Saturday, October 31, 2015

the scope of our hope... The Lord's Prayer... 'Lord Teach us to Pray': Jesus teaching on prayer in luke 11:1-13 (part three)

Sometimes we mistake the sheer weight of the words we use (there volume) for their significance and forget their significance comes from the weight of the words we use…  for example…

The Lord’s prayer: 66 words (less if we use Luke’s version)
The Gettysburg address: 286 words
10 commandments: 179 words
Declaration of independence: 1,300 words
Treaty of Waitangi (three articles): 208 in the official English translation and 173 in the Maori version … and you could add what a difference that difference of 35 words has made. 
Pythagorean theorem: 24 words
Archimedes’ principle: 67 words
US government regulations on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words…
…And as that comes from a book published in 1999…(soul Tsunami by Leonard Sweet) you can just imagine the amount of words that have been changed in or added to those regulations over the intervening sixteen years.

We are looking at Jesus teaching on Prayer in Luke’s gospel. We looked at what Jesus taught us about the one to whom we pray; that the hope of prayer is in the very character of God. We looked at what Jesus teaching told us about those who pray: That we can be hopeful in prayer, with shameless audacity approach God, and today we are going to focus on the prayer Jesus taught us itself. Those 66 weighty words that series of pithy profound petitions in which Jesus manages to gather up the scope of our hope and put it into words… In response to his disciples asking ‘Lord teach us to pray’ Jesus not only gives us the words to say ; that has been a prayer on the lips of his disciples for over two millennia, but also a pattern for our prayer lives, and provides us with a prayer that prioritises the life of a follower of Jesus.

Let’s have a look at the words or petitions of prayer…
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus prayer is made up of five petitions, and when we’ve read it over the past few weeks you are probably aware that it’s different than the version we use in church… We are used to using the version of the Lord’s prayer found in Matthew’s gospel which has two petitions added  “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and “deliver us from evil’…  scholars have a whole raft of ways of wrestling with these differences. But they do not take away from the meaning of Jesus prayer… One way to understand the difference is to acknowledge that Jewish poetry is a flow of  rhyming thoughts not rhyming lines and these two petitions reinforce and expand on what has gone before  “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven…  rhymes with and expands on ‘thy kingdom come’. In the ancient near east a kingdom was often fluid in terms of territory, but was defined as where a certain king reigned, where his will was law. We pray thy will be done because we design God’s justice and mercy to reign in our world as well as heaven. ‘Deliver us from evil’ or ‘the evil one’ rhymes and explains ‘lead us not in temptation’ it is a prayer not that God wouldn’t lead us astray, but rather for God’s spiritual protection… form evil and temptation., the evil one and the tempter.

Also when we say the Lord ’s Prayer we are used to saying it with a doxology as well, “yours be the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever amen’ which is extra biblical but comes from an early liturgical tradition and finishes the prayer  as it stats with praise and worship of God.

The Lord’s prayer is a corporate prayer , it is a prayer to our father and  Church uses this prayer in public worship. It is a way of expressing both our unity as God’s children and our combined hope…. Just like we share a common meal and a common baptism, we share common words in approaching God in prayer as his disciples.  AS we pray it together it is a prayer that expresses our care and concern for each other. We ask God to forgive us and we extend that forgiveness to one another. It invites us to see that caring for one another and providing for daily bread is also an outworking of this prayer. James says what good is it to say bless you brother and sister and send them away empty and hungry. What good is it to pray together for our daily bread and not to see God’ provision in the abundance and extra that we may have been blessed with to share. What good is it to pray for people’s protection and deliverance from evil not stand with them in the face of injustice or oppression or difficulty?

It is also a prayer for us individually. Some shared in the prayer course that they say the Lord’s Prayer each day as part of their devotional life. Another person shared that they struggle for words to pray and so find it comforting and helpful to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It is a teaching prayer as well and  can  help us to learn how to pray to develop our own language and to see a pattern to prayer. I’ve talked with many people who talk of encountering a dark presence in a certain place or at night and I encourage them to simply say the Lord’s Pray in those situations. Not as some sort of magical charm, or a mindless mantra, but to focus them on God, his kingdom and authority and his provision and protection.

