"Pray without ceasing"
Our text comes from Samantha Bee.
Prayer is an activity.
Prayer is not words. Prayer is not a pose. Prayer is not an excuse for doing nothing. Prayer is not an alternative. Prayer is not a last resort, a redoubt, a final attempt when all else has failed.
Prayer is not an option. It comes as standard equipment.
The worst, most inappropriate, most indefensible position on prayer is to say "All we can do is pray." Because prayer is not about them, or about getting God's attention so something will finally happen in this world (as if God is too busy watching TeeVee to pay attention, until you make the phone ring enough times): prayer is about you.
The words of the "Lord's Prayer" are less a prayer than they are instructions. We don't take it that way; but what if we did. Consider it briefly:
"Your name be holy." God's name is not known, that's how holy God's name is. It is so holy it must be kept pure, undefiled, unmixed with lesser words on the human tongue. And we start our prayer with our relationship to God: God is holy, and must be understood as holy. So holy even God's name is holy. God may be our "father in Heaven," but do not approach the Creator of the Universe casually.
"May your will be done here on earth as it is done above." Is that a prayer telling God what to do; or submitting to God? And if we submit to God, what does that mean about God's will being done on earth? Are we agents of that will; or passive recipients of God's decisions to intervene (of which, one notes, there are so few examples in the scriptures)?
"Give us our bread for today." That's all we're told to ask for: food for the day. Humble food. Bread. Bread should be enough. Ask for bread. What more do you need than that? Ask for bread; it's all you really need. Any more is greed; any more is excess. Bread. Pray for today's bread.
"Forgive our debts, just as we forgive our debtors." Almost snuck that one by. Forgive our debtors? Why should we do that? Because our debts to God will be forgiven insofar as we forgive others? Because it's not about us, but about them?
When do we get to pray about the guns and the shooters?
"Don't lead us into temptation; instead, take us away from evil."
This is how you pray for yourselves. Not much about ponies or taking care of other people and their guns, is it?
And none of this is about prayer as last resort, as final option, as what to do when all else fails. It is that vision of prayer I especially despise. When you "haven't a prayer," it's your own damned fault, not the result of evil consequences you can't escape. If you are helpless it is because you choose to be helpless, not because no one can do anything and it's time to let God take the blame or bail you out of your stupidity. Prayer is not a "Get out of Jail Free" card, it is an activity of worship and communion.
As Samantha Bee notes, "Faith without works is dead." Prayer is work; but it is not the only work.