[This is the article I've written for the April newsletter of the congregation I serve as pastor, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]
And [Jesus] said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.” (Luke 11:46)
Let’s be clear: In this passage, Jesus wasn't addressing lawyers like those we know today. The lawyers He criticized were experts in not only Biblical commands, but also in the hundreds of human-created laws that were produced in the centuries before Jesus showed up. Pharisees and lawyers (also known as scribes) loved to lay the burdens of these laws on others, Jesus is saying, but they were none too keen to help anyone with the burdens these laws imposed.
I’ve been thinking about that during the Lenten season this year. On Wednesday nights during Lent, we’ve been focusing on prayer by taking a close look at the model prayer Jesus taught, the Lord’s Prayer. (You can find the prayer, presented in slightly different forms in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.)
Of course, one of my aims during Lent has been to encourage people to pray more.
But I haven’t wanted and I don’t want to tell people, “You’ve got to pray in a certain way.” If I lay more burdens on people, I’m no better than the scribes and Pharisees Jesus criticized.
The great news is that we Christians don’t have to pray (though Jesus does command prayer), but that we get to pray. Through prayer, we can be drawn closer to God, praise and thank God, confess our sins, and make requests, among other things.
But not everybody should or can pray in the same way.
I have a friend who’s a committed follower of Jesus. He also has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I tease him that his brain has synaptic connections where I don’t even have brains!
For Joe (not his real name) to be forced to spend an hour every morning in prayer with a journal in hand would be torture. His mind would flit in a million different directions. He wouldn’t get much praying done. In the end, he would only resent God. Joe isn’t going to pray the way some “experts” (modern day versions of the “lawyers” Jesus criticized) say they should.
Joe’s challenge—and the challenge of every Christian—is to learn how to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) in ways consistent with their own personalities and circumstances.
In his wonderful book, Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World, the late missionary and educator, Frank Laubach, talked about how he offered “flash prayers.” Walking down a street, he might see a man who looked despondent; Laubach would silently pray, “God help that man.” In India, where he lived and worked for years, he might see a young mother and her brood of children; Laubach would ask God to encourage them. He might see a beautiful sunset or healthy vegetables in the market and simply thank God for these blessings.
Laubach also suggested that Christians could offer these “flash prayers” throughout their days: when waking in the morning, when taking a shower, and in all the brief in-between times in our daily schedules. By this method, we can cover our world and our lives in prayer.
As Laubach describes flash praying, it can even be a lot of fun. He remembers sitting in the back pew of a Mumbai church’s sanctuary one Easter Sunday. He had expected to be inspired and encouraged. Instead, the preacher gave a sermon, which Laubach said, “was hopelessly bad.” What could Laubach do for the poor congregation suffering through this sermon? He decided to pray for all the people he saw sitting in front of him, looking at the backs of their heads as he did so.
As Laubach tells it: “To my astonished joy, every person, almost the moment I prayed, either turned, or bowed his head, or passed his hand over the back of his head. I have never before nor since experienced such a one-hundred per cent response.”
That last sentence should be a cautionary note. We shouldn’t ape what Laubach did on that particular Easter Sunday. He admits that the response he got that day was unique. (Besides, who wants to be burdened with new prayer laws?)
But I do think there’s an important principle to be gleaned from his experience and from his “flash prayers.”
You can pray all day long in Jesus’ Name, in the silence of your heart, no matter what you’re doing at work, at home, with friends, at the ball game, or wherever. And when you do offer prayers like these, God will hear your prayers. I promise.
Blessings in Christ,