In Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus listed what have become known as “The Beatitudes”. Each phrase begins with “Blessed are..” or “Happy are…” (depending on the translation). The blessings are specific, but they are also reserved for those who do not appear to be due for blessings– the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Each group seems pitiable, not suited for accolades and celebration. They’ve done nothing to deserve blessing. Yet Jesus calls them “Happy” and assigns them amazing gifts and blessings– not for their hard work or achievements, but because of their emptiness; their need and their ability to receive the blessings of God.
There are wonderful sermons and analyses and studies on the Beatitudes, but in relation to prayer, I want to look at this aspect. There are no blessings in the list for the doers– the movers and shakers, the revolutionaries and the organizers and life-changers. Throughout the Sermon, Jesus spends more time on attitude than on action–Murder is an action– forbidden by the Ten Commandments– but it is based on attitudes like hatred, disdain, envy, and rage. Clearly, Jesus does not want us to be unproductive or isolated from the needs of others, but our busyness, our stress, our huffing and puffing and scurrying about, does not impress Him, nor does it bring us the kind of happiness only God can offer.
He gives the same emphasis when he discusses prayer– prayer is not about public eloquence or long strings of words or excessive emotional outbursts. In fact, effective prayer has little to do with who is praying, what words or word order or language they use, where they pray, or when they pray. It IS about how and why and TO WHOM they are praying. And the only active verb not assigned to “Our Father” is found in the phrase, “…as we forgive…”
God does not command us to pray seven times a day, or to have a prayer list a mile long, or to pray only when we are in great need. He wants us to “pray without ceasing”, not as a recurring action, but as a constant state of being aware of and responsive to His presence.
I have a niece who has spent several years in dance. When she was a beginner, it was both comical and sad to watch as she and many others agonized and counted the steps out as they performed– often getting all the right steps, but a slight beat ahead of or behind the music and/or the other dancers. But what a delight to see the development of young students into graceful dancers– seeing the transition from just doing the right steps at the (approximate) right time to internalizing and coordinating the music and movement into art.
I have friends who are runners, and while I don’t run, I have watched those who do…there is a difference in the stride, the posture, and the face of someone who is “a runner” and someone who is just “running.” It’s not the action, but the attitude that makes the difference.
Prayer is a gift; a privilege; a sacred meditative conversation with our Creator, Our Father, and our King. I don’t want to just pray– I want to BE in Prayer!