Monday, October 31, 2016

Speak Lord, Your Servant is Listening: relfections on hearing God speak to us in our payer lives (1 Samuel 3, John 10:25-30). Prayer nuts'n'bolts.(part 5)

In ‘the sacred dairy of Adrian Plass Christian speaker aged 45 ¾’, Adrian Plass illustrates some of the difficulties of trying to discern how God is speaking to us and what he is saying. After a disastrous speaking engagement, Plass says ‘he had some words with God in church on Sunday, and ‘asked for something to lift his spirits about the whole speaking business.’ On the way out of church he looked up and saw a cloud which looked very much like South America and wondered if this was a sign that God was calling him there. He pointed it out to a friend who said it was like Italy and God was definitely calling Plass to Italy. His son thought it looked like ‘India’ his wife who loves the West Country thought it was just like the Lizard peninsula in Cornwell, a man who didn’t like Plass that much said he thought it was Greenland which confirmed something he’d thought about Plass all along, while Plass’ quirky neighbour thought it was a carrot and that God was calling Plass to work with those who labour among root vegetables. Plass concludes

“I thought it wasn’t the sign I was looking for, not unless God is expecting me to convert most of the planet and people who labour among root vegetables. I mean, God created the world, didn’t he? So he must be able to draw one little bit of it accurately if he wants to.”

Later Plass was encouraged by receiving an invitation to go to Australia to speak. Who would have figured that God could use the postal service or Australians?

Maybe people who expect God to speak to us actually do have their heads suck in the clouds. It’s one of the big questions about prayer, if prayer is conversation with God, is it one way communication? How does God speak back? And How can we tune our hearts and minds to hearing what God is saying? On the Other hand it is one of the great privileges and joys of the Christian life to know that God does speak to his people.

The passage from John’s gospel we read today is part of a wider passage where Jesus uses the image of a good shepherd to talk of his relationship with us. One part in particular sticks out ‘My Sheep know my voice, I know them, they follow me’. It gives us a picture of a relationship with God where we know His voice and we respond, and what an amazing affirmation that Christ knows us! Prayer is at the centre of that relationship that is why it is one of the eight areas that the Parish council have identified as key if our vision to be an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring others to join us that journey is to be an ongoing reality. So we are going to finish our season of prayer today by looking at some nuts’n’bolts about hearing God speak. Again some of them are very practical and others are very theological.

In my life I have experienced God speaking in so many different ways. When I needed to make a decision about staying in Auckland as the Youth coordinator or going to Rotorua, I went into the Waitakere’s to pray and God lead me to a passage about ‘a prophet being without honour in their own country’, not a delusion of grandeur but a clear direction that it was time to move away from the familiar into a new area. When I pray for people in a ministry situation I will often hear, as Adrian Plass puts it, “ a small voice at the back of my head that I equate with God” bring a scripture to mind or a simple word for that person or direction to Pray. God speaks through what I read, through other People. One night when I was about twenty two a man grabbed my arm on the way out of church, and said he believed God was telling me to go to Bible College, which after working it through with the leadership of the church I did. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture in the clouds, but God hasused wood pigeon’s to speak to me. I see them as a sign of the Holy Spirit, as they are the closest you get to native doves here, and it’s amazing how oftenthey turn up and God uses them to speak to me… I could go on and talk of circumstance, surprise encounters…I’m sure you have got your own tales as well.  But they are all subjective and open to interpretation and they are not just the everyday communication with God that comes in a constant growing prayer life.

When we started our season of prayer we defined prayer as our response to God’s speaking to us. God is a personal god and reveals Gods-self and his purpose and will to us. He has done that through his interaction with Israel and in Christ becoming one of us. Our prayer is in response to that. The chief way we have in which God has spoken and continues to speak is through the bible, the scriptures of the Old and New Testament. What we call God’s word. Not just dry words on dusty dog eared pages but living word that God’s spirit is able to use to speak into our lives and world. In fact we should filter and test every other way we feel God speak to us through the scriptures. When we find ourselves in a difficult situation or in need of advice the Holy Spirit will bring the scriptures to our minds. AS we immerse ourselves in them they help shape our thinking and actions and reactions. God’s will and ways and character are not a secret, in fact you could say that God is an open book.

 The story of Samuel’s call to be a prophet is helpful to explore how we listen to God’s word. The passage starts by saying that visions and words from the lord were rare when Samuel was young. For God’s people this is not supposed to be the normal situation. It was part of God’s judgment on the house of Eli. The people of Israel would expect their priest to be the one who got those words but it didn’t happen Eli and his sons had their own agenda. Can I say we can spend out whole life in Church and not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is one of the things that the church in the west has wrestled with nominal Christianity, or cultural Christianity. The challenge for us is… that we can be quite happy going about our own life doing our own thing, so we don’t take the time to listen and hear. God’s word is not scare for us today we have open access to the scriptures.

The second thing is that Samuel really wasn’t expecting God to speak to him. He thought it was Eli calling him. Samuel is geared to listening and responding to Eli. Eli we are told is old and overweight and nearly blind, maybe it was a regular nightly occurrence that Eli would call for Samuel to help him. It is only when Eli tells Samuel that it maybe God speaking and to listen and respond with “Lord speak, your servant is listening” that Samuel hears God speak more than just his name. It is easy for us to get caught up in our routines and doing things and not to actually stop and be open to God speaking. May even in today’s world to turn off the devices and pull out our headphones. The line is busy because we are busy, not God. You can even get caught up in doing good things and religious things, and not make room for God and relationship. It actually takes time to be still and listen; it takes time to adopt that humble and expectant attitude that Samuel does.

Eli in this story represents the religious knowledge and wisdom of his day, and he is the one who actually helps Samuel to know it is God speaking and to know how to respond. WE need that same guidance and help. Hearing God’s voice is a community activity. WE have a wealth of resources and wisdom in people and in the saints who have gone before us that can help us to develop our prayer lives and to learn to connect with God. I’m going to finish this sermon by sharing one with you for you to try this week. I read what I call a spiritual health book once a year… one that focuses on my prayer and devotional life to get that guidance. This year it is Tim Keller’s book ‘Prayer: awe and intimacy with God.’ I’m using the ‘bible in one year app for my devotions this year and it is good to have the voice of Nicky Gumble to help open the word up with his reflections. Nicky’s wife Pippa also makes some very non theological everyday practical comments that equally help God’s word speak into my life.

