How I Learned to Pray from a Russian Jewish Peasant

Albrecht Dürer - Study of an Apostle's Hands (Praying Hands) - WGA07062: pray

Albrecht Dürer – Study of an Apostle’s Hands

How did you learn to pray?

I learned from a Russian Jewish peasant named Tevye.

I grew up in a household in which God and religious beliefs were not discussed.

The church I attended as a child specialized in formalized prayer–and I learned those because I was interested in God.

But I had questions about how to pray–the where and how–that were not answered by a tight-lipped parent raising children in a decided non-God discussing household.

So I was left to myself, mostly.

As a teenager, I met Jesus as a personal savior at a Lutheran church, which was much better about prayer, including what I considered “freelance” prayer–spoken aloud without a script.

I listened and tried to adapt, but had trouble figuring out just how and with what attitude I could pray with the God who had come alive in such an extraordinary way in my life.

I found my answer in a stage play made into a movie, Fiddler on the Roof, which you can see in the first one minute of this clip:

I love how Tevye addresses God. He’s natural, practical, to the point and chats with the easy familiarity of someone who has walked with God a long time.

He’s expressing his faith within a Jewish context, of course, but it’s real and in my life has been just as applicable.

I talk to God the same way, with a sense of irony, occasional desperation, humor, pleas and confidence I’m heard by the God who created me just this way.

I shared this ideas with our youth group last week, hoping to impress upon them that prayer is a conversation with God.

I asked them some questions about this clip:

How does Tevye address God?

What is his attitude?

Is he irreverent?

If you were God, how would you respond to him?

What can we learn about prayer from this man?

Finding Different Words

They struggled with these questions, but sat up straighter as I had them read select passages from Eugene Peterson‘s paraphrase The Message. the_message_2; pray

(They laughed when I pointed out another Bible study teacher at our church refers to Peterson’s version as “the dude Bible.”)

Philippians 4:6-7

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.”

Psalm 145:18:

“God’s there, listening for all who pray for all who pray and mean it.”

1 John 5:14:

“How bold and free we then become in his presence, freely asking according to his will, sure that he’s listening.”

My point to those young people was when they went to pray, I wanted them to be honest like Tevye–to tell God all that was on their hearts, even if it was ridiculous (“Could I have a parking place?”), or you are angry (“Why did this happen to me?”), or if you wanted to complain (“I don’t understand how you could let this happen.”).

If you pattern some of your method of prayer after Tevye’s intimacy–that you can tell God anything–the words flow better, and your ears may be better able to see when he answers.

At least that’s what I learned from watching  a Russian Jewish peasant pray.

Tweetables

How I learned to pray from Fiddler on the Roof Click to Tweet

Tevye and Eugene Peterson: prayer tutors Click to Tweet

Teaching teenagers to pray to God with intimacy Click to Tweet

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