One of the questions that come up is that the words can lose their weightiness and significance if we use them over and over again. It can become simply a ritual. There is always that danger. In public worship the two big movements that have shaped the second half of the twentieth century are both reactions to that… The informality and supposed spontaneity of the charismatic and praise and worship movement, where the emphasis is on extemporary prayer. And the new liturgical movement which emphasises well-crafted and written prayers exploring new metaphors and words that fit the context they are used in.  In the end however it is the heart attitude that turns what can become stale repetition into a meaning full and Christ centred ritual and food for the spirit.

That’s a good way to lead into the fact that the Lord’s pray provides us with a pattern for prayer as well.
 It’s not an order to pray this word, but an order in which we can pray our words.  Our  prayer  are to start with relationship with God… Father, it starts with worship… hallowed be thy name…. not as way of buttering up God, praise is not idle flattery or in this case idol flattery hoping that by saying the right things we can manipulate the spiritual realm to get our way. It reminds us that prayer is about acknowledging our desire to see things done God’s way.  In the prayer course Pete Grieg shares a technique he has for praying for eight important issues in his life like his family, he has eight such prayers and has got an eight-sided dice and throws it from time to time during the day and prays for the area that corresponds with the number on the dice. But He says he has a scriptural promise to go with each of those areas. The one for his children comes from Luke’s gospel where it says that Jesus grew in stature and favour both with God and with man and he prays that for each of his children. His prayer life is guided and lead by scripture… it is a way for him of acknowledging that he wants God’s kingdom to come to honour God’s name even with his asking about issues in his life.

This pattern shows us that sin is a big issue and we need to come to God for God’s forgiveness. But also that we need to be willing to forgive others as well, God’s kingdom and God’s peace is about right relationships.  Finally it shows us that we can ask God for our needs both physical and spiritual, both for ourselves and for others. 

A good way of remembering the different parts of prayer is a simply to think of ACTS prayers… ACTS stands for Adoration (worship and enjoyment of God… it comes from the same word Adore… which we married men do with our wives right… It means we love everything about them and let them know it right guys). Confession: sorting out the stuff we have done wrong and the good we have left undone. Thanks giving: acknowledging God’s goodness and answers, it has more to do with what God has done rather than who God is… and Supplication: asking bringing our prayers and our concerns to God… knowing who he is and what he has done for us. The fact that ‘thy kingdom come’ comes before ‘give us our daily bread’ also gives us a pattern for our supplication. The call is for intersession, praying for the worl and then we look to our own needs.

Finally Jesus prayer sets a priority for our prayer life and our life as a follower of Jesus.  It invites us to refocus in our lives. To see that relationship with God is central and most important. We have reconciled with God as our father through what Jesus has done for us… To focus again on honouring God’s name, seeking his purposes and will that God’s kingdom would come. It puts our needs in the context of that. We can pray for our daily bread for spiritual help for wholeness because of who God is and the fact that he has established his kingdom through the sending of his Son Jesus.  Even desperate and big issues in our lives can be put into perspective when we see more and more what God is like and what his purposes and desires for the world are.

It can help us to see that while we may have so many wants in life and be bombarded by messages that things and possessions will bring us fulfilment and joy. We know that God can be trusted to provide for our daily needs. That life is as simple as that. This prayer speaks prophetically into the materialistic consumer lifestyle that tries to consume our lives with material things and style. It invites us to look at our relationship with others: That we are to pray and live out of the mercy of God… to love exceptionally because of the love and forgiveness that we have received. The prayer life of the disciple and the life of a disciple are to be in harmony.  

