I don't know about you, but I have the tendency to get myself into ruts. I find myself eating at the same 2 or 3 restaurants on a weekly basis, or I realize that I've been checking the same handful of websites over and over throughout the day.
The most problematic rut I get into involves the snooze alarm function on my phone.
When it goes off, I snooze a few times. To counteract this, I set the alarm earlier, which leads to more snoozing, which leads to an earlier start time.
After a while, my alarm is going off an hour and half before I actually need to get up, but being snoozed 8 or 9 times before I actually get up.
Every couple of years, it gets to a point where I declare alarm clock bankruptcy. I set the alarm to go off when I actually need to get up. It works for a few weeks or months before I decide to back it up a few minutes to accommodate the snoozing that inevitably follows.
Your ruts probably don't look exactly like mine, but we can all find ourselves stuck in a repeating, unthinking cycle.
These ruts can also develop in prayer. I create a list of things which I'm praying for and it grows over time, until I de-clutter and refocus on what I think God is showing me and asking me to connect with in my times of prayer.
When I'm at a place where I need to refocus, I do something that I consider to be smart: I listen to Jesus.
Matthew, a tax man who was invited to follow Jesus, records Jesus teaching us how to pray.
Sometimes we use the exact words of Jesus as we pray 'The Lord's Prayer' or 'Our Father'; but I believe that when we look at the structure Jesus uses, it can help us to reframe and refocus our prayer so that we avoid ruts which do not point us toward our goal of connecting with God.
Let's break it down.
Who am I?
Starting with the word 'our' rather than 'my' reminds us that we are a people in community. We are not alone. We have many brothers and sisters in this life and need to recognize that God loves all of us.
Father in heaven,
Who are you?
God is, as Anne Lamott says in Help, Thanks, Wow, way beyond us and deep inside us. It is always good for us to have some perspective on this. That we are not praying to a God who doesn't care or doesn't know. We are praying to a Father who exists on a higher plane of reality than we exist on.
We connect to him, to be sure, but we live within limitations that do not apply to him. God is not worrying about what is happening to us. He has promised that he will care for us, and we must remember that he is fully capable of fulfilling his promises.
may your name be kept holy.
I'm not only in the relationship for what I can get out of it.
We need to care about not treating God like some bubble gum machine in the sky: put in my prayer quarter, get my gumball response. If you had a friend who only ever came your way when they needed you to serve their needs, you're going to start screening their calls pretty quick. I'm not saying that God will ignore prayer when we are being selfish - if that was true, I'd be in pretty big trouble. I'm saying that a in a healthy relationship, both sides care about the other.
May your Kingdom come soon.May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Why are we here?
In the midst of whatever need is going to come up in prayer, let's keep the bigger picture in mind. There is a mission which I have been given and if forgotten, will change how I view any needs that I feel.
We've all gone into a store or restaurant and had an employee act like us walking in was the biggest inconvenience in the world. They have forgotten that customers are not an interruption to their work, but instead the reason for it.
Our purpose is not to live a problem free existence, but instead to invite the Kingdom of God to continually impact the world around us through our engagement with it.
Give us today the food we need,
Where's what I need.
Only after all that effort in having a healthy perspective are we able to ask for things we need. Notice that Jesus leads us to ask for true needs rather than wants. I want more money and a bigger house; but perhaps I need to recognize that I have clothes to wear, food to eat and a roof on my head.
I want guidance on what I'm supposed to do next in my life, but I also need to be grateful for the gift of salvation which has changed my life.
This is not so much about providing God a news bulletin or a Christmas gift list as it reminds us to place our faith in God to provide what's really necessary in our lives.
In fact, the very verse before Matthew records this example prayer, Jesus specifically says God knows what our needs are. He is leading us to understand that we need to get on God's playbook rather than try to get God onto ours.
and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
This isn't about just me or just you, it's about us.
God isn't a butler, who lives to fulfill our every wish.
God also isn't a dictator who does what he wants regardless of us.
As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: "We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith but superstition."
God is a loving Father teaching us healthy ways to engage in life so that we may have more abundance than we would naturally choose for ourselves. He has chosen to work in and through us.
We must be willing to understand that need for our effort to be included. The best way for this to happen is by linking our own personal benefit with the benefit we give to others.
I need a lot of grace in my life, so God let's me choose how much to have: by directly linking what I get to what I give.
Jesus doesn't let us walk away from this prayer dusting off our hands, proclaiming that it's all in his hands and we have nothing further to do. We always have further opportunity for engagement.
And don’t let us yield to temptation,but rescue us from the evil one.
I'm not in the driver's seat.
With the final line, Jesus reaffirms to us that we exist based on God's grace. Elsewhere, Jesus is recorded as saying, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world."
It in in God that we must place our hope. If we start to believe that we are able to handle things on our own, or that we are in fact doing God favors with our efforts, things will surely end badly for us.
When we end our prayer by stating our continued need for God, it keeps us in a state of mind wherein we seek to maintain a disposition of faithfulness toward the one whose benevolence guides us to abundant life.
Jesus gives us some valuable principles which we can incorporate into our times of prayer. We're not simply providing God with a honey-do list. We're actually seeking to orient ourselves around Gods activity in our lives and in our world.
So goes the famous quote in the movie Shadowlands: "Prayer doesn't change God. It changes me."
Good doesn't need me to pray. I need to pray.
Seek to center your prayer on the identity and purpose of God which gives you identity and purpose as well.
Such prayer will bring about growth and maturity in your life and is well worth your time.
(A version of this article originally appeared on relevantmagazine.com)