“Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation.’”– Luke 11:1-4 (CEB)
Over the last several weeks, I have encountered a few books about prayer. The book titles are, The Only Prayer You’ll Ever Need, Becoming Jesus’ Prayer-Transforming Your Life Through the Lord’s Prayer, and The Lord’s Prayer by Adam Hamilton. These books were gifts, given to me within the same timeframe, which caught my attention so much they moved to the top of my pile of books (you know that pile of unread books). I have been fascinated because, unbeknownst to me, all books delved into a richer understanding of the Lord’s Prayer, and it has been a deep journey of spiritual learning for me.
Over the weeks, I began to reflect on when I first encountered the Lord’s Prayer, and thought about my experiences in Sunday School, as a child, and how we were incentivized to learn the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. As a child, I never understood growing in my relationship with Jesus, but simply learned the rhythms of churchgoing; so learning Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 for a small gift and candy was like winning the lottery. The Scripture was never explained for deeper learning, it was always for the fun and accomplishment of reciting these texts in front of the Sunday School class, and ultimately in front of the congregation for the applause. And that applause and attention would be the only reason why I would continue to memorize and recite, not because I knew the significance of its meanings for my life.
However, as I have grown on my discipleship journey (as a follower of Jesus Christ, not simply because I am a pastor), I am aware of the need to deepen my relationship with Jesus, through the study of Scripture, time in prayer daily, and attending to regular worship experiences. It is these types of spiritual disciplines that carry me through the ebbs and flows of life, particularly in these ever-evolving times within our beloved United Methodist Church.
It is a few words from the Lord’s Prayer, found in Luke 11 as the text cited above, that have continued to grab my attention and ring in my ears… “LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY…” I began reflecting on this earnest request from the disciples and believe it should be our sincere plea these days. When we are invited into a conversation with God and create space for God to speak, we listen, and then we respond.
In a recent visit, during Sunday worship, at Lawrence UMC, Pastor Kimberly Tyler asked and challenged the congregation to pray The Lord’s Prayer, every day at Noon, so that this church, which is experiencing a new season of life in ministry and be on one accord. When I read it in the bulletin, I simply said…God, I am listening, and you are speaking loudly!
I began thinking, Lord, Teach Us to Pray before we become quick to pass judgment and criticize. Lord, Teach Us to Pray before we spread false narratives and perpetuate mistruths. Lord, Teach Us to Pray so that we can truly see all people as people and not problems or projects. Lord, Teach Us to Pray before we allow our prejudices to cause us to write anonymous letters which spew hate and is contrary to Your command to Love.
I know there is A LOT of information circulating about the United Methodist Church. I wonder, what would it be if we took on the posture of prayer before we lend our opinions? I wonder, what would it be, if we took on this simple request of “Lord, Teach Us to Pray” what type of collective enlightenment would emerge that brings about greater Hope, Light, and Love in this world? I just wonder, if we were intentional about praying, as we are about our posting on social media, what type of difference we would make for the furtherance of God’s Kin-dom.
So, Friends, I am not sure about you, but God has me focused on prayer during this particular season. And I wonder if you will join me. There is so much going on in culture, in The Church, and we are preparing for a Special Annual Conference Session on November 19 to affirm the decisions of congregations who want to disaffiliate from the UMC. As a leader of many leaders, I do not have the words of encouragement, all I have is an invitation for you to join me in creating the daily space and time and reciting, “Lord, Teach Us to Pray…”
In Prayer and Service,
Rev. Dr. Aleze M. Fulbright
Conference Superintendent serving West and Central District