After the Second World War, missionary Bob Peirce was moved by seeing the suffering of poor Korean children on the island of kojedo… this lead him to pray a prayer very much in line with the priorities of the Lord’s Prayer… ‘Lord let my heart be broken with the things that break your heart”. As part of an answer to that Prayer Bob Peirce founded two mission organisations World Vision in 1950 and Samaritans purse in 1970. His priority in prayer became his priority for life. One friend said of pierce it was though ‘prayer burned within him’ and you can see its outworking in Christs compassion.

There are many spiritual practises and disciplines that we can use to help us to develop our prayer lives, large numbers of books that can help us to learn them and practise them. Often it is what people are looking for… I haven’t tried to go into those things in this look at prayer, because here Jesus does not go into them… rather he encourages us and invites us to come to God as our loving father, to focus our lives on him and to trust him for our physical and spiritual needs…  So as disciples we can be about God’s work in the world.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Prayer Course Sesssion 2: what I learned and took away...

I am continuing to enjoy and find 'The Prayer Course' useful. It is a good catalyst both for prayer and for small groups in a church setting.

The second session is about petition prayers... coming with our needs and our concerns before God.

Pete Grieg shares a technique he uses to pray for eight important issues and areas in his life. He went on the internet and obtained an eight sided dice and at different times during the day will bring out the dice throw it and pray for that issue in his life. I imagine he keeps it in his pocket and I thought "If that was me, I wonder how many times the dice would go through the wash". He also shared that for each of these eight areas he had gone to scripture to look for a promise in each area... In the video he shares one promise he had for his Children and an answer to that prayer.

I did wonder if it wasn't a bit like the old promise boxes where people pulled out a promise from scripture each day (out of context) and claimed it for themselves... and I did have to admit I find my thinking about claiming promises from scripture being a bit coloured by the whole 'name it and claim it' emphasis of the prosperity movement. But once I had managed to work through my own misgivings and yes prejudices... I actually thought... yes... if we are serious in our prayer lives that God's will be done  then it make sense to let God's word direct and shape our prayers and prayer life.

In a very public way at the end of the worship services here at St Peter's we do this  as  we use a benediction/blessing from scripture to ray over each other... I have enjoyed finding the different and often unused blessings from the New Testament epistles  so that we have new and fresh expressions of that desire that God would be with us and bless us.

Here is the one we are using from Roamns 15:5-6 at the moment... it's a bit long but as we've gone on people have got into it as a blessing on us individually but as a church as well.

Scripture shapes and guides our faith and it was good to have that connection with our prayer life emphasised as well. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Hopeful In Prayer (Luke 11:1-13): Lord teach us To Pray: Jesus teaching On Prayer In Luke's Gospel (Part 2)

I love the opening scene from the 1997 sci-fi movie‘contact’… with its great computer graphics The sun rises over the curve of the earth as if flying through space we draw back past the moon and out through the solar system, dodging planets: The earth and then the sun becoming a pale dot on the screen.  out through the galaxy, through the pillars of creation in the eagle nebula. Past the sombrero galaxy and into the vastness of that most distant of Hubble telescope pictures ‘far fields where galaxies themselves become mere spots of light and our knowing of the universe becomes  but a blur…as if to accentuate that this is as far as we can see the sequence finishes by coming back to earth through the eyes of a child.
The accompanying sound track to this flow through known space is snippets of  radio and television broadcasts moving back further and further in time as we move away from the earth, starting with the rock and pop of the 90’s and 80’s, through important speeches and events and music from earlier and earlier in  the twentieth century until there is only silence.. We have out distanced those sound waves… and then we come back to a room where the young  Eleanor Arrowway sits at a ham radio desperately trying to contact her father who never responds.

 I do wonder if prayer sometimes does not feel like that opening sequence… our voices calling out into the vast void or simply bouncing back off the ceiling to mock us.  We can feel that just maybe we are all alone in a dark cold universe and the only reply is the cruel crackle of radio static.