WE see as the chapter goes on beyond our reading that Samuel becomes more and more adapt at hearing what God has to say. It’s process of learning of learning to listen. The other Key to Samuel developing a relationship with God where he hears god clearly, is that he actually obeys what he hears… In the gospel Jesus says his followers are those who hear his word and act on it. In the passage from John he says his sheep hear his voice and they follow.

That’s cool for Samuel but are you saying we should all simply wait to hear God call us in the night. How does it relate to my prayer life today?

Scripture needs to be a big part of our life. Not just reading it which I encourage people to do daily but allowing it be the starting point and conversation partner in our prayer life. Because it allows God then to speak to us. Eastern meditation is the process of emptying oneself and becoming one with the other whatever that other is. But Christian meditation or contemplation according to Tim Keller is ‘not mere bible study. It is taking the word of scripture and pondering them in such a way that your thoughts and feeling converge on God’. In fact the word meditation comes from the same root as mastication, or chewing. Cow’s have four stomachs and they will digest grass and later bring it back up to chew over again, we call it chewing their cud, to get all the richness and goodness out of it. That is the idea of contemplation on or praying through scripture.

It’s great that we have Eli’s to help us in this matter. One such person is the great reformer Martin Luther…we have a letter that Martin Luther wrote to his barber in response to being asked by him ‘For some simple ideas on ‘how he should pray?’. In it Martin Luther explained his process for pondering and prayer through scripture. Luther said that the first thing is that prayer must become a habit. I’ve just started going to the gym and swimming again, and can I say it’s not an enjoyable experience. It’s hard work, I ache I don’t really feel any benefit from it, this week I’ve had to learn to be less charismatic in my worship life… because it hurts to raise my arms. But I know as I go on that I will receive more and more benefit from it and it will get easier. Prayer like all things in life is not easy it’s hard and we need to work at it to develop past the difficult stage to a level of relationship which is sustaining and edifying. It’s like communication in marriage we need to spend time doing it and make time to do it and work at it.

Luther says he will contemplate a passage in scripture and then will turn it into a prayer via four different books. He says it becomes a (click) school book, he approaches it to see what it has to say about God, the human condition life and ‘what the Lord demands of me earnestly’. Then it turns into (click) his song book, it draws him to give thanks to God, he begins to pray those two classical parts of prayer adoration and thanksgiving. Then he says it becomes (click) his Penitential book, it leads him to confession and seeing where he needs to make changes in his life. Finally it becomes a (click) prayer book and he finds his prayers for himself and his world directed by God’s word. It is a good simple process which allows God to start the conversation, speak to us through his word, and guide our response in prayer. We used this technique at the parish council meeting on Wednesday and it was really amazing I think we had one of the best prayer times we’d had at the parish council in a long time. It’s a technique that helps the scriptures and prayer to become a two way conversation. Luther was quick to point out that in the midst of this if the Holy Spirit begins to preach a sermon to us we should be quite desisting and listen.

Luther also says that we should allow the word of God to lead our prayer’s by using the Lord’s prayer.   Not simply verbatim but paraphrasing and personalising it each day so that its petitions express our world and heart to God. He says I do not bind myself to words or phrases but say my prayer in one fashion today and in another tomorrow, depending on my mood and feelings”. Again we allow God to set the pattern for our prayer and lead us and speak to us in prayer.

I want to finish by giving you a gift: A seven day prayer journal to help you pray through the scriptures using Luther’s guidelines.  I’m asking you to take time in the next week to meditate on specific passages, as we are looking at prayer they are Paul’s prayers for the churches in his epistles. May we let those prayers guide our prayers? Then I want to invite you to write a prayer from that using Luther’s four books and also to write a prayer or say a prayer that is lead and guided by the Lord’s Prayer.

I hope that among the various spiritual practises we’ve done this month that you’ve found things that are of real practical help. The parish council and I hope and pray that you might find your faith growing and developing a real vibrancy.  It’s been our hope that during this month your prayer life will have deepened and grown: That you may draw near to God and have him draw near to you.
For those who would like a pdf version of the prayer journal mentioned in this sermon here is a link to it... Luthers guidelines for praying the scriptures.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A friend who prays is a friend indeed (praying for someone in need). Prayer nuts'n'bolts part 4 (Luke 18:1-11, James 5:13-20)

A group of young people on a summer’s mission trip to the party Island of Ibiza asked the local Anglican priest what the prayer needs of the Island were. Ibiza was in the middle of a really bad drought, so the priest asked them to pray for rain… like in our bible reading from James today… they prayed for rain and they were very surprised when minutes after they had stopped praying  Ibiza was hit by a very unseasonal thunder storm. In fact they later discovered that it hadn’t rained so hard on the Island in July since 1976. Coincidence? Answer to prayer? Anyway the English press got hold of it and it became a big media story. “God Squad claim first miracle on Ibiza” The leader of that group Pete Greig… says it’s one of the glory stories that Christians like to tell.

However Pete Grieg is honest enough about prayer to have written the book ‘God on mute’ about a real life struggle with his faith as he was woken one night by his wife who said “Something is wrong, I can’t feel my legs” which was the start of a five year battle with a brain tumour and an ongoing struggle with a severe form of epilepsy.  And it seems that God was silent and Prayer ineffective.

When we pray we find ourselves between these two extremes. There are times when I am surprised by just how awesomely God answers prayers and others when I have found myself with a friend or parishioner in desperate need crying out to God and it seems that the doors of heaven are shut. 

In scripture we are invited in all situations to pray. Jesus tells his disciples in the passage we had read in Luke’s gospel to always pray and to never give up. The passage we had read from James seems a practical outworking of that. If we are in trouble we should pray, if we are happy we should well pray, sing psalms, if we are sick we should pray, and gives some specific instructions about a way of gathering the Christian leadership and community together to do that. If we have done wrong well we should pray we should confess our sins and get it sorted. ’ Have you noticed how people wander around with their cell phones out these days focused on the screen in constant communication with other people over the mobile networks  and Internet. We are invited to have that same connectivity with God. But not in a way that shuts out the world, that puts us in danger of stepping out in front of that bus, or at the expense of the real life face to face relationships but that brings the world and those relationships into contact with a God who cares, who hears and who acts. RVG Tasker says ‘the habit of prayer should be, and indeed is one of the most obvious features which differentiate a Christian from other people.” Our heavenly father extends to us a standing invitation to draw near to God, which no experience of joy or sorrow and no conditions of prosperity or adversity have any power to cancel.”

