Prayer feels like such a simple task, and yet, Christ had to teach his disciples how to pray. Isn’t it easy? Just close your eyes, bow your head, and do it. Why would we struggle with that? Or more appropriately, why do I struggle with it?
Of course I, like most people, have my answers. I don’t have time, I forget, I don’t know what to say, etc. My prayer life has its seasons of ups and downs, but even at its best moments, it doesn’t look or feel as simple as it should. I often hesitate before I bring my petitions to the Lord, like I’m making sure I did everything I could to solve the problem before bringing it to Him. While the act of praying is simple, getting to a point where I am willing to pray is not only difficult, it’s rebellious to my nature. And it’s rebellious to yours, too.
Fighting Against a Narrative
The fundamental starting point for prayer is realizing that you’re not strong enough, and our modern minds don’t like that idea. Our music and movies are filled with narratives that regularly remind us that we can do it all, and even for Christians, it’s hard to not believe them.
People like me, people who’ve lived lives with relatively few barriers to overcome, can get this idea in their head that they really can do anything. Add that to a generation full of youth pastors, teachers, and parents telling us that we can do anything we set our minds to and you have a recipe for some serious belief in the “self.” We feel the pressure to be important, to do something “that matters,” or to be “world changers” because everyone told us that if we tried hard enough, we could do it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right?
Like nearly every cultural hot topic, though, these ideas did not begin in the last few decades. Philosophers and writers of various generations pointed to humanity’s will or heart or mind or soul to be the source of salvation. The existentialists of the 20th Century made it explicit with their emphasis on the individual’s choice to live a certain way or another.
Existential philosopher Albert Camus writes about this when he reimagines the Greek myth of Sisyphus. The story goes that Sisyphus is condemned to roll a rock up a hill for all eternity. At the end of Camus’ creative retelling of the narrative, he asks his readers how poor Sisyphus could ever be happy. He tells us that the only way remedy is for us, the readers, to imagine Sisyphus happy.
Oh, what power he gives us readers! We, mere mortals who live and die, who sneeze and go to the bathroom, we hold the power to imagine this character’s fate and happiness. Surely then we can create our own happiness and meaning if we simply set our minds to it.
Starting the Rebellion
These ideas fill the modern subconscious, so we approach God with these assumptions already in mind. We pray less, or at least less boldly because we do not truly think we need God to do anything. We’ve had it imprinted on our hearts and minds that we can take care of it ourselves. God is, at best, just a lifeline that helps us out of a jam, a tool that helps us continue living on our own terms, through our own power.
However, this is not how Christ sees prayer. In his exemplary prayer that he gives to the disciplines, he makes clear the prayer’s humility.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
At the very beginning we see a shifting focus away from the self and on to the Father, who’s name we seek to glorify instead of our own.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
We are to call for His kingdom to come, His will to be done, not ours. Christ himself repeats this prayer in the garden of gethsemane where He surrenders all to the Father. “Not my will, but yours be done,” he calls out, modeling a true rebellion against modernity’s self-focused narrative.
Give us this day our daily bread
As the prayer continues, we realize our complete dependency on him for even our most essential needs. I fear how often I go through life taking all that I have for granted, believing I earned it myself and that I deserve the reward of my home, my health, or my daily bread. This part of the prayer reminds us of our fundamental need for a savior, for a rescuer that provides for us, and it reminds us that we do not have the power to do it on our own.
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Perhaps these are the most rebellious words of the prayer. Phrases like “forgive our debts” and “deliver us from evil,” feel outdated in light of contemporary narratives that proclaim humanity’s natural goodness. To plead with an outside being to forgive us and deliver us from evil can almost come off as weak. If you were strong enough, couldn’t you deliver yourself from evil? If you willed it badly enough? Christ thinks not.
Through prayer, we have the ability to remove the impossible burden of solving our problems on our own. We surrender our desires, our plans, and our actions to the One who truly has the power to do something meaningful in us and through us. However, surrender requires humility. We have to understand that we do not merely reach out God like we would a friend to help lift one end of a heavy piece of furniture. No, we reach out to God knowing that the only way we’re ever going to lift our end is if He gives us the power to do so. This idea, this dependency on someone outside of the self, looks like rebelling against the narratives that plague our modern minds, knowing that our wills just won’t work and seeking to know His instead.
Joseph is a writer, editor, husband, and perpetual student. He is passionate about telling the world how the Gospel meets the needs of culture. He is the co-founder of Grounds and currently serves as the editorial director.