If you watched the end of the Republican National Convention on Thursday, you heard an iconic baby boomer anthem: The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want.
There’s been all sorts of commentary about the choice of this song, but that commentary isn’t our focus today.
The chorus of this song continues, “… if you try sometime you find you get what you need.” What we need – rather than want – is more worthy of our consideration.
Yet, it’s difficult sometimes to distinguish between the two, especially when we’re bombarded with messages from others telling us just what we “need.”
But it’s also difficult when we are surrounded by so much fear and anger that demand our attention and response. Can we distinguish between what is needful – that is necessary – and what simply wants our attention?
The short answer to this question is, yes. But it takes practice – it is a learned discipline.
The disciples are accustomed to seeing Jesus pray – not just occasionally but a lot –regularly and often. Finally, one of the disciples says to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, ….”
And what we hear next is very familiar to us. In fact it is foundational for us –we pray it every week, and hopefully a lot more often than that. But familiarity can sometimes be a stumbling block because we can pray it mechanically and not think about what we are praying.
So let’s take some time to unpack Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer is wonderfully to the point, yet it contains and prioritizes all that is needful – all that is necessary for our well-being.
First and foremost, it sets forth our primary focus – our relationship with God. Only then does it reminds us that a part of this focus is to bring about our Creator’s kingdom. Short and to the point!
Then this prayer turns to our personal needs – what is necessary for our well-being to be realized. It seems Jesus thinks we need far less than we may think.
The first of these things is “daily bread.” This is not an appeal for abundance, but for what is necessary to sustain us for the day. This is less an issue of quantity and more about presence of mind – or attention. Give us what we need so that our attention can be focused on your kingdom.
The second of the needful or necessary things for us to place our Creator and kingdom first is the quality of our relationships with our fellow creatures.
These relationships depend upon our ability to forgive and to be forgiven. This petition makes it clear that our forgiveness depends upon our ability to forgive those who are in need of our forgiveness – not just those who ask for it but all in need. Who might that be? Anyone we hold a grudge against.
And finally there is the petition to be spared the time of trial. Just as sustenance and forgiveness are daily necessities, so is being saved from the time of trial. As our relationships become ordered as Jesus is teaching us, this final petition will be realized. We will be spared the time of trial.
Thus this simple prayer contains all that is needful – all that is necessary for us as disciples. As such it can be a rule for distinguishing between what is needful and what simply wants our attention.
But just because this prayer is simple, don’t think for a moment that it can be taken for granted. It takes persistent practice – daily, throughout the day, throughout the week, and for years before we are able to pray it as Jesus wants us to pray it – fully aware of what is needful in our lives, as opposed to what just wants our attention.
The parable of the persistent friend shows us what this persistence in prayer looks like as it becomes our common prayer – our common language.
“Persistent” is used to describe the friend who comes knocking in the middle of the night. A literal translation of persistence is “shamelessness,” which has some negative connotations associated with it, but there are positive connotations as well, such as transparent, unconcealed, open, and undisguised.
These attributes of shamelessness are the ones we will recognize in others and ourselves as we learn to pray as Jesus teaches us because the prayer will make us more open and transparent to one another as we near the kingdom.
So imagine we are the one who is in bed with our children and disturbed from our sleep by the “shameless” friend. I don’t know about you but I’m usually pretty cross when someone wakes me up in the middle of the night. As a result, I am reluctant to disturb others.
Yet, in this parable, the shameless friend is not ashamed to share his need with his neighbor. The reason he is not ashamed is because as 1st century Palestinians they share a common and abiding cultural obligation to extend hospitality to travelers.
The shameless friend isn’t reluctant to disturb his friend because they are both steeped in the common obligation to extend hospitality to the traveler that arrives at their door. They share this common language and understanding between them. Thus this request is not as outrageous as it may seem to our 21st century ears.
And this is Jesus’ desire for his disciples, that we are so persistent and steeped in this common prayer and understanding that we are able to discern between what simply wants our attention and the kingdom that is necessary for our well-being.
If it isn’t about “Our Father,” our concern is probably misdirected.