Do you and I really know how to pray? You know, we’ve all walked into church and to prepare for Mass, we kneel down to pray. What’s in that prayer?
Imagine if we knelt down and said, Jesus, I want you to do this, this, this, this, and this. Amen.
When I put it that way, it doesn’t sound much like prayer does it – yet – for many of us, that might be the only type of prayer we do…asking for stuff. We’ve never been taught how to pray – or what prayer is all about. Myself included.
There’s so many different things going on in the reading, but what I noticed was a lesson on prayer. So – first listen to the Gospel: John and James are walking with Jesus and can ask him anything they want… Pay attention to what they asked for – how they asked – and what was Jesus’ immediate reply. What does this tell us about prayer?
READING 1: IS 53:10-11
PSALM 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
READING 2: HEB 4:14-16
GOSPEL MK 10:35-45
Jesus – we want you to do whatever we ask. Well – yeah – don’t we all wish that? Jesus isn’t some genie in a bottle ready fulfill our every wish. Listening to James and John ask it, it seems so obvious that is NOT the right way to ask God for anything. Or is it???
Notice Jesus’ response – it wasn’t, “well you ungrateful little snobs, that’s not how you talk to God” – instead Jesus asked ‘what do you wish me to do for you’. That implies that Jesus DOES want us to tell him what we want….even if it’s not something realistic or good…. Put our desires into words and lay them before Jesus. That basic action can change our lives IF we let it.
‘What do you want me to do for you?’…. Imagine if Jesus asked YOU that. We all have dreams and goals. Maybe it’s as simple as getting a gold star on my test today – or having that pimple disappear off of my face – some of us dream of getting the big buck – or a promotion at work – or accepted into the nursing program as school. Maybe our dream is for that popular, good-looking person to take notice of us. Dreams are important – they drive us to move beyond our current circumstances toward something better. Dreams are ‘important’... but not all dreams are ‘good’….as we’ll soon find out about James and John’s request.
But – by just by putting our dreams into words, we define it for ourselves – maybe for the first time – and often, like listening to James and John, we’ll immediately convict ourselves and realize how shallow or self-centered the request is. If I pray for my wife to change, just by putting into words exactly what I wish for, I’ll realize that I have a part to play in that change. If I pray to get a 22 point buck so people remember me, I’ll realize that while getting a buck for the record books might bring temporary fame, what really makes someone memorable is how they treated other people..... how they served God and others. **
What do you want me to do for you? By taking our dreams to prayer – putting them into words – and then allowing God to speak back to us, we are changed. See – we’re not praying to change GOD’S mind, but we’re praying so that OUR mind can be changed to be more like God’s mind. We don’t pray to get what WE want, we pray so that we will want what GOD wants.
Jesus encouraged James and John to go ahead and make their request – but taught them they were seeking the wrong thing. They asked to be on his right and left when he entered his glory…. Think about that – when DID Jesus enter his glory? ON THE CROSS! THAT was the throne of His kingdom – and who was on his right and his left? The two criminals crucified with him! James and John REALLY didn’t know what they were asking for!!! Looking back later, they could clearly understand how their prayer was for the wrong thing.
This was a teachable moment… so Instead of praying for power, Jesus taught them they were most powerful when they became the servant of all. In His kingdom, the Slave is the greatest.
Many of us weren’t really taught how to pray – but here are some ideas which might guide us.
First – prayer is about relationship. How do you know you have a relationship with your spouse or friends: you talk to each other, right? Is it possible to have a relationship without talking to the other person? Prayer is not how we WORK ON our relationship with God…. Prayer IS our relationship with God. Relationships fall apart when people stop talking. If we don’t pray, our relationship with God falls apart.
Second - we MUST have silence. I learned a long time ago that if my wife wants to talk to me, that TV had better be off – and that phone had better be turned upside down. I’m just too easily distracted! Same with talking with God: remove all distractions.
Third – Speak – yes, we should share our thoughts, wishes, praise, hunger, heartache, and even anger with God. Relationships are strengthened when the level of sharing is deep. Superficial sharing makes for a superficial relationship.
Fourth – Listen - if our prayer consists of US doing all the talking and not allowing time for God to speak back, we don’t have a relationship. None of us would like to be around a person who only talks about themselves and never tries to learn from the other person. God can teach us so much if we just listen.
Fifth – and I think this is the big learning from today – pray ‘thy will be done’ – and then ask God to show you how to make YOUR will align with His will. Get this: Every time we ask God for something that is His will, He WILL grant it!! Jesus even struggled with that in the Garden of Gethsemane – trying to make his human will line-up with what he knew he needed to do to fulfill God’s will. Maybe that’s the bottom line with these suffering-servant readings: when we have prayed enough so that we’ll seek God’s will even when it means suffering for us, THEN we have reached the point of true glory.
Paraphrasing a quote from J. F. Kennedy: Ask not what your God can do for you, but ask what You can do for your God!
** this is a nod to our buddy, Tim Friedman who proceeded us to heaven 3 years ago this month