nd the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air. . . .” The Chesapeake glowed. The light of death. Following every explosion came wails of murderous misery. For a moment, it would stop. Silence. Bang! Death. Men crouched behind brick walls, men with weapons, men without. It didn’t matter. Here was a stand for those who came before and those who come after. Their own safety, their own survival, was of little concern.
“gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. . . .” Surrounded by destruction, immersed in smoke, saturated with blood, a flag of red, white and blue waves. A tribute to the dead, a beacon to the living. Seldom has a piece of cloth, this one stitched and sewn in the attic of a small New England cottage, represented so much. Those who sacrificed believed we would never forget this day.
Yet we do. Before every Super Bowl, World Series game, or Kentucky Derby, in every third grade classroom and concert hall, we place our hands over our hearts, hum the tune, mouth the words, and offer rabid applause. Our words describe every aspect of the scene. Except the reason for the scene. Do our minds, even for a moment, journey back to the desolation and death at Fort McHenry in late 1812? Another victim held captive by cliché and routine.
Peter was exhausted. Twenty miles a day tended to have such an effect. Mud caked his feet, casting doubt as to where his sandals ended and legs began. The endless murmur of the crowds still ricocheted off his eardrums, though they were now alone, accompanied only by the smoldering, barren desert.
“Did you catch everything I said about prayer today?” Jesus spoke up.
“Yeah, Lord,” Peter responded. “You taught us that prayer. Knowing what to say makes it a lot easier.”
“You missed the point,” Jesus sighed. “Prayer isn’t recitation. It’s not using big words or babbling to a certain word count. Prayer is conversation. Pray to me like you’re talking to me now.”
We tend to ignore what Jesus said before He recited the famous prayer of Matthew 6:9-13, “Our Father which art in heaven. . . .” He spoke against using public prayer to exalt ourselves. He warned us not to drone on to reach a certain level of human expectation. Would repeating the same thing again and again be very high on His list? Using the Lord’s Prayer as foolproof example for how to pray undermines the very reason for prayer.
Here and Now
Think of calling your mate after a horrible day of work. You’re desperate for compassion, reassurance, and tenderness. She picks up and it all comes out: Robert broke the Xerox machine again, your lunatic of a boss gave you an hour to prepare a 10-page report for the head honchos and it was supposed to be taco day, but ugh . . . baked potato bar . . . again.
You’ve ranted. Now, it’s up to her. She begins reciting her wedding vows? Hey, that’s kinda sweet. Now imagine that for the next 50 years, every time you need her, all she comes back at you with are those vows. Sure gives new meaning to the word relationship.
Think of the many ways we communicate with the persons we love. We write notes, talk on the phone, chat face-to-face, e-mail, text message, and instant message. There’s anger and fear, joy and giddiness, pain and heartache, triumph and thrill. Sometimes we scream, other times we whisper. We cry, laugh, bond. Rarely are our eyes closed, hands folded, knees bent.
Do you write to God? Yell at God? Do you tell Him of your untarnished elation, or cry out in anguish when your world is breaking? Prayer is not an equation of audible words or a special time set aside, it’s a constant, unremitting connection; a relationship, a bond, a friendship.
As important as God’s role as our Father in heaven is; more important is His place as our friend here on earth. Jesus said it Himself, “I no longer call you servants. . . . Instead, I have called you friends.”1 Seen by so many as a disconnected administrator of punishment, a lightning-bolt-throwing dispenser of fate; God yearns to be your friend, here and now.
Lately, I’ve heard some unfortunate descriptions of prayer. Uncomfortable. Stagnant. Boring. Resemble your prayer life? Remember, prayer isn’t a procedure. It’s a simple conversation with your best friend over a cup of steaming cider. Or a letter, text, or e-mail.
Just as exhibiting our patriotism by mouthing the words of the Star-Spangled Banner hardly identifies a patriot, disguising fatigued phrases as prayer scarcely describes a friendship.
1 John 15:15 NIV
A former intern at the Adventist Review, Jimmy Phillips finds his passion in writing, photography, and following Nebraska Football. This May, he’ll graduate from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska with a degree in communication.