“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do.” (NLT)
A young priest was meeting with his elderly mentor and they knelt at the altar to pray. The young priest began and he prayed on and on and on and on. Finally the elderly priest tapped him on the shoulder and said, “You know Father, if you prayed more often you would not have to pray so long.”
Jesus instructs His disciples in prayer by giving them the “Lord’s Prayer” or “Our Father.” It is honoring to God, it asks for our needs to be met, it asks for protection and it is brief. As is often pointed out there is not “I” in it.
One of the many reasons I so love the prayers of the Book of Common Prayer is because they follow the pattern that our Lord has given us. They are brief but they are theologically packed and frequently they call on me to pray for things, that left to my own selfishness, I would not think to pray. They set a higher bar for me and I find myself praying like the person I hope to be. This is not hypocrisy because I am not claiming to be there yet. It is the same way when we pray the Psalms and the Psalmist describes virtues that you know you do not yet possess. You don’t quit reading the Psalms, you ask for the Holy Spirit to get you there.
Martin Luther had a helpful meditation on the Lord’s Prayer. He would pray one line at a time and then do 4 things. First thank God for the truth of it, for example thanking God that He is indeed our Father in heaven. Next he would repent where he has fallen short of that truth. For example he would repent of worry as if he did not have a heavenly Father. Third he would pray for the grace to live into that truth. Last he would pray that one day the whole earth would know that truth, that they had a Father in heaven. He would then move on to the next line and repeat the steps. This kind of spiritual rumination gives the one praying the time to reflect and apply the truths of the prayer.
I brought a friend to Church many years ago who had never been in a liturgical service. He found it a bit strange but when we got to the Prayer of Humble Access, he started crying and it was not subtle. I worried that something had offended or wounded him, although I had no idea what that could have been. I leaned over and whispered, “Are you okay?” He said “Yes, that is the most beautiful prayer that I have ever heard.” I would have to agree.
WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
“That we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” And isn’t that the point of prayer, of the sacraments, of God’s grace given to us? Jesus did not come just to give us sound doctrine or to set an example or to have us join the Church. He came and died and rose and sent us the Holy Spirit so that we would be in union with one another. He who has the right to call us “servants” now calls us “friends.” And friends talk, which is why we pray and not babble.