Of course in the movie, spoiler alert, there is a reply, a contact, and its meaning and significance are discussed between a scientist and a theologian… Contact becomes a movie about faith… and that makes it a good way for us to introduce our continued look at Jesus teaching on prayer. While I’m sure you have felt  prayer to be like that opening sequence … Jesus response to his disciple’s request, ‘Lord teach us to pray’ tells us a different story about prayer. It tells us that we can be hopeful, confident, that God hears our Prayers and responds. 

This is the second in a series of three looking at Jesus teaching on prayer in Luke’s gospel. We are looking at prayer as communication. You may remember we used the model of communication having various parts: a transmitter, the one sending a message,  a receiver, those to whom the message is sent and and a medium, the message and feedback.

Last time we looked at the receiver and what hope there is in prayer because of the one we are praying to. In his teaching, through a prayer, a parable and a principle, Jesus told us we had confidence in prayer because of the nature of God. That God was our Father, not just an earthly father with faults and foibles, but a great dad who knows how to give good gifts to his children. Who is never too busy, who does not abandon or abuse, he is not a distant disinterested deity…but he cares and loves. And if that wasn’t enough that God is like a good neighbour, who when we are in need, will respond to our request for help. Even if like in the parable Jesus told, it was in the middle of the night and our asking woke the whole household.  There is hope when we pray because of the loving character of God.

This week we are going to look at what Jesus teaching on prayer says about those who pray.

If the hope of prayer is in the character of God we can be hopeful in prayer because of what that means for us. Jesus invites us to address our prayer to God as Father. At The heart of prayer is that we have been invited into a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. We are loved, we are cared for. The one teaching us to come to God in prayer is the one who has come from God to us with that revolution of God’s Grace. We hear it in Jesus affirmation from Isaiah that the Spirit of the lord was upon him to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to prisoners and the oppressed and to declare the year of God’s favour. We see it in the encounters that Jesus has in Luke’s gospel… The hand that reaches out and touches a leper and makes him clean… who dines with those considered sinners and outcasts and welcomes them back.  We know it because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are loved so we may approach the one who loves us.

Jesus teaching on prayer tells us that we are God’s beloved children. Like a child is dependent on their parent,  so we are dependent on God, lord give us our daily bread trusting that God knows how to give good gifts to his children. In the prayer course Pete Grieg gives a great illustration for when our prayers seem to meet with a no. He told of the time when one of his sons was a baby that he got chicken pox’s and ended up covered in spots. Grieg said there was nothing he could do but hold his little son through the night and comfort him while he cried. It wouldn’t even help that he could tell his son that having chicken pox when he was so young that they would get through it and that was a good thing and would result in his immune in later life. I could help but think of the 1994 Black Caps tour of England, which I managed to see most of as it was live on free to air TV during the night here of course. I however didn’t hear much of it mind you because Naomi was teething at the time and I had that same experience as Pete Grieg trying to console her as she yelled in pain in my ear. It got me thinking that  this is a reason why the greatest gift the father gives us is the abiding presence of his Holy Spirit, both to comfort but also to lead and to guide.

The second thing that means we can be hopeful in prayer is what Jesus calls us to pray. It is a call to change our priorities and priority in prayer that we want to see God’s name glorified and his kingdom come.  Our hope is that the God’s name would be honoured and that his reign would be established.  In some ways it looks towards a future fulfilment when Christ will come again but it is a prayer that God’s mercy and God’s justice would be establish in our world today. The prayer for these things to happen is a prayer that will put right all that we are concerned about, it is the ultimate answer... Again as we look at Luke’s gospel we see what that kingdom means for the poor and the broken, the lost and the outcast. It is good news and liberty and freedom and right relationships being established. We just finished going through the sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel as we saw it was a call for us who know God’s grace to respond by showing exceptional love… no exception.  To pray that prayer calls us to be people who would be about the kingdom in our lives as well. In fact Jesus shows that when he says we should pray forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us. It’s not a condition for being forgiven it is the condition of knowing what it is to be forgiven and reconciled to God a that we then live out.  There is a real correlation between our prayer life then and how we live out life: The two should reflect the same priorities… When talking about economics in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus talks of not worrying about what you will wear or eat and then says put first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you…

