Teaching on Prayer
God’s greatest longing is that we should get to know him, come to love him and enjoy being with him. He offers us friendship, which is only possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus; but for any friendship to develop between two people they need to spend time together. God invites us to spend time with him, talking to him and listening to him. Prayer is a gift from God; it not only helps our friendship with God develop and grow, it is true when they say ‘Prayer changes things.’
Some words from the letter of James:- ‘The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.’ It makes a difference, situations change, coincidences happen. It changes us too; as we share our lives with God we get to love the people and things God loves and hate the things he hates.
I don’t want to put you off but Martin Luther said:- ‘I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.’
What is probably more relevant to us are words from Luke’s gospel:- ‘Men ought always to pray and not lose heart.’ Satan loves to discourage us, to make us feel guilty if we do not pray, to make us feel our prayers are not good enough or God is not interested and does not answer, so why pray. Sincere prayer is never wasted.
Pray with the three S’s – with sincerity, be honest, come to God as we are, no pretence; specifically and with simplicity, plain language, not seeking to impress with big words. Jesus says:- ‘Don’t keep on babbling like pagans, because they think they will be heard for their many words.’
Some words from a poem written by a member of the Lee Abbey Community:-
Don’t need any words you can’t define,
Don’t need a special voice you keep reserved just for me,
Don’t even have to close you eyes Just talk to me.
Don’t worry that you don’t love me enough,
Don’t need to do anything special,
Don’t pretend you’re someone or something you are not Just talk to me.
Don’t worry about what I might say or think about you,
Don’t be concerned if you lose your train of thought,
Don’t be surprised if I talk back Just talk to me.
There are different forms of prayer and different postures. There is no right way and no wrong way, as long as we are trying to get in touch with God. He can reach us and bless us wherever we are. The important thing is to pray believing God is with us, his Spirit within us, hearing and ready to answer
The Proper Way.
The proper way for us to pray said Mr Leonard Keyes
The only proper way to pray is down upon your knees.
No, I should say the way to pray, said the Rev. Wise
Is standing straight with arms outstretched and upturned eyes.
Oh no! no! no! said Mr. Snow, I don’t like the sound
We all should pray with eyes shut tight and head bowed to the ground.
It seems to me our hands should be, clasped in the front With fingers pointing upwards,
said the Rev. Dr. Blunt.
Last year I fell in Hodgkin’s well head first said Cyril Brown,
With both my feet a-sticking up, my head a-pointing down,
And how I prayed, right then and there, best prayer I ever said,
The bestest prayer I ever said, a-standing on my head.
We all pray when we are desperate. Sometimes it is no more than ‘Help Lord,’ an arrow prayer or a microwave prayer, quick and to the point. Eg. Can’t find my keys.
We all pray when we come to worship in church, using set prayers, some of which are very beautiful, or using spontaneous prayer.
When the early church prayed together wonderful things happened.
Some of us pray in groups... Praying together focuses our ideas, encourages us to be specific, and adds power! At first most people are sensitive and anxious about praying aloud, I certainly was. I would prepare a prayer in my head, getting the words just right then someone else would pray the same prayer before I’d plucked up courage. Now I would say just go for it, it doesn’t have to be perfect, a simple sentence is fine and you can pray for the same thing twice.
Paul has some advice: - ‘Ask the Holy Spirit to help you. ----The Spirit comes to help us, weak as we are, for we do not know how we ought to pray’ This applies to private prayer too, those times we set aside to be quiet and alone with God. Jesus said: ‘When you pray’ – notice he did not say ‘If you pray’ as if we have a choice – ‘When you pray go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen.’ Our situations and opportunities vary, for most it will be a room, for others the church, the garden or the beach when fine. For one man I know it is the train journey to work. By closing his eyes he shuts out the noise and people think he is asleep. Prayer in secret means we can concentrate on God’s presence. A visual symbol will sometimes help to focus our attention on God – a candle, the cross, a picture, for example ‘The light of the world’, ‘Return of the Prodigal Son’, ‘The washing of feet.’
