Prayer: The Way to Grow in Relationship with God - Luke 11:1-13
Humanity, in general, has a broken relationship with God. I don’t need to explain to you how deeply in need of healing we are. Sin is pervasive. Spiritual disease and brokenness are everywhere. We see it in the news throughout the world. We see it in other people we interact with. And if we’re honest, we see it in ourselves. But a relationship with God will gradually heal this brokenness, in fact it seems that sin and suffering actually drive us to God, so that we can grow into fully mature human beings. And to do this, we have the gift of prayer—a gift from God that’s a way of deepening our relationship. To heal our brokenness. To mend our relationship with the divine. To give us spiritual health and wholeness.
In the Gospel reading today Jesus offers instruction on prayer. He gives his disciples the Lord’s Prayer and tells a parable about the need for persistence in prayer. Now prayer is primarily about relationship, about building our relationship with God. Think of prayer as the means by which we grow in our relationship with God. We may think of prayer as asking God for things, thanking God for things, confessing sins to God, or simply praising God in words or song. And all of those things help build our relationship with God in their own way. They are all expressions of our Spirit driven desire to connect with our Creator. And they’re all important. Father Thomas Keating talks about the deepening levels of prayer. From acquaintance with God. To friendship with God. To intimacy with God. Just like in human relationships, our relationship with God takes time to develop, at least in this physical realm it does. Thus the need for persistence and dedication in prayer.
Keating says that a life of prayer is first initiated by God. The desire to know God is itself a gift from God. The desire to pray is planted in us by God. As Paul says in Romans, it is the Spirit longing within us with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8:26). When we become aware of that desire in us we enter the relationship and become, as Keating says, acquaintances with God.
When we’re acquaintances with God we’re curious. We’re learning to be comfortable. We’re learning about God at church, maybe in bible studies or different education opportunities. Maybe we even pray at home. We’re interested but feel like God is still distant. We’re cultivating this relationship. And growing in connection with God. Deepening this relationship into a real friendship.
Then there comes a time when we realize we’re actually becoming friends with God. Jesus calls us all friends after all. And when we are established in a strong friendship with God we may have more boldness in prayer. We feel more connected. We ask more boldly for things we need, for healing, for our loved ones. We may even be comfortable yelling at God about the pain and suffering in our lives and our world. Because only with a very good friend or close family member—someone you’re really comfortable with—can you express your anger and pain and not be afraid of rejection.
And then, when friendship with God becomes very strong, there comes the deepest level which Keating calls intimacy with God. This is the level beyond words and requests. There comes a time when we realize that if we’re always asking our divine friend for things, is it really a genuine relationship or are we just trying to get what we can out of God? We start to recognize that we enjoy simply resting in God’s presence. Not asking for anything. Just being with God. Not feeling the need to express anything in words. Just sitting in silence with the divine.
That’s what Keating calls intimacy with God. And it’s what mystics call contemplative prayer or pure prayer. When we are good enough friends with God, close enough with our Creator, we become eager to simply spend time alone with God, without saying or doing anything. It may happen when you read a bible passage and then take a long pause to just sit with God. It may happen when you sit in silence observing God’s beauty in the natural world. It may happen when you intentionally set aside time for centering prayer.
Keating says it’s just like a couple who’ve been in love for decades who can simply sit in each other’s presence without the pressure to say or do anything, just to simply be together in one another’s presence. It’s the most mature and intimate way of relating to God. Simply resting in God’s presence. Beyond words, without distractions. And when distractions come in the forms of thoughts, emotions, or outside noises, we simply let them go and return our focus to dwelling with God. It is here where real, deep healing occurs.
In the Gospel reading today Jesus gives his disciples a roadmap for prayer. A model of how to move through these deepening levels of connection with God. And beyond the specifics of what to pray for, Jesus’ parable makes clear that this takes time. It takes persistence. It takes dedication to grow in this relationship through the gift of prayer. Jesus’ parable demonstrates that if we pray awaiting God long enough, God will come. We will experience God’s presence. The Holy Spirit will take root and bear fruit in us.
And it's not that we have to put all this effort into growing in prayer in order to be saved or loved by God. That’s already taken care of. The thing about prayer is that we get to grow closer to God, it’s a gift! We are called to be persistent in prayer and to receive the Holy Spirit because we are saved by grace. We are inspired to a life of devotion to God because of God’s love for us. Because of the God-initiated desire to pray, we are drawn closer and closer to the divine—growing in our relationship with God and growing into mature reflections of the divine image.
We are all growing in our relationship with the divine and being transformed by the power of prayer. And by being persistent and knocking on the divine door every day, we continue to deepen our connection and grow closer to God.
And this, more than anything, is what the world needs. People who are actively seeking to grow in relationship with the divine. To connect with our Creator. To align with the divine. To be transformed by prayer. Keating talks about the power of prayer to change the world, one relationship at a time. He says, “Right now there are about two billion Christians on the planet. If a significant portion of them were to embrace the contemplative dimension of the Gospel, the emerging global society would experience a powerful surge toward enduring peace.”
It's true. The power of prayer doesn’t only transform us as individuals. By transforming individuals, the power of prayer changes the world. When enough people wake up to the fact that God has been calling us all along, calling us to a life of prayer, calling us to move from acquaintanceship to friendship to intimacy, then the power of prayer does change the world. Brokenness turns into healing. Immature ideologies grow up. Our structures reflect peace and justice. The spiritual disease of sin turns into spiritual health and wholeness. Disconnection with God and others turns into union and love. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer and the importance of the journey to which we are called. The power of prayer can change us, and the power of prayer is changing the world. Thanks be to God for this tremendous gift of prayer. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 7/24/22