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Dave Brisbin

Teach Us to Pray

There was something different about the way Jesus prayed. His friends watched him, watched other religious leaders. They saw their Jewish teachers praying in the marketplace or temple court in full view of the people, saw gentiles praying loud and long, entreating their gods over and over with petitions. Then they saw Jesus, after a grueling day teaching and healing, disappear into the hills sometimes for days, or wake to find him already gone, returning later with the energy and enthusiasm for another grueling day.

The difference was so stark, it finally pushed them to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” What is it you do out there in the wilderness for hours or days on end? What is it you do that brings you back to us restored? He tells them not to make a show, to retreat into their secret place, to use few words since the Father knows what they need before they ask. Then he gives them five simple lines. How does that work? How do five lines of prayer take us deep into the secret space of our wilderness and occupy us for hours or days on end?

We have come to view prayer as made of words. We approach God through our minds, which can only understand something by contrasting it with something else, measuring its value against our needs and desires. But Jesus gives his friends a prayer that is more of a blueprint than a prayer. A way of approaching life that changes the way we see, what we can see, and occupies not just hours or days, but entire lives. Five simple lines, five steps along a path to connection with unseen spirit.

These five lines are possibly the most familiar lines in Western culture, yet we don’t know what they mean. Our Father, kingdom come, daily bread, forgiven debt, temptation and deliverance…in Jesus’ Aramaic, they become a process of clearing an interior space for God’s purpose to take hold,  allowing us to find all we need in each lived moment, healing from past trauma and remaining undiverted, repeating the process over a lifetime of becoming.

Jesus’ five lines are not a prayer to recite, but an intention to live life itself as a prayer.


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