In light of that great invitation I want to go through some nuts’n’bolts of praying for someone else, praying for people in times of need. Some of those nuts’n’bolts will be very practical and some of them will be very theological. This part of our churches season of prayer, as a parish council we have identified prayer as one of eight key areas we need to work on to help our church be an authentic, vibrant sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on the journey.  So let’s work through a series of questions about praying for people.

The first one is Prayer actually effective? Does it make a difference or does it just make me feel better that I’ve been able to do something with my concern.?

Scriptures answer is that Pray is effective it changes things. In the passage we had read from Luke today Jesus says that the effectiveness of Prayer is based on the very character of God. He tells an interesting parable of an unjust judge, who tries to ignore the case of a poor insignificant widow. The encouragement for us is that God is not like that, he good and loving and just and is quick to see his people get justice. 

James provides us with a very practical example of the effectiveness of prayer. Elijah had prayed and it had not rained for seven years and then he prayed again for rain, and a storm front rolled in over the Mediterranean Sea.

What happens if I you don’t receive an answer right away? Does it mean that God has not heard my prayer?

The classic answer to that is that God always answers Prayer. We have to deal with the fact that it maybe ‘no’ or ‘not now’ or not in the way in which we had thought it should be. Our reading in Luke comes at the end of a block of Jesus teaching about the last days, the consummation of the kingdom of God, and Jesus parable in it finishes with Jesus asking when the son of man comes will he find faith on earth. It is only in this long term eternal perspective will we see how God has answered all our prayer. The call to us, the invitation for us is to live in the meantime trusting in and drawing near to God, to pray and never give up. Roy Christian says that he believes that God answers every prayer for healing, for some it is by healing, others it is that they get a new sense of God’s presence and peace in the midst of suffering and other times that prayer is answered in death. For a person to go and be with Christ, in a place of no more suffering, no more pain and decay, because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, in Christ’s resurrection death has been swallowed up in victory. Peter Grieg’s wife Sami has the last word in his book God on Mute’ and she writes of where she has come to in her own prayer life… she says “I don’t always understand God’s ways in my life, but I’m absolutely certain that he can be trusted.”

God will answer my prayer only if I’m good enough? Or if I have enough faith and I doubt that I do?

In James we hear the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective, and we might think it’s refereeing to those rear and wonderful super spiritual saints…right…wrong… The gospel of Jesus Christ is that we have all been made righteous through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We are made right with God. In the same passage we also hear that we should confess our sins to one another, we re all flawed and broken. If we waited to feel good enough for God to respond to our prayers, I don’t think I’d ever get round to praying, would you… But Christ died for us, he took away the stain of our sin and invited us in… as loved family.
I have a friend whose daughter is terminally ill, we often prayer for her in our services. I wrote to my friend asking if there was any way I could help…”his reply was “not really, except if you know a doctor who has a cure for this kind of cancer that would be great”… I didn’t have the faith to write back and say ‘we’ll I know the great physician and I’ll ask him”, but I prayer for my friend’s daughter every day. I don’t know if my faith is big enough in that situation. In Luke the parable that Jesus tells has two names ‘ the parable of the unjust judge’ and the parable of the persistent widow’. The answer to this question comes in those two. Our faith when it comes to pray is in what we know of the character of God. It’s not the amount of our faith it is the one in whom we have put that faith. Secondly the widow in the story is poor and powerless, she is amongst the least in her community, yet she is persistent and her case get heard. WE may feel in that same position, powerless, helpless… but if we draw near to God and are consistent and persistent that is the main thing.

Now in James, we see that he encourages people who are very sick to call the elders together  to pray. Does this mean that there is something special about elders? NO…the elders represent the whole community praying. In the end if someone brings and issue or a problem to you, in the sovereignty of God you just may be the very person whose prayers and help and compassion are needed in that situation.

Do I need to say the right words? Are their formula's to how we should pray?

Paul Ashman is the vicar at St Matthias and at the life course on Thursday he spoke on ‘how does God speak to us through prayer’. One of the things that spoke to me from what he said is that when we pray, God wants to hear from us, God wants to hear from you. Yes there are great liturgical prayers and psalm which help us pray, but in the end its about God simply wanting a relationship with each of us. Where we are real and honest. The other great thing is that when we pray we don’t pray alone, God has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in all who believe and the holy Spirit it tells us in Romans 8:26 helps us in our weakness to pray. Our bumbling words may just be beautiful in God’s ear. Our articulate cries and sighs of compassion and care  may just resonant with the heart of God.

But just a couple of tips, it’s always good to know who we are praying to. We are not simply calling off into the universe we know who God is, so we pray to God. We know that we can come to God because of Jesus Christ, in fact Jesus invites us to pray in his name. It does not mean we have to slavishly say ‘in Jesus name amen at the end or it won’t find the right address. But it is good to remember that it is because of Christ’s life death and resurrection that we are able to come to God in prayer, that we know what God is like, that we can ask as children of a good and gracious Father.

What if I pray the wrong thing? How do I know what God’s will is in any given situation?

That is a tricky one. The answer to that is really that God’s will is not some hidden secret agenda, Christians do not believe in fate, we are a gracious people not fatalistic. The answer is we do know what God’s will is. In the first section of 1 Timothy Chapter  2 Paul urges all kinds of prayers to be given for all people. For kings and rulers because God desires is that we live in a peaceful and just society. Then he says to pray for everyone because God’s desire is that all may come and know Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour. God wants everyone to come to a saving knowledge of him, to know his grace and grow to Christian maturity. In all situations as we looked at last week that is what we should be praying for people. Secondly we know that Jesus prayed for people to be healed that sickness and death are a result of a fallen and broken creation so it is right that we pray for the one who has conquered sin and death, to deal and elevate its consequences.

When I pray for someone in a ministry situation I also think it’s important to listen. To listen to what the person has to say, as it gives you directions as to what to pray for, but also to listen to the Holy Spirit to give direction in what to pray. For me that might come as a word in my mind, that small still voice, or a bible passage will come to mind. I was praying for some pastors on Thursday wrestling with the death of a friend and having to take the funeral and the laments of the Psalms came up, where people poured out their sorrow to God, but which are also such strong declarations of faith in God. So I used that as a basis for praying for them. That they would be able to grieve and pour out their pain and sorrow to God but also to hold on to that deep faith in God and be able to share that as they ministered to others at the funerals.

let me finish by saying… Prayer is like most other things in life you get better if you practise. So we are going to stop now and I am going to invite you to break into little groups of about three or four, and share with each other one thing, one person, one situation that you would like the other people to pray for or join you in praying for. Then I’m going to invite you in that group to pray for each other. In fact why not simply pray for the person to your left in that group. And will you commit yourself to praying for that person and that situation for the week to come.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Prayer for others (part 1) proactive, kingdom agenda prayer...(Matthew 9:35-10:4, Phillippians 1:3-10) Prayer nuts and Bolt's (part 3)

Over the month of October at St Peter’s we have a season of prayer. As the parish council have worked through our strategic plan we identified eight key areas that we needed to focus on if our church is to continue seeing our vision of being ‘an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring other to join us on the journey’ be more than just words. Prayer is central to the vibrancy of a church. It helps us to grow in Christ, and it is the starting point and engine of mission and outreach. This year the parish council asked if we could look at the nuts and bolts of prayer, prayer 101. Just some simple thoughts and teaching on prayer. Some of the nuts and bolts are very practical and some are very theological. But our hope is that we may grow in our prayer lives here at St Peter.

