This text reminds us that there are two parallel stories, two plots unfolding all the time: the obvious story of the world you see in the news and as you look around, but the other a hidden, elusive but certain narrative that unfolds unseen, entirely at odds with the other story, leading to God and goodness and redemption. The secret is not being deluded or diverted by the first story. William Temple famously said the world is like a shop window into which some devious person has sneaked at night and switched all the pricetags around. The lunacy of life is that we spend ourselves then on what has little value, missing the precious stuff.
Bonhoeffer used a helpful analogy. Children do not just know how to talk. Rather, “The child learns to speak because his father speaks to him. He learns the speech of his father.” So it is as we learn to pray. And the child must be shaped and molded in ways that may not suit the child’s immediate desires. If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray. If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer. But God wants it otherwise. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” Or as C.S. Lewis put in, “In prayer we lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.”
Luke 11 begins with The Lord’s Prayer, well worth much explication, or a series of classes. Here is a little email series on it I sent out a few years back. Use it if you’d like. How different is this prayer from our usual praying! It’s about God more than me and my wishes – which get undermined, if Huxley was right in saying “Thy kingdom come means My kingdom go.” “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven” will leave us plenty to do, making heavenly realities happen here and now. The reflexive forgiveness requirement is haunting, and bears repeating every few minutes in our rancorous culture.
Prayer, public and private, is a major feature of my book Worshipful: Living Sunday Morning All Week. And I also wrote a little laity study book called The Beautiful Work of Learning to Pray: 31 Lessons.