Sometimes how we handle the simplest of tasks determines our physical health: the kinds of food we eat; whether or not we take the time to exercise; the amount of sleep we get; the list goes on and on. Yet even when we fail to commit to being diligent in these tasks we often still question why we are overweight, out of shape or tired.
The same principle applies with regard to our spiritual health.
As good and faithful religious folks, Christ's disciples recognized their need to be healthier spiritually after traveling with Jesus for a while. They saw that his prayers to God directly correlated to his power that was made manifest in dramatic ways, such as in healing others, providing food for the hungry, and even controlling the physical environment that surrounded him. Astonished in their witnessing of these events the disciples started to wonder why after their prayers they didn't have the same power. So in Luke 11:1-13 we read that one of them finally pipes up and asks Jesus how to pray.
Jesus' response initially was one that they heard before -- a summation of what he had taught them earlier at the sermon of the Mount: "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'"
But then Jesus decides to tell them something new with regard to prayer. And to accentuate his point he does so by telling them a story that's bottom line is this: as faithful people, we need to ask God for what it is that we need with a "shameless audacity." According to Jesus, we are to pray in a recklessly brave way that is in defiance of convention, that is unrestrained, that is uninhibited, sometimes even insensible or immodest. Because when we pray out of passionate desperation instead of entitlement then, Jesus tells us, we will receive what we need in the spirit through God.
I think to most of us this seems like a pretty sensible statement, yet in practice most of us fail in our personal implementation.
Every day as a pastor, I'm told how people's children are hurting, how the youth in their lives are lost, how their spouses are off-track, how their friends or family are ill, how someone they know is jobless, how people are abused, how a family member is addicted, how our politicians are corrupt, how the world is dysfunctional, how we are worshipping false gods and putting our trust in things we know will only lead us down a path of destruction ... every day -- I mean every single day -- I hear these same things over and over.
But when I ask these same folks, are you "praying for them?" the response -- 90 percent of the time -- is "Well ... not really."
And yet, Jesus specifically instructs us: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
Of course, even though most of us realize that prayer is essential to our spiritual health, it is still very easy for us to think it's hard to find time to pray because we are so busy.
The famed reformer Martin Luther once appropriately answered that concern when he said: "I have so much to do (today) that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer."
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.