The third thing that means we can be hopeful in prayer is that wonderful word Jesus uses in the parable of the good neighbour for our offering prayer. We are used to the word confidence but In the NIV it is translated ‘shameless audacity’. Behind me is a statue from the film ‘dogma’ as the name suggests revolved around a lampooning of Catholic Dogma. The statute was called buddy Jesus and was supposedly part of a rebranding campaign to make Catholicism more accessible. It’s sort of a dig at the idea of Jesus as our friend… Know I love the idea of Jesus as friend but we can focus exclusively on the immance of God and forget the awesome truth of who God is...  When we come to prayer we need to realise that we are in a prayer relationship with God and not a peer relationship with God. That God is the unique sovereign king of the whole universe, that our father is indeed holy. But  Jesus says we can have shameless audacity to approach this mighty God, because of what Christ has done for us.  I flew down to wellington on Tuesday and the night before I didn’t sleep that well I don’t like going through all te security stuff at the airport, it just seems a bit over the top anyway it must have been on my mind because  I had this weird dream I saw the prime minister in the airport and being me I thought I know I’ll go over and say hello. But as I approached these men in black appeared and wrestled me up against the wall, they were armed and really aggressive. I don’t know if it’s really like this in New Zealand ( I like to think it isn’t) or  I’ve seen too much American TV and  got John Key mixed up with Barrrack Obama, ( I think John key has the same problem sometimes) but it was quite disturbing. I think in my dream I missed the flight. But we can have hope because in Jesus teaching we are invited to be bold and to approach the sovereign God with our requests and prayers, we can make that approach.

I saw a wonderful news video that I think illustrates this beautifully… Again it was set at a airport. A group of soldiers were coming home from overseas deployment and going through the formalities of one final  parade and address by their commanding officer. In the distance were their families and loved ones waiting for them. Suddenly a two year old girl must have spotted her dad in the front row and she runs across the hanger. She runs right up to her dad. Who lovingly steps out of line bends down and gives his child a hug and a kiss and then she bolts back to her mother and the solider steps back into line. What Shameless audacity, met with love and kindness.

Lastly, we can have be hopefully that God answers when we pray because of what Jesus tells us about being persistent in prayer. We should not give up because we will meet with God. It is not because prayer is like the public health system and the squeaky wheel gets the oil, no. But rather because Jesus gives us the principle that if we press into God we will find God. if we ask and keep on asking he will answer, if we knock and keep on knocking the door will be opened to us. Prayer is not like a harry potter spell it’s not magic it is entering into a relationship with God and as we persist in that we find God. As we continue to pray for a need or an issue we can meet God in the midst of that and know his presence and his leading and care, and his answer. If we persist to know him more in prayer he will make his self-known to us, he will send the Holy Spirit to those who ask hm.

I had wanted to finish today with a great story about prayer but instead let me just finish by encouraging you. Can I encourage you to knock and to keep on knocking, to seek and to keep on seeking God, to ask and keep on asking, knowing that we can trust God because of his very character, knowing that we are loved and cared for, that as God’s children we are invited to come to him, that we are able to audaciously approach our God.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Prayer Course Session 1... What I learned and took away.

We've started doing the Prayer Course here at St Peter's. What's that I hear you ask?

The Prayer Course is a six week small group study put out as a joint partnership between the 24/7 Prayer movement and the folk at Alpha. It is a great series designed to help people with their prayer lives. Each session has a teaching session done by video featuring Pete Grieg who was the founder of 24?7 Prayer and is involved at Holy Trinity Brampton and with Alpha. The teaching is based round Jesus teaching on Prayer and in particular the Lord's Prayer (the Our Father for my catholic friends) as a pattern for our own prayer lives.The teaching is done in a very accessible style with Grieg is interviewed by Tim Hughes, who keeps Pete on track and does a good job of summing things up and 'bringing it on home'. It is followed by a time of discussion and extra bible study and a practical... a time of prayer focusing on the area of prayer being talked about.

