The rhythm of prayer

Thursday in the First Week of Lent – February 22, 2018 – Matthew 7:7-12

It is a joy to be asked to preach for the students, faculty, staff, and families of my alma mater. Thank you to the recording crew at the Chapel of the Apostles for this audio.

Ask. Search. Knock.

Ask— and it will be given you; search— and you will find; knock— and the door will be opened for you. 

Everyone who asks receives, everyone who searches finds, and everyone who knocks finds an open door.

Ask. Search. Knock. — Receive. Find. Open.

Jesus’ words sound out for us the rhythm of prayer like the beat—beat—beat of a drum. [1]

Ask. Search. Knock.

This is the pattern of our prayer.

In prayer we ask God for things. We know—or think we know—what we want from God so we name our needs and our desires. We ask. [2]

Bless us, O Lord. Deliver us, O Lord. Save us, O Lord.

“Dear God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

“Dear God, Give me a little brother for Christmas.”

“Dear God, Keep my little brother safe.”

“Dear God, Make my little brother disappear.”

When we don’t know what to ask, we search. We randomly name our thoughts before God. [3] Like in the space between the light switch and the bed, we grope around in the dark—having forgotten where even the most familiar things are.

As seekers we go to prayer not knowing what we want but relying on God to point it out.

“I’m unhappy, in a bad mood, I don’t know what I want. Mad at myself, Mad at you. Show me the way, Jesus. Show me the way.”

And sometimes no words come. All we find is a door. In that case, we can only knock. Sometimes we knock softly and patiently, opening the prayer book and reciting its well-worn words. Other times we pound erratically, shouting so loud that we expect our sorrow to separate the clouds and God to reach down and pick us up.

Sometimes all we can do is knock. “For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

Ask. Search. Knock.—These are the beats in the rhythm of our prayer.

In drought we pray for rain. In war we pray for peace. In frustration we pray for guidance. In turmoil we cry out.

Jesus taught us the rhythm of prayer. But he didn’t just use his words; he also used his life.

“And he withdrew to a quiet place to pray.”

“And he withdrew to a mountain to pray.”

“And he left them there and went up to pray.”

Jesus shows us constantly to punctuate our life with prayer. We are not strangers to this rhythm.

Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline. And that’s just a minimum!

For centuries there have been monastic prayer offices: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, Compline. Such is the rhythm of Christian life.

The daily office offers time to sink into the psalms, whisper familiar collects, and bid our personal petitions to God.

“We pray for Michael our Presiding Bishop, John our Chancellor, and for all our bishops.”

This is what we do as Christians. We pray.

Even right now we are engaged common prayer. The red book gives us the slow and steady beat of our lives. Even the prayers within the rites of the Prayer Book have standard rhythms.

The the collects, for example. They are fashioned—mostly—according to a pattern:

Address. Attribution. Petition. Reason. Doxology.

Address—Dear God

Attribution—Almighty and ever-living father

Petition—Give us strength

Reason—So that we may more perfectly serve you

Doxology—In the name of your son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

The rhythm pulsates inside of us; it becomes part of who we are. We pray when we are thankful—before meals and when we gather with old friends.

When we are nervous—while the professor is passing out the midterm or just before we meet our beloved’s parents for the first time. When we have work to do—at board meetings and bible studies. When we are at the bedside—for healing or for a peaceful death.

Jesus taught us to pattern our lives with prayer. And so we do.

It’s a simple concept, easy to understand. But you don’t always do it very well. And I don’t always do it very well. I doubt, I wander, I fidget.

If you’re like me, sometimes the rhythm of your prayer is interrupted because you get distracted. What is appropriate to include? [4]

The things I need? The things I want? The things I think others need?

No matter what I have to offer, it seems inadequate. “Please God, I need to pass this exam.” Nope, too self-serving.

“I pray that I am not like them, Lord.” Hmmm…seems judgmental.

“Please God, Cure my flu.” But other people have it, too.

“I thank you Lord, that the sermon was a success.” Way too self-congratulatory!

In the silence at the daily office I list names of friends and family rapid fire, only to find myself worrying about who I did not name.

“Oh no! I prayed for Susan this morning, but I just talked to her. Nanette probably needed it more. And then there’s Diego. And my grandma! How could I forget her again??”

Do you do that? Edit your prayers?

“No, I won’t ask God for anything this evening. I’ve been asking for too much lately.”

I sure do.

Do your prayers feel inadequate sometimes?

“How many more child must die?”

“How many more women must be groped?”

I cannot stand the feeling of failing in prayer. But here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: There’s no reason to censor your prayer. I think a lot of us spend a great deal of time and energy trying to perfect the rhythm of our prayers, but that is not the point.

Jesus tells us to pray to God however we need to—by asking or searching or knocking. Maybe it’s all those things at once.

As long as you are praying you are participating in God’s rhythm for your life.

We pray to communicate with God. We do not have to be in touch with God. God already knows us better than we know ourselves, but we talk to God because we have a relationship with God, and that’s what you do when you’re in a relationship—you talk.

You talk to each other. It’s not always perfect, but it’s part of the rhythm of life together.

“Hi, Honey, how was your day?”

“Oh fine, and yours?”

“Not bad.”

“That’s all?

Why don’t you ever tell me anything anymore?”

“I’m not telling you every detail of every day.

I’m tired!

I just got home from work!”

What we say is rarely perfect, but we have the conversations because they are important to us, and they are important to God.

God understands when you don’t understand. God handles the onslaught of your disorganized thoughts even better than our professors!

God doesn’t require you to cite any sources or tag any friends. God just wants to hear from you.

I think it must be a most pleasing sound—the rhythm of God’s people in prayer. There is no better time than Lent to settle into a new discipline—a new rhythm—of prayer.

If you do, you might be surprised by what happens.

You will not be surprised because your attitude changes, or because you feel peaceful, or because you are more connected, or because you’re called to action.

No—I think you can anticipate all of that.

But if you settle into a rhythm of prayer I think you will be surprised to find that you are not the one in control. [5]

And that’s okay.

You didn’t start the beat; it belongs to the one from whom all blessings flow.

So…feel the divine rhythm.

Snap you fingers, clap your hands, tap your toes…

And pray.


[1] Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 79.

[2] Ibid, 80.

[3] Ibid.

[4] cf. Long, 80.

[5] Ibid.

One thought on “The rhythm of prayer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s