Today I simply want to look at Praying for others. How do we pray for other people and what difference does it make. I’m going to take two weeks to look at this because I actually think it such a big topic. Today we are going to look at Praying for others in terms of a proactive prayer and care for people and next week we will look at praying for people at their point of need. We can often thing of Prayer like medicine or ointment, only to be used in case someone is sick or like the fire alarm in a big building, in case of emergency break the glass and pray. But in scripture we see praying for others is not only for pastoral needs and issues but is part of God’s mission and part of our ongoing spiritual development and maturity… it’s proactive.

I want to start with a good story from last week at the Prayer and Healing service… Moray shared with me what had happened a year ago at Glenfield Presbyterian Church.

Moray was extremely sick and weak and very much on the road to becoming incapacitated and an invalid. He dragged himself to church one morning with his wife… as he came into the church a man said to him, the whole church is going to pray for you today brother…’ and during the service this same man went up to the Minister Emma Keown and asked if the church could pray for Moray. They stopped the worship and did just that… the whole church, gathered round him and prayed. Moray said from that very moment his life began to change instead of this gradual inevitable decline he found that his life, energy, and joy started coming back. Even though he still felt he had a ways to go on Sunday evening there was a real vibrancy about him, and it was great to see him praying with others for God to do the same things in them that God had done for him.

How do we pray for others?  Well the best way to explore that question is to look at the scripture… there are many examples of this kind of prayer  in the scriptures. I’ve chosen two prayers in particular. The first is Jesus invitation for his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest field in response to what he sees in the villages and towns he has been moving through and ministering in. The second is an example of Paul’s prayer for a church that he is writing to mainly the church in Philippi. Then I just want to draw some practical thoughts and encouragement for us and our prayer lives.

Jesus has been going round and preaching and healing people and as he has done that he gets a good idea of what the crowds are like. He sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd. Tired, confused with no direction. In fact the image according to RVG Tasker is that “the crowds are like sheep worried by dogs and left lying on the ground unable to exert themselves’. He sees that they have a deep spiritual need. In the Old Testament this image is used of the people of Israel when they don’t have a leader. It used in Numbers 27:17 as Moses chooses Joshua as his successor, so that Israel wouldn’t find themselves in that situation. Here the new Joshua, jeshua ‘saviour’ wants to fulfill that need.

Jesus prayer life comes out of his interaction with the people around him, it comes out of his ministry with and to them, it is an example of his compassion. He sees their need and sees the possibility for the Kingdom of God to bring change and make a difference and so he asks his disciples to Pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out more workers into the field. 

It’s interesting that these people are the same people he then sends on a short term mission trip out into the villages and towns amongst the sheep without a shepherd to tell them that the Kingdom of God is near.

What does this have to say to us about praying for others? First thing is that Prayer comes from our engagement with God and our engagement with the world around us. Prayer for others comes as we allow God to lead us into the deep spiritual needs of other people. In the villages and towns we live in we are the people who bring God’s love and kingdom with us. We are Christ’s witnesses and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. Prayer for other people comes out of that call and sharing Christ’s compassion for people as well. Be it the needs they present or the deeper often unperceived needs that only reconciliation with Christ can solve and heal and make new.

Often people see prayer as a cop out, an easy alternative to real action… we live in the world of facebook activism, where people can be outraged and upset and genuinely moved by issues and concerns round the world, and they respond with a status post or a like on their facebook wall… and really nothing changes… they just feel better… But here we see Prayer leads to action. It is those Jesus calls to pray who end out being part of the answer to their own prayer. Prayer is action and goes hand in hand with our willingness to respond and go, as workers into the field.

Thomas Merton was a Catholic monk; he was always looking for more time to spend in contemplation and on retreat. But out of that time alone with God flowed some of the most profound theological thought of the twentieth century. Merton wrote about nuclear war and non-violence and ways for people of different religions to get along. His prayer and meditation life didn’t draw him away from the world rather it meant he could see the world more clearly from a Kingdom of God perspective. His writings from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s are still sort and read. I remember a Dr Wong from Hong Kong sharing about ministering in communist china and seeing God moving in people’s lives. In the midst of his message he stopped talking about the miracles he was seeing and the people coming to Christ and he began talking about a little old lady, who lived way up in a multi-story apartment block. She was virtually a shut in, other people had to bring her groceries and he said that this women and people like her were the reason things were happening in China. She could hardly walk but she spend most of her day and night kneeling in prayer for her country… She couldn’t go but in prayer life Dr Wong saw the impact her prayers were having.

Paul writes a prayer at the beginning of all the letters he writes to churches and individuals. It’s part of the formal structure of letters in Paul’s day. We have the address, a greeting and a prayer. Kind of like when I’m writing a letter to someone, which is a lost art these days?  You might start dear Bob, I hope you are well. Paul rather offers a prayer for them. It’s a prayer that starts with thanksgiving. In the case of the book of Philippians, Paul gives thanks for the way that the church in philippi has responded to his ministry, how they partner in the gospel; later we find out they have sent him a gift when he is in prison, but they have also stood up for the gospel.

His thanks giving also leads to an assurance that God will bring to completion the work he has begun in Jesus Christ within them. It’s not a vain hope because he sees the real evidence of how they have persevered in the gospel. When you pray for people giving thanks is a good thing to start with.  Like with the whole ACTS prayer, when we start with Adoration and thanksgiving it allows you to put things into perspective. When I pray for people in a ministry situation I will often thank God for that person, that they are loved by God, he has made them a unique and valuable person, that Christ died for them and rose for them, that he has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in them.