One of the great things about the Prayer Course, at least from my Scottish Presbyterian heritage is that its free... It is a gift to the church... You can register sign in and download the video's and discussion sheets (called cheat sheets) here is the link to the prayer course...

Anyway I found the first video looking at 'adoration' to be a great help. The first question in the discussion was to share what you found helpful from the video.

I appreciated Pete Grieg's reflection that starting prayer with Adoration, acknowledging who God is and what he has done for us, helped put our prayers into context. He mentioned  a simple prayer like "god help me at work today"... It could be prayed out of fear and desperation... that work wasn't going well and with all the troubles that could go along with that.. but by starting by acknowledging who God is... God is sovereign, he has plans for us that are for our good not our harm, he empowers us to bear fruit to his glory... It changes how we view the day and the situation... God help me at work today becomes a prayer of faith.

I woke up this morning after doing the prayer course (always a blessing really) and for the first time in a long while I woke up giving thanks to God... I wasn't flash long wordy prayers it was just simple stuff... I think one was simply thanks god for the sunrise... for a new day... and thanks God that I could sleep in a bit longer and miss it... I'm sure it was wonderful but hey...

I went out to breakfast and my daughter came out into the kitchen talking about her day... that today was going to be horrible.  So in my new found mood of praise and awareness of God's presence   and Goodness... I said 'God is good' and we got into that whole Ron Kenoly thing... "All the time" she said... etc... Then a simple verse from scripture 'this is the day that the Lord has made... Let us rejoice and be glad in it' (psalm 118:24). And I realised, remembered had an 'oh Yeah' Moment... that adoring God and acknowledging who he is, his presence and his goodness  puts the day into perspective... Now my daughter is a teenager under pressure because of looming exams and deadlines and we both agreed we were having bad hair days... but it was good to see those in the context of God's greatness, His goodness and his great love... I do hope and pray that she has a good day at school... and God help me at work...

These may seem like were are dealing with those pesky small so called "first world problems' but another thing from the first session of the prayer course was that it is in the day to day stuff that we develop a prayer life that will hold us when it comes to the tough times and the big stuff... I remember a sermon from about 25 years ago...where the preacher gave the illustration of the life boat service in England. He said that it  was the day to day training and preparation they did in the good weather that meant they had confidence and could continue to do their job as they headed out into the thunderous dangerous turmoil of the storm to save people... likewise with our relationship with God, and our prayer life... it is in the day to day that we build up and learn to relate and trust in God and that holds us in good stead as we face life's big issues...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

' we know what love is because you first loved us' a prayer of thanksgiving and confession

A Prayer of thanksgiving and confession based on a reflection on 1 John 4:10-12... I am aamzed at the Love of God shown in creation, providence, in the sending of his Son Jesus Christ and God's abiding presence with us by the Holy Spirit... what great insentive for us to love one another to be a peole of kindness and compasion... to show exceptional love to all.

As per usual please feel free to use this humble offering or any part of it if you find it helpful.

