Keep It Simple – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim WoodrumMatthew 6:7-15

Today’s gospel lesson comes from Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount.  In this sermon, which the gospel writer devotes three chapters, we hear the core of Jesus teaching to his disciples.  In yesterday’s lesson we hear Jesus warning about practicing piety before others and then He begins a short discourse on prayer which continues in today’s lesson. 

Jesus says:  “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  In other words, keep it simple.   One of the most common problems people have in their prayer lives is that they don’t know how to talk to God.  They either feel their words are inadequate or that they have to be prepared and have their prayer ordered as if they were going before a judge who might cut them short for their ineloquence.  But this is not the case.   Psalm 139 says:  For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.  My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them.  God does not need us to explain, for He already knows us deeply for He is our creator.

A friend of mine recently asked me to sum up in one word my experience thus far as a monk.  My answer was ‘prayer.’  I explained that from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed, my life was saturated with prayer.  She looked at me a little daunted and asked how I came up with so much to say to God.  I think that is the common misconception:   that we are the only one who is supposed to speak.  But prayer is reciprocal and believe it or not God sometimes wants to initiate the conversation.  As big as God is, the conversation will sometimes begin in the smallest and simplest of ways….through the beauty of a flower or a strain of a Beethoven symphony.  It could be through the cry of an infant or an epiphany that is born out of sheer silence.  All we have to do is listen to how God is beginning the conversation and we will then know how to respond.

If you’re in a bookstore or library, you will find hundreds of books on prayer:  “How to” manuals, contemplative prayer, lectio devina, praying with scripture, theological treatise, the list goes on… can seem so complicated and overwhelming.  But I think author Anne Lamott says it best.  She writes:  “I do not know much about God and Prayer, but I have to come to believe, over the last twenty-five years that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple.  Help.  Thanks. Wow.” (1) I think this is what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel.  Keep it simple.

At the beginning of Leonard Berstein’s Mass, the celebrant sings:  “Sing God a simple song, lauda laude.  Make it up as you go along, lauda laude.  Sing like you like to sing.  God loves all simple things for God is the simplest of all.” (2) Keep it simple!

1 Lamott, Anne.  Help Thanks Wow:  Three Essential Prayers.  New York:  Riverhead Books. 2012. Print

2 Bernstein, Leonard.  “A Simple Song.”  Lyrics.  Mass:  A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers.  Sony Music Entertainment, 1971

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  1. Sharon on March 25, 2021 at 11:03

    Since covid lock down started (my church has had no in person services for over a year now), I have tried to ‘make church at home’. I have tried online services – SSJE services are the only ones that really are working for me – but that’s not really enough.
    So I try to pray. I’m not terribly good at it, but developing a small habit of frequent prayer seems to help. Praying at night, or when I first wake up is a quiet time and seems as if a time for God to speak as well as me. I often start with “Well, God, here I am again.”

  2. Walter Edgar on May 11, 2018 at 08:44

    Br. Jim,

    Beautifully and powerfully said.

  3. Sandra Ahn on September 6, 2017 at 20:28

    Br Jim,
    Lauda, laude.

    With thanks,
    Sandra of Oakland

  4. Roderic Brawn on September 24, 2016 at 05:12

    Act as though God witnesses each thing we do! God does witness each thing we do! To listen, see, smell, feel, think and act as God would have us to do maps out of prayer.
    To to this we must get ourselves out of the way!

  5. Elissa on September 23, 2016 at 11:51

    For me the first part of this lovely simple piece is being silent and listening for God. Isn’t also the fundamental lesson needed for our conversation with others – listening, especially in today’s frentic world.


  6. Christopher on September 23, 2016 at 07:14

    “Keep it simple, stupid” came to mind as I read your sermon.

  7. Scott Hopkims on May 28, 2016 at 05:47

    This issue for me is not sometimes. God always initiates prayer. We only but respond… Or we don’t. The choice is ours.

  8. Clark on May 28, 2016 at 05:39

    Br. Jim you epitomized your point- inside five minutes not the common fifteen plus- God forgive the decades of three pointers. Keep it simple: listen, trust (learn to lean and laugh!).

    Thank you!

  9. Alan Keartland on May 28, 2016 at 04:28

    Matthew 6:7-15The Message (MSG)

    7-13 “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

    Our Father in heaven,
    Reveal who you are.
    Set the world right;
    Do what’s best—
    as above, so below.
    Keep us alive with three square meals.
    Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
    Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
    You’re in charge!
    You can do anything you want!
    You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

    14-15 “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.
    I find this paraphrase from The Message very helpful.
    When I wake early and using the simple view of ‘Our Father,’ overlaying the traditional version, one can be lead into a space where one is helped to feel the presence of God and the start of a day when his nearness is experienced as Brother Lawrence described.
    “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

  10. Ruth West on December 8, 2014 at 21:15

    Br. Jim, thank you for this good message. I find that simple quick prayers comfort me as I go about my chores. I also love to converse with God by playing a hymn almost every evening. Sometimes, just listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, not necessarily with words but with the thoughts He places within, is so meaningful. May God bless you.

  11. Frances Soule on December 8, 2014 at 13:24

    Any time you cite Anne Lamott, you have my attention! Thanks for an important insight on my difficulty with prayer.

  12. Nola Sheffer on December 8, 2014 at 12:23

    Thank you so much for this reminder of this simplicity. To hear it coming from you or someone else makes it easier to hear than if I try to generate it myself.

  13. Carole Gilman on December 8, 2014 at 11:30

    Thank you so much for this sharing. I start in keeping it simple as that is really what I feel most of the time but then I get back into………….does he know?…. did I tell him………… etc. Of course, he hears my thoughts remembering how grateful I am for his love, et al. HE MADE ME. Thank you ! Carole

  14. Mary Koenig on December 8, 2014 at 11:08

    Having grandchildren opened depths of love and simplicity in every little thing they do. Seeing life through their eyes has brought me closer to God. Praise Him!

    • Shirley Whiteway on September 5, 2017 at 01:54

      Mary I so agree with your text about having grandchildren! I thank our Heavenly Father for the simply joy of being with these perfect little people. Their love of simply pleasures , walking down the country lanes with me , picking wild blackberries and asking the names of wild flowers fills me with so much love and like you I simply look up and say Thank you Lord. Nothing else is needed. He knows our joys as well as our pain.

  15. Ed Greene on December 8, 2014 at 10:35

    Bach’s church cantatas do it for me. Over and over again I am moved to tears by them and give thanks to God.

  16. Polly Chatfield on December 8, 2014 at 09:27

    Yes, yes. Thank you, Jim.

  17. C. Romine on December 8, 2014 at 08:42

    Praying without ceasing is command that comes easier as it is practiced

  18. Robert Shotton on December 7, 2014 at 17:19

    THE thought of God initiating prayer is helpful, and I will look for the signs in my quiet times.

  19. george miller on June 22, 2013 at 08:46


  20. Selina from Maine on June 21, 2013 at 17:18

    Bro. Jim, Thanks and Wow!

  21. margo on June 21, 2013 at 14:04

    Yes Br. Jim and am/pm prayer and compline keep it faithfully faith filled. And who would want to be without singing! Margo

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