Lets face it some people are hard to pray for… Jesus says we are to pray for those who persecute you, to love our enemies, and giving thanks for a person is a good way of starting to that process. I don’t like them they are doing bad things to me, but thank you God that you love them, that you forgive and change. I will often have very negative thoughts about my father and as a way of changing that I will give thanks for the things he was good at.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t dings in my soul because my relationship with him, but it allows me to put it into perspective. It’s kind of like in the Lord ’s Prayer when it says forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Often that process of healing and forgiveness starts in prayer in simply telling God we forgive them and then letting it develop into our lives. Paul writes a pretty sever letter to the Church in Corinth but it starts with thanksgiving.

Secondly, Paul prays for the churches he writes to, it’s interesting that often he is writing to churches in times of need, either facing persecution from the outside or wrestling with deep divide or issues from within, but his prayers focus on the growth of those churches to maturity in Christ. In Paul’s prayer fr the Philippians it’s that they may grow more and more in the depth of their love and knowledge of Christ and that that would continue to be manifest in the decisions they made and how they lived. We can think that when we pray for another person the reason we do that is that there is a great need or circumstance. But Paul’s focus is on the important thing that they may growing their faith and knowing of Jesus Christ. He is deeply aware of the problems and issues and circumstances they are in but again in prayer his agenda is set by the Kingdom of God.

The image that went along with the service this morning was of someone helping someone else up a rock face. We can think of prayer as reaching down when people are in need and helping pull them up our of difficult situations or issues… and it can be that… as we saw before its an expression of God’s compassion and ours. But we can often forget that climbing is a team sport it’s not just helping out in times of trouble but being here to help each other up. TO lift one another up in prayer. Prayer as a team working with God to see each other and the world be bought into relationship with God and to grow in that relationship and see it enable us to bring God’s kingdom with God’s Spirit’s help.

For our church to grow in our vision, together as a loving community, in our discipleship of Jesus Christ, and in our mission and outreach, we need to be praying for the church and for each other...This week for homework I want to invite you to commit to praying for a person in this congregation. We are going to do it by using what I call Prayer darts. I want to invite you to put your name… maybe just your first name on this piece of paper that is coming round. Under thanksgiving I want you to write one or more things that you would like to give thanks for. Then you’ll see a space for writing something or somethings that you’d like for people to pray in terms of growing in your faith.  Finally there is space if there are needs you’d like prayer for. Then we are going to make a dart out of them and throw them about the church for a few minutes and then I’d invite you to get one of these darts… if you get your own then toss it in the air again… and commit yourself to praying for that person over the week. Someone will be praying for you as well.
(feel free to download this template for prayer darts and use it...)

Monday, October 10, 2016

The content of prayer as speech ACTS... Prayer Nuts'n'Bolts part 2 (psalm 51, Matthew 6:9-15)

You know I’m sure that two teenagers in love would probably think that they are having deep and meaningful conversations, sharing intimacy as they talk with each other over the phone. Although I am informed that no one, and definitely not teenagers these day, spend time talking over the phone… they txt each other and send emojies to express their feelings… (smiley face smiley face) or they message each other or send photos over snap chat. Which opens up a whole can of worms?  But back in the dim dark land line era…last decade, last century a millennium ago… before smart phones…hours were spent by teenagers in love on the phone right…in deep conversation… ’love you’… ‘me too’… long silence and deep heavy sigh…’can’t wait to see you again tomorrow’…’me too’…’it’s been so long since  I’ve seen you I mean you only left here half an hour ago, but it feels like forever’…’yeah’… long silence heavy sigh… ‘love you’… ‘me too’… hey my mom says I have to hang up now. It’s so unfair’’…’ok’…’Bye’… ‘Bye’… ‘are you going to hang up?’… ‘no you hang up first… ‘no you’… we’ll do it together on three’… ‘Ok’ …one …two… three…’(pause)… ‘you didn’t hang up’…’you didn’t hang up either’… ok this time…one, two… three’ …well you get the idea. For some of you it was probably bring back fond memories or deep frustrations as a parent trying to use the phone.

Maybe I’m doing teenagers a disservice, I kind of remember phone conversations like that when I was a lad, and the real emotions and buzz that went into them.  But as I’ve gotten older and got married I realize that content actually matters as well, being able to share more of one’s self on a deeper and deeper level , to be able to wrestle together, perhaps a bad choice of words, with issues that need resolution and action that starts with conversation, conversation in which content matters. It’s the same with prayer… content matters…it is both communication that develops intimacy with God… and also the basis of the Kingdom of God coming into our lives and world, as we pray and act.

October at St Peter’s is our season of Prayer. AS a parish council we have Identified Prayer as one of eight key areas we need to focus on to see our vision of being an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus and inspiring others to join us on that journey’ continue to blossom into reality more and more. So we’ve set aside a month to focus on and encourage our prayer lives to grow and develop and deepen. This year the focus is on the nuts and bolts of Prayer, or Prayer 101, looking at a very basic level at points about prayer and some practises that might help our prayer life to grow. Some of those nuts and bolts are very practical and some are very theological.

Last week we looked at the fact that prayer was answering speech to God… We pray as our response to God speaking to us. AS such the language we use should be natural and be us speaking to God.  I finished by encouraging people to simply take ten minutes in the day to sit and just talk with Jesus, as Jesus is always with us, and to help that to happen to visualize Jesus sitting in an empty chair or walking beside us.  

This week we are simply going to explore a helpful way of looking at the content and structure of Prayer. We are going to use the mnemonic ACTS to talk about key elements of prayer… Adoration… Confession… Thanksgiving… and Supplication. To do that our bible readings today were two prayers. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples and David’s prayer of confession and repentance when he was confronted by Nathan the prophet over his adultery with Bathsheba and his conspiring to have her husband Uriah killed in battle: Psalm 51. Writer, Presbyterian Pastor and church planter, Tim Keller says that “this traditional form of prayer, adoration, confession, thanks giving and supplication are concrete practises as well as profound experience.”

Adoration… is a word that means looking at and appreciating. Looking and knowing and expressing who God is. Adoration is a good place to start Prayer, as it causes us to focus on God. It puts everything else into perspective when we gaze at praise our God. The Lord’s prayer starts with ”our father in heaven Hallowed be thy name’ and there are sermon after profound sermon, reflection after profound reflection in that simple phrase. We see that God is a loving parent. God is spirit and different and distinct from what he created. We see an affirmation of God’s Holiness and as the Prayer goes on Jesus and our longing is that the goodness and justice of this good and Just God may grow and grow and fill the earth. 

