Sunday November 9th @ St Barnabas
Because Rev Tim was preaching at our open air Remembrance service, Lynda used his notes to write the following sermon! Plenty of people responded by taking away things which we set out by the door of the church, to be used as practical aids in their own personal devotions.
Building on the Rock is the title of our church discipleship course, and over four Sundays in October we looked together at a series we called Laying the Foundations … where we learned about God the Father, God the Son, Jesus’ death for us and God the Holy Spirit.
Today we start the second part of our discipleship course which will cover the next four Sundays, and which we’re calling Building on the Foundations … and over the next four weeks we’ll be looking on Sunday mornings at the disciplines of prayer, reading the bible, fellowship (that is, our life together as a church) and worship.
So today we starting with a good look at prayer. Now from the outset, I have to tell you that I know an awful lot about prayer … that is, I know an awful lot about prayer, which isn’t the same as being a pray-er, someone who prays. Please don’t expect me to be a good example – as never before, I am preaching to myself here, today!
Rob Parsons of Care for the Family tells the story of how, as a young minister, he met with an older minister from a nearby church. As they talked about their work, the older minister told Rob that he got up just after 5am every morning, and spent at least an hour in prayer before starting his day. Rob says that really scared him, not least because his day didn’t start before 8am at the best of times! But he decided to follow the example of the older man, and set his alarm at 6.30am (which he considered a manageable compromise) and ever since has started his day with at least half an hour of prayer.
Some years later, they met again, this time in company with their wives. Rob was too embarrassed to say anything about how the older man had influenced his ministry, but in course of conversation, his wife mentioned that Rob got up early every day to pray before his day began and how it had been essential to his ministry over the years … as Rob was clearing his throat to confess that in fact it was only because of the older man’s example that he did so, the other man’s wife piped up, ‘You did that for a while a few years ago, I remember – you only lasted about a week!’
So this is definitely one occasion to do as I say, not as I do!
Of all the gospel writers, Luke is the one who most clearly shows Jesus as a man of prayer. Luke tells us how Jesus prayed as he was baptised (Luke 3:22), that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16), that Jesus chose the 12 apostles only after a night spent praying (Luke 6:12), that he was praying when Peter confessed Him as the Christ (Luke 9:18) and as he was transfigured (Luke 9:28). So Jesus didn’t just teach about God as Father, he also modelled a relationship with him in prayer. It’s little surprise then, that the disciples wanted to learn to pray, and indeed the reading from Luke that we heard earlier forms the first of several sections on prayer.
Why does Luke start with the Lord’s prayer? He is, I think, making the point that kingdom work has to be underpinned by prayer for the kingdom. At the start of chapter 10 Jesus sent out 72 disciples to proclaim that the kingdom of God was near (Luke 10:1-12). He then tells how love needs to be shown in practical action, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). But Jesus goes on to tell us that all this activity needs to be underwritten by prayer. That’s the lesson Martha finds hard to learn (Luke 10:38-42), and that’s the lesson Jesus is teaching the disciples here.
And we need to realise that the Lord’s prayer is specifically a prayer about the kingdom of God. When Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given you” (11:9) he is not giving his disciples a blank cheque to request whatever they want. Instead, Jesus is giving them and us a promise that when we are seeking to establish God’s kingdom here on earth, God our Heavenly Father will provide whatever we need to achieve that end. Sometimes we need to be bold and persistent in our prayers, and sometimes they still appear to remain unanswered, but if we are secure in our relationship with God as Father, then we can be certain he will answer prayers as is best for us.
Maybe the best way to sum this passage up is to see verses 2 and 13 as a frame into which the rest of the passage fits. We express our desire to see God honoured – hallowed be your name – and ask our Heavenly Father for his kingdom to come. And in response – verse 13 – he gives us his Holy Spirit to fit us to do his work, to cleanse us of our sins, and to assure of his presence. This is why teaching about the Holy Spirit and about prayer are so closely linked. The more we pray, the more we experience the Holy Spirit in our lives. And as the Holy Spirit moves and works in our lives so we learn what to ask our Heavenly Father in prayer, and so discover more of His love and goodness.
If anything, this passage sums up the radical newness of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus was the first to teach us to call God Father. The Old Testament has very little of the idea of the kingdom of God. The Jewish people of Jesus’ day were still looking forward to God setting up a physical kingdom in the shape of a restored Israel, rather a kingdom based on God’s spiritual authority and rule. And as for the Holy Spirit, the story of the Old Testament showed that under the old covenant the Spirit only came upon certain people at certain times for certain purposes, not as a fixed, permanent presence in the lives of God’s people, as it has been since the day of Pentecost.
