What makes a good prayer?
Posted on 31 August 2011, 14:05
This is an extract from my book, Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth. The conversation is imagined but the words of Jesus are not; they’re all his.
Intro: Jesus took part in synagogue worship, which used formal prayers; but apparently also went off to be alone in the mountains and desert. He’d disappear early, before the demands of the day. So I was eager to know: what makes a good prayer?
SP: You recently lost your temper.
JN: Don’t judge and you won’t be judged.
SP: It wasn’t meant to be a judgement; but then again, perhaps it was.
JN: With whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you.
SP: I understand. But what interests me most is the cause of your rage. You went into the Temple here in Jerusalem, saw people buying and selling things and assaulted them with both word and whip.
JN: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ I said, ‘but you have made it a den of robbers!’
SP: So you flung over the money lenders’ tables and kicked over the chairs of the dove sellers. And how very similar your words were to the prophet Jeremiah! Centuries before he too had stood in the Temple, and said, ‘Do you think that my Temple is a hiding place for robbers? I will drive you out of my sight as I drove out your relatives!’
JN: As I say, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer.’
SP: The Temple had lost its identity as a place of prayer, and prayer matters to you, teacher. But then unlike most people, you have a profound trust in your heavenly father.
JN: See the birds of the sky who neither sow, reap nor store food in barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than these birds?
SP: With such limitless trust prayer must be both easy and delightful.
JN: Or consider the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t toil, they don’t spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these.
SP: Your eyes are never far from creation, teacher. Indeed, I sometimes think it’s your scripture even more than the scriptures themselves.
JN: And if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is here today but tomorrow is thrown in the fire, then how much more will you be dressed, you of little faith?
SP: We learn from what we see and hear, and I suppose some of us had bad teachers of prayer; people who replaced simple trust with something else like pomposity, fear or self-righteousness.
JN: Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
SP: Tax collectors know nothing about the prayer. I know you like to speak well of them but I’ve never met a nice one myself, and I’ve met many nice Pharisees.
JN: The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men.’
SP: Not a good start, I grant you. We’ll call him Proud Peter.
JN: ‘I thank you that I am not like other men - extortioners, the unrighteous, adulterers or even such low-life as this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give tithes of all that I receive.’
SP: It seems Proud Peter must feel superior to others to make himself feel good. He must always have a list of people less good than him.
JN: So then see the tax collector –
SP: - who we’ll just call Low-Life –
JN: - standing far away. He won’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beats his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
SP: Which he is, because all those tax-collectors are on the make.
JN: Do not condemn and you won’t be condemned –
SP: - OK, OK -
JN: - yet I tell you, it was this man –
SP: - Low-Life? –
JN: - who went back to his house having made God smile, rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled but they who humble themselves will be exalted.
SP: Is that so? Then it’s not so much the act of prayer which is important, but the attitude we bring to prayer. If we’re full of ourselves, it’s an empty experience. But when trust is there –
JN: - ask, and it will be given to you.
SP: You do keep things simple, teacher, even if it’s simply impossible.
JN: Your father in heaven knows your needs.
Conversations With Jesus of Nazareth by Jesus of Nazareth with Simon Parke is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online books stores.
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