Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Great Commandments Prayer Model

My current sermon series is focused on offering realistic guides to improving the prayer life of people who feel that it is important. The last sermon was on models of prayer. It was grounded in the model of prayer Jesus taught the crowds on the side of mountain and taught the disciples when they asked. We have come to call this The Lord's Prayer. And it is repeated throughout churches and homes on a regular basis.

I drew the implication out of what Jesus says in those passages relevant to the prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4) that this was not THE prayer that followers were to pray, but a model to prayer. That is my take on that passage. It can be read in the sense that this was the prayer that they were supposed to pray. The disciples seemed to take it that way and commend early Christians to pray that same prayer (plus the line "for yours is the power and glory forever) three times a day.

The point I wanted to make is that models of prayer are useful guides in entering our prayer times. They focus us on God and make the most use of the time that we spend there in the throne room of God.

I pulled together some models of prayer that I have heard taught through my years of faith journeying. A.C.T.S., P.R.A.Y., the Hand Prayer, the Jesus Prayer, Breath Prayers. I printed them out on sheets of paper and offered them to the congregation to use in their own times of praying. But there was one that I offered that I have never encountered before. I saw the potential of a very critical piece of Christian life as the inspiration for a model of prayer.

By the way: if anyone finds where this has been done, I will gladly renounce any claim to this being an original idea.

The Great Commandments
Jesus is asked, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)

In this dialogue, Jesus identifies three centers of love - God, neighbor, and self. 

Loving God requires a surrender of the whole self, not just a partial self commitment. Heart, soul, and mind (Mark and Luke also include body in this line of thought) are all the components of self. To be obedient to the Law means to bring the full self into alignment with God through obedience, devotion, and faithfulness.

Loving your neighbor is not a matter of obedience, but it is a matter of respect. Jesus is pulling both of these commandments straight from Old Testament Law. Leviticus 19 lays out a set of ethical conditions based upon relationship between people. Faithfulness to God required that those who loved God would treat others with respect. Devotion and faithfulness to another is still implicit in this commandment. We are not to turn our back on our neighbor. To do so would violate the custom and culture of hospitality. 

Luke's gospel (which puts these commandments in the mouth of a Mosaic law expert) expands on the understanding of neighbor. The parable, famously known as The Good Samaritan, expands neighbor to include not only those who are like us in nationality, language, custom, or religion but also includes those not like us in these ways. The Samaritan is the good neighbor to the Judean who was left beaten and abandoned on the side of the road. Extending hospitality as custom and culture required is not limited only to the person who has lived next to you for decades. It also includes those who have no home, who have a different language or culture. It includes the beaten and the abandoned. 

The final class of people we are to love is ourselves. It would be very easy to say that Jesus is teaching that we should not be selfish. That is part of the the greater understanding of the way of life Jesus led as an example. But there is also the understanding that if we don't love ourself in a healthy way, we cannot truly love our neighbor or God. If we don't respect our own heart, mind, soul, or body, then how can we treat others with hospitality in those same areas of self? If we don't know our own heart, soul, mind, and body well enough to care for them, then we are not bringing our whole self to love God in a healthy way. 

In the process of examining the three commandments, I began to see a model of prayer that could be used to guide us into loving God, others, and ourselves in healthy ways.

The Great Commandment Prayer model
Any prayer should begin with God. In this model, we turn our attention to love of God. It helps to keep heart, mind, soul, and body in the back of our head as we are praying in this way. The focus of this prayer of loving God would include:
  • Surrender our whole self to God - our hurts and joys, our thought patterns, our personality, our desires
  • Seek God's wisdom and will above our own
  • Listen for God's leading by quieting our mind and heart
  • Confess the true sins we have committed against God and others
Once we have moved through the areas of this prayer, we are able to shift our focus toward others. We begin by offering those confessions of true sins in the previous area of prayer as a promise to act upon that confession and seek forgiveness in the ways we have treated others. We can also bring the needs and concerns of others into our prayer focus. As we lift others, we need to keep in mind that loving others is not just about those we know deeply and intimately. Jesus commanded the disciples to love four types of people: one another, neighbor who are like you, neighbors to the stranger, and enemies. So a practical application to prayer in this regard would be:
  • Lift the confessions, seeking of forgiveness, and needs or concerns of family, friends, church members;
  • Lift the confessions, seeking of forgiveness, and needs or concerns of the people who live around us and work around us;
  • Lift the confessions, seeking of forgiveness, and needs or concerns of strangers and people we don't know personally (politicians, random people we hear about through our day, the people in news stories, etc.);
  • Lift the confessions, seeking of forgiveness, and needs or concerns of enemies or people who have or wish to hurt us.
It seems like a lot when it is broken out that way. But it really is bringing the teaching of Jesus on who we are to love in line with the commandment to love our "neighbor" as ourselves.

Finally, we turn our attention to our own life. We pray with attention toward the complete self:
  • heart - pray for our hurts and joys, our feelings toward God and others;
  • mind - we seek to fill our minds with the Word of God and meditate upon it;
  • soul - we bring our faith, hope, joy before God and ask for their revealing to us and strengthening;
  • body - we bring our needs, wants, and desires to God and humbly ask for their fulfilling.
 Like I said, I don't know if this is original. And I know it is a little cumbersome. It isn't easy to remember all of those. And this is definitely not a cute little acrostic that we just keep in our back pocket and pull out when we want to pray. But I believe that it is something that we can implement over time with discipline and practice. It is a model for a true quiet time of prayer. It isn't a model to just toss up while driving down the road (don't pray that way any way!).

It is something that could be done over the course of the day. The prayers of loving God could begin our daily journey. Praying during the course of the day for others could happen at any time. It would be effective, especially, at times when someone is brought to our attention. Finally, we take time at the end of the day to bring our life with its ups and downs, successes and failures, and put our whole life before God.

Below you will find the outline that I printed out on a quarter sheet of paper. It will basically fit on a 5x8 index card or 3x5 with a little shrinking.

Maybe you will find it useful as you seek to improve your praying life. 

Great Commandments Prayer
Love God -
Surrender to God - Seek God’s wisdom and will
Listen for God’s leading - Confess true sins
Love Others -
Family and friends
Neighbors and co-workers
Strangers, government
Enemies, those who would do harm
Love Self -
Heart - feelings toward God and others
Mind - focus on the Word of God
Soul - bring your faith, hope, joy, peace into prayer
Body - seek God’s provision for your needs