Prayer is answering speech to God and as God reveals himself to us, through scripture, through Christ, adoration is the starting point of affirming that revelation. If you remember from last week when we looked at Psalm 5 this holy nature of God was the basis on which David felt he could come with his problems and lament before God. God is not like some corrupt politician who will give sly wink or turn a blind eye to injustice or evil. And God is full of mercy and grace and cares for his people deeply. When we see the depth of the love of Jesus Christ shown in his life and death, it causes us to want to love others more deeply more selflessly. When we see the sovereignty of God, it allows us to face up to, and persevere, through hard and difficult times knowing God is in control. When we think of his immanence, his closeness: That the Holy Spirit dwells within us, it gives us comfort even in the face of the worst of times. Knowing who God is and affirming it in adoration puts it all into perspective.

Confession:  It’s interesting one of things I was reading about prayer this week said that Prayer is the ongoing process of self-awareness our continuing self-knowledge. AS we look at who God is we become aware of who we are as well. That we are loved, that we are cherished and blessed by God, we have found new life and are becoming a new creation in Christ. But we also become aware of the darkness the shadow and the things that do not reflect the one who loves us. So confession is the way of getting that stuff out. Bringing it before God and allowing his to forgive and start the process of transformation. We are often blind to our own faults and the things that we do that are wrong. You can see that David was well on the path of not owning up or facing the depth of the evil he had committed until God used Nathan to expose it. David’s response is this wonderful prayer of contrition asking for forgiveness. Note it’s not a grovelling prayer in vain hope a last ditch effort to somehow get off the hook. David knows both God’s justice and also his mercy and grace. He is aware that God isn’t going too placated by an outward show of remorse, but will only be satisfied with a brokenness that God himself will be able to heal and bring restoration and new life to. We are called to confess our sins not hide them away like we do the dirty laundry or dirty dishes when someone comes to visit. But be willing to confess them trusting as it says in 1 John 1:10 that God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and remove all of it.

One of the things that as Christians we need to be careful about is the difference between condemnation and conviction. In Romans 8:1 Paul says there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and called according to his name…  to be condemned is destined to always live under the weight and guilt and shame of something to face the consequences…Condemnation does not bring change it just brings punishment, we beat ourselves up over it.  But in Christ we are forgiven and set free… to be convicted of something by the Holy Spirit is to have it pointed out so that we can deal it, we can plead guilty and ask for forgiveness and mercy and be able to change. In the Lord’s Prayer that change can be seen in the line “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against others”.

Thanksgiving: While adoration focuses on who God is Thanksgiving invites us to see what God has done. To open our eyes to God’s provision, in creation, his grace in forgiving and caring for us, answer to prayer, which we come to Supplication or asking prayer gives us the faith to pray knowing God answers Prayer. It invites us to look about us and to see where we have encountered and met God in the our everyday lives. It may be a simple emoje (Smiley face, Smiley face) sent from a good friend in the midst of a depressingly dreary day, right through to big things. We are going to finish our service today by singing “all the way my saviour leads Me” which was written by Fanny Crosby, the blind hymn writer, on the very day she didn’t have her rent money and risked eviction from her apartment only to be handed some money by a complete stranger in the street, which was just the right amount she needed.    Thank fullness helps us to turn our eyes from the things that would bring us down to the way in which we have been blessed by God.  It allows us to see God in action and moving all around us.

Supplication: I actually think as a word supplication coming back into regular use. Not in its long form but in some urban youth cultures people will greet each other with “s’up” which is short for ‘what’s up’ and like supplication it is asking a question. Supplication is asking prayer. It’s bringing our world and our needs and our concerns before God. Again as we have worshipped and given God adoration we do this with confidence of who God is and the goodness of God we have seen in his actions. In the run into the Lord’s Prayer in Matthews Gospel Jesus us reminds us that our father knows what we need even before we ask him.

Sometimes we might think our God is too thin, as JB Phillip’s puts it, that God is just a cosmic credit card, that we can use to get all our wants and fulfill our every whim. But as the Lord’s Prayer points out that our first asking prayer is always for God’s agenda to be fulfilled… Your Kingdom come… your will be done on earth as in heaven. It then goes on to look at God providing what we need to carry on doing our part in that ‘give us today our daily bread’.  After his talking about prayer and fasting in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus moves on to talk about economics in the kingdom of God. He invites us not to be anxious about anything, but rather to put first ‘the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.’ 

But also elsewhere in Luke 18.. We are encouraged to pray in every situation with all kinds of prayer . We can bring our concerns for God’s world and our to him, knowing that God hears and that God cares.

Ok content Matters and ACTS is a good way of looking at what goes into making up prayer. And this week I want to conclude by simply offering you a gift to help you in your prayer life. I don’t know about you but as I’ve always been told that if you want to make sense of your thoughts and ideas then it’s a good thing to write them down. We talked a communication in marriage and when Kris and I were going out I would sit down and write Kris these long letters… almost daily… keeping her up to date with what was going on… in my own soppy but sweet way letting her know how I felt about her… and Kris well wasn’t so good at writing back… when the letter did come I knew why… it was because she’d had a really hard time… her next door neighbour had tried to burn down her parents’ house… she’d had a mole cut out of her back… But for me writing even though’ I ain’t that good at English aye’… is a way of being able to express myself… Writing things down or writing your prayers out is also a good way of being able to gather your thoughts to focus you. Down through the ages God’s people have found the practise and disciple of keeping a journal or a prayer journal as a wonderful aid for prayer. Not only does it help them to focus and express themselves It is also a good thing to be able to go back and see what they had written what things they were learning about God and to see how God had answered prayer.

So this week I want to give you a gift… something I made myself. It’s just a simple seven day prayer dairy. With each day of the week inviting you to take some time to sit and pray what is on your heart. You can use notes or bullet points or poetry or long prose. But I invite you to write and then pray a prayer. Maybe at the end of the day might be the best time to do that. You might want to write a bible verse from your daily bible reading down on it as well. Then at the end of the week sit down and see where in that short time you feel you’ve come. Maybe there might be a thread running through them. This is a link for online readers to the prayer journal in a pdf formate... please feel free to download and use.  If you find this helpful I know at Church store they have some lovely printed journals or you may simply want to get an exercise book. But give it a go… The titles Adoration Confession, thanksgiving supplication are just like training wheels to help us start the Prayer journal and the prayer journey. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Reflection on Psalm 29 and Mark 4:35-41

This was written for a communion service at a retirment village. I was informed that the sermon could only take five minutes... So it is a radically cut down version of another sermon I have preached. But is also an update on my reflections ofn the two passages. Psalm 29 and Mark 4:35-41
There are always those storms that stick in our minds.

