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.