Loving Father,

We come together this morning to worship you,

To acknowledge your greatness

And to proclaim your goodness  

To praise you for the awesome and holy God you are

And to give thanks for all you have done

We know what love is because you first loved us

God, who created all there is

You made us as unique individuals cast in your image

Blessed and sustained by your providence

You created us to know you and enjoy you always

With a capacity to give and receive love

Capable of showing great kindness and care

We are fearfully and wondrously made

Gracious God

When we turned away from us, you did not turn away from us

You sent your son Jesus to dwell amongst us

In his life and teaching he showed us your grace and mercy

He gave his life on the cross so we could be forgiven  

In his resurrection we find new, abundant and eternal life

In Jesus Christ, we have been reconciled with you as our Heavenly Father

Faithfull God

We thank you for the wonder of your abiding presence

That you have kept your promise and sent your Holy Spirit to dwell in us

That by your spirit you lead and guide us into all truth

That you enable us to witness to Jesus Christ in word and deed

That you empower us to show God’s love to one another

That you draw us together as your body on earth

Caring God

We thank you for the love we know from each other

The embrace and support of family and friends

Romantic love leading to lifelong commitment

Companionship and rejoicing in the good times

Care, kindness and compassion shown in the hard times

Your touch and grace in a hand reaching out to help

Righteous and just God

This morning we confess that we have fallen short

We have done things that you have called us not to

We have left undone the good you command us to do

That we have not loved others as you have loved us

We humble ask that you would forgive us Lord

We do this trusting that because of Jesus you forgive and restore

Loving God

Fill us a fresh with your spirits presence and power

Help us to love one another as you have loved us

That people would see your love in our kindness and compassion

That in your power we may overcome evil with good

That we may share the truth of your grace and mercy

That we may live to the glory of God, Father, Son and Spirit

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The hope of Prayer is the character of God... (Luke 11:1-13): Lord Teach Us To Pray: Jesus teaching on Prayer (Luke 11:1-13) part 1

On a very basic level prayer is communication: Communication with God. So over the next three weeks I want to look at Jesus teaching on prayer through the lens of a basic way of analysing communication: Looking at the receiver the transmitter and the message. If we were talking about  this sermon as a piece of communication, the transmitter would be the one speaking, the one listening the receiver  and the medium would be preaching and the message would be  opening up the scriptures to us. In the case of prayer we would talk of the one we pray to, the people doing the praying, and the prayer being offered.  Today we are going to start with the receiver the one being prayed to… because the hope for prayer is the very character of God.

Jesus teaching comes in response to his disciples asking him ‘Lord, teach us to pray’ they had seen Jesus prayer life and they wanted that in their own lives. Jesus had a close relationship with God and they wanted it too.  Jesus teaching on prayer in Luke can be split into three parts… 

Firstly Jesus provides them with a pattern for prayer. This pattern shows us the priority of our prayer life. First that it is to see God’s name glorified, that we desire to see God’s justice and Kingdom established on earth, that we are dependent on God for our basic needs: Both physical (our daily bread) and Spiritually (forgiveness and reconciliation and protection and guidance).  We will pick up this in a couple of weeks as we look at prayer as communication.

Secondly, Jesus gave a parable about perseverance in prayer: Picking up a picture of going to a neighbour when you are in need as a way of showing us that God hears and listens to prayer and can be trusted to respond.

lastly with a principle about prayer, that, God is good and will respond to our prayer and knows how to give good things to his children: In Particular the Holy Spirit, the means by which we can know God’s abiding presence in our lives and be enabled and guided to be disciples of Jesus. 

But as I said before today I want to focus on the person we are praying to, on God and how God’s character is the basis for hope when we pray. The basis that we are heard, that we are cared for and we are answered…It’s about who we pray to … that makes the difference. In fact you could say that Jesus teaching on prayer revolves around encouragement to pray because of who God is.

 Jesus does that by presenting us with two pictures of who God is. The first is that we are to address our prayer ‘to our Father’… That we are called into a relationship with God where he is our heavenly father and we are his children.  It is an invitation to come with a childlike faith and to trust God. In the exodus story in the Old Testament of God bring the people out of Egypt we see that God tells pharaoh to let my people go because Israel was his first born. It is a relationship of father to his children. He has come to give them liberty and freedom. In the prologue to John’s gospel we have Jesus incarnation presented in big picture terms and  we see that in Jesus coming and his ministry and his death and resurrection we are given power to  become sons and daughters of the most high. Jesus invites us to share his relationship with God as father. AS children depend on their parents for food and protection and guidance and shelter so it is we can depend on God for those things. In the Ancient near east  being part of  a family meant that you upheld the honour and the values of that family, that was attached to the name of the father of the family and in Jesus prayer we see that reflected in wanting our fathers name glorified and our fathers values and justice and kingdom to come. 