The storm that sunk the whahine in Wellington Harbour… My dad wasn’t on the boat but he was on a business trip to wellington that day… due to fly home… I remember the relief my mother had when he rang that night saying he was Ok. He was in a hotel because he  couldn’t fly out.

Cyclone Bola… I was working in a tunnel house complex in Te puke at the time. AS the winds began to rise and the dark storm clouds collected on the horizon. I found myself two stories up standing splay footed in a guttering frantically trying to repair our plastic roof before the storm hit. I was anchoring the plastic sheet down, I was holding a sail area more than a n Americas cup yacht.. When they had sails… while someone attached it. I half-jokingly said to my boss, now would be a good time to talk about danger money.  We had to do it all over again of course when the storm finally cleared. I was also on the first flight out of Tauranga after the storm a frightfully bumpy experience. I also remember the surf at the mount the week after the storm. Some of the best I’ve even been in.

Psalm 29 is a vivid picture of a storm coming up off the Mediterranean Sea, sweeping over the hills of Lebanon uprooting cedars trees as if they were mere stalks of straw.  Causing the sand and dust to rise up and swirl and as it came over the wilderness and onto Jerusalem: A devastating fatal storm. But God’s people are safe in the temple and as it passes they hear God’ voice in the howl of the wind and the resounding crash of thunder. They see God’s glory displayed in this very natural phenomenon.  Unlike the other people of their day they do not think the storm is God or a dety to be feared or worshipped, they ae aware that their God, our God sits above the storm and is sovereign that God can be trusted to care for his people and keep them safe  in the storm.

For us it’s not only a vivid picture of the worst nature cans throw at us it’s a metaphor for the storms that life throws at us. Times in our lives when it seems as if everything whirls around us like a tornado, or we are battered and bruised and things that we thought were solid are swept away.  Storms that can leave us devastated and hurt…They even threaten to be fatal.

But there is hope and comfort in this psalm. God is a shelter in the storm. He is sovereign and above these storms, not distant and disinterested but unaffected, undiminished by their course. Like the psalmist we can hear God’s voice in the storm. In Jonah, the great storm threatens to swamp the boat Jonah is fleeing in. The great storm is God speaking to call Jonah back on track. In Acts paul on his way in chains to Rome is caught on a similar Mediterranean storm, it is rough and constant and people far for their lives. Yet God uses it to take Paul on his way to new mission fields new opportunities for ministry and miracle in Malta. In Psalm 107 with its vignettes of the exile returning to  Jerusalem there is a picture of sailors on the sea… going up and down staggering round like they are drunk in the waves, yet God is with them and leads them through till they can reach safe harbour… They gather in the great assembly and tell of God’s leading and guiding and protection in the wild waves. Testifying to God’s goodness even in the face of the storm. All these are ways God uses storms to speak to his people. Ways he can use the storms in our life as well.  If I may be so bold even the storms of the late autumn season.

But there is also the comfort and hope that not only des God speak through th storms he speaks to the storms as well. In Our New testament reading, Jesus is in the boat as they go over to the other side of the lake.  A storm rises and threatens to sink the boat… There first though is well where is Jesus… and yes he is with them in the boat… but he is asleep and he just doesn’t seem to care…aren’t they the kind of responses we often have as the wind rises and he waves rage… Where are you God have you gone home put your feet up and fallen asleep in front of the tele… But Jesus stands and speaks to the wind and the waves and they still themselves It’s our hope and our comfort. But its also a challenge as Jesus rebukes his disciples and asks them where is their faith. In the storm or as it is being calmed by the voice of the one who loves us enough to weather the storm of cross and grave, we are called to have faith and say ‘Glory” knowing God is enthroned above the floods. God is able to see us through… to lead and guide us… and yes praise God to intervene and smooth and calm… let us stand in awe of the one whom even the wind and waves obey.

Let Pray

Monday, October 3, 2016

Prayer its communication with God... Honestly! (Psalm 5 Matthew 6:5-8)...Prayer nuts'n'bolts (part 1)

Over the past year at parish council we’ve been working through a strategic plan for our parish. Asking ourselves where do we want to be in five years’ time. Our vision is that we are called to be an authentic, vibrant sustainable Community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring others to join us on that Journey’  and in our strategic plan we identified eight key areas that we believe are essential for us to focus on in order to see that vision fulfilled. One of them is Prayer… It makes sense that a healthy church would be based on its members having a healthy and growing relationship with God.  

AS Part of wanting to see our prayer life here grow in its vibrancy we decided to have a season of Prayer each year in October. Two years ago there was kind of a splash as we jumped in the deep end and set up a prayer room and asked people to commit themselves to coming and praying for one hour a week. There wasn’t much of an uptake.

 Last year we ran the Prayer Course a six week small group study on Prayer… good solid teaching on Prayer through input by video of Pete Greig, the founder of the 24/7 prayer movement and also group discussion and we had twelve people do the course.  And we backed it up with teaching in our services looking at the Lord’s Prayer. 

This year its good that the prayer chain has grown and that a group of people from the prayer chain now get together for encouragement and prayer each Monday morning. If you have situations and people that you are on your heart the prayer chain is a great place to get people to partner with you in bringing them before God. Deb’s contact details are on the back of our newssheet each week. Earlier this year I also challenged you to each pray for five non-Christian friends, neighbours or family members to come to Christ. To remember them by light bulb and light shade you can carry in your wallet or purse. The good thing was that as it came from an Anglican initiative there were some written prayers to help us do that. There are still some of those in the Church foyer.  (if you are readinfg this online just follow the link).

This year as the parish council thought about ‘the season of prayer’ it came up that we should focus on the nuts and bolts of Prayer. It’s very easy to encourage people to develop their prayer lives but what about some good practical teaching on Prayer and Prayer practises. Sort of a Prayer 101. It’s interesting that Prayer is the only thing we know about that Jesus disciples asked him to teach them about, In Luke’s gospel it leads to what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. So over the next few weeks we are going to look at prayer. We are going to use Jesus teaching on Prayer and that wonderful prayer book in the scriptures in the Psalms to help us understand the basics of Prayer. Now some of the nuts and bolts we’ll use are very practical and some of them are theological.

