A Simple 5-line Prayer that Really Works

Prayer of the Woods
Photo credit: Charles Dawley

Matthew 6:7-15

When you pray, don’t go on and on like some people. Don’t think that throwing a lot of words at God makes any difference. God already knows what’s really up. So instead, keep it simple, like this:

God, thank you.
Help us to reach the goal, here, now, on the ground, where we are.
Help us with what we need along the way.
Forgive us when we mess up, and help us get over it when others do.
Help us stay focused, and not to indulge in all the crap.

Remember: What goes around comes around, and karma only bites if you do.

Instead of “just wanting to thank the father,” go ahead and do it already! Invocations at Rotary dinners, community bull-roasts, and even church suppers are not the occasion for droning on and on while people wonder when they get to eat!

This is not intended to be facetious. Prayer is serious. Jesus knows we’re not going to tell God anything God doesn’t already know. So prayer is about cutting through the distractions to focus on what’s important. As far as Jesus is concerned, what’s important, the focus of good prayer, is summarized in five lines:

  1. Gratitude. Prayer should be the occasion for positive reinforcement of what is right, and why, and remembering to give credit those who have made it possible.
  2. Progress. Prayer should bring us back to our direction and purpose, and our determination to get where we are called to go. It is the occasion to remember why we do what we do.
  3. Needs. Prayer isn’t a laundry list of everything we think it might be nice to have. Rather, it’s taking an inventory of what we really need, and discerning where the fulfillment of those needs will come from.
  4. Community. Prayer recognizes that we’re not alone. It’s a brutally honest assessment of what you yourself need to do to make things right when someone messes things up, realizing that someone is quite often you.
  5. Focus. Prayer is a means of keeping on task. The distractions, in Jesus’ day and ours, are endless. Procrastination. Involvement in irrelevant discussions on Facebook. The neighbor has gone in and out of the driveway 6 times in the last hour. Prayers that go on and on forever. It’s all evil. It robs you of your time –  you can’t ever get it back – and leads to all kinds of other trouble.

Prayer, good prayer, is powerful. It’s serious. It’s a wonderful, useful life tool. And it really works. Just don’t mistake it for an end in itself.

And one last thought: No amount of prayer will make up for being mean.

Geithner Calls Bank of America’s TARP Loan: A Parable

Timothy Geithner
Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury, via Wikipedia

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if someone in the church sins against me, how many times should I forgive that person? Seven?”

Jesus answered, “It’s not a number. It’s as many times as it takes. The goal is like this:

The secretary of the treasury needed to settle the national debt. So he had the Department of Homeland Security haul in a banker who owed $163 billion. Since the banker couldn’t pay, he ordered the banker to a lifetime jail sentence without trial or parole in Guantanamo, and his entire family fortune along with that of his wife and children confiscated. So the banker fell on his knees and pleaded, “Have patience, and I will repay everything.” Seeing this, the secretary changed his mind about it and let him go, and besides that wrote off the whole $163 billion right then and there.

That same banker, went back to his office and called in the mortgage of a mill worker in Cleveland, who was behind on his payments by $500. The mill worker filled out all the paperwork, applied for all the available loan modification programs, but still the banker refused to relent, and threw the mill worker, together with his family, out on the street, and then threatened to press criminal charges unless the entire mortgage was paid in full.

When the mill worker’s co-workers, and the other working-class folk in his neighborhood heard what happened, they were outraged. They wrote to the secretary of the treasury and told him what was going on. Then the secretary summoned the banker back to his office, and said to him, “You ungrateful bastard! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have the decency to do the same thing? And he handed the banker over for extraordinary rendition to a secret CIA gulag in Uzbekistan to be tortured until he paid the whole $163 billion.

“Now,” said Jesus, “consider what you’ve been forgiven, and then treat your fellow church members – and anyone else, for that matter – likewise, remembering that you, too, could wind up in Uzbekistan.”

There’s no need for extensive commentary here, because when we look at the parable as Jesus might have told it today, it’s implications are, for the most part, self-evident.

You can almost hear the back-story for Peter’s question. Someone has offended Peter on numerous occasions (maybe seven), and Peter wants to know at what point he can retaliate. He poses his question, as people often do, in the form of a theoretical situation: “What if?” The question’s deception is to imply that this issue is not about me personally. Same as when someone says, “I have a friend who …” It makes no difference what commentators say about seven being the number of offenses to be forgiven in the popular rabbinical literature of the day. Nor does Jesus care about keeping score. For Jesus it’s about working through differences, whatever that takes. And Jesus knows it really is about the person asking.

Frequently, interpretations of this parable try to make out the secretary of the treasury (the king in most translations) as standing in the place of God. But it clearly doesn’t work. It makes no sense whatsoever that Jesus intended to represent God as a fickle, whimsical, government financier who one moment threatens, the next writes off huge debts, and then sends someone off to be tortured. (Well, maybe it does if you’re Michele Bachmann, but not for sane people.)

But this isn’t about God, it’s about Jesus’ vision for community among ordinary folk. The story designed to place the outrageous alongside the common ways real power impinges on everyday life, and then to ask the reader (or the hearer): Given the unequal distribution of power and debt in your relationships, what will you do?