I am going to attempt to do the seemingly implausible- compare The Lion King to the Lord’s Prayer. If it bombs out—well, sorry. The Lion King has always been our favorite Disney, on screen or on Broadway. Whenever we get to the top of a mountain to go down into a valley, we chant the Lion King—of course, just the first two lines. We really didn’t know what it meant, we just knew that it was cool. (It actually translates “There comes a Lion, Father. Oh yes, It’s a Lion.”)
We can all relate to the story arc of Lion King. Little Simba, the lion cub, can’t wait to be King—he sings, “I’m brushing up on looking down, working on my roar, no one saying do this, no one saying be there, no one saying stop that, no one saying see here, Free to run around all day, Free to do it all my way.” Our Ego self loves this. No one can tell me what to do. No one knows better than I do. I will do it my way. No one is the boss of me. If only life would turn out that way.
Something always gets in the way of this vision of us as free to do whatever we want. In this case, it is the death of Simba’s father and the blame he takes from his evil Uncle Scar. He runs away and, in his isolation, he is sent a Warthog and a Meerkat as friends. But Simba cannot be happy in his Hakuna Matata life because he is haunted by the lies and condemnation he is trying to escape. He is dead to his full, real life. But Love seeks him out—in the form of his childhood friend, Nala—and reminds him of who he is, the son of Mufasa. His confession leads to Scar’s confession, which opens the way for new life. He is not lost but found. Deadness leads to new life, a common theme of ours.
Like Simba, we are living with condemnation, but love will lead us out of our dead life into new life. This is how I see the Lord’s Prayer in our scriptures from Luke today as it addresses why we pray.
We all suffer from knowing that we should be praying but not knowing how. When I went to my first bible study, there was a woman there whose prayers were so long and had so many extra-long-voweled words, that it made me feel a bit scared. Lots of Thees and Thous and laying at your feet that I knew I couldn’t say. So when I read the words of Martin Luther, in a letter about the Lord’s Prayer called A Simple Way to Pray to his barber, Peter, I felt such relief. Martin Luther, the great reformer, told Peter, “May our dear Lord grant to you, and to everybody, to do it better than I!” Martin Luther admitted that he felt inadequate to pray. The disciples, who have been with Jesus for years, also admit they don’t know how to pray. We are in good company.
The disciples are asking Jesus to teach them to pray like John the Baptist taught his disciples. John the Baptist, however, like other religious leaders of the time, taught prayers and other religious observations in order to gain the favor of God. It was about human doing—human action, human achievement, human discipline as performed by prayers and other forms of religiosity. Jesus, however, distances himself from that by, as Robert Capon says, “Giving us the barest bones of a prayer…not a religious formula. It means simply, ‘Father.’”
Father. I was sitting with a Jewish friend the other day as he received a call from his daughter who said, “Hi, Abba.” It was a moment of such sweetness that it took me by surprise. Abba. Father. Jesus uses the simplest form of the term, more like Daddy. Jesus tells the disciples to call God ‘Dad.’ It is a relational word, not a task or a religious formulation. That one word speaks volumes as to what prayer is; speaking with our parent. Through his teaching of this prayer, Jesus Christ is giving us a peek into his relationship with God, his Abba father.
What do we believe happens when we pray? My preaching professor, Dr. Lose, shared that most of us think of prayer as a Cosmic Vending machine that only accepts exact change. We want a certain outcome and we place the required amount of prayers in the slot. But then it doesn’t work and we either believe that we put in the wrong prayers or that God is withholding because we are not good enough. But Jesus is teaching us a different way, that God is listening like a Father, waiting like a Father for our call, our voice, our reaching out. This is not something you earn, but a relationship that precedes your birth.
If relationship is the core of praying, how then do we pray? We talk. We share. We listen. We wonder. We argue. We do it again and again. The psalms are a good example of this pouring out of David’s heart to God. Are you angry? Let God know. He can take it. Are you worried? Tell God about it. Anne Lamott in her book Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers, shares, “Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence … Prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold.”
I have learned a lot about praying in the rooms of 12 Step groups. All my life I had prayed that God would give me what I wanted so that I could be happy. Please do this. Please give me that job, that boyfriend, that promotion, that house. Please make that person do right. Please fix this. It didn’t occur to me that I was playing God, giving God instructions on how to run the world. I was then taught to ask for God’s will for me and the power to carry that out. God’s will for me is larger than myself, and is woven together with what is best for others and the world. The power to carry out that will is love, always great love. There is no power as great as love. And where does that power come from?
When we look at this scripture, Christ tells us to ask, to seek and to knock and it is God’s will to give it to us. But it isn’t until the end of the passage that we see what it is that God will give us when we ask, seek and knock. It is not a what but a who. “The heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
Now a brief word about the Holy Spirit. In John 14, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is, “The counselor who will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said.” In John 16, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, the revealer of the truth in all of us. Our Ego is not big on the truth. Like Simba, we want to be King. We don’t need anyone else. We don’t want to know the truth about ourselves so we cover ourselves with religious camouflage like ‘being good.’ But Nadia Boltz-Weber writes, “Being good has never set me free like truth has. What do I really want? I want to not feel so alone.” This is the truth that will set you free because it will not let you go.
That is where the true power of the Lord’s prayer is—in the ‘not alone’ dept. The Holy Spirit is the bringer of the We, the power of connection to God and to others. We say Our Father, our daily bread, our forgiveness, our sins. Christ’s Father is our father. Christ’s forgiveness is our forgiveness. Christ bread is our bread. Christ is with us. We face the truth together.
They say we’re only as sick as our secrets and we all carry secrets. The Holy Spirit does not want us to carry them alone because they isolate us, make us believe that we aren’t or can’t be loved or forgiven.
You are not alone with your failures or colossal mess ups.
You are not alone in your binge watching Netflix to avoid your relationship issues.
You are not alone in erasing your browser history.
You are not alone when you cry in your glass of wine because you don’t feel loved.
You are not alone when your children won’t talk to you.
You are not alone when your spouse cheats on you or someone betrays you.
You are not alone in your denial of your problems.
You are not alone when you don’t know what to do.
You are not alone when you don’t know how to pray.
You are not alone.
Abba, Father, You came down from heaven so that we would not be alone to save us from ourselves. From this dead life that we protect and hide in, give us new life. We are asking, knocking, seeking the truth of the Holy Spirit so that we may be in right relationship with you and those we love. Forgive us, we pray. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.