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I’ve been drawn to the passages where Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray as of late. These days, when I hear my own prayers I bristle at the paucity of my inspiration in the poverty of my words. Sometimes, when I pray for a friend – either to make good on a promise to them or out of genuine concern – I find myself stumbling and groping for authentic words and phrases.

Dear Lord, I pray for person A. Please give her the strength and courage to go through this trying time…

…and so on and so forth. The truth is, however, I’m lying in these prayers. While I’d love for God to instill confidence and strength or some other positive characteristic into my friend, in my inmost being I know that these supplications for these abstract nouns belie the urgency of what I really want to pray for: non-abstract, concrete miracles, like money for bills, friends when we’re lonely, jobs for security, recovery from cancer, etc.

My uttered orisons manage to tiptoe delicately around these urgent, concrete needs with beautiful abstract character traits – like courage, tenacity, acceptance – rather than the ugly, grotesque pleadings for material things or propitious events. Why do I do that?

Simply perhaps it’s because I have no faith. I am scared that God, in his almighty wisdom, will not deliver. Or perhaps I’m much more afraid of the possibility that he can’t deliver himself from nonexistence. From this place of doubt I can conveniently preclude any such disappointments by praying for abstract, character-building things that are more difficult to measure than job interviews, or money.

Or, maybe it’s because I know that praying for things or events isn’t the right way to pray. When I was young, I prayed to God for the San Jose Sharks to win, even when I already knew the outcome because I was watching a taped video of the game. I even picked my boogers and neatly wrapped them in tissue (as opposed to flicking them away into the nebulous living room space) as a pious bargaining chip in my attempt to sway God’s previous decision to rule in favor of the Sharks’ opponents.

I’m older, more mature now, and know the difference between praying for a hockey team and for a friend in need. And yet, I’m still afraid to pray for those specific necessities because I’m afraid God won’t, or can’t bring them to fruition. I’m afraid he will fail.

In Luke 11:1-13, Luke’s version of Jesus’s teaching on prayer, he recounts the story about a person who needs to disturb his friend’s sleep in order to find food to serve his guests. Surprisingly, Jesus states that his friend would not get up and help his friend because of friendship, but because of his “persistence” (11:8). Actually, persistence, though bearing most of the character of the Greek word, anaideia, does not completely capture the severity of the neighbor’s offense. The English Standard Version prefers a stronger, bolder, (more negative?) term, impudence; The King James Version translates it as “importunity”; and the NIV calls it, “shameless audacity”.

The word, according to Strong’s concordance, literally means “shameless”. When I think of this word, I picture a homeless person in rags begging for your coffee change. This word connotes a sense of either degradation, or a complete lack of self-awareness. Children are the most guilty of acting shamelessly, and perhaps this is what Jesus meant by being more like children in order to reach heaven. Perhaps the Lord demands us to lose our self-respect in exchange for his loaves and fishes. Perhaps before even presenting our requests before the Lord we must suffer indignation. And not just once, but consistently. We must persistently become shameless in our begging of the Lord.

But ask for what? In Matthew 7:11, while the author vaguely describes that God will give “good things” to those who ask, in Luke, Jesus specifically promises the nebulous, but thematically prominent, Holy Spirit. I don’t know what this means exactly, but according to what I’ve read in Luke so far, the Holy Spirit supposed to do much more than give American churchgoers some uplifting feeling to rock out to repetitive Christian songs.

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