I remember listening to a man who worked in prisons one day who talked of a prisoner saying ‘if God is a father then I don’t want anything to with God’. His experience of his father was so bad… Perhaps in our increasingly fatherless society and in a society where there are large numbers who have been abused and abandoned or hurt by their fathers then this image of God as Father is hard to identify with. Some have wanted to find other ways of addressing God. Feminism has meant that many women want to look for other ways of addressing God. But Jesus does not leave it simply as a title  in the last section of his teaching on prayer he picks up the idea of a good father who will look after his children, will give them food when they ask not abuse them. Not give them harmful things and says if we who are human and broken and yeah sinful can give good gifts to our children how much more your heavenly father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” We see that instead of projecting our broken images of fatherhood on God, we are to see that God is a good Father, Approachable not distant or absent, caring and forgiving not abusive and violent, affirming and loving, not full of criticism and put downs, even when he corrects us it because he loves us. In fact knowing God as Father praying to God as father can be liberating and healing, it can be inspiring for those of us who are fathers and parents to aspire to be better because we experience the love of our heavenly Father. 

The image of God as Father is complimented in Jesus teaching with the picture of God as a good neighbour or friend. Jesus tells the parable of someone who has unexpected guests show up in the middle of the night when there is no food left in the house, and well there was not the 24/7 shopping we take for granted.  Hospitality in the Ancient Middle East was of paramount importance to people and it was shameful if you didn’t have enough to care for your guest. So the picture here is going to the neighbour and pounding on their door to get some bread. In most Ancient Near Eastern Houses everyone slept on the ground floor. Usually on a raised platform all the children would be sleeping there as well as the adults. Also animals were kept in the ground floor as well. So it was quite a task getting up and opening the door in the middle of the night. Everyone and everything would end up awake. The neighbour would be well within his rights to say go away. But if you keep on persisting even they will get up and give you what you need. The picture of God here is that he will be a good friend and neighbour and answer your prayer.  God cares and will answer our prayer and help us in time of crisis.  We have a God who will open the door when we knock, who isn’t going to hide away and be distant but who will be found if we seek him, who will respond when we ask.
Not only does Jesus teach us about the very character of God in his ministry we see it as well. We see it Jesus revolution of grace. In that good news for the poor recovery of sight for the blind, freedom and release for the prisoner and oppressed, that Jesus demonstrated in loving and welcoming back and touching and healing, this is what God the Father is like. We hear it in his teaching love ‘ Be merciful as your father is merciful’.  It is demonstrated in the cross, ‘father forgive them’ today you will be with me in paradise, That while we were yet sinner God died for us, it’s power is seen in the resurrection. Its truth is seen in the sending of the Holy Spirit on God’s people…. How much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?  

I think in the Christian church we can forget that love of God, the amazing reality of having God as our Father. This week I’ve seen some videos of Muslim’s who have converted to Christianity. It was refreshing to hear afresh from these testimonies the uniqueness and wonder of knowing that God is a loving and caring Father. Mario Joseph was a Muslim cleric, who began looking at what the Koran said about Jesus. In fact I was interessted to hear Mario Joseph say that as he studied the Koran he saw it has more to say about Jesus than Mohammad. The Koran says Jesus is the word of God, that Jesus died and rose again and that Jesus will come again.  He went on a retreat to study the gospel and was amazed at the passage from John’s gospel we mentioned before and Jesus teaching on Prayer. He said ‘In the Koran Allah is always seen as master and people were his slaves, but what liberty in knowing that we could be children of God, that we are loved by and cared for by our Father in heaven. Another women talked of being amazed that God was Love, she said she had always prayed and said her prayers at the right time, and one night after a year of bible study she decided she would pray like Christians did and found real joy and life in being able to pour her heart out to God and know he heard and cared. She became a Christian that very night. Another woman talked of Allah always feeling distant and angry but through a miracle of a Christian TV evangelist praying for her mother and her mother being healed of Multiple sycosis she knew that this Jesus and his father cared for her.  Let’s not forget it, the awesome truth of prayer is that the creator and sustained of the universe invites us to be his children and to boldly approach him to know him in prayer.   We can come to Our Father…