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.

How to Avoid Being a Religious Hypocrite

Joel Osteen
Joel Osteen, photo via Wikipedia

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Your religion is your own business. If you’re using your religion as a way to impress people, God won’t have anything to do with you.

So, when you make charitable gifts, don’t insist on having a plaque dedicated in your honor. Talk about being a hypocrite! So they have a plaque, big deal! That’s all they have, really. But when you make a charitable contribution, just do it and shut up. The gift carries its own sublime reward.

And when you pray, don’t think that having a TV show or radio ministry makes your prayers better than anyone else’s. Talk about feeding your own ego! So they have a TV show, big deal! That’s all they have, really. But when you pray, just keep it to yourself. God can hear and answer you without the aid of a radio tower.

And when you make some kind of sacrifice, don’t go around making a big to-do about it. Talk about being a drama queen! So they put themselves out a little bit, big deal! That’s the end of it, really. But when you give up something, keep the rest of yourself together and don’t whine about it. Remember that “sacrifice” means you’re doing it for the greater good, and that’s good enough.

All Jesus is saying here is what the rest of us were thinking. Put it this way: of all the plaques that were being dedicated in Jesus’ day, how many of them are still being read today? How many radio shows have come and gone in just the last generation? And how many sacrifices have been made that, in spite of all the publicity given them at the time, we can’t call to mind a year later.

Gifts with strings attached aren’t really gifts, and (though you can fool some people for a while) if it’s really all about you, it pretty much dies when you do. There’s a reason why they call it “15 minutes of fame.”

The truth is that while religion may motivate doing good things – giving to charity, prayer, and consideration for others – the motivation doesn’t make the action itself any better. And, using religion as a way of proving to everyone just how good you are is really sending the message that you think you’re better than someone else. It’s a really annoying message because (a) it’s not true, and (b) nobody cares about your ego.

Sure, Joel Osteen may attract a few thousand people to his church on any given Sunday, and have several thousand more who watch him on TV. But Jesus wants to know, when the message is, “Look at me! And if you can be as religious as I am, you can have what I have,” then so what?”

On the other hand, if you give, pray, and sacrifice without the fanfare, the people who really matter – and, if you’re religiously motivated, God – will take note.

Don’t Stress Out!

Philippians 4:4-7

Let Jesus make you into joyful people. Rejoice, I say! Be gentle with people. Jesus is right there, so don’t stress out! Bring what’s on your mind, along with your gratitude, to prayer. When you do – it’s beyond explaining how it happens – your mind and heart will be at peace, in touch with Jesus and with the eternal.

My mother used to say you get more flies with honey than with vinegar. Behind all the excuses people give for not wanting any part of Christianity may well be that so many Christians tend to be dour, pessimistic folk. Sometimes its the feeling that you have to watch your step or someone will get upset with you. Other times it’s all the talk about how hard it is to keep the church up and running. “Maintenance mode.” Nobody wants to sign on for that!

Dour Christians and stuck churches are not what Paul had in mind. Despite his reputation, Paul, like Jesus, wanted people to enjoy life. And it’s hard to enjoy life when people are so rough on each other and so stressed out about so many things. In this regard, prayer helps. For one thing, it can help balance what we need with what we already have. And, though prayer is not a substitute for actually dealing with the problems that face us or for doing the work that needs done, regular meditation provides a space to expand our vision, explore new approaches, and gather strength for the tasks at hand.

Stop. Don’t take it out on someone else. Don’t freak out!
Clear your mind. Relax. Breathe. Be grateful.