. Each shuts him self in a cask of self, the cask stopped with a bung of self and seasoned in a well of self. None has a tear for others’ woes or cares what any other thinks. Now surely you’ll say tat he’s himself! He’s full of himself and nothing else; himself in every word he says – himself when he’s beside himself. …Long live the Emperor of Self” (Wa. 253)!
A movie idol, after he had praised himself for two hours, stopped abruptly and smiled at the audience; appeared to show some modesty by saying, “That’s enough of myself. Now, tell me about yourselves.” Then he ruined it all by adding, “How did you like my last picture?” The truth of the matter is that the last picture is as disgusting as all the other selves. It is the worst vanity of which there is no end. How does one cope with egotism? How did Jesus deal with his disciples? He asked a child to stand in their midst and told his disciples to look at it and to them, “I tell you what you need to know, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Mt. 18:1-5). If we were present when Jesus leveled his evaluation on his disciples’ behavior, we would not see their bearded faces blush but we would see them hang their heads. Jesus was not lifting up the child, but humiliating his students. They were adults and behaved worse than children. They were not direct with each other. They were angry at the Zebedees at their mother’s request for wanting the highest places in the kingdom (Mt. 20:20-28).
How did I arrive at that conclusion? I asked myself whether that child was an angel and not like other children that teased, stuck out their tongues, called names, threw stones and then ran away. That was precisely what happened to me. In fact, more happened to me. A friend I fished with when we were eight and sat together in school, fell into a creek and accused me of pushing him when I was nowhere near. I was punished for something I had not done and there were other things I was accused off and I knew nothing about. One time, I called my brother a name and my father overheard me and almost took my head off. Yes, we got into squabbles; but at the end of the day, we made up and kept on playing together as if nothing had ever happened before. We competed against each other, but when one of us could not keep up we dragged that one with us so that we would get to our goal together. We were one for all and all for one. We were brief and direct with each other.