Forward Today: Lord, teach us to pray

Note: As we continue to pray for healing for the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, this weekly message will feature guest writers from the Forward Movement staff and board of directors. Today’s message comes from Allison Sandlin Liles, editor of Grow Christians.

Dear friends in Christ, 

A couple of Sundays ago, we heard in our churches the beginning of chapter 11 in Luke’s Gospel in which an unnamed disciple asks Jesus to teach them how to pray. It’s the only time in the gospels that a disciple asks Jesus to teach them something; every other time, Jesus initiates the lesson himself.

The fact that this disciple needs help learning how to pray makes perfect sense to me. Prayer seems to be one of those things in which most people feel perpetually inadequate. We’re told as people of faith we need to pray, that we should pray, but the only way so many of us know how to pray is the way we learned as young children: kneeling at the side of a bed with hands clasped together, naming aloud our blessings and petitions. 

Many of us turn to books to try and teach ourselves what we are too afraid to ask. This disciple in Luke 11 approaches Jesus and speaks for all of us: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus responds with a sample prayer, a parable and some additional sayings about prayer that make it seem so easy. But prayer is not easy—it’s a spiritual discipline that requires patience and practice before it feels natural.  

Two weeks ago, after preaching on this text and the importance of developing a regular prayer habit, a member asked if I might teach a formation class on various types of prayer. She is someone whom I know prays for me every single day, who spent years praying fervently in her life as a Roman Catholic nun, and who, honestly, would teach such a class more effectively than I would.  When she made this request, I realized I preached an entire sermon about the importance of prayer without walking through different methods of prayer.

I know the role daily prayer plays in my own life—the impact of skipping a morning centering prayer session and the lightness and grounding that comes from consecutive days of sitting through it. But what about the prayer lives of the people in my care? Shouldn’t their personal response to God’s presence be a priority for me as their church leader?

From my own experiences, I know that when the people within our faith communities engage daily prayer, they are changed. They notice God in the ordinary. They feel more connected with those around them. Their lives are led by faith and hope. They are transformed. 

I wonder about the lasting impact of church leaders investing time and energy into nourishing the prayer lives of their members. How might the entire community be transformed?

Allison Sandlin Liles

More from our ministry:

Explore different modes of prayer: Seek and You Will Find

Go deeper into the prayer Jesus taught us: Bold to Say

Allison’s writing on Grow Christians: Envisioning Jesus in Our Own Image

Pray with us every day: