FAITH AND VALUES: What Jesus taught us about prayer
David Halberstam has written a wonderful book on the decade of the 50s. In the book, he recalls the Ed Sullivan Show and its dramatic impact on our nation at that time. He points to that particular television program as a landmark of the 1950s ... and of course, it was. He reminds us of some of those wonderful, humorous moments on live national TV when Ed Sullivan would accidentally get his words mixed up and end up with “his foot in his mouth.”
For example, one night the great singer Sergio Franchi was a guest performer on the Ed Sullivan Show. He sang Malotte's The Lord's Prayer. It was magnificent. Ed Sullivan then returned to the stage, had a senior moment and couldn't think of Sergio Franchi's name, so he said (as only he could do it) these words: “Come on, ladies and gentleman, let's hear it for the Lord's Prayer!”
Well, as a matter of fact, “The Lord's Prayer” is indeed something worth cheering about because it is one of God's greatest gifts to the world. Here in these simple but profound words, Jesus teaches us to pray.
Jesus teaches us to pray in the spirit of forgiveness. Right in the middle of the Lord's Prayer we find these words: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Jesus is teaching us again here the crucial lesson about forgiveness that he taught so often and that we need so desperately to hear and understand, namely that ... We need to be forgiven, and we need to be forgivers. We accept God's forgiveness and then we pass that forgiveness on to others. We receive forgiveness from our Lord ... and then we become “echoes” of his forgiving spirit in the world.
Or put another way, we cannot come fully into the presence of God with hatred and hostility in our hearts. Remember how Jesus put this so dramatically in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “If you come to the altar and remember that someone has something against you, go fix that – go reconcile that – and then come back to the altar. But you may say, 'Now wait a minute. It's not my fault!' Of course, it's not your fault, but as a Christian it is your responsibility to go fix it ... because hatred, hostility, resentment, bitterness are spiritual poisons that will contaminate your spirit and devastate your soul.”
Let me show you what I mean. One of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous creations is his painting of The Last Supper. It is said that while Leonardo da Vinci was working on the painting he got into an argument with a fellow painter. Leonardo da Vinci was so mad at this colleague that in anger and out of spite he painted that man's face as the face of Judas in his painting of the upper room Supper.
But then, having completed that, Leonardo da Vinci turned to paint the face of Christ and he could not do it. It wouldn't come. He couldn't visualize it. He couldn't paint the face of Christ.
He put down his paintbrush and went to find the man from whom he was estranged. He forgave him; they reconciled with one another; they both apologized. They both forgave. That very evening Leonardo da Vinci had a dream and in that dream he saw the face of Christ. He rose quickly from his bed and finished the painting and it became one of his greatest masterpieces.
The point is, Leonardo could not portray the face of Christ with hostility in his heart; and neither can we! We come to God for forgiveness. Then we are called to live in God's generous, gracious, forgiving spirit.
Jesus teaches us to pray in the spirit of trust. Jesus put it like this: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Which means, “O Lord, you are the King of Life forever, so we will trust You and follow Your lead.”
A minister friend was on vacation last summer in the mountains of Colorado. After he and his 3 ˝ year old grandson Paul soaked up the sights and sounds and fragrances of those incredible mountains, it was time to head back.
My friend asked young Paul a series of questions: “Paul, do you know how to get back? Do you know where the cabin is? Do you know which way to go?”
“No sir,” he answered.
Then, he said to Paul, “Are you lost?”
“No, Granpa,” he said, “I can't be lost 'cause I'm with you!”
Now that is the picture of trust, isn't it? “I can't be lost 'cause I'm with you.” Let me ask you something: Do you trust anybody like that? Do you trust God like a little child? This is what Jesus had in mind when he said, Unless you become like a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of God.
If we could pray to God each day with childlike trust, it would make all the difference. If we could really know God as a loving, caring parent, who knows what's best for us, then every prayer and every day would be entrusted to God and to the doing of God's will. As one of my older saintly friends puts it in her prayers: “Lord, here's what I would like – I want this or that or the other, but have it Your way 'cause You're a lot wiser than I am.”
In the Model Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray always in the spirit of forgiveness and in the spirit of trust. Have you learned to pray like that? Have you learned to live like that?
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken's First Baptist Church.