So Jesus’ teaching about prayer is based on three distinctive aspects of the Christian faith – knowing God as our Heavenly Father, being part of his worldwide kingdom and having the gift of the Holy Spirit. And if there is a key to effective and effectual prayer it is recognising just how great these three privileges are, that are granted to those who pray in Jesus’ name.
It is an impossible task to sum up Jesus’ teaching on prayer in just one sermon! At the very least it should be clear that Jesus’ example of regular prayer is one all of us need to follow. If we are to build on the rock of our faith in Christ, then we need to learn not only why we pray, or how we ought to pray, but how we actually pray within our own daily routines, how we practically find time and space to deepen our relationship with God (individually and as a church family) day by day.
Which is why prayer is the first of our sessions about building on the foundations of faith.
Prayer means a lot of different things to many different people. Some will associate prayer with school assemblies, sitting cross-legged on the floor, hands together, eyes closed. Some will associate prayer with “saying the prayers” in church. And others will think of a time when they needed help suddenly and in the pressure of the moment found themselves praying.
But prayer in essence is about a relationship with God. Set prayers and set forms of service have their uses – and it’s good to know we can pray in an emergency – but prayer is much more than than, it’s about getting to know who God is and what He wants of our lives.
Relationships don’t just happen overnight. The story of the prince kissing the princess and everyone then living happily ever after is just that – a story. Relationships need time and space to develop. If you think about your closest friendships, the chances are they grew and developed over a number of years, no doubt with various up and downs along the way. And of course the way you express your friendship can take many different forms. Sometimes you sit and chat for hours. At other times you just sit, knowing you don’t have to say anything in particular. Sometimes you and your friend are together on your own, sometimes you meet up together with other people.
And it’s rather like that in our relationship with God. We become friends with God when we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ – but that’s the beginning, not the end of our journey of faith. We need to give time and space to developing our relationship with God. We need to spend time talking to our Heavenly Father – and listening as well! Sometimes we simply need to spend time in silence simply being in His presence. And while on occasions we will want to worship on our own, more often we will find we want to worship Him in the company of other people.
So to finish, I’m going to suggest a number of ways of praying … some of you may be new to prayer, so I have some ideas to get you started. Other will be well established in prayer, but doing something new may give your life of prayer a bit of a boost, or you may be really struggling at the moment and prayer seems to make little difference. Hopefully, I have something to help you, too.
First of all I’m going to share two patterns of prayer that you may find it helpful to follow, and I also have a number of things on the table … and I hope I have enough for everyone to take something home with them, but I’ll explain those in a moment. First of all the outlines … well, of course there are three … we read the Lord’s prayer earlier, and we’ll say it together in a short while as part of our prayers this morning. When Jesus taught his prayer to the disciples, he didn’t mean for it to stay as it was, as a set prayer to learn and recite, or we’d still be saying it in Aramaic. That’s why it’s in a different form in the different gospels … the Lord’s prayer is a pattern prayer, giving us different areas to think about and to add our own concerns at the relevant point. So we start with the recognition of who God is – our heavenly Father; what he deserves – honour and worship, ‘hallowed be your name’ … and so on.
You may also be familiar with the pattern we call the ACTS of prayer … adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication (which means asking). But if like me, you find the words a bit strange, or it’s it hard to approach God starting with adoration because you’re too distracted, or busy … then how about using the word PRAYER itself …
So, some resources … different things with work for different people – try them all!
Note books – either as a record of our prayers so that we are reminded of answered prayer, or as a journal
Something to focus on – a picture or a candle (reminder of Jesus as the light of the world) – KEEPING FOCUSSED IS OFTEN THE HARDEST PART OF PRAYER!
A bible or gospel – start by reading a passage and looking there for a prayer focus (no time this week to discuss the relationship between praying and reading the bible, but it is vital … )
Post it notes – put a memory verse on the fridge door or computer screen … use it to trigger short prayers through the day
Pens – keep one to hand to write thoughts and prayers down, perhaps to expand on later?
Books on prayer – one of the reasons I know so much about prayer is that I read books!! A good book about prayer can refresh and refocus your prayer life and suggest new approaches … Jane Holloway’s Prayer for Amateurs or A Beginner’s Guide are both a good place to start
So, how should we pray?
Pray in different ways, pray for different things, pray for other followers, pray in the Spirit … but most importantly – pray as often as you can.