I guess a good place to start is that at its most basic level Prayer is communication and conversation with God.  You’d think that was one of the most basic and easy things for us to do right? But actually communication is an art. Right! In the film ‘the end of violence’ the opening scene is of the main character a big time film director working out by the pool and he has every communication gadget possible with him: His laptop, a mobile phone, a cordless phone connected to his landline in the house, Internet access via Wi-Fi… he is on a video call on the laptop with his secretary and making calls to financiers in japan over his mobile… and then in the midst of all this  his wife calls him on the landline from the bed room of the house to tell him she’ leaving him , because they no longer connect and communicate. It's ironic but the art of conversation and really making a connection is under threat in our communications mad world. In the Marriage course one of the sessions is actually committed to how to have a conversation. How to talk on a level where we can share intimacy, work through issues, share like we do in prayer things that are at a deep and important level...Heart to Heart.

WE also don’t often know what to say to important people when we meet them. Like the queen, people are actually informed how to communicate when they meet her majesty. One night we’d gone for pizza and into the shop walked the Jonah Lomu, the late great rugby player. I wanted to say something to him, because I appreciated and admired his play, but I just knew it would come across wrong, or I’d say something stupid, or embarrassing. So I didn’t say anything. We just laughed with Jonah when the guy behind the counter didn’t know who he was and asked him for his name and then how to spell it. I guess it’s like that with God what do you say to the one who created it all?

It doesn’t help when we are used to prayer being couched in religious language. When I was growing up there were people who would drop into King James English when they prayed, they’d been bought up on it. They’d talk normally but when they prayed out loud, all these ‘thee’s’ and ‘thou’s’ would come out, they would dust off their doest and nearly every second word would have a –th on the end of it-th. Or you find people who when they pray this spontaneous energy come out and they just want to just say the first thing that just comes into their head and its often punctuated by repetition of  father, father or lord, lord… or both father, Father,  Lord, father. Sometimes the Psalms don’t help us here because they themselves are written as Jewish poetry, and they are full of vivid metaphors and word pictures, that and have a structure that for us as English speakers is unnatural. It one way it is helpful because poetry is the language of the human heart. But in another way it’s not that helpful, because we may not be like David who was a poet and a lyricist, and the other people were professional liturgists.

How then are we to speak to God? How do we pray?

In the first two verses of Psalm 5 there are three different words that David uses for Prayer. The first is ‘words’ He asks God to listen to his words. There is a sense of Prayer being spoken communication with God. For David as a gifted poet and musician it was natural that his communication with God would reflect that. He’s Jewish and so it’s natural that his words would reflect that cultural way of speaking, expressing the same idea in two different ways in different lines and that sort of stuff. It says that Prayer is the speech that is just natural for us.

The second word is lament; a lament is the Jewish blues. Note that David does not ask God to hear that but to consider it. In fact the word for lament here has the idea of mumbling under ones breath. A mumbled prayer, a sigh… David is in a bad situation, in fact one possibility for this prayer is that comes from when David has been exiles by his son Absalom and is fleeing into the wilderness. He’s unset and distressed and maybe his words are not clear it’s just an expression of what is going on inside. I’m finding myself getting more and more frustrated with technology that is supposed to make my life easier but doesn’t and I’ll often let out a frustrated grunt, and my kids pick that up and will lovingly come and ask me what’s wrong and if they can help. It’s a male ego thing but I’m often too embarrassed to let them. In the New Testament in Romans 8:26 Paul says the Holy Spirit helps us to pray in our weakness in groans and sighs too deep for words. God hears that kind of prayer.

The last word is ‘Cry out’, David Cries out to the Lord and you get the feeling that this is a in the car by yourself things are not going well no one’s around so I’m going to let it all out shout. God hears that hurt and that pain and need. In fact when you work through the psalms you see people bringing their trouble, their anger, their hate, doubts before God as well as their praise and trust and admiration.

So prayer doesn’t need to be articulate and polished and full of words and phrases that can captivate a crowd and sour to the ceiling of the grandest cathedral. They have to be real, honest and true to whom we are.

In the New Testament reading we had Jesus points out two things that genuine Christian prayer should not be like. He says it should not be like the Pharisees who love to get attention as they pray in public. It’s not for show, it’s not a put on mask of to show others our piety… it’s to be honest to God being honest to God. Its best done in private. Like in a marriage the best way to build up that marriage is to spend time with each other talking with each other. The other thing Jesus says is that it doesn’t have to be like pagans, who think that by all there, words they can convince their idols and gods to do their bidding. It’s not the volume, the amount or the volume, the loudness of our prayers that matter but who we pray to… Jesus say God already knows what we need… of course he goes on to give people the Lord’s Prayer as a way of helping us priorities our conversation with God. Next week we are going to have a look at the content of prayers.

This leads on nicely to what Eugene Peterson says about prayer that’s very helpful. He says Prayer is answering speech to God. It’s our response to God speaking to us> God always initiates the conversation. In Psalm five that we read today, David can come to God for help, because of what he knows of God’s nature, how God has revealed himself. In this case it’s God’s Holiness. That God is incompatible with evil, he can’t give wrongdoing and injustice a sly wink’ and let it happen. But also the unrelenting goodness of God, that God cares for his people, a goodness ultimately shown to us in Jesus’ death on the cross.  The sure sign that God wants to communicat with us is the incarnation where God laid aside all the trappings of divinity to be with us and talk with us. With assured confidence in that David can come to God asking for help. Prayer is our response to God’s revelation of himself, on a practical level its why Bible reading is an important element of Christian devotions it allows God to initiate the conversation.

Ok. Once there was a man who came to his pastor to tell him that he had real trouble praying because he couldn’t image that God was there. The pastor thought for a while and suggested that he might want to simply sit down with an empty chair and imagine that Jesus was there sitting in that chair and simply talk. The man thought it was a bit strange but he said he’d give it a go. Many years later when the man was dying he called the pastor to his bedside. The pastor came in and went to sit down. But the man cried out ‘wait’ doesn’t sit there that’s where Jesus is sitting. It wasn’t that he suddenly had an imaginary friend but that his prayer life had been improved and he had developed such a deep intimate connection with Jesus that it was real for him.  A busy man of God was often asked how did he find time to spend alone with God and his reply was well when you leave I’ll be alone with God. This week I want you to practise the presence of God. Take ten minutes  at the end of each day, maybe as you’re going for a walk, or have a cuppa tea before bed and just imagine that Jesus is right there with you, which of course he is and take time just to talk as you would to a close friend. Maybe work through the day and thank Jesus for the things that have happened where you’ve seen God’s hand, tell him say sorry for the things you know you’ve done wrong, give him the things that are worrying you. Have a conversation.