Today I am delivering a couple of lectures at Yale, which is wonderful, but the trouble is I’m starting a new sermon series this Sunday at Virginia-Highland Church on The Art of Prayer. I’ve been obsessing about that all week, and that is NOT what they want me to talk about at Yale. I wonder what the folks at Yale think about prayer. What do you?
It is one of those things we talk about all our lives. It may even be one of the things we actually do, but I suspect few of us have given it much thought. It is almost assumed that everyone knows what prayer is and how it is done. There was something about Jesus’ life, though, that indicated that he knew something more about the subject than the average, devout person because, at one point, his disciples, those who followed him most closely, simply blurted out, “Lord teach us to pray.”
During the next few weeks, I’m going to try to unpack not just what Jesus said, but also what he meant. A couple of things motivate this sermon series at this time. First, our church has been a scattered gathering of people for the past several years, with a very small core of people who were there when I arrived. Just in the past year, we have begun to coalesce into a solid core of two or three hundred committed people with hundreds of others passing in and out periodically. For a small church to serve such a large community requires significant spiritual resources, and prayer is the best way I know to achieve that. Two weeks ago, we started a deliberate prayer ministry that I hope will become the literal cornerstone of the church.
The other motivation for this topic is that Bill and I both have become keenly aware of our dependence on prayer during this season of his illness. He always has been a remarkably prayerful person and has found prayer to be a great gift in helping him cope and continue to minister to others. My own awareness has been that, as a pastor, I need to teach people how to pray before they need to know how to because life has thrust a crisis upon them. We all know how to chase desperate pleas toward the sky, but I think the disciples of Jesus must have recognized that this was pretty ineffectual. So they turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
I wish he was here to teach us in person, but perhaps the Spirit can teach us some things. The key, I think, is for all of us to realize that this is not something we were born knowing. Disciples of the Way of Jesus, both then and now, need to learn The Art of Prayer. Will you join me in taking some art lessons?
Rev. Michael Piazza