It was well after midnight. The phone rang and I could hear the despair in her voice. She was hurting deeply, couldn’t sleep, and called me. We knew each other well, but I didn’t know she saw me as a pastor until that moment. She explained to me that all week she couldn’t concentrate and focus on her work because she kept seeing that video of how they killed him. The more she talked, the more she cried. The more she cried, the more I cried. The more we both got emotional thinking about that video and what they did to him.
She kept saying, “I can’t believe they did that to that man, you can see that he has been overcome, you can see that he has been dominated, you can see the fear in his eyes, the human realization that death is imminent and there is nothing he can do about it.” Then, she screamed and said, “I can’t believe they would just kill him like that.” Then she silently sat on the phone, a bit embarrassed, I suspect, because we hadn’t gone there in our friendship yet. And she continued: “I am so sorry I called but I’m sitting here in my room crying, worrying, stressing, and I wanted to reach out because I keep thinking to myself, Lord, I don’t know what to do, I want to have faith but I feel helpless right now, I want to pray but I don’t know how.” Her voice escalated, “Did you hear me? I don’t know how to pray!”
Living in the current times, I deeply appreciate my friend’s honesty about her desire to learn how to pray. If it was never clear before, today we certainly need to learn how to pray. From the recent police killings in Dallas and Louisiana, to the brutal murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, to the recent charges dropped against the Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddy Grey, and the ongoing flood and natural disasters in Louisiana, we need guidance on how to properly pray in the midst of crisis and tragedy.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ disciples asked him the same question. Scripture doesn’t tell us what exactly prompted them to ask this, only that they did. My creative imagination leads me to think that if it happened today, it might be because Peter noticed that in all of the sermons of Jesus, the same plain-clothed centurions seem to show up. Maybe Matthew when listening to the concerns of the people in the crowd, noticed a common theme of police brutality. Maybe John was on his way to meet with Jesus and the rest of the 12, but his sisters came and told him that his friend or his brother or his cousin was stopped and frisked and got arrested.
Some sort of crisis must have happened as the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”
Jesus does that. Jesus teaches us how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. In that prayer, Jesus tells us that one important way to pray is to pray through our action, working to ensure that the kingdom of God becomes a reality on earth. In this simple truth Jesus teaches us how to pray and literally hands us the keys to the kingdom. He says for those of us deep in crisis, hopeless and unsure about our future, our way out and our way forward is to work to make this world better for others. Jesus argues that in our darkest moments we should hold on to the belief that the order of the moral universe can be altered by those who seek to do good. Jesus tries to convince us that the way to talk to God is by talking to our neighbors and working on their behalf for justice, peace and dignity.
My brothers and my sisters, we must learn how to pray. We must learn how to pray like Jesus taught us — for our nation, for our policy makers and for the police they endow with the power to kill. We must learn how to pray for our brothers and sisters who are the victims of police brutality and racism. We must pray for allies and potential allies deliberating action and for churches and faith leaders working for shalom in the public sphere. We must learn how to pray — for our neighbors, for our friends, for our enemies, for each other. We must learn how to pray so that we can ease the suffering of our world and make God’s kingdom known to all in our world.