Genesis 16–18, Psalm 6, Matthew 6
These texts ponder what the disciplines are for women and men of faith. Principal among such disciplines is prayer, the opening of one’s life in honesty in the presence of God. Our classic prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, is found in Matthew 6. Many interpreters believe the prayer pivots on debts to be forgiven in a bold practice of Jubilee. In any case, it is a prayer that eagerly awaits the full rule of God in the world.
Psalm 6, also filled with petition, is a zealous complaint to God in a context of deep need. The key imperative is “turn” in verse 4; the psalmist urges God into transformative action. Remarkably, the prayer ends in confidence that “God has heard” (v. 9). This is a God who hears, answers, and acts. The boldness of the prayer in its demand is anticipated in Abraham’s exchange with God in Genesis 18. Both Abraham and God are vigorous bargainers in this text. Such prayer is more than just pious recital of familiar innocuous mantras. It is, rather, down and dirty engagement with God.
In our society, where we imagine we may be (or must be!) on our own, prayer is the core acknowledgement that in fact our lives are referred beyond ourselves. It is for that reason that Matthew 6 can end in an invitation to move out of anxiety and into glad obedience (vv. 33–34). Such prayer that moves us beyond anxiety is sometimes submissiveness to God and sometimes defiant insistence upon one’s own need. Father Abraham knew what he wanted and insisted upon it.
What bold petition to God have you not yet voiced?
What might you make of prayer that is engaged dispute with God?
God, teach me to pray to you honestly and boldly, trusting in your transformative power. Amen.
-The Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann
Author, Old Testament Scholar, and Theologian