Jesus taught his disciples a lot about prayer and he set them an example. His own life was rooted in prayer. He withdrew early in the morning to a lonely place, he prayed all night before choosing his disciples, he prayed when demands were made upon him by the crowd, he sought wisdom and insight so he could say ‘The Son only does what he sees the Father doing.’ He prayed for others, for children, for the sick and for us, the church. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed in anguish, pouring out his feelings as he struggled to accept the cross.
Then we have his prayer of submission – ‘Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.’ He had to accept that God’s answer was NO. We may not be granted some things we feel we can not possibly do without, but God knows best. He meets our real needs. Even on the cross Jesus was praying for those who tortured him. What an example!
The disciples had been brought up to pray in the synagogue but this was different, so one day they said; ‘Lord teach us to pray.’ He responded by giving them the Lord’s prayer, a model prayer used in worship all over the world; but first and foremost it is a pattern, a blueprint as to what we should include in our prayers. We need to be careful not to turn the Lord’s Prayer into vain repetition. We come humbly before God and pray Working with God that’s the privilege of prayer, to bring glory to God.
Another pattern we can us is ACTS –
Adoration, praising God for who he is and what he means to us.
Confession, admitting where we have gone wrong and asking for forgiveness.
Thanksgiving, for all God has done and is doing.
Supplication, asking for ourselves ands for others. God wants us to ask.
James says clearly ‘You do not have because you do not ask God for it.’ God wants to give us good things but he is interested in the whole of our lives, the small things as the big. He wants us to share our lives with him, our concerns, our hurts, our joys. We wouldn’t only talk once a day to our best friend if he or she was living with us. So we have the command ‘Pray at all times’ and again ‘Pray without ceasing’ being aware of God’s presence throughout the day. Brother Lawrence called it ‘Practicing the presence of God.’ I think I need to take up Bishop Lindsay’s suggestion that we put labels around the house, on the fridge, the bathroom mirror, the TV, the stairs, to remind us to talk to God. It may have a simple phrase on it e.g. ‘Abba Father’. The more aware we are of God’s presence the more aware we become of other people and pray for them, in the street and in the shops. Bishop Lindsay also suggested having a cross in your pocket so every time you put your hand in your pocket you are reminded of God’s presence.
There is still another important aspect of prayer, listening, giving God space to speak to us. Listening is highlighted throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament people listened and obeyed or they stubbornly refused to listen; (Zechariah 7 : 11,12) Jesus frequently told people to listen and to hear; at the Transfiguration God said: ‘This is my Son, listen to him.’
A group of Buddhist monks met with a group of Christians to share beliefs and try to understand one another’s religion. One of the Christians chose to read from John Chapter 1 – ‘In the beginning was the Word’. A Buddhist monk interrupted saying ‘Goodness, even in the beginning Christians couldn’t keep quiet.’ God pleads ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ In silent prayer or contemplative prayer we seek to be in God’s presence, not asking, just surrendered and open. Psalm 62;1 ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence.’ There are ways of entering into silence, of relaxing, of letting go of the distractions of the mind, of being attentive, and still. One was is palms down, palms up. Palms down on my lap – Lord I give you my anxiety over my visit to the dentist, the pressure at work, etc, etc, releasing, letting go one by one, then palms up – ‘here I am Lord open to you.’ Another way is to take a picture, say The Light of the Word by Holman Hunt and I open the door of my heart to welcome him in; or personalise one of the great prayers e.g. Almighty God unto whom hearts are open. It becomes – unto whom my heart is open, all about me is know etc. A man at a certain time every day went into church, and would sit, apparently doing nothing. One day the priest asked him why he came, and with a twinkle in his eye he said ‘I look at him and he looks at me, and we tell each other that we love each other.’ Deep bonding is silence, receiving more of God’s joy, God’s peace and God’s love.