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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

December 29, 2017

Do we mean what we pray?

Filed under Sabbath Thoughts

Anyone who travels a lot by plane or train gets accustomed to the routine announcements made by flight attendants or train personnel. More than once I have experienced a new flight attendant who had to read the safety instructions from a prepared text prior to takeoff and landing. And there are flight attendants who have made those announcements so many times that they know the text by heart.

Imagine the flight attendant on the last flight of a day where she made several short range flights. Near the end of the final flight of her long work day, she informs the passengers that the plane has started its descent. With a tired voice she recites the safety instructions from memory and concludes, as she always does, with a final sentence: "On behalf of the airline I wish you a wonderful day." The dry, tired sound of her voice at the end of her announcement doesn't quite match the nice wish she imparts to her passengers.

In the 9th grade I made my first acquaintance with algebra as a subject in school. We had a strict teacher who had lost a leg in the war, and he had an artificial leg as replacement. He would pace up and down the rows of chairs in the classroom with a cane and wack his artificial leg when our explanation of a problem didn't match the assignment. We learned his admonishing answer by heart: "Say what you mean and mean what you say!"

If I were to hear a flight attendant wishing me a nice day as described above, I would remember what my algebra used to say and wonder: "Did she really mean that?"

The gospel writers tell us that Jesus' disciples wanted to learn how to pray and they asked Him to teach them. He gave them – and us – the model prayer called the "Lord's prayer". When we first learn how to pray, we might tend to stick close to the instruction that Jesus gave us in His model prayer. We weren't used to praying, and it helped to have a model, like the new flight attendant who sticks exactly to the written text of her announcements.

Many years later prayer can become routine. We repeat ourselves. We use the same phrases or wording. Sometimes we might even seem tired or distracted when we prayer. We mouth the words, but they come from routine instead of from the heart.

Jesus tells us not to think like those who think they "will be heard for their many words" Matthew 6:7). Let's be diligent in prayer so God never has occasion to wonder: "Does he/she really mean that?"

With these thoughts I wish everyone a rewarding Sabbath!

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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