Wednesday, February 25th

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Matthew 6:5-6


I was talking to a young man yesterday who told me he didn’t much care for the way that some Christians pray in church.  He said, “I don’t like it when they read the prayers, it just seems so impersonal, like they’re not even praying, they are just using someone else’s words.” 


I pushed him on that one a bit…asked if he had any problems with praying the Lord’s Prayer (having been given the words by someone else) or whether or not he had ever noticed the built-in liturgy to the “Jeezzuz weejjuz…Father God” prayer form of which he was more accustomed.  We both smiled and then sought some common ground.


But I’m reminded of that conversation as we look at these verses on Ash Wednesday morning.  It reminds me of the bizarre switch we carry inside of us that hits the (if I’m the one praying) PERFORM button or (if someone else is praying) the CRITICAL JUDGE button.  This knee jerk response of harshly judging someone else’s prayers might be behind the mortal fear many Christians feel at the thought of praying to God out loud.  I don’t know about Jesus’ day but you would have to travel pretty far from Covenant Lutheran Church before you could find someone impressing a crowd by standing and praying out loud on a street corner…at least someone sober.


The big question for us today on the first day of Lent isn’t about ostentatious displays of prayers in public but whether or not we pray at all.


Prayer is what we do when we are consciously in the presence of God.  Whether spoken or silent, whether with words or quiet meditation, alone or with others, sitting, walking, bending or lying down, prayer is being with God.  It is speaking but it is also listening – it is communicating, being in communion with.  Whatever form it takes, there is a mindfulness to prayer.  And that is where we often fail.


When it comes to prayer our sin is seldom one of commission (refusing to go there) but omission (forgetting it is even an option.)  Which ends up cutting off communication, cutting off the conscious awareness of the presence of God in our lives and in all things.  We do life on our own.


That is precisely what Jesus wants to protect us from – from wandering off and doing our lives on our own.  For in such wandering the odds are stacked that we’ll get lost.  So he asks for some mindful time from us.  Some free from distraction time.  Some time to be together.  And thus we discover that it is the being together that is the reward.


Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, as we move now into our Lenten journey with you and your people, we pray that you keep us mindful of your presence.  Inspire us to add a few quiet minutes a day to set aside the distractions and be with you.  Forgive us for harshly judging our own prayers or those of others.  It is good to be with you and to know that you are with us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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