This is a copy of my sermon preached at Holy Communion at Saint Mary Magdalen on Wednesday 15 June 2016. The Bible Readings were Psalm 5 & Matthew 6:5-13.
1: What is Prayer?
It’s amazing how many Christians have such great anxiety with regards to prayer: both in what it entails and how we should engage with it. And for many, the thought of praying aloud with others borders on the traumatic. But prayer, is simply talking to God in the way you would have a conversation with a family member or a friend. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we listen, and sometimes we just enjoy being in that persons company. And so it is with prayer. It’s not some mystical enlightenment that only a chosen few are able to attain. Prayer should be a natural part of each Christian’s discipleship and is, probably, the most important activity of our Christian lives.
2: Why Pray?
How many times have you heard someone say: “If God knows all our needs; why should we waste time troubling him? Does prayer make any difference? Does God really hear me?” At one level, praying is just something that Christians do and to ask why we do it is to ask an unanswerable question. At another level, prayer is a natural communication between our heavenly Father and us. It is – or it should be – as spontaneous as a new baby gurgling to its father or mother. You don’t ask why a baby is making gurgling noises as they lie in their mother’s arms; they just do it.
However, prayer doesn’t always come naturally; there are often times when we have to make a choice whether to pray. Sometimes, prayer can be hard work. Sometimes we have other things on our mind; sometimes we feel a million miles away from God. And I guess that at times like these, it’s good to remind ourselves of the reasons for praying.
Jesus prayed: Jesus doesn’t start here by saying, ‘If you pray’ but he says ‘when you pray.’ He assumes that we will. It’s very natural for human beings to pray. You know, it’s amazing how many folk I meet, who are not church attendees, who say they pray regularly. We were created for this relationship.
Prayer develops our relationship with God: It’s a well known fact that relationships break down because of a lack of communication. But with good communication, a relationship grows and flourishes. And it’s in our relationship with God that we find the very meaning and purpose of our lives.
Prayer allows us to be involved in God’s actions in the world: God doesn’t need our prayers; he is perfectly capable of acting on his own initiative. But for some reason he chooses to involve us. The wonderful thing is that we are able to about any situation; any person; any circumstance. D.L.Moody:
The Christian on his knees sees more than the philosopher on tiptoes.
Prayer allows us to enjoy fellowship with God by communicating with him: Prayer is what keeps a Christian’s relationship with God fresh, healthy and real. Prayer should never be considered as a one-way phone call like a message left on an answering machine. Prayer allows us to hear God – and it’s vital that we listen. But prayer is also a dialogue, and so we have the opportunity to speak with our Heavenly Father.
Philip Yancey is his book: ‘Prayer: Does it make any difference’ writes:
“The main purpose of prayer is not to make life easier, nor to gain magical powers, but to know God. I need God more than anything I might get from God.” And so we do.
3: Does God Always Answer Prayer?
Does, or should, God answer all of our prayers? It’s a good question isn’t it? I wonder, what would be your response: Yes, no, always, sometimes, never! I don’t know about you, but I sometimes think it’s just as well that God doesn’t always answer our prayers! What would our lives be like if all of our prayers were answered!
I’d probably be living in a Kibbutz in Israel (long story); I’d have married a different girl; I’d not be a father to Ben and Annabel; I’d still probably have had eight years in prison – only this time on the ‘wrong’ side of the bars! I probably wouldn’t have gone to Theological College; and Billericay wouldn’t have the privilege of me as Team Rector! I mean, how awful would that be? Sometimes God says yes; sometimes he says wait; and sometimes he says no – but these are all answers to prayer, aren’t they? Only, no and wait are the answers we don’t want to hear!
In all my prayers, whether I get answers I want or not, I can count on this one fact: God can make use of whatever happens in my life because He is sovereign and, because he has a purpose for my life. And we can be sure, wherever we may find ourselves, that it is a good plan.
As the apostle Paul wrote:“Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
4: The Model of the Lord’s Prayer
A few years ago, when we were in Texas, we visited the Kennedy Space Centre in Houston – a quite remarkable place! On the ‘tour’ of the site a NASA official was explaining to us the complexities of sending human beings to Mars. Someone asked about how the crew would return to Earth. ‘That involves a highly complex plan,’ the representative said, ‘and it begins with the words “Our Father, who art in heaven”.’
But what do the words of the Lord’s Prayer mean? How often do we even think about what they mean? Hopefully this Home Group series will answer all of those questions, and much more besides
Our Father in Heaven:Privilege: Praying To Our Father
Hallowed be Your name: Praise: Honouring God’s Name
Your kingdom come, Your will be done: Purpose: The Meaning Of Life
Our daily bread: Provision: What God Wants To Give Us
Forgive us our sins: Pardon: Forgiveness And Forgiving
Lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil: Protection: Battling Against Evil
For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours: Perspective: Living Life God’s Way
5: When Should We Pray?
Alone: Jesus said that we should go into a room, close the door and pray to our Father (6:6)
Always: The New Testament encourages us to pray always (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Paul says, Ephesians 6:18: “Pray in the Spirit, on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests … and always keep praying for the saints.” You don’t have to be in a church building to pray. You can pray as you walk down the street, you can pray on your bike, you can pray on the train or tube. You don’t have to pray out loud – in fact, if you were praying on the train or tube it might be a help not to pray out loud!
I mean, people think that Christians are odd enough as it is!! But you can pray in your heart. But I think it’s a help, certainly I find it a help, to have set times to pray. I always think that whatever you start the day with, whatever those thoughts are, the mind tends to grind on them all the way through the day! And to start the day praying, is a wonderful way to start. This is what the Psalmist said in Psalm 5.
With others: Jesus said, Matthew 18:19: “… if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” In other words, he says there’s a special power when we pray together.
There’s a story from the Second World War of some Londoners huddled in an air raid shelter during a bombing raid. The exploding bombs were deafening, terrifying and dangerously close. Someone suggested that it would be a good idea to pray, but none of the adults was willing to take the lead, not really knowing how to express their needs and fears in the form of a prayer.
A young boy came to their rescue by eagerly volunteering. Silence fell in the air raid shelter as everyone bowed their heads and waited for their ‘priest of the moment’ to take the lead. Drawing himself up to full height he prayed the only prayer he knew: ‘For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.’
And actually, when we think of the way God answers prayer